For someone who says a lot, I don’t talk much

It was April 1997 and a friend of mine approached me on the campus quad. She was a classmate from my poetry class, and as it happened also the editor of the campus literary magazine which I had been accepted into with a short story of mine. It was my second published story. It probably ran about 1200 words. I don’t remember. Anyway, Dana had caught me on my way to work and we chatted for a bit. The April clouds were rolling up in that dark, ambiguous way when you aren’t sure if the fickle gods of Colorado weather are going to deliver you rain or a blizzard.

“Are you coming to the release party tonight?” she asked.

“I didn’t know that was tonight.”

“You need to be there. Please come.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll think about it,” which meant no.

“No, you have to come!” she said.

When I got home that night, the place was its usual level of being trashed. One roomate in his boxers, slung out across the couch watching TV. The other two making something for dinner for the three of them. Another night of dealing with their bullshit. And me being the odd man out. So I decided to go.

When I got to the release party at the University Center, they had a whole spread going on. The event was catered. There were at least 200 people there. Professors. Students. Rows of chairs were set up in front of a podium. Stacks of the literary magazine were being handed out. I ran into Dana and she gave me a hug. “I’m glad you came! Congratulations!”

“For what?” I asked.

“You’ll see. I’m just glad you came.”

Ten minutes later, everyone sat down and listened to our editor in chief talk about the success of the literary magazine. Then she announced the winners of the the categories of Best in Poetry, Best Non-fiction, and Best in Fiction.” I was the winner of the Best in Fiction category. I was asked to read my story in front of the crowd.

In the beginning, I was choked up, I stammered over words, I laughed nervously. The last couple months had been rough. I had just gone through a breakup with my first girlfriend, and now my relationship with my roomates/bandmates was beginning to unravel. We had all known each other since early Elementary school yet somehow things were coming to an end. We had heated arguments. I had already secured a place to move into at the beginning of the next month and hadn’t told them yet. My intention was to just move out all of my shit in the middle of the day when they were all at class or work. They had found out a couple days before. They didn’t like how I stayed up til all hours of the night, writing, they didn’t like how I would sometimes disappear for a weekend and not tell anyone where I was going or when I would be back. In my opinion, as long as the rent checks kept clearing, what business of theirs was it? My self-confidence had taken some massive hits. I was set adrift. My support systems were changing. Those that I had considered my friends had been treating me like an outsider for a long time now.

As I read my story, the crowd was silent. Enthralled. They laughed at all the right parts. I got into reading it so much that I wasn’t sure if I should have read the entire story, but I did, and they listened. When I was done, they stood up and cheered and clapped. Jeez, I felt overwhelmed by it. For months I had felt like nothing and now this…

Out of the deal, I got a certificate (Which I still have), a t-shirt featuring an original piece of art which was also the cover for the magazine (which I still have, though it is faded nearly white), and I got to be interviewed for the campus newspaper. Looking back now, I’m glad that I have continued to write, because even though it might have been the high water mark for literary fiction at the University of Northern Colorado in 1997, it was far from being the best thing I have ever written.

I was thinking about this memory for another reason today. Blogging is pretty much dead. Lately I have been creating more content, publishing almost daily, and my numbers still haven’t changed much for either blog. Part of me thinks I need to get back into podcasting, but I think that wave is already retreating back onto the the beach. The Netflix show “Only Murders in the Building” have latched onto podcasts as this hip thing that everyone is into, which just means that it’s already on the way out.

I think maybe if I get back into podcasting, I can make something of that. But here’s the thing. I don’t mind writing stories. I have been told I have a great voice for radio. And back in the mid-nineties, the movie Pump Up the Volume gave me aspirations at one time to get into radio. That was just before J-Corp and other conglomerates ruined music radio for all time. I’m glad I didn’t get into broadcasting then, for the same reasons I’m glad I wasn’t a journalism major just before HuffingtonPost trashed journalism.

I’ve been told I have a wonderful voice to listen to. I usually humor them. I don’t agree. I’ve always hated the sound of my own voice.

