Archive | October 2013

The difficult writing life

Writing is a romanticized life.  From the outsiders perspective, writers are living the dream: staying home, relaxing with a cup of coffee, coming up with the correct order of words that might or might not change lives, maybe revising with a glass of bourbon as the sun fades and the orange glow of the autumn dusk appears.

But, as most writer’s know, it’s not all that romantic.  I’m faced with enormous pressure every day.  I’m faced with some of the most daunting decisions a person must make.  It’s a difficult life.  So without further delay, here are the top seven decisions I am forced, daily, to make, as someone trying to make a living as a professional writer:

  1. Coffee, tea, or juice: Let’s start simply here.  I amble downstairs at my house, dog at my feet, hurrying ahead of me down the stairs.  Through half-asleep eyes (Christ, it’s only 8 a.m.!), I look around the kitchen.  Juice would be the easiest option.  I wouldn’t even need a glass.  Tea is another easy option.  Boil water, steep.  Coffee, though, is so arduous.  Ugh, measuring out water, lining the filter and filling it with coffee … But, alas, today is not a day to be deterred by laziness.  Make the coffee, I usually plea with myself.  Already, I start the day with an air of cool arrogance.
  2. While the coffee percolates and pops, I know that I have about seven minutes before I can have a cup.  In those seven minutes, I have several choices to make: I could go upstairs and get the computer ready for a day of writing, maybe load up a couple of my favorite websites like The Atlantic or Huffington Post, see what’s going on in the world.  I could look at my notes from the end of the day yesterday, to see if I’m going to be focusing on trying to write/edit/or sell an article today, or if I’d rather work on a fiction piece.  I look down at the dog, “Well, you’re going to be bored today.  I’m going to be working.”  She looks at me with a hint of despair.  I decide to begin a vigorous game of Tug-of-War with my dog.  I’m a responsible dog owner, after all.
  3. The coffee poured, I work my way up the stairs to my office.  Generally, this is the time where I look down at my general state of being.  In the beginning part of the week, I eagerly get into the shower and dressed, nicely.  If I’m going to be a professional, I’m going to dress the part, jeans and a sweater, maybe a collared-shirt underneath.  I’m unemployed, not homeless.  But, what’s today?  Thursday?  Couldn’t I at least check my e-mail, maybe send a couple e-mails out in sweatpants, enjoy that first cup of coffee comfortably?  Sure I can!
  4. Okay, today I need to focus.  I have the Writer’s Market 2014 on the side table, dog-eared for a couple of publications I’d like query.  First, let’s open the article from yesterday.  Let’s run through it to see if … Oh, an e-mail from my friend.  Open it?  Don’t open it?  Well, I do have a pretty busy day in front of me.  Let’s see what he has to say.  It might break up the day a little bit.  Read, laugh, proceed to write back, eagerly await response.
  5. Alright, it’s mid-morning.  Get going.  I’m not even dressed, though.  No wonder I’ve been so unproductive today.  Okay, quick shower, get changed, commence writing.
  6. Clean.  Dressed.  Ready to write.  What’s that?  Dog wants to go out.  She goes out.  Fill the coffee cup.  What should I do until she wants to come back in?  I guess I could prepare dinner.  Nothing serious, just marinate the chicken breasts, prepare the asparagus.  Hmmm, maybe I should make them with crushed garlic.  I should crush some garlic.  Might as well make a sandwich for lunch while I’m at it.
  7. I’ve eaten.  Satisfied.  Played with the dog, had my coffee, sent some e-mails.  Now I’m prepared to write.  I sit down at my desk.  Start working on a story, article, essay … then I think: we don’t have any wine to go with dinner.  Should I go buy a bottle or two?

Fellow writers:  What are some of the tough choices you’re forced to make on a daily basis?

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1,000 Words on: New York City

A friend of mine e-mailed me a few weeks ago, relaying to me that he has passed along my information to someone else as a professional courtesy.  This solicitation was a good thing, and I thanked him.  The event in question was an event that I was unable to attend because my wife, her parents, and I were driving to New York to visit my sister-in-law and her husband, who are expecting their first child.

“It’s a different kind of fun we have these days,” I told my friend in that e-mail.  When my college roommate lived in New York City and we were both in our twenties, the night’s would end early the next morning.  Our bodies simply can’t handle that anymore.  Visiting New York was fun when we had the energy and tolerance we did.

