The Manic’s Guide to Connections

 

The moment he took the taser out of the case, I sat down and waited. I knew what came next. In that inexplicable sense of destiny, or fate, or the complete and utter understanding of my best friend/meta-sibling’s personality, there was nothing I could do to stop it. It took only, “I wonder what it feels like?” to inspire him into action. For three seconds, he held the charge against his arm, smile twisted in a blend of shock and amusement. Anyone else and I’m running to stop them. But this is the guy who covered his face in shaving cream in order to act like, I don’t know, a rabid Frankenstein or something, then wound up screaming his way down the hall because he hadn’t expected it to burn so badly. This is also the guy who filled a plastic container with butane, stuck his hand through the opening, lit a lighter, thereby (shock!) rendering his arm hair to curled, horrible smelling, reminders of what once was.

This is the smartest guy I know. No, truly, he’s brilliant. In fairness, this all took place over twenty years ago, so perhaps his judgment merely lost its battle against youthful curiosity. A fight we all remember losing more often than not.

I, myself, have lost that battle numerous times, predominantly in the pursuit of the ideal connection (a.k.a. Twoo Wove, a.k.a. Aphrodite, a.k.a. Zach’s Insane and Somewhat Naïve Quest for Completion). The trick—the part I always lose myself within—is getting beyond the initial connection and immediately attempting to translate that into some state of permanence. Some might call this a, “relationship”. I have called them, “oops, nope”. Still, I persist. After all, life can be whittled down to nothing more than an ongoing series of connections, right? Like the charge through my friend’s arm, we absorb the shock and it fills us. It enlivens the mind and heart; and, sure, it scares the hell out of us, but we do it anyway because stopping seems as likely as travelling through time in a DeLorean.

Speaking of which, I read an article regarding the activity of particles in relation to time. The prevailing theory the scientists presented stated that particles show behavioral patterns based on future events, working then backward through the complexity of what we know as “time” in order to reveal their true nature. Now, I have neither a chalkboard, chalk, nor Doc Brown’s manic energy to explain any of that; but it did get me thinking about the connections (and disconnections, for that matter) I have experienced in my life.

Perhaps, in this context, connections are actually echoes from the future. Perhaps we know we’ve met someone important in our lives because—as with the nature of particles—we’re seeing the result that will be instead of the emotion of the moment. Perhaps all of this is utter nonsense and merely an escapist means by which to avoid the reality of the patterns in my life.

Until recently, that pattern has gone like this: I find a connection, I feel alive. I have a sense purpose, completion, and a dingle-dangle twinkle of the ever-elusive surge of happiness. I dive headlong, the connection following my lead. The connection is strong, the pairing complex yet thriving on simplicity, the bond like, I don’t know, every metaphor for love ever stated. Something with flowers and sunshine, probably. Or waves across an otherwise silent beach. I could probably invent one that has to do with tacos, but it might make me hungry and then I’ll spin off into some tangent on cheese.

Mmmmm…cheese.

Anyway.

The point. Right. The non-cheese point is that every new connection thrives on the euphoria of discovery. The newness, the elation of two people sharing commonality and dreams. Ultimately, this wanes in favor of reality, personality, behavior, and the truth that some people just like to shock themselves with tasers to see what happens. And that’s okay. I didn’t know that. I was under some deluded impression that every connection required permanence. It had to last forever, otherwise what was the point? Not quite a shock to the arm, but I did do it to myself and marvel at the results.

Sometimes you meet someone, you share a connection, it feels ridiculously good, then the river of life leads you to drift you apart. Or, sometimes you meet someone, you share a connection, it feels ridiculously good, then no matter how much you want it to continue, the one you’ve connected with drifts away on their own, leaving you to wonder what in the hell of hells you did wrong.

And that’s okay too, I suppose. Everyone deals with this stuff in their own crazy ass ways.

I’m no atomic particle travelling backward through space and time, but regardless of outcome, I’ll take the connection, no matter the result. Sure, I have wants, needs, dreams I can’t shake no matter how hard I try; but I can’t be without connections. Which means I might need to fill the container with butane and burn my arm hairs off from time to time. I might need to shock myself just to see how it feels. I might even need to act like a rabid Frankenstein just to see who runs away first.