I just keep thinking about reading up in front of hundreds of people and how even then I hated it. When I write something, I have a voice that sounds fine as something to read, but the times I have tried to read it out loud and record for a podcast, it sounds stilted. It grates on my nerves. There isn’t the flow of conversation that I enjoy in podcasts I have listened to. It feels like a really shitty audiobook read by someone I’d rather not listen to for long. Or listening to a high-school play.

So, I don’t know. Sometimes it feels like an uphill battle to try to get my content out there and read or seen. Magazines are full of flaky editors who are busy jumping from one place to the next instead of responding to query letters. Magazines pop up and fold. People seem to have no attention span to read anything longer than a few paragraphs, yet when I write blogs for companies, they tell me to create good SEO content, each post should be over 800 words. I think I’m just writing to AI algorithms at that point. Nobody is really reading it.

Nobody wants to read the 2000 word narrative about your Hungarian neighbor, they just want the goddamned recipe for goulash.

So, I continue to write, because that’s what I do. It’s what keeps me sane. The 20 or so readers that I have are important to me. Would I like that to be 20,000? Sure.

Anyway, I might put this on my podcast, Gasoline Shower Thoughts and see if it gets any kind of traction. Sometimes I think I’m just missing some crucial step and nobody is being exposed to my work. Maybe more people would like it. Maybe I could make some money off of it to continue to create content. But it always seems that there’s some other component to buy or plug in to install or little secret trick nobody is telling you about.

There are gatekeepers everywhere and it is frustrating. And my thoughts are of sitting alone in a room listening to the sound of my own voice, talking to nobody else. And that bugs the hell out of me. Sometimes it feels like success in this kind of thing is for other people.

But hell, look what happens sometimes when you just bother to show up.

A Raymond Chandler Evening

Today the weather shifted and instead of it being a sweltering August day, it seemed a more like autumn. The wind blew in from the north, bringing with it rain and then hail. Winter is coming, only now I don’t fear the severity of the change in seasons as I once did. I see the beauty in how things change and look forward to what every season will bring. This beautiful thing we get to experience called life. It’s no wonder I have this feeling in spite of my recent stresses, court hearings, and all that go with it. When bad things happen, even if they didn’t happen for a reason, it is up to us to find a reason. Some pearl of wisdom or truth that carries us to the next day.

I woke up this morning at around 8:00am after a few hours of sleep. My mom was selling soap in the park for North Park Days at her stand and I told her I would help her set up. I hadn’t slept much, just a few hours. I received some bad news last night from an old buddy about a mutual friend of ours who had taken their own life.

It was hard to comprehend at first because this person had just posted comments on my Facebook less than a week ago. We even had a decent conversation or two on messenger. They seemed to be doing well! A part of me somehow thought that I could message them and maybe they weren’t so far gone as to reply. It was absurd. Like an impulse to call the number of someone who has been gone for many years and not only will they pick up the phone, but they would be exactly as you remembered them. Because it wouldn’t be calling them today, but calling them twenty years ago.

I knew this friend was gone and it didn’t surprise me how or why. The image of them just sliding away out of reach and into the dark. It was real. For years I watched them struggle with clinical depression. I felt relief for them that they were no longer in pain. What hurt was seeing how a person ends their life in this way they tear a hole in their world and everyone who cared about them are pulled down into it with them. The living recover, to a point, but they have to deal with the aftermath. They are left wondering what if they had just made a little bit more effort, how would things be different?

We really weren’t mad at them. We had seen the struggles they went through and how the meds didn’t work or worked too much, reducing a jovial, gregarious person into a wooden person with slurred speech who fought just to walk across a room. They aren’t in pain anymore, which is the silver lining I have to take from that. My buddy and I caught up for about an hour. We talked about the old days and the people we knew. He said good night. Then for two hours, I just lie in bed thinking.

After helping my mom set up, I was tasked with making her lunch, so I made a quiche. It might be the best quiche I’ve made yet. It felt good to create and even better to cook for someone else. It has been a while. I’ve lost a lot of weight during the past month. When it’s just me at home, I tend to scrounge. I couldn’t put a number on it, but I’m down to the last notch on my belt. The other day, I was able to fit into my kilt, something I haven’t been able to do in years. Funny that dad bods are a trend and I seem to be burning mine off. Maybe I am a contrarian.

