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.
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.
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.
Recently, I was dubbed the Man of Zeal by a woman who is, by her actions and heart alone, a superhero. I thought it a comical title for a good three minutes until it occurred to me she wasn’t all that far off. I am, by nature, a zealous person, running around half-cocked on a mission to salvage some sense of purpose in this thing called life. Some times the quest pursues the fantasy list of happiness and dreams only an idiot–this one in particular–would dare expect to realize, the rest to serve those around me. The two entwine, often, but generally I find the latter balances out the failures of the former. In the end, though, I just like to help people. I like to be there when they need an ear, a voice, a shoulder, a heart, some muscle, whatever. It’s what I do.
I never stopped to consider why. I never questioned if I should let someone else handle it. I just did what my heart told me and hoped to hell it didn’t break me. I have no idea if this is healthy, if this is sane, or if it even matters. I know I’ve been taken advantage of. I know it’s blown up in my face from time-to-time. I know I’ve overreached when help wasn’t necessary. And still, I trudge on, zealous in my quest to do something, somewhere, anywhere, for anyone I can.
I imagine that sounds a bit braggadocious. I’m certainly no superhero. As far as I know it, superheroes tend to succeed more often than fail in their endeavors. That alone disqualifies me. However, that isn’t the bait on the hook here. The above is merely a train of thought leading to the station ahead. To narrow the field a bit: It’s only just now in life occurred to me that I never looked for any return of this way I have. I wanted it, somewhere within. Some quiet place where my brain sat idle in its desk, hand raised, patiently waiting to be called upon. Could very well be why my relationships have blown up, or why I don’t have a deep circle of friends to visit or hang out with regularly. No idea. I guess it’s irrelevant to me.
Truth is, I don’t worry about it. It doesn’t inherently change who I am. This is the way I’ve chosen to live my life, and I’m good with it. I’m at peace with it.
But it got me to considering the others out there. You know them. They’re in your life. The people who do, not for gain or reward but because someone needs to. The people who call, text, message, visit, invite you to coffee just to see how you’re doing. The people who aren’t asking for anything in return. They just want to help. Some will consider their motives suspect. Some might find annoyance in their do-goodery. Generally, however, they are beacons of light in an otherwise dim moment. You know exactly who they are.
So, should you actually be one of the ten or twelve people who read this, I ask of you a simple task: Find the superhero in your life. Thank them. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them if they need any help with anything, or need to talk life and its myriad challenges, or would just like to sit silently with someone and have some coffee or food or whatever and not feel as though they fight the good fight alone. Don’t let them turn the conversation on you. For one day, one moment, one blink of an eye, be their hero. It will fuel them more than you know.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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 Anointed, well, 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? Flutter, my 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.
But I am still afraid of 500 lb. roaches. You should be too.
“I literally just tensed up. Like you were going to hit me.”
This is a real thing, apparently. I tell my friends I have an idea, and it’s like I’ve catapulted a cow over the rampart. RUN AWAY.
I like ideas. I have many of them. Some of them become living breathing things. Others squirrel away in my head, awaiting the End of Days and Mental Apocalypse that will signal end of Me. Some of my ideas have worked. Some of them worked for a short time then flamed out badly. Some idea were quite splendid, but ultimately forgotten. A couple of them right-out sucked. But I keep going, producing ideas as if planting for a bountiful harvest come Fall, never the wiser, never the worse for it.
Like I said, I like ideas.
This a page from one of my favorite ideas EVER.
Ideas are the seed of creation. Plant them, water them, talk to them about your league-leading fantasy baseball team, and wait to see what happens. Do this daily and the growth will amaze. Forget a few days, give it half water, half evaporated passion, and maybe not so much. Forget it altogether and try to contain the shock and horror when you realize your ideas are smoking-hot scorched earth. I often time find myself in the in-between there, a shortcoming I continue to work on. My little factory of ideas is overrun with product. Distribution has been a bit slack.
Which brings me to my point. You see, I have this idea…
I want to blog my way through a book, open the door to the reader, offer raw material and my thoughts on it as I take the journey from conception to completion. The aforementioned friend, who shall remain nameless no matter how tall or bald he may be, thought me–perhaps justifiably–insane. Why would I want to put myself through the added strain of writing a blog every time I’ve written my day’s work? I don’t know. Jeez, if I had to come up with reasons for the vast majority of my ideas, I’d have shut down the factory long ago. I’m not what one might term an A-type personality, after all. I like cheese, and I damn well prefer to sit while I eat it. That said, I do believe that the exercise–and it would be precisely that–would be an interesting one. I have no idea how it will go, and I have no real plan for what material, or how much of it, I will share. But, being able to lay out the process of creation for all to see would have quite an appeal. If not to readers, then perhaps to writers. At worst, it will to me.
Again, this is an idea. In my head it seems a good one. At least an interesting one. But we’ll see. What I do know is that having people monitor my work and (EGAD!) even comment on it as I go would be significant motivation to create the best manuscript I’ve ever written. Then, after I’ve produced this other-worldly masterpiece of literature, the publishing industry will be so fond of the process they’ll create small rooms along Broadway in Manhattan, windows looking over the work space of writers in need of motivation, their day’s work scrolling atop the space, or accessible via tablets on the outside of the glass! They’ll be forced to record videos about their day’s work! People will watch the breakdowns as they flow from euphoric to despondent, from absolutely certainty to complete despair! BRILLIANT!
Then again, maybe not. My ideas can get away from me, after all, otherwise my friends wouldn’t fear them.
So here’s what I am proposing: I have an idea for a Young Adult fantasy novel. It’s been sizzling away in my brain meats for some time, and I’m pretty sure it’s at the right temperature to break out and devour. When next I write here, I will begin the process, detailing the idea, where it came from, how it has transformed, and give a rough idea of where I see it going. I’ll refrain from talking about the end point, or revealing spoilers that might dampen the reading of any material I post. Also, I’ll refrain from posting entire chapters, as I’m not entirely sold that people won’t run away screaming. If, however, you find yourself one who might be up for taking post in the bookstore of my mind and reading all that I have written, I’ll gladly create a way for you to do so. But you’ll have to let me know. Which seems a rather simple thing to say, but this is me we’re talking about. Assume nothing.
The working title of this project is Specimen A. If it had a subtitle it would be: The Progenitor. It may well wind up with both. Or neither. Or one. Who knows?
So there you go. My idea. Well, my most recent idea. We’ll see how it goes.
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.
His opponent, his defensive retorts weighing in at an unprecedented, and immeasurable, Zero G, Russ Marshalek.
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.
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.
Joe responded, as only Joe can.
“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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.