Life’s a crazy thing. May as well be a little crazy with it.

I Have No Idea

Let me just hit you with a bit of shocking, unedited, truth so we can move on: I have no idea what I’m doing. Ever. I’ll give you a moment to digest that. It’s big, I know.

All good now? Maybe keep a glass of the bubbly handy, if not. In testament to my general lack of direction and understanding, I’m just winging this. Kind of a stream-of-consciousness type thing, if you will. That can be problematic for me.

I make no secret of the stupid things I’ve done in life. I’ve listed many of them here over the years and had a good laugh at myself in the process. Should you wish to know more about me and the stupid things I’ve done, take some time out of your busy schedule, keep the glass full, and have a read. I don’t know whether that’s a wise recommendation, or not; but as that keeps with the theme of the day, we’ll go with it.  Have fun. I’m a bit of a likable idiot, in that, “Oh, my, what brand of stupidity will he be a slave to today?” kind of way.

I don’t plan much of anything. Sure, I dream and fixate, handle my desire as if it were the most valuable gem in existence, then fall apart when it drops and smashes into cosmic dust; but I never truly have what one might call, “a plan”. As I understand it, life takes a good bit of prognostication, should one wish to excel within it. Ask me how the Braves will do this year, and I’ll give you a prediction. Ask me how my latest book, venture, or attempt at a relationship, will go and you get ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. My father asked me, after I graduated high school, to draft up a five-year plan for life so he could go over it with me. I moved out the next day. Not a plan. Just a reaction. Pure gold.

There is a reason I identify with Tigger

So, as we sit here together, please do keep in mind I have no actual plan for this. Any of this. I tend to operate better at this stage in my life if I cling to each word and watch where it takes me. Any effort to create a visual end point will only carry me off track. We don’t want that. Well, I don’t want that. I can’t presume to speak for you. You’re not here. I can’t see you. I have no idea what you’re thinking at this moment. Perhaps if I did I might consider my words more carefully, or generate something more akin to a point. Something like a plan, maybe? A loose sort of dangly string of a point? Something you can wrap your fingers around, just as a reminder there is a point to it somewhere? I don’t know. Just spitballing.

I’m a patient person. I can’t say this developed from my lack of planning, or if my lack of planning developed out of my patience. There’s a link there, I’m sure. One seems as connected to the other as an appendage to the body. You’d think they would work in concert at all times, but it wouldn’t be true. Truth is my patience is more like this … whatever it is I’m doing now. It has an end, somewhere. Could be the next sentence, could be another 1,000 words from now. Depends on what fuels it, how the line of Reece’s Pieces leads it from the shed and into the house. I would prefer the line of candy, honestly. Hell, I guess I’d prefer anything to nothing.  It’s a great deal easier to be patient with something guiding it, right? Regardless, I am patient because I want to see the point of it all. I want to watch the sunset to the day, to feel the warmth of the sky as the horizon blankets the light, as the clouds blush, as night takes the stage. That’s why I wait. Who needs to plan for that? In the moment, you just get to be in it. Sure, there’s the potential for clouds to move in, for the sky to diffuse the brilliance of the sun’s farewell, for any number of distractions to prevent full enjoyment of the moment; but I’ll take any chance on the potential for a glorious sunset I can find. The payoff is worth it, even if disappointment and life’s persistent clamor can occasionally blunt the joy.

That may best sum me up, actually. I’m looking for the perfect sunset. I believe it will happen at some point, but I may need to see far more sunsets than I can process to get there. I have no idea how many. For that matter, I have no idea what ‘perfect’ is. I have no idea what I’ll do in the moment I realize I’ve found it. I can wait, however, because the sunset keeps trying. I can be patient because each day I know it will return and try again. I can put effort into waiting on it because I know it will put effort into setting. And when the moment comes, when the sun and I find perfection together, it will own me and every ounce of my passion for it. That’s as much planning as I can muster, and in the end it’s less planning than it is a fait accompli. In the context of time and space, it’s already happened. I’m just bumbling my way toward it.

