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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Want

What do you want most out of the next chapter of your life?

A friend asked me that.



I think I’ve always struggled with identifying what I want. When the question was posed early in life, even as simple as coming up with a 5-year plan, I was always at a loss. As a kid, my decisions were based on what felt good, which worked just fine. That compass, though, became a problem the older I got. What I wanted was to feel good, and that included things like booze, sex, food, and sleep…the standard sins.

If all of those wants were boiled down to their essence, what I wanted was security and safety – the guarantee that nothing would hurt me. I wanted to fall asleep with momma’s tit. Of course, all of those wants lead to a very small, very self-centered life. Ultimately, depression. So, over time, I’ve steered away from things that shrink my openness. But I still have trouble answering the question.

What do I want?

Right now, I’m 3 months into my latest novel. As I outline the final third or so of the story, the ending is slowly coming into focus and I realize there’s no way I could’ve planned for that 3 months ago. I had a general idea of what the story would be, but as the story progressed the characters started to grow. The thread that will eventually hold the story together isn’t anything I could've imagined in the beginning. And that, I suppose, is a good answer.

I don't know what I want because I don't know where I'm going.

Maybe it's not what I want, I should be asking, but what I need. But, I'll be honest, I’m afraid to ask the universe for what I need because, quite frankly, I’ve got everything I want. I won the marriage lottery. I have a great family, a successful career, and good health. I’ve got it all. So I’m afraid to ask for what I need because life might have one big ass pothole up ahead and I don’t want that. But perhaps that’s what I need.

If I had to answer the question “what I want” it would be this: remain open to this very moment, regardless what it contains, no matter how I feel about it, whether I like it or not, and to continue growing. To serve life.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Clarity of Water

Childhood is a shallow pond.

The water is cold and clean. The surface, uncluttered by debris. Its contents so clear that only its reflection indicates anything is there.

Pebbles are scattered across the bottom, rocks of different colors and shapes and sizes. We can reach in and stack them, move them into piles of likeness or arrange them into designs. It's all so accessible.



But the seasons change.

Leaves fall, temporarily floating, eventually sinking. The wind chops the surface, particles of dust obscures reflections. Algae grips the rocks and currents, stirred up by the wind, break it away until specks swirl in the depths. In some cases, it floats to the top in blankets of slime.

Drop a pebble into the water now, and it fades from sight.

Perhaps that pebble is a name of someone we just met. Maybe someone's birthday or where we left the keys. Now we rely on lists to remember things, create reminders to avoid forgetting. We stay organized. We read books but the details pass through us. We see faces that we should know. We look for the stones at the bottom but the colors have faded, the edges are warped.

What happens when we can no longer see the bottom, when the details of our life disappear as soon as they slip below the surface? What happens when our memories fade.

Am I my memories?

Perhaps meditation can clarify the waters, reveal the wonder that was present when we were children. But as children, it was shallow. Now it has become deeper, the potential so much more richer. Maybe the stillness can return and the debris settle upon the bottom so that we see clearly, once again.

Or maybe we are not the clarity but simply the lotus at home in the muddy water.








Friday, October 18, 2013

Goodbye Art

I arrived at grad school in 1990.

Champaign, Illinois was, by no means, a metropolitan city but it was bigger than any place I had lived. It had mass transit so, yeah...it was bigger. I was 23 with an undergraduate degree and barely a clue. I was attending graduate school because I figured I might want to teach college at some point, maybe, I suppose, I think. I don't know.

http://www.midnight-artwork.com/

I was lumped into a large room with other graduate students and assigned a desk and shelves. It wasn't much but it was mine and I felt important. I assumed that professors all worked as a team, that we would all come together for the betterment of academic truth. Didn't work like that. There are small worlds within an academic building that contain egos of all colors and sizes. There was no "Secret Santa" game at Christmas.

Art Spomer operated within this academic universe. A former Army captain, he was now a researcher in plant sciences. His disheveled hair always had the distinct "finger comb" look.  His shirts were plain and wrinkled and his tennis shoes were not expensive. He would show up at the office at 3:00 AM, claiming to be one of those people that only needed a few hours of sleep. And he never drank coffee.

