Some Novel Things

Here’s a good question: If I want to write novels in my future, why don’t I just spend my writing time, you know, writing novels?

Good question me. Great job.

I’d like to say that I have a foolproof answer, but it’s all been trial and error. So I did try to write a novel this year and got about 2/3rd’s the way through the first draft. Then stopped. It wasn’t a sudden realization that led to the cessation. It was more of a slow dawning that I was typing plenty without moving the story forward. The plot stagnated and I needed to step back, which then became a leap back, and then I buried the story in cement. Poor Henry, my protagonist.

But that hardly seems like something one who’s professed desire to write novels should do. And I won’t argue with that. But I found that having the onus of a novel before me became too much of a task to balance with my other interests, namely paying rent and having human relationships. Both of which are technically cop-outs. I could have moved back in with my mom and not talked to anybody for the six months it would take to write and edit the novel if it were my true passion. If I had perfect self knowledge, I would probably not be writing this right now and that would be a shame for you.

A few things, I have learned though.

I don’t like to write 500 words a day or less for a novel. For me, chunks of 1,000-3,000 words are better. At least for first drafts. It takes at least 500 words to get into the flow of the story and the setting of the scene. If I splash in and jerk myself out of the story it is frustrating and ends up making the whole first draft a convoluted mess of drivel. Not necessarily a show-stopper, but it does make editing a far messier and daunting task.

I have nothing against those who can write a few hundred words every day towards a long piece of writing. Only jealousy. Graham Greene used to write 500 words every day in his little notebook calling it his daily penance. Though he was British…Whereas Cheryl Strayed would write infrequently maybe once a month at minimum, sometimes renting hotel rooms to get away from her family. Khaled Hosseini wrote snippets of The Kite Runner in the morning before long days as a doctor. This is all to say that I don’t really have an excuse, but I sure like to think of them.

More technically speaking, knowing the plot, major scenes, and major characters before hitting the first keystrokes is the only way to go. I won’t belabor this point, as I learned it from Steven Pressfield, and he is far, far more qualified than I am to be talking about any of this.

Most importantly, have a reason for telling the story. It doesn’t have to be airtight. Everything we do can be picked at and fall apart under enough scrutiny. What matters most is having a plot, a theme, and character whose transition from beginning to end mean something to you. Some sort of message must be deduced, even if not the same for every reader. But they’re not the reason you should be writing. Write the story for the reason you intended and let the critics sort it out later.

I’ll poke about more around this topic until I get off my ass and start back up where I left off. Until then, having a daily writing outlet and practice keeps my mind warm and my word hoard a bit looser.

#obliviouslyconfident

I’d like to think I’m fairly confident most days. Or at least pretend so.  I also easily admit that I have no idea what shape my life is going to take. Some folks might think these to be two clashing notions. And they’re stupid!

Ha, only kidding. There’s a few types of being confident, and trust that I read this in no book.

  1. There are people who are blindly confident. They walk into rooms thinking they look like a million bucks when really they are sixty pounds overweight with a bit of jelly on their shirt from breakfast and haven’t showered in a week. They know they’re acting, but through some broken neural circuitry and mental acrobatics have convinced themselves they are the shit. They assume because no serious hardship has befallen them, that they are kicking ass in life. Usually they have been coddled by some caregiver for too long. This is why children are some of the most confident, most cruel, and adorable beings on earth.
  2. There are people who are arrogant confident. They realize that they have something going for them that is not complete fluff. Whether it’s their stature and looks, their bank account, or the monetizable skills they have. These folks are flashy about their fortune. Often you do not register as another human being to them if you are not equivalently confident (with a reason to be or without). They will try to find out if you deserve to be confident through petty social games and catty comments. Expect this person to talk far more than necessary and always about themselves.
  3. There are people who are assuredly confident. These types have been shit on and broken. Maybe they’ve spent decades in unfavorable situations bashing their heads against a wall, but finally something clicked. They have now shed enough of the guilt they carried to stand up straight and follow their path. They can’t be beaten again because they’ve already seen the bottom. Once you’ve lived in a sewer, everything is bright by comparison. They still have problems, but lacking confidence they will survive, is not one of them. They have ensured their success by building a framework of learning and discipline, no matter the subject: Modern finance or post-apocalyptic meat-gathering.
  4. There are people who are stupid, honest confident. Usually due to substance abuse, social pressure, upbringing, the stupid confident people just do the thing, however inadvisable. Much like number one, their distinguishing characteristic is their lack of awareness. However, they’re not acting. This is the guy in the home video who says “Hold my beer” before he gets on that four wheeler pointed at the ramp. If these types survive with a few appendages they sometimes learn enough to become like number three. Sometimes they get lucky and make us all question the universe.

