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Inspiration

I have a goal to put up a new post on this site several times per week. I have been shooting for five times per week. When I start my job, I will probably have to cut that down. Juggling a full-time job, spending time with my wife, having a social life, writing a novel, reading many novels, and consistently writing here leaves little time for niceties. Like being extroverted. Or being in a band.

Did I mention I’m in a band? Yeah. I’m in a band.

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By this time next week, my time will be at a premium. I won’t be able to sit down and write 1500 words in a setting, because I won’t have that kind of time on my hands. So when I sit down, I need to be inspired. Immediately would be nice, but I know that you can’t force the creative process.

A writer said once that she has a routine when it’s time for her to write. It sounds a bit structured, and I don’t know how it works, but she explained it. She does whatever it is she does before she sits down, and through that process her brain realizes that it’s time to start writing.

I shied away from trying to set up a routine for myself. I want to be free flowing and spiritual with my writing. I don’t want to tell my brain when to turn on and off its creativity. It sounds rather predestined to me.

The writer also said that it doesn’t work at first. It takes time and diligence before the brain recognizes the routine (What, work?! I thought this writing business was going to be romantic and fun!). And after a while, she’s been able to do it.

What should we take away from that? The thing that all writers have been forced to face: writing is hard. If someone tells you it isn’t, then he is either lying or is touched with divinity.

I’m going to start practicing a routine next week to get myself into the writing mode. At this point, I don’t have any other idea how to get a lot done in a short amount of time.

Writers, I beseech you: How do you do it?! A nervous employed writer needs your help.

Photo Credit: Robynn: Photography

Beginning a New Job

I have been hired!

It’s been about a month and a half of unemployment, which has been frustrating, but thankfully the search is over. I will begin my new job on Monday next.

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The great thing about customer service is that each customer has his/her own questions and personalities I’ll be navigating. With that comes many, many stories. I’ll be happy to share my experiences here with you when they start rolling in.

A couple years ago I was working customer service. An angry woman called in and said, “Pardon my French, but this is a load of bullshit!”

Well, honey, I speak French. And I told her that. In French.

I said the equivalent of “I’m sorry, that’s not French. I hope your grandmother is on fire.” Mostly because I could, not because I wanted her grandmother to burn. And because it is offensive to say that swear words are the same as the French language.

She responded with, “Don’t play with me!”

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Well, I kept talking to her, I got to the bottom of her troubles and sorted her out. By the end of the conversation she was laughing and apologized for being so abrasive at the beginning of the conversation.

I’m hoping to bring these skills with me to my new position. Not the part where I tell people I hope their grandmother is on fire, because I don’t wish that on anyone’s grandmother. I want to take the part where I bring people from a place of frustration and confusion to a place of understanding and peace.

I try to do this in my writing by setting up a conflict for my protagonist. The difficulty I have with it is that I see the misunderstanding from the beginning and try to steer him away from the blunder. I have him stumble upon another character who will explain the confusion before it becomes a problem.

This is a bad thing to do. Because if I keep allowing my protagonist to have an easy time of it, my story won’t go anywhere. At the same time, when I see my character making stupid decisions even after I tell him not to, I get angry at him.

“Well, you got yourself into this pickle, you can get yourself out!” I scream at my computer. Other patrons at the coffee shop are kind enough not to stare at me directly, but I catch their fleeting glimpses.

At an annual review, my supervisor told me that one of my biggest weaknesses is that I’m too kind. I let the clients do whatever they want to do when we have goals to work on, effectively getting zero work done. I wasn’t sure if that was a backhanded compliment or underhanded insult. I’m seeing it come through in my writing. I’m too nice to my characters, allowing no room for productivity.

As I begin my new job I will be as nice as production allows, provide the information that I can, and speak as much French as possible.

Image Credit: TMCNet

Image Credit: Jon Oropeza

Finding Grandpa’s Asparagus Patch

Grandpa George had a secret asparagus patch. Every summer he would go for a walk by himself. If anyone tried to go with him, he would refuse access.

“No. I’m on my way to the asparagus patch. I’ll be back in a few hours.”

And he would go.

Each time he would return with brown paper bags filled to the brim with asparagus harvested at the peak of its season. Fresh, delicious asparagus that he would distribute to the neighbors and his kids.

