Making It Through The Holidays

5 Dec

“All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray . . . “

Well our leaves are gone, not brown, and the sky is definitely gray, and most likely will be until April.

Sigh!

Holidays are tough for me.  They have been since my teen years.  I suspect I’m not alone in that statement.  I don’t know what the classic dysfunctional family looks like exactly, but I suspect quite a few of us can give particulars which add up to the whole, and I’m sure my dis-ease during the holidays traces back to family.

To overcome this malaise and semi-depression, in the past, I’ve consumed copious amounts of alcohol. That is no longer an option for me, not for the past eleven years, so to compensate I either get real grumpy or I attempt to act like nothing at all is wrong, everything is wonderful, and by God we are going to have the greatest Christmas ever, with presents and decorations and forced gaiety.

It has only been in the past couple years that I’ve come to realize it’s okay to be depressed and out-of-sorts.  I don’t have to act like I’m enjoying Christmas if I don’t want to.  It’s not my responsibility to make sure everyone else around me is happy.  I can just be me.  I can own my feelings, deal with them the best I can, and keep marking off the days on the calendar until normalcy returns. And thank the gods I have a partner like Bev who allows that and totally understands that.

And I always have writing!

For me, writing is therapeutic.  Writing allows me to escape.  Writing gives me a release of the frustrations and sadness and yes, anger.  Writing is now my drug of choice and I will forever be grateful for it.

So this year I’m not going to kick myself in the butt for not putting lights up outside; I’m not going to feel bad about not buying more gifts for people;  and I’m not going to fake laughter or feign joy if it’s missing.

I’m just going to be me . . .

And write!

Happy Holidays to you all!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

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Do You Believe In Magic?

28 Nov

No talent there . . . or is there?

I don’t remember much about Thanksgiving when I was a child.  Odd, I think, but memories are so random for us all, so maybe not so odd.  By the time I was ten, death had whittled down our extended family, so it was not a huge event with great multitudes of people after that.

I do remember mom cooking most of the day.  I remember me eating dough not used for pie crusts. And I remember me and some friends always finding time for a touch-football game down at the park, no matter the weather.

Oddly, when I have relapsed in my sobriety, it has always been Thanksgiving.  I’m not sure why, but it is something I’m aware of, so I’m extra vigilant this time of year.

And that’s about it!  Christmas holds many more memories for me as the years accumulate.  Christmas was always a grand affair, what seemed to be a two-week, non-stop barrage of activities and traditions.  I find great comfort in traditions, and now Bev and I are making our own traditions, together and with combined families, and that is all well and good and as it should be.

The little kid in me surfaces at Christmastime.  It’s really the only time of the year when I see that little rascal, and it’s nice to say hello again to him and have him remind me of the magic inherent in certain situations in our lives.  And I think we all need that touch of magic, that feeling of suspended reality when for one day, or perhaps several days, the worries and stress disappear and we can just enjoy friends, and family, and not be burdened by the weight of life.

So that’s my plan in December this year . . . to simply allow the magic to return.  As I approach seventy, I am very much aware that the window for magic is shrinking, so I suspect that each Christmas, from this point onward, will be more precious than the one previous.

And that is something to look forward to, for sure!

That’s how I view writing, by the way . . . magic!  We all, all seven billion of us, work from basically the same alphabet, the same number of words available, but only a true writer can take those meager tools and produce magic.

I hope you remember that the next time you sit down to write . . . you are a magician and what you do is special!  A side note: I recently received an email from a complete stranger telling me how much an article I wrote about alcoholism helped them in dealing with their alcoholic spouse.

Magic!

Important!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Passing It On

21 Nov

childhood homeOne of my freelance writing customers here in Olympia is a garden center.  Three times each week I do a blog posting for them, and this past week I made mention of the kids’ section of the store where there are gardening tools for children, and how those items would make great Christmas gifts.

I love that section of the store because I love what it stands for: parents sharing with their children the love of gardening.  I look at that section and I imagine a mother out in the garden with her five-year old, telling the small child that soil is a living thing, and how, from that soil, other living things will grow, and how it is all the grand circle of life, cue the Lion King music.

And many of those young children will grow up loving gardening and urban farming because that love was passed down from their parents.

I love that stuff!  I seriously get misty-eyed when I think about it.

