My Rookie Year

 

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On March 20, 2016, I published my first blog. The person who taught me the basics has a few names, but she blogs here. She encouraged us to take the A-to-Z blog challenge which kicked off about 12 days later. For 26 of the 30 days of April, I wrote and posted blogs six of every seven days. Every day I was trying to learn to use WordPress, pick a theme, and so much more. It was a ‘drinking from the fire hose’ experience, but I learned quickly.

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I was also supposed to be dealing with beta reads of my 2015 novel, Crew Dogs. That book has been stored on a cool dry bookshelf since I got my last beta feedback from Tara in August.

Many thanks for the advice and encouragement, especially from fellow Crew Dog, Maddox, who read the book through the eyes of a participant and witness to the time, place, events, and people – thanks to everyone. During the year, if I get to where I can allow the memoir time to steep, I want to rewrite Crew Dogs as an autobiographical novel in first person. The story’s there, but I want to work with the plot to make it more visible and clean up some parts. I’ve picked up so many great hints from Cathy Yardley and I hope to apply her advice.

end-of-2016-5Thanks to Tara for teaching me to blog. I am also grateful to my classmate, friend, fellow writer, and blogger, Sue, for suggesting topics and improvements. Sue’s uplifting and spiritually positive blog, An Artist’s Path, is here.

Thanks also to the many other wonderful people who gave me feedback, comments, and encouragement regarding my blog. It was nice for this rookie to hear, “You’re good at that.”

My problem right now is that I’m still suffering whiplash from writing my memoir. I’ll need many months to get that project out of the ass-wipe stage of an early draft.

I wanna give special thanks to my editor and wife, Yolonda. For over 50 years she has read my dribble, typed more than few papers, and simultaneously corrected my atrocious spelling and borderline grammar. She sees these posts before anyone else and patiently cleans up my mess. The only errors you see are the ones I add after she proof reads.

My limitation last April was that I wouldn’t blog about politics or religion. But by June, I was beginning to talk about atheism. As it turned out, the best liked four of my 89 blog posts addressed that subject. The fifth was about aging. I published the most popular post on September 6th, “Respect, Tolerance, and Silence” (read it here).

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Ironically, my first post, “Bloom Later,” (read here) was about memoir. After long consideration, I finally started writing one seven months later. Recently, I’ve published several more posts about that work in semi-progress.

My rooky year was enlightening. I’ve discovered what kind of writing I like to do. In 2017, I want to return to posting twice a week. Finding topic ideas is difficult, so if you have suggestions, let me know.

In January, I’ll return to my Creative Writing group/class. That group may help a bit with topics because Doris, our teacher/facilitator, will provide an essay topic each week. What is interesting about that bunch is our ‘maturity.’ As one of the younger participants, I’m amazed by how skillfully these folks can craft a story and write it well, far into their senior years.

end-of-2016-4When I meet with the SnoValley  Writes writer’s group each Friday, I’m alert for ideas. I have a few stashed somewhere. While they’re not exactly in my lane, they’re not off limits either.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I have a few goals for 2017. I want to keep learning how to be a better writer.

In addition to my writing groups, I’ll keep blogging. I want to return to writing my memoir, working on it most days. In April, I’d like to do the A-to-Z blog challenge again. In July, I am considering attending the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference in Seattle.

I don’t even wanna think about the fact that I volunteered to be president of my homeowners association for the next two years, but there’s that. Arg!

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My wish is for 2017 to bring us each more happiness than we need, gratitude for all the good stuff, and the good health to enjoy life. May we have the strength to deal with the challenges of 2017.

Happy New Year!
Keep your hands on the grips and your eyes on the road, but keep lookin’ both ways and mind the gaps.

 

Passionate Disbelief: A Testament to Effort

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It may be just another from there-to-here story, but it is mine.