I passed his office on the way out every day. His had a computer floppy disc pinned to the door with the message: ANYONE LOSE THIS? When the department head was out of town, Art was dubbed the Acting Head, a the humorous title not lost on Art when he taped the title to his door and underlined ACTING HEAD several times.

His office was dimly lit and packed with boxes, bowls, books and whatever else lurks in corners. I once stopped by with headphones around my neck, one of the speakers missing the foam padding. Art found not one but several foam covers I could use. Hidden within the magnificent disaster was order.

A bronze hand apparently clawing it's way out of the filing cabinet was the first thing to greet you. It was one of many works displayed in his office, works that he forged with his own hands. He was not just an accomplished scientist but a creative mind. In that transition between childhood and adulthood, a time when I needed to figure out where I fit in the world and why, Art's office was a reprieve. A timeout. It reminded me to stop and, usually, smile.

Something made me think of Art this week. I thought I'd throw him an email, say hi, see how he was doing. Sometimes I like to let people know what impact they had on my life. He died this past summer. I missed him by three months. This blog entry is a poor substitute but the only thing I have now.

Thanks, Art.









Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Where the Path Ends

Childhood is easy.

The path of our life is established by our parents. Let's assume they're good parents--a loving mother and father that have read Dr. Spock cover to cover. They record every precious moment of our lives as if we're the return of Mahatma Gandhi. If we're that lucky, the path will be wide, the terrain smooth and the food tasty.



They swing the machetes, clear the spider webs and hoe the soil so that our wobbly steps will be safe and our explorations fruitful. We eat, poop and watch cartoons...life is easy. The price for such direction and security is our freedom. Our parents tell what to do, that's all. They set the rules, we follow them, they maintain the path. That's the deal.

Eventually, we want our freedom. We want to grow up. And that's when the path narrows.

Little by little, our parents let us beat back the brush, fill the potholes and navigate over fallen trees without them. The road can get bumpy, muddy and wet. We can get tired and lost until, eventually, they turn the path over to us. It's all ours. And all we see are trees.

Where once we saw a trail, now there is only wilderness.

Swing your machete.

Find your path.








 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Kitchen Knife of Truth

"Don't be mean," my daughter told me.

"Boyfriends should be a little scared of dads," I explain. "Besides, I wasn't mean last time. I was direct. There's a difference."

What I don't tell her are the things I was doing at her age. I know the shenanigans. Our only chance as parents, I tell my wife, is that our kids aren't half as dumb as I was and I turned out all right. For the most part.

Now that I'm older, I know better. I don't know everything--there's plenty of path ahead of me--but I know more. Problem is, I can't tell my kids what they should do. I sure as hell wouldn't have listened. To some extent, they'll have to figure things out.



A long-time friend of mine is a successful therapist. I once asked him how he helps people, I mean truly helps them. "You can't tell them what to do," he said. "You have to grow with them. And sometimes that takes years."

Sometimes that takes years.

When I was a kid, I didn't need someone to tell me what I was doing wrong or how to live my life, even if they were right. I stewed in bitterness and anger, ignored them to my own detriment to prove them wrong. And when things fell apart, as they inevitably did, the advice-givers can accurately say it.

I told you so.

Age has nothing to do with being a kid. A 50 year old "kid" can be a dangerous person--emotionally and physically. I asked my therapist-friend how he truly helps people because the answer relates to all my relationships: professional, casual and personal. In order to grow with them, I've got to work my own shit out. And that takes a lifetime.

So my daughter's boyfriend arrived to meet us. I didn't plan on being mean, just direct. However, I did grab a kitchen knife on my way to the front door and showed it to him. It was rash and a little funny, but somewhere behind the joke was a message.

That's my baby girl.

It shouldn't take him years to learn that lesson.





 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Narcissism Gets Shit Done


Steve Jobs smelled.