Now, more has to do with my aversion to going into the city.  It’s too much.  Too many people, the buildings are too big, too much stimuli, too much going on.  It’s the complete opposite of my dead-end street a half-mile from the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border.  Luckily for me, my wife feels the same way.  This isn’t a trait developed with age, it’s an antipathy she’s always possessed.

I understand we’re in the minority here.  People love traveling to New York.  They enjoy the culture, the diversity, the museums.  They want to take in a show, have a slice of pizza, take horse-drawn carriage through Central Park, go shopping, and visit the sites.  And that’s okay.  That’s their prerogative.  It just isn’t for us.  We’re vocal about this, but her sister lives on the edge of the city in nearby Queens.  We wouldn’t avoid going to see her just because she lives in New York.  That’d be selfish.  But it doesn’t make us like it.

Novelist John Updike wrote, “The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.”  This statement is true, I think, to many people.  If you are a person willing to live in or around the city of New York, you are also probably a person that cannot fathom why someone wouldn’t want to live in or around the city of New York.

I do believe there’s one reason that I envy the people of New York and that’s the amount of different types of food available.  Shawarma, Thai, Japanese, Greek, Arabic on every corner.  I’d like that.  It’s a diversity of food options that I simply don’t have.  Still, I do alright.  I’ve never once stood at my counter, waffling over take-out menus, lamenting the lack of good chicken tandoori in my neighborhood.

It's not that I dislike New York City; It's that I prefer this.

It’s not that I dislike New York City; It’s that I prefer this.

People tend to equate lack of preference for fear, particularly in defense of New York City, which I never quite understood.  Every time I hear someone chide my wife about her lack of preference for visiting the city of Manhattan, they some manifestation of, “The Big Bad City.”  Even when we were there recently, she was questioned, and endured sarcastic comments like, “Oh no, all these people and big buildings.”  Now, I understand these remarks were made in a jesting manner, I still take minor offense to them because they suggest that people like my wife and I are afraid of the people, buildings, and offerings in New York.

I’m not afraid of all the people; I’d just prefer a smaller population around me.  The rapid pace of pedestrians, the cabs honking as they pass are sensory overload.  I’m not afraid of the tall buildings or urban setting; I’d rather the skyline shrink and see more grass than concrete.  This is when someone inevitably chimes in, “But what about Central Park?! That’s in the city.  There’s grass there.”

To these people I say, “I get it.  There’s a huge park in New York.  Still millions of people, some hawking for money, putting on shows and offering rides or caricatures.  Still an environment I don’t particularly favor.”

There are millions of people who live the city.  Many of them are the same people who’d come to our little neighborhood and be discomforted by the silence (and maybe the lack of chicken tandoori), and I’d question their sanity.

It’s also not hatred, for place or for people.  When I do get to the city, I look around at the fodder for fiction: the people on the trains, the diversity in landscape, the magnitude and size of things, the nuances of life encompassed on one island.  There are literally millions of stories to tell.  I envy the writers who live in a place with so many stories to share, embellish, or make up entirely.  I envy the sense of community that the writers in New York are a part of, inasmuch as the arts are strongly embraced there like no other place.

For the romanticism of going into the woods to write – a la Thoreau – let us not forget people thought he was crazy.  To be a writer in the city of New York is supported and embraced more than out here, in a quiet office, the leaves piling in the front yard.  Descriptive landscapes and lengthy introspections dot our writing out here, as opposed to the aforementioned wealth of backdrops in the city, where stories sometimes seem to tell themselves.  A writer in less cultured areas is an alien sight.

Aesthetically, the state New York is a beautiful place.  I’ve been upstate, stayed on and hiked mountains around Lake George a couple of times.  I’ve driven along the backroads of northeast Long Island and visited wineries.  I’ve spent hours on the beach in the southern part of the island.

But in the city people walk too fast.  They can be rude (“So can anyone!”).  They’re in too much of a rush.  And there is just too many of them.  Also, in my neighborhood, there’s no surveillance cameras watching me while I walk my dog.  Yes, sometimes there is beer in that coffee mug.

