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.


Last night when I went to bed, I had big plans for today. I was going to wake up early, sit down and really just go to town with writing. I should have known this morning at 8:40 when I woke up that all those plans were going to get blown to hell. I’m still working up to my routine. Yesterday, I felt that push of Resistance. I saw that long corridor of fear and that Sissiphysian push uphill with my rock, that I chose to see it as. Instead of seeing it as the freedom to do what I wanted to do. I wonder if this is what keeps stray dogs wandering around neighborhoods where they have been chained too long.

I forced my hand to make the words happen and it worked. It always feels good to write. Every chance I get to set down and snatch the words out of the aether and put them on the page feels good. What doesn’t feel good is sitting on my ass doing data entry. Listening to coworkers talk about ham or taffy for hours, or be regaled by the tales of recent surgeries or the medicines they are taking for something as stupid as being overweight.

This morning is a moment of resistance. The Newtonian law of an object at rest remaining at rest applies to the Creative mind as well. The unbalanced force is when we will ourselves to put our butts in the chair, pick up that artist’s pencil, start mixing paint, or turning off social media and turning on our minds.

But wait. There might just be that one friend on Facebook who says something witty, or maybe I can visit with someone to become motivated? Or maybe this book will write itself and I just don’t wannnnnaaaaa!!!!

These are all just ways to continually distract yourself. Binge-watching a series on Netflix, arguing with someone about politics/pandemics/Star Wars. I understand that I need to build a resume, that I need to build my website again–after losing a year’s worth of posts. I need to keep my options open for freelance work and have to check Indeed and LinkedIn and other sites for this. And I should set up a Fiverr account too to try to bring in more income.

But what I have had the opportunity to do for several weeks now, but haven’t because of distractions is work on the book. First it was the pandemic, then the layoff, then the breakup, then the…damn, I’ve run out of distractions…how do I create more? Why not work on the book? I can do that. I can do all the rest and still have time. Once you remove the time you piss away on social media and driving around to run errands, you free up a lot of time. Even the words I’m writing right now are a way to distract myself. So, why?

Because I’m afraid of that book. It’s one thing to write a paid blog post about why you should shop at a certain hardware store, or the dangers of toxic mold, but when that writing gets bought, you feel good. You get to put a little away in savings. You get to pay a bill. When they don’t sell, you shrug and just figure that was a small chunk of your time that didn’t pan out. When you spend YEARS writing a book, and people hate it, or worse yet, people buy it and never read it. Well, you wonder why you spent all that time writing it in the first place. You have made more money writing about rain gutters or dental implants.

There are worlds out there your mind is creating and it’s up to your butt (in that chair), your fingers (on those keys), and your caffeine tolerance (how much until my heart actually explodes?) to get those stories out.

You risk it all when you tell people your dreams.

But when those dreams don’t get to be born, they die inside of you. When they are on the page, they flirt with immortality.

Time to stop letting myself be distracted. Today, I get to do something about it.

Turning Pro

A while back, maybe a year or even two ago, I read Steven Pressfield’s book Turning Pro. I then read the War of Art, not knowing that I had gotten the order out of whack. I really enjoyed everything that he had to say, and of course, like any creative I was inspired. That could be me! I thought. Of course, I had not yet hit those moments that he talked about, which are mostly getting out of your own way. Procrastination, perfectionism, distraction, vices, all of those things are what keep us from achieving our goals.

There’s a part in the book where he discussed knowing that moment when you turn pro.

He says that just like you remember where you were and what you were doing on 9/11, you’ll remember that moment when you realized you turned pro. For me, back then, I still hadn’t hit it. Recently, however, I believe I have.

I think it happened recently, amid all of these lockdowns and layoff threats and all the other crap going on in my life. But first, I want to talk about my Resistances.

Marriage and Divorce

I have mentioned before about my very messy, high-conflict divorce. My marriage and subsequent divorce was one of those distractions. In a weird way, it was self-imposed because I needed to hold myself back even then, and my ex-wife was sure as hell happy to oblige. Whatever money I made, she spent every dollar. Any time I had to myself, unless it was making money for her or spending time with her, was considered useless. Or I was abandoning her.


When you have kids, it is endless distraction and endless expense. It’s a law of diminishing returns, as a good writer friend of mine always used to say. Or as my girlfriend always says, “I’ve had to be Little Miss Responsible.” These are both true. I was the sole breadwinner when my kids were born and I was expected to stay the course at a job I never intended to make into a career just to keep the lights on. I wrote to escape. I wrote to keep my sanity, and most of the time, it was considered something that detracted from the Family. I could never hope to get good enough to do it because my labor was needed. Of course nobody else was stepping up to the plate to work, but yeah.

Even though writing was something my ex-spouse knew I wanted to do when we first met. It’s baffling how bad people want to bleed everything that is good out of you, to change you into something you are not.

Bad relationships

After my divorce, I made the mistake of chasing someone who never had time for me, but insisted I was always available for them. They never outright said it. It was conditioning, and honestly, if I had better boundaries, I would have just walked away from it for good instead of getting sucked back into it. Well, fuck that noise. It was on-again-off-again, but it sure was a good way to distract myself from turning pro, that’s for sure. Since then I’ve discovered stability in a relationship, and how a healthy one allows you both to lift each other up instead of just walking on eggshells.

