On the road to dreaming big

I am working my way a second time through Bob Goff’s book Dream Big, but this time I’m doing the exercises he recommends along the way. He starts with three big questions: Who are you? Where are you? What do you want?

Who am I? A guy who likes to string words and sounds together as melodically as I can. Where am I? Stuck. What do I want? To get unstuck.

In answer to one of Bob’s prompts, “Are there some recurring themes in your behaviors and choices?” I wrote in all-caps, “PEACE. NONVIOLENCE. PUPPIES.” 

Being less glib, I recognize that a recurring theme in my behavior is what Steven Pressfield calls Resistance — a reluctance to move my dreams ahead — to finish my work, to get better at my musical instrument(s), to learn my craft — not so much the craft of writing, but the craft of shipping it out to willing customers (and I keep shaping that thought in terms of “customers,” rather than people who share my love of words and stories and songs. I suspect that’s part of the problem.)

It’s not that I don’t think my stuff is any good — the three novels-in-progress are the best I’ve ever crafted, but something pathological in me won’t finish them. Am I afraid that even my best isn’t good enough for the world? That would be so silly, and I don’t believe that’s the issue.

I suspect I have a touch of agoraphobia. Red was so worried that I might become a hermit that among her last entreaties to me was not to be one. I do tend to retreat into myself on a routine basis. I identified with the character in my friend Linda R. Spitzfaden’s novel The Other Side of Everything who wanted to step outside but was unable to do so for reasons no one could understand.

I want to finish my novels and go out into the world and be the wordsmith and podcaster and novelist and singer-songwriter who have always been lurking in my soul — I want to be Ray Bradbury and Judee Sill and Uncle Warren and Paul Harvey and e.e. cummings. They are in there, bursting to leap out and show the world what they’ve got. “I got the Resistance and I got it bad,” each of them says in turn and then goes back into hiding.

Another unfinished project is that I have struggled to sit down and write thank-you notes to all the people who sent me condolences or came to Red’s funeral two months ago. I wrote a note to myself Sunday night: “GET UNSTUCK. Monday: Write one thank-you note. Write one paragraph of Jeep. Write one paragraph of (other unannounced work in progress). Buy stamps.”

OK, that last one was everyday life trying to sneak back in. Everyday life is my favorite excuse for the recurring theme that I know what to do and I just — won’t — do it. “Yumping Yiminy, Uncle Warren, break out of the damn rut and be who you are!” I concluded my journal entry.

I’m pleased to report that before I sat down to post this Monday morning, I wrote my first thank-you note, I wrote several short paragraphs for Jeep Thompson and The Lost Prince of Venus, and I wrote several short paragraphs for (other unannounced work in progress). It’s not much, but it’s a start, and if I rinse and repeat every day, I think I can start dreaming big again.

A tale of two sequels

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is OK. Mostly it feels like a box-ticking exercise for Indy fans. Frenetic opening scene that could be the grand climax of another action movie? Yep. Fedora and whip? Yep. Snakes? Hordes of gross insects? Hundreds of skeletons in a catacomb falling on top of our hero and heroine? Yep, yep, yep. Don’t forget about connecting scenes with a map and a moving dot.

It is a far better attempt than 2008’s disappointing Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but still a bit short of the original trilogy back in the 1980s. At least I did get invested in the story enough that I got an appropriate laugh at how Helen — Dr. Jones’ goddaughter — resolves the dilemma at the climax when Indy wants to (can’t go on without spoilers). And I did tear up at the final scene despite being fully aware it was another box being ticked.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3, on the other hand, is a terrific film. It also ticks a lot of boxes — after all, I am Groot! — but the story is much more compelling, revealing the backstory of Rocket Raccoon. On the other hand, the third Indiana Jones movie is the best except for the first, too. Maybe a fourth, or fifth, Guardians of the Galaxy movie 25 or 40 years after the first would also feel unnecessary.

It is kind of nice to check in with familiar characters to see their happily-ever-after, but if I want to relive the joy of watching Indiana Jones again, it’s more likely than not that I’ll haul out Raiders of the Lost Ark or Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.

Press the start button

I sat, pen poised, and awaited the first creative thought of the day. And waited. And waited.

Then I looked across the living room into the kitchen and saw the coffee maker, sitting silently.

“This sit-down was premature,” I wrote in my journal.

I got up and fed the dogs. I started a load of laundry. I took my medicine. I set the coffee grounds in the basket and filled the reservoir with water. I collected two days worth of recyclables and put yesterday’s dishes in the dishwasher. I pre-ordered the new Cormoran Strike novel on my Audible app, and I listened to the morning summary on my weather app. 

“Now, finally, I can sit down and journal,” I said.

I sat and opened the book and took a deep breath and listened for the Muse to start whispering in my ear. But the house was quiet — in fact, it was more quiet than it should have been.

“The coffee should be ready soon; in fact, I don’t hear it gurgling, maybe it’s done,” I said, and then it hit me: The coffee pot had never gurgled.

