It’s Only Funny When You Don’t Die

I once drove 7,500 miles in a circle.

Technically, it was only a circle if you’re two-years-old, have a box of crayons and a whole lotta wall awaiting your art. So, maybe it was more circle-esque, in that the start and end both coincided and it offered some sense of a looping line in between.

I had a number of wild ideas in my twenties. Most of them resulted in generous face-plants into walls inconveniently placed where doors should have been. Or it could have just been I had no directional awareness of where doors where supposed to be and a strange affinity for pain. On occasion, however, my wild ideas bore fruit. Bananas, mostly. A lemon or two. Nothing as exotic as a kiwi. Of course, I don’t really like kiwi. My associations with kiwi coincide with a time in which I thought dating a not so sane ex-stripper a fancy idea. That’s another kind of fruit altogether, however, but a decent explanation of both my dislike for kiwi and for running into metaphorical walls.

Where was I?

Oh, bad ideas. Right. So, I had this idea once that I should drive around the country in thirty days. Ambitious writer-type stuff. See what I see, live the life, draw words from the nectar of experience, write bold provocative words for the world to behold, stand proudly in fists-to-hips superhero pose. Not quite Jack Kerouac, at its core. More like Clark Griswold with a video camera instead of a family, and more ambition than actual plan. I didn’t so much as work on the logistics of the trip as dig my hands in the Lego box, toss things around, and scream OH MY GOD LEGOS YOU GUYS!

So, with the help of my Uncle Charles, I converted my pickup into a mobile hotel–complete with shelves, bed, topper that resembled the top of a square igloo, road atlas, all the sci-fi soundtracks any good sci-fi geek should own (yes, shut up), and left. I may have bought food. I can’t be certain. I don’t recall starving, so somewhere in there rest assured that Pringles, peanuts, or Combos made an appearance. Quality nutrition to fuel the soul of any spirited traveler. I figured I could find my way to various campsites along the unmarked, unplanned, who-the-hell-knows path and save a good bit of money avoiding hotels. REAL WRITER STUFF!

See, the thing is … the thing about “planning” that makes so much sense is you take the time to work out logistics, so that when you head out on the road for a month long trip around the country, you do so knowing whether or not you’re driving into the path of an oncoming hurricane on the first day of your journey. Small detail kind of stuff. What’s that? Oh, nothing. Just your average Category 4 nightmare bearing down on you. Hey, I made it six hours into my trip before needing a hotel. That has to count for something. All that prep and money invested on Hotel Truck really paid off! At least my vehicle had some height. Owners of the cars I passed, floating in their lagoons on side streets as they were, seemed terribly displeased with the situation. I probably would have been too, but I was too white-knuckled and desperate for a hill to pay much mind. Fortunately, not too far off I-10 I found a hotel, conveniently located at a higher point of elevation–for Florida this would be measured as ten to fifteen feet above People Level, since Sea Level is nothing short of a hopeless dream–where I watched the water level rise from the safe confines of a second-floor room.

By the way, have you ever seen a river flow from the sky? I have. It’s really fun.

Despite it all, and the odd dreams that night of being a fish trying to swim its way to Heaven, my truck did not float away. By a few inches, it managed to not get flooded, which is more than I can say for the guy in the Audi parked next to me. He was a sweet guy, for a man whose face flared with the focused rage of an insolent beet. I felt bad driving away as he tried to encourage his Insurance company that he didn’t drive into the pool this time.

The trip held it’s share of memories, not the least of which involved me, a couple of hours, a pig pen on the side of the road in the middle of Kansas, and a very one-sided conversation. Pigs really don’t have much to say, as it turns out. Fortunately, they fry up well.

Around Day 20, I found myself in Montana. At the time, my meta-dimensional secondary brother Jim lived in Livingston with his family. It was a long way from their previous home in Georgia, but with one look at the mountainous landscape, open sky, and brilliant Fall foliage I understood why they did it. Actually, that’s not true at all. I just wanted to talk about how beautiful it was. I’ve still never seen anything as majestic and breathtaking. But their reasons for moving were completely removed from the serenity of nature and more centrally fixated on the complete and utter lack of people. It was hoped that less people equaled less stupidity. Unfortunately, the equation doesn’t work that way. Though it would seem more people equals more stupidity, the truth is the percentage of stupidity in any group is always a constant. Spread fewer people out over a larger area, and they’re simply harder to find. They just account for a greater percentage of the required Stupid in the equation, and are therefore increasingly more stupid. Something like that. I don’t know. Jim’s father can explain it better. He rants on Stupid like know you’ve ever met.

Anyhow you rant it, I was there. Wanting to make the most of it on my behalf, Jim suggested we go hiking. Nothing extreme (that 10,000-foot peak came on the next trip). Just a small climb to the top of a waterfall. Didn’t matter that it was snowing. All the better even. More picturesque. Good for the trip’s documentary. So we headed out of town, camera recording the drive and the subsequent climb. Actually, it was great fun. Particularly the holy-hell-we’re-still-alive journey back down. After all, Jim did almost die at the top of the waterfall.

Funny thing about holding a video camera from the 90’s. They were big, heavy, and difficult to balance on your shoulder. Like holding a 24-pack of water bottles on its side. With one hand in the grip, and the other bouncing around in a vain attempt to offer support it could never manage, you were pretty much at its mercy. Sure, nostalgia is great, but the risk we took to record it was kind of, well, dumb. Especially when you’re trying to balance on an icy rock surface at the top of a waterfall. I give Jim credit. Both for offering to put my stubbly face on my trip documentary–of which it had not yet been–and also for maintaining a perfect cradle on my expensive equipment as his feet slipped out from underneath him and his body was suddenly no longer a part of the solid part of Earth. The recording went beautifully. After all, it was a really nice camera. One moment I was there, being the absurd and awkward fool I am in front of a camera, the next there’s a wonderful shot of the moon in daylight as Jim gives a subtle “oop” as he went airborne and a less subtle “oof” as he collided again with Mother Earth.

