Monday, June 24, 2013

Equal Parts Desire and Execution Then Add Time

My friend Christina is a young woman. It's funny because I generally preface any personal anecdote with these words: “I am a young man,” because, well, I am. But with this anecdote, Christina is a young woman. In fact, next to her, I am an old man. We still get on famously. We talk words. She loves Charles Bukowski. Although I do hold a certain level of appreciation for Bukowski, I still maintain that reading it is like watching a dog kill a pigeon. It baffles me that I know so many young women who like Bukowski as much as they do. But it's more than Bukowski between Christina and me. We talk cars, we talk writing, we talk personal tragedy. We talk about writing and waiting tables and the ills of the Internet. I like Christina a lot.

Christina is a new addition to my circle. We've just met in recent weeks. She's a writer. As close as I can tell, other than her, I am the only other writer in the restaurant where we work. Sure, I have other buddies, colleagues and co-conspirators who write, maintain blogs and are doing things, but Christina is the only one with the desire to just write. Before I go on, please see these blogs: Secret Lexicon, Night Heir, Owl Curiosity and From A to Zenith.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Nothing More Than Points on a Map

St. Augustine, Florida and Drogobych, Poland and Portland, Oregon have very little in common. One from the other, they are nothing more than points on a map. I've been to St. Augustine, in that terrible spring of 2005. I have never been to Poland. Portland? Well, I'm here now. Leaving the physical world for a moment, I just recently visited Drogobych and St. Augustine. T.A. Louis took me to Florida, 1969, in his book Things That Hang From Trees. And likewise, Bruno Schulz has taken me to Poland, 1934 (although it is a retrospection of an even earlier time) in The Street of Crocodiles. I know I have discussed both of these books before over the years, and perhaps a discussion of them now may seem redundant at best and sickly repetitive at the worst. So, let's forgo it.

Rather, what about place? How does place and time make it into the mind and ultimately onto the page? These are great questions to ask on a cool June forenoon in Portland, Oregon. I ask them today because I have recently in the last few days revisited three books. Yes, Things That Hang From Trees and The Street of Crocodiles being two you may know. Interestingly enough, I feel like every novel I have ever written, I have wanted to emulate one or both of these books. However, there is a third book, and this book I have read way too many times. I own it at least two times more, and I am procrastinating one of the readings of it right now. My novel, Undertakers of Rain, is very quickly on its way to press. The small changes that happen at this stage are the changes and corrections that really are the last of the polish.

Undertakers of Rain, is set here in Portland, Oregon. It's set in my memory of 1999-2001 Portland, Oregon. Even thought I live here now, I wrote the initial drafts of the novel when I still lived in Denver, Colorado.

Denver may be another story.

When it comes to the novels that I've written, and especially the two that have been published, location is a very major part of the story. I may have considered myself a character driven writer, or a dialogue driven writer, but as I think about it today, a physical location is as important to me and the characters in my story as anything else. I'm quickly realizing how much of the foundation of my stories is in fact a location I know so well. For instance: I have written two novels specifically set here in Portland, Undertakers of Rain and Psychotomemtic Peacocks. I have one novel set in Ansbach, Germany and one novel set in Tucson, Arizona: From Ansbach to Color and Just Then the Moment respectively. There are two novels set in Denver, A Gun to the Head and Dysphoric Notions. Oddly enough, the last manuscript I drafted, The Errors of Fabric, is set in both Portland, and Denver. In short, I have set everything I have ever written in places that I have lived. Denver and Portland being the two places I have lived the longest.

So, what is it? Bruno Schulz lived his entire life in Drogobych never even leaving the place for a long stretch of time. T.A. Louis, a Floridian, vacationed in St. Augustine as a kid. These are places these two writers knew intimately well. Not unlike me with Portland, Denver, Tuscon and Ansbach.

What about Portland, Oregon?

I have so many things to say about this place. Much of how I feel about the place is genuine and genuinely good. The truth is, I really feel like Portland is the perfect place for a social introvert. What? What the hell is a social introvert? Well, I've been thinking about this one for days too. I say social introvert only because you can be an introverted person and still enjoy social situations, like the bar, a hockey game, working in a restaurant. Portland, in my opinion, is good for the social introvert because there are ample places to talk to people without really meeting them. Whole conversations in bars that can go on for hours, or days or even months with no lasting ties. This is not to say that I have not acquired friends here. Nothing is further from the truth. I have made a few connections here that are the closest connections I've ever made. But the point remains that I am often alone even in a crowded situation and I am so delightfully left to my meandering daydreams. I wander the streets alone, and this adds yet other facet to it. I have no emotional attachment to the place because I have no emotional ties to other people here. It's strange. And yet, I use Portland as story settings again and again. So obviously I feel something here.

Place. Space. Time.