I always refer to places I enjoy like this: “I feel like this place really gets me,” meaning it’s suitable to my temperament.  What place “gets” you?  Why?

Cold morning walks

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“Every time I go outside, the world is different.  This has happened all my life.”

The thought of waking up then heading immediately to the woods is a horrid thought, especially deep into autumn.  We awake to the lingering darkness, the frost covering the ground.  It’d be much easier, indeed, to put on a pot of coffee, listen to the pop and cackle of the steam, wrap myself in a blanket and wait out the warmth of the day.  Instead, I put on my warm clothes, take the dog on a walk into the silent woods.  We have our favorite spots, and some mornings are nicer than others, but sometimes you get a view like this and it makes the cold, the creak of winter bones tolerable.  More than tolerable, though, some mornings are perfect.

D.G. Yuengling and Son, Inc.

Recently, I was asked by Arcadia Publishing if I’d be interested in reviewing a book on America’s Oldest Brewery, Yuengling and Son, for my craft beer website Review Brews.  I was happy to help.

So here is the link to this article.  In short, this book is a fascinating look into not only the history of a family-owned company in American, but also a look into the evolution of the brewing process.  I hope you enjoy.

Yuengling was founded in 1829 and produces over two million barrels of beer a year.

Yuengling was founded in 1829 and produces over two million barrels of beer a year.

Happy Life

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Last night, I watched Roko Belic’s documentary Happy on Netflix.  The subject of happiness remains in the front of my consciousness.  I’m fascinated by the topic.  What brings happiness to people?  What sustains happiness?  How does it manifest itself on a daily basis?  How does it inform our decisions in life?

Here is a statistic from a psychologist on the documentary:

50% of our happiness is pre-determined genetically.  This is our base level of happiness.  It’s embedded in our DNA, given to us by our parents and their parents, and so on.  When something traumatic happens, our level of happiness drops to the very base of this number.

10% of our happiness is circumstantial.  The car we drive, where we live, our job, how much money we have, & cetera directly influence our happiness.  This number struck me as extremely telling in how little the bulk of our wallets and the square footage of our house means.  This aligns with some life philosophies and runs counter to the American Way.

40% of our happiness is intentional activity.  That is, the actions we choose to do.  The person we choose to marry, having children, walking the dog, writing, playing volleyball, swimming are all choices we make that directly influence our happiness.

So, the ideal we purport to want more than anything else – happiness – is ultimately a personal decision.  There are factors out of our control.  And jobs can be onerous, marriage and bills can be stressful, but the bulk of our happiness is life is determined by us.

What makes you happy?  Please comment below.  I’ll start.

(You won’t regret clicking the Thich Nhat Hanh link below either)

An Empty Park

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Feeling a bit poetic today on my walk with Gabby Douglas through the Clement Farm Trail.  Took my camera along and took some shots.  I’m not sure they’re the best quality, but I liked them.  And I thought they best represented our 45 minutes in the wilderness.  Along the way, I couldn’t help but think of David Budbill, wandering through the Vermont woods.

“Others rush off to work while I lie here in silence waiting for a few words to come drifting over from the other side.  No wonder I never make any money.  I am being punished for having such a good time.”

(Click images to enlarge)

Has it really been 20 years since Dazed and Confused Came Out?

Like most middle-class Americans reaching their formative years in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s, I yearned to have grown up in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  I devoured books and movies about Woodstock.  I joined BMG Music Company so that I could fill my CD case with albums that were released twenty years before I came into the world.

Oh wait, not everyone burned incense in their bedrooms while listening to the local classic rock station before upping their game to the boxed sets from bands like Jefferson Airplane and Led Zeppelin?  Looking back on my life between the ages of 11-18, it’s really no wonder why my father, upon examining my report card sophomore year in high school asked me, “Are you on drugs?”  Apparently that question is not something only asked in movies.

And so it should go without mentioning that one of my favorite all-time movies is Dazed and Confused, a story with very little enduring plot, some wickedly funny lines, and very terrible acting.  But a lot of pot, partying, sex, and teenage angst, malfeasance and antics.

Sad, but true: Dazed and Confused is 20 years old this year.

Sad, but true: Dazed and Confused is 20 years old this year.

