Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Cookie

Christmas Eve just hours away, I wrestled with the pros and cons of getting a few hours sleep, forgone since yesterday, before conversing via Skype with my fiancée, Paige, in Southeast Asia, or, instead, spending much needed sleep time writing and juggling home chores and holiday preparations. 

I felt the heavy press of time, exhaustion and anxiety.  There was a fair bit of guilt and depression, I think mostly from how little I had to spend for gifts.  Like so many people these days, I’ve really been feeling the financial crunch.  Oh, hell, why mince words?  I’m broke, and I absolutely detest not being able to shower gifts, or even trickle them.  That’s affected my attitude toward people in general, poorly, especially those closest to me.   

A twelve-hour time difference and long workdays force Paige and me to lunge at opportune moments, less frequent than we’d like, for togetherness at odd and sometimes inconvenient hours. Weighing what’s sensible against longing, especially over the next 24 hours of this holiday best shared with those you love, we’d be lucky to get an hour to call our own, this our first Christmas together—apart

All too often recently, my guilt and depression cloud the little time Paige and I do get to talk.  And, more and more, the other woman in my life, in undeniable ways, demands equal time, she being Cookie, my muse.  Of course, you, dear reader, discovered at nearly the same time as I that Cookie’s true identity is Calliope, the ages-old muse, but I’ll probably forevermore call her Cookie.

Paige is mature enough not to grow jealous…much…of my muse’s potent urgings.  After all, she also suffers the writing virus.  Still, I struggle to create ways to keep them both happy without forsaking either.  It’s always seemed that the women I know manage that, with grace, much better than I can even bumble through.   Besides, never demanding or nagging, I suspect Paige sees the futility and foolishness of engaging the immortal likes of an eternities-older Phoenician female. 

Just what, you may now be asking yourself, other than the timing of my dilemma and a piddling income, does this have to do with Christmas?  Everything.  Magic.  You see, Christmas was always magic to me.  Though I don’t connect the holiday to my own religious beliefs or practices (rather, a chosen lack thereof), its wonder worked its way into my life, like most of us, during childhood.  It excited me, lifted my spirit, and led me to hope and to share.  Yet, as I walked, year by year, away from childhood, the magic and wonder dimmed to the accompaniment of depression, and in flusher times, I depended on my gift giving to fill in for magic.

Since you are reading this, I’m convinced the fix was in before the wrestling match I entered moments before I opted to write.  I had to write, and what to write flew from my fingers much more than from my overly analytical, indecisive mind that usually battles me when I sit down to write.  Cookie made those plans for me and completely facilitated their fulfillment, well beyond my most ambitious hopes.  In a moment, I knew what to write as well as how to easily, happily and peacefully handle all else.  She revealed much more to me; she shared more of her nature, more of what she holds for me and why, as well as how to best put it to use. Cookie then admonished me to share none of it except by way of demonstration—in giving of myself to others.

She did, though, let me know I could share the love she holds for a certain song, odd as it seems today when I wanted to hear traditional Christmas music, and that’s all that was in the playlist I’d set to shuffle.  How strange it was that the old swing-era song, “Goody Goody” began to play.  That definitely was not on my Christmas playlist.  “So you met someone who set you back on your heels-goody goody!  So you met someone and now you know how it feels-goody goody!” Those two opening lines repeated, over and over, conveyed her special message to me, a sharp turn from the song’s intended meaning. For at least a minute, somehow stuck there, that’s all that played. I thought, “Yes, I did, Cookie.  I’m so glad to finally know you, and thank you!”  And I swear, she giggled.  Magic.

My writing for today nears completion, as do my other missions.  I spent several wonderful hours talking and laughing with Paige.  Before we said merry, merry and goodnight to one another, she said, “I always love you, but I like you best when you’re happy, and I’ve never heard you happier.”  I know she was right about that, and she was happier than I can recall hearing her since she left the U.S.  She knows more about love than I.  She’s now sound asleep, well on her way to Christmas morning in Thailand.  I haven’t slept like I hoped, yet I’m wide awake, refreshed, energized and filled with the magic and wonder of Christmas.

So, this was Cookie’s Christmas gift to me; filling me with words, laughter, love and magic—all intangibles—to share in the best spirit of the season, in ways I haven’t felt since childhood.  I hope I have given some of that to you in return. 