I did dishes. Scrolled tiktok as the quiche cooked. Sent videos back and forth to a dear friend whose life has also become complicated. It was nice to share with them while we both had a moment to catch our breath. Sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes it’s hard to be involved in someone’s life when you are being pulled in a hundred directions. Sometimes it just feels like it’s all gone crazy. The world we live in is upside down and we are all just so rattled by everything these days. I miss the hell out of them, but that does neither of us any good. So I’m trying my damnedest to be supportive without smothering. Sometimes I achieve this goal.

I was writing for a bit until I heard the wind outside picking up. The sound of rain falling on the street and the roof through the screen door. It was such a wonderful sound. Until I remembered my mom was still at the park in her tent selling soap. I hopped in the car and by the time I rounded the corner to the park, I got the solitary text from my mom.

“Help”

By the time I got there it was beginning to hail. We broke down the shop and the tent and had everything ported to our vehicles just in time for the rain to stop and the air to be calm. By then the fair was done, hailed out. Afterwards, I came home and took a nap, catching up on a little bit of the sleep I had lost the night before. With a 4:00 invite to dinner with my folks, I forced myself out of bed at 4:15pm and headed to their house with Penny so she could play in the yard. We ate and visited and sat outside. The wind whipped up and it got cold. The sky was the color of gunmetal.

Back at home, I passed the hours alone. Even Penny went to take a nap. I sat and wrote a letter because an overcast day is the perfect time to do that. As I have written before, letters are a forgotten art. In spite of my bad handwriting I persisted. Then more tiktoks and texting.

Another friend called at ten and we chatted for an hour, shooting the shit, making jokes, and talking about the same things we always talk about when he calls. Sometimes it’s good to just be that voice at the other end of the line for someone, even when it’s the same things you’ve talked about a hundred times.

By the time we were off the phone, I could see that the window of opportunity for continuing other conversations that had begun had been missed with someone with a sweet smile and a contagious laugh. It was late. I was tired. So, I tried to go to sleep. The funny thing is that during the day, I will often hit a wall and I can’t help but close my eyes and sleep. But in the night, I am tired but very much awake. It didn’t help that tonight Penny needed to sleep on my legs and she cooked me right out of bed. So, I patted her on the head and came back to my office, sitting down to write while enjoying an adult beverage.

Two years ago I wrote this:

Here’s your inspiration for a Friday where the sky is grey and you still want to be in bed. It’s the people you let into your life and value you who make every day worth living. It’s the way you treat others and lift them up that counts. It’s the memories you hold onto that make you smile, and letting go of the ones that make you cry that bring you joy.

Clinton Danger Harris

Tomorrow holds many things for me to do. The rollercoaster of court begins again, attempting to balance all I have to do there with writing and working to build my business and make money. To chase a dream no matter how small it might seem right now. To believe that something like this is for me and not just other people.

These blogs I share are not a definitive truth or some life lesson. They are just my thoughts. Not all of them are winners, and almost all of them reflect a moment I am passing through at that precise point in my life. Which are as maleable sometimes as the sands on the beach.

The quote that I pulled tonight from 2019 was written at a high point in my life, but it still feels right. Since then, I’ve lost and gained people. And even some people have always been there, supportive, caring, and pulling for me through the good and the bad. Even when I wasn’t looking right at them. I am blessed. Though sometimes I am very anxious at what the future holds, I don’t fear the future. The challenges I face somehow all have come together to work perfectly in some way, even if they don’t feel right at the time.

Anyway, these are just my thoughts on a Raymond Chandler evening. So, I give you this. Be well and be kind to each other. Don’t waste a single moment.

Words

I used to write letters to a woman I was dating.

No, let me go back further.

The first time I was in love, I wrote love letters almost daily to a girl and she wrote me back. I still have a box of her letters. A collection I compiled in two years of correspondence. In some of my darker moments, those letters have held me together. They brought back the moment that I went to the town post office and opened up the mailbox. The scent of paper and wood, brass keys, and vanillin, which the post office still smells of today. To read those letters takes me back to being 17, 18, and just past 19, almost like a negative space of a memory, since what I can read is usually in response to what I had said.

A moment when someone was giddy to see me. Someone who valued me as only young lovers do.

