One day last year, on a cold winter day, a young boy went into a restaurant and asked the waitress,
“How much for a large cup of hot chocolate?”
The waitress replied, “$1.99, sweetie.”
The boy reached into his pants pocket and fumbled through a small handful of change.
He then asked, “How much, then, for a small hot chocolate?”
She said, “$0.99, dear.” He thought for a moment, smiled, and said, “I’ll have the small hot chocolate.”
Ten minutes later, having consumed his drink, the young boy got up, put $0.99 on the counter, and left the waitress a $1.00 tip.
Come to find out, if he were like the pastor at Applebees (click link below), he could have had the large hot chocolate all along, but he denied himself so that he would have enough left to leave a tip.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost
Here I am again. It’s 4:00 am here and I am wide awake. Just cannot sleep! I have no idea why this keeps going on. It’s not as though I awaken flush with inspiration. To be honest, I wake up with the strongest desire to go back to sleep, which never happens. Trust me, the dreams I leave behind are far more vivid and compelling than anything I am likely to write in my semi-somnambulant state. But by the time I make my coffee and fire up the computer, these dreams have evaporated like raindrops on a summer sun-baked highway. Instead, I sit there foggy-headed for an hour, awaiting my muse, who is, no doubt, sound asleep deep beneath a pile of 600-thread count comforters.
I’d like to believe I am caught up in a creative rebirth and nature simply compels me, each morning, to cut the umbilical cord between the bed and my laptop. But it feels more like something went horribly wrong in the third trimester and I am struggling just to come full term in my writing gestation. Continuing this hobbled metaphor, it seems to me as though getting up to write for writing’s sake bleeds my creative juices and more often than not I just end up with a chronic case of literary anemia.
I have to admit, however, that I’ve known worse. In the past, I’d stay up this long drinking with all the intention to write, but end up putting a heavy hurt on a box of cheap red wine and searching for friends I’d once had. In those dark, drunken hours I’d spend all my creative juice on Facebook status updates and bumbling my way through endless offerings of StumbleUpon. I didn’t sleep then, either.
Now, without substances, I find myself chewing on these early-morning words, not swallowing them, not digesting, but getting my mouth wet, feeling their texture, getting their flavor. I hope this new addiction will take me far. If it means losing a little sleep, I’ll just have to learn to catnap throughout the day. As I child I fell in love with words; not just the sound, or meaning, but their shape. It’s taken me years to realize I want to spend my time as I did when I was most happy, when I was 5, sketching letters and making words.
And if that time happens to be 4:00 a.m., so be it.
When I decided almost twenty years ago that I wanted to really take a shot at being a writer, I knew the reality of what I was getting into. Or I thought I knew. Sure, I dreamed of hitting it big and becoming the next Charles Bukowski or Jack Kerouac and being able to walk away from my day job without any fear of literally becoming a starving artist, but I knew that was unlikely. I figured that like the majority of writers, I’d have to keep my job and squeeze in writing on nights, weekends, and vacations. Two jobs, no problem.
Twenty years wiser (and not a penny richer, unfortunately) I am wishing I had been closer to the mark. In addition to trying to be a writer and poet, I’m now also attempting to be a blogger, contract publicist, website administrator, press-release writer, and social networker extraordinaire. Attempting being the key word.
It seems the days of writing a book, finding a publisher, and sitting back watching it sell are over – if they ever existed at all. Now even writers at the bigger publishing companies need to wear many hats to be successful. Those of us wearing the smaller beanies with the propeller attached practically need to clone ourselves or learn to live without sleep. I have friends with babies now, so I’m trying to take lessons from them, but most are too incoherent to be helpful. Not a good sign.
On my pessimistic days, the expression “Jack of all trades” dances through my swarming brain. It doesn’t make sense that in order to be a writer; I’m spending less time on my writing and more time on other jobs. On my optimistic days, though, I look for the benefits of these added duties. Blogging, which is suggested to beginning writers because it is a free and relatively easy way to build a platform and publish our writing for the world to read, has forced me to write in a completely different manner than my “book” writing. Though I haven’t attempted one yet, I also know writing a press release will also stretch my skills; I haven’t written a news-style piece since high school journalism. However, in my opinion, the more genres a writer works in the better. Variety creates growth, which is a good thing. Since both of these tasks are writing oriented the time spent on them seems worthwhile.