Officially, I haven’t written in my memoir for about two weeks. Sure, I typed over 50-thousand words for Nano in November, but so what? This isn’t just the telling of any story, it’s the recording of a part of my life. That first whack during Nano (something less than a 1st draft) is like putting primer on the wall before painting or prepping a canvas.

When I tried to make an outline, I ended up with a list of events somewhat out of order. Each time I had a memory or an idea, I quickly added it to the list. I now have a list of 165 items, memories, or events. There are a few duplicates, some ideas aren’t useable, and for some I still have no idea what I was thinking about or why I added it to the list.

I’ve glossed over a few how to write a memoir books. Now I’m slowly reading Your Life as Story by Tristine Rainer. I just finished Writing is My Drink, a memoir by Theo Pauline Nestor. Giving all this thought to autobiographical writing has enlightened me that I prefer non-fiction to fiction. I prefer autobiography to biography, and specifically memoirs. I like history. In fiction, I prefer real life/real world stories to Sci-Fi or fantasy. It’s complicated. I like them all. Anything done well is better than my favorite genre not so well done.

I’m even considering changing last year’s novel to an autobiographical novel, and rewriting it from third to first person. But that’s for later. For now, I want to keep working on this memoir. While I’ve not recently written much in it, I have been working on it. Organizing both it and meh-self has taken a bit of time.

About 80% of my writing is rewriting, and if you know how Nano goes (thou shalt not edit), that effort will require mooch-o rework. It’ll keep me off the streets, out of the bars, and out of most trouble for a while. I enjoy rewriting, editing, correcting, and improving my own work more than writing the first draft. Maybe that’s cuz I don’t have to create (think) and spell simultaneously.

Writers get it.
Writers get it.

I’ll be right here, in my 11×11 spare room. This is my work-space, set up with folding tables that I can take down to turn it back into a bedroom when we have visitors. While I sometimes find other locations to write, I prefer this one. I got all meh stuff around me. And look at these post-it notes behind me. Each one has one or more of the topics contained in my memoir. Those written in pink or orange highlighter are yet to be written. It’s how I’m organizing the thing until I learn Scribner.

A memoir of post it notes
A memoir of post it notes

Below is my view from the chair at my computer. The sock monkey on top is the kind that rolls around and laughs, in case I need a lift, or someone walks in here and asks me what I’m doing. A couple of windows to my right provide an uninspiring view of my neighbor’s rooftop. But I want to know when it’s raining — pluviophile, remember?

The view from my writing nest
The view from my writing nest

Here is a little snippet from my memoir. I was 17, would soon graduate from high school, and was Air Force bound in a few months. Shirley was my sister and Danny’s meh big brudder.

As a senior in high school, my guide and advisor regarding entrance into the military was Shirley’s husband, Jack M. This hard-core, active-duty, career Marine gave me all the advice he could – more than I could assimilate. Jack was a highly decorated First Sergeant (Sergeant Major to be) and a veteran of both WWII and Korea. He would later complete two tours in Viet Nam, and he would resent being denied a third.

Sergeant Major M. was a true warrior. He was the guy you want on your side in a fight, but not necessarily the man you wanted in any situation requiring sensitivity, grace, or political correctness. Despite this, Jack was a boisterous and friendly Italian-American from Ohio who seemed to be liked by everyone.

Jack and Shirley were both Catholics, but were married by a Justice of the Peace because Jack was divorced. Eventually they were married into to the good graces of the Church, which seems strange because they never practiced their religion, or if they did, not for long.

One day Jack and I were browsing through a hardware store so he could tell me what to buy and what was good stuff. This was back when hardware stores had everything or knew where to get it.

Jack pointed at some hunting knives in a case, “Yer gunna want a good knife. Your own. Not too long, but you want good balance, feel, and steel that won’t break on bone. In the Marine Corps, everyone has a knife.”

I looked at him, “Jack, do you think I should join the Marine Corps and not the Air Force? It’s not too late to change.”