Here’s the kicker. What you should hear at this point is absolute panic. Screaming, calling Jim’s name, rushing to his side. Me, in frame, concerned for my best friend and meta-dimensional secondary brother. What you hear, instead, is me laughing. Hard. Jim, despite the ordeal, didn’t quit recording. A real trooper. Pure dedication. It’s just life after all. Better record it while you have it. He managed to sit up, find me, and then recount the harrowing tale of something that just happened as if I had not been there to witness it. To which, through my continued laughter, I offered in defense, “It’s only funny because you didn’t die.”

What still disturbs me to this day is how genuine my words were. I didn’t think about it, I didn’t sugarcoat it. I just said what I knew as a truth at that moment. Because Jim didn’t propel himself off the waterfall, instead falling flat on his back and in notable pain, I could laugh. Because his choice to protect my camera over an effort to brace himself during a fall didn’t result in horrible splatter death … funny. And I wonder what that means about me. About my perspective. Life is only funny until you die? A joke is only funny until it’s over? A hurricane is only funny unless it’s carrying you away kicking and screaming? Does this indicate derangement? Have I been on some type of lifelong psychotic bender?

Or was it just really funny?

It’s a fair question. I mean, America’s Funniest Home Videos made a living off poor schmucks whose kids accidentally whacked them in the nuts and people laughed at that. On some level, isn’t possible that children who might have been born will no longer? It’s not death per se, but a lack of opportunity at life. In fact, the Christian Coalition should look into whether or not it’s some type of pre-meditated sex-free abortion.  Not so funny anymore is it? If these poor schmoes died of testicular raculation it wouldn’t be funny either. Why? Because they died. See? It’s only funny when you don’t die.

An Accidental Identity Crisis

Twenty-three seconds into the accident, the nascent writer Joshua Alexander jumped for joy. Concentrating on the significant damage to the bumper of my Explorer proved challenging amidst the ever-maddening screams of “THIS IS MY MOMENT! I HAVE ARRIVED!” The poor kid who pulverized his car with my bumper, some student from George Washington University home on break, apologized repeatedly for his lapse in attention; though to be fair, I’m still not sure if he directed it to me or to the crumpled remains of his car. I consoled him, insomuch as I was capable with all the celebratory screaming coming from Joshua. To his credit, the kid remained stoic, clearly at war with the beside-himself-father in his head, taking complete blame when the officer arrived, while I stood at the back of my vehicle analyzing the damage.

“This is great. Fantastic. The best thing that could have happened.”

I countered that, citing that car accidents are not great watermarks of joy for anyone. Not that Joshua cared.

“This will pay for the conference. You should thank that kid.”

I hadn’t considered that. Granted, my bumper looked a bit as if the horrors of life had consumed its soul, leaving its remains to melt into a perpetual frown.

“It’s just a bumper. What do you even need it for?”

As far as I could tell, the moment offered an example as to the primary reason bumpers existed. If I learned anything from Bumper Cars as a kid it was to never play Bumper Cars with my older brother. He had this fixation on ejecting me from my car, or better, the entire ring. Of course, he also had a fixation with swinging me in circles from an arm and leg until my glasses flew off and I started crying, so maybe the Bumper Cars weren’t the issue. In the moment, however, I found my first appreciation for the lessons those ricocheting cars offered.

Still, I had a hard time arguing the point. It was just a bumper. What’s a bumper in comparison to a week’s worth of writing education that would certainly land me a contract with a publisher? Three days later, when the Insurance adjuster handed me a check for $1,100, Joshua’s elation caught up to me. The internal war began. Bumper vs. bills vs. writing conference. Bumper lost in the opening round, if for no reason than it shut Joshua up for a while, and the worst it could do was follow me wherever I drove, its downward slope of sadness perhaps warding off any other unwanted visitors. Bills … those were a trickier obstacle. Apparently, those are supposed to be paid? That’s what I’ve heard. Somewhere.

I guess I should probably mention I had quit my job three months prior in order to write a book. That seems important, in context. Bills and all. Sudden money at hand and the like. A lack of employment certainly made income a pestering nuisance in relation to actually paying for things. You know, the important things like bills. Food. Collectible Star Wars figures. Even writing conferences. Especially those lasting a week long and costing a thousand dollars. An amount I happened to have in my bank thanks to a careless kid fiddling with his radio at forty miles-per-hour as his car rudely greeted the stopped Explorer in its path.

Maybe I shouldn’t have quit my job, I thought for the one-hundred and thirty-first day in a row. As decisions went to this point in life, it ranked up there with the best of Not Good. Sure, I finished a first draft of the book (two if you count the less than stellar 1st person draft I finished in 21 days), and by the time the conference rolled around two months later I would have a good edit complete. The timing fit. The conference–my first ever–would offer me a chance to pitch it to agents and New York Times bestselling author David L. Robbins, who would be the judge in a fiction contest. My book, Anointed: The Passion of Timmy Christ, CEO was good, by my estimates. Okay, so I thought it was perfect. Something to behold. To cherish. To love and to squeeze and to call George. Surely the agents would agree and the whole suffering for my art thing would be worth it, just as I had envisioned. That singular dream in which I quit my job, wrote a book, went to a conference and BLAMMO … agent. Agent would become Publishing Contract. Publishing Contract would equal Advance. Advance would balance out Voluntary Unemployment. Success would follow.

THIS IS MY MOMENT.

Did I have a choice? Sure. I had many. Many, many, many, many of which began the day before I quit my job. Did it feel like it? No. No, between Joshua’s screaming and my inability to see the world of possibility as more than a single light at the end of a short road, the Universe basically sat on my head, declared itself the Master of My Destiny and urged the chariot onward. All of this wouldn’t have happened otherwise, right? Everything happens for a reason, after all.

RIGHT YOU ARE UNIVERSE!

Fueled by the need to risk it all, to bypass sanity in favor of chance (LIVE NOW FOOL!), I registered for the conference and submitted the first fifty pages of my manuscript for the contest.

Sort of.

Technically, yes? Officially … not so much.

The thing is … the thing I should mention is how incredibly tired of me I had become. I saw myself every day. In the mirror, staring back for that brief flash before looking away, lest I thought myself some kind of creepy pervert offering longing glances from the other side of the glass. I talked to myself incessantly daily (yeah, yeah talked … that’s the ticket), whether I wanted to hear me or not. I cooked for myself, cleaned for myself, got sick of my needy self and needed a break.

