A moment in the sunshine

A couple weeks ago, one of my pitches for a travel story was accepted. I’ve been blogging for a very long time, probably about 13 years, maybe longer, so I am no stranger to a first person narrative, but this felt a little bit different. This was no slap-dash rambling tale of something that happened, this was a STORY, this was something someone might actually pay me for! In some ways it felt like that hypothetical stone that smart asses with at least one college level philosophy course bring up. The one that God creates, and just might be so heavy He cannot lift it.

So, I started off with a draft and realized at about 1200 words that I could write a lot more than the 1000 word limit I was given, especially considering I hadn’t even hit the parts that I had said I was going to write about in the pitch. I took some inspiration from the 2018 Years Best in Travel Writing anthology, which were very much like the blogs I’ve been writing for many years. Incorporate the personal with the spectacular, thread them together and allow the setting to become a character in the story.

I pored over the story, writing out the narrative, filling it full of imagery and character and then ruthlessly killing my darlings, carving it down over 700 words until I hit my word count. Ish. I thought of the Hemingway documentary I had watched the week before, and how he urged writers to just begin by writing one perfect sentence. Then following that one with another perfect sentence. This meticulous attention to detail borders on the obsessive. It is a rock it’s Creator never judges the weight of properly in the beginning. That bitch is heavy.

After a few days of this, I submitted the story. I’m still waiting to hear back. I like what I turned in, but I did have my doubts. Part of writing is familiar to anyone who has been in an unhealthy relationship. You have to anticipate what your editor might want, without actually knowing. I guess the best approach to this is to submit your best writing, and if they don’t like it, you can submit it someplace else. Otherwise, it’s just mindreading (which is impossible) and dumb luck (which is more likley). Hard work, editing, and maybe just a modicum of belief in yourself will payoff if you keep at it. That’s what I’m going with anyway. Otherwise, you have about as much luck selling a story as you do hitting a winning scratch ticket.

My doubts stemmed from the fact that the anthology I was reading was extrapolated from magazines such as Esquire, New York Magazine, the Atlantic, and some others. Had I completely misread the room and put this personal narrative out there when really they might have wanted some kind of list of “Best places to eat dungeoness crab on the Oregon coast”? So, yes, of course there are doubts.

Just as a parent has doubts that first time they let their kid walk to school on their own. The doubts that you get when you set foot on an airplane that is about to fly close to the speed of sound halfway around the world. The doubt you get when you give that person you like your phone number. And with those doubts comes a feeling of exhiliration too. The possibilities that come, all of which are good, which are more likely to come true than any of the negative shit you’ve been cooking up in your head.

That kid will make it to school, and make the trip about a thousand more times. And they will learn to drive, and read train timetables, and take buses in other countries, and be self-reliant when the chips are down. That flight you were nervous about taking will open your eyes to new wonders and experiences that nothing can take away from you. The person you like calls you and you laugh and chat and enjoy each other’s company, gradually filling in the blanks of each other’s Mysteries until you chide yourself for ever being nervous about giving them your number in the first place. You wouldn’t know what to do without them.

And maybe that story gets published and it takes a bunch of readers along with you. Because that is the entire point. Like anything worth doing though, it takes time and work and overcoming some serious doubt.

After all, most Creatives are like this because we’d had our share of damage in life and use our talents to try to make sense of this universal brokeness, this imbalance of emotions and personalities and conflict we find ourselves examining every day. Otherwise, we would do something sane like working with numbers, which never lie. So of course we will have some doubts. We will have to overcome our own self-doubts, fight our own demons, and maybe get to some point where we can have that moment in the sunshine where we feel the warmth on our faces and say “I like this feeling.”

Just a little bit of that is truly addictive.

It’s no wonder we get so fearful of the next chance, which could be a total failure. But what if it isn’t? What if it’s another day with the sun on our face? And like Hemingway’s perfect sentence, we just follow up with another one.

The mark of other

Have you ever wondered what propels certain people to create things artistically?  Whether it is visual arts, writing, music, or any other form of madness which some feel compelled to create out of nothing, something has driven these people to work and rework something until it takes on a life of its own.  Any art is a form of expression, usually gathering details from the world around them, and trying to make sense of it.  