Early on, he didn't shower. He would sometimes hike his funky feet up during meetings or interviews. He shit on ideas he didn't like and, sometimes, claimed the ones he did as his own. He's been described as difficult, insufferable, overbearing, pretentious and narcissistic.

But he got shit done.



According to Walter Isaacson's biography, Jobs studied Zen at an early age that most likely contributed to his laser-beam focus and famed reality distortion field. If he wanted something, he made it happen. He also stomped a lot of mudholes in a lot of assholes. He was an end-justifies-the-means sort of guy.

He seemed completely indifferent to others' opinions. When every person in the universe complained of his horrific body odor, he simply declared that he did not stink and forged ahead. When an engineer said something couldn't be done, he berated him and belittled him until it happened. He valued beauty and simplicity but also didn't seem to give a shit about anything that got in the way of that.

A focus-only Zen practice that eschews understanding can get messy. That sort of power can supercharge a self-centered life. People get hurt. Some Zen practices emphasize a "bottom-up" practice, one that seeks understanding of one's life and joriki, or Zen power, is not as important as the way in which one lives.

Who knows, maybe all the people in Jobs's life did have shitty ideas and maybe they did deserve to what they got. Maybe his take-no-prisoners approach pushed them to greater personal growth and lifted human spirit to loftier heights and brought the world closer to spiritual Oneness.

Or maybe he just made a cool phone.

Either way, he wouldn't give a shit what I think.






 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Peter Pan is an Asshole

Time to grow up.

Joko Beck told me that during a Zen retreat almost 25 years ago. It's taken about 25 years to understand what she meant. Right now, at age 46, I think I'm about 60% there. And that might be a little high.


A kid is only interested what he wants. He wants whatever feels good or tastes yummy. He wants the cookie.

An adult is only interested in what life needs.

It's doubtful anyone is 100% adult. We're genetically predisposed to selfish-behavior. It's hardwired into our survival gear. We can bump the number up, but a 100%?

Someone once said that practice become increasingly more difficult because our 'kid' becomes more subtle. Even enlightened can become the cookie. Unless we're vigilante, we won't realize we've got our arm buried to the elbow in the cookie jar.

I've got kids that are 15 and 18. They're approaching very difficult periods of life. They're not really kids anymore. Not adults. They want all the freedom of adulthood. They want all the yumminess of childhood. They don't realize Peter Pan is an asshole.

Someone once said, "Growing up sucks." I think it was everyone that said that. It's not fun. Letting go of the blankey feels like death. Losing the pacifier is torture. If we don't get the raise, the advance, the house, the book deal, the adulation, the cigarette drink car job clothes vacation spousesexfillintheblank.

Then it sucks.

The saying becomes, "Life sucks."

Because it's not the way we want it.

We don't want to serve life.

It's supposed to be the other way around. Life's supposed to serve us.

When we're 5.




 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Trust is an Oil Filter



Another repair.

I expect cars to never breakdown. I also expect green lights. I'm always disappointed.


My regular mechanic is across town. I couldn't drive that far, so I parked it at a local repair shop, dropped the keys in the night slot. Next morning, I get the call.
"Your oil pump isn't working. And we'll need to replace all the belts and the water pump."
I just replaced the belts and water pump.
"You did?"
Yeah.
"Let me talk to the mechanic."
Let me send a tow truck.
I don't know if a mechanic is taking advantage of me. I took high school auto mechanics but all I learned was how to steal tools. I mean, if he said the hood needs a paint job I'd be a little suspect. But belts, pumps, plugs...I just need it working. Tell me what it costs. I've got to trust him.

We instilled that lesson in our kids, that trust is one of the most critical traits they can develop. The more you lie to us, the more you lie to yourself. That doesn't mean shit to a five year old so I think we said if we trust you, you'll earn more "stuff". We moved to earn more "freedom" when they got older.

Why was this lesson at the top of the list? Because, ONE, it's that important and, TWO, I sucked at it. I threw my grade card in the drain and said I lost it. I said I was late because a dog chased me. It became habit. It caught up to me.

