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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Phone Call

Our first death threat.

It was an anonymous phone call. My wife answered. The guy on the other end wanted to know why she called him. She didn't. This pissed him off. He told her this.


End quote.

She didn't know who it was. Didn't matter. You hear that and all sorts of nightmares march through your skull. On go the lights in the yard. Doors locked. Double checked. Dogs inside. They won't hurt anyone, but they look like they will. That's a plus.

Oh, and check on the gun.

I got a .357 revolver. What the gun retailer called "Home Protection." Yes, I want that. "And you'll want these." "What are they?" "Hollow point bullets. They got stopping power."

Those, too.

I hope I never, ever use this gun. I've shot it at the range. Sounds like a cannon. A friend once told me a 9mm is the best gun to have hidden at home. Said it will flatten a man in a second. Said you'll want someone to break into your house. He's a Navy SEAL. I'm not.

When I bought the gun, my wife asked if I thought I could really shoot a man. Really, truly. Could I pull the trigger on another man. Seriously. I said I don't know. But if a man comes into my house with the intention to harm my family, to KILL YOU AND YOUR WHOLE FAMILY, I want the option.

So far my pistol has collected dust. I like that. But I cleaned it. Because, you know.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Susan's Black Eye

Black-eyed Susan. Some call it Brown-eyed Susan.

Both names seem... wrong.

The second more than the first.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Getting It Out

My story is like any other. I was on welfare at the time, writing in cafes on lined notebook paper. About a boy wizard with a mysterious lightning bolt scar on his forehead.

Ten years later, I had 400 billion dollars.

All right. My writing inspiration isn't so glamorous, or universally loved. And I don't have any theme parks. My beginning started as a story for my son, when he was seven. Cliche, I know. You see, I started it because he hated to read. I figured, what the hell, I'll write something he'll dig. A kid with superpowers, cracking skull, saving the world. My son could name the characters, give me ideas and we'd run with it. I envisioned him sitting on the couch next me, devouring page after page. Dad! When's the next chapter going to be done?

He said it best when my efforts failed. "Dad. I just hate reading."

Even JK wouldn't win this battle.

But here's the deal. The character I started out with got stuck in my nugget. I've written textbooks and magazine articles and newspaper columns, but I'd never done fiction. How hard could it be? Really. You just make stuff up. It's not like I needed a fact-checker. I didn't even need reality. This kid could strap on rockets and fly to the freaking moon. This is fiction, baby. Don't tell me what I can and can't do.

Oh. Was I wrong.

Fiction, for most of us, is hard to write. Good fiction, that is.

Socket Greeny was the character. A sixteen-year old kid, asking the big questions about life. Why am I here? What's this all about? Do I matter? Teenage angst on growth hormones sort of dilemma. Maybe not the most original, but something teens can relate to. I know, I was that kid. And that's why Socket wouldn't get out of my head. He had a story to be told. Well, I had a story that I wanted to tell through him. And in the world of fiction, I could make him whatever I wanted. Make him indestructible. Yet vulnerable.

Socket's this misfit. He's got white hair, but he's not an albino. It's a pigment disorder. He's different. His dad is dead. His mom, a workaholic. He whittles his life away in video games and energy drinks. That is, until he discovers his true nature.

My life and Socket's go opposite directions from there. No, I don't have white hair and my parents are alive and well. There were no fantastical worlds in my life. No superpowers to be discovered or off-world creatures to befriend. I wasn't the center of the universe and I sure as hell wasn't saving it. It was just me and everyday life. My path ended up grinding through life's problems the old fashion way. Slow and ordinary.

By the time I was in my 20s, I'd started a Zen practice. Meditation became a daily routine, in addition to retreats and various other inner efforts. I made some sense out of things through some hard work. Found some meaning. The struggle, it's worth it.

Socket's life isn't so ordinary. But it's not so far off, either. He still struggles with the everyday issues of where he fits in. His relationships. And what the hell does all this really mean.

I don't know if I'll ever write another novel. To wear out a cliche, it was a story in me that wanted out. It's out. Besides, novel-writing is as much about promoting (or more) as writing. And I'm not jazzed about that. Maybe in ten years there'll be another one. Or maybe I take the JD Salinger route and never write another one. I sure hope that's not true, for a number of reasons.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

It's the Roots

It's what we don't see that matters.

A shrub is planted in clay. The root system is limited. Can't breathe. Can't branch out for water. I don't care what the guy at the store told you or what he sold you, there is no magic potion. It can be fixed, but it'll take some hard work. Amend the soil. Raise the shrub. Things like that.

Problem is, we don't see the roots. Leaves wilt, get sickly. Spindly. We throw fertilizer on the ground. Spray it with Superthrive or something with the word "Organic" in the title. We just want it to look pretty, like it's suppose to look. Like we imagine. Like what we want.

But it's what we don't see that's the problem.

My kids are good kids. I say this because karma shouldn't work this way. Not after my teen years. I'm not taking credit for them being good kids. My wife and I raised them, shaped them, but they're their own person. If I punched them in the face until they were 10 then, yeah, they might be a little goofy. At least I haven't screwed them up.

I figured some things out since high school. I corrected some wrongs and made some rights. Maybe I turned that karmic river just before it went over the falls. Just in time to have kids. They don't have training wheels anymore. We've let go of the bike and they're heading down the road on their own. What's inside them, whatever makes them tick, makes them think and feel and decide, I'm not sure how much I had to do with it. Whatever it is, that's what will determine which way they turn when they're out of sight.

They got some good roots. Now hope for good weather. Because a hurricane can break even the strongest tree in half.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Knocking Out Rays

Grampa. Working on suntan, 1950s-style.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The High Wire

I had a talk this weekend. At at state-wide conference.  

The stage can be intimidating. Terrifying. Make a tough guy quiver. The spotlight magnifies every move. Every word. Sometimes, you don't know what the next word is until you say it. You're piecing together sentences a word at a time. Most of the time, you pull it off. Sometimes, you run into a dead end.

If you're funny, if you're entertaining, the crowd is more forgiving. But there's a balance. Try too hard, you look desperate. Start apologizing, you look pathetic. Stay present. Be honest. Know this, you'll never win them all. Some won't like you. No matter what. But that's not why you get on stage. Not to get their approval. I don't know why you do it. It's just not that. 

Even the most seasoned speaker gets nervous. Maybe not like it was in the beginning, but it still happens. When it does, the veteran knows that the crowd has no idea your heart is trying to break your ribcage. They don't feel the cold panic harden your gut. They don't know any of these things. 

Unless you look down.

You stay focused in the present moment. Allow space for all your fears. Allow those life-threatening sensations to surge through you. But you don't look down. You stay here. You focus on the next step. And the next. 

Even when your thoughts become stones. Why is that asshole in the front row glaring at me? What's the deal with the sourpuss in the third row? I'm going to fail. Failing. I'm failing. And they're going to laugh. They're laughing at me. I'll die up here. I'll die. Die. Die, die. DIE.

But they're thoughts. Not stones.

You take the next step.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Hot Pepper

An acquired taste.