Antacids and Inhalers

Recently I had friends convince me to attend a concert. Not a concert for a headline act, and not a concert from a group I listen to. Really, it wasn’t even a concert, but a show. For a cover band. A Sublime cover band.

I’m not sure why I agreed either. But the fullness of my ineptitude came over me just prior to leaving for the show, when my wife looked at the tickets and noted that it was for “16 and up with I.D.”

In my mind I saw a dingy bar converted into a concert hall with the addition of a stage and some house lights. And of course, teenagers everywhere. I couldn’t have been more correct.

We pulled into the parking lot, the noise–not music–of the opening act playing and I noticed the line of teens. I was surprised that such a band would draw a crowd large enough to necessitate a line. Then I saw the pat-downs in process.

My wife and I joined the queue and watched phones examined, wallets opened, bags turned out, handbags rifled through and pockets and waistbands patted and searched. I know the guards were looking for drugs and alcohol, possibly weapons. I’m not that thick. Yet I simply was not prepared, or had forgotten this part of being a teen. The mistrust.

Now, as an adult, I see the invasion as necessary. As a teen I don’t think I did. Neither did the kids around us, complaining to deaf ears about their personal property. I was taken aback, because this is part of the teen experience I haven’t really touched on. And it’s not just shows where this invasion occurs. Teens are scrutinized on field trips, traveling with teams or clubs, at any event where they will not be under a watchful eye 100% of the time. This was true to a degree when I was a teen, but not to this extreme. It’s a point I’ve been mulling ever since.

As is the condition our security guard found my wife and I in.

She had to explain my glucose meter and inhaler, as well as her prescription antacids. I needed to verify that what was attached to my hip was, indeed, just an insulin pump.

Once through and inside, we met our friends and tried to blend with the crowd. We were not the eldest, but I certainly felt old. But at the same time I was glad to be forced into an element and situation my characters may inhabit, because for all my time with teens in a school setting, I hadn’t felt this, hadn’t understood it.

It was unnerving, and is nothing that antacids or an inhaler can cure.

On Being Awesome

Jim Wendler. His name most likely means nothing to many of your reading this, and that’s fine. Unless you are a power lifter, or like me, appreciate his approach to strength training, then you have no need to know about Jim. Except, you do.

There are plenty of expert coaches and trainers on the Internet today. They have multiple degrees and certifications and a wealth of knowledge offered for the taking. I don’t respect Jim Wendler because of his expertise. In fact, I may respect him more because he’s not an expert in the traditional sense. He lived in the trenches and came out with one hard-edged maxim: Be Awesome.

You can’t quantify such with research and analysis. There are no peer-reviewed articles on the matter. So why should you care, and why do I? Because Jim’s not merely talking about the iron game, he’s talking about life. He’s talking to all of us regarding whatever endeavor we choose. And this is especially applicable to writers.

Like Jim, no one told me I had to do this. I chose. And because it was my choice, the pressure to succeed stems entirely from within. That pressure is more severe than any external force can ever be. Because I don’t just want success so that I can say I wrote such-and-such and isn’t that cool? No, I want to be capital A– Awesome at it.

Why not?

Here’s a reason: being awesome isn’t synonymous with having life easy. Being successful at anything takes some amount of sacrifice and dedication and pain. I think a lot of people would much rather avoid the discomfort altogether.

I can’t. It may be that I’m hardwired for a masochistic life. It may just be that I’m a fool. But I do know that I just finished my first pass on my next manuscript. The story is good and I like what I did thematically. But is it awesome? No, not yet. That’s a bit painful. But I know what to do. I know how to dedicate myself and where I can sacrifice to meet my demands.

As difficult as it is to accept the reality of the struggle is, it’s also exactly how it should be. Awesome doesn’t emerge fresh out of the gate. It takes practice. It stumbles and regroups. It learns. It grows and then it parses itself down into its perfection. Not perfection, but its own form of such.

The last piece, the most difficult to accept, is that being awesome is not the same as being better than, being a cut above. Nothing could be further from the truth. Being awesome means always being hungry and remaining humble and knowing your hold on its elusiveness is fleeting.

So whatever it is you are doing: writing, training, studying, working, parenting… dig in and do it well. Be awesome. Raise the bar for all of us, so we have a greater target to aim for.

Or in Jim’s words: “Start doing and believing in the stuff that works, and do it today and forever.”

The first rule of blogging…

…is to have good content. I try to offer more than a summary of events in my life and provide a bit of perspective. I think I do all right with this rule. But the second–Update often–I failed at last week.