Here we are, all climbing around this mother Earth like lice on the spherical head of a host. Here on Earth, we have finite places to be. Yet, as writers, we have the infinite places to write about because the maps inside our skulls are unlimited. We choose a place to write about. This can be the places we lived as children, the places we live now. We pick a space within the places too. The space may be a childhood home as the case with Schulz, or a neighborhood as the case with Louis, or a bar in my case. We then add a time. All writers do this. I loved reading Herman Raucher's memoir, Summer '42. His book worked best with the backdrop of the war and the age of the characters. There is a time of history and a time of a character's life than fit well within the confines of story.

I hope to finish my work on Undertakers of Rain this week. For you, should you like to think about location, try Bruno Schulz and T.A. Louis. They are both great reads, short, perfect.

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Call to Arms II

I wanna quit. This is the general mood, the general feeling; it's the way the ennui sets in during the quiet and tired times. I read the newspaper. It's worth a giggle or two. I drink coffee, I'm down to one cup a day. On Saturday nights after work I hustle up my buddies John and Soizic. The three of us get acquainted with gin martinis. Last night it was Old Raj, dear Old Raj. I continue hustling tables in a restaurant where I may never be able to afford to eat. I wander the streets of downtown Portland daily, mostly after dark. I contemplate quitting. I think about coming off the weekly gin. I mean, it's like the conversation after the Old Raj martini. “It was like three drinks,” I said. “It was like five,” John said. “We should've quit after that first martini,” I said. “Yeah,” John said. “It was perfect, after that I was just chasing the high.”

Just chasing the high.

I do wanna quit. I wanna quit my job. It's a good job. I work less than 25 hours a week. I make good money. It does not interfere with the daytime hours I spend with my son, which is perfect. On Saturday nights I get to have a drink or two with my friends, which I love. In short, there is nothing about the job that should make me want to quit. I wanna quit the walk to work, and the walk home. Because not only do I not want to work downtown, I think I wanna quit living down here too. The coffee and the newspaper? These are the least of my worries. And they are only a small part of the ennui.

Dying of ennui.

I wanna quit the magazine. This is only a true statement around publication time. So, quarterly for about three minutes I wanna quit Umbrella Factory Magazine. Fortunately, this too passes. It is a small literary magazine that has already outlived the lifespan of many small literary magazines.

Out living the lifespan.

I often wanna quit writing. I want to quit all of it. I wanna quit keeping a journal. I wanna quit writing novels. I wanna quit this blog. This blog that I have so religiously dedicated myself to writing weekly for the last three years. I want to quit the random pieces, the poems, the vignettes, the short stories that I contribute to Sophia Ballou. In short I want to quit it all.

What's left in the wake?

Nothing. That's right, nothing. To quit writing, at this stage is a ridiculous notion. Not now. It's far too late. I cannot quit work at the restaurant. It's only 25 hours a week, and besides, I see John and Soizic on Saturday nights. And this blog? Forget about it. It's been going on for 180 weeks. And the novels?

Yeah, right.

I just spent the last week review Undertakers of Rain for the tenth time. I got at least 2 more revisions to go through before it hits the proverbial bookshelf. I'll read it through this week, and in a few months, I'll see it in print. It's just not time to quit.

What happens to us when we reach our goals?

This is a stellar question. I set about in life to be a writer. I worked hard to free myself from my confines. I've done everything that I ever said I was going to do. Now what?

Now what?

I can't quit, even though I often want to. It's like at this moment I've just finished that Old Raj martini. And now I'll just keep at it like I want to chase the high.

You, start right now, start today. Write it down. Pick up that pen. Strike a few keys, make the keyboard suffer under the weight of your words. Make art. Do whatever you do. Do it so much, put it in the balance of your life, and make it so you want to quit. It adds an element of conflict to it. Be dangerous. Be subversive. Make love. Make art. Write it down. Go have a gin martini on Saturday nights, late, with John and Soizic.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Writing Travel: the Sultry Nights, Paltry Days and Bliss of Urban Decay

Introduction: Why here, why now, and the title of this project.

It is not exactly public knowledge yet, but my time here in Portland, OR is limited. I suppose my time on Earth, like everyone's time, is limited. Truth is, no matter how much we'd like to think otherwise, we don't every know exactly how limited our time really is. For me, and I'm not going to tell exactly when, I know precisely how limited my time in Portland really is.

It's with a bit of mixed feelings this eminent parting with Portland. As many of you know, I have lived here on a few different occasions. I was here in the late 1990s and the early 2000s. Janice and I moved up here from Denver in late 2010. All said, Portland has been good to me, the first go around and certainly the second. I like the air here. I like the view out the window. I like how not part of the place I feel here. I would say that no one knows me here, but that is just not true. I know plenty of people. But the people I know here, know me, and they don't. For instance, in the years since I've been here, I have not sought out any creative project with others, and no one has sought me out. Conversely, in Denver, I worked magazines, websites, made film both writing and acting, I participated in rogue art projects. I do not feel bad about either situation. Truth is, I've rather enjoyed my time here and I've rather preferred not being busy in group projects and creative parties.

But, I can't shake the feeling about how much I love Portland, OR. Hell, most of my novels are set here. I know I will miss the place. I cannot imagine the exact feeling I'll have when the place is in my rear view mirror, so to speak.