So, I sent Joshua Alexander to the conference. I’m not sure if I thought he would generate better results, or if it would simply be nice to not be me for a week. Truthishly, I can’t really recall a specific thought of why I should do such a thing. Maybe I took a back seat to the process and Joshua jumped in. I don’t know. I just don’t know. I’m just weird like that, I suppose.

Regardless of reason–and likely absent it as well–I made my way to the conference full of cheer and lofty dreams, toting my completed manuscript in a wooden box as if it were the lost Ark of the Covenant. I checked in under my name since Joshua, for all of his robust enthusiasm, still lacked both an ID and a bank account, settled in and made off for the Opening Remarks with another hundred plus writers. All of whom were likely themselves because they were smart that way. I sat next to a behemoth of a figure–a tall, muscular man stretched out across two chairs. As I have established, socializing is not my strong point. Joshua, on the other hand, seemed to have no issue with the complexity of Hello and jumped right in.

“Hi. Joshua Alexander.”

Good for you, Josh. Well done.

The man shifted, shook my hand, introduced himself as David L. Robbins and immediately launched into praise for my submission, about how he had planned on finding me to discuss it, and stating his wonder at the luck we would sit next to each other.

It’s possible, at this point, I considered dropping the Joshua persona to ensure Mr. David L. Robbins, New York Times bestselling author, knew who I really was. I offer the possibility of such a though only because I don’t particularly recall if I though much of anything at all. Not with Joshua in charge.

THIS IS MY MOMENT.

So, I let him run with it. Let him talk throughout the Welcome, carrying the conversation onward into my work, its strengths and weakness, the nuances of the craft of writing, echoing David’s belief that conferences were vital to the growth of a writer, and I don’t know, tacos or something. It went on for hours. The next day David even invited me to go watch him golf in between sessions. I became the envy of the entire conference, buddied up to David like a excitable, loyal, puppy. Everyone knew my name, curious about what I wrote, how I had managed to so quickly win the favor of such a notable author.

They were the best two days of Joshua Alexander’s life.

They were, in fact, the only two days of Joshua Alexander’s life.

On day three, David woke up and decided to invite good ole chum Joshua to breakfast. Strange thing though. The front desk had no room for a Joshua Alexander. David insisted they were wrong. Had them check and check again, taking potential misspellings into account. Nope. No Joshua. Confused and slightly embarrassed, David fell into full research mode, following the trail of Joshua Alexander to one Zachary Steele, in room whateverever. He called me. He grilled me. Questioned what reason a man with my name would possibly have to go under any other name, then laughed at me. For the rest of the week. As he told each and every person about the ludicrous tale of Zachary “Joshua Alexander” Steele. For the next few months, as we kept lines of communication open. For the next few years as our friendship grew, as he became a mentor to me as a writer. To this day, some sixteen years later, as the memory pops up and he needs a good laugh at my expense. His last words on this planet to me may very well be, “Tell Joshua I said hi.”

I will always accept life as a never-ending ride of Cause and Effect. For instance, I make really odd decisions, the effect of which tends to rail off into the deep recess of Shitsville. I get to relive them, marvel over them, and perhaps even grow from them, but damn. Just damn.

Every once in a while, despite myself, I get to follow a train of Cause and Effect that isn’t all bad in the end.

I quit my job to write a book, with the express purpose of getting said book published, thereby jump starting my career and minimizing the damage caused by Voluntary Unemployment. In order to facilitate this, I decided I should go to a conference to get noticed. Unable to afford said conference due to having no job, I made use of accidental money to fund my way. I changed my name for no reason, met the author I wanted to meet, made a sizable impression both due to my work and the fundamental identity crisis masquerading as me, and made a friend of David L. Robbins. David created James River Writers in Richmond, Virginia, invited me behind the scenes, to their conference, gave me time with other notable authors (um, hi there Tom Robbins) and awesome people, and taught me the craft. All of which made me a better writer. Fueled by the need for more, the hunger to be better in all aspects of life, I made other questionable decisions, one of which netted me a bookstore I called Wordsmiths Books. During my tenure as owner of Wordsmiths, I met a publisher interested in Anointed. She published it. Publisher’s Weekly gave it a good review. My career as a writer found first gear.

THIS IS MY MO … oh, wait. No.

SEVEN YEARS FROM … is that right? Seven years? Sevenish years, you say? Right.

SEVEN PLUS YEARS FROM NOW WILL BE MY MOMENT.

Sometimes the wrong way can be right. Just, like, way longer.

The Silent Note of the Running Boy

In the words of the reality firestorm that is renowned chef, entrepreneur, cheeky Brit and Tantrum King of the World, Gordon Ramsay, “Here’s the thing.”

I know I’m not dumb. I am, I will acknowledge, a few sprinkles shy of a full spread of shredded cheese on the taco of common sense, but I’m not dumb. Hey, I made all A’s in fifth grade. Not exactly A Brilliant Mind level accomplishment there, but it’s notable. Sure, I misspelled parsley in the school spelling bee, denied the notably visible crush I had on a girl who liked me quite a lot—to her face no less—and chartered my socially awkwardness bus of one onward to middle school with no sign of let up, but I made excellent grades. What did you do?

Point is, I rather like the mad festival of characters that comprise the committee of my brain. I would prefer they come to some consensus on what they ultimately want of me, but they do entertain me so. That has to count for something.

The problem is—the thing that has made my journey through this life so frustrating—I chastise my brain regularly as if it operates individual of the Me that is me, while moving through each moment like a spastic terrier in a thunderstorm. Can’t really blame the brain if I’ve soundproofed its walls, right? I’ve developed this utopian idea of what the world around me should look like and, ignoring my brain’s insistence I step clear of the cabin and move to the back of the plane please sir, I’ve gone ahead and bypassed the computer in order to pilot from the toilet.

