Can We Think Too Much?

Before a doctor wrote a prescription for this tiny pill to be taken an hour or so before bedtime, I would lie awake thinking for hours. The thoughts came to me in such rapid fire frequency, my head was like a pinball machine. There were really dumb thoughts bouncing into good thoughts, dark ugly thoughts bouncing into the pure decent thoughts.

My wife, Julie Anne, would tell me, “Just relax, think of some beautiful and romantic place you want to visit and imagine the fun things you will do with me and the kids. Think out every detail in your mind, every single activity. Break everything down: the kids, what they’re wearing, the smiles on their faces, the happy yells they make, every single detail…”

“Whoa!” I say to Julie Anne, “I just want to go to sleep and you’re asking me to think even more…”

:”Yes,” she says, “but it’s controlled thinking. By the time you cover so many minute details, you’ll fall to sleep.”

“Yeah, yeah, okay,” I mumble back, “I’ll try it!”

Hours later I’m still awake and now all the other thoughts are mingling with me, Julie Anne, and the kids on this lovely resort spot I’ve picked. The long and short of it, just couldn’t sleep. Mild insomnia, maybe, or, not so mild, who knows?

Now, with this little pill (only take a quarter of the pill) my nights are going very well. Guess the medication relaxes the mind so I can sleep.

Anyway, it got me to wondering. Thinking is the writer’s chief ally in his trade. Thoughts make up all those great phrases we write, put flesh on those characters we create in our books, maybe even put smiles on readers faces or make them gasp. So, it’s impossible for writers not to think.

But I have to tell you, don’t be lying awake too late into the night, thinking what you should have done yesterday, what you’ve got to do tomorrow, and, particularly, don’t be thinking about the past — some of those demons can eat you up.

So, what’s your point, Dr. Billy Boy?

The point is, we can maybe think too much and damage our health. If you are doing what I was doing for years, lying in bed, tossing and turning, thoughts bouncing off of each other in crazy disarray, just don’t do it! See a doctor and get one of those little mind-relaxing pills. You need a fresh mind for those writing sessions. That best selling novel you’re going to write needs your mind rested and ready to create.

Take me for example, I’ve written nine books now, tenth in the oven, all best sellers of course — okay, some copies have sold! But just think what those nine books could have been had a rested mind penned them.

So, that’s my excuse! Too much thinking! What’s your excuse?

This tenth book I’m writing should by my reckoning be a best seller. I’m sleeping well at night, so it has a rested mind working on it.

That’s what I’m thinking!

I’ve hopefully got some time to come up with another excuse after the tenth book is published.

My Favorite Spot

Artists find favorite spots to paint, by the sea, in a park, a mountaintop, or a kitchen (thinking ‘still life’ with apples, bananas, cherries because I’m hungry for them). Writers must need their favorite spots as well.

Most of my writing has come in the last twenty years, much of it stored in 8″X10″ cardboard manuscipt boxes until one was published in 1995. The others have been gathering dust until just the last few years. When I reached the Sea of Cortez, it seems my need to write increased along with my desire. And, write I have.

There are nine books finished now, eight fictional, one non-fiction with just a few final touches left, and another ficttional manuscript just recently started. It has dawned on me, what the artists have apparently known for all these years, that a writer must find a spot that agrees with her or his make-up, her or his health, her or his moods, her or his changing priorities. I’m convinced that the sea is my favorite spot, because I’ve never enjoyed the ‘flow’ of writing that I feel here, the phrases that seem to effortlessly come out and please me. Yes, I know, they ‘please me,’ but they might not find the same measure of enjoyment in others eyes.

I find myself wondering why this is so, why one can find a spot where writing becomes more natural and rhythmic in its outpouring. Perhaps it is because I can see the horizon there in the distance, and my mind is free to roam toward that far off spot and grab from the passing zephyrs those little gems of words and phrases that go by as though on currents of their own. Perhaps it is because I do not feel hemmed in on all sides so my mind is keenly aware that the horizon and all beyond are mine but for the asking of my imagination. Pehaps it is because it is so beautiful here by the sea where the villas touch the sand, where the hawkers sell their wares among the sun worshipers, where there playing upon the water are jet skis, sail boats, yachts, and the large twin yellow ‘bananas’ that toss the squealing young adults into the choppy waters.

