Stop surfing and start writing

I’ve been in a bit of a writing slump that last six months or so.  I’d like blame it on a grueling work and school schedule, but that would be a lie.  The truth is, I haven’t been applying myself, and I’ve allowed self-doubt to wiggle its way into my subconscious.

In an effort to rectify this bad habit and regain some much-needed confidence, I sat down at my computer this weekend, pulled out my binder labeled Retribution, and opened the Word file of the same name.  I scrolled through page after page of text until I found the spot where I last left my main character dangling off of the side of a yacht anchored in the middle of the Danube.  I reread the preceding paragraphs, noted the word count.

I was ready to write.  It was going to be brilliant.  I knew it.  I could feel it.  Creativity surged through my veins, setting my soul on fire.

But first, I needed to know how to say “I am going to kill you, you piece of shit” in Hungarian.

That’s where it began – and ended.

A productive afternoon of writing derailed by the time sucking abyss known as the internet.  Sure, it started out innocent enough.  I did go to my favorite online translation source.  I did find a comparable and acceptable phrase.  I even wrote it down. But that’s when I “accidently” clicked on the Facebook toolbar tab; then MSNBC; then OMG Katy Perry and Russell Brand are getting divorced?

Squirrel!

Three hours later, my character was still dangling over the side of the yacht; still waiting for an opportunity to make good on a promise to kill the man who is responsible for her predicament.  And I was no closer to get her down than I was when I started.

It was at this point that I realized I have a problem.  I am too “plugged in”; too prone to distraction these days.  I am by no stretch of the imagination the queen of procrastination, but it seems that if left to my own devices, I will choose pointless, brain cell killing pop culture uselessness over substantive creativity.

So what to do?

Unplug.

Duh.

Of course, this is easier said than done, especially, in today’s society where we are programmed to need instant access to everything – emails, voice mails, status updates, news, the Kardashians.   We are a bunch of instant gratification junkies.  As a writer, the internet is an invaluable research tool.  It’s convenient, efficient, and quick.  But I am finding that I have to draw a line in the sand.  I need to make the conscious effort to avoid logging on and signing in.  After all, I’d like to finish this damn novel before I am too old to type.

How am I going to accomplish this?

I am going start by disabling my wireless when I sit down to write.

I am going to learn to mark what I don’t know and move on.

I am going to learn to accept that a draft is just that – a draft.

Of course, none of these things will be easy for me, but then, nothing worth doing is ever easy.  It will take some time to adjust, but I am confident that with a little practice, I will begin to see some real progress.

Now, excuse me.  I have to go write my character off the side of a yacht.  She’s been there since October and is starting to get a little belligerent.

Things I learned this week (October 30 – November 6)

I learned this week…

…that big white angel wings are a hot commodity during Halloween.  My daughter decided at the last possible minute that she wanted to go to trick-or-treating dressed as Max from James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series.  For those you who don’t know, Max is a girl who has been genetically engineered to have wings so that she can fly. Big wings.  Not little fairy wings.  Not rainbow-colored wings made of wire and mesh.  Big white, feathery wings. Needless to say, my daughter went trick-or-treating as a grim reaper.

…that Christmas comes earlier and earlier every year.  This just proves my point that the holiday is nothing more than an over-commercialized farce.  For one year, one measly year, I would like to get through Thanksgiving before I am inundated with nauseating Christmas cheer.

…that there are those in my house who don’t share my cynical view of the coming Christmas season.

…that Petrarch was a miserable sap.  Seriously, who writes that many sonnets about a woman who obviously wouldn’t give him the time of day? Did he not have any drinking buddies who could have staged an intervention and gotten the man laid?  Good grief.  I think I’d rather read Beowulf again than have to read one more sonnet about the virtues of some courtly maiden named Laura.

…that karma does exist and sometimes people do get what’s coming to them.  I was leaving my favorite Target store this week and I happened to see a man trying to get his shopping cart to stay where he parked it – in the handicap parking space next to his Expedition instead of in the cart corral.  I called him an ass hat under my breath and kept walking.  People like that piss me off because we all know that cart isn’t going to stay where he left it.  Nope, it’s going to get caught by the wind and end up smacking the passenger door of my car.  It is inevitable.  Sure enough, the wind caught that cart, but instead of carrying it in the direction of my car, it came to rest behind the ass hat’s SUV.  Just as he began to back out of his space.  BAM!  That my friends is karma at its finest.