People just don’t get it

My family, my friends, and all sorts of people I know just don’t understand why I’m doing what I do. A couple times, I have even been told “well, you’re not a real writer.” You’d think that would get me fired up, but it really doesn’t. Especially depending on the source. Someone projecting their own doubts of their potential onto me, whom the are just illustrating they know nothing about.

The day job

The day job has been a major element of Resistance. Sitting at my desk for eight hours a day, I can honestly say that in the last 13 years of being there, I have become very efficient at what I do. The same crap that took me several hours to do might take half that time. So basically I respond to tasks, I fight fires. Above all else, I listen to a bunch of people in the office who never shut up because apparently they don’t have enough to do. Most days I put in my earbuds and I try to block out the jabber, because when you work in a fishbowl, you can kiss productivity goodbye.

This lockdown has shown me that in working from home, I can get a lot more done in the day because I don’t have endless distractions. I don’t have to physically or verbally respond to someone who reads an email or a text or an article online and just has to share it with everyone else. Even if (fuck that–ESPECIALLY if) it has nothing to do with the day job. This experience has been a lot like when you open a bag of potato chips and you discover how much of the bag is just air.

Everyday I get the passive aggressive emails of people announcing themselves, proving to everyone else that they are at their post and ready to work. Reporting for duty, sir! When all throughout the day, I can see via Microsoft Teams that their computer has been asleep for most of the day. Those icons are all yellow and red. You ain’t doing shit.

Epiphany hits and leaves welts

So, recently, I had a weird moment. My day job is laying off 65 or more employees within the next month. Then we will get to sit around for a month after that to make sure all the work gets done so the University doesn’t go to complete shit. Because even though that would happen if they cut us all loose, we aren’t important enough to keep around. We must be such a drag on the system. A system that pays people high six figure incomes to go to lunch with other important people.

Sitting at home, batting back all the random emails to do crap, something hit me. Without all the distractions, the job was simple. Honestly, it has allowed me to be incredibly lazy. It has taken up so much time in my day that by the time I get home to actually write anything, I am mentally exhausted. Not from the amount of work I have to do, but the sheer amount of distraction, and suck that comes from the job. Some days there isn’t a lot to do except for look busy. This is a time-honored tradition of State employees. It is fucking exhausting too.

The Problem

The little pings from work. The nagging little distractions. It takes up a lot of my time. I used to be terrified about the concept of writing full time. I was still tied to child support and my lazy ex-wife who still won’t work a full-time job, even after nearly six years. How are you supposed to have the option of cutting back on expenses to live your dream when someone else is walking around with their hand in your pocket? I have a part time job writing SEO content, and if I have time to write for them, I can make enough to live on. The problem is finding enough time.

The problem is not letting myself get distracted. The problem is not procrastinating. The problem can be solved by getting out of my own way.

It’s not you, it’s me

The moment when I realized my job doesn’t need me, that it is just a time suck. It gets in the way of writing, which even if it’s writing about coilover shocks for Toyotas or gutter repair, is infinitely more fulfilling than changing schedules around so spoiled professors get a four day weekend every week. (Yes, because we should all be lucky enough to get paid $80k a year and only work three days a week for nine months out of the year).

My amazing girlfriend said something the other day that stopped my breath right in my lungs. She called me a professional writer. It’s true. I supplement my income with it regularly. I’ve worked years to get where I am with it, in spite of child support hearings, people at work looking down at me from their lofty Ivory Tower, and my own sense of impostor syndrome looking over my shoulder all the time. It’s true! Even on those nights where I’m hating myself and thinking “tomorrow I’ll do better.”

The Game Changer

On this lockdown, I have been able to write. On the days when I haven’t been flat out depressed over the uncertainty of what the future holds, I have written. I have written paid blogs, and I have been working on my book. Without distractions, I have been writing my ass off. It’s amazing how much time you have in the day when you don’t have a “real job.” This last weekend taught me that!

I can write and do laundry and keep a clean house. The only thing missing from a day like that is annoying co-workers talking about ham or taffy for two hours and expecting you to chime in.

And maybe like Pressfield says, you remember it like 9/11. That moment when you turn Pro. It’s a weird feeling when you go from “Well, that isn’t for me. Not yet.” to saying “Why the hell not?” It’s just like anything else. You suck at it until you don’t. Then you keep working at it until you are confident enough to ignore that voice inside your head that says “You’re going to starve to death!”

The Future

Right now, when I lose my job, I will be no worse off than all of the other office schlubs I worked with. Or the people working for small businesses. Or retail. Or service staff. Except I actually do have a trade. I can string words together. Very well sometimes. Everyone I work with is freaking out about being *this* close to retirement and how will they ever live?! Not that they have been doing much living as it is. I’m over here, thinking to myself, “why would I ever want to retire from writing?” Some people actually start writing when they retire because they finally have the time for it. Well, not a long time, but time enough in the day at least.

Imagine that: getting to do what you’ve always wanted to do in the prime of your life instead of those twilight years , wondering if today might be your last. Well, folks, in light if this virus, tomorrow might indeed be it. Why not live everyday with the understanding that one day, we will all die? It’s in everything from Ecclesiastes to the Hagakure. Why does it take so long to listen to those words?

It’s easy enough if you try. And once you pass that point, you wonder how you ever lived before.