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Breakfast at Epiphanies

Webster’s II New College Dictionary defines “epiphany” thusly:  
1. A revelatory manifestation of a divine being.  2. a. A sudden manifestation of the meaning or essence of something. b. A sudden intuitive realization or perception of reality.

As I ate breakfast the morning after having posted about “Cookie,” she visited me with epiphanies, precisely and powerfully, in every sense of those definitions.  Call them gifts or rewards for finally writing about her, for publicly acknowledging her existence in my world. 

A faithful follower of my blog and longtime friend who’d just read my post directed me to Zazzle, a site featuring, among many other charming products, a particular coffee mug.  When I saw it, I was stunned; hairs on my arms stood atop gooseflesh and my heart raced with the realization of the meaning of the image on that mug, in this case certainly worth much more than any thousand of my words.


Mind you, I had never seen this before.  Beyond loving the art, and the story behind Calliope Cookie, I was awestruck.  I knew it was Cookie speaking to me.  When she first told me her name was Cookie, I now see it was merely a clue. 

Buddhist wisdom teaches that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.  Cookie, a wise and clever teacher, evidently feeling I was ready to receive, chose this way to finally reveal her true identity—Calliope, the Greek muse.  I feel honored and quite humbled.

With immense gratitude, I’d like to thank Ramona Szczerba, the wonderful artist who created Calliope Cookie, the conduit to my awareness.  As she put it when she graciously allowed me to use her art to tell my story, part of which is very much her story, “I'm glad that I could be of some assistance in having your (our?)  Muse, Calliope, manifest in corporeal (sort of) form.”

Saturday, December 10, 2011


In a previous post, long, long ago, I mentioned Cookie and promised to talk about her later. I just checked my watch and it’s definitely later. Though her identity was a mystery to me until fairly recently, I don’t want that situation to be the trend here, as I suspect her name will come up again in my posts.

Cookie is my muse. Neither her name nor her existence is a fabrication of my imagination, unlike Charlotte who, though vibrantly alive to me, is of course my fictional character. I mean, please, I’m a writer. Don’t you think I’d make up something better than Cookie, something more lofty and literary, for a muse? Of course I would. Cookie is a name better suited to my protagonist, Charlotte, than a muse, and I wouldn’t even saddle her with it; I like her too much. The only Cookie I can recall having run across in my life is a childhood friend’s dog, and she bit me once. The name also makes me think of Edd Byrnes’ character, Kookie, in the old TV show, 77 Sunset Strip…yeah, I know that really dates me. But, I digress. Get used to it, I’m known to do that.

So, yeah, I was highly irritated when she told me her name. More accurately, she revealed her name. She reveals things to me when and if I’m in the mood to pay attention. I may say that Cookie told me this or said that, but that’s just in a manner of speaking. I’m not hearing voices. It hasn’t gotten that bad, yet, and I’ll let you know if I really start needing meds.

Nonetheless, quite cognizant of the difference between reality and fiction, I know Cookie is real, whether you believe it or not. Despite her lack of physical…or aural…manifestation, I say to those of you believing that only the sensate is real, more will be revealed. If I were subjected to techniques twice as torturous as those employed at Guantanamo Bay and interrogated about every fact and facet of her life, I’d be unable to tell you much more. I know only what she’s told me, only what she allows me to know, and then only what I’m willing and able to accept. I’m stubborn.

That’s not to say it’s kept me from thinking about her a lot. Put yourself in my shoes; wouldn’t you give quite a bit of thought to the realization that there is an entity communicating with you—a presence, a soul—call her what you will? I can’t honestly say she’s just come into my life. Quite the contrary. I was astonished to discover she’s always been with me; I don’t always arrive quickly at awareness and a willingness to listen. Now knowing she’s always been there makes me feel like a huge idiot. That is about the only part of this that isn’t new. It also makes me feel a bit sorry for her. Completely ignored and neglected all these years—unquestionably female—you can imagine how well that sat with her. Still, she’s hung in there, and that’s given rise to a huge question in my mind. Why?