Trust. Sounds easy. Judging by the widespread display of dishonesty by leaders (political, religious, education), it's anything but. Zen has it's own boogers in the woodpile.

  • A Zen teacher so drunk he had to be propped up by students
  • A Zen teacher having sex with his students without telling them he had AIDS
  • A Zen teacher having female students expose their breasts for the sake of practice

Men and women of great intelligence are fallible. Their folly can cause great harm. It is incumbent upon our leaders to know themselves, to do the work to such a degree that their shortcomings--when they manifest--do little damage. A teacher once told me that understanding must precede power.
And Socrates said "The measure of a man is what he does with power."
My regular mechanic, the one I trust, towed the car to his shop.

He fixed it with the correct oil filter.

An oil filter.





 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Rearview

18.

It's the chrysalis. The pupa.

Car Mirror and Cornfield Free Photo


18 still remembers endless summers where fun is interrupted only by sleep. 18 can still feel the slip-and-slide on its belly, the cook-outs and late night games of Hide-n-Seek. 18 remembers snuggling on the couch when it was sick, having soup delivered in front of the TV. 18 remembers laughing so hard it farted.

18 sees these things in the rearview.

To see the road ahead, 18 has to look away. 18 will see the potential that lies in winding roads and steep mountains. 18 will know there are views at the tops it has never seen. 18 will feel the thrill of riding to the bottoms and the labor of climbing back up. 18 can't see the butterfly that lies ahead until it lets go of the rearview.

Knowing that, every once in a while, it can look back. Because it was fun.

Great fun.




 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Fat Skinny Girl

I speak English. Just can't always write it.



I just released Foreverland is Dead. It's my 10th novel, I think. It's a good sign when you can't remember how many you have out, but then again I can't remember a lot of things. I keep in touch with the indie publishing (formerly known as self-publishers) community, which is invaluable. Some indies are killing it, rolling in 6 figures annually. The fact that I'm making ANY money is wondrous.

But all things are relative.

One indie, Elle Casey, is like a writing machine, cranking out 20+ novels in less than a couple years (again, run those stats through my memory filter, they're ballpark). I generate about 3 books a year. I'm a slacker. My wife says:

You sound like the skinny girl that thinks she's fat.

She's right. The fact I can even write 70,000 words is an accomplishment. And they're coherent. And people like them (some, not all; no fiction writer wins them all, not even Rowling).

Here's why indie writing has a place in the world. I suck at English. I'm not the worst, I know some big words and when to use them, most of the time. Incorrigible, see? I just used that. However, it became abundantly clear just how far I am from professional writing when I had Foreverland is Dead edited. It's clear I don't know:

  • When to use lay/lie
  • When to use farther/further (didn't even know I was screwing that up)
  • Once my character "shuttered" (instead of "shuddered")
  • Once my character walked down an "isle" (that would be "aisle")
  • I don't care about dangling participles (but dangling is funny)
  • I don't care about semi-colons or ems because I'll never know how to use them properly (that doesn't stop me from using them
  • I don't care about font treatment (larger font, all caps; evidently this is frowned upon)

Here's the deal. I'm a decent storyteller. I've got some tales to spin, but I don't care about proper English etiquette. That bothers some readers. They have every right. The English language is a craft some hold close to their heart. It doesn't bother other readers (I couldn't care less).

I'll never win a Hugo Award or impress an English professor. I just want to tell the story. My editor can have it pressed and ready for the dance.





 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Don't Kill the Buddha on the Trail

I met Jason at a Zen group, 24 years ago.

I wasn't even interested in Zen, at the time. I was just looking for a group that did spiritual stuff, i.e. meditation. They'd do their thing and I'd do mine. I'm not sure what I was doing except sitting still for 30 minutes at a time. Eventually, I found Zen.

I haven't seen Jason in 17 years. He was at the birth of our son, but then I went one direction to start a family, he went the other. Next thing you know, 17 years go by.