Two reasons: My wife and my daughter. One is sick and the other had an MRI of her brain. Such an odd bit of truth there.

My wife has been in and out of the hospital and doctors’ offices with an abdominal issue that is still unresolved. She can’t eat and has lost eight pounds. Tomorrow she has another test, and hopefully this will provide answers. I’ve never bought so much gingerale ale in my life.

My endocrine system is less than ideal, and unfortunately, my daughter needed some monitoring of her own. Therefore, she needed an MRI with contrast, and that dye is delivered intravenously. Now, she’s as anxious about needles as I am about tight spaces, so she needed sedation. A distraught child does not lie still during an MRI.

If you’ve never seen someone put under, even with “just laughing gas”, avoid it.  My wife and I left the preparation room in tears after our daughter fought against the effects and blew saliva bubbles under the mask.

She bounced back as seven-year-olds will do, but we we’re left wiped out–my wife doubly so.

And so I head into this week with this post and a hope for an update, something positive, and to be back on track, because I do appreciate all that follow this blog. There are so many to choose from, and I don’t want to waste your time.

Thanks for taking the time to care about my life.

The Hermitage of Revision

I have turned into a hermit. I began revising Tap Out at the end of last month, and since then have done little else. Sure, I’ve gone to work and have been with family and friends, but the story has been in the back of my mind non-stop. I have been with it, alone, and dwelling more than I have done anything else.

Fortunately, I made it through the major edits, and have answered the significant points raised in my editor’s letter. It hasn’t been easy, but that’s in large part due to the fact that I haven’t read this work in months. The story wasn’t new to me, but at times I was surprised by my own writing, for good and for bad. I have stayed locked in my office every morning for as long as time permits, with a notebook of scrawled points to consider, my editor’s letter open for reference, and my mind racing with one questions as my eyes pour over the screen: Does this work?

It’s a difficult question to answer because it all depends on the context. Each stage of world-building and plotting and characterization has its own purpose. What works early on becomes redundant later. Yet, for a story to have adequate resolution (if such is desired) the original points must be returned to by the end, and the change needs to be evident, but not through blunt observations. Finesse is key, and often the one element I lack. I’m working on it.

I mostly write stories about teenagers who’ve messed up, or who live in less-than-ideal circumstances. It’s what I know after having been a teacher for the past decade and having worked with teenagers in various settings ever since my early twenties. I had a relative this weekend ask about where I was with my writing, and I divulged this latest process, most certainly with the pressured speech of someone a little unhinged. He was intrigued and asked if I felt I would always write for teens or would I mature into adult writing. It was kind of a backhanded compliment, but I kept my poise, informing him that I didn’t see my subject matter aging just because I do. He didn’t understand.

And that’s fine. Writing is such a solitary endeavor that I cannot expect someone who doesn’t write to understand. All that matters to me is that my wife continues to be supportive as I space out around friends or ask for a piece of paper while driving so I can write a note about my story. So long as she and my daughters are comfortable with the idea that I am not always present, even when I’m physically there. I’m in my cave, myopically studying the world I’ve created, tumbling the stones of plot and making sure all resonates.

I enjoy the process, the tweaking, the “perfecting” (or however close such is attainable). I don’t like the pressure, not of the deadline, but that in which I put on myself. I want the work done and I want it done now, but most importantly, I want it done right. So it’s good that I’m cloistered with my thoughts. I can work and berate myself and no one else has to bear witness. They don’t need to. The product of the toil will be on shelves soon enough.

We Live in Our Own Worlds

I write early in the morning, at 5 am. My house is quiet, as the rest of my family is still sleeping. I go into my office, turn up the white noise, drink coffee and type. It’s by far the most pleasurable part of my day. I’m only afforded about two hours before I must leave for work. When I do so and shut off the white noise and shut down the computer, I re-enter the world, and it feels so very foreign.

I think it’s fair to say that most people do not enjoy working in solitude. My mother works from home and needs to leave the television on for background noise. I know people who split time between the office and home and are more productive at home, but miss the company of their colleagues. Writers, in spite of their collaboration with agents and editors must embrace being alone. Sure, we can write at coffee shops and libraries and anywhere with free Wi-Fi, but ultimately, we are still there by ourselves.

Beyond the world and character creation, I love the silence of writing. Sure. My head is humming with ideas, but nothing else is touching me. How often can I say that about the rest of my day? I’m surrounded by teenagers and then athletes and then my family. The constant stimulus of “To Do” lists and the Internet and gossip and texts and tweets keeps me wired for the bulk of my day. But I know upon going to bed, that in the morning my office will be there, a pot of strong coffee will be brewed, and the world outside will stay quiet for a while, because my other one awaits.