Among the things spoken of in those letters were typical teenaged worries. Getting into college. Trying out for the basketball team, pondering what the future held. Expressions of affection and brief flirtations with passionate moments between two kids on the verge of adulthood. In those times, phone calls were expensive and the distance we had to travel to see each other in person was prohibitive. You could send a ten page letter for $0.29 and keep that conversation forever. Well, half of the conversation anyway. A summer romance turned into a nearly four year relationship, which eventually ran its course. The letters stopped long before that, especially since we lived only about an hour apart for the last few years. Somehow that three week romance in person set the groundwork and we continued to grow together through our letters.

I never wrote my ex-wife letters. We met in college. We saw each other all the time. And as it goes with bad marriages, I don’t think we ever really communicated well. I can attest that we lacked the intimacy that those letters provided in my past. Maybe one of us had a set impression on who they wanted the other to be. We didn’t grow together. We could only grow apart. Funny how that happens between two people. Actually it isn’t funny at all. It’s tragic. Telling.

So, after my divorce, I dusted off that romantic part of my heart that had either been unappreciated or unused. It’s hard to tell which. I dated a woman for a few years. But she stopped reading my letters, saying they were “too personal” as though she were reading my diary or something. The idea of something so personal made her cringe. And when things fell apart, which they sometimes do between people, I saw that my letters were not the same as that first love. Oftentimes, they were discussions on what was going wrong, which were never answered.

As you continue to grow, people come and go from your life. You meet, sometimes fall in love, and sometimes realize that you weren’t as compatible as you thought. The next relationship was better than the one before it, but a red flag was that the few letters I wrote to her, she only finished reading one or two. Over the years my handwriting has gotten bad. Arthritis and took much typing have turned an already difficult work of penmanship into something arcane and almost illegible. In the end, she couldn’t be bothered to finish reading them. And not to be one to keep track of affection–which I dislike–but I never got one back either.

Talk about throwing your heart to the wind.

I like writing letters because the words come together as a permanent stain of ink on paper. There is no deleting what was said at the moment. A hard drive can’t be dumped. You can carry it around with you all the time until the paper loses its scent and every word is etched into your memory, or you can keep it in a box that never needs updating or a subscription to keep. You have those words forever. Maybe your children or grandchildren have those words. The double edged sword is that a letter you write when you are sad also stays on the page forever, unlike a text which will just scroll away into obscurity. On those pages are heartache and tear stains.

I’ve had those too.

I used to work with an old rancher who corresponded with the likes of JFK and Johnny Unitas and many others. He told me the key to writing a letter was to just put the words down like you were having a conversation with someone sitting across the table from you. He wrote a letter of recommendation for me when I got my Eagle Scout award. He held true to his word. It was like he was just saying what he thought. The meaning was clear and concise. Sparse and ommitting anything unnecessary to weigh it down. I lost that letter in my divorce, but I can still see the way his words had found themselves on the page in my memory. He had such hopes for seventeen year old me, just starting out in life.

I don’t read the old letters anymore, because I have outgrown them like an old favorite sweatshirt or pair of boots. I’m in my forties now and ready to make new memories and have new adventures. Reading those letters to my old self feels a little too much like intruding on someone else’s life. I wish him the best, since he eventually grows up to be me. I’ll give him his privacy now.

Maybe I just keep too much old junk around the house.

But unlike typing something out or thumbing it through as a text in messenger, when you take the time to find a pen and paper and put words down, trying to write them as carefully as you can so that the person receiving them can read what you said, and doing it in such a way that your thoughts have to be linear enough to convey meaning–because there’s no cut and paste function in a spiral notebook–that carries weight. It has meaning. It’s about as close to a magic spell as any of us will get.

Or maybe I’m just an anachronism. I’d rather begin my message to someone I care about with “Dear…” than “Hey, you up?” And just maybe you’ll find that out of all the methods of expression that have fallen out of favor over the years in preference to instant gratification, there are just a few romantic souls out there who cannot wait to rip open that envelope and see what is waiting for them inside. And sometimes the scariest thing about getting a letter back is the anticipation of what the other person will say. Good or bad. There’s powerful magic in that too.