And then I think of Sam and Delores Conrad, next-door neighbors of mine when I was a five-year old, them both being in their nineties at that time, and them taking the time to tell me stories of their trip out west in a wagon, back in the 1860’s, and how those stories came alive for me, the wonders of storytelling, man, the passing of history down from generation to generation, just as it has always been done since the first walker on this earth told his son, or daughter, tales of brave Ulysses, and lost souls crossing the River Styx.

And I felt then what I feel now, a sense of pride, to be a part of the storytelling tradition.  It’s a small thing, really, in the grand scheme of things, this storytelling gig, when you think about world events, it really doesn’t match up with the Emancipation Proclamation or the Bill of Rights . . .

Or does it?

Just random musings from an old man.

If you are so inclined, have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Hugs, thanks, and love to you all!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Geography and History Go Hand in Hand

14 Nov

I recently had the pleasure to read an article by a writing friend of mine, Ann Carr . . . the shortened title was “A Sense Of Place, A Sense Of History,” and it was brilliant.  I don’t say that about too many articles I read, but this one deserves it . . . brilliant!

In it Ann suggests that writers stand in a place and study the surroundings. Study the geography and try to imagine how that geography shaped the history of that particular place.  It is an exercise I have done myself, here in my city of Olympia.  It is a fascinating exercise, to see things as those centuries ago saw things, and to imagine the decision-making process which shaped that area.

Read the article if you get the chance, and try the exercise where you are.

In Olympia, it is the geography which made the city, and in particular it is one small river, the Deschutes, which spearheaded the homesteading movement.  The Deschutes empties into the lower end of the Puget Sound, the inland sea here in western Washington.  In 1848 settlers arrived here, having heard stories about a swift-running river emptying into a deep waterway.  They arrived and immediately built lumber mills, and to ship that finished lumber they started a shipping line.  Other families arrived shortly after that, and Olympia became, at that time, the most influential city in what is now Washington State.

Later, that same river became the impetus for a brewing company to be formed, Olympia Beer, “It’s the Water” their logo, and that company became one of the leading employers in the area for decades.

One river, untamed, flowing with possibilities.

Go outside . . . look around at your surroundings . . . what do you see?

You just might be surprised!

Kneel down!  Scoop up a handful of dirt.  The dirt in my hand is actually rich soil, and similar soil, accompanied with a long growing season, are the reasons people flocked to the Oregon Territory starting in 1843.  The promise of a better life resides in that soil, rich alluvial soil, silt, sand, and clay, with generous amounts of organic matter, all promising abundant crops for Midwest farmers wishing for free land and an easier life . . .

Do you see it?

Do you feel it?

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

In Search of Talent

7 Nov

No talent there . . . or is there?

I was thinking about the people I’ve known over the years, family and close friends, those kinds of people, and what talents they had.

Websters defines the word “talent” as:  a special often athletic, creative, or artistic aptitude, and a talented person as one who has an innate, special ability at something.

Sheez, when I look at that definition, I have to admit I didn’t really know anyone who was “talented.”  LOL . . . Certainly no one in my family could be described as talented.  None of my close friends were talented.  Heck, it could be argued, with some success, that I wasn’t talented, and if I was I certainly kept it hidden pretty darned well.

And yet today, without any formal training, I’m a pretty good writer, and several of my close friends are now described as talented in various fields of endeavor.

I can speak about me with a great degree of certainty.  I can speak for my close friends with a fair degree of certainty.  What I have noticed about me, and about my friends, is that my/their talent was hard-earned.  We/they worked their asses off to hone whatever “abilities” they had, and through hard work, determination, and a stubbornness which borders on obsessive, we have found some semblance of talent.  Maybe it was always there, but without that hard work and determination, there was no way it was going to show up.

Just some random thoughts as I prepare to work on my latest novel.  I don’t know about this talent thing.  I don’t know how much is innate and how much is earned.  But I do know it’s a shame when it is wasted.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

 

 

Remembering the Soldiers

31 Oct

It was during a trip to the dump (city landfill) with my dad that I learned a lesson about war I’ve never forgotten.