…that Andy Rooney died.  I loved that grumpy old guy.

…that with a little prodding from the guys in my Western Civilization class, my professor will find a scene from The Holy Grail that adequately depicts any aspect of our current curriculum.  This week – the Black Death.

…that sometimes a little booze is necessary – even if you don’t take a sip.  The comfort that it is there in case of an emergency is priceless.

…that I have an inner clock that doesn’t recognize the end of daylight savings time.  I didn’t get an extra hour of sleep.  I can’t really complain, though.  I was able to accomplish a little more, a little earlier today than yesterday.  I was at the gym by 7 a.m.; home by 8 a.m.; was showered and had a good dent in a writing assignment by 9; and had myself psyched up for a trip to the grocery store by 9:30.  Of course, that’s when things went awry.  I didn’t actually make it to the store until noon.  But hey, what matters here is that my morning was spectacular.

…that my cats don’t recognize the end of daylight savings time, either.  This is a lot less tolerable and makes me want to take them all to the shelter.

…and last but not least this week’s awww moment is brought to you by…well I have no idea because this was an email forward from Nolan.  Too cute for school, indeed.

My summer reading

There is a temperate zone in the mind, between luxurious indolence and exacting work; and it is to this region, just between laziness and labor, that summer reading belongs.  ~Henry Ward Beecher

I don’t get to read as much as I’d like.  Most of my days are filled to the brim with work, school, and family.  What little time is left over for me, I tend to devote more to the task of writing than to the enjoyment of simply reading a book.  A prioritizing failure on my part for everyone knows that to be a good writer, you must first be an accomplished reader.  I am lacking in this department of late.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I have lots of books that I intend to read.  They are piled on my nightstand, the floor next to my nightstand, all over my desk and even in a box in my closet.  I am a compulsive book buyer.  I just can’t muster up the time to read them and even if I do crack the spine on one, fifty pages in I find myself wondering how this work of complete shit ever made it to an editor’s desk.  

This summer I vowed to break my reading dry spell.  Classes are over until the fall.  I have a couple of day off during the work week from now until then.  What better time?  I also have a trip coming up – the perfect opportunity to make a dent in my pile.  So last weekend I started thumbing through the stacks and I found that my book clutter was all in vain.  There was nothing worth reading in any of the piles.  How could this be?  Perhaps it is because a lot of the books lean toward the heavy side – definitely not fun summer reading material.  So, off to my favorite local bookseller I go, member discount card in hand. 

I went with the intention of buying a good old-fashioned, trashy romance or two.  I perused the shelves endlessly and could find nothing that was even remotely appealing.  I did discover, though, that when I wasn’t looking paranormal romances seem to have overtaken the genre.  I’d rather put an ice pick through my brain than read anything about vampires or werewolves or whatever else constitutes paranormal these days (to this category I must exclude Frolay because that story is just good fun – love you tons, Helen).  Feeling slightly depressed, I meandered over to a table of high school English required reading selections.  I shuffled through them, considered for a minute rereading a few of my favorite classics – Of Mice and Men, Animal Farm, Alas Babylon.  None of which are light, easy summer reading.  I considered an Agatha Christie mystery.  I’ve always loved the antics of super sleuth Hercule Poirot, but even that didn’t tickle my fancy.  I’d all but given up hope when a lone display caught my eye.  On a whim, I picked up the first book that my fingers touched.  That is when I discovered the brilliant intrigue of Daniel Silva.

Not exactly a bodice-ripping romance.  But then, who was I kidding?  I was never going to be satisfied with such fluff, especially in light of what I’m currently writing.  There wasn’t a lot of description of the content given, just a brief snippet beneath the author’s picture on the back cover but something about it felt right.  I bought it and the next in the series.  Like I said – compulsive book buyer.

What I found within the pages of The Kill Artist was absolutely spine tingling.  Silva is a brilliant writer.  He sucked me into the depths of a story as exciting and thrilling as it was heartbreaking and tender.  For the first time in a very long time, I read a story with unbridled anticipation, page after page, word after word, craving to know what would become of Israeli assassin, Gabriel Allon.  The nature in which Silva crafted this story, brought this quietly powerful, yet shockingly fragile character to life, left me breathless and wanting more. 