Of course having a blog and building a platform requires at least a minimal knowledge of technology. Learning to maintain a website and utilize social media is a must for writers. In addition to keeping us up to date on the tools which have become second nature to most readers, especially young readers (who are our future market base as well as our hungry competition), it allows us to connect with our potential audience in a way authors a generation ago could never imagine. Reading books is no longer a solitary experience. Sure readers read in the privacy of their homes imagining our characters in the worlds of their imaginations, but most are in doing this in reach of portable devices that provide the opportunity for them to interact. If they have a question about us, our characters or settings, our other works, they can find an answer almost instantaneously – if we’ve put it out there for them to find.
The stereotype of writers as recluses lost in their heads may have some merit for a few past and present authors (like the aforementioned, Charles and Jack), but for the most part, if we’re going to be able to capture the essence of people in our writing, we’ve got to be able to interact with a variety of them in our daily lives. In this way, the time spent online can also help us to be better writers. Hopefully, I’ll even learn to interpret what the heck the millennials mean when they start talking in tweets. I’m not skilled in writing essays in 140 characters or less quite yet, but we’ll see; they would be quicker to edit.
To be sure, having to deal with the business end of things, as well as having to help promote my work and myself, has certainly pushed me out of my comfort zone, which I also view as a positive experience. I’m not saying I won’t appreciate the panic attacks of signing my first contract or that I’ll love the immersive baths of self-doubt whenever I have to pitch my book to someone new, but I’m looking forward to the day when I have enough experience that these side-effects become part of my writing experience. Though these tasks may not have as direct an impact on my writing as the others mentioned, they help me grow as a person, which is good in any career.
There aren’t too many people who don’t have to do some serious multi-tasking these days. Back to those moms and dads I mentioned earlier, they are the kings and queens of this, and I am in awe. They can juggle parenting, jobs, hobbies and everything else life throws at them with sleep in their eyes and spit-up on their shirt, and at the end of most days are happy they had the opportunity. This is the same skill and outlook writers need. The more things we experience, the more accurately we can write about life. The more we have to work to be writers, the more we’ll appreciate the time we get with our own “babies,” our books.
Finally, I’m going to embrace my new tasks in case my next book is about a person with a multiple-personality disorder. Coffee, anyone?
Our lives can best be understood in all the things we craft from wood
The dogwood laid our cabin floor, hung knotted pine our shanty door
Six bowls we carved from fallen maple, a burnt mahogany sets our table
A dozen spoons and forks by hand, hewn perfect fit for every man
And woman, too, with sharpened knife carve etchings of our humble life
Soft wicker thatched this rocking chair and spruce the toys sprawled everywhere
In wooden homes that we have built we hang on pegs our history quilts
Each patch a memory lovingly stitched, our purses poor, our lives quite rich
Our beds and wardrobes never falter, we hand-carved those from summer alder
Our coffins, too, of stout mesquite, for when our journey is complete
In wood we find our heart’s desire or pain if come the wayward fire
And even so, most grievous sin: not to build from wood again
So now you better understand how we live upon this land
Within the forest, and it in us, in God we hope, in wood we trust
“Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” Such a clever line, but it begs the question: where is “here?”
Here for me has been a myriad of people, places, and things. Ever naïve and hopeful, I have entered relationships, new places, and acquired things with every expectation that “here” was laid my true path to happiness and self-fulfillment. Surely bright and shiny people and places and things, when gathered in sufficient quantity, would fill my life with purpose and meaning.
It never did.
People came and left. Either they abandoned me, or more likely, I abandoned them. As the song goes, “disappointment was my closest friend.” Places shifted according to financial necessity or in my awkward attempt to substitute geography for responsibility. And things, well, I’ve lost everything I’ve owned several times and I’ve never truly missed any of it. It became clear to me that lack of commitment and abandonment were my sunrises and sunsets.
The funny thing about life, though, is no matter how utterly you screw things up; no matter how isolated and diminished you allow yourself to become, it comes looking for you, continually seeking to make amends. It is relentless. Life only abandons you once, and in that moment, it doesn’t really matter anyway…you’re dead!
Abandonment is a shifty thing. We are never truly alone, nor could we be. We are all threads in the colorful tapestry of life and together we are woven into a continual fabric of oneness. I’ve long since stopped confusing abandonment with growth…being ruthlessly thrust out in new directions for my own spiritual good. If I find myself alone, in a new place, surrounded by new things, well then, I’ll grasp a little less frantically and simply enjoy the moment.
I still hope.
This is how I start my days.
At four a.m., I awaken with a start. It isn’t that I wasn’t sleeping well, but this is my witching hour. I reach over and pull the covers up over my wife and take a moment to gaze in absolute awe at this beauty, this incredible effervescent woman sharing my bed.