My dad served in World War 2. He was part of the Italian Campaign, the liberation of Sicily and Rome, and I have no doubt he saw some serious action during that time.  Like any kid of ten I was curious about war, and like any kid I had this romanticized version of it, the good guys overpowering the bad guys, a sanitized version based on the games we kids played in the neighborhood, bang-bang, you’re dead, raise the flag and whooping and hollering in victory . . . then go home for lunch and play some baseball.

So on this trip to the dump I asked my dad what it was like, being a soldier, killing the enemy, that sort of thing.

He stopped what he was doing, which was unloading the trailer and tossing our junk into the big pile, and he stared off into the distance, most likely seeing the bunkers, smelling the smoke, and hearing the sounds of agony.  He shook his head, clearing it of those memories, and he told me war was not something you spoke about, that there is no glory in taking a life, not for freedom and not for any other political or philosophical reason.

“It’s something we had to do, son,” he told me.  “But I didn’t know anyone who took pride in it.”

My dad and his parents

Since then I’ve heard similar statements from Vietnam vets and more recently from Desert Storm survivors.

What does this all have to do with writing?

We writers chronicle the human experience, or so it seems to me.  I will be forever grateful that I did not have to experience war firsthand, but I do need to understand it as best I can.  My characters need to reflect the words of my father and other veterans in order to be believable.

And so I observe . . . and I remember what I’ve observed, and heard . . . and eventually those memories become part of a story.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

The Consequences of Hastiness

24 Oct

“There are consequences to being hasty, Bill.”

Words spoken by my Uncle Jim when I was, gosh, maybe eight years old.

My Uncle Jim was a dredger by trade and a carpenter in his spare time.  Carpentry was his love; dredging put food on the table.  He would be gone to Alaska for three or four months each year, helping to dredge out harbors for the towns up there, and then he would return to Tacoma and build things in his garage.

Sometimes I’d go in the garage and watch him.

I loved the smell of newly-cut wood.  Loved watching him work with the grain, and listening to him talk to me about lumber being a living thing, and watching him take pieces of wood and create something beautiful from them.

One day I asked him if I could build a toy boat and he said his garage was my garage, as long as I remembered to put all the tools away where they belonged . . . very important to him, returning those tools.

Well I was in a hurry to slap that boat together, so I did the job as quickly as possible, finished it, put the tools away, rode my bike down to the waterfront, and set it in the water for its maiden voyage.

I think it might have sailed ten feet before a wave capsized it and it sunk.

Back to my Uncle Jim I went, totally pissed and swearing to never again try my hand at carpentry.

“There are consequences to being hasty, Bill,” he said.  “The key to a sea-worthy boat is not in what you see but rather in what you don’t see.”  He then went on to explain ballast and how it works, how a ship’s hull is not solid wood but rather it is the air inside the hull which actually keeps a ship upright and functioning properly.

“You would have known these things, Bill, if you had taken the time to ask.  Don’t be in such a hurry to learn.  Take your time and learn properly.  There’s joy in the process if you are willing.”

 

I was thinking about that time last week when someone asked me what was the secret to success in writing?  My answer to that person is the same as my uncle’s answer many years ago.  Don’t be hasty!  Take the time to learn the craft of writing.  Learn how good writing works.  You can’t fake it.  You can’t pretend.  Good writing is good writing is good writing, and fakers, and those in love with shortcuts, need not apply.

Bill

My new book is out, “Shadows Fall On Rosarito“….check it out!

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

The World Is My Stage

17 Oct

As a kid I was an observer.  I was shy, so in group situations you could usually find me off in a corner, eating whatever was available, watching the festivities.

Even back then I was adding to my compilation of observations, to be used later when I began writing.  Of course I didn’t know it way back then; it wasn’t a conscious decision on my part; but today I can sure see how it all unfolded.

When my family would head off on a car trip/vacation, I would sit in the backseat, not reading a book but studying the passing landscapes, storing it all in my brain for future use.

I was reminded of that this past weekend when my wife and I went on a mini-vacation to see friends in Southern Oregon.  It was about an eight-hour trip one-way, and most of the way Bev spent that time listening to music and playing with the puppy, while I observed everything we passed along the way.

I think writers are just wired differently.  I was consciously thinking of certain sites and tucking them safely away until I need them in a new novel.  That’s basically what I do every single day I’m out and about running errands . . . I’m observing!  I even caught myself mentally writing some scenes for my latest novel while driving.  I saw this great old mansion in Ashland, Oregon, and that mansion deserves a spot in the next novel.

