Contemplating your mortality on a mountainside

Here’s today’s post on Getting Out More. I hiked to one of my favorite places yesterday and lived to tell the tale. Enjoy!


Not my scene

So it’s Rodeo Weekend this weekend. I walked down to the corner store to get a Cup O’Noodles and passed by the only bar in town. Someone was singing House of the Rising sun over the din of garbled voices of a hundred people talking all at once. Honestly, the bar scene makes my skin crawl. But I couldn’t help but wonder if there isn’t something wrong with me.

I went to the bar plenty of times when I was in college. I was a regular at a place called the Smiling Moose. The waitresses knew me and all of my friends. We closed the place down about four nights a week, usually after an evening shift at the computer lab where I was working. My shift would end at 10pm and it was off to the Moose for a couple pints, some nachos, and good conversations with friends. It was a neighborhood bar vibe with only a few nights a year when the place was super packed. St. Patrick’s and Graduation. It was a college town. Even then it wasn’t all that crazy.

The last girl I dated took me to her bar when I went to visit her up in Wyoming. That place was like the Stockman here in town with the exception it was about five times bigger and shoulder to shoulder with people. Here’s the difference between a place like the Moose and a place like the Dollar or the Stockman. In the Moose, it was just people hanging out. We would visit over beers and watch the World’s Strongest Man contest on the TVs. We would say goodnight and drive home. The Dollar and the Stockman are a whole other critter. Big white cowboy hats, pie-plate sized belt buckles, and girls in tight jeans with big glittery crosses on the back pockets. Because nothing says you love Jesus like getting railed in somebody’s king cab.

At those kinds of bars it’s a fucking mess. People just shouting at each other’s faces to be heard, drunk as shit, bumping into each other, huge lines for the toilets, puke all over the floors. Everyone on the verge of fighting or fucking. Some jackass always gets mean drunk and gives you that smirk before trying to talk shit to you, trying to prove he’s the biggest asshole in the bar. I’m nearly deaf anyway when it comes to crowds. Years of playing the drums in a band fried any ability to discern what some Bud Lite Badass is trying to say to me over another verse of Tennessee Whiskey done by a local band.

I would rather stay and home and demolish my liver for a fraction the price and no threat of getting curb stomped by some dildo and his five buddies.

I really tried to fit in that night, but she had her world, and I had mine. Maybe that’s why she said she wasn’t feeling it and began to distance herself. Her world still hinges on going out to the bar and getting wasted every other week. And I guess mine isn’t nearly as exciting. I binge-watched Umbrella Academy this weekend. I threw the squirrels and the tennis balls for Penny. I wrote.

I dated a professor for a while who liked going to the bars and flirting with the cowboys herself. She actually called me anti-social because I didn’t like going to bars. Maybe I just didn’t like watching her get hit on across the room, pretending I didn’t exist. I did used to hang out with a friend of mine at a bar sometimes and we would fake our way through swing dancing and karaoke but those were always her haunts and dive bars are a lot like the Moose. Even then, neither of us got hammered. She would flirt with guys and all of her other friends and me would say “Do you not see the red flags?”

Maybe I just grew up? Does that make me boring? I don’t know.

I mean I’ve done the 1940s Ball and met interesting people, danced with beautiful women, and am very social in that kind of venue. I missed the Ball this year because of other plans and I didn’t have the heart to bump into my former gf. I met her there three years ago, watching people swing dance. I think it would have hurt too much to see her, knowing that there is a lot of water under that bridge, and as much as I might have wanted to meet her again, our worlds are very much out of alignment right now. If she couldn’t stay then, she sure as hell wouldn’t want to now with where I’m living and what I’m trying to make happen.

Somehow there is a lot of difference between dancing and drinks and good conversations and the meat market of a cowboy bar packed to the gills with drunken assholes. Like I said, I would rather drink at home by myself. It’s a lot cheaper, and I don’t have to wonder how many guys have ploughed the girl I’m with. It’s safer too. I’m not on the road. I can take a piss without having to stand in line. I can finish my drink and go to bed.

Sometimes I feel like there is something wrong with me. Maybe Professor Girl was right. I’m “antisocial.” I guess I just never had any use for the drama of the bar scene. Too many of my friends come back with stories about getting drugged, or going home with some douche lagoon, or watching someone get their teeth kicked out. And always the fucking guys throwing darts at women’s butts, like some kind of troglodite foreplay. Does that make me anti-social?

I sure as hell hope so.

Maybe I’ve just hit that point in my life where peace is the most valuable thing a man can have. I have found enough trouble in my life without ever having to look for it. I guess it’s just not my scene.

Not that I’m looking for a relationship anymore, but I do remember quiet nights sitting around the fire pit, listening to good music, smoking cigars, and drinking beer or whiskey or wine. Making out for a few hours and then going to bed. Curled up next to the one I loved. Simple things.

Beats the hell out of having a shouting conversation with some drunk I don’t even know, having to breathe that cloyingly sweet tobacco breath while you wonder what is taking your date so long to get back with the beers. Not my thing I guess.

I prefer a clean, well lighted place.

