Thursday, September 29, 2016

Coming to Terms, Part 4: I'm not the writer I used to be.

The light here in Northern Colorado is changing so drastically during these last few days. It's fall. And in Colorado that means one thing when it comes to these September days: the days feel like summer and the nights feel like autumn. I mean, the days are still hot, and the nights are cool. In October, the days feel like autumn and the nights feel like winter. We don't get many seasons here. And this particular time of year always makes me feel funny, and oftentimes, that funny feeling isn't good.

This year has been a great experiment for me. I've been desperately trying to recapture the writer I once was. And really, it's not the writer I once was as much as it's the prolific writer I once was. I spent 2015 with my notebooks with no care for producing anything. This year, I've been with the notebook, yes, but I've been trying to produce something tangible. The whole result of last year's work was a handful of very bad (but ultimately timely) poems, and a group of short stories namely “The Buchanan Book of the Dead” which I hope to rework as some point. All said, I didn't do much last year, but it was more than the year before. 2016 has been a different story.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Coming to Terms Part 3: Where do you find the time?

Years ago, long before my son was born, I had only two things I needed to do daily to live. I had to write and I had to work for money to pay the bills. I had such a life then that I really didn't need to work hard, and I didn't work very hard. I've never worked very hard. I guess I always saw work and bills to be only slightly less bullshit than trying to avoid them outright. I've never had a very high regard for the system and the system demands rent, lights, grocery store visits, etc, and a job in order to maintain all of that. However, in the old days, I worked very few hours at a job to pay relatively low living expenses. Consequently, those who I meet with low bills, no car, and more free time get more of my admiration (and envy) than those with a conventionally lavish lifestyle.

In these old days in which I speak, I spent the better portion of my days writing. I didn't do much else. At the end of a day, or a week, or a month, or a year, I could get a whole lot done. Oftentimes, when asked about it: “Where do you find the time?” I would simply explain that we all have that sort of time. I really felt like all of us had that sort of time. In a way, I was very naive. Yet, if someone persisted and claimed not to have the time, I would ask, do you have a tv? And when the answer was “yes” I would simply say, you have the time.

Now, many years later, I wonder about the time. It's true, I have the same number of hours in a day that I always had. We all do. The Earth is never going to change, not the length of day, anyway. I find myself being very short on time these days. Well, if I dig a little deeper, it's not really the time I'm short on, but the level of energy. In the past, I wrote when I woke up in the morning and I worked all the way until the mid-afternoon. It was sometimes four hours, sometimes eight. I'm dad in the morning now. I work earlier in the afternoon now. So, my free time happens very late at night, and I'm cashed by then. I read sometimes, I scribble in my journal or attempt to write, but more often than not, I just stare into my computer screen.

I realize that life is cyclical. I know that things always change, like the amount of work I must do both in the home and in the workplace to keep my family financially afloat. It's life, and I can accept that. I think all of us, if we think about such things, living life and working and paying bills and whatnot isn't so bad. It isn't. It's what we do to afford living in homes and driving cars and doing what everyone else is doing. Practically speaking, it's okay.

Fundamentally speaking, however, this life, this modern life really sucks. I think we're all burdened with shit, and I mean very smelly shit, that we don't really need. And all of it takes money. To make money is to take time. For me, the opportunity cost of taking my time is time away from writing. Like I said, I have a family, I'm subject to the same lifestyle decisions as everyone else. And as I said, it's okay.

So, knowing I have a very finite amount of time and all I really want to do is write, where is the balance? Well, there really isn't any. I write when I can. I get the same amount of writing hours in a week nowadays that I once got in the first morning of the week. That's a bummer.

I think the quality of my writing suffers because of the sporadic nature of my time. I think the process lacks something too, although I couldn't say what it is. What has remained, most importantly, is how I feel during the act of writing. I can come to terms with the two real issues here, a lack of time, and a suffering product knowing, when the feeling I get while working is just as good as it's ever been. I feel great, a great sense of purpose and accomplishment at this very instant because I have written.

Where this may or may not makes sense to others, is that when you are a creative writer, the hours of creation are very important. I believe that all artists or people endeavoring to pursuit art, any kind of art, it's important to have time, use time and reach the creative center of yourself. If it's fifteen minutes a day, know that someday it may be eight hours. If it's eight hours, enjoy it while it lasts, because someday it may be only fifteen minutes.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Coming to Terms, Part 2

The Spring of 1991 found me in Iraq. I was 18 years old at the time and a Private First Class in the United States Army, 1/1 Calvary and I was already thinking different thoughts.

After the cease fire, I was just waiting to go back to Germany and make new memories, have other experiences. I spent my days reading books, writing letters, writing in my journal and composing stories. The truth of the matter was simply that just beyond my immediate landscape, all else was just dark.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Under the Light of a Fading Evening

Since I never really know if anyone will see this post, please leave a comment below. Thanks.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Coming to Terms

Years ago, while tending bar at The Thin Man in Denver, I struggled with the artist's dilemma. The artist dilemma, as it was for me, was how do I become a writer and still maintain my quality of life? Good question.

