The Historically Bothersome Butterfly

I don’t remember when it was, but whenever it was, I watched the movie Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. The Moss was there. Must have been last year. Anyway, the movie begins with the lowdown on the crisis: A meteor is on a collision course with Earth, and this time Bruce Willis couldn’t save us. Or at least I like to imagine it was Bruce Willis. The film didn’t specify. So, the meteor is coming, and we’re doomed. Nothing can be done. There are no superheroes coming to the rescue, no amount of scientific trickery to call upon, or no word from God to pacify the internal need to know that humanity must live on. Just The End.

To my great surprise, I found myself overwhelmed by a feeling of peace. Of happiness. Of relief that, just like that, life could end. No more struggle, no more anxiety, no more stress, no more self-doubt. I could take hold of the trusty eraser and wipe the Board of Life clean.

I think, somewhere in there, the shock overtook me. I mean, obviously, this wasn’t really happening. I knew that. But I had never before had such an overwhelming joy at the thought of it all being over. To know that I could finally put down my weapons, my gear, dust myself off and breathe a hearty sigh of relief. It stunned me. I’m not sure I can recall the first thirty minutes of the movie. Then again, I’m not sure I can bring myself to watch it once more to find out. I don’t want to feel what I felt again because I liked it so much.

Allow an injection here, if you will. I’m not suicidal. Though I’ve contemplated the end many times in my life–several since that moment watching the movie in fact–I have no desire to end my life. It’s not a choice I could make, or one I am willing to make. Much like murder, I suppose. I trap insects and set them free for a reason. I say this only because I don’t want the thought or fear for my well-being to intervene in what may or may not be a casual read. I’ll die when I die. Not a day earlier. I’m fine with this. I do actually enjoy living, after all.

I spent a great deal of time internalizing that moment, trying to determine what it meant. All I can deduce is it meant I’m not at all happy with my life, or my place in it. Maybe that’s a stretch. Maybe it’s dead-on. I don’t know. However, it led me to a simple question I can’t shake. Where did it all go wrong?

I can remember a great deal from my childhood. More vividly than is ultimately helpful, it would seem. I remember this kid:

The Sonny's BBQ Padres, age 12.

The Sonny’s BBQ Padres, age 12.

I remember walking to my games. I remember playing them. I remember moments in the field, pitches I saw, the final scores. The first season I played, I fouled off exactly one pitch. One. I swung and missed at everything else. By age 12, I was clinking balls all over the field, one of the best bats on the team. Something happened between age 10 and 12 that changed everything I was as a baseball player. I think it was me. I happened. I practiced, I played all year with my cousin, I watched the Braves on TBS every day. And it clicked. I made a conscious decision to be better, and I became so. And as the years passed, I got even better. I probably could have kept going, made something of it, but in tenth grade I grew eight inches, turning me into a gangly all arms-and-legs buffoon with the coordination of butter. My skill set suffered and I quit. I could have taken the coach’s advice, worked out to get my body back in line with my growth, and likely found myself right back where I was. But I didn’t. And I’ll be damned if I can remember why. Or how I did it without feeling loss, or pain, or regret. I could have simply walked into another room for all the difference I felt.

It could very well be that writing finally found a grip where it couldn’t before, my focus on becoming a writer of substance narrowing my vision enough to allow the loss of a true passion. Yet, instead of seeing the more traditional path of the writer–in the modern sense that is–and furthering my education, building credentials through said schooling or articles or what have you’s, I chose to bypass college and travel. To see more of America than I had seen. To pour my soul into writing without the interference of an instructor’s voice. And, honestly, because I hated school. I didn’t want to endure any more years of study. Not institutional study any way. I wanted to learn. I just wanted to do it on my own terms. I made this choice without any hesitation or doubt. Into another room I went.