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I loved asparagus. Because it’s tasty, yes, but also because of the mystery that surrounded Grandpa’s prize. He never let anyone know where his patch was. Nearly six years have passed since he’s been gone, and we still have no idea where it is.

I like to believe that Grandpa kept it a secret because this was his sanctuary. He had a flourishing garden, but it wasn’t secluded. He worked on it for hours, but if anyone looked out the back window, he wasn’t alone. His asparagus patch was his spiritual getaway. Summer would come, and Grandpa would disappear. He went to center himself. He went to refill his energy. He went into the woods with a heavy weight on his back and came back with joy in his heart.

I met a new friend tonight who recently lost her grandpa. We talked a little about her relationship with her grandpa, and in the few words that were spoken, I understood their connection. This woman loved her grandpa and her grandpa loved her. I understood it, because I had the same connection with my grandpa.

Stories, life lessons, humor, inside jokes, teenage struggles, heartbreak, love. Grandpa was the anchor. Grandpa was the safety net.

One day I came home with dreadlocks. After a barrage of insults from his sister, my great aunt, Grandpa walked in. He took  one look at me and winked. I thought I caught a glimpse of a grin, but I couldn’t mistake the wink for anything else than, “Good for you.” That’s all I ever heard about my new style from Grandpa.

Talking about my friend’s grandpa tonight reminded me of Grandpa George. It reminded me of roaming the family farm with him. It reminded me of his endless stories. It reminded me of his secret asparagus patch.

I was inspired to write my grandpa’s story. I want to tell the world about this legendary man who had terrible struggles, painful heartbreak, and strength to love thoroughly.

It’s been years since Grandpa has passed, but it is time for his story to be told. A man who battled against all that life threw at him and rose up victorious.

It will be a memoir about Finding Grandpa’s Asparagus Patch.

Image Credit: NEBRASKAland Magazine

Meriwether

I had a crow when I was a kid. No joke.

My dad brought it home from a campground where he had been working. It was a baby crow that fell out of the nest. Dad found it and brought it home.

Notice that I keep saying “it”? We had no idea if this bird was a boy or a girl. I’m sure you bird experts out there could tell me a surefire way to never guess the gender of another bird in my life, but I don’t really want to know. I’d rather keep the mystery.

But since my siblings and I didn’t know if our fine feathered friend was of the male or female persuasion, we gave it a neutral name.

Meriwether.

This may not look like a non-gender-specific name on the outset, but let me walk you through the thought process of four elementary-aged home schoolers.

We had been learning at the time of the great Lewis and Clark expedition. We had also heard rumor that my mom is a descendant of their guide Sacagawea. How better to honor the great explorers and our great-great-great-great-(I could keep going)-grandmother than to name our gender confused crow after Mr Lewis?! If the crow does decide it is a she, we’ll shorten her name to Mary. Or Meri, which we called him/her anyway.

And this is how I spent one summer of my childhood. I soaked dog food for the baby bird so s/he could swallow it. Meri grew quickly. We couldn’t allow him/her to stay in the house soon after Spring had sprung. I was terrified that if we allowed Meri a moment of freedom, s/he would never come back to me.

But despite my protests, the day came. Together with my siblings and mom, we took Meri outside. We said our goodbyes and shed a few tears.

“What’s the matter with you? We’ve only had it for 2 weeks!” my sister chided.

“But I don’t want it to leave!” I replied. I guess I was the only one upset about it. My brother never really cared for the bird, and my mom thought s/he was too dirty to have in the house.

So she let him/her go. Meri was finally big enough to carry his/her weight with the now strong wings, and s/he flew high into the trees, never to be seen again.

For about five minutes.

Meri never strayed too far from our house. S/he nested in one of the garages and was up every morning to get his/her soggy dog food from me.

I would tell my friends that we had a pet crow that lived in the trees, but no one believed me. “Crows just live in the trees. They aren’t your pets.

“Well most of them don’t come when I call their names. But Meri does!”

They wouldn’t believe me until they came over to play. I would stand in the middle of the yard, yell “MEEERRRRIIII!!!!!” at the top of my lungs, and our crow would come swooping down to astonished faces and my beaming pride.

But Meri wouldn’t just come on command. For months when we came home, Meri would greet us. S/he would do this by landing on the hood of the car, usually before the car had come to a complete stop. It made Mom scream which made me laugh.