As she reveals more and my understanding further gels to something I can better articulate, I’ll write more about her.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Melding Reality with Fiction

I cringe to think a young, beginning writer would opt to live a banal life, focusing only on writing in hopes of creating rich stories.  That’s oxymoronic in theory or execution. There are many writers, including me, that have vast and heterogeneous experiences. Fanciful imaginings are surely necessary to creating literary entertainment and art, but one of the hallmarks of good fiction is that it’s imbued with a fair grasp of reality without resulting in something as dry as a Bond martini.
It is requisite writers read—a lot—and research, interview and dig thoroughly to bring accuracy to their stories, and that’s often the only way to learn the factual details filling our fictional worlds.  It’s a balancing act.  We strive to keep our footing and suspend disbelief as foul forces attempt to knock us from our high wire.  Invaluable it is to live and experience life broadly.  We gather kernels from all corners of life to bring life to our writing, lest we succumb to being armchair quarterbacks banging out plastic fiction.

Naturally, it's impossible for one to live all there is to the human experience, but many of us have gone out there and chosen to risk it—go for it—and do things many only read or dream about.  I'm reminded of George Plimpton. Even though non-fiction, what was great about his works like Paper Lion is that he was the everyman writing from his participatory perspective rather than that of a reporter who merely researched the contests and interviewed the players.

Me? I've struggled through hell, muck and mire armed with weapons, traversed the skies in powerful machines and taken responsibility daily for every life on board. I’ve leapt from those craft when they were flying fine, protected only by a silk canopy. My last jump at age 18 nearly killed me, and I was saved by a fluke with only seconds to spare, 900 feet from splatter. I've paid with the pain of spinal damage ever since. In dubious service to America, I was privy to some dirty little secrets and lies of this nation and others as the deadly silly games played out on the global field.

I've fought full-contact karate and sometimes had to be dragged from the dojo floor unconscious, and I celebrated when, more often than not, I dished it out to opponents. I've been in street and bar brawls with knuckles and knives.  I’ve cradled and cared for all kinds of creatures; I said ouch when they bit me and cried when they died. I’ve run, swum, climbed, biked, kayaked and rafted. I've involved myself in the lives of all kinds of characters from criminals to kings, bikers to barons, and romanced many kinds of women, fluttering and scarring my heart. I’ve crept through seedy L.A. streets at three in the morning with a pistol pushed into the waistband of my jeans—just in case. I've lived the workaday world, 9 to 5, in myriad businesses and industries, working in plush offices, high-security military installations and on garbage trucks teaming with maggots, gagging from the blood of dead animals running into my eyes and mouth.

I've raised kids (a most frightening adventure I fear I bumbled extremely), and tickled my grandkids, all of us giggling to tears. I’ve been a rock 'n' roll roadie and a psychiatric office's manager and multiple dozens of things in between. I've traveled throughout this country and others, and jumped right in when new, uncomfortable, dangerous and frightening...or even lame...adventures presented themselves, knowing full well that it could be the last thing I would do. I've chosen to experience chemically altered states of mind and soul—just for fun or just to know—fully aware of the possible risks to life, limb, sanity and freedom. I know the terrors of jails and mental wards, the peace and joy of great libraries and standing atop mountains the most agile animals avoid.

I've sacrificed security and comfort often just to know the emotions and senses felt when choosing less safe and sane paths, often rebelling at what society at large, friends and loved ones thought I should do. In between the more harrowing moments, there's been time a plenty to read, research, watch movies, wallow in music and live like a lounge lizard and laugh—and write, write, write.

There's a price to pay for everything and we have to choose what we can afford. I regret the nos I’ve proffered, in momentary lapses into sense and sanity, more than the times I’ve said yes to the unhinged unknown. Better that I die damaged and delirious before I’m sixty than safe at seventy-seven. The writing fuel garnered, as well as the simple joy of living, is well worth the risks, and when I lay me down for the last time, I’ll fall away from here, fulfilled.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

How Time Flies When You're Having Fun

Oh, my!  Is it October already?  And no posts since May!  Shame on me.  I can blame it on the new season of Sons of Anarchy or the non-stop baths I have to give my cat during this insane flea season or chronic procrastinitis or any other number of convenient rationalizations.