In the turbulence, so still. So present. (Linville Falls)

A week ago, we got together to hike the mountains in North Carolina, a halfway point between our homes. I arrived at the campsite first and have a couple hours to kill so I hit the trails of Linville Falls. The weather is beautiful and the views glorious. I'm an hour up the mountain when I pass a small contingent of folks, one of which is a Buddhist nun decked in full regalia: orange robe, shaved head, eyes thoughtfully downcast.

Okay. All right. A Buddhist nun, hiking. A Buddhist... when do you ever see a Buddhist nun... hiking? EVER?

I think that odd.

Jason arrives. I'm quickly reminded 17 years has passed. His beard half gray, eyes aged. He still flashes the contagious smile, but now one tempered with years of living. Experience. It's clear he's become a skilled counselor. We spend the next 3 days hiking. At night, we return to the camp for a cigar, talk about family, Zen practice, and all the years between now and then. The space in-between our words rests easily, contentedly.

In the morning, I drink coffee. He, tea. Then we climb into his tent for a half hour of zazen before hiking. The men camping in the lot next to us form opinions about what we're doing in there. At least, that's my thoughts. Can't say the proof doesn't seem a little dodgy.

We end the weekend at the top of Wiseman's Pass, smoking our last cigar and laughing until our guts are sore. He asks, a bit demurely, if I'd like to end with a session of co-counselling. He's told me about the process, but I'm not clear. He starts by asking to hold my hand. So here we are, two men, sitting in the grass, holding hands, talking about feelings. Cars passing.

We get in our cars. He turns left. I go right.

Maybe it'll be another 17 years. If it is, we'll pick up right where we left off.

Sometimes, time seems so irrelevant.




More on Practice: Joko BeckAH Almaas, and Bruce Tift






 
Foreverland is Dead (Coming soon!)

Friday, May 3, 2013

Dharma Bummed

Meetings. Not my favorite.

This one, however, has potential. I'm part of a small group applying for a month-long trip to Japan. Expenses paid. You have my attention.

The minutiae of grant writing, however, takes the shine off. It's not like they're handing out money to whomever is standing in the Japan line. We need 40 pages of why and how and where. In that order.

At some point, Zen temples are mentioned. One member, sitting across from me, says, Would you like to sit meditation? Sit on a cushion facing a wall?

I said, Yeah. Yeah.



He doesn't take me serious, doesn't believe me. Figures I'm just going along. And why not. I'm probably the last person that looks like he practices Zen. I'm not sure what a Zen practitioner looks like, it's just not the guy with a Chicago Cubs ball cap, I'm thinking.

Wait till I tell you about Mindfulness. He raises his eyebrows. It'll change your life. 

Here's where practice starts. The first step is to notice thoughts, notice the ever-present inner dialog, the contents of our beliefs that continually go unnoticed. Joko Beck taught to label thoughts, as in,

Having a thought [fill in blank]

For instance, having a thought...
...I already know about mindfulness.
...I already know how to sit.
...I probably know how to sit better than you.
...dude, I'm pretty sure I'm more mindful than you.
The more we pay attention to our inner dialog without judging, just observing, the more absurd and irrational and, often times, childlike some of our beliefs appear. It becomes apparent we're clinging to systems we learned as a child or toddler. Perhaps even an infant. As AH Almaas once stated, We see everyone and everything as a giant boob.

So labeling is the first step, thoughts are just thoughts. The second step is the work: being present. Paying attention to bodily sensations, experiencing subtle tensions, where and what they feel like, allowing them to unfold. Hell of a lot harder than it sounds. Be fully present with the experience we label embarrassment, shame or fear. Arrogance. In some cases, we're going against instinct ingrained in our DNA. It can be terrifying, earth-shattering. Feel life-threatening.

Joko Beck described emotions as a thought connected to a bodily sensation. Expressing anger is not the same as experiencing it. This distinction, or lack thereof, is what gets most of us in trouble, makes our lives messy. Hurts those around us.