I met a girl when I was twenty-four. Exactly twenty-four, as it happened. At the time I was steeped in church, looking for answers to life’s myriad questions. She had just moved into town. We sat next to each other. We laughed. Emboldened by my favorite celebratory day of the year, I was exceptionally charming. So much so that, though she was away the remainder of the summer, I left a favorable impression she couldn’t shake. Several months later she surprised me at work with an invitation to her birthday party. Well, not a party so much as a dinner celebrating such in which her mother played a prominent eye-cutting presence. A few months passed and a romance blossomed. A proposal happened. A year and half later, I had a house, a wife, two dogs, a cat, and the distinct feeling that everything in my life was coming into focus. Then something happened. I think, looking back, it was me that happened. She had health concerns, sure, and they taxed me physically and emotionally (not to diminish her own suffering), and brought stress into our marriage, but it wasn’t really the cause. Religion became an issue, as I had begun to question my devotion to the church life, and to Christianity. This was a problem, but as the judge in divorce court would later say, plenty of couples of diverse faith co-exist. It could have been surmountable, I suppose. There were arguments about where things were going. Attempts to rectify what had been lost. But I admit to being horrible at articulating what bothers me at any given moment and loathe to cite minor problems when they happen in exchange for accumulating them and dropping them all at once in a twisted jumble of “what?” Which never goes over well. Then one day I just decided I was done. Just like that, it was over. I gathered what belongings I could carry and left the state. My home, my marriage, my life in that backwards, sleepy, little town, gone. Poof. And when the divorce was done, my move final, and my hands washed clean? Yeah, I just let it go. Moved on. Didn’t give one thought as to whether or not I made the right choice. Yet another room.

You know what? This happened AGAIN.

The factors were different, and the pressures of life much greater, but almost ten years from the time I met wife #1, I met wife #2. As before, there was a very brief courtship. Three months to be exact. And we were married. I can’t front the blame alone, ultimately, for the failure of this one, but end it did, and when it was over I was glad for it. I moved on. This happened near the time I lost my business. I’ve detailed it before, and there’s really no point in doing so again; but there’s definitely a parallel. I never considered the full spectrum of owning a business and what it took to run one. I just did it. And I’ll be damned if I didn’t take people down with me. Which is, perhaps, one room I didn’t blithely pass into. I don’t like bringing people pain or suffering. I don’t even like upsetting them. I just seem to somehow. By way of decision or circumstance, I have left a nice little row of destruction along the way. People I still love and care for, and I can do nothing to correct this wrong. I can do nothing to alter the choices I made.

These are mere examples, mind you. I have many more. Places in my life where I made decisions that now confound me, and leave me wondering what would have happened if I chose otherwise. I’m sure I’m not alone in this phenomena, but I only have my eyes to weigh them against. Only have my expectations. My dreams.

From that fateful day I left baseball forever, I’ve wanted to be a writer. No, a published author. No, a successfully published author. I do have two books published, which is nice. Good books. Not great, but good. Entertaining and fun. They were received well, which is something. I have a great children’s story I haven’t found a home for, and a few other stories I’m working on I believe could also be great. I’ve worked hard to become what I am as a writer. Same as I did as that kid who couldn’t hit. But there have been no breakthroughs. No a-ha moments of career-altering discovery. Instead, I place myself in the company, by work or network, with writers who have achieved my dream on their behalf. It’s infuriating. And depressing.

It may occur to you that there is no exact cohesion here. You would be correct. I’m just taking out garbage I’ve had a touch too long and hoping not to hit you over the head with the bag.

I used to be more active on Facebook and Twitter, but I’ve backed off because I don’t want to let everyone know how terribly unhappy I am with my life. I have the Moss, and she’s well worth bragging about (and an incredibly talented photographer at that), but what do I have otherwise? Just struggle and frustration, disappointment and despair. One bad decision after another, with a few good ones sprinkles in for taste. I’m not where I want to be in life, so I don’t talk about it because I don’t want everyone else to know I’m not where I want to be. I want to see the light, to feel the hope, to know that everything I’ve been through–whether by my own hand or not–will be worth it. My break is just ahead. My time.

But it hasn’t happened. Maybe that’s why I felt the way I did watching that movie. I’m tired. Losing hope. Losing faith that all the decisions I have made were made with a singular purpose in fate. And so I spend far too much time analyzing a life’s worth of decisions, wondering which of them would unravel the tapestry too much, which would incite the butterfly to flap a typhoon into my future. Then again, I can’t evade the sensation there’s a typhoon here already. What that I have would I be willing to lose in order to gain what I want but can’t seem to receive?