I tend overthink that which I do not know. It’s a product of an imaginative mind contemplating a path to the perfect sunset. I’ve tried to stop it, but the theater of dreams won’t close. I’m not sure how I afford it. The power bill is staggering. Most of my life I’ve overthought situations, emotions, interactions, you name it. Anything and everything beyond the bounds of what I know as fact. I don’t profess to have the answers. I have no idea what will happen next. I only know I want to find that perfect sunset; and when I do, I’m willing to make the most of every second it offers.

In the meantime, until I know what I need to know, I’m going to patiently do and say a lot of stupid things.

Just so you know.

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 Immutable Lifing of Life

Nine months, twenty-five days, and some hours I’m too lazy to count. That’s how long it’s been since I last wrote here. I guess that qualifies as an appropriate gestation period of silence. Oddly enough, birthed unto the world, that silence now screams, betraying the calm that was my earnest effort to ignore it forevermore.

It’s not my fault. I just didn’t want to do it.

In part, I admit, because life has been … well, it’s been lifing pretty hard. That’s not to say that its myriad pokes and prods have left but puncture wounds and headaches. No, it’s pushed, encouraged, picked me up in moments of stress and told me it would all be okay, then kicking my ass because I looked like I needed it. Still, the lingering lifieness of life has left my writing focused to work I wish to get published rather than words that summarize my current state of mind. The need for those words to be structured properly, for the story to be conveyed with ease, perfect flow, characters worth remembering, everything that makes a book what you hoped it would be, has far outweighed the need to blog. In essence, I mean to say that I want to be damn good at it.

So there’s that.

Ugh. I just saw this picture. The webbernuts seems to exist solely to see how many different ways it can make people cry.

SO MUCH LOVE.

SO MUCH LOVE.

What’s interesting, and eternally frustrating to me, is that much of the lifingness of life these past months has to do with matters of a personal nature. I won’t talk about that on social media, or certainly not here. Which sucks because I’ve always viewed my blog as a therapist of sorts. One that offers no feedback, true, but one that patiently waits out my rants and thoughts and worries and fears and more thoughts and more fears and more worries and sad. So, the few times I’ve wanted to write about it, I’ve arrived to find the door closed, the Inner-me offering a finger waggle then pointing me away. And so I trudge off, hands in my pockets, lip pouted, mumbling about something inane that Inner-me just ignores because it’s inane.

And there you go. It all makes sense now, doesn’t it?

There’s no real point to this. If you’re reading, I apologize. Thanks for stopping by. Leave a quarter on the counter on your way out, if you would. I just wanted to write … something. This is certainly something. Pride. Beaming. Smiles everyone. Welcome to Fantasy Island.

I actually do have something to announce. I just can’t do that now. Basically, I have the news, I just lack the trumpet. I mean, I don’t know how to play  a trumpet, per se, but I can make noise with one. Which is a lot like writing. Making noise. I can make noise. I’ve also been working on a new book, with additional side projects, while continuing to push The Storyteller and the Shadowheart of Ahriman (which has endured more blood cleansing than a dialysis patient, but is somehow better off for it). Maybe for the sake of having someone read something I’ve written or am writing–which is a more difficult task than I could have imagined–I’ll just start posting bits on here. Maybe you can read a whole book out of it. For free. Why not? I wrote it for it to be read. Sure, I’d like millions of people to be enjoying it, but the simpleton mathematician in my head seems to think one is greater than zero, so okay then. If for no other reason than to keep him from mathing, I’ll do that. I hate math.

This is the only certifiable math I’ve done in a good many years:

The Simpson are no longer funny, because math.

The Simpson are no longer funny, because math.

Chew on that. Just don’t expect it to make sense.

 

Charles in Charge and Writing Do Not Mix

Sometimes I’ll do anything I can to avoid writing. I’ll run from the computer like it’s a Charles in Charge reunion special. Reading, destroying brain cells on Facebook, over-managing my fantasy baseball teams, catching up on baseball news I already knew, Words With Friends, walks, shopping, driving, sitting on the patio like a grown man in time-out, harassing the cat … name it. It runs contrary to the idea writing is my passion, my life, I know, but I do it regardless. Not because I’m afraid to write. Rather, because I’m afraid to write badly.