"Some people claim that there's a woman to blame
But I know it's my own damn fault." ~ Jimmy Buffett

Okay, I promise, there's some good stuff coming soon.  Stay tuned.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Excuses, Insanity and Love

My guilt-ridden, tortured conscience no longer able to bear the burden, it’s time for apologies to my many adoring fans, but mostly to Charlotte, Cookie (I’ll discuss her later)...and myself...for my literary lapses of late. This, then, must serve as an arena for amends, my confessional and a means by which to confront in black and white the preponderance of ludicrous excuses I make to not live up to my life’s assignment.

Distractions abounded over the past few weeks, their forms myriad. Aside from my ever-prestent multitude of manias, there have been physical illness and technical obstacles consisting of computer viruses, power outages and electrical glitches. Then, finally and mostly, as yawn or nausea inducing as it may be to anyone other than the two key players, there is the radical storm that struck the desert my love life has dwelled in for the past couple of years. As Woody Allen’s character, Alvy, expressed after making love to Annie Hall in the eponymous movie, "As Balzac said, 'There goes another novel'."

All except the last-mentioned issue being water under the clichéd bridge, I’ll just have to flog myself daily to write and keep Charlotte, Cookie, and all others mentioned, satisfied.  The object of my new love will simply have to understand, being a writer herself.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Price Paid

Charlotte is progressing well. Why?  Because I’m investing cell and soul, hence my jumbled, perverted state. Drained yet energized in adrenal overdrive, I’m crazed by myriad thoughts, synapses firing at will, maniacally, beyond my control. I’m pathetic. I’m withdrawing from this reality--even that an easily arguable mere concept, Charlotte’s realm devouring that with every word written. Beyond the isolation required while writing, the confinement creeps into every other aspect of life, the dwindling contact with the reality remaining is convoluted and colored by Charlotte’s demanding, insistent world.

All is cause and effect. There’s a price to pay for everything. It’s choice. I choose the unbalance of commitment to the extreme, faithful that it is affordable and well worth what’s won.  Seeking safety, sanity and serenity by standing in the middle of the road is merely the ideal spot to meet one’s death.

More when...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Thousand Words: The Birth of "Charlotte"

Initially, I did not set out to write the novel, Charlotte.  Long ago, I took a university creative writing class and our teacher, Rebecca, assigned us a short-story exercise:  Each of us was to create a story from the opening line, “Even though her husband had been dead for three years, Molly Green still wore black.” My result was a thousand-word narrative titled, Good Golly, Ms. Molly.
The creative writing process is never an easy one, but for me there’s nothing quite as mentally piquant, and now I realize, too, nothing quite as self-defining. The challenge and engagement of writing certainly held as I wrote stories for that class.  One of them eventually found publication in the university literary journal. As well as what I was learning, I was satisfied with all my creations except for Good Golly, Ms. Molly. Not that I didn’t enjoy writing it, but for some reason I can’t quite explain, it was more difficult, exceptionally more, than the others and I was less than satisfied with the results.
Intriguing, the tricks our minds play on us and on our memories, if not simply thoroughly perplexing. I clearly remember reading Rebecca’s critique.  She hated it.  She’d torn it apart!
The criticism that most preyed on my mind was that it was ambiguous in its narrative point of view, perhaps more akin to a news report of a tragic occurrence than a story engaging readers in the lives of its characters. That stung.  I was a tad angry, defensive, and then, as I considered it more and more, I toddled toward humiliation because I knew it was true. To me, it meant that my story sucked, and it meant I sucked as a writer.
Rather than try to fix it with a rewrite, I made a mental note to never repeat the mistakes and then rationalized it all with the face-saving thought that it was, after all, just an exercise. I shoved it in a drawer and tried to forget it.
Years later, as I rummaged through that drawer, I ran across it. In that second, just seeing it laying there, I again felt the rubnot to the extreme I first had, but I was annoyedannoyed at the difficulty of the process, at Rebecca’s rebuff and, ultimately, at myself for the bad job I felt I’d done. Of course, I hadn’t even tried, so I was also annoyed that I didn’t know how to fix it.