It’s a fruitless quest, searching for an answer like that. Regret is a pain in the ass. It will always be a pain in the ass. I remain steadfast that life has a purpose. Nothing is random. I lost a bookstore but gained a publisher and the Moss because of it. I haven’t rejoined the published world, but I’ve written in that time and improved dramatically. I don’t have what I want now, but maybe I need to have nothing in order to fully appreciate what I will have later.

I’ve never been one to prattle about me. I don’t spell out my woes to anyone other than family, or the Moss. I don’t pretend my life is great, but I don’t allow for sharing that it is not. I like to laugh. I just find it hard to do that these days.

I can’t deny that news reports of a meteor bringing about an Extinction Level Event would pacify me greatly. Not because I want all of you to die, but because knowing the end is at hand would allow me to once and for all let go of every disappointing decision I’ve ever made. Then again, maybe I can just whip out the scissors and cut loose all the rattling cans I drag behind me. More decisions.

Of course I’ll accept good news, in any form instead.

That would help.

Don’t Start a Marathon With Lead In Your Shoes

Wordsmiths Books opened on June 15th, 2007 in the old Post Office, an absolutely beautiful historic building in the heart of downtown Decatur. There’s a candy shop there now. It are yummy. You must go and support these people, because chocolate. Between the white marble exterior, the wooden floors and exposed brick, I was in love. Yes, I know, I’ve said I will always view the store’s second location as the true home of Wordsmiths, but from a sheer pretty vs. practical standpoint, the old Post Office had the Sun Trust building up against the ropes in the first ten seconds of the first round.

Sorry, that was a boxing reference. Book people aren’t sports-minded. I should know better by now.

I’ve heard from a number of people already regarding the this location vs. that location debate, and it seems the vast majority preferred the Post Office. I did too, but I also didn’t, in a my vision vs. the execution/reality way. Got it? No? Lemme ‘splain. The Post Office truly did offer all I wanted out my vision of what Wordsmiths was to be. Though I wanted to be directly on the square, and though I had grand plans for the Sun Trust building we ultimately found ourselves within, the space of the old Post Office cried out for a landmark. It needed charm and presentation, an audience to marvel over its architectural grace. It also was spacious–far more than was needed–offering the opportunity to grow and expand within a space that didn’t require a massive renovation. Everything about the layout of the store, the event space, the spot where a cafe should have been, the loft office space, front room meeting space…perfect. However, a problem presented itself right out of the gate.

It was mid-April and I was in a time crunch. Wordsmiths had begun as a two-man operation out of an office space not far away. The lease was set to expire. I needed a new home and only had a week plus (at best) to find it. It made no sense to suspend the opening of the store, as the loan for its operation had just been approved. On the original schedule, I would have closed on a lease for the Sun Trust building the third week of April, taking over first week of May, but as detailed, the negotiations stalled and broke down over the length of that lease. I scrambled to the back up, having little to no levarage in my negotiations on the Post Office. The owner was, shall we say, terse and inflexible regarding the terms. I found myself in a dilemma. Take the terms, which required two months up front (plus security, plus first month…you get the drift, a hell of a lot of money requiring the sacrifice of the planned for cafe), or suspend the opening and seek a new location while trying to find a way to make the money needed to keep up with the bank note. Originally, I envisioned a two-to-three-month prep for opening, targeting mid-to-late-July to introduce the store to the public. That left a gap in which I still had the bank note, but without the pressing fear of having no location. I chose the terms.

Despite the glorious run of Wordsmiths in the Post Office, it turned out to be the worst decision I could have made. Hampered by the unplanned for departure of a good deal of cash, the redesign of Wordsmiths left the revenue stream suffering. No cafe meant relying on books, which is never the best idea for a bookstore’s survival. I bumped the initial inventory of titles, expecting to drop back after the initial selldown, hoping to generate the cash needed to, at least, offer some semblance of a cafe. However, issues arose shotrly after the store opened as the owner began making a buzz to sell the building. She made it clear she would not limit herself to selling to investors only. If someone wanted to buy and occupy, she’d take the deal. Which, as time would tell, is precisely what happened. I have no qualms with the family that bought it, they did quite a lot more than they needed to ease the transition. I don’t blame them at all for wanting their business there. However, it became clear investing in a cafe of any size would merely be a waste of resources, so my revenue stream would be what it was; I’d have to make it up elsewhere. Unfortunately, that elsewhere didn’t materialize. Right out of the gate, Wordsmiths fell behind. Having to move 10 months later only worsened the stabbing pain of increasing debt.

