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.

Nobody will read this

For whatever reason, the most hits I get on this blog is about 25. It’s frustrating, because it’s nice to write, but it’s better to be read. I’ve seen sites where someone posts a pic of a bird and a pun and they have a shit ton of readers.

Facebook limits the exposure you get too. Traffic is very low from Facebook, unless you pay for a boost. It’s a gimmick. The boosts don’t work.

Lately to me, Facebook is frustrating. It’s a waste of time. Same with Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest. I have a lot of work to do, and I’ve been using social media as a convenient excuse to avoid it. Why? Because the book scares the hell out of me. It’s so much. And I’m closing in on the first draft and I know I’ve just got upwards of five more drafts once it is done.

Imagine painting your ceiling with two 1/2″ artist brushes and you’ll see what a first draft is. Because once it’s done, you have to do it all over again.

Today I sat in a hot springs and had a long meditative afternoon with myself. I’m getting in my own way and after thinking through all the turmoil in my life right now, some things fell into place. I have a story to finish. Self care is crucial. So is just sitting in your feelings and working through them. Time for another chapter.

The book is demanding to be written right now, which means I’m not going to be on social media if I can help it. I might not even be sleeping all that much. I’m going to listen to the story and make sure it is true and told with conviction, honesty, and love.

Not that I will be missed on social media.

Zen and the art of riding an atomic bomb

The iconic moment of Stanley Kubric’s masterpiece “Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” features Col. Kong played by a very folksy Slim Pickens who finds himself sitting on top of an atom bomb as it is dropped on Russia. Without anything to lose, he makes the best of it.

It’s only Tuesday, and right now a lot of your are already going through this.

Hell, so am I.

In the last year and a half, we barely recognize the world where we live. The fabric of our society has been changing. I’m reminded of the Eloi and the Morlocks from the Time Machine (let’s bring on some more obscure movie references), where the peaceful (if not completely stupid) Eloi live in an above ground paradise, while the Morloks summon them monthly through a monolithic stone head for a cannabalistic feeding frenzy.

I keep seeing a general glaze of ennui in everyone these days. So many of us are working from home and those of us who had to return to an office to work probably didn’t need to, but the status quo of being constantly supervised by some douche bag is more important to a company than happy workers. If anything the last year should have taught us, it is that we don’t need some kind of Joe Versus the Volcano grey-walled prison experience when it comes to work. A lot of people are appaled at factory farming as they stand around the water cooler listening to the hum of people on phones that won’t stop ringing.

The other day I had a conversation with a friend of mine who never got to stay at home. He got stuck with extra shifts, in the public, during the time when there wasn’t even a controversial vaccine that everyone politicized to protect him. He got to be the bad man at the gates keeping the other bad men out. We were talking about what he might want to do with his life instead. Sometimes that seems like such a far-fetched idea.

Instead? Instead of this? “Living the dream!” One of my bro-istas at Dutch Bros. refered to that expression as a white person’s way of saying they are dying on the inside. That was at the beginning of lockdowns and layoffs and Zoom meetings. Back in the day when you could call in sick from work instead of spending the morning crying in the bathroom. When you weren’t expected to report to work, or school, or anything else because you *cough* weren’t feeling all that hot and (rather than come into work on a day that wasn’t going to do anybody any good) you could take a day to decompress without having to prove to your employer that you were on a ventilator. No one is safe from the Zoom call.

My friend told me he envied my freedom.

Freedom does come with responsibility. And anxiety.

There are days that I still feel that pull of self-worth and productivity that was inculcated into me through years of working a 8-5 job. My life is by no means perfect in my attempt to change that to working for myself. Some days, I feel like I am a complete failure because I am still in bed at 9:30am, petting the dog while other people are deep into a 12 hour shift.

The other day I had a conversation with my dad about how much work I had been doing. I picked up a couple writing assignments and had made $300. He told me I should have been helping him in the shop, working on cars if I wanted to make more than that.

That isn’t the point. The point is that I am still in the beginning of making something for myself. That $300 took about four or five hours of work. The agency that gave me the assignments lowballs the hell out of writers too, which means that once I can get rolling, I could be making much more than this. I have a skill that I have been working on for more than ten years, which is something I have been aiming for as a dream for a lot longer. You can’t put a W4 on that.