It was this nasty habit that took Meri in the end. S/he was trying to greet the mailman while he delivered the letters. He wasn’t aware of our psycho crow and its car-landing habits, and Meri wasn’t aware that just because a car stops, doesn’t mean it won’t go again. She landed in front of our mailman’s car this time, and didn’t fly away fast enough when he was finished in the mailbox.

I was devastated. Trying to cheer me up, my dad brought home a baby purple finch which he also found at work.

It survived about 3 days.

 

Image Credit: JR Compton

Throwback Thursday – Water

A post from December, 2013:

Water

After a conversation with my colleague, Adam, my thoughts turned to sounds.

Dogs have super sonic hearing. They can respond to frequencies that are too high pitched for the human ear. What kinds of sounds do they experience?

Perhaps, if we could rein in that hearing energy, magnify it, and convert it into a listenable format for the average human, we would have a brand new territory to explore. A new “last frontier.” We could hear plants growing, insects gasping, or water thinking.

Water has been described as the life-giving element. The sustainer which keeps all living organisms afloat. I have heard people say it is patient, strong – almost like it has a mind of its own.
If this is the case, does it have similar insecurities as humans? Do poisoned water holes have a bad conscience? Do rain clouds ask each other if they look fat? Could we hear H2O scream in terror (or perhaps exhilaration) as it careens off the side of a waterfall? Niagra would be the worst vacation destination ever.

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What would we hear if we could listen to the life-blood of Earth?

Image credit: BoomsBeat

The Study

I awoke with a start. I must have dozed off with my paper. The pipe in my hand was still warm, but the smoke had stopped sifting out of the bowl. Striking a match, I inhaled the comforting cloud into my lungs. I relaxed. My Newfoundland, Rufus, was sleeping at my slippers. He sneezed in his sleep.

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I returned to the article I had been reading about a new Boeing 747, but realized the article had been the cause of my drowsiness in the first place. I shook my head and set it back down. Reaching for one of the many antique books lining the cherry wood shelf next to my chair, I cracked it open to the middle just to fill my nostrils with the scent of old book. Withdrawing it from my face, I realized I had selected Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray. I’ve always felt bad for Basil Hallward. Throughout the story he held onto the hope that there was still good in Mr. Gray. It did not bode well for Mr. Hallward in the end.

As I was reading, there was a soft knock at the door. There was no need for words in that study. I looked up to see Ilsa, my beautiful wife, walk in with two glasses in her hands. Written on her face was a look of contentment. Her favorite time of the week was when we retreated to our safe haven, and it was finally Sunday, the day we set aside for the study. She smiled at me and closed the heavy wooden door behind her. She stepped to the wine rack and selected two bottles of our favorites: Pinot Noir for me and a Chardonnay for herself. She handed me my glass, leaned in for a kiss, and pulled the cord on the brass lamp above my head.

As always, I could hear my father’s voice telling a younger version of me, “Reading in the dark causes unnecessary strain on your eyes.” He’s been gone for eons, it seemed, but never have I met a man I more deeply respect.

The lamp-shade was yellowed from age and years of tobacco smoke dancing in its illumination. The bulb hummed lazily. Satisfied, my wife retired to her spot on the couch and opened to her favorite chapter in an old Louisa May Alcott novel.

How long had we been keeping up this routine? Five years? Fifteen? More? Every Sunday evening we climbed the rickety spiral staircase to reach our sanctuary of solitude.

Early on in our routine I considered whether an elevator was in store for us. Even then I wasn’t sure how much longer my tired legs could struggle up those wooden steps. My feet were like gears turning without enough grease, whining with every step.

I rose to consider this alternative to the worn brass handrails. Would I honestly disgrace my home by putting in an electric elevator? No. Back then and even now, I would rather have our son carry us up every week than to push a button to lift us to our hideaway.

I stepped behind my oak writing desk. Used strictly for handwriting, this tabletop had never felt the weight of a computer. Computers imply work or connecting to the outside world. That study was intended for escape. I had written many a letter to friends and family, yet never to businessmen or politicians here. I had written poems about happiness and loss, love and love-making, the earth and all her splendor. I had written stories about my son and my son’s son; about my travels, domestic and abroad. I had written out of joy. I had written to stay sane. I had written to remember and to be remembered.