In no aspect of my life has this whimsical spontaneity of questionable choice (see? not dumb … questionable … whimsical spontaneity) been more apparent than in my desperate quest to find the perfect woman. I want to say love here, rather than woman but it doesn’t fit the mold. Because, like any good writer, I’ve embodied this woman with a character, a persona, a name by which I might better define her. I call her Aphrodite. I know. Clever, right? Real original. She’s been at the forefront of every decision I’ve ever made, deeply ingrained in every story I’ve ever written. Moreover, she’s become a beacon to the greater dreams of life, thus rendering the name Aphrodite to a branding effort of all things I desire. Primarily, I seek her companionship. Tragically, every aspect of my life has fallen miserably short. Allow me to demonstrate. This tidbit is the into to my current work-in-progress, tentatively titled On the Market:

     When night comes she falls asleep on my couch, hand tucked between face and pillow, crumpled folds of cheek powdered and soft in the moon glow, and I see Aphrodite. There’s a peaceful chaos to her hair, a darkness that betrays the night, finds refuge across a pale canvas of forehead and slips unnoticed behind an ear. She smiles, not much, a simple turn now and again, just a glance behind the curtain. Not enough to comprehend what is seen, but enough to know that whatever it is beats whatever dream I may conjure behind closed doors. 

      She’s a queen of beauty and magnificence when she sleeps, this Aphrodite before me. Time can only grant me a glimpse, I know, until sleep has abandoned her, until her body goes rigid, arms outstretched, fingers flexing, uncoiling, reaching for a heart that is not my own. Then she’ll flash that smile, say my name and never realize how much she makes me quiver. I’ll go weak in the knees, and know that I will love her forever.

Though I understand now how this image has trickled down into every nook and cranny of my desire, I channeled it all for years into this hopelessly romantic ideal of a perfect mate. I simply had to find her. I had to be complete. I put it all on the unwitting shoulders of every woman in my life in order to make it so.

From pretty, shirt-signing, Lori in third grade onward, every female I’ve fallen for has been unwittingly and unfairly compared to this image.

Hey, did you know my relationships haven’t gone well? I wonder if there’s a link? Probably not. Just life stickin’ it the man.

man-around-wall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The great irony is that, as a child, I went about pursuing every girl I liked as if things would work out fine, as long as I just never ever talked to her ever ever. I mean, I made no secret about liking a girl. If my repeated stares didn’t cover it, my insistence on giving said girl a note to define said liking then sprinting off as if I had just dropped a ticking time bomb in her hands spelled it out without question. Granted, in the few instances in which I spilled my soul to a girl who actually liked me, the resulting connection was one of her trying to talk to some paralyzed, non-responsive, version of myself. I swear ladies, I thought you all were a different species. I feared any measure of contact, verbal or heaven-forbid physical, would result in complete annihilation of self and soul. This lasted all the way through high school. It got mildly better as an adult.

To deal with this, I began subconsciously (I’m leaning on hope here, otherwise I have to admit it was by choice) sabotaging my efforts to find a girlfriend by fixating on girls who clearly had no interest in me (if they even knew my name in the first place, which most didn’t), while simultaneously ignoring any girl I truly liked. I wrote notes to girls I knew would never respond. I wrote one to a girl who—I was told by a friend sitting near her on the bus—laughed her way through it with friends. Yay me! I actually spoke to girls with whom I clearly had nothing in common, fishing for any kind of attention, blinders set to the rest of the school’s female population in order to maintain my focus. I was thirty-five before I learned most of these girls actually liked me. You know … liked me liked me.

In tenth grade, I moved in with my father. The shift from small town Florida to small town Georgia wasn’t much of a transition. Leaving the one friend I had behind hardly registered. In fact, I don’t even remember being at all fazed by the move initially, other than missing my mother terribly. My brain might have had issues with it all, but I wasn’t listening.

My first day at school I made my way to First Period, drifting down the hall of a foreign land like a fading cloud against blue skies, ducked into class and found a seat in the second to last row, three seats from the front. I would have tucked all the way into the corner had other students not beaten me to it. About two minutes after I sat, a girl walked in the room. The second Lori life offered for me to crush on. Dark curly hair, incredible smile, piercing eyes, absolutely beautiful. To this day, I still think she’s one of the prettiest women I’ve ever seen. She sat in the last row, two seats further up. First bell hadn’t even rung and there she was. Aphrodite.

Any normal kid might have thought about talking to her, introducing himself, finding some way to at least say hello. After all, we were going to be in class together for a few months. Plenty of opportunity to get to know one another, right? Nope. I sat there through that class learning everything I could about her without ever saying a word. I mean, I didn’t say a word. To anyone. I managed to channel my inner-chameleon just to ensure the teacher never called on me. What a crushing blow to the universe it would have been had she actually heard what my voice sounded like.

Though I carried this quiet crush through the whole of the next three years—we managed to be paired in exactly zero classes going forward—I never spoke to her. Sure, I watched for her, put myself in positions where I could see her from afar (ahem, yes I will cover the football and basketball teams for the paper, conveniently watching from seats near the cheerleaders, ahem), but I didn’t do that whole Hello, my name is Awkward how can I make you run away? thing I feared so much. Instead, I actively pursued all the girls whose primary talent or hobby seemed to be syphoning my soul into a tin can and crushing it whole. There really were a lot of them. I got quite adept at it, in fact. Practice does indeed make perfect.

Now, this isn’t meant as a lament. I don’t regret not talking to this one girl. Well, I do, but for different reasons. I don’t fear I may have lost my singular chance with Aphrodite. Rather, I want it to serve as the foundation for the stories that follow. Though I’ve made my life into a continual barrage of “whimsical spontaneity of questionable choice”, they’ve all been tied to this quest for Aphrodite, how that became a greater symbol of all that I desired, and every single one is relevant to this moment. This one instance in which I didn’t talk to a girl I liked, while actively talking to and pursuing girls I liked far less (and who all bested my less than like with none at all). Or, as an adult, choosing women unavailable, be that emotionally, physically, or romantically and attempting to force them into the wedge that defined Aphrodite no matter how much they subconsciously protested.

As I said, I’m not a dumb guy. I just want a designed perfection in life that defies true definition and requires only one possible truly glorious and dream-worthy outcome in order to pacify my need to be happy.