Also, in the four or five hours of work, I didn’t bang my knuckles on a hot, sharp piece of rusty metal once. I didn’t have a gallon of 10W40 run down my arm. And I didn’t have to wash whatever crap had fallen into my eye as I tried to break the rust off a stubborn engine mount bolt. It’s honest, hard work, don’t get me wrong–and I could do it–but that’s not what I’m here for. That’s not why I left the city to come here. I took a big risk to focus on writing.

The drawback of course is that right now I don’t have lots of clients and that four hours of writing uses a lot of brain power which must be refueled with coffee, sometimes alcohol, definitely naps, and snacks. But I’ve still done more with writing for a couple hours a day than I did working for 8 hours a day at my old desk job.

I think that’s why a lot of people are fine with surrendering their freedom to someone else (and sometimes we have no choice in the matter). And why we have a hard time with boundaries too. When that call comes from that buddy who you know is already several beers in for the night and all he wants to do is call his ex and tell her what a bitch she is, or that supervisor that you know you are never going to make happy (mostly because they don’t know what the fuck they are doing and are projecting their bullshit onto you) we find it impossible to say no. We are held at ransom.

Working for myself scares the hell out of me.

For one thing, there is some security in knowing that the checks will keep coming if I just put out enough effort to not be fired. Working for yourself means that being fired is the day when you finally starve to death because you didn’t put in the work. It’s like Columbus burning his ships on his second voyage. My 20 years in Higher Education taught me some really bad habits. Especially the more efficient I got at doing my job.

Most of my days in Higher Ed were spent on Facebook. Before that it was internet forums, YouTube, and at the end of the day, I could pack an entire weeks work into the last two hours on a Friday afternoon. If the big boss wandered in and said, “Let’s go home early, people!” I did, because I was just following orders. But you see, my work ethic told me that was okay because I was getting paid to do the job I had been hired to do. I had no joy in the job I was doing. I got lazy. Complacent. It didn’t bother me that I was cheating myself out of doing something that I found joy in doing. I was being rewarded with a steady paycheck for doing almost nothing. Certainly getting no spiritual reward out of it.

When I would have been happy working my ass off for something I enjoyed doing at the cost of that security.

In a few days, I’ll be 46. I don’t have many years left to realize my dreams. Not everyong has a chance to chase their dreams either. I am fortunate.

I worked with a lady who spent 99% of her time surfing the internet. She was reading about the Kardashians or downloading recipes. She was always talking about how unhappy she was. She moved her house several times in the years we worked together. I think jumping through all the hoops of real estate gave her something to do. She was always on the phone with her bank or realtor. If it wasn’t them, it was her insurance companies, dentist, retirement/Social Security, etc. When she was given something new to do at work, she balked. So I wound up taking on most new tasks–for no more pay. Eventually I got tired of that and declined the offer to take on another responsibility at my job. I knew my name was on the layoff list anyway.

So, I said No.

It was empowering. Intoxicating.

Well, I also got yelled at by my supervisor in the middle of the office, with people walking in and out. It was an indication that I had made the right choice. Or at the very least one that was too late to roll back on now.

Maybe that’s the problem with this depression that has taken hold of many of us. We got to take a step back and see the absurdity in sitting at a desk all day, when we could be doing that at home–and probably getting more done. But that would mean that we had free will. And for whatever reason, constant monitoring, overseeing, and environmental control are more important.

The trade off being, however, these jackasses somehow feel entitled enough to step into your life, into your home, whenver they feel like doing so. And now a lot of them are saying they shouldn’t have to pay as much because you don’t need the money for gas to commute. They want that dependence.

Am I terrified that I don’t have the motivation to achieve my goals? Absolutely. But maybe I can tell my fears NO for once too and see how good that feels. After all, a bad day doing what you love beats a good day doing something you don’t.

So, for anyone who has a dream and needs to hear it, don’t fear it. For anyone who isn’t happy with their life, you can change it. For anyone who is feeling stuck right now, it’s just one day–keep going. It will not happen instantly. It WILL be painful, terrifying, anxiety inducing, extremely difficult…but it will be worth it. Even if you have to put people you care about on hold, they will understand. If you have to make sacrifices, they will be worth it.

I just keep thinking of that lady with her microwave fish dinners and how you can be miserable and secure, or happy because you are doing something that has called you. Dying slowly inside living a life of quiet desperation…or starving to death slowly until you hope you catch a break.

Where was I going with this again?

Oh yeah. I guess just ride the bomb and enjoy every second of it.