“Oh Jesus, no. First off, yer Mom would hate me, if not kill me. But I gotta tell ya, Billy. Yer Air Force material. The Marine Corps don’t work out fer kids like you. Shit, the Marine Corps is not for you.”

Jack was right. The Corps had not worked out well for Danny. Why would it for me?

Jack picked up a knife and pointed it at me. “But, this knife here looks like a good one. It’s Solingen steel and I can tell ya, the Krauts make good stuff like this. Feel it and see how it fits ya. How’s the balance?”

Jack bought the knife as a gift for me. It had a straight, one-inch wide, thick steel blade. The handle was black plastic inlaid with a red and white diamond symbol, and a black metal sheath. I soon realized that Marines have many more good uses for knives than Airmen do.

Note: My Air Force career spanned over 45 years; 22 active duty, the rest civilian. In my last job before retirement, I worked on Eglin Air Force Base for a Marine Corps Colonel. I enjoyed telling him this story.

Only you can tell your story.
Just mind the gaps and look both ways.

Nano Rebel – Dream On

2016 Nano ends at midnight next Wednesday. I’m passing 48 of the 50K goal today, so I’ll meet the challenge this weekend. However, as anyone who writes knows, there is much more for me to do.

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For the past four weeks, my life has been like this: up between 5 and 8 AM, plan to write, but read the news, read and answer emails, look at my memoir and plan some more. But I only write a little. Look at Facebook and write some snarky comments there, read some blogs, go for a walk while listening to music for about an hour; return, eat, stretch, talk to wife, and finally begin to write.

Following an hour of writing; take a break, eat more, get coffee, then back to writing. After pushing out about a thousand words, take a long break and do more useful and constructive things like doing dishes, replacing light bulbs, talking to neighbors, and reading. I write more in the late afternoon and evening with interruptions for football, NCIS, or Blue Bloods. It seems to have worked because I’ve averaged almost 2,000 words each day.

musing1But this memoir – the thinking, remembering, musing, pulling out old photos, doing ancestry research, looking for old friends and finding some, but reading obits of others — it’s so different because it is about me and people who’ve affected my life. Learning and writing about myself every day is interesting for a guy who disliked writing about himself.

Writing fewer words on this blog so you can listen to the song and see the lyrics that say it for me: Dream On, by Aerosmith.

 

Indeed:

Half my life
Is books, written pages
Live and learn from fools and
From sages
You know it’s true, oh
All these feelings come back to you….

musing3“Sing with me, sing for the years, sing for the tears.”

We dream on, love on, live on;
but look both ways and mind the gaps.

 

Nano Rebel – The Big Picture

My Analogy

art-memoir-analogy3Let’s make a pencil drawing.

As we create this drawing, our personal art, we move the pencil across the page. As it leaves lines and other marks on the page, let’s say those marks are in the past – our past. We are creating the art, but we drew the lines and made the marks, past tense.

We can see the pencil point. The tip is touching on the page. We may look directly at it, or not. That small point of contact with the paper represents our present time — now. It’s in that brief instant of time where we live. We may look at the past marks, or we may focus on the pencil on the page. We may move it in any direction, going fast or slow, applying firm of soft pressure. We may even lift the pencil from the page and move it to a different location.

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As we move the pencil, the point joins with other lines on the page. Our present reaches into our past. As our vision unfolds, we make plans for where the pencil will go next, how we’ll maneuver it, how we apply pressure to it, how we will lift it off, and return it to, the page. As our drawing takes form, the page fills with marks and lines.

The blank part of the page is the future. We think about and plan our next moves, or we allow our hand to be guided by external forces, moving us into our personal future.

We keep looking to see the entirety of the drawing. We consider the past lines in light of our future plans. We make decisions to move lines in the present to be tangent with, or to intersect lines of the past. Thus, we create a new future that mingles with, and eventually becomes, our past.

We erase. We change it. We keep looking at our whole life as art. As we move in closer and back away to change our perspective, we begin to see the big picture of our life.

art-memoir-analogy2As we draw, we feel things: love, anger, spiritual things, and the passions of life. As we experience our feelings, our work of art changes. Those emotions travel to our hands to control the pencil that is drawing our life.