On the surface it’s an absurd statement. It reeks of a failure in confidence. If you’re afraid to write, avoiding it for any reason, then perhaps writing isn’t for you, right? However, I don’t lack confidence in my writing. Though I’m no savant and have a great deal yet to learn, I’ve worked hard on my craft. Besides, Publisher’s Weekly thought well of me. Shouldn’t I? My issue, though, isn’t with my talent, or my ability to weave a compelling tale, or whether or not what I’m about to type will be pure crap. The ‘delete’ key takes care of that. If not, editing exists for a reason. What I’m afraid of is producing work that floats off into the ether like space debris: forgotten and forever to orbit in the dark vacuum of nothingness. Perhaps that means it was bad, perhaps it doesn’t. Sometimes you can feel so damned positive you’ve written something great–or at the least good–only to watch it wander into an uncaring world that as much notices it as avoids it altogether.

Maybe that doesn’t qualify it as bad, exactly, but as a writer it becomes difficult to separate good from bad when feedback is non-existent.  Sure, you get some words of encouragement from those who know you, or from other writers, or beta-readers, or even your Publisher/Editor/Agent. They like it. They praise you in widely generic ways. They might even specifically site an instance in your work they particularly liked. Which makes you smile. It makes you proud. It gives you that momentary feeling of heroic wonder. Then it becomes print, you talk about it through various social media portals, maybe you have some events, and you wait for the accolades and reader reviews. And wait. And wait. Ultimately, the silence invades your mind, leaving a gap in your defenses wide enough for an F5 tornado of doubt to plow a destructive path through your pristine landscape of ignorant bliss.

No matter how much you talk it up, nobody’s talking back. Your book sucks. It must. It has to. You re-read it. It doesn’t feel as sublime as the last time you looked it through. Are you no longer blind to the truth, or have you allowed silence and doubt to insert their impression in your head? What does that mean for your current manuscript? Should you suspend writing in order to review what you’ve written? Will this unedited piece of unfinished potential crap offer you insight as to why your recent work is failing? Or are you over-thinking it? Of course, you can go to your Publisher/Editor/Agent for advice, but they’ll tell you to cool your jets, this kind of thing happens all the time. But no, you think, this is happening to me. It wasn’t supposed to. My book was good.

Or was it?

It’s troubling to think all this can cross through the mind in a fraction of a second. Even more troubling, however, is the anticipation it can and might likely happen to your work-in-progress–before you’ve even finished it. You have constructed a fully viable, fully entrenched, vision of your manuscript’s future while it still doesn’t even know how it will end. The characters are gathering for an intervention and you’re in the corner wallowing about how nobody will ever care about anything you write. Ever. I suppose if I were a parent, I might better understand this, or how to cope with it. My cat doesn’t inspire worry. Her naps will always be quality naps.

So, I’ll stare at the computer screen, eyeing the open Internet tabs, finger ready to open Scrivener. I might read what I have to that point, if I haven’t wandered off already. Maybe pack the laptop and head out for coffee, read it there. Maybe take a drive to hunt for inspiration. It doesn’t happen all the time, and generally by the time I’ve begun typing, my fears have waned. My characters are at the forefront. I’m a God, moving pieces, orchestrating fates, divining obstacles. All is good. My work is good. My story is good. My book, so far, is good.

I’m a writer. I don’t write simply because I can. I write to entertain, to bring something to someone’s life they will enjoy and share. It’s narcissistic, cathartic, inspiring, and humbling. I like to imagine a God, creating a Universe, filling worlds with living creatures, molding paths, futures, destinies, holding arms to Heavens when the job is done, with a notable “Huh? Awesome, right?” expression. That God would be bummed if even the crickets went silent. I guess it’s okay for me to be as well.

I just need to keep writing.

Maybe a drive first, though.