That’s normal, right?

Fear’s Like This Thing, You Know?

In third grade I liked a girl named Lori. It’s fair to say I thought she was cute, and made me long to fly through the air a la Rudolph if only she would tell me the same. She never did. It isn’t because I wasn’t cute, because, well, I just was. Deal with that.

Pimpin' it Hef style. Don't be hatin'.

Pimpin’ it Hef style. Don’t be hatin’.

The problem is, she never had the chance. In retrospect, all the “I like you this much” signs were there, but I trembled at the mere thought of talking to her. Eight years old and I was afraid to talk to a girl. Why? I don’t know. I really don’t. Would she have turned into a dragon and devoured me? Maybe. Possible even. Might she have spat acid in my face, turned me into a head-bandaged-wrapped elephant man? Or might she have even been so bold as to do the unthinkable, and talk back? Perhaps want to talk further? EGAD!

I was terrified. And so I never spoke to her. We crossed paths many times on the playground, during recess, in the lunch room, or in the aisle between our desks, but I went stone faced every time she came near, as if I’d tried to stare down Medusa to work up my nerve. On the last day of the year, she asked to sign my shirt (For those of you who have never experienced Sign Your Shirt Day, I’m sorry, but no amount of chocolate will EVER make up for your loss). I have very few clear memories of my childhood, but I remember that moment vividly. I mouthed nothing, blankly handed her my blue marker and turned around quickly, lest she dare sign the front and force me to possibly make eye contact. She signed along the neckline of my white t-shirt. She picked a spot nobody else had signed, wrote slowly and legibly. I like to think there was meaning in that. Perhaps the next year I might have braved a conversation to find out. However, I never would get the chance to embolden myself up to the point of speaking before running madly in the other direction. We moved from Scottsdale back across the country to Florida that summer, and I began fourth grade wondering, for the first time in my life, “What if?” This would not be the last schoolmate named Lori I wish I had spoken to. Nor would it be my last regret.

Before I go on, I should say that this isn’t a lament of one singular moment in my life that might have completely altered the scope of the years that followed. No, this is something much worse.  This is the beginning of a pattern. One that makes no damn sense at all.

In High School, I joined the school paper and took my hand at journalistic prose. Enthralled by the idea of exercising my love for writing, I dove in the deep end, the rambunctious idiot I was. At the back side of the first year, something happened that boggles my mind to this day: I quit. I had written several articles, some which were fun little escapades through the fields of my insanity, and had even received some praise. I covered the football team, which meant I got to be on the sidelines, near the cheerleaders–GAK!–immersed in the atmosphere of hyper-exuberant jockiness. But I quit. Why? Beats the hell out of me. Something within just suggested all of this fun and love and certainty of purpose was just not for me.

Same year. I join the baseball team. (Author’s note((which is a really absurd aside, because isn’t this whole thing just one big author’s note? Idiot.)): There is no adequate reference to how I feel about baseball. Best I can say is this: If you believe in Evolution, and see humanity as this ever-changing creature, from atomic particles to the ultimate source of energy we will eventually disperse into … that.) I had gone through a ridiculously stupid growth spurt. From five foot five to six foot one in six months. I was all arms and legs and leaner than a pole, like some kind of anorexic marionette. I was really good at baseball, though. It consumed me. But that year, for all my talent, I floundered. The coaches saw something in me, despite it all, and begged me to spend more time in the weight room. Maybe they were just concerned a good breeze would lift me away. I don’t know. I smiled, nodded, and never bothered. I just stopped playing. Why? Beats the shit out of me.

I entered my twenties at a dead sprint, the only running I’ve ever done by the way. Afraid to talk to any of the female species, I missed out on countless friendships, dates, conversations, and lest I allow subtlety to ruin everything because my mom is probably reading this, sex. It wasn’t that I was incapable of wooing, I was simply terrified of what would happen if it was received well. WHAT IF SHE WANTS TO SAY MORE THAN JUST HELLO OH DEAR GOD WHAT WILL I DO? So, I avoided it. This led to an overdeveloped sense of marital need, and far too much loneliness to expect rational decisions related to females going forward. Perhaps I believed if I locked one down, I could stop fearing interaction. I don’t know. So I married the first girl who showed me any desire to be with me long-term. We dated three months before we were engaged. One year later, despite my worries I had stepped in a pile that wouldn’t wash off, we got married. It lasted a year and a half. In anything shy of grand style and theatrics, I retreated into myself, proceeded to once again shy away from female contact, and spent the next six years without any emotional connection. Then I met someone else who wanted to connect. Never one to learn from the past, I thought the best thing to do was to repeat the same action and expect an entirely different result.  So, we essentially decided we were getting married that first weekend, and I though that was as cool as a frozen banana in ice cream. Less than four months later, we were. Not a frozen banana in ice cream.  Married. Just to keep things clear. That one lasted an improbable four years, and ended with her insisting I was cheating on her (at one point with my gay friend) and trying to kill her. Of course, she did get engaged two months after our divorce, but that’s neither here nor there, or an apple worth eating.

I have no idea where that apple thing came from.  Sometimes, I tell ya.

Anyway.

The one thing I’ve never given up on: my dream to be a successful author. But I don’t talk about it much. I don’t talk publicly about much of anything. I opened a bookstore did you know–not unless you were there, since I HAVEN’T MENTIONED IT AT ALL ANYWHERE TO ANYONE–which fell during the economic collapse of 2008. Not to say there weren’t other problems.  There were plenty, but if not for that downturn, I still believe it would have survived, even if in some other form. Regardless, when it closed, I didn’t talk much about it. To family, to friends, to my then wife, to my cadre of associations on Facebook. I got quiet. Depressed. Withdrawn. I have two books published, and I tend to shy away from discussing them? Why? Because I don’t like them? Certainly not. If you haven’t read Anointedwell, first of all shame on you. It’s fabulous fun, even if it isn’t the best thing I’ll ever write. It was nominated for the 2010 Sidewise Award for Alternate Fiction, so it isn’t bad. Publishers Weekly liked it, so hey, right? Fluttermy second book was a nice step up in ability and storytelling, but I don’t talk about it. I whine about the silence it received, with that being the only sound I ever make regarding it. Genius. I’ve been working on the Storyteller, an ever-evolving piece of children’s fantasy that–toot toot–is freaking awesome. I’ve had a few near misses (and there it is, I hate that term and yet I wrote it. As punishment to myself, I’m not editing it out. Idiot. Near miss. It makes no sense in any context shy of “Did you see those trains collide? What a near miss that was!”) on publication, got myself worked up in promoting it, then stopped when all momentum on finding it a home dried up. It’s been one year plus and I’ve not made a single public statement about it. I have a Facebook page, so yay me. And though it needed some more work, a slight tweak in direction, there’s been no reason for it.