We learn as we draw. What worked? What didn’t? Where did we succeed and what were our failures?

As we fill the page with marks and lines, there are more lines and less white space. We are running out of places to make our marks. We don’t know how many more lines and marks that we can put on the page.

Our drawing, our art, our life. It’s on the page, or is it?

Mind the gap.

art-memoir-analogy4With 10 days of Nano remaining, I’m rolling along with my memoir. Finding memories and searching for lost feelings. It has helped me to keep writing in a searchable chronological order, so that as I recall things I want to add; I can find the right place to write (draw?) those memories.

Now, with over 34,000 words, I can tell that I may have to run this stuff past some involved eyes before I consider asking anyone to read it for feedback. Along with trying to write over 1,500 words a day, I’m reading Writing is My Drink, by Theo Pauline Nestor, and Your Life as Story by Tristine Rainer.

Have you ever tried to write your life story as a fairy tale? I have. Try it sometime.

art-memoir-analogy-5“One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.” ~ Oscar Wilde

To see your life story, look both ways.

Nano Rebel – Almost Half Way

memoir-into3I love this memoir or autobiography thingy. Like so much of writing, it’s a pain in the ass and a fantastic experience. This has been a busy week for me, as in doing other things besides writing. Of course, bless their hearts, nothing is harder than dealing with the idiots and morons. But dang! We had an election that shook me to my core – more than politics or other elections have in my lifetime.

Boring PresentationOn Wednesday, I went to a meeting that took too long and annoyed me – don’t they all?

I’ve managed to stay on pace to meet my Nano word count goal, but this week was not as productive as last week. I’m finding that I need to do a lot of research, too much thinking, and much trying to remember details of events I stopped caring about long ago.

Friday morning, I attended a write-in with the SnoValley group. After getting only four sentences written in the first hour, I gave up on a productive morning. Despite repeated comments from Alex that he would not talk politics, I returned from a break to a hot and heavy discussion relating to the political events of the week. Since I’ve been trying to contain my anger, it was not long before I was in rant mode. More wasted time venting, and less productive time writing.

I had one other event on that day, thus Friday was my lowest word count day since Nano launched. I was told that the Friday group wrote more during Nano. ‘twas not so on Veteran’s Day.

Another adventure this week was attending a session on memoir sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) It was facilitated by Theo Pauline Nestor, a memoirist and author of Writing is My Drink. The class was a productive learning experience for me and I wanted more. It was too short, even though it went a little overtime. From what I learned in that class, I decided to write an Intro to my memoir. Here’s part of it.

Introduction to Passionate Disbelief (Partial)

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To believe, or not to believe? Is that the question? Is it better to suffer with my beliefs as I am told? What good does any of it do? Do I stand behind my beliefs, unpopular or not? Would I be a martyr to my causes and die for my beliefs? Is it possible for me to decide for myself what to believe? If I am to believe anything, do I have the right to demand evidence or proof first?

What do I believe? How did I come to my beliefs? Do we have a complete free will to decide what we believe, or are we programmed? Do genetics play a role? How much does my culture and past life determine what I believe today?

I dislike being asked why. It makes me think and I’m too lazy for thinking.

And yet.

Why? is the best question there is. As children, we ask why repeatedly. As parents, we provide answers to our children, eventually saying, “Cuz I’m (Mom, Dad, your boss), that’s why.” Sometimes we answer why with whatever, just because, it is what it is, why not, the bible tells me so, and my personal favorites, who cares, and I don’t know.

When I was that quality assurance guy, I liked using five whys to determine root causes to problems. It is simply asking why repeatedly for five times, as any three-year old might.

Can I have both an open mind and firm convictions? Is it possible for me tell you why I believe (or don’t) something without trying to convince you that I’m right and you’re wrong? We can both be wrong, but can we both be right?

