Category Archives: Personal

Giving Up the Writer’s Ghost

As a writer, it is necessary to channel your emotions into your characters who cannot convincingly exist until you do.  As a human being who should value maintaining their sanity, however, you have to recognize when to let go of those insecurities and regrets that are holding you back.

Illustration of two glasses of liquor and ice in front of textured backgroundI have spent my fair share of time in bars, enough that I feel at home in them.  I’m ok sitting alone at a bar, having a drink by myself.  Now, I can’t walk through a grocery store without being terrified of who might be looking at me, but sitting at a bar—not even writing or reading or looking something up, but just having a quiet moment to myself and my pint—I’m comfortable doing.

As a writer, of course, I’m in love with bars and the idea of bars as they relate to writing—and specifically, to the author.  There’s the classic image of the author who’s soul is inescapably tied to the words he bleeds onto the page.  He sits behind the ashtray overflowing with cigarette butts at the corner booth made of dark wood and ancient, weathered deep burgundy leather; the author’s home away from home, intended not only to allow him to sit back and view the comings and goings and general inebriated happenings but to sit at the center of a spirited evening complete with life-changing drunken philosophical debates on those occasions he is joined by friends or friendly rival authors, and of course the alcohol which is as constant as the notebooks and ceaselessly shuffled and rearranged pages of notes and unfinished plots and tales put on hold until the proper hero or villain or motivation can be discovered.

But that is the idea.  It has to be just an idea.  That is the romantic side to writing I’m not sure exists anymore (if it ever did) and is not one that can be realistically maintained.  And not just because you’re no longer allowed to smoke in bars.

Because what is the reality of that lifestyle?  Beyond the ultimate financial impossibility of sustaining it, this lifestyle is cirrhosis, lung cancer, and the inability to walk out into direct sunlight without immediately bursting into flames.

I suppose the same could be said for the average unfulfilling, fluorescent light-drenched cubicle job that’s available today.

There’s also the forgetting.

There are the details you miss and the stories that are gone because you flushed them out of your soul with too many drinks.  There is always the lingering feeling that there was a story.  At some point that night, you heard a line or a fragment of some recollection, and you were so excited—that is the opening line; that would be the perfect short story; there is the perfect starting point for this character.  Perfect.  Perfect and it’s gone.  Sure, in reality it wasn’t perfect.  You were drunk.  But it could have been a start.  It isn’t even that now.

The forgetting leads to the regret, that two-faced demon of the drunk, the devil on each shoulder that will poke at you and whisper in your ear incessantly for days afterwards.  You regret what you’ve forgotten and you regret what you remember, as that comes back to you only in glimpses and flashes with the fuller details you need to survive lost in the fumes.

Perhaps this is the power of that romantic image of the solitary author drinking himself into the shadows.  There he is in a corner booth of some ancient tavern, lost behind the smoke and the booze and the stacks of shuffling unfinished lives he is the master of.  You don’t see that he is now too scared to send those lives out into the world.

He has bought into this as well.  He lets this unattainable standard of “the writer” cloud what could be, instead of trying simply and honestly to live up the standard of what he can be.  Instead, he tries to drink away the insecurities, the doubt, and the fear and drown himself in the caricaturist image of what an author should look like.

It doesn’t wash away those anxieties.  The false hope of a light buzz after a drink or two will give way to the sloppiness of drinks three through 4 AM, and clouds the careful eye that would make a writer that recorder of human nature he needs to be; it blurs and obscures the unique minuteness of life he prides himself on noticing.

For that he is rewarded with regret for having squandered another opportunity, and with this misstep he deems himself forever unworthy of any rewards, be it the inspiration, the recognition, the camaraderie of achievement.

That is the power of this image.  It serves as one more excuse for him to hide behind, one more reason he doesn’t live up to this profession, this calling.  He doesn’t sit there to tap into a vein of inspiration or serve as a social focal point, as he tries to so hard to convince himself he does.  Instead he sits there to hide behind the regrets he can barely remember but never give up, and fade away into the myth of the great writer that only exists in his egotistical imagination, the myth of his potential.

So rather than take a chance, he’ll take a drink.  At least he knows where that will lead.