I sipped the dark red liquid. An orange glow appeared on my wrinkled face from the singeing ash in my pipe. A large half-moon window stood behind the desk. Through it, I gazed up at the starry night sky and appreciated, as many times before, the wonder of the moon. Had it really been forty years since Ilsa and I moved into this house? It was late. Numbers meant nothing to me at this hour, whatever time it was. We had never put a clock up there. The study was intended for relaxation.

Just then I heard the door creep open. Rufus raised his head in curiosity. Sleepily, our grandson walked in with his blanket, rubbing his eyes.

“Papa, I can’t sleep. Will you read me a story?”

I glanced to Ilsa who looked as if her heart might burst with pride at the sight of our four-year-old grandson, Jack. She knew as well as I did that he had been trying not to sleep so he could sit on my lap and listen to my deep gravelly voice, and smell the sweet aroma of my Virginia leaf aflame within my pipe. Who was I to deny him his request? He brought with him his trusty blanket and the moccasin slippers we bought for his last birthday. He wanted a pair that matched Grandpa’s. While I read Andersen’s fairy tales to him, he slowly stroked Rufus with his foot and stared mesmerized at the smoke that lingered in the lamplight. I blew smoke rings just to see his eyes light up with delight. Did this remind him of his toys that lit up and sang to him when he pushed the circular button? Maybe his young mind was remembering the mobile that hung above his crib and the shapes, suspended in the air, that demanded the consciousness from his eyes. For his sake, I hoped these rings harbored similar magic.

Ilsa turned the gramophone down a notch while Etta James’s voice soothed Jack’s frazzled nerves. It must have been late. I couldn’t imagine what kind of willpower it took for him to keep awake until an opportune moment arrived for him to present his innocent request. I rewarded his hard work with a grandiose retelling of his favorite story.

Despite my theatrical execution, six pages into The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Jack was breathing slowly and steadily. His head felt heavy against my chest. I looked to my Ilsa for confirmation. Amused with my performance, she grinned and readied a makeshift bed for him on the over-stuffed leather couch. I laid him down and watched a mischievous grin appear in his sleep, almost to say how swimmingly he pulled off his deception.

I packed another pipe and surveyed my surroundings. A short book stand separated an identical leather, button-holed chair from the one I was occupying. Both were facing the davenport. On top of the book stand sat a thick, transparent cigar ash tray with the remnants of my previous smoke. Ensconced on the next shelf down was a large glass jar with a lid which caged the tobacco waiting to be burned.

In front of the chairs was a large redwood coffee table with a few of our favorite magazines and the Sunday paper. We subscribed solely for the crossword puzzles. Also, Jack loved to look at the comics. He would ask me to read the funnies to him, but I doubt he understood the irony of them. His laugh was a bit too contrived. The table legs swooped down like an old claw foot bathtub. They were intricately carved to give an essence of the stability of a kingdom tried by time. They stood their ground against any foe, natural disaster or conspiracy from within. For a coffee table, I assume that would translate to heavy platters, spilled drinks or perhaps the clambering a four-year-old.

Opposite the chairs was my wife’s favorite spot: the sofa. She was sitting on the end that was close enough to catch a bit of light from my hazy lamp. She pretended to read, but her book was upside down. She was rubbing Jack’s feet whose head was on the dark end of the sofa. Most likely, her thoughts were of what kind of man he would grow up to be. Perhaps we would have another Graham to admire. Jack’s father went above and beyond what any father could hope for. Our only son was a man of great character and honor. Would Jack follow his footsteps? Of course, though Ilsa prayed that Jack wouldn’t have to relive the hardships Graham had. When Graham’s wife died during childbirth, we thought he would come undone. But like a Phoenix, our boy rose up and grew into being the father I could only wish that I had been. The plush cushions of Ilsa’s couch enveloped her petite frame and cradled her as the worries of time passed out of mind. The study was intended for relief.

Behind her was the dark, cherry wood wine rack, half filled with half-filled bottles. The bottles were nestled in triangles that sat behind the bold frame of the hutch. It stood on the only end of the study that would allow for such a tall shelf. The ceiling swung down nearly to the floor on the opposing side of the study, but a short wall reached up to catch it just in time.