So many questions. So few answers. Terry Tempest Williams has agreed that her writing is in response to questions (cited in an interview with Scott London on The Politics of Place). She went on to mention Rainer Maria Rilke, who described how questions move us.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” (From Letters to a Young Poet, 1929)

Exploring my spiritual past is like reverse engineering, or tracing the specific coding that, to some degree, contributed to my conclusions years later. For many questions, I may have followed Rilke and lived into the answer.

memoir-into5Wonder why? Carefully look both ways and mind the gap.

NaNo Rebel – One Week Done

Telling my story
Telling my story

In the first five days of NaNoWriMo, I’ve written 11,000 words toward the goal of 50,000 before midnight of November 30th. Since my personal goal was 2K words a day, I’m ahead. I have picked up on several things about my writing.

  • I am not isolated. My wife comes and talks to me routinely, and I go talk to her. I have vacuumed the house, gone to meetings, and done shopping. I answer phone calls (not doing surveys or talking to telemarketers, and I voted early), and I go for walks.
  • I have time available to write. Being retired, I could write all day and night. But I can take time for a football game, and maybe some NCIS or Blue Bloods. I read about what I am supposed to be doing: writing memoir. I talk to people, often about things having nothing to do with writing.
  • I think my weakest writing skill is the art, the creative parts, the telling of the story. I blame my experience with technical writing for part of that. But for this memoir, I continue to work on my skills to show and tell from my POV at the time. Can I be both protagonist and antagonist?
  • If I read a sentence that I wrote last week, I will change it. It will be better, but the challenge is to write, not to re-write and edit. This slows me down, but it looks like I can semi-comfortably write a maximum of about 3-thousand words a day. I did 2,800 twice last week.
  • I made an outline, a spreadsheet, and a memory list. The list has turned out to be the most valuable. I never look at the outline or spreadsheet. My only problem with the memory list is that I write in chronological order and the list random.

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  • Here are examples from my list:
    1. Working to pull out coal stove and put in gas hot water heater and gas stove for cooking.
    2. Looking up at Dad realizing I was looking at a drunk man who didn’t care. I had eerie feeling that he resented me. I was not seeing my father.
    3. Helen Hxxxxn (Whitey) BB gun. Tomatoes.
    4. Peggy Rxxb and the Rxxb family.
    5. Carol Mxxar and Joe Mxxxxen
    6. Dog named Rusty and my treatment of the dog
    7. Age 5 birthday party
    8. Danny
    9. Raised by both bio parents…first in fam….Linda was second, but hers divorced (he left) right after Linda graduated high school
    10. Mom’s relationship with my half-bro, Danny, and my view of it.
Write. Just write you must.
Write. Just write you must.

I will be writing this memoir for a long time to come. I’ll win the Nano challenge and complete this memoir, but not anywhere near at the same time.

I miss writing this blog, but I choose not to do both.

If you ever consider writing memoir, I suggest it. For me, it’s not about the book, it’s about me. I still have a lot to write and things to decide. Do I want to write about something or make it available for others to read? Those dark “things” about me? I work at keeping the words and stories on my intended spiritual track, but in my mind, everything relates – particularly during my formative years.

The following excerpts from my memoir are from two more dramatic events, both relate to a nun who taught me. Context is that I had just learned that the same nun who taught 7th grade will be teaching 8th next year, then we jump to what I was worried about.

Blues Brothers movie, my fav part
Blues Brothers movie, my fav part

….“Mom, Coughlin is 7 to 12th. Can I go to 8th grade there? I’ll go next year anyway.”

“Now, Billy-boy. Why wud ya? Jist graduate St. John’s. After I see ya graduate, God can take me. It’ll never happen again.”

“I’ll graduate Coughlin, Mom.”

8th grade was worse than 7th. Even Father Burns was afraid of Sister Mary Siena, and for good reason. She was the tyrant of the school.