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Office Supply Therapy | a World of Possibilities

I assume most people have their own quirky habit for dealing with stress or bad days. Some people will go to the pet store and look at puppies, my friend has a cache of cute bunny pictures; some might go to the mall or a park and wander, just needing the presence of people and conversation surging around them to balance out whatever negative energy had thrown their day off.

Me? I like to wander around office supply stores.

Of my local options I prefer Office Max to Office Depot.  I always have, but especially now that many Depot stores have closed or downsized. There’s also an Office Max in the plaza where I work, so its proximity to a constant source of my own mental unbalancing may have something to do with my affinity for it.

There’s something very calming, very soothing about office supply stores. I found a similar feeling a few weeks ago while wandering up and down the bourbon aisle at Premier, checking out interesting bottles, reading the manufacturer or employee write-ups that accompanied many of them. It was similar and led me to identify what it was I like so much about office supply stores, even as it wasn’t as intense a feeling. It was the possibility. Where the bourbon aisle offered great variety and possibility, it did so at the threat of my losing a night of productivity if I got carried away.

(I ended up with a bottle of Jim Beam that was on sale and a couple small sample bottles of Woodford Reserve and Bulleit Frontier Whiskey that I took my time trying out—a surprisingly responsible outcome considering my state of mind walking into the store).

But office supply stores offer possibility of another kind. The possibility of organization. I don’t consider myself a very organized person, despite being someone who really, really wants to be organized, and even was once. Briefly. I think. (That was an amazing ten minutes of my life) And here is this magical place, this world of office supply, where everything I could possibly need to get my shit together is there, it’s all there! If I went wild in that store with its plethora of options; clicky pens, whiteboards, cork boards, bookshelves, cabinets, trays, stack-able boxes, desks, corner desks, corner desks with bookshelves—don’t even get me started on the pens, there’d be no stopping me. I’d rule the world, and I could too because they also sell coffee and Twizzlers. Everything I need to survive is in that store. Have I mentioned their inexhaustible selection of pens?

the Paper Cutter LogoThis goes back to childhood, and running errands with my mother. Across from K-Mart was a little pair of stores, The Paper Cutter and Fay’s Drugs. I was always partial to the Paper Cutter, mostly due to the wall of pens they had in the back corner of the store near the photo counter. I think I learned to spell my name finally by trying out each and every pen they had over and over until I found the perfect one. I was very particular about pen tips, even then.

The Paper Cutter was where I bought a discounted copy of Lord of Chaos, one of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time books, because it had a cool cover. I’ve never read it.  Why did my mom even let me buy it?  That’s book six in the series.  It’s also where I purchased Gordon R. Dickson’s Other, which is part of his unfinished Childe Cycle. Recently I bought a cool old paperback edition of the first book in the series published under its original title, The Genetic General. I’ve never read either book. I would routinely lose feeling in my legs from sitting so long under the spinner rack of comic books. One day I will buy a copy of that 30th anniversary Amazing Spider-man with the hologram on the cover that I read there. It was a big issue; it was too pricey back then for my mom to buy me. $3.95. And that’s 1993 dollars.  Man, that was a good run of comics. One day Spider-man, one day.

And next door was Fay’s. Which, whatever, it was a drug store. We had to go there for my brother’s inhaler, but other than that, it didn’t appeal to me too much.  I wanted to go next door to read comics. All of the comics.

Fay's Drugs tote bagThe thing you should know about Fay’s, was it had the best bag. I know that sounds strange to say, but mention a Fay’s bag to anyone over thirty that lived in Buffalo. This might extend to more than Buffalo actually, since the company started in Fairport, New York and had their headquarters in Syracuse. This wasn’t just a local Buffalo thing.

I don’t know what it was about those plastic bags; that they were yellow when everyone else used white or brown? Or was it the plastic they used, weren’t they thicker than most other stores’ bags? Could have been the colors, the yellow bag and black design?  It jumped out at you.

These bags were used and reused and reused, and they held up. Ten years after Fay’s was sold off and turned into Eckherd’s, I saw a homeless guy walking down Hertel Avenue with a Fay’s bag stuffed full. They’re still around.  There may still be one in my parent’s hall closet full of winter hats and gloves. Those bags are indestructible. They’re legendary.

the Lone Tepee, a Forgotten Masterpiece

                You know what’s a good word?