So, you see, when I say I view the Sun Trust building as the true home of Wordsmiths, it’s because I know what it had been planned to be–the Vision, if you will–and realize that failing to secure the lease on that space placed the store into immediate, and unecessary, jeopardy. A one-year lease would have been preferable. All hindsight, of course, but enough so to leave a jaded sting when I ponder the value of that opening location.

If I had the money, and that building was again for sale, I would snatch it up in a flash. I love it. It’s grand. It’s historic. It is the true Ghost of Wordsmiths Books.

Wordmiths Books in the historic Post Office. We told everyone how cool it was to be a part of this Decatur historical landmark, but really we just thought we'd be able to read your mail. Nobody said we were smart.

Wordmiths Books in the historic Post Office. We told everyone how cool it was to be a part of this Decatur historical landmark, but really we just thought we’d be able to read your mail. Nobody said we were smart.

 

You Can’t Buy a Car With Cookies

There’s a line in Edward Scissorhands that a friend of mine and I recycle ad naseum. I tried to find a clip, to offer some sense of context, but, alas, ear wax.

It appears this is movie/book line today. I believe there is a limit of two. Moving on.

If you’ve seen the movie, maybe you remember it. If you haven’t, make a date of it. One of the best movies ever. EVER. Pompous Ass Boyfriend Anthony Michael Hall is sitting with Demure Confused Girlfriend Winona Ryder at her family’s dinner table, as her Beligerent Opinionated Father rants about responsibility. He says something, Winona groans or whines. He rants some more, points a finger at AMH, and this happens:

“You can’t buy a car with cookies, can you, Jim?”

“No, sir. You sure can’t.”

So maybe it doesn’t work as well here. That’s why I wanted the clip. I also want financial freedom. And some cookies.

Anyway, the point here is that you need certain things in order to accomodate certain other things, and cookies are not always the answer, no matter how many yummy extras you jam inside them.

Likewise, if you wish to open a bookstore, you need employees who will make it soar. I’ve worked for people who felt any body tossed into the fray will do the trick, but the book game is slightly more targeted than, say, a grocery store or fancy sign twirler dude on a street corner. Bookstores need a knowledgeable staff. Friendly would be nice, approachable even, but neither is necessary. I think most people would agree to being less than shocked if they approached a bookseller, asked for help, with said bookseller then hustling off, face red, to disappear behind a curtain. Book people are generally introverted. It’s why they don’t sell cars. Or go to That Kind of Party.

When I opened Wordsmiths, I didn’t want bodies to fill time slots. I wanted a family. I wanted people I could count on. I wanted to know my customers would always find a voice to guide them through the overwheming cacophany of screaming titles (That’s right. I said titles scream. What are you going to do about it, huh?). It’s one thing to recommend a title that’s been selling. It’s another to passionately sell an author to a new reader. Sure. it’s important to say hello, and have a nice day, and how are you, and why is this phone still ringing; but what truly matters is everything that comes between. It’s the conversation about books that create loyal customers, that make your store worth remembering. I wanted people with great humor, snark, insight and depth to their personality.

I wound up with this:

I did not hire the woman in the black dress, but that would have been kinda awesome, right?

I did not hire the woman in the black dress, but that would have been kinda awesome, right?

There were a few faces that didn’t make this shot, either by virtue of working a day a week, or by not yet arriving, or having not voluteered to work on a night that AMY FREAKIN’ SEDARIS WAS IN THE STORE, but I will always see this as the core of the Wordsmiths clan. Each one brought something valuable to the store. Each one had their place. And I remain in contact with every single one (except for a notable exception that will forever just be referred to as The Woman) to one degree or another.

A bookstore needs its family.

I definitely found mine.