There’s nothing inherently wrong in being any particular type of confident. Truth is generally served up in due time. Clearly I have a bias towards one type of confidence because I see it as the most sustainable and honest of them all.

If you think I am missing any types, please write a post of your own and tag me in it with: #obliviouslyconfident

Musical Filters

People do music differently.

I know people who like music solely because it has a beat they can dance to.  Lyrics and melody be damned. I have friends who will seek out live performances of songs that they have heard hundreds of times. Perpetually in search of the “heady freshies” or those magic live moments that a recording studio can’t capture. Others I know focus deeply on the lyrics. Some pick out the musical grammar, noting key changes, time signatures, and other nuance of musical structure.

This isn’t where I say, “And I’m special and unique because…” I think I enjoy a variation of all of those, as does everybody. As tempted as I am to pigeonhole people into neat categories, I know it’s not a binary. Though, like trees bent from a prevailing wind, we do tend lean more in one direction than others.

The music that attracts me is across the board, excluding most electronic/digital beat sort of music. Sorry, I don’t understand dubstep, trap music, or most things that DJ’s play out of their table-top iPods. I enjoy singing, you know, from humans. And instruments that  Especially when there are harmonies. Lyrics are important, but secondary to the rythym and “feel” of a piece. More often than not, one person and a guitar can create more emotion in me than an 80-piece orchestra.

I am severely biased with any music that has blues origins in structure, whether gospel, soul, funk, folk, or straight blues shufflin’. Beyond that, all I care about is intention. It does come across. There’s a reason Jimi Hendrix became the most well known guitarist of the sixties and it’s not because he was the best. Though, he was really damn good. He played the music that was inside of him, not told to him, not read from a sheet of paper. Same with Janis Joplin, John Prine, Townes Van Zandt, MF Doom, and Little Walter Jacobs.

And that’s why I really like music. It let’s me know what’s really in someone’s heart, especially my own. Of course, this is biasing behaviour and I may have missed out on friendships because someone listens to what I consider to be atrocious music. And you know? That’s fine. We can’t spend our time with everybody and I know of few better winnowing devices than music.

 

 

Take Your Busy Pills

I’ve been exhausted and whimsically lazy all day. I even went on a walk about in the cold rain, which helped for a bit, but now I’m back at square one. Not that you care. But you are here for some reason, and that’s on you to figure out why.

Do you ever have days where your only substantial accomplishment is feeding yourself? I do. Usually a couple of times a month. And I don’t regret them. It can be easy these days in the internet world of hearing everyone’s stories about “CRUSHING” “IT”, to feel inadequate and paranoid.

Am I really doing enough? I know CEO’s of Series A companies that are a year older than me, am I on track to do the same? Why can’t I play the cello yet? Should I have spent all day today studying cello sheet music? No, no, I know that cello isn’t that important to me when rationally examined. Neither is corporate power. Yet, there are things that are important to me, so I think. Why don’t I spend every hour of my time off the clock assiduously studying and sweating? How will I ever be writer if I am not constantly poring over the internet learning how every single author in history has done so before me? I know, I’m being excessively facetious. Maybe it’s because I am enjoying my lethargy today a bit too much and feel resentful that I do have a goal.