Looking back on our years in the study filled me with a sense of completeness. Yes, we had a hard go of it from time to time, but every Sunday we had the study to look forward to. Once inside, the rest of life seemed to dissipate from our thoughts. My Ilsa asked once if the world remembered we existed when we closed the heavy doors. “Yes,” I replied. “She just can’t find us right now.”

Rufus sneezed in his sleep again, returning me to the moment. Ilsa had put aside her book and joined Jack in the world of the sleeping. After all, that is what the study was intended for:

Safety to sleep like a child.

 

Image credit: Rinabobina

Extroverted Writers

I have been doing some research to find out if I am the only extroverted writer in the world. Obviously not, but a Google search of “Famous Extroverted Writers” will pull up thousands of hits about introverted writers. It feels like a lost cause.

During a vacation to Jamaica my wife and I took last spring, we were faced with the glaring difference of introverts (her) and extroverts (me). We were at a resort for 6 days. By the fourth, I turned into a moody brat. I walked around the gorgeous beaches with a scowl on my face. The rum punch couldn’t even help.

It wasn’t until that evening when we realized that I was socially drained. Not in the sense that I’d been around too many people all week, but in the fact that we had spoken to no one the entire time. Dana was having a blast, but I needed to talk to strangers if I was going to enjoy the rest of the trip.

We went and played drinking games with a few of the other guests that night, and my socio-meter filled. It was two-fold awesome, because I won all the games.

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I’m currently reading a helpful/unhelpful book. Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop TalkingI’m reading this mostly because I’m trying to better understand my wife’s preferred energy reboot. In the book, Cain talks about how introverts have the focus-power to deliberately practice his/her passion or skill. That’s why bestselling authors are able to write such masterpieces: because they don’t need people around for energy. They chisel out time in their lives to be alone, focus and be brilliant.

That sounds harsh on the extrovert. I would like to tout the fact that I deliberately practice my writing. I focus and write several thousand words per day. But that’s simply not the case.

If I choose to stay home, I rarely open my laptop. If I go to a coffee shop, I meet friends so we can “work” together. Also, since coffee shops are expensive, I’ve been finding myself at libraries instead. This doesn’t help because it’s quiet. I don’t have the social stimuli to rev up the creative juices.

Am I a lost cause? Will I ever finish my first book so I can start on one of the other 13 grand ideas I have simmering on the back burner?

No. I’m not. Sometimes I believe that I am, but I cannot fall into that trap. Ninty-eight percent of my favorite authors are introverts (I just made that number up. Maybe all of them are. I can’t find extroverted authors on Google), but I will work my hardest to become one of the few successful extroverted writers.

How? Focusing. Accepting my fate as a hopeless extrovert, and using that to my benefit. I will seek out bustling coffee shops to write in and invite my friends to join me there. It will take me longer to finish my projects, but that’s a sacrifice I have no choice but to make. Unless, of course, an editor needs 500 pages revised in three weeks. I’ll deal with that once I get a book contract.

I will also build on the platform that was created for introverts: blogs! Blogs offered an outlet for introverts to express ideas from the comfort of their own home. Cain talks about an introvert who would never raise her hand during a lecture hall class, but could easily go home and write a post for thousands of people to read. Blogs have definitely changed from their early days, but it’s still a huge venue for introverts and extroverts alike to spread ideas.

If you are an extroverted writer, perhaps you’ve felt the discouraging pressure. Being passionate in a field that lends itself to a personality type that doesn’t fit you makes you question if you should just give up. I’ve questioned it many times. But I keep going back to the fact that this is what I love. This is what makes me come alive. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life. Why should I turn my back on that just because I like people around?

Let me know if you have any helpful suggestions for me. I’m always looking for new motivation tools. If you don’t give up, I won’t either.

 

Prim and Proper

Spoiler Alert! I talk about end of series events in this post.

I think a lot of people focus on Katniss, Peeta and Gale too much. What about Prim? Who was that little sister, and was she really an important character in the Hunger Games series?

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I thought about doing a character sketch on the mother, but I don’t think there’s enough material there.

Prim. Primrose. Primmy Prim Prim. Primmerton. Primmethius. Say a word enough times and it loses its meaning.