Up next The English Assassin.  I can’t wait.

And to think I saw it all on Mulberry Street

Well…not really, but I always did like that particular Dr. Suess offering. 

So, today was cardio day.   I’ll be honest, I wasn’t feeling it.  I waged a war within myself on the drive in from the office.  Go.  Don’t go.  Go.  Don’t go.  It would be so easy to drive right on past the exit.  Of course, just as I made my mind up not to go, a nagging little voice inside my head said:

“Hey, stupid.  Key West.  Swimsuit. Gym. Go. Now.”

I took the exit, changed and went in search of my favorite spinner.

Ocupado. 

Sigh.

This is one of the drawbacks to exercising in a public gym.  People.  They don’t seem to grasp the unwritten rules I have decreed upon them.  Bike number three is mine. 

Mine. 

Not the dude with the swirly tattoos and flat billed hat. 

Mine.  

Unfortunately, at this stage in my life, society demands that I conduct myself with at least the illusion of decorum.  That means it would be unacceptable for me to pull him off of bike number three and scream “MINE!!!” in his face while kicking him in the stomach.  I will have to make do with shooting him my best stink eye – to which he is oblivious, of course.  

Being a grown-up sucks. 

In spite of the foregoing, people are what get me through days like this when I have absolutely no desire to be sweating like a pig, riding a long imaginary road to nowhere.  Of course, I don’t want to interact with them, just watch them and then only as long as they stay off of my cloud and keep their distance.  Under the right circumstances, it can be a lot like watching lions in their natural habitat from the safety of the covered jeep. Utterly fascinating with a hint of danger.

Now set their movements to music only you can hear and you have workout motivation gold.  It’s better than watching Richard Simmons’ Sweatin’ to the Oldies.  What?  Never heard of Richard Simmons?  Google him.  You’ll never be the same.  My music choices vary from day-to-day, mood to mood.  Some days I’m in the mood for some 80s hair band rock or The Police, other days a little Elvis mixed with a dash of the Beatles and a side of the Stones do the trick.  Today, it’s random shuffle day and up first is Gnarls Barkley’s Smiley Faces.  This song indeed makes me smile – and want to bust out with the Carlton right here in the middle of the gym.  I will refrain for the sake of the children and the elderly.

As I listen to the infectious beat, I settle into the rhythm of the bike (after grudgingly getting on bike number one) and take my first good look around.  It’s like gazing out into the Serengeti, a vast array of specimens lie before me.  All of them going about the business of getting their fitness on in their own special way.  Over in the back corner, you have the predator species better known as the hard-core body builder types.  They prance around their marked territory, grunting and groaning as they pump iron.  No one daring to venture any nearer than necessary.  Until…oh wait…what is this?  My music changes to Britney’s Oops! I Did it Again just as a female wanders into their midst.  Not just any female, either.  It’s my favorite buxom blonde, who I’ve not see in quite some time.  A rare treat, indeed.  It takes them a minute to notice, but slowly, one by one, they become aware of her.  Perhaps because she is now lying supine, legs up and spread wide as she proceeds to do several repetitions on the reclining leg press machine.  Men are such simple and predictable creatures.

In the center of the room, amongst the more user-friendly machines, you will find an eclectic group of grazers.  They are a lot like me – dedicated but not enthusiasts.  Just trying to either lose the bulge or keep the bulge at bay.  For the most part, they aren’t all that interesting to me.  Just drones flitting from machine to machine.  But as Florence & the Machine’s haunting vocals of Howl fill my head, something odd catches my eye.  I do a double take.  Surely my eyes have deceived me.  They haven’t.  Coming towards me, through a space in the crowd is a man – a man who the 1970s have surely thrown up on and he’s failed to notice.  Or maybe he just doesn’t care.  Why else would he consider going out in public with that ridiculous terry cloth sweat band wrapped around his head and those white tube socks pulled up halfway to his crotch?  And, as if that weren’t bad enough – and that alone was pretty frightening – his shorts were on the wrong side of too short, leaving little to the imagination.  Horrified beyond words by this sight, I take a big swig from my water bottle and pray the bitter bile that is tickling the back of my throat will recede.