I am not afraid of hard work, but I do fear obsession. Historically, I admire those who do obsess over a problem whether it’s guitar performance, inventions, or exploratory expeditions. We all do. Those who plan extensively and premeditate often sacrifice a lot to do so, making them distinct from their tribe and thus noteworthy. You never see Batman just relaxing on the couch. You never hear about Einstein smoking down on a park bench. Nobody on Facebook posts pictures of themselves hunched over, belly folds peeking out. Not many brag about how little they did in a day. The stories we tell and hear are often about peak moments and not dull trenches. It’s a screwed up and skewed portrayal of life that doesn’t help those with self-esteem issues.

No, if we want to fulfill our highest calling and sleep guilt-free, then we are not to admit that we are relaxing and letting our minds wander. Ever.

But all that sounds like a tiring pile of shit to me. Which is maybe while I won’t be a CEO next year or pick up a Cello any time soon. And that kind of makes me smile, which may not be the worst thing to do for my health.

 

R-D=H, It’s Expected of Us

We live in strange and amazing times. Never has it been easier to survive as a member of homo sapiens on the surface of this planet. Warmth, calories, and technology have are significantly cheaper than any point in history.

Walk into any Goodwill and walk out with enough clothes to keep you warm for years for less than $50. You can buy 50 eggs and enough butter and pork to keep you alive and full for a month for less than $25. Really, those are the only two absolute necessities for biological survival and we’re looking at around $300 a year to survive: Roughly one week of work at a Taco Bell. But we’re social beings and nowadays we like to connect of social media and mobile phones, if connection is not available in person. Luckily, technology is cheaper than ever. And I’m not talking hammers and spears. The greatest most powerful intricate devices are available to all social classes. You can get a laptop for $100, use free wifi in most cities and at any McDonalds to connect with your tribe.

All in all, we’re talking far less than $500 a year to be alive, more comfortable than most humans in history, with less threat of violence, and with devices never imagined. And we haven’t gotten into transportation. Hitch a ride or buy a $60 greyhound ticket and be whisked thousands of miles away to another location in hours or days.

It’s truly amazing how comparatively easy our lives are next to our ancestors. But, it’s not enough.We’ve got to have more. It’s expected of us.

If you have arms, legs, can read and write, settling for the bare minimum of survival is frowned upon. Parental, societal, personal preference, whatever the source of these expectations is not what I’m aiming to dissect here. Perhaps another time. What I’d like to call in to question is how much do you need to be happy?

I’m the first to cheer on free-market economics and will never disparage anyone for being a billionaire. After all, those people and the products/services they create allow for the most affordable living standards for the masses in history.

For most of us who will not start the next equivalent of Walmart or Amazon, what is our driving purpose for increasing our number accounts? There are infinite valid reasons. Security in old age. A strong drive to procreate and raise healthy offspring. A strong drive to procreate, but only in a status ritual. The desire for shiny baubles. Maybe it’s to have a warm cabin to read and write in.

None of these desires or materiel facts of reality are free. But desire is. I’ve heard somewhere the equation for happiness looks something like this: R-D=H or reality minus desire equals happiness.

If the reality is you have $96 in your number account, but you desire a 2-bedroom apartment in Kansas City, then your happiness sum will be negative and despair ensues.

If you just want to read books for at least thirty hours a week and have a couple of close friends, then a job at McDonald’s might make sense and your happiness sum will be positive. Yay.

The equation does not have to involve dollars or numbers, but they do help to quantify for my purposes here. And I get it, capital H Happiness is not an equation. Our crazy brain folds are slightly more complex than three variables. Still, we also like to make things more complex to obfuscate our honest desires. This is usually a symptom of being overly saturated with pressure from outside influences. Ancestral expectations, schooled mindsets, cheesy inspirational posters, Disney. But it is necesarry to  cut through all of the propaganda life throws at us if we want to live hoenst, joyful lives.

What is it that you really desire? If it involves having a healthy family then don’t expect to live in a sleeping bag under a bridge eating cheetos with twenty bucks to your name. If it involves reading and writing ideas, being celibate and not giving a hoot about geographic location, then why pay exorbitant city rent and work a dreadful job?