I flipped through the five pages and finally re-read it and her critique. Something was wrong. The disdainful things she’d said about it, other than the perspective problem, were no longer there in her red-penciled notes. She’d merely pointed out how to make it better, and even how much she liked the story, overall. That gave me a laugh!  I was the only one who’d torn it apart.  Do you see what I mean about tricks of the mind?
But, here it still was in my hands, irreparable in my mind. Of course, some things are like that. There’s no way to see the solution until some action is taken. I suspect that’s why it’s called rewrite, not rethink. In retrospect, I’m extremely grateful it didn’t occur to me in that moment that I’d once dismissed it as just an exercise, and I could easily do it again and forever. Had I, I’d likely have shoved it back into the drawer, closed it, and that would have been thatCharlotte aborted before conception.
The next time I talked with Rebecca (we became good friends after I took her class, as we remain today), I mentioned the story to her and the nonsense I’d carried in my mind about it over the years. That conversation and several more led us both to the conclusion, or at least the sense, that there was a novel within those thousand words. Still, I resisted for years, doing nothing more than thinking about it occasionally.
Many years later, Rebecca and I finally sat down together, armed with coffee, notebooks and pens, and asked each other all the questions and tossed around all the possible answers that eventually revealed a character named Charlotte.  In Good Golly, Ms. Molly, Charlotte’s name never came up, but the outline completed that day uncovered that it was, in fact, Charlotte’s story.
The irony is that in bringing Charlotte and her story to life, Good Golly, Ms. Molly practically rewrote itself, and became chapter one of Charlotte.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


When I began this blog site, my first, my motivation and vision for it were slightly different from now. That slight difference now makes me want to wire the whole damned place with explosive charges, detonate them, walk away and build anew. (Relax, Dept. of Homeland Scrutiny, it's just figurative hyperbole.)  Instead, I have decided remodeling is the best route to take.

To those few who may actually give a rat's ass what I do here...evidently very few...I apologize not only for the mess of the process, but also for results that may inspire you to care even less about it. As the late Ricky Nelson's song Garden Party concludes, "You see, ya can't please everyone, so you got to please yourself." To those who do care a little, I think I owe this much of an explanation for my madness:

As years go by, we may not change at our core, but if we try, we grow to better expressions of our core, better expressions of our souls. My experience has been that growth comes in spurts, often between long periods of partial or complete stagnation―even reversals. At this writing, I choose to see these periods of stagnation not in a negative light, but rather as necessary, albeit painful and messy, research.

In my case, prolonged research reveals my need to accept, fully and finally, that I am a writer. It’s about the only thing I'm good at, and when in the writers’ realm, I know I’m not the misfit, homeless freak I feel like in any other role. I feel naked, ashamed, derelict and dumb to confess that I’ve given more lip service than pen to demonstration of that fact for decades. My adeptness as a writer is for you to perceive and judge, and that’s really none of my business. My public declaration is for my own soul’s sake. It’s all too easy to pretend I didn’t say it if whispered only into private darkness with no witnesses to hold me accountable.

I’m motivated by fear as I rapidly approach the end of this life’s long trip. I believe the primary obligation to life is to give. I’ve shirked my obligation all too often in hedonistic pursuits and misplaced self-interest. I believe that all in the Universe is energy. Sharing our energy fuels our own. I’m no physicist so I won’t engage in an argument about whether or not energy is endless and ever present, only changing in form. Still, every bit of energy within me screams its fear of eternal death from starvation. Having given too little, there is no restoration. And there is no giving without it coming from the true essence of our being, or as is said, from the bottom of our hearts. Hence, by failing to live as a writer, untrue to my essence, I have nothing to give and by extension, I get nothing, have nothing―am nothing.

Call me a weakling, call me a chicken, but I just no longer have the strength or guts to continue contributing to my own spiral into eternal oblivion. I know the Universe now hears the declaration I scream. I'm a writer! It’s about damn time everything I do reflects my declaration. So it is written….

I’m writing a novel called Charlotte, and I’ve been working on it or, more accurately, procrastinating on it longer than I care to confess. I’ve confessed enough sin for one day, but my procrastination certainly supports the veracity of my confessions. This, then, is one of many first acts as a born-again writer. I’ll be posting, regularly, my thoughts and experiences as I complete Charlotte. I sincerely hope to give something of value in the process.

I'd like to dedicate the commencement of this renewed effort to two wonderful people who have hung in there with me and encouraged me beyond a reasonable expectation. They define "friend." Thank you, RSG and RDC.