I quietly swing my feet to the floor and sit for a moment. My muse is impatiently pulling me into awakening, but I do my best to resist. I want to sleep just a little bit more, but my eyes have already made out the flashing light on my hibernating computer and just like that, I want to be writing more than I want to be dreaming.
I quietly close the bedroom door behind me and make my way into the kitchen. I put water in the kettle, light the stove, and grab my pack of cigarettes. I head out the door into the blackness of the night, sit upon the second stoop, and light up. The ritual never changes. And there, beneath the canopy of constellations, I look for my special star. I don’t know what it is called, and I don’t know why it is that star…but I need to start each day in silent commune before it. Once I find it, I stare at it for a few minutes, emptying my mind of creeping thoughts. I slowly close my eyes, inhale another drag, and listen.
Like little mice on padded feet, the words start scampering around my brain. The writing has begun.
I toss the cigarette into the night, watching a spiral of red sparks ascend, then descend, as if to punctuate the purpose of this ritual. From the kitchen, the kettle begins to sing, and I rush in before it hits full crescendo and awakens my wife. I pour the steaming water over a cone of coffee grains and inhale the rising steam. In a seamless arch, I take my cup of coffee to the kitchen table, flip open the lid to my computer, and hit the resume button.
And then I write. And write and write and write. At this point, what I write is irrelevant. That I write is the point. The wee hours of the morning are not the time to self-critique or to spin a plot. It is the time for the bleeding of words.
This is how I start my days.
It is 4 a.m. and once again I am planted before the keyboard attempting to craft words into clever sentences…and there you go, failure in the first keystrokes. The good news, based upon my dearth of hits on WordPress, is that no one will read this anyway.
I once envisioned myself a budding writer, but now I am thoroughly convinced that feeling was nothing more than insomnia in the early morning hours combined with a pot of cheap coffee flushing out last night’s indigestion (don’t worry, that’s as graphic as I am capable of writing!)
I know I could be a good writer, if it wasn’t for all that grammar and words and things. But who am I kidding? It’s all about the words…the fucking words! (Hey, I used “dearth” in my second sentence…doesn’t that count for anything?) Well, I don’t have words or ideas or pesky plots, but what I do have is way too much time on my hands, so here you go.
When I write, I don’t have a particular audience in mind. Well, sort of, I guess…I have the ghosts of Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Hemingway, and Plath. Sweet Sylvia Plath. Lots of dead people who, while not necessarily helpful critics, at least show up in my head and watch the circus of confusion unfold. Sometimes I can hear the occasional clicking of the tongue, a sure sign to lay on the backspace and come at a line from a new direction. Or maybe the clicking is the melting cubes in Ernest’s posthumous cocktail. The revolver of his pistol being locked into place? Who knows? The point is, I’m often guided by the whispers of spirits.
It feels as though when I write it has less to do with me having something to say than something that has to be said having me to write it. (Wow, I just plagiarized myself..that last line was something I wrote a year ago!) But it’s true, nonetheless. I often find that it is sufficient for me to just press the keys, and somehow the story will tell itself. Don’t believe me? I just wrote everything above without a thought in my head.
The key to being a great writer, I’m convinced, is to be a great reader. There is nothing I can say now, or will ever write, that hasn’t been said or written before. But a studious reader understands that there are a million ways to say the same thing, and that’s the beauty, and salvation, of writing. You don’t have to be original. You just have to have a unique dialect. In my case, it also helps to have a really poor opinion of most of today’s writing. I continually lie to myself and say, “I can do better!” And sometimes…I do. Then I pull down a worn copy of Pushkin and think, “shit..fuck this!! I can’t write!” And again, I am right.
So I continue my early morning ritual and if it’s true what they say, that if you give 1,000 monkeys 1,000 typewriters, in a thousand years, one of them will bang out the complete works of William Shakespeare, then surely, if this continues for a thousand mornings, I can bang out something worth reading.
Welcome! The purpose of this blog is to provide a forum for writers and poets to discuss their craft; their efforts, their hurdles and challenges, their observations, their successes and their failures. Sometimes, when I am in the middle of crafting a poem, my thoughts walk off into the fog of introspection, and this forum allows me to share with each of you what I discover about: Why I write, to whom I write and why, what I have learned, what I can share….so that we all become better stewards of our craft, I have created this blog so that we might assist one another. That we might build “knowledge bridges” to get our work across the rivers of despair.
This is not my blog…it is our blog. If you have something you have written that describes your journey, feel free to email those insights and thoughts to email@example.com. Your opinions will not be excluded or edited. What you have to say could well lift many like-minded artisans move past their percieved limitations and self-imposed killjoys.
Thank you and happy writing,
Dennis L. McHale