Obviously not all of your desires will align with reality. But if and when that specter of unhappiness looms over for a bit too long, instead of bitching that rent is too high (even though it is) or people are racist (most really aren’t), or you boss is an A-hole (hmm), check out how high you’ve set your desires.

Most likely your self-illusions are to blame. Do a little internal math and figure out which variable is out of wack with what you actually require. And please stop blaming others to escape your own decisions. Pony up and do what you need to do. There are plenty others who have been where you are and would be glad to help so long as you aren’t constantly lashing out.

Healthy Is In The Gut Of The Beholder

I hope everyone here stuffed their gullet with meat, bread and sugar yesterday. National nobody has a diet day. Can you imagine someone the type of person who tries to follow a strict diet on Thanksgiving? Horrifying to think of, but I’m sure they exist. And, I guess I’m ok with that.

Generally I do have a diet though. I suppose we all do to an extent. We eat the things we like and eschew (get it?!) the things we don’t. But that’s too easy a simplification. Nobody really likes kale, unless it’s minced and covered in lemon juice, doused in olive oil, and coated with parmesan cheese.

In all seriousness, I have a conception of what healthy eating looks like and I follow it because I don’t want pudgy fat receptacles hanging around my waist. It probably wouldn’t effect my overall life longevity too much, but I’m a vain beast and prefer to imagine I look like Hugh Jackman. And I do…

Vanity isn’t the only reason though. I eat the way I do because I don’t want to have low energy, blood sugar spikes, and sever hanger attacks. But looking good naked is a nice consolation prize. The foods I choose to eat provide all of this for me. Thing is, my diet makes most people fear for their lives. Mainly being eggs and meat. Specifically a lot of the scary F word, Fat. Butter, pork fat, olive oil, Beef fat, oily fish, cheese, eggs, and so much bacon grease it’s obscene.

This horrifies the common doctrine of allowed dietary thought in modern media where we’re all supposed to eat fruit infused oatmeal and yogurt, read: Sugar, on top of sugar, with more sugar. It’s true. Most people don’t know that oatmeal turns into sugar in your body right after eating. You may as well be eating granulated white sugar or spoon fulls of corn syrup.

But science aside, the sugar eaters and the fat eaters are both correct. In their respective minds. I have tried, and don’t any more, to convince the sugar people that they are causing more arterial damage and potential for heart disease than eating pounds of butter at a time. Unfortunately, the government indoctrination camps and shiny marketers have done too good a job.

I know I should mind my own business and let people be “correct”. I just hate to see so many people struggling to understand why they feel like shit and can’t lose weight while simultaneously plugging their mouths with sugar. But the term “healthy” is extremely subjective depending on an individual’s goals. Though I hesitate to think that heart disease, excessive cardio, and low-energy is on anyone’s daily check list.

Healthy is truly in the gut of the beholder.

Rambling Pony

I’ve always had a hard time being succinct when telling a story in person. I inevitably start with a point in mind, but get tied up in extraneous details that seem important, only to then realize that I’m detracting from the main point. So I gloss over the tedious tidbits, hurry over the unnecessarily crafted details, and attempt to tie back in to the all holy point. The result being that any incipient interest from the listener is lost. Or so it feels.

Normally I ‘d like to think I’m a laconic sort of person, only saying things that are necessary when they are necessary. Read: I hate small talk. But I also hate when a person feels uneasy because they are unacquainted with a group. They went out on a limb to be around strangers. We’ve all been there, whether we were the new kid at a school or at a social affair where we are unknown. So, I’ll try to bolster up this outcast’s day. And it almost always is super awkward small talk. But sometimes another person comes up and we’ve got a trio going. The points of discussion have gone from binary to trinary. The likelihood of being offended or agreement goes up exponentially if a fourth person joins the conversation. None of us really know what’s going to happen.

Most people’s M.O. in these situations is to subtly, or not so, keep bringing the converesation to reside around their life experiences. I don’t blame these folk, because most of us do it unconsciously. We are so wrapped up in trying to make our life work out that it is always top of mind. So instead of asking good questions and really, I mean really, Listening to understand where someone’s coming from and grokking their slice of life, we blather on about ourselves.