Prim is an incredibly important part of who Katniss is. Prim is the driving force of Katniss – the reason to keep fighting another day. Without Prim, there really wouldn’t be a saving grace for Katniss’s character. And what I mean by that, is that Katniss is selfish. Throw the two boys in there, and she has no idea what she wants. There are times she treats them both like dirt because she knows she has them wrapped around her finger. She loves them both and doesn’t want to chose.

But with Prim, the opposite is true. Prim is the one in control of Katniss. What does Prim do with that power? She cultivates it. She loves her sister and does what is best for her. Throughout the series, Prim is a pillar of strength and gentleness. She does not allow her dire circumstances to sway her unending love of life. Not only her own, but for every living thing. Her mother, her classmates, her goat and cat. Prim is a healer, and it shows through her character.

Prim becomes a nurse in the final book. She looks death in the face and says, “Not today, sweetie.” The reader never questions if Prim is old enough to face the horrors of war, because it’s within her character to be intimately involved with the hurting patient. Prim is only 13 years old during the last book. Who in their right mind would send a child into a bloody war, regardless of how skilled she is at bringing life to the mangled?

She also loved her animals. She nursed her goat back to health when she first received it. Her cat was also near death when she first laid eyes on it. She always hated the fact that Katniss hunted due to her large heart for living creatures.

What about her faults? Was Prim the perfect character?

In some respects, yes. Prim doesn’t have any glaring character flaws that one hopes for in literature, but it fits her. She is only 13 by the end of series. She doesn’t have a lot of time to be jaded by the Capitol. Because of Prim’s strength and charm, Katniss has something worth fighting for. Katniss would never work that hard for her mother. Peeta and Gale are chop suey as far as Katniss is concerned (am I being unfair?). But Prim is something precious. Prim is fragile in Katniss’s eyes. Prim needs protecting.

Prim is also one of the few characters who can get away with telling Katniss how it is. Haymitch tries, and it usually ends in a fight. Prim rarely raises her voice to Katniss before she has Katniss’s undivided attention.

Prim doesn’t discriminate between Capitol people and District people when it comes time to heal. And that’s the best part about her. She doesn’t care who’s hurt, or whose side the patient is fighting on. She sees pain, and she does something about it. Unfortunately, that’s what takes her in the end. Her heart for the hurting. But I think it is worth it. For Prim, at least. She dies doing what she was made to do.

 

Developing a character is not a chore that most writers have to dig up from the bowels of the imagination. At least that’s what I’ve been told, and that’s what I’ve experienced. As long as I spend enough time with my characters, I get to know them. They tell me what things they’re going to say, or choices they’re going to make. As long as I’m listening closely enough to my characters, the job that really needs being done is to show up and type. Jackie Lea Sommers talks about “butt-in-seat, fingers-on-keyboard.” Just show up and write. Get to know your characters and listen to what they have to say.

If you decide to make the character do something because it would make the plot flow a little better, your reader is going to see a glaring point in which the character is out of character. Prim would never have allowed Katniss to drown her cat, even if Katniss had very logical reasons to do so. Prim would never have not dashed into the middle of a bombed square to keep herself safe. There were hurting people out there, and she needed to do something about it. If either of those examples had happened, Prim would have become a one-dimentional character. One that would not break our hearts.

It doesn’t matter if Prim was perfect or flawed. She was believable. Now go and write us a heartbreaking character with all the joy and sorrow of Prim.

Image Credit: The Hunger Games Wiki

Shitty First Drafts

Today was a shitty first drafts kind of day. 

That’s writerese for “write a bad first draft and edit it later.” Hemingway would put it simpler, “Write drunk, edit sober.” The term was coined by Anne Lamott. If you have any interest in writing at all, please read her book Bird by BirdIt’s a hilariously irreverent guidebook to the writer in all of us. 

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My shitty first draft day included zero writing. It was full of job searching and disappointing responses. I got an email right away in the morning saying that I had been passed up for a job I was really looking forward to interviewing for. Then I got another email saying I’m not qualified for a different job and another call saying that this wouldn’t be a good fit for the company. 

I’m not completely unemployable, but days like today make me question that. 

So that’s my shitty first draft. Tomorrow (or perhaps Monday; I don’t want to work on the weekend!) I will do better. I won’t be a complete pessimist and I will try to sell myself another day. 