I had a list of things I was going to troll through in order to demonstrate what I now have come to accept.  Despite my best efforts to convince myself otherwise, I’ve been afraid for the better part of my life. Afraid to choose, afraid to act, afraid to live, afraid to succeed. I don’t know why, I only know that I can’t do it any more.  That ends now. I’m tired of being afraid.

No more fear. From now forward, I am me. Idiot, yes. Afraid to talk to this girl we call Life, no.

Maybe being afraid of a 500 lb. roach isn't all that awful, but still...

But I am still afraid of 500 lb. roaches. You should be too.

Oh, right. I forgot you were here.

I’m a bad friend, blog. What can I say? I tease you with my company, then vanish for months on end. But I have an excuse this time! It’s Broadleaf related. AND WRITING RELATED! That’s good, right? And, well, it’s life related too, but that’s none of your business, so don’t ask. Just accept it. It wasn’t intentional, I swear. I just got … busy.

For instance, yesterday we launched the event site for the 2016 Broadleaf Writers Conference registration! It opens Monday, April 4th. It’s kind of absorbed most of my time lately, if you follow. So much work. But the committee folks are awesome people and they’re really making it happen. I mean, what, we talked about this more than two years go, right? And it’s happening. Really, really, happening.

Writing? Yeah, well, I’d obviously like to be doing that more often, but my time has been limited of late. Still shopping The Storyteller, hoping that someone sees the passion I’ve infused in a project that began seven years or so ago. I’ve worked a bit on the YA project that I wrote about here, but hit a wall. I walked away from it, to get some clarity, and found I wasn’t all that pleased with what I was doing. So I tinkered a bit on another project for a while just to clear my head. But I recently was granted an idea I’m very excited about. One that puts me back in Middle Grade fantasy, where I want to be. One that keeps me in a universe I love. One that I’m not yet ready to talk about. Jinx or something. I don’t know. Right now, I’ll just say it’s a series called The Kindred. About half the size of The Storyteller, an idea that hasn’t been done, to my knowledge. I’m always more comfortable there anywhere. There and satire. And someday I’ll get back to that. I have a killer idea that takes us a bit before Anointed, and allows me to reset that universe, should I ever want to do anything with the rights I have back to Anointed and Flutter.

And life. That.

So, see? It’s not you, it’s me. I’m sorry. I won’t make some blanket promise that I’ll be here more often. I won’t. It’ll be a lie. I’ll disappear again, then come back and update you. It’s who I am. My priorities are rather focused right now. I have shit to do. Good shit. Just trying to reinforce the point. Sorry for the language. I promise I haven’t hanging around any bad seeds.

So, that’s that. Gotta go, blog. Take care. Keep a watch on my brand, or whatever it is I’m doing here.

Pardon the Dust

Pardon the dust. I’m underway with some renovations on the interior of Self. It wouldn’t be noticeable I imagine, so it’s not at all likely anyone would notice. In fact, I’m guessing no one will. But that’s the problem. No one notices. There seems to be a disconnect with the way I view my dreams, desires, etc., and the daily results I experience. As in, I have this grand vision of what my life should be, and I work toward it, yet I have this near out-of-body experience with what actually is.

So I’ve been trying to figure out why. Why do I feel what I am doing should be more observed and appreciated than it is? I’m not a bad person, per se, so I feel karma isn’t the answer. I’m not perfect, of course. I make mistakes. Many many. But that isn’t cause for the results, I wouldn’t think. Everyone makes mistakes, after all. Doesn’t hold back those who succeed, or are at the least noticed for what they do.

I’m forced to accept the only possibility I can find logic within: I am Clark Kent. I’m invisible, for the most part. A kind-hearted person you notice, but don’t think much of as a hero. Nobody looks at Clark and says, “Now there’s a guy who’s going somewhere. Let’s pay attention to him.” No. That’s the whole point. And even Clark makes stupid mistakes, like giving up his powers for no discernible reason whatsoever.

That’s who I am. Clark Kent after giving up my powers. Invisible and meek. Fun stuff. People pay attention to a point, then move on and forget I was there at all.

Why would they do that? Because they’re looking for Superman. They’re looking for heroes. They’re looking to be wowed, impressed, carried onward into hope and victory. Strong personalities, active voices, people who offer them results they want.

This guy:

You might argue that’s the same guy. Still Clark, right? But who will they remember? The meek guy who got beat up, or the guy who stood up to the bad guy and defeated him with flair and strength?

I’m not likely to go beat on some worthless schmo for the sake of attention, so that’s out. Hell, I still catch flies and release them when I can, rather than squishing them into oblivion for invading my space. But I’ve encountered my share of bullies. And they’ve won. Sure, I’ll bitch about it, but after the five seconds in which people listen and agree, they move on. Nobody wants to listen to someone complain about being a victim. They want Superman. Action. Decisive action.

When I was eight, I had a birthday party. It was the first one I had organized, first time I had invited kids from school to my home. There was cake, balloons, games planned, a beautiful day in a park. Nobody showed up. I didn’t try to have another party after that. Now, I could say that it molded my perception at that point, convinced me nobody would ever show up for anything I planned ever; but that would be Clarking without power. Something I am proficient in. Complaining after the fact, then withdrawing. Truth is, that party was just another bully, and it beat me. It beat me and I didn’t fight back.