In my case this means a rambling story that is tangential to the actual conversation topic because I lose the point. Or maybe because I never had a point in the first place because I hate small talk at social functions.

I have more or less cut going out and forcing conversation on unwitting strangers from my life. And it makes sense. I can’t say it’s for everybody, but it suits my sensibilities just fine. I get to read more, cook more, write more, drink less, and exercise more. Also, the amount of rambling, lost egotistical stories are kept to a minimum. Now I just write them out. At least I can edit what I type.

The Funky Jazz Con

I got conned today so easily. Man! Just when I was starting to think I knew a thing or two about big city living. In general the rules are easy to avoiding a con. Rule 1, 100% of strangers that approach you and start telling you about themselves are trying to con you. That’s it. End of rules.

This guy caught me off guard at the bus stop down town with my head phones in. Headphones are the best preliminary defense against being conned. Easy to ignore the weirdos and they don’t go as insane as if you have no external excuse to outright ignore them.

I know this all sounds somewhat callous thus far, but in downtown San Francisco social norms are…transient.

So this fella, I missed his name, spoke to me through my headphones. The song must have been quiet because I heard him say that he and his father were a jazz duo from Louisiana. He had a stack of clean and perfectly wrapped CD’s in his hand, clean cloths, and an earnest look in his eye.

I pulled out my headphones. I absolutely wanted to hear his homegrown Louisiana jazz. He even mentioned that he played flute on some tracks. I was ready to be a fan. I thought he mentioned they were playing a show, so I asked where. He replied that they had just played a show last Wednesday at the Club Deluxe, which is right over by my house. Done. Sold. I wanted in.

Anywho, there were several other very intricate and convincing details. People hand out CD’s all the time downtown. I usually never take them because they’re shitty rap demos. So, I take one and he asks if I had anything to donate to the cause.

THE CAUSE. Who can deny the cause?!

So I pull the only two dollars I have out from my wallet and feel bad that I only have two dollars. Like I’m some kind of asshole. But he plays it off.

“Naw, I mean, it’s like we’re looking for the kind of people who are going to support the music long term.” He takes my two crinkled bills.

We even speak for a bit. I tell him I’m from Texas, he says he’s from Lafayette. He even has that rounded Louisiana drawl. Subtly, but it’s there. The best cons always have a base of truth. Then we part ways.

I get home, put the CD in, and there’s nothing on it. 702 mb free of 702 mb and it hits me. There is no new funky Louisiana jazz in my future tonight. I checked Club Deluxe’s calendar. They have not played there last Wednesday. I search the name of the band on the internet. They do not exist. Shit.

At least I only had two dollars on me or else I might have given him five or ten, and hopefully not twenty.

But aside from the money, it’s the jazz vacuum that hurts the most. And that I was such a chump. He even walked up to a guy right after me with headphones on who did the normal SF move, shook his head and never made eye contact.

I hate to come off completely pessimistic. I did listen to a lady wrapped in a blanket on a hot day last weekend who had a medical boot on. She also had some wicked stitches on her wrist. She had recently been hit by a car. Then, I literally had nothing on me but my house key. All she asked for was a blessing. I hugged her, but sort of off to the side because, well she looked like she may have slept in shit recently, and gave her a paltry “Bless you.” I’m no good at off the cuff blessings especially when the crowd of needy in this town would inundate the empathy and bank account of the average person.

I would hate to think that I would have just passed this lady by if following the rule. She was in bad shape, but I knew she wasn’t going to die. It was a rough situation and I didn’t know what to say or do. I don’t right now either.

All I know is screw that guy in his puffy vest not making music and selling CD’s and funky hope where there is none. If I see him again, I will go full Larry David on him

Trying Harder Can Get You Behind

I’ve always disliked people who simply say “Just try harder”. Not because they’re wrong, but because they’re obvious. They may have reasons for being so obtuse, like sheer busyness or disinterest, but that doesn’t remove the taint of  annoyance felt when some quotes the Nike slogan.