Russ Eat Meat

This whole Talking About Wordsmiths thing is at a merciful end. Its intended purpose–to purge the final glistening dew drop from the leaf of my life (whatever that means)–has been fulfilled, as I find myself lacking the desire to post anything further. I’ll drop some pictures with brief captions tomorrow, in an effort to blast the final tidbits of favorable memory into the ether, and to honor those who meant more to my efforts than they might realize, but I think this will be it.

I can think of no better way to finish it.

I previously detailed the launch night of Anointed as one of my favorite nights. Though I must admit to the self-centered affixation to that’s night’s purpose, I can’t deny the book launch portion was but a reason why it was my favorite night. You see, Wordsmiths Books became the ring for a rather entertaining (and, admittedly, one-sided) tug of war. One that carried on like a fifty round bout, no ref in sight to stop the continual beatdown suffered by one of the contestants. Or better, it was like watching a train wreck, plane crash, and hundred-car pile-up, all rolled into one, unable to turn away, unwilling to ask why it must go on in perpetuity. It was mesmerizing.

Enter the ring, one Joe Davich. Undefeated. Unbeaten. Indestructable.

The Undisputed Featherweight Champion of the Verbal Smackdown

The Undisputed Featherweight Champion of the Verbal Smackdown.

His opponent, his defensive retorts weighing in at an unprecedented, and immeasurable, Zero G, Russ Marshalek.

Um...

Um…

Every war has an end. Every skirmish a victor. Every moment, a future defined. On February 22nd, 2009, the verbal spat that was Davich v. Marshalek came to a climactic conclusion, on the stage of Wordsmiths Books, before a captivated audience of 150. It will forever be known (by at least one local, who flings it with regularity every time he sees me) as the day the world paused in reflection, uttering the words “Russ Eat Meat” with nary a clue as to what they meant.

Setting the ground rules only encouraged the wine, and the whine.

Setting the ground rules only encouraged the wine, and the whine.

Content is unecessary. In fact, ask me to recount the round by round commentary, and I’ll stare at you blankly for a time, finally bringing myself to say only, “Joe won,” with a notable shiver. I don’t remember the punches. I only remember the result.

I can offer for certainty that Russ fought with great resolve, challenging his opponent with cited passages in defense of … well, no idea really. In defense of something.

The Defense

Joe responded, as only Joe can.

"Dear God, Mother Mary and Madonna" was uttered a few dozen times.

“Dear God, Mother Mary and Madonna” was uttered a few dozen times.

His counter left Russ reeling, coiling into a bottle like an infant to the teet.

At some point, you just have to forgo the glass.

At some point, you just have to forgo the glass.

Posters were brandished, slogans were uttered, Marisha Pessl was slandered, people laughed, people cried (out loud as part of laughter perhaps, but still), I was amused, the wine vanished. In the end, the champion stood, proud and victorious, stepping from the stage with a haughty grin, parting the crowd like Queen Elizabeth (for a more detailed description of anything Queen Elizabeth ever did, please see Sir Davich), off to celebrate his long-sought dominion over the defeated Wonderboy.

If not smug if you're Joe.

It’s not smug if you’re Joe. Neither is it ever misspelled.

It was a great night. A fitting end to a store that was about more than just selling books. It was a sitcom without cameras, a novel without a writer, an entertaining home without a pug. It took a great deal to organize (actually it just took a customer telling the two of them to put up their Hello Kitty purses and hash it out on stage, which was a glorious moment for all), a tremendous amount of wine, and a propoganda war unlike any ever seen, but it happened nonetheless.

Wordsmiths Books: Wage your verbal war on our stage. Please. We’re bored.

How to Count to Five in Eight Easy Numbers

A couple of things up front. First, my “every day with a blog about Wordsmiths” thing didn’t work. I blame the snow. And the logjam of work it piled up in the process. And my need to do actual writing that benefits my future. And side projects I don’t talk about that take up more of my personal time. And Bush. Secondly, I find my titles in the bottom of coffee cups, so don’t blame me if they fail to convert into meaning of any sort, or link to the post I ultimately write.

Nothing is my fault. I am the fault of nothing. The Nothing. Oh, that was a good movie. Like.