Whatever it is, the transparency of my delight must indeed be obvious. I’m a wordsmith at his favorite spot, doing what it is that he perceives he does best. My only wish now is to have my writing enjoyed by many, as many as I might be allowed by the God of that distant horizon on the glorious Sea of Cortez.

Cats Are A Lot Like Twitter

‘George’ is a Bengal cat. My wife refers to him as, ‘your cat,’ usually when he’s ‘tweeting’ so much (meowing non-stop) or knocking stuff off the coffee table or ktchen counter. ‘George’ does have his precious and sweet moments, like, when he gently taps me on the arm to let me know he’s off for a cat nap, like, when he’s all curled up in some ridiculous position with his head between his hind legs, like, when he’s purring and rubbing against my legs when I’m trying to walk, like, when the wife has ‘Animal Planet’ on and he locks onto a dog, a horse, or another cat and stays quiet for awhile.

I’m more a ‘Golden Retriever’ kind of guy. In my opinion, the ‘Golden’ is the best animal in the world: true, loyal, obedient, a friend for life…had to put ‘Toby,’ my ‘Golden,’ down some years ago and it broke my heart…lost one of the best friends I’ve ever had.

But I digress!

Why am I comparing ‘George’ the Bengal cat with Twitter?

Well, you see, I fancy myself a writer. I’ve got nine books to prove that I am a writer, and one is in the oven. And, yes, I know, there are lots of books out there in our galaxy hoping to get read and get popular. My problem is, I’ve got myself locked into this digital world, trying to self-promote my books while trying to get the one book out of the oven. Add to that frustration the fact that I’m an anachronism (as in, ‘old dog learning new tricks’) in this age of emoticons, hash marks, and retweets. It can become a maddening thing, trying to keep up with it all, particularly when what I want to do is write. So, I schedule some short cute twitter tweets and facebook messages to let the world know the books are available, have great reviews, and they should be purchased.

Now I’ve worked very hard to get twitter followers, facebook followers, Goodreads followers, Shelfari, Google Plus, you name it followers, and it just doesn’t end. I promise myself the next morning that ‘oven’ manuscript gets some work and the ninth book gets some polishing. Guess what? I’m up at 7:00 AM, go immediately to the laptop, think, okay, I’ll just do a quick check of Twitter for new followers, do some scheduling, then get to the book. Now, all this time, sweet lovable ‘George’ is acting like a stuck needle on an old 45 RPM record (yeah, I know, ‘anachronism!) and I’m going crazy.

Suddenly it’s late afternoon and I’ve accomplished some things, like, thanking my new twitter followers, thanking the retweeters, doing some scheduling, listening to ‘George’s’ caterwauling. But the book in the oven? Still in the oven. Rework on the ninth book? Maybe tomorrow.
And the biggest blunder I managed to make all day? Forgot my wife’s birthday! Lots of making up to do…

The gist of all this rambling is I’m ‘misery’ and I want company. ‘George’ got it all started by pulling at my laptop screen and meowing like crazy.

‘George’ has been with us for almost eleven years, and guess I’m going to keep on loving him, even though my patience runs so thin at times.

Twitter is kind of new for me, and, frankly, half the time, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. But it’s kind of fun, too, like ‘George’ is at times. I’m just thinking ‘Cats Are A Lot Like Twitter.’

You will pardon this last sad attempt to regain some leverage and redemption with my lovely wife.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JULIE ANNE — I LOVE YOU!

The World Is Changing And I’m Stuck Here!”