But that brings me to another first draft. 

A friend told me the other day that he is good at telling stories, but he’s not good at writing them. “How do I get better at that aspect?” 

Good question. How does one get good at writing? 

It goes back to the shitty first draft. Write the story as you think of it, and then go back to it. I always try to reread my work the moment I’m finished with it, but for whatever reason, I cannot concentrate on the story. As I reread it my mind thinks, “You just wrote this. You don’t need to read it again.” So I end up skimming it and missing all of the grammatical errors and sentences that don’t make sense. I completely rely on my editor to do that for me. Yes, for those who asked, my editor moonlights as my wife. 

The other issue I run into is missing essential aspects of the story that I didn’t write down. I tell a story about running away from thugs in Calais, France, but I miss the part where a dog starts chasing the thieves. “How did you get away?!” Oh yeah. The dog…

But that’s the beauty of writing. I can tell and retell and embellish as many times as I want before anyone reads the story. But it always begins with a first draft. Until that first sentence is written out, I don’t have anything to work on. 

So writer friends, write it down. If you go back a week later and hate it, trash it. Try again. Try a different story. But remember, it’s your story. No one else is going to tell it for you. 

Throwback Thursday – City of Mirrors

I am thinking of warm sunny places as a wintry mix surrounds my home. Here is a post from August 2012 about volunteering in Albania in 2009.

City of Mirrors

I spent some time working at a hostel in Berat, Albania. Berat Backpackers is a fantastic little hostel, which I recommend you visit. If not the hostel, at least the website. There are some beautiful photos of the city and surrounding areas which will enhance this story for your imaginative pleasure.

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I was volunteering at the hostel. I did some landscaping, cleaning, registering guests and a little shopping for the kitchen.

It was the end of the season, so the hostel was closing up. We helped board up doors and harvest some veggies from the garden and deplete the left overs from the kitchen.

The locals would come hang out with us in the evenings. We found some speakers and had dance parties every night. The bar was full at the beginning of the week. We did well at “depleting the leftovers.”

When the week started wrapping up, we went out to celebrate a successful season, though my friends and I had just arrived. We went to a local bar and had dinner. Then we stayed until 5 am drinking delicious wine that stained our teeth purple and dancing to whatever pop music the make-shift DJ put on.

The next afternoon, my travel companions and I decided to go for a walk through the city. As you can see from the pictures, it’s a gorgeous city with a lot of things to see: castles, mosques, orthodox churches, white washed houses with a wall of windows, cobblestone streets that only people and donkeys can pass.

As we strolled through the city, it was completely silent. We went during the afternoon call to prayer. I could hear it being sung from the speakers on top of the mosque. Our shoes clacked on the cobblestones, reminiscent of an old movie; the ominous clapping of shoes in a large corridor. Suspense.

But this was not suspenseful. It was peaceful. The birds welcomed and sang to us. The white walls seemed to warm as we approached. The flowers sitting in their pots turned their faces towards us to say, “Hello! So glad you came to visit!”

It was warm and sunny. The singing from the mosque came to a close, and people started appearing, smiling to us, asking us questions that we couldn’t understand. We visited the orthodox church. The doors were open and the sanctuary was empty. The carpet and pews were bright red like a rose. There were golden ropes guiding people where to sit and worship. Dried flowers sprinkled every ledge giving off the faintest hint of a garden aroma. The ceilings were high and intricately adorned mostly in gold. The crucifix looked down on us in mournful solemnity.

We stopped at a cafe for lunch. We had sandwiches and coffee. People came to talk to us. Some left because we couldn’t speak Albanian. Others wanted to practice their English with us. Most were friendly. Some were creepy.

Later that day, I sat on the patio at the hostel reading Dostoevsky’s The Idiot while smoking a pipe. I was enjoying the scenery that spilled out in front of me. We were on the side of a hill facing a small valley. There was another hill opposing us. The houses crawled up the side of that hill. Every wall was made of large windows (see photo above). The sun was setting behind me and the windows were singing her beauty. I was getting a little hungry. I leaned back in my chair and picked a pomegranate the size of my head. I cracked it open and thought, “I will never leave Albania.”

I truly believed, as I still do today, that I had found a magical world not of this planet.

Image credit: Johnny Ward