It's painful, sometimes, to see how infantile my beliefs still are. How absurd my systems still operate. Case in point, the story in my head before the meeting ended:

Our entourage ascends the steps of a Zen monastery at the peak of Mt. Everest (Yeah, I know, Everest isn't in Japan). The teacher sits at the head of the temple and, with eyes closed, senses there is one among us that is further along the path than the rest. He opens his eyes, gestures to the cushion. I take my place next to him. 

Having a thought... I want to punch myself in the face.

More on Practice: Joko Beck, AH Almaas, and Bruce Tift






 
Foreverland is Dead (Coming soon!)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Smile That Won't Fade

Death is inevitable.

It fascinates me that none of us will avoid it. It is the one certainty. I suppose if it's boiled down, death is change and change is the only guarantee in life. As someone once said, change is good, and I hate it.

Death is a stranger in my house. I'm 46 and I've only lost 3 of 4 grandparents. I know people that have lost that many people in less than a year. I'm lucky, I suppose. I'm also completely unprepared for it. I mean, I'm in my mid-40s and haven't dealt with real loss. If God deals one of my loved ones the Ace of Spades, how will I face that?

I'm not ready.

Recently, Mike Smith passed, unexpectedly. A high school friend, he was known as Smiley. He was, arguably, the nicest person you could ever meet. Thus, the nickname. Smiley and I didn't keep up. We probably spoke once in the last 20 years. However, it seems apropos to share my favorite memory.

1987. My future wife lived in Florida. I lived in Illinois. Smiley and Red (another high school buddy) planned to move to Florida because we were 20 years old and moving to Florida seemed fun. Why not. They planned an exploratory excursion down to the Sunshine State and I would tag along, help with gas, see my future wife and fly back. You can do that when you're 20.

Days before we leave, they deliver the news. We ain't going.

"What do you mean you're not going?"

Can't see it. 

No use in playing out the argument. They're not going. End of story. But screw that, not the end. I got a future wife waiting. I can take a bus. Danny and Coady drop me off at an East St. Louis bus station sometime close to midnight. I remember it clearly because there was steam coming out of the storm sewers and I was scared shitless.

30 hours later, I arrive at Sanibel Island.

Day 2-ish after arrival, my future wife gets a call. It's Smiley. Or Red. Maybe both, I don't remember. They want to know what her address is. Like exactly where she lives because they want to send her something. It's a PO Box.

No, what's your address? 

"Why?"

Just cause. Like where do you live exactly. 

Sonofabitch.

For next week, Smiley and Red slept on the couch. Of course we let them in. They were supposed to look for a place to live, for work. Instead, they sat on the couch quizzing each other with random questions to prove who was smarter. Yeah, I was pissed the first day. But truth be told, that trip never would've been the same without them. It was a hell of lot more fun with them on couch.

Smiley warmed a lot of lives. I was not immune.

He will be missed.


Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Plight of the Caterpillar

Six legs. Ten prolegs.

The caterpillar climbs a stem, finds foliage at its tip. Green, tasty. He perches beneath it, filling his mouth, filling his stomach. The moon illuminates his striped body. The wind cools it. He eats until the leaf is whittled down to skeletal veins and the framework of a leaf remains. He finds another. The caterpillar eats all day, stilling only when a moonlit shadow passes or the flutter of wings warns danger is close.



At sunrise, the caterpillar crawls down into the litter, curls into the soil, Mother Earth's embrace. Safe from the sun. Away from predators. He sleeps until the sun sets, then returns to the branch to fill his belly again.

Life is good. It is full.

As the nights pass, he sheds his exoskeleton and swells larger. Still larger. Where once he was the size of a staple, he's now as thick as a pencil. The twigs bends against his weight. The tree has become a collection of foliar skeletons splayed like skinny fingers. And the caterpillar eats and sleeps. And life is good.

Until the suffering.

It's slight, at first. His skin begins to itch. His body fits more like shrink-wrap. Even the cool embrace of Mother Earth is painful, his nervous system sensitive. No matter how many bites, his stomach will not settle. He searches the ground for cooler soil, another branch for soothing leaves.