Classical music has always had a soothing quality for me. Those plaintive country songs, ‘Mama’s gone – I’m sad – too bad,’ were part of my early life in Tennessee, and they still have a certain resonance for me. Never ever liked the heavy metal music, the loud ear-drum jarring sounds that came from the discotheques during my hell-raising years, and, generally, all those songs that might have had some fine lyrics but got lost in all the high drum rolls. the heavy strumming, and the screeching brassy noise.

Now, don’t mind me. It’s just my being an anachronism, one of those guys stuck right in the middle of some century in which he likely don’t quite belong. The ballad has always been my musical preference, and, yes, I suppose the pretty ladies might have had something to do with that. The ballad sort of went with my soft southern gentleman style, that incurable romanticism that seemed ever-present, that mysterious wanderlust that kept me moving over God’s glorious acres. A bottle of wine, ‘ole blue eyes’ Sinatra singing “Three Coins In The Fountain,” and a pretty lady sitting with me in a gin mill booth, hey, there was no tomorrow — just that night of soft light and touches and a ‘glow’ as big as the moon.

So I sit here looking out at the steady ebbing and flowing of The Sea of Cortez and wonder how the world has changed. Have no doubt about it…the world has changed. Sure, one generation moves along remembering the ‘good old days’ and gives way to a new generation that finds different sounds and words to describe their feelings. Of course it’s inevitable. Time doesn’t move without changes.

Just why is it that some of us sort of stay where we’ve been all our lives? New jobs, maybe. New houses, maybe. New friends and acquaintances, sure. Maybe it’s just me, stuck in a time-warp thing. Maybe I’m homemade vanilla and don’t want raspberry, mocha, or one of those thirty-one flavors. Politicians make me mad (nothing new there). Still got some Hitlers in the world (nothing new there). Still fighting wars (something new there — different ‘ammo!’).

The big thing is, we don’t have the Frank Sinatras, the Perry Comos, the Dean Martins, the Jo Staffords, the Joni James, the Kay Starrs, all those beautiful ballad-loving gents and ladies that made a highball taste better, made a kiss at the end of an evening the goal of the day.

Know what? It’s just me, being an anachronism. The world’s all okay… I’m just stuck here!

Soliloquy To A Boarding House Cook

Don’t guess too many boarding houses even exist anymore, but let me tell you: the best food I’ve ever eaten was in a boarding house setting.

The cook? My dear, beloved, departed mother. In one of my books, I mention that she is up there with angel ‘Clarence’ ringing a bell when some earthly creature does something good — you will all remember ‘Clarence:’ he visits us each year at Christmas time in a re-run of the movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

It might seem strange to sing the praises of a boarding house cook in a post, but the mind can carry you to some memory stations that leave a faint, sometime tearful, wisp of nostalgia.

The sleeping room in Mrs. Lester’s Boarding House my Mom and I shared was just across from the big kitchen, and, as a small eight-year old kid, I sat in one of the two rocking chairs in that room listening on the radio to a broadcast of a baseball game or football game, and the smells from that kitchen at dinner time would get me really hungry.

Just before Mom served the boarders at the long large dining table in front of the house, she would bring a heaping plate of food to me in that bedroom across the hall. Didn’t matter what it was, meatloaf, pot roast, pork chops, corn bread, biscuits, mashed potatoes with gravy or home fries, it was always the most enjoyable food I would ever remember eating. And Mom would always smile, give me a kiss on the cheek, and say something like: “You’re the best little boy in the world…”

My Mom was a boarding house cook during some of the most troubled times in our economic history…during the great depression era in Appalachia. East Tennessee would be more precise. Knoxville, Tennessee would be most precise. Mom and Dad were divorced, and my sister was living fifty miles away with my maternal grandparents because of the bad times. Mom worked long hours seven days a week and she always made the time for me, made the time to make me feel like all was really right with the world. Even in my little pea-brain I knew all was not right in our world, that there were things happening in our lives that were beyond my scope of understanding. But Mom tried and she did make me feel loved and very much wanted in her life.