There aren’t many days left to February, which means I have only a few more opportunities to write about my wayward bookstore before it’s five-year-closing anniversary sweeps on by. So, some of what I might have written about (which perhaps might not have been that interesting anyway) gets canned like Armageddon Tuna. I don’t know what Armageddon Tuna is, so don’t ask, but I’m sure it makes sense somewhere to someone. Hopefully, they have a can opener. The rest of the process of opening and closing a bookstore is really just a matter of money anyway. Or, lack thereof. Having cited how the store got behind at the outset, I don’t think there’s much mystery left. Quite a lot less than, say, how I can write a heartfelt post about Wonderboy, and not hear a peep from him about it. That’s quite mysterious to me.

Take away the stress-laden nausea-inducing daily grind of owning Wordsmiths Books, and what I’m left to talk about are a few standout moments, and a few exceptional people. Maybe I’ll find the time to go one more post deep about the inner mechanics. Maybe not. Maybe I’ll drink more coffee and see if my dog’s empathetic beacon fries. Beacon fries? Bacon fries. Whoa. Want.

Bacon. The momentum killer.

Where was I?

Um.

Dunno. My brain just completely stopped.

Well, regardless, I know what I had planned on writing about, so let’s a get a move on.

In addition to the forthcoming Closing-Date anniversary, there’s a far more pleasant anniversary to celebrate. Five years ago tonight, Wordsmiths Books held its final event. There are a great many things about that night I will always remember, but saying farewell to my employees as they passed through the door a final time (I was to work the last week alone…it just seemed appropriate, and a bit necessary to be honest) was heart wrenching.  I knew I’d see most of them again, true, but it didn’t lessen the blow. They were my family. Another memory involves a debate on the stage, which is easily my favorite moment ever in the entire run of Wordsmiths, and the next post in line. So, stick that in your pocket for now. The event that night, however, marked something special for me. It marked the launch of Anointed.

Best pile of books ever.

Best pile of books ever.

For the first time, with more than 100 people in attendance–friends, family, and some devoted customers as well–I read published work of mine in public. It served as a nice transition into my post-bookstore life. Closing the doors while opening a new set. Despite what I knew was to come less than a week later, the building was filled with laughter, smiles, cheerful conversation, hope. I couldn’t have scripted a better end. I closed out the brief but notable tenure of the Wordsmiths stage, overextending my reading like an uncomfortable goodbye, signing books, offering the store banner for everyone to sign, and somehow being far too busy to eat some of the best cookies ever made (which were made by The Moss, who found herself in my life almost two years later, cookie recipe along with, so I win). If the best thing to come of opening Wordsmiths was that night, then all the stress was worth it. Granted, it wasn’t the best thing, but it surely hit the top (insert arbitrary number not to exceed five here).

Anointed isn’t the best thing I’ll ever write, but it’s entertaining, was well reviewed, and had strangers tweeting and writing about their enjoyment in it. Likewise, Wordsmiths Books isn’t the best thing I’ll ever do in my life, but it had an impact, was well received, and created a family full of generous memories I’ll treasure forever. Though I’m ready to let go of the pain, I’ll never let go of those memories, of my people, or of the smile I get every time I see the logo.

Wordsmiths Logo

The (Book)Life and Times of Wonderboy

There is told the tale of a young man who would one day be the hero of an entire bookstore. Head strong and full of hope, he toiled in the bowels of retail, suffering at the behest of a mighty overlord, packed with his clansmen on a yellow bus heading at breakneck speed toward finality. This young man fought for his survival, tying his fate to that of another, whose entrepreneurial plan for escape whet the young man’s burgeoning need to be free, to bring order to the chaotic world of books. Finding peace within his newly unshackled chains, this young man set forth on a path few would ever walk, eyes set upon the blazing trail of wonder before him. He came to know that path as a facet of self, an enigma of soul, and from the fire within was born a new identity. A masked avenger. A vigilante of Event Coordination. Those who knew him called him Wonderboy, and a legend was born.