But life has betrayed him.

He wants to go back to the way it was, when there was just the branch, just the leaf. Just the sweet slumber in day's shade. This isn't fair. It isn't right. He has been forsaken.

All that is good is no more.

He endures days of struggle, no longer eating, no longer plump and vital. Shrunken and sluggish, his color is lifeless and dull. It's too difficult. Too hard. He can't go on, not anymore. Not like this.

He lacks the strength to find shelter, lacks the will to hide from things that fly and things that peck. And when wings flutter nearby, he looks up to see the soft scales of a majestic moth. The underwings are pink. The forewings are dark and soft. The moth remains still, the moonlight revealing the antennae plumes. And then it lifts away, wings patter like a kiss of wind.

If only, the caterpillar thinks. If only.





 
Foreverland is Dead (Coming in April!)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Evolution of a Vampire

I'm not a vampire fan.

I don't hate them, I'm just saying I don't love them. Why do I feel like I have to even explain myself? Honestly. They're not real.

But what if?


See, I had this minor epiphany at a local theatrical production of Dracula. IF there was such as thing as a hypnotic, immortal being that lived on human blood, would he continue the eternal savagery? Or would he evolve into something more sublime?

Along comes Drayton.

He doesn't remember being born. He's not sure what he is.

His memories of the early days are quite savage: tearing open throats, wolfing down hearts, that sort of thing. What vampires do. But now, not so much. He's young and unassuming. Cultured. His skin is black, not because of heritage; 8000 years in the sun will do that to a person.

Drayton still feels hunger, yet no longer feeds on blood but rather its essence. He no longer takes it but only accepts it as a gift. Sometimes he appears to people as a savior. Sometimes, as vengeance.

His understanding of the human condition is unparalleled. He's in complete control of his thoughts and emotions, sees with extrasensory perception, feels sensation at will. His body is undying. His mind, clear and uncluttered.

An immortal Zen master.

I wanted to uncork his endless power, really cut him loose, present him with an antagonist that really deserved a good disembowelment. You know, a real scumbag. Always with compassion, the bad guy gets it, just not the bullet-in-the-head kind of gets it. I suppose that's the character I imagined in that theatre.

Suppose I'll have to write some stories about the early years to get bloody.

For now, all five novellas are compiled into The Drayton Chronicles.



Tuesday, March 5, 2013

All Grinched Up

The curse.

You find a good book, you're up all night. Get stuck with a bad one, you wonder why words were invented.

Writing books is a different curse.



The characters, they get inside your head. Their lives are fluid. Their actions  and motivations are limitless. It's like developing a 80,000 piece jigsaw puzzle, only you're cutting each piece individually, painting them one at a time.

There's an inner compass that guides me, something tells me when I'm onto something. A certain energy emanates. Think of the proverbial light bulb flicking on somewhere around the solar plexus. I start with characters, think about what they'll do and why. Develop a general idea of the ending. If it feels dry and empty, if it feels lifeless, I keep cutting. Keeping painting. Until--

SNAP. Yeah.

I got something.

This time it's The Grinch, a sequel to Claus: Legend of the Fat Man. Problem is, this isn't Santa Claus. The Grinch is trademarked. How grinchy.

That's all right. I can tell a grinchy story without The Grinch. I've got characters that are waking up, keeping me up at night, whispering what they want to do, telling me secrets, revealing their shortcomings. Like a good book, I gladly watch them dance in the theatre of the mind into wee hours. In the morning, I'll scratch out what I remember, regret the stuff I forget.

The journey is just beginning.




 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

I Heart My Lawyer

I'm kidding. I don't have a lawyer.

It was just some lady the bank appointed to close on our refinancing.



She plopped down with a folder stuffed with paper, looked like the history of the world. I was thinking we'd have to a sign a paper or two. Turns out, we had to prove we were human, for starters, and work our way up from there.
This paper ensures the lender that you, indeed, are not a zombie and that you have never eaten human flesh nor have you ever been tempted to taste a human brain nor has anyone in your family ever been a zombie. 
Sign here and initial, please.
I wish they were like that. Perhaps I would've listened before signing away the ownership of my soul or whatever was on that document. This is what I heard:
This document ensures mumm mum mum daddada mum dadda mumumm mmm mmmmmm... sign here.
My wife says, "We should read this."