At the time, some nebulous time between 2002 and 2005, I wanted nothing more than to be a writer. In my mind, I wanted to fill page after page after page with my words. The notion was all too real because, being a writer was all I had ever wanted to do, and I had had a few prolific times up to that point coupled with a few publications that led me to believe I could do it.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Surviving the blog lay-off

I've always felt like having deadlines and due dates were the only reason to get anything done. I guess it probably has to do with the way we were trained as children in school. You'd get an assignment and a date by which it had to be done. Should you not been given a date, there would have been no incentive to do it, nor any reason to even begin for that matter.

For me, once I left school, I always wanted a deadline for any of my creative projects. My deadlines used to be very nebulous and somewhat arbitrary. I may have said something like: “I'll finish writing all the pages in my notebook by Friday,” or “I'll write until my pen runs out of ink.” These sorts of deadlines worked very well for me during some of my earlier prolific times. These early prolific times I define by how much I did, what I wrote or how the process felt to me. I bring up two times specifically, the fall of 2000 and the fall of 2005. Both times I had a tremendous portion of time on my hands and I was going through a major transition. I wrote a great deal during those two autumns so very long ago, but I wrote very little of value. After all, my deadlines were arbitrary like, “I'll finish this notebook today,” or “I'll drain three pens of ink by 5:00.”

I became much better with deadlines and quantifiable work during graduate school. I had to because I couldn't just write for the sake of filling pages and draining pens. Graduate school for writers is an exercise in productivity for the sake of meeting deadlines. I owed my advisor 40 pages of material every three weeks for two years.

Blending those two definitions of deadline, the real and the arbitrary, I made changed to my work habits after grad school. That first year out of grad school, I had wanted to write a half a dozen short stories and a novel. I wrote a dozen stories and four novels. I did this mostly because I was still wired that way and also because I made myself stick to a schedule with specific deadlines. Simply stated my goal was 10,000 words a week due by Friday. This was no easy task. It was completely achievable because I had no other things to distract me. I wrote in the morning, went to work in the evening and drank at night. It was a good life.

Then I began to add things: my blog, Umbrella Factory Magazine, The Sophia Ballou Project and later, Rocket House Pictures.

Then life added something extra for me: a family.

I know we all get busy, it's the nature of life and getting older. And I continued of with most of the things I had always done for years.

My output shrank, and rightly so, when my son was born. I had less time and I just continued with what I thought was important. I maintained only two things: my weekly contribution to The Sophia Ballou Project and my weekly blog post.

The blog became so important to me that I would not miss a deadline for anything. For years it was Monday morning. I posted every Monday morning knowing full well that no one would read it. I kept at this blog weekly even after I fell out of ideas.

Then, December 2014, we decided to shelf Umbrella Factory Magazine for a year and I decided to do the same with all of my other stuff too. I just took a small fast digitally.

It last six months.

Coming back to the blog was tough. It still is. I know I have not been able to maintain it in the last couple of years. And even now, it's been another lay-off. This time it's been four months, or the length of time my son has been on summer vacation.

I'll say this too, it took a long time for me to get involved with social media and it only took on flip of the switch to get out. I spend the same amount of time on social media in month that I once did in a day.

Although I have the sort of low-fi life I get day to day, I doubt my writing has improved significantly. I still write, in my notebook with my fountain pen and then I do subsequent drafts on my computer. When it comes down to it, I've either completed more I'm about to complete more this year than I have in the past few years. And still, this blog has been incredibly difficult to do.

It could be my schedule with the schedules of everyone else in the family too. It could be that the blog has become a priority several rungs down from where it once was. It could be that I just don't find anything I say to be nearly as interesting as it once was. It could be a lack of interest too.

And yet, here I am. I feel like all the above reasons, even just one such reason is enough to quit the blog. I also feel like I've been at this blog for so long that it deserves more. Sometimes, when something has the sort of history that this thing has, it deserves more than a fizzle and then quiet.

And the question of the hour: how does a blog, a blog like this survive a lay-off?

The same way a blog begins: a little at a time, one post, and a predetermined frequency. Again, it takes time to build up content. I suppose the two things that separate a lay-off from a fresh start are this: knowledge of what the blog once was and the knowledge of what the blog meant during the process in its heyday.

For me, what it once was, was a focus of all the things that I was doing like writing novels, managing a magazine and making film. Of all of those things now, I'm not so defined by them nor driven by them. Yet, here I am, I still do all the things I once did, seemingly, except for the blog. Which makes me question if the blog is even important at all anymore.
Is it?

Well, I know what it was and what it could be. I know the focus and the vagueness it can be. The question is, do I maintain it? And if so, why?

Surviving a lay-off of anything is very tough to do. For those exercise people, leaving the gym for 4 months and going back is next to impossible. It's the same way with the blog. It's the same way with any writing and writing practice.

For me?

I suppose it's the way it was in the beginning: a frequency, a vague notion of direction and a little commitment.

See you Thursdays from 9/1/2016 to 12/12/2016.