As far as you can go back, people have done this.  In early times when some where struggling to not starve to death, or not be trampled by a giant animal they were hunting with a spear, one of their clan looked up at the starry sky and figured there was some sort of meaning in all of that.  People try to look for the patterns in things, and artists are the ones who really go to town when it comes to interpreting these patterns.  This is how we get things like religion, art, music, comedy, storytelling, and science (as much as science now tries to divorce itself from the rest).  It’s an inheirant flaw in the one creating these things who just isn’t satisfied with taking things for granted.  They have to fret and fiddle and tinker and tweak until it does.  Or comes close. And then they start all over again.

In ancient times, this sort of mental defect gave people holy status.  Shamans, oracles, soothsayers; this difference was noted and elevated to some other status.  The Other.  The Weird.  Seeing the world with a different set of eyes.  Nowadays, this sort of talk is consider pretentious.  Art is considered with deference to putting a coat of paint on a wall, music is something that guy in the town square does because he won’t get a real job, and don’t get me started on writing.  I’m sure I have half a dozen posts around here talking about how the work writers put into the craft of stringing words together is something lots of people feel like they can do (and they probably can) but probably not all that well.

So where does this defect come from?  I tend to think of it as a pearl inside an oyster.  Most oysters are happy being blobs of salty snot attached to rocks and piers by their hard external coverings.  But sometimes a piece of sand gets inside and to protect itself from this irritation, the ball of snot forms a calcium coating around it until it becomes something valuable to people right before they’ve slurped the ball of snot down right out of its shell with a little bit of hot sauce or lemon juice.

The idea is an irritant, and the artform protects the fragile mind of the artist from destroying itself from the absurdity or pain of such a thing.  The conflict.  The places only dreamed of, that would otherwise just exist and slowly drive this person mad.  Unfortunately, the artist is already sorta there.  After all, they are wired somehow to pick up these signals, while most of the rest of the species is fine with watching Real Housewives or focus on not starving to death in a hovel.

Is it a bad childhood?  A defining moment that rattled the artist’s perception?  Lack of kids their age to play with on their street? Some sort of defense mechanism that makes them look at details in some way that is different from others?  Something that makes someone bad at parties because they can walk into a room full of people, sit down with their drink and just listen to those around them, pet the cat or dog for an hour, and go home again.  Something that said to them it was hard to be around people for very long because it just reminded them of their own Otherness.  The drink or drugs are relied upon as a social lubricant, to numb those thoughts that would intrude in what most people would consider “fun” but to the Other are felt as much of a waste of time as a “normal” person would consider brush strokes, rhyming patterns, themes, or minor key.

Sometimes I feel like schools have been working against promoting this kind of creativity for a long time.  But thinking differently is why we have pretty much anything that isn’t rolling around in the mud for roots or fighting off competing predators for a rotting wildebeest carcass.  Even then, the first proto-human to figure out that a stick or rock to the snout of one of those slavering monsters bought you some time to get more food was an artist in their own way.  It’s just strange knowing that to see how little art and creativity is valued.

We take it for granted.  You turn on the radio and hear music you probably couldn’t play, that talent takes your mind off your monotonous commute between commercials for things you don’t need.  You eat a dinner at a nice restaurant you probably don’t know how to make.  You read part of a novel that someone spent two years of their life writing and chuck into the donation pile when you are sick of it.  You call that painting in your hotel room tacky, but could you have painted it?

All this taking things for granted devalues it.  Something not long ago that our ancestors considered holy is now just…not important.  Disposable.  Of no consequence.

Unclutter

As I might have mentioned in earlier posts, my writing process has a lot to do with eliminating all other distractions and then being able to proceed with an unburdened mind. Today, my Monday after sending my son back to his mom’s for the week, consisted mainly of uncluttering my mind. Was I successful? Not especially, but at least I won’t have as many distractions tomorrow.

My list of things to do includes the following:

  • Read up on books to build a better travel writing website
  • Approach more clients, editors, and leads
  • Write some pitches
  • Plan an itenary for writing trips
  • Work on the book
  • Dishes
  • Update LinkedIn profile

None of that got accomplished today. These are some of what were accomplished:

  • Cooked roasted chicken for lunch
  • Replaced office deadbolt
  • Hung curtains on back door
  • Washed and re-hung wrinkled curtains in bedroom
  • Installed a barrel bolt on door leading to the dock (yes, my house has a dock)
  • Took the dog out for several walks
  • Sent some emails
  • Jury duty postponement form
  • Chatted with friends and got caught up
  • Beat self up about various things

Now that all of those things are out of the way, I can expect to have a productive week.