I’ve often stated, of myself, that I engage in the fight, get knocked down, yet always get up to fight again. What strikes me, in this whole Clarking vs. Supermanning duel of perception is not that I keep getting up. That should be a given. I mean, you don’t get up, the fight’s over. As we’re talking about life here, then life is over. So you get up. Of course. You fight, to one degree or another, to defend your right to existence. Expectations, though. That’s what I’ve come to see. I expect to get knocked down again. I expect to stand up again. I expect to fight again. I expect this to repeat, endlessly. That’s just Clarking your way through. Superman (or if you must, Clark Kent with his powers) doesn’t enter a fight expecting to hold his ground or be defeated. He expects to win. He expects good to triumph. He expects to move on to another fight and kick its ass as well.

So I’m renovating. Interior design is not my strong suit, though I work on it constantly. I’m hoping to make this one stick. It’d be nice to do so. Perhaps then people will notice me. They’ll read my work because they can’t imagine not reading it. They’ll read it because they want to, because they could’t wait to, because they want to know what story I tell next. I’m actually quite good at this whole writing thing. It’s taken a lot of work to become so. But if I continue to toss it about like Clark’s weak punches, nobody will care. It’ll be kind of sad, actually.

I’ve learned to write well because I want people to read it, when what I need to do is to write well because I expect people will be reading it.

Writing, Broadleaf Writers, my current job, relationships, everything.

I have to learn to be Superman.

Being invisible sucks.

If I use a Horcrux, will that help?

Busy, busy, busy, busy, busy.

I had planned November to be all about the writing. I joined that whole NaWriMo, or whatever it’s called. thing. The Progenitor would stay on course, I said. I had a word count. A proud, distinguished target.

Bullocks.

As it happens, November is traditionally a busy month on the Georgia Center for the Book schedule. The Georgia Literary Festival in Augusta, Children’s Book Festival in Savannah, Elizabeth George, Lynn Cullen, Diana Butler Bass, Sue Grafton with Amanda Kyle Williams, Jane Smiley, Tanwi Nandini Islam … you get the drift. Busy.

But wait! There’s more! I, as the Executive Director and along with my awesome Board of Directors, launched the Broadleaf Writers Association in November! No problem! Just a few things to take care of. Emails to send, posts to write, a website to set, meetings, social media to maintain, conversations with writers, a fundraiser to plan. Just a few things. No big whoop.

But wait! There’s more!

Twice a week I work with a friend of mine who runs an after-school chess program. Two schools, each thirty minutes away. Great work, I love it, but you may not know this … kids suck your energy away. I’m guessing this is what the soda bottle feels like after being drained in a few gulps.

BUT WAI … oh, never mind. You get it. Busy.

Oddly, I found time to write. The Progenitor moves forward. I’m nearing the halfway mark, which is not as far as I’d like to be, but is certainly not a disappointment. As action packed as it is to the end, it’ll zip by. I still expect to have it completed before Spring.

All of this activity made me realize that Voldemort may have been onto something with the Horcruxes. I mean, dude split himself into seven pieces and he was good with it. A little wacky, sure, but he went about his business. No fracture too difficult to manage. I’m split four ways and I’m exhausted. Maybe if I could parcel some of this into an inanimate object or four I’d be better off.

The most recent split of my attention launched today. Broadleaf’s initial fundraising campaign launched on GoFundMe. Lookit: (this is where a GoFundMe widget would go if I wasn’t too tired to figure out why it isn’t working. So instead, here’s a fancy link to the campaign!)

So, like, cool and stuff. People can donate. Though it’s foremost a writing organization, the hope is that my most wonderful friends and family (and those by extension of the Board of Directors and writerly folks of my world) will see this as a cool concept worth getting behind, or simply supporting. After all, we want to educate, to teach people how to better write so that they might pursue writing for publication, or better make use of in their workplace, social lives, or professional pursuits. Writing is an important thing, after all. Teaching people to do it well seems worth a few bucks tossed in the Broadleaf kitty, doesn’t it? Sure it does. Help a brother out. Help an organization looking to do wonderful things out. CHARITY ARE GOOD.

That’s all the pitch I have left, folks. Been a day. In baseball parlance I’m a good hundred and fifteen pitches into the eighth inning. Someone get the bullpen up. I need a drink.

But I’m here. I’ve posted. My hope remains that I will return to chronicle the process of writing The Progenitor at some point, though spending my available energy actually writing the damn thing seems a better use of time. We’ll see. I’m sure you’re on the razor’s edge in anticipation. Of course you are.

Boom. Done. Blog post written. Neato little flash thingy link for the campaign embedded (or not, but whatever). Words spent.

Hey, my coffee mug might be a good place to go from here. I wonder if you can drink out of a Horcrux?

Welcome to the world, Broadleaf Writers

I have ideas.

Many of them become stories. Some of them blog projects following my work-in-progress. Some of them become real things. Some of them stew in my brain for years before finding a port worthy of docking. A place where like-minded individuals may come aboard and assist me in making my dear sweet eager idea a reality.

Today, I get to unleash another into the world. Today, the Broadleaf Writers Association becomes a reality.

Sweet.

What is Broadleaf? Why is Broadleaf? How is … never mind, you see where this is going.

To simplify things here: Broadleaf Writers is an organization dedicated to educating and inspiring writers to become better writers. We believe the path to publication is paved in the perfection of your craft. We believe no writer should stand alone in the pursuit of their passion. We believe writers should explore the style they feel is best suited to their skill, that any genre may contain brilliance, and that nothing soothes a writer’s soul more than the opportunity to commune with other writers.

Through seminars, workshops, networking and peer groups, and much more, Broadleaf Writers is meant to be the home every writer has been looking for. And to kick it off, we will host the First Annual Broadleaf Writers Conference in September 2016! The site and date will be announced soon, as will the first of a growing list of fabulous, experienced, writers who will serve as speakers and mentors.