Forty-five minutes in, I am treated to another Florence & the Machine tune, Drumming Song, and I pick up the pace.  As the sweat streams down my back in earnest now, I catch sight of a class beginning just beyond the glass windows that enclose the room with the dance floor.  An aerobic class with dance overtones, it seems.  They remind me of those little furry rodent things – Meerkats, I think they’re called – all lined up in nice neat rows.  I watch as they begin to move in unison – well almost in unison.  Some are quite coordinated, their movements flowing and graceful.  Others not so much.  They are awkward, stunted even, and struggle to keep up as the intensity of the class builds.  This seems to me to be a classic game of survival of the fittest.  The stronger ones will dominate while the weaker ones are destined to be trampled upon and left for dead in piles of panting goo on the shiny wooden floor.  I shudder at the potential carnage.  I vow to never step foot in that room.  I would surely be picked off by the stronger members of the pack.  A coordinated dancer, I am not.

So, finally the bike’s screen tells me that I’ve accomplished what I didn’t think I could do today.  I’ve made it through the entire hour of spinning.  I wouldn’t say it passed quickly.  An hour is an hour, after all.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider getting off at the thirty minute mark.  But I didn’t and now it’s over.  I head to the locker room to collect my things on legs that feel a little like numb Jell-O – not that I know what numb Jell-O feels like, but I can imagine – feeling quite pleased with myself.  I round the corner and BAM!  I am accosted by a sight that I should be used to, but sadly, I am not.

Naked lady.

Wednesday’s woes.

“Wednesday’s child is full of woe.” – Monday’s Child (nursery rhyme)

“Some days are born bad.” Sweet Thursday, John Steinbeck – Chapter 14, Lousy Wednesday.

Wednesday – that day of the week that falls just before Thursday and right after Tuesday.  I know, you’ve heard that before but now it just makes me smile and think of my friends over at Wikipedia. 

Hump Day.  That’s what they call it around my office.  I suppose it’s because that as of 5 o’clock Wednesday afternoon you’ll have successfully made it up the arduous climb that is the beginning of the week and will be rewarded with an easy descent to fabulous Friday and a weekend of freedom from your labors.  Of course, if you have read my previous blogs you will know that Friday is just a sad, drunk who has been recently murdered by crazy Tuesday.  I guess there’s always Saturday to look forward to, but I think she ran off with Monday and hasn’t come back yet.  I’ll get back to you on that.

As I often do, I wonder what Wednesday is really like beneath all the hype.  There’s a lot of pressure that goes into being the beacon of hope for so many – that point at which the drones finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Has he embraced this role?  Or is he more like Friday, rebelling against expectations by running headlong down a path of self-destruction? 

I like to think of him as the voice of reason in a sea of dysfunction.  A sort of cheerleader/self-help guru, talking the other days down from the ledge, imploring them to make good choices with their lives.  Perhaps he is regarded as a killjoy by the more willful days of the week.  Friday certainly would think of him as a stick in the mud but his girlfriend, Sunday, might be secretly turned on by Wednesday’s unflappable persona. 

But what if Wednesday is indeed a child full of woe?  What if hidden beneath his quick smiles and logical words, lies a deeply wounded soul.  No one would ever suspect. He is the master of the facade having had years to practice it to perfection.  Though, to be fair, it wasn’t all that hard.  The others are enveloped within their own train wreck lives, blind to the pain that lurks behind his eyes.  They take his presence and support for granted, piling their trials and tribulations upon his back, never once thinking that it might all be too much for him.  That he might break beneath the pressure.  

Until that day he does. 

Break.   

Standing on a ledge looking down at the traffic below, Wednesday searches for the strength to go on – one good reason why he shouldn’t take that last step forward right off the edge.  The pain would surely end then, right?  Who would notice if I’m gone?  Who would care?  They certainly wouldn’t, they never had before.  He takes a deep breath and just as he is about to end it all, he hears a noise behind him.  A whisper of words.

“I care.”

He turns to find Sunday, standing there with a gentle smile playing on her lips, her hair blowing in the wind.  She repeats herself and extends a hand.  Wednesday looks at it and then at her face.  He sees the friendship etched there, maybe even something more.  For the first time, he doesn’t feel so alone.  His eyes stray to the ledge beneath his feet, to the street far below – then back to her.  Life is all about choices and he is at a crossroads, unsure of where to go from here.  Then, something blossoms deep within his chest, something he thought long dead.  