                Tepee.

                Fun to say, cool to look at, it’s functional, spacious, sturdy yet easy to move. It’s a great time. I got to camp in a tepee as a kid. I don’t remember having any complaints. I was also eight, so that may have had something to do with it.

                When I was little I went to day care for a few hours after school each day until my parents got out of work. That was pretty awesome; there were snacks, tons of blocks, I could claim I was doing homework and draw till my head exploded, and there was TV time. Back in the good old days that meant Animaniacs, Tiny Toons and that Peter Pan and the Pirates show where for some reason Peter Pan wore brown and had a cape. I think he had one of those awful little ponytails that’s more of a mullet tied together in the back. I’m also the only one of my friends who even remembers this show, but that’s OK. This place was awesome, and not just for the English muffin pizzas with little slices of hot dog instead of pepperoni Santa used to make. Santa was the cook. I swear to god, that was her name.

                The couple who ran the place always felt like an extra set of grandparents for me. It may have been because they lived down the road from my actual grandparents, but I think it was more than that. Some days it was just my brother and me, and another kid and his brother, and Dave would tell us stories that may have been inappropriate for eight year olds. I had a pretty solid understanding of Pearl Harbor at a very young age, I’ll say that.

                Now I said Dave and Joyce “lived down the road” from my grandparents because it was just that. Out in Eden, New York you’re down the road. Despite there being street names and even honest to goodness street signs on every corner just like in the big city, for the most part, this was a pretty rural area. They had a ton of land, it never ended. There was enough to take us on hikes, to have a hayride in the fall and for a while they even had a couple horses. The best parts of the hikes was pointing out a rusted old truck they claimed was a burned out ambulance that got worked into a ghost story later by the campfire and showing us where they buried the horses, which to a bunch of little boys was awesome.

                By the way, they also built a friggin tepee. And the cool kids totally got to sleep in it. Now, I’ve slept in a caboose, I’ve slept at concerts, I’ve slept through Rambo which was scientifically proven to be the loudest movie ever made. I have fallen asleep while holding a hamburger up to my mouth. I have fallen asleep during jury duty. I have fallen asleep at weddings, funerals and even my high school graduation. I probably could have fallen asleep when I went skydiving but I have strict rules about losing consciousness while a fat middle-aged man is strapped to my back. And I have to say, sleeping in a tepee is pretty awesome.

                I have no idea why I drew this tepee, the Lone Tepee. I found it last summer in a notebook when I was digging around in my attic; a notebook that had been my road trip journal for a vacation we took when I was ten. It could be the tepee from summer camp, since they did have only one, but more likely I just started doodling and decided to name it. Why is it leaning over like that?

the Lone Tepee

remember kids, no peepee in the tepee

                I scanned it in but didn’t know what I was going to do with it, so it sat there as something for me to laugh at when going through the folder of unfinished projects. Then I got a little frustrated with a few things I was working on. A couple designs I posted didn’t get the response I wanted, not that anything gets a huge response. I really liked the one, too. It turned out great. Great contrast, great color, simple, clean; it was exactly what I wanted it to be. I even tied a blog post into the design with pictures and links, hoping to generate a little traffic that way as well. Considering the range of work available on Society6, that particular design was just boring, basic, and rudimentary. I’m still proud of it; I love how it turned out. Let’s be honest, if I only posted things that I thought blew the rest of Society6 away, I’d have an empty shop with a profile picture. While I don’t think I’m the greatest things to happen graphic design since the slide rule, I’m proud of everything I’ve made.

                But we live in an age of Facebook likes, retweets and little Instagram hearts to tell us we’re going a good job. Those likes mean people are looking, and elbowing their friends to look as well. Without that there’s no possibility of someone noticing and being willing to spend the twenty bucks on an art print or coffee mug with something clever on it. So forgetting the possibility of monetary validation, when an idea that took shape now sits ignored,  lacking in proof that someone has at least taken notice, frustration will seep in.

                A few days later I was tired, frustrated and watching Green Lantern.  Yeah, the Ryan Reynolds one.  Clearly I was emotionally vulnerable and prone to making poor decisions. As a joke I posted the Lone Tepee, my grand masterpiece of age ten.

                It immediately got three likes.

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