"That's what she's for. Just sign."

On a previous engagement, we were signing 25 trees worth of paper with another law firm. I asked if anyone had ever read one of these. He said some lady insisted on taking them home, reading every word. Then he goofed on her in between passing us documents. I felt dirty. But, still, I signed. I just wanted out of there. Suppose that's the point: pen-whip us until our eyes turn milky.

We trusted the lawyer. She seemed nice. And that's a horrible reason to trust someone with legal documents.

No one has come for the kids, though. So that's good.


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Using All the Crayons

My dog eats cat shit. And loves it.

I don't know if I've ever met a dog that didn't salivate over a litter box. You'd think cats were crapping out heroin. I've never tried one, but I'm damn sure I won't like it. And if I did, well, I'd rather not know that about myself.



Who am I to judge? What makes my sensibilities the gold standard of all existence? Maybe beer tastes like moldy cheese to the rest of the universe.

A box of crayons contains a lot of colors. If you're a fan of affirmative sayings, you know that Life is about using all the crayons in the box. That's easy when they're all sweet tasting colors. You know, the fiery reds and deep yellows. Not that silver crayon or the bright green. And where the hell am I supposed to use white?

But sometimes the box is full. Other times it only offers the cat turd crayon. I don't think Crayola named it that, but it's in there.

And my dog would love it.





 
Foreverland is Dead (Coming in April!)


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Motorcycle Boy

It's been a year.

He came to the horticulture program in the fall of 2011. Like most of our students, he was in his 20s or 30s. Hard to say, I'm never a good judge of age. He walked with a slight hitch, I think it was a skateboard accident. Or was it a motorcycle? He still rides both.

I always knew when he was in the building, his helmet sitting next to his laptop. That laptop, the one he'd frantically google for facts in the middle of class. Drove some of the students crazy. He was always present, always involved in conversation or the middle of a project. He was easy in lab, just assign him to a crew and get out of the way.

Made some crazy.



A year ago, we came back from Christmas break. I was talking to a graduate, told him he probably knew one of current students. They were both skaters, of course they'd know each other. I describe him.

"That dude?" the graduate says. "He killed himself."

He's got it wrong. I just saw him a month earlier. He had some problems outside of class, but who doesn't. I describe him some more.

"That's him. No doubt."

I check the obits. Name after name after name... I then I see it. He's there. It doesn't say how it happened, just that it did.

The details, irrelevant.

He's gone.

I don't know why. I didn't know him that way. We all got demons. Maybe his were too tall, too angry. Maybe they circled the waters around him and things just got too muddy. Maybe he just couldn't see clearly, caught in the vortex of swimming demons.

He ran out of strength. He gave up. Went under.

Made a decision he could never take back.

There are others that feel like I do. I miss Motorcycle Boy.



Sunday, January 6, 2013

Fat as a Barrel

Life contains pebbles.

Some teachers have compared practice (work, meditation, whatever you call it) to building a bigger container. That our life is about being present with whatever experience is there, whether we interpret it as good/bad, fun/boring, painful/pleasant.

When our life is a small container, it's very difficult.



Perhaps fear is a pebble.

When our life is the size of a thimble, the pebble fills it entirely, there is very little space for anything else. Our thoughts are consumed with how to get rid of the pebble. We don't want to experience it, don't want it to be there. And we have no room for anything else: no love, no appreciation.

Just the pebble.

But as we sit, as we practice/work, our container becomes bigger. If our life becomes a barrel, the pebble becomes irrelevant. It's still present, we're not trying to change it or get rid of it, but we have so much more space for everything else. We can be present with everything.

Including the pebble.

It is not easy. But it is our life. Our practice.

Check out Joko Beck or Bruce Tift for more.