I love everything about the writing process.

One of the people we visited on the trip asked me to explain how I write a particular scene.  What process do I use as a scene unfolds, and I found it difficult to answer that question because it just happens, but it can only happen because of all the observations made over the span of my life.

Does that make sense?

If you’re a writer you are nodding your head right now.

We’re just wired a little bit differently.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Fiction or Not Fiction?

10 Oct

I was thinking some more about Vietnam this morning.

Four U.S. Presidents intentionally lied to the American public and to Congress, about the degree of military involvement in that war.  We, the voting public, were basically fed a pile of crap for sixteen years.

Unbelievable!  And probably more unbelievable is that we eagerly ate that pile of crap.

A couple months ago I read a book by Robert McNamara about his involvement and memories of the Vietnam War.  As you may recall, McNamara was the Secretary of Defense under two of those four Presidents. I came away from the reading of that book feeling like it was terribly self-serving, that he had somehow washed himself clean of any wrongdoing during that entire fiasco.  And I read a similar book by Henry Kissinger once, and it was amazing how lily-white he managed to paint himself.

Now those two books were labeled non-fiction, but in truth, parts of them were either a) fiction or b) bald-faced lies.

And that got me to thinking about many of the non-fiction books we read.  They are all written according to the truth as the author sees the truth, but is that actually the truth?

Just something to think about!

Which brings me to my genre of choice . . . fiction!

I love being a fiction writer.  I make a deal with my readers: I’m going to completely fabricate a story, alter reality, lie my ass off, but I promise to entertain the reader while I’m doing all that . . . and that is perfectly all right and expected.  I am expected to alter the truth with my writing, and people pay me to do so, and how great is that?

The point is this:  writers of fiction are entertainers and blowers of smoke.  It is our job to release the reader from the ugliness and vileness of reality; it is our job to give them a respite from the pressures of their lives; it is our job to suspend the known world and create an unknown world.

If we do our jobs well, readers will come away from the experience feeling satiated and fulfilled.

If we do not do our jobs well, readers will come away from the experience feeling like they voted for Richard Nixon.

Just something to think about!

Have a great day of creating!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Your Story, Your History

3 Oct

Vietnam!

It’s just one word, but if I say it out loud I instantly see flashbacks from fifty years ago; I am transported back instantly; I am raw.

I watched the Vietnam series by Ken Burns these last two weeks, and once again I was blown away by the storytelling ability of Burns.  The man is a master at his craft.

That’s what that series was, you know.  It was a story, told by a storyteller, and within his story were the stories of those who were touched personally by that war.

In a very real sense we were all touched by that war . . . and still are!

The Civil War and Vietnam . . . they haunt us still today. We still, as a nation, have not recovered from the effects of those two conflicts.  It appears we won’t recover in my lifetime, and I find that to be sad.

If you saw the series then you saw the haunted looks on the faces of those who were involved in Vietnam.  You heard the pain in their voices.  Their words, and I’m sure their memories, were visceral.

I could not hate a soldier in 1967 and I can’t hate one today, no matter my viewpoint on war.  They have seen things no sane, compassionate, empathetic human being should ever see, and because of that they deserve, at the very least, understanding.

Taking a life should be costly.  It should have a profound effect on those who survive. It is horrible, and it is a shame our leaders cannot experience the anguish when a steel-jacketed round, from their weapon, tears out the wiring of an enemy soldier.  Perhaps some of them would not be in such a hurry to declare war on North Korea, or Iran, or a handful of other nations who dare to disagree with our economic policies and philosophical beliefs.

My father was not the same after World War 2, or so I’m told.  My uncle suffered from “shell-shock,” PTSD as we know it today, and drank his way through the next twenty years of his life.  A cousin of mine never recovered after being sent home from a prison camp in Hanoi in 1970, and eventually he hung himself on a cold February evening in 1980.

We are writers, but we are also storytellers, and to a larger degree we are the chroniclers of history.

Tell your history!  Will it please everyone? Probably not, but that’s not the point.

Be a storyteller!  Will your stories please everyone?  Probably not but again, that’s not the point.

Make your readers feel it.

That is the point!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”