Immediately his impact was felt. An empty stage hosted a cadre of poets, local authors and musicians. The People were pleased. Publicists took note. Wine was had. People got tipsy. A List was built. Mere months after donning the Mask of Almost-Justice-Like-Kind-of-Action, simple names evolved into Notable Artists. St. Vincent, Amy Sedaris, Ani DiFranco, Rob Sheffield, Dan Kennedy, Tracy Chevalier, James Rollins, R.A. Salvatore, Fonzworth Bentley, Katie Crouch, Frank Delaney, Stuart Woods, Final Fantasy, Christopher Moore, Virginia Willis, and Richard Blais, just to name a few. He gave birth to slam-dunk fan favorites, giving the eager public Open Mic Nights, Wizard Rock, the Black and Red Prom, Storytime for Grown-ups, and so much more.

What once was but a bookstore had become a haven of entertainment. Wonderboy done did good.

Pretty fancy stuff, huh?

I always thought so. I suppose, at this point, it’s all right to reveal the identity of the masked wunderkind known as Wonderboy. After all, he has some new Hipster Musician in Brooklyn identity thing going. Silent Rape Drummers, or something, for a while, getting tons of attention for his bizarre but entertaining re-soundtracking of Twin Peaks. Now he’s in a Place Both Wonderful and Strange, which perhaps brings him full circle, since Wordsmiths was always wonderful and strange. It was also a place. Kudos, fate. Well played.

Russ Marshalek was Wordsmiths Books number one hire, a vital cog to everything Wordsmiths would become. I would have been nothing without his help, and Decatur would have suffered a loss it never knew it needed to recover from had he not taken the job as my Events Coordinator. He took a hell of a lot of grief from me (and a certain other individual with a flair for the dramatic whose one-on-one debate on the Wordsmiths stage was perhaps the defining moment of the store and a blog topic to come), but he trudged on, doing what he did, making the store more than I could have dreamed. I owe him a lifetime of thanks. He owes me a burrito. Or something. There has to be some balance here. After all, he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be so important to me had I not hired him in the first place.

Sure, Wordsmiths didn’t make it. But it wasn’t the fault of Wonderboy. What he did few could have. It’s vital people remember that. I know I will. Danke, mein Freund.

Wonderboy can rest easy knowing, once more, he has saved the day.

Wonderboy can rest easy knowing, once more, he has saved the day.

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.

 

All Hail the Empress of Doom

The past nine days have been longer than normal.

That’s not a euphemism, nor is it a reference to the summer solstice. Neither is it an effort to recount the days as only Navin can. It’s a Puppy Thing. After much discussion, the Moss and I made the mistake of visiting some puppies in order to decompress and let go of some unwanted stress. Which, I suppose is to say, “normal stress”. It isn’t as if any stress is wanted, is it? Ah. Yes. True. I could edit that, but I’m not going to. You’re just going to have to deal with it, and take your aggression out on someone unsuspecting Violator of English who dares mention the phrase unwanted stress in your presence. It won’t affect me. I’m too tired. Right, so there we were, trying to let go of life’s Force Choke, when we willfully agreed to forgo sleep in exchange for the cutest ball of fur we’d ever seen. It didn’t happen quickly. We were there for four hours. Most of those four hours involved us staring at each other, perhaps desperately hoping the other had the will power to say no, while simultaneously ready to defend our right to make impetuous decisions about cute balls of fur thank you very much.

There was a lot of this:

“Well, what do you think?”

“I think she’s cute.”

“But what do you think?”

“I think we’re in trouble is what I think.”

That moment when you walk away, puppy in arms, backseat loaded down with crate, food, puppy vitamins, leash and collar/harness, eight million toys that either squeak four millions versions of ear-splitting pain or have beady black plastic eyes that are way too easy to chew off and potentially choke to death on, treats, puppy pads, bowls, the realization that MANY trips to the vet are in your future, and a stunned look of uneasy joy that says, “Dear God, we have a puppy and no true feel for whether or not we’ll survive it.”  That.