In an article written last week by Mike Ryan at the Huffington Post, he writes why Dazed and Confused would never work today.  He cites the passage and a Chuck Klosterman article about the acceleration of culture and it’s ability to shorten the distance between cultural events.  For instance, in 1993 when the movie came out, 1976 felt like a different amount of time ago than 1996 does to 2013.

I was 11 when Dazed and Confused came out.  Someone recorded the album for me onto a blank cassette.  That’s how I listened to the both soundtracks and hearing songs that appeared on the albums still brings me back to the bedroom in the front of my parent’s old house on Hampshire Circle.  Very Wonder Years.

20 years have passed.  Randy “Pink” Floyd and his friends would be in their late 30‘s.  The film still finds itself as a period piece, a look back into a time in America that I never knew, although I wanted to very badly.  I happened to re-watch the movie over the summer.  And, in honor of it’s anniversary, I think it’s time to address them.

What did O’Bannion do that Mitch Kramer made hate him so much?

One of the plot lines of Dazed and Confused was that the incoming seniors would get to essentially attack incoming freshmen with paddles.  This rite of passage seemed to be embraced by the community, except of course, by the incoming freshman (and Carl Burnett’s mom).  When O’Bannion (played by Ben Affleck) caught Mitch and Carl in front of Carl’s house, Carl’s mom confronted him with a shotgun and the boys were ushered inside.  Seconds later, the two freshmen opened the door and mocked O’Bannion.

Why, then, was O’Bannion seen as the asshole here?  Eventually he caught up with Mitch and his pudgy friend, but never Carl (the biggest flaw in the movie.  Carl was the most unlikeable character in the film).  But for the rest of the movie, O’Bannion is the jerk, not the freshmen punks who had to be saved by their friend’s mom.

Second O’Bannion-related query: They make mention of the fact he flunked his senior year.  Wouldn’t that make him ineligible to play football the next year?

Why did Jodi Kramer take such a liking to that freshman girl?

While the freshman boys were being paddled, the incoming freshman girls were being humiliated in a town parking lot.  They were kidnapped – essentially – brought to a parking lot where they were called bitches, had food thrown all over them then transported home in the back of pickup trucks and driven through car washes.  Somewhere in the mix, Jodi, Mitch’s older sister, took Sabrina under her wing.  Invited her out, took her to parties.  I’ve watched this movie roughly 90 times and I still have no idea why a pretty 17-year-old took a shine to an awkward 8th grader.

Another important question: What did Tony and Sabrina see in each other? There is more chemistry between the assistant football coach and Benny than these two lovebirds.

Could Kevin Pickford’s parents really not smell the weed in his bedroom?

In one scene, Kevin’s parents are packing to go away for the weekend.  Their son is planning on throwing a major end-of-the-school-year party.  While they pack, Kevin is upstairs with Randy, his girlfriend, and Slater.  He’s selling them weed.  They are smoking the aforementioned weed in his bedroom.

When the keg delivery comes early, thus blowing up their plan for the big party, Kevin’s parents come to his room to ask him about the delivery.  They spray some Lysol and fan the incense to mask the smell.  Kevin’s dad walks in, asks about a party.  Does he not smell the marijuana?  If so, why doesn’t he say something?  If not, he would have to be so dumb that he couldn’t put together that there was a party that night, right?

Last question on this topic: If you were throwing a large party when your parents were going out of town, wouldn’t you be helping them under the guise of “shit, let’s get them out quickly to eliminate any hold-ups” rather than smoking weed in your bedroom?

Did Mitch throw a complete game?  How many hits did he give up?

Along these lines, did people really hang out at Little League games?  Did they sell the beer at the game or did the guys bring it?  Where were Mitch’s parents?  If he were that good of a pitcher, don’t we assume they’d be there at the game watching him?  And, if not, how did he get there?  Wouldn’t the parent who drove him there (and was presumably driving him home) be suspicious that a group of senior boys were waiting to escort him out of the field gates, drunk and holding paddles?  Wouldn’t anyone in the crowd be suspicious?

What was really the best line in the movie?

I’m assuming the most memorable line in my people’s memory of the movie came from Wooderson.  Chances are it is, “That’s what I love about these high school girls.  I get older, they stay the same age.”

The best line, though, is a different one by Wooderson, and it’s when things really start to pick up in the movie.