The Work Ethic

Right now I work as an independent contractor. A freelance writer. My bread and butter comes from working through an agency. They get me assignments, I write content, I get paid. There are a couple catches to this, however. One of them is the amount of assignments are limited. Some weeks are flush with work, and other weeks aren’t. I do as many assignments as I can when they are available and I try not to burn out. I wrote a lot of articles on slip and fall injuries and car crashes in New York State last week. Since then it has been eerily quiet. The client still hasn’t reviewed what I wrote.

What is unsettling about it all is I’m not the only one experiencing this at the agency. Lots of other writers are scared that the work isn’t coming in like it used to. Considering what has been going on in our country right now, it’s not really a big surprise. The price of fuel reflects the economy in general. Inflation will soon hit our grocery stores like it is hitting the pumps. After all, for nearly $1,000 for a tank of diesel, the trucks have to deliver the stuff somehow. We are going to see things getting much worse very soon. The clients are scared right now of overextending themselves when it comes to marketing. They aren’t buying because they don’t know where their next paychecks are coming from either.

Right now, the Court system still considers me as making what I made when I worked at the university, even though that job has been gone for over two years. They consider that to be my potential, even though if by some miracle the university asked me to come back, it would be at at least $10k per year less. And I would have to figure out a place to live. Probably at around $2100 per month. As it was, I was barely scraping by.

My life is here now. The town where I live might not look like much to a judge or lawyers, (or my ex-wife), but this is what I am doing and where I am living. It’s a good town with clean air, nice summer weather, and just because we don’t live like suburbanites in this town, we have a sense of community those cities forgot about a long time ago. The economy is in shambles, and for someone who lost his job at the beginning of that, I seem to be the only person who understands the reality that my life as it was then, has ended. I am working to start over again at 46 years old. It used to be that people could do these things. But for the last two years, none of that has been considered. I will likely be told I am shirking my responsibilities, even though life changed beyond my control for the last two years. I’m doing everything I can to keep my head above water.

It isn’t easy. But I can say that I am supporting myself on being a professional writer. Which is what I went to college to do.

I found a comment by someone on my Facebook the other day. It was in response to feeling down on my writing ability a few years ago. “You’re an amazing writer!” she said. She read everything I ever posted here too. It’s hard to feel like anything about that statement is true when so many factors are against you. I have had people try to be encouraging when they tell me that I have written books. Most people who write never make it that far. But really, a lot of people do. There’s a lot of competition. Agents have wishlists for what they want too, and what I have written isn’t on any of them. The thing is they just don’t know what they need to publish. They are all taking the safe route. Eveyrone wants to take the safe route these days. If you step out of line, you are harsly reminded why you aren’t the kind of person who gets to do that sort of thing.

I’m flattered that someone thinks (thought) I am an amazing writer. They had only ever really read my blog posts. I’m not sure how she would have felt about my longer works. I’m sure she got sick of my writing towards the end of our acquaintence (I wrote enough letters at the end). But is being “amazing” enough? Even if I did take what they said at face value, why aren’t the agents replying? Why does it feel like you can pick up any book at a Barnes and Nobel and feel like it is garbage? Is what I am writing worse than garbage? And why aren’t the articles selling either?

When you push yourself out of your comfort zone, you feel like this a lot. You feel unappreciated sometimes. Futile. Fooling yourself. Why did someone say I was amazing? What did they really want? But every time you push yourself, you are surprised at how far you can go. For a moment you forget those doubts.

Last summer I sold an article to a magazine. An actual hold-in-your-hand glossy-covered magazine. That was an achievement not a lot of writers can make claim to. Especially nowadays. It’s hard to remember things like that when you are having clients micromanage your articles or the courts looking down their nose at you because you aren’t punching a clock anymore.

Am I an amazing writer? Most of the time I don’t feel like it. Most of the time I feel like an imposter. I mean, most people haven’t heard of me. And the rest of the time when something sells, I wonder why the hell someone bought it. Or even worse, I just wave it off like “of course they bought it.” When those sales become mundane and expected, it doesn’t feel great. It’s almost like what drug addicts say about forever chasing that first high. It will never be the same. I sold my first legit published story for $10. (I had been accepted at my college literary magazine and even won an award for writing, but this was different). It was after over a year of submitting stories to science fiction and fantasy magazines. I was so excited to sign that contract and send it back to the editor. He bought another three of my stories too over the years. He gave me a chance.

I never got critical reviews for any of them, and hell, I don’t even know if anyone read them (other than the editor). What I do regret is by the time the last one was accepted by that fantasy magazine, it felt like I was settling. What an awful feeling. The magazine that gave me a chance after fighting for a year to sell something…was my fallback. I got tired of the fallback after awhile, and when they finally folded, I didn’t even have that. The rest of the publications were filled with people who knew somebody who knew somebody. Having just that $10 was nice. At one point in my life, it was nice to just be published.

I guess I should remember to be humble. And even if I am an “amazing writer” I can be grateful for the work I get and remember how hard I had to fight to get where I am now. I don’t care if it’s not good enough for my detractors…it’s good enough for me. Because it’s everything I’ve ever wanted.

Everyday I put in the work. Every. Day.

It isn’t about talent as much as it is showing up and pushing yourself beyond your comfort zones. And some days knowing that you can give yourself a break. Come back with fresh batteries and hit it again.