So, when that big plate of food was all consumed and wiped clean with the last bit of biscuit or cornbread, the ballgame ended, I would become wistfully remorseful about my Mom’s boarding house existence, feeling that she really did not have much of a life. I would sit in that room, stuffed with good southern cooking, Mom doing dinner clean-up duties, and I would try to write a poem…try to write a poem that would convey the love I felt for my Mom, try to say in words on paper what my tiny voice could not say.

My Mom always encouraged me to follow my heart, to sing my songs, to write my verses, and it was there in those days just prior to World War Two when I first took pencil to paper. Yes, the words were the mutterings of a young unsettled mind, but they meant something to me then.

Today, perhaps my mind is still unsettled, still searching for some ultimate truths, and that is okay. The words still mean something to me. Whatever my writing comes to be, somewhere in those sentences and paragraphs, in those characters and plots, there will be parts of me, and, actually, they are pretty easy to find. I am not a very large mystery in the scheme of things.

My Mom gave me the great gift of writing, the wonderful gift of expressing myself with words. It doesn’t matter so much that the words will or will not ring so many bells down here. It does matter that Mom and ‘Clarence’ might occasionally ring their bells.

Frustration With The Writing Tools

What are writing tools? Guess for me they are what our English/French/German/Spanish language teachers taught us regarding syntax, all the grammar stuff: sentence structures, noun-verb agreements, prepositional phrases, the past tense, present tense, all the linguistic novelties of our native tongues.

Why this post about writing tools? Guess there really is no significant reason, except I was thinking about the subject because of a friend’s recent experience. The friend told me that he had paid someone to pass judgement on his fictional manuscript. The ‘review’ was not very positive, pointing out errors in grammar and the sequential development of plot. It turns out the reviewer was a would-be agent who (I believe) conned my friend into spending $350.00 to determine the merits of the book. The out of state ‘would-be agent’ had suggested the book had possibilities, but would need to see more than the samples he had been sent. The portion of the manuscript I saw, I liked, and vigorously told same to my friend.

My mind twirled some thoughts around, and I decided to share them in this post for whatever applicability they might have for anyone.

When I’m really on my game, when I’m writing and the words and phrases are running out my fingertips onto the laptop keys, there is not much thought given to syntax stuff. Oh, sure, in the editing and rewrites, I try to sharpen all the words, phrases, and paragraphs into what I think might be suitable to the critical eyes of readers. Well, guess what? I do not always catch a little syntax faux pas, maybe it was just missed by my not so discerning eyes, maybe because I didn’t learn the rules well enough from my English teacher. Finally, after many reads and edits of my manuscripts, the books are done, done to my satisfaction and not without a sense of exhiliration. Do the plot lines hold together well? Are the characters developed well enough? Is there enough in all those words to grab a reader’s attention?

Maybe I should know the answers to those questions, but I do not. You see, like many of you, I’m an independent writer, publisher, marketer, chief cook and bottle washer…a dunderhead, most likely, but it’s my way, my production, and I’ll be a thrilled little puppy dog when someone tells me he/she likes the book. I’ll also weep in silence when someone tells me he/she caught this mistake, or, didn’t care that much for the characters or the plot lines.

Listen up, good folks, there are reliable and wonderful editorial people who can help us, give us their positive ideas on how to make our books better, but, there comes a time when you trust what’s inside you. You go with what you’ve written, because you believe in yourself.

There are some truths we surely cannot change, like, we delude ourselves that we are writers, like, we are not as good as we think we are. We all have heard the singer who believes himself to be great but sounds like chalk on a blackboard. Sad truths, but truths nonetheless.

However, there is one set of truths you can take to the bank. Truth: the words you have penned are an important inner part of you, and you can like them all you want, despite what the experts might say. Truth: someone else is going to like what you write. You can rely on it. Truth: many of us have the need to write, for whatever reasons. For me, writing is therapy for the soul. Truth: with millions of writers, we cannot all reach the most favored status, but we can write. And that is exactly what we should do. Write because we have something to say to the world.

Everyone does not have to be listening for our words to be heard.

(No, don’t worry about the syntax of the last sentence.)