Yes, we should all try harder. We should all just do what we know we need to do. Conversation over. It’s an immaculate argument. Yet mostly useless for people who have issues, which, is most of us. Whether it’s taking care of a sick family member, struggling with addiction, or abuse of any sort (especially self); life is not a clear-cut hopscotch course. Then again, neither is giving good advice. Which is why we often hear lazy platitudinous words of encouragement.

It’s impossible to predict exactly what someone is struggling with. Even if they try and explain their woes, most people, purposefully or not, misjudge their situation. Which is yet another woe in itself. The amount of trouble caused from lacking self awareness is staggering. Were I some sort of social scientist mathematician I would say, lack of self-awareness is more hazardous than politicians. But then again, the former may explain why the latter exist.

Anyways, The onus of getting solid advice is highly dependent on being able to articulate the core of what’s wrong. Otherwise, expect a bunch of sports commercial quality slogans tossed at you.

If you ever feel like saying to someone “Try harder”, and you have the time and desire to actually help them, then you try harder. Listen to them. Understand that there will be a lot of bullshit, but try to pick out the moments that seem more laden with real emotion. The Aha, or Oh No moments. Ask questions. Often times, just listening to tailored concerns alleviates pain. Then, give some custom advice. And don’t do so expecting it will be followed otherwise it will surely have the opposite effect.

But if you’re asking for advice, don’t waffle aimlessly about being generally unhappy. Ask yourself before you ask others. But take no shame in seeking advice. You can beat yourself up in your head for a long time, when simply talking it out could have prevented unnecessary pain. And if you respect the person you’re asking, really listen. They are not there to perform as consolation punching bags to be ignored.

Trying harder, aimlessly will get you halfway across the lake and then your paddles will break from the effort. Instead take guided and elucidated measures. Then give it your all based on what wisdom becomes apparent or advised. Feel free to lift your head up and gauge your progress occasionally. Maybe you’ll see a more appealing destination and change your course.

Trying harder is for these guys.

Extrusions From The Mind Gauntlet

I feel like the bottom side of a bag of dead frogs today. I awoke with that nauseous feeling deep down which beckoned me to the porcelain bowl. And now I lick my wounds at home trying to recoup my health and humanity.

San Francisco has given me more food poisoning in one year than all of my previous twenty-seven combined. I’m not sure if it’s the amount of seafood that’s served and the potential for cross-contamination. Maybe it’s that all of the cooks can’t even afford to live in the city they work in, are stressed out from lengthy commutes, and just give less of a shit when it comes to sanitation.

I’m not sure, but I’m thankful to be alive. Pukey or not.

Understandably, my thoughts have been a bit more scattered today than usual. But this isn’t a diary, this is where I regurgitate my opinions and not talk about actual, well…gross stuff.

I remembered recently how useful pushing content into my head aids in producing content output from my head. I’d like to think it’s more than sheer parroted repetition. Ideas enter the mind gauntlet, bounce around, sometimes fighting sometimes playing with other ideas and, something comes out.

Technically, there is a lot going on in all of our heads. Our eyes see thousands of things each day. Our noses imbibe the odors de jour. We have conversations with other people. We have conversations with ourselves. Suffice to say that even if you lead a supremely vanilla life, you are still encountering new things every day. And then multiply that by how many days you’ve lived.

There’s a lot in there. True, we may not have perfect access to most of our memories and experiences, but they’re in there somewhere. As well as our desires, goals, and fantasies.

It would probably be overwhelming if we did have perfect access to every single sensory instance in our lives. For me a lot of my brain space is occupied by the same musings and memories. Every now and then a new one will cycle into the routine, but it can be unreliable and mundane like that one time I boiled a bunch of corn in June 2003.

Which, can make my own creative output suffer. At least until I learn how to make boiled corn interesting.

So, I stuff things that others have created into my noggin and inevitably, something comes out of mine. It would be an interesting endeavor, which I’ll never do, to not read or listen to anything for a year and see how my writing turns out. I think I can safely assume the result of that experiment. I’d be a neck-bearded raving lunatic who ate too much cheese and talked at birds.

Instead, I read. And it’s better.