Revision Letter

I have been eagerly awaiting my revision letter from Lisa Cheng ever since we agreed to the book deal (can you tell I’m a newb?). I’ve looked forward to the feedback and the opportunity to make my work better. All the revisions Kate McKean has suggested have made Tap Out so much stronger, so I’ve wanted another expert opinion to assist me in taking my writing to the next level.

The letter hit my inbox on Saturday. I cringed. I felt sick. I worried that it would be 25 pages of instances where I thought I was all that, but really, wasn’t. I was afraid that it would point out more faults than I could ever overcome.

Not the case.

I read four pages of thoughtful questions and musings over the way my writing works and what it still has to achieve. The suggestions and questions were so pointed and precise that I felt an instant resonance and a level of comfort I did not expect. I was anticipating crapping myself, but, instead, walked away from my computer, made my daughters dinner, and felt happy.

My wife came home from running errands and I told her the letter had come. She braced herself as if expecting bad news. “And?” she said.

“And I’m going to be all right.”

She un-zippered her coat and sighed. “Thank God. You’re always so worried about perfection.”

I had to laugh because she’s right. If I weren’t so busy with teaching and CrossFit coaching I’d obsess over my writing incessantly. Previously, I’ve achieved such myopia with my work that I’ve made it worse and not better. Writing, like people, needs space, room to breathe, and time to grow.

I have trepidation going into this process, but I also have no doubt that I have grown as a writer since I last read this manuscript. I have faith in Kate and Lisa who have helped me get this far, and who believe that I can go another round. It’s frightening, these expectations, and how they make you question your abilities.

But they’re a blessing. I expect more of myself every day. Why shouldn’t I? Isn’t each day one revision after another, chuck full of novel situations that keep us intrigued?

Now, I’m off to see how I can make my fiction reflect that element of life.

Reading, Writing and being an Author

When did you first know that you wanted to be an author?

I’ve read countless interviews of authors answering this question with stories about being a child and filling notebooks or reading books and just knowing that this was it. I’m envious of those authors, because they always knew. That’s not my story at all.

I spent more time playing sports than I did writing, but I was the most detached, introspective and inquisitive athlete on any team. At a young age I often found myself trying to understand the game from another teammate’s perspective. I did not succumb to the tunnel-vision quest for perfection, spending hours practicing. Sports were fun. No more than that. I couldn’t understand how anyone saw these events as more than just games. Therefore, sports brought me friends and fitness, but nothing deeper.

Fortunately, I loved reading. I read everything as a child and can say with confidence that Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls changed me. I can still picture my childhood living room, the orange rocker in which I sat night after night falling deeper into the story. I remember when it was over and the dogs had died and how much that hurt. But there was more—the closure and then the explanation of the title in the symbolic ending. That did it for me. That simple structure changed it all. Here, I found meaning.

From there on I sought books with turmoil and tragedy and lessons to be learned. I came to understand the truth of fiction and saw in the people around me the character traits I’d read. My analytical mind turned on, taking the perceptions of youth and testing them against the depictions within narratives. I learned the criteria for “good” book: resonance. And at some point, I knew I wanted to be able to communicate that well.

I made fits and starts in high school, but sports and girls and partying were far more powerful than writing. I still read, but as so many adolescents, I turned very cynical. I looked for dark material that matched my emotions and stumbled upon a canon of books that resonated far more deeply than anything before. Then I began to write poetry.

I still have that notebook filled with awful verse. Some rhymed, most did not, but the voice I’ve now spent years cultivating was planted. I had found a way to express what I had up to that point only read, as immature as it was.

It wasn’t until college that I wrote my first short story. I had no idea how to navigate fiction, in spite of having read it forever. The workshop professor offered suggestions, as did my classmates, and that was it, the full extent of my formal education on fiction writing. The rest has come from my own tinkering, the advice of a couple of writing groups, and for a brief period, James Lasdun.

In no way does this make me superior, or inferior. It just is. I’ve employed Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule and have come out the other side with a sense of how to move words effectively across the page. I’m still learning.

And that’s the trick. I wonder about those children who knew so long ago. Are they still writing, still learning? Chances are yes, for some; no, for the rest. Because there comes a point where writing isn’t solely about the enjoyment, it’s about the challenge: Can I do this? I now understand that element of sport, but am still glad I missed its essence, before.

For every author the “this” is unique. And I imagine it is informed by the point at which he or she could answer the initial question. I’m not fully sure when it happened for me, but it did, and like the best decisions in life, it was messy and founded on nothing more than hope.