We’re still a bit under construction (aren’t we all?), but we’re very eager to get started. In addition to the above, we will be opening membership enrollment soon, in order to grant writers greater access to information on Broadleaf, educational opportunities, and discounts on the programs we offer. In the meantime, we’ve started a Facebook page, we’re on Twitter, and we have established a website at broadleafwriters.com! Please give them a look, like, follow, sign up for our newsletter (on the website!), and help spread the word. If you would like to donate to help fund our organization, we would be most grateful! There’s a donation button on the website, or if you would like to discuss it via email, I can be reached at broadleafwriters@gmail.com. If you have any questions, comments, thoughts, ideas, or any other word I’ve managed to forget in the sentence, email me, comment below, message the Facebook page, tweet to us, we’re easy to find!

There are so many talented, passionate, writers in the area, in neighboring states, in the Southeast, and we want to shine a spotlight on every one. Whether a New York Times bestseller, a product of the small presses, self-published, or one of the many seeking to become part of the process somewhere, we are all one family. One group. One idea seeking a port. Come aboard. This is going to be one hell of a ride.

Though this idea did stew in these here brain meats for more than two years, I would be remiss in failing to mention my wonderful Board of Directors. Though still in its infancy in size and scope, Broadleaf would not exist without their time, energy, and dedication to this dream. So a very heartfelt thanks to Alison Law, Ricki Schultz, Bill Bridges, Barbara Friend Ish, and Collin Kelley. You are all so wonderful, gifted, and a thrill to work with. LET’S GO TEAM!

If you have an interest in potentially joining the Board, offering your time on our Conference committee, or volunteering as the need arises, please feel free to email me. With all that we hope to accomplish in the coming year and beyond, it will take a small army of individuals working together to build our family.

So as to avoid spending two thousand additional words worth of your time detailing all that Broadleaf can be, all that gives me the tingles when I think on it, I’ll leave it there for now. Please do contact me if you have questions. Help us spread the word. Like us on Facebook, follow us on twitter, sign up for our newsletter. Donate if you can. Every single dollar will make a difference.

BWA Logo

Fifty Shades of Change, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Edits

Words is words, which are words that are words, being wordy.

This is the process of writing, you see. Learning perfection is attained not in the first sentence, but rather what the first sentence can become after you’ve written a few thousand other sentences that politely inform what that stupid first sentence should have been in the first place, if only you had the smarts to let them tell you first.

Sentences can be so bitchy.

The Progenitor is this. As is everything else ever written. Certainly, everything ever written by the dope typing this post. Every chapter calls me backward. To adjust something. To tweak some language. To modify dialogue. Because, as I discover the truths ahead, I’m required to align them behind. In this light, I’ve spent some time recently combing through the first few chapters and making adjustments. If you’re reading along you might now be screaming something like But I’ve already READ all that! Yes, you have. I warned you. Edits happen. It’s a process. It’s part of the writing life. It’s the realization the burger needed cheddar AND provolone AND swiss after you’re halfway through. You can still do it. Come on, you know you want that taste. Cheddar just isn’t enough anymore, is it? No, that burger wants MORE and it wants it NOW.

Did I mention I’m a bit hungry?

Agatha’s story is twisting, evolving into the latter 2/3 of the book that I believe might be best classified as WUT. As in, you know, “What?” but different, because you’re all WUT.

Got it?

Good.

Time is tricky, as Agatha is learning. Time is screwed up when you screw with it. Time is a nightmare that may or may not be a pleasant dream when the Keepers find you.

Now almost 20,000 words in, I know I love this story. It’s insane. We’ve bonded and become good friends. We might be holding hands soon. It’s getting serious. Like, totally. I’ve also learned the story was, to no surprise, right about the beginning. Chapter One as it stands will go into the repository at some point, hopeful to be included in a potential opening of Book Two, or a story told along the way. Chapter Three, with its great opening of “The first time Agatha moved through time, she tried to save a cake,” will become the opening of the book. That line sells it. The flow it creates otherwise is ideal.

So, here it is. The end of Chapter Ten is completely raw. I haven’t even looked at them a second pass yet. I’m still hoping to finish the first draft by the end of the year. It’s ambitious, but much like this story, I’m not entirely sane. It’ll happen.

Fire away. Input is welcome.

Progenitor Manuscript .pdf

Progress is all about progressing and stuff

That whole “Day Whatever” thing? Yeah, I think that can go away now. I mean, posting in a succession of days that mark every day I have worked on the novel makes great sense. Not that I often make sense. I usually make not sense, and with great precision. So, it’s canned. On a shelf to be forgotten forevermore. Like Apocalypse Tuna. But NEVER FEAR! I am still here. Still hereing and being here and being not not here in order to post what I have written on the The Progenitor.

That said, in the time I have managed not to waste watching football, cheering my fantasy baseball team to a long-awaited league winner winner chicken dinner championship (Yeah that’s right, I play fantasy sports. What of it? I’m a dude who likes sports, all right? Back off, lest I pummel you with my sportish knowledge and bore you to tears.), taunting the cat, humoring the dog, and putting back a healthy dose of the Fall’s first batch of chili, I have created more words! Words that pair with other words to form sentences and paragraphs! Paragraphs that talk about stuff and lead to other stuff. Two chapters worth, in fact! In fairness, they’ve seen a light edit, but I tend to read through what I last wrote in an effort to drop back into the flow of the story, which always results in some alteration along the way. I edit, therefore I am, or something.

With these two chapters, Agatha’s adventure has officially begun. A bit earlier than I had expected (I’m at 12,000 words, and I thought I’d make it closer to 20k before everything really took off), but it feels right. The story’s never wrong. When it says it’s time to fly, you jump. When it says have some meat and chill, you better not be a vegetarian.

Speaking of jumping, as this story plays with the concept of jumping through time, the task I face is explaining this, and the results therefrom, in a way that is easy to follow and understand. If I have failed to do so at any point, fire away. You’re the reader, I’m the writer. I stand behind the curtain, while you fall asleep in a field of poppies, or head off on a witch hunt with but some sketchy courage, a tin brain, no heart and a stupid bucket of water. I know everything. You know nothing. NOTHING!

So, here it is. All six chapters. 12k words out of a projected 90k pushes me past 10%. It’s a small benchmark, but something about crossing 10% has always infused me with excitement. Hopefully it shows.

Progenitor Manuscript .pdf