He takes her hand. 

And allows her to be the voice of reason in his sea of dysfunction.  

“Sometimes you put walls up not to keep people out, but to see who cares enough to break them down.” Anonymous

 

***During my half-assed research, I found this interesting article which referenced a recent (2009) study that found 25% of suicides occur on Wednesdays.

Now that I’ve thoroughly depressed us all…

Forsaken Friday

“It is bad luck to fall out of a thirteenth story window on Friday”  American Proverb

Indeed.

After much badgering from my devoted followers – all five of them – I’ve decided to continue on with my personality analyses of the days of the week.  Today’s victim – Friday.   

Friday, that day sandwiched between Thursday and Saturday (as always, thank you Wikipedia).  He’s arguably the most beloved day of the week with ardent worshipers numbering in the millions.  They come together to sing his praises with Facebook statuses, cute tweets declaring TGIF, and, of course, with songs.  The Cure fell in love on Friday, Nancy Sinatra proclaimed herself “Friday’s Child” in this bluesy offering, and who can forget tween internet pop “sensation” Rebecca Black’s Friday masterpiece?  You know you know what I’m talking about.  You were just like me – fixated on the YouTube video like a rubbernecker ogling a car wreck on the freeway.

But all this unabashed adoration is misguided.  Friday is perhaps the saddest, most pathetic day of the week, maybe even more so than slutty Tuesday.  Unless you’re Scottish, that is.  It seems Friday is a very good day to plant potatoes in Scotland.  Who knew?  All in all, though, Friday, is bad news.  Just ask any of those camp counselors who thought it was a good idea to go out to Camp Crystal Lake on a Friday.  Didn’t end well for them now, did it?  No, it didn’t – not even after twelve tries.

Friday wasn’t always like this – a pathetic shell of his former self, wreaking havoc throughout the masses.  In fact, he started out life with such hope and promise.  Friday was popular, the star of the Varsity football team with rugged good looks that drove the ladies wild.  At his side, the best wingman a guy could ask for – Thursday.  But as it happens sometimes with these promising young stars that society elevates to God-like heights, it all went to his head.  He became egotistical and cavalier, believing himself invincible and above the rules that governed the common man.  Everyone loved him, after all.  He could do no wrong; and even if he did, Thursday was there to clean up the fallout.

But Karma is a fickle bitch and soon it would all come crashing down around his ears.  First to go was the scholarship to that big ten conference college – a blown knee suffered not on the football field but during a midnight cow tipping prank on Old Mr. October’s farm.  Next to fall by the wayside – his girl, Sunday.  She was a religious girl, holy in her upbringing.  Her father was a reverend at local Episcopalian church.  Friday’s erratic and irresponsible behavior simply could be tolerated no more – it went against everything she believed in.  She broke up with him via text message as she boarded a plane to India to begin a six month pilgrimage to find inner peace.  Emotionally stunted, Friday was ill-equipped to deal with such harsh rejection and thus, turned to drinking to drown his sorrows.  As these things often do, drinking progressed to drunkenness and before you know it, Friday was whoring around with women from Sassy June’s Gentlemen Club every night, leaving a trail of self-destruction in his wake.  It was more than Thursday could handle and so he walked away from his friend, as well.

Now, Friday can be found every night of the week down at the local pub.  His good looks gone, replaced with a body worn and weary from years of hard living and overindulgence.  He sits at the end of the bar, empty beer glasses all around, and waits.  He knows that soon the end of the week will arrive and all of his worshipers will pile into this smoke-filled dive to once again pay homage to the man he used to be – the man they still believe exists.  He will bask in the glow of their adoration, and feel a temporary resurgence of what it had been like all those year ago.  He will walk down memory lane with them and tell exaggerated stories of his wild escapades, relishing in their undivided attention.  He will feel whole once again.

Inevitably, though, the night must end.  His admirers will leave as they are wont to do, and Friday will have to drag his drunk ass home.  As the sun dawns bright and early Saturday morning, he will be awaken by a slamming hangover and the seductive caress of slutty Tuesday wearing a hockey mask and brandishing a bloody machete.

“Revenge is sweet and non fattening.”  Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980).