And it’s impossible not to be elated, despite the surviving unease with your ability to make rational decisions. At least until she pees on the carpet thirty minutes after you get her home. Or when she does it thirty minutes later. Or thirty minutes after that. And no matter how many times you tell yourself to be patient, she’s just a puppy, she’ll learn, no worries she’ll sleep through the night eventually, your wonderful glorious dream-laden nights of peaceful sleep are gone, perhaps forever. You begin to realize how much more your little bundle of fur is sleeping than you. Sure, you can attempt a nap during the day, but you do so with the knocking presence of fear that she’s emptied her bladder in her crate and is now swimming in a piddle puddle of piss. Which is an awful image, but hardly the matter that concerns you most. No, instead it occurs to you that you’re going to have to clean a pee sponge because you selfishly chose sleep over constant vigilance. So you bypass the nap in favor of staring at a blank wall, trying to remember the last time you wondered about Heffalumps and Woozles. You attempt to plan dinner, but decide hot dogs and mac n’ cheese has never sounded better. You stock up on wine.

Still, it’s just one night. So you only managed 3 hours sleep, one ear concentrating on any sound that might be a whimper of I Just Peed Oh No It’s Everywhere. So you haven’t been up at six in the morning in years. So you reach eleven in the morning wondering how the hell it isn’t four in the afternoon yet. It’s all good. You have a puppy! Isn’t she cute? Who cares if she’s peed everywhere except the pad? At this point, I should also mention that we’re in a fifth floor apartment. There’s a lengthy hallway to the elevator. So when I say she’s peed everywhere, I do feel justified in the exaggeration. Fortunately the property management is changing out the hallway carpet soon. Hopefully not too soon, but soon enough for me to feel fine and dandy in a shrug each time my squirmy little fur ball squats in the hall because she can’t wait for the elevator.

You begin to feel like it’ll never change. That the reminder of your life together will result in conversations you never thought you’d have.

“Does she have to pee? She looks like she has to pee?”

“How can you tell?”

“She’s sniffing everywhere. Oh God, she’s peeing!”

“No she isn’t. She just sat down to chew on her foot. Honestly, you don’t have to … oh, wait. Yup. Now she’s peeing.”

Days begin to drag along with the speed and deliberate insensitivity of that not-quite-handicapped person in the motorized cart at the grocery store. Sleep is an ever-elusive prod in your weary mind. You spend hours watching the puppy, circling her, waiting for the merest of twitches in the back legs that might indicate a new pee stain to clean. Every movement says, “I have to pee.” Every whimper has you reaching for the leash, and onward to another frustrating walk with no results. You’re edgy, impatient, feeling the life force drain away, realizing the harbinger of doom was, in fact, not the floppy-eared seven-pound creature of cuteness, but you and your reckless impulsive decision-making self. It never ends.

Then, one day, unprompted, she walks over to the pad and pees dead center. She walks to the door because she has to go. She stops waking up at three in the morning, maintaining her bladder until six. It’s not much, you admit, but it’s something. Three hours of sleep becomes five or six. You and your mind-weary partner can go to the store, leave her in the crate knowing she’ll just nap. You finally allow that you no longer both have to be up at the same time, and alternate sleeping late and taking naps. You still have to keep an eye on her, but the torment of the squeaky toy is now a blessing. You know where she is, at least. You only have to panic when the squeaking stops. So, instead of Defcon 3 Pee Alert, you downgrade to Defcon 3.

You almost relax.

She learns to sit. She kinda will stay, providing the treat is visible or you sound like Zeus issuing commands from Olympus. She has no idea what her name is, or why you insist on yelling at her when she runs from outstretched arms that will surely destroy her. She falls to the floor in a crumpled mess of despair, head on her paws, drifting into an emotional coma when you call her a Bad Girl. She gains a few pounds and suddenly she doesn’t fit as well in one hand. She greets you with unbridled excitement when you return from the other room, looking as though she feared you’d never return. She has little puppy dreams of psycho cats hissing at her around every corner, whimpering, kicking her furry feet. She shuts down into a deep sleep every time you rub her belly. She’s so warm you might just fall asleep with her.

Suddenly, six in the morning feels refreshing. You’re tired, but rested. You look at her, she looks at you, and you realize, no matter the cost, no matter the nature of the decision, it was worth it.

Molly, the Empress of Doom. Look into her eyes and she will own your soul.

Molly, the Empress of Doom. Look into her eyes and she will own your soul.