Gerry Dxxxxe sat behind me. As I was turned around explaining something of extreme importance to Gerry I heard, “Mister Rxxxxs, what is the answer?”

“The answer to what, Sister?”

“Young man, you better know the answer to the question I just asked the class.”

After I suggested that she asked one of them, the anger-crazed dark shadow in black habit grabbed her instrument of torture and death. As she stormed down the aisle heading at me, in her hand was the yard long wooden pointer. It was round, about the circumference of my thumb. She yelled for me to standup and turn around.

As it turns out, blows to the flesh behind the knees with such a pointer are not soon forgotten….

At times, how I saw it.
At times, how I saw it.

Life is interesting,
look both ways and mind the gaps.

NaNoWriMo, NaMeWriMo, or NaPoWriMo?

Next Tuesday, 1 November 2016, begins another 30-day challenge to write 50-thousand words toward the authorship of a book. The challenge is called National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, or just Nano).

nanowrimo1Since 1999, Nano has grown in popularity and is now international. Novels are fiction, but participants sometimes write in other genres. I wrote a historical novel my first year. Others have written memoirs (National Memoir Writing, NaMeWriMo?) or other non-fiction, and poetry (National Poetry, NaPoWriMo? It’s in April.).

Nano is difficult. Last year was my first large scale fiction project. I learned how challenging it is. The math works out so that I need to average about 1,700 words a day to “win” the 50k-word challenge on November 30th. There are no days off.

Because Nano gets more difficult as weeks pass, and life has a way of interfering with writing, I want to produce over 2,000 words a day for the first week or two. Getting ahead in the word count is recommended, and I know why. This is no writing sprint; it’s a marathon. After about ten days, I’ll be looking in the mirror asking, “WTF were you thinking?” But I did it in 2015, and I will in 2016.

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Online support, other writers, and attending motivating write-ins, make this challenge doable. Following the helpful suggestions in No Plot, No Problem, such as keeping my inner editor at bay, I’ll manage to keep writing.

Last year, I struggled with being new to fiction writing and not having a plan. Creating the story as I wrote was difficult. Writing to develop characters, scenes, and plot was work, but fun under pressure.

This year, I have an outline and I’m a slightly more seasoned writer. My introduction to blogging was during the A-to-Z Blog Challenge in April. Nano is like A-to-Z in that it’s a learning through immersion experience. It will be challenging again this year because I’ll write in a nonfiction genre new to me.

I’ve decided to write a memoir for the 2016 Nano. I’ve never written one. Technically, that qualifies me as a Nano Rebel. I don’t feel rebellious because there is ample precedent for memoir and I still need the same number of words. Since I have been kicking my biographical tin-can down the road for years, I’ve decided it’s time.

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I was raised in a religious environment, but I’ve concluded that atheism is correct. I plan to document that spiritual journey. The memoir will be spiritually thematic and family oriented, but not suitable for young children. I’ll write about specific periods and events in my life when religion or spiritual issues were more prominent, or should have been.

I’ve been researching people, places, and events to reconstruct those times. I’ll be busy with this until December. Only then will I set my inner editor free to deal with the 50K-word first draft, pile of tangled dribble I will have created.nanowrimo4

I’ve been posting on this blog twice per week. During November, I’ll post once per week to provide a brief summary of my Nano experience, and information relevant to my project. Adding news of any other participants that I find interesting would be fun — so do tell.

I’ve been reading about writing memoir. It is different, of course. But since I did this Nano gig one time, I know that I’ll have little time to work on this blog.

nanowrimo3If you have any interest in NanoWriMo, the web page is http://nanowrimo.org. Join us.

If you are jumping into the Nano challenge also, I’d like to know.

Have fun. I hope to be able to hold my head up enough to resume blogging on the twice a week rhythm again in December.

As Natalie Goldberg says in Writing Down the Bones, “In the center of chaos, make one definitive act. Just write. Say yes, stay alive, be awake. Just write. Just write. Just write.”

Look both ways and mind the gap.