I laughed and got up to go back to the kitchen.

“It helps to push the start button,” I said, walking over to the coffee maker and doing what I should have done after I set the coffee grounds in the basket and filled the reservoir with water: I pressed the start button. By the time I got back to my chair, the coffee maker was starting to gurgle.

What a metaphor for how we live our lives sometimes: You make all the preparations, put everything in place to brew what will probably give your life a jolt of energy, and then you go on with your life without taking the most crucial step — getting started.

Press the start button! You know what you want to do, you’ve done all the preparatory work, the ingredients are all in place to make yourself what you want to make, but you’re so distracted by everyday life that you forget to execute the plan.

Press the start button!

Farewell to Blackberry

Blackberry had always cried in the night, but the caterwauling was even more plaintiff the last few days, and when she skipped her meal Thursday night, I knew my 16-year-old cat was not long for this world. The first thing I heard Friday morning was an all-too-familiar moaning; I have lost cats before.

She was lying next to the water dish; I began to stroke her as gently as I could, and as if she had been waiting for me to wake up and say goodbye, she passed quietly a few minutes later.

Just after the Independence Day holiday in July 2007, I turned onto the Highway 41 on-ramp near our home and almost immediately a tiny black streak shot across the road.

“That was a kitten,” I said to myself, and I pulled to the side of the ramp.

“Home!” cried a little voice from the brush. “Home! Home!” The tiny cat poked her face out at me looking hopeful. 

We had six cats at home, so of course I was going to rescue this one. I took her home — I was very late to work that day — and called Red to let her know we were up to seven. We agreed that we would look for a permanent home — who keeps seven cats?!?! — but the fact that Number 7 was still around until Friday morning tells you how well that worked. I almost called her E.T. because of the way she kept crying “Home!” but Red overruled me and dubbed her Blackberry.

I had had at least one cat in the house constantly since 1979, so it’s weirdly quiet around here with only two golden retrievers to keep me company. Blackberry was not the most affectionate cat ever, at least not to humans. She loved walking up to a dog and licking them around the eyes and nose. And the dogs seemed to love it, too.

I buried her next to Pumpkin, Beeker, Cody, Bam-Bam, and Boop — Hemi was cremated and I still need to deal with his ashes — and darned if Summer and Dejah went out to the new little grave as soon as I let them back in the yard, as if to pay their respects. I was keeping my emotions in check until I saw that.

Uncle Warren’s Attic #82 – Star Trek Day


The world through new eyes *

Flying Saucer – Buchanan & Goodman

Remembering Sept. 8, 1966 *

We’ll Be Dancing On the Moon – Trade Martin

The Battle of Seaside Heights *

The Girl With the Light Blue Hair – Barry Wood

I claim no copyright to the material in this podcast except * the stuff I wrote.

Available on Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon Music, and eventually the Apple Podcast app.

Amazing and sometimes silly

During my dismaying 19-hour internet outage over the weekend, one of my “as long as I can’t burn my eyes out staring at a screen” activities was hanging two motivational plaques above and below the clock that I see when I look directly up from my writing desk.

“Today only happens once — make it amazing.”

 I found that a couple years ago at a Chase Stone Barn artists sale. It cost $5, and I felt I was stealing at that price. The one drawback was she didn’t do anything in the back to make it hangable, so I installed a thingie to hang it from a nail — botching the job the first time; I mean, how hard is it to drill a hole and attach a thingie exactly in the middle of a plaque? You measure and drill — and that’s how I was reminded of the old saw, “Measure twice, cut once.”

“Be silly sometimes.”

Life gets to be serious business. I can never find the exact quote when I need it, but someone once said (something to the effect of) there is nothing so serious that it can’t be seen as ridiculous. It’s true, and sometimes you just have to be silly. That’s where Monday’s post came from — I was so frustrated not being able to do the work I usually do online, I decided to write from the perspective of someone so accustomed to being connected that he is lost and afraid when the connection is broken. It was serendipity that the internet outage was restored while I was writing the piece, so you got to experience my relief in real time.

But you have to be silly. A dear woman, who spent a handful of years as my wife a long time ago, once showed up at my door during a trying time wearing Groucho Marx glasses and mustache. It warmed the chill and lightened everything for a while — ah, the power of a smile and a laugh.

The clock itself, by the way, is Side 2 of the immortal Will the Circle Be Unbroken album, the side that begins with “Tennessee Stud.” When I saw that clock in the crafter’s shop, I had two simultaneous thoughts: “How ghastly that anyone would deface a classic record like that!” and “I have to buy this!”

I’m not sure there are two better bits of advice side by side: Today only happens once; make it amazing. And be silly sometimes.

Make it so!

The world through new eyes

“Stuff your eyes with wonder,” Mr. Bradbury said. “Live as if you’d drop dead in 10 seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.”

What a way to see the world. I wrote that quote in my journal a few weeks ago, and it turned into my post “See the world.” 

“Stuff your eyes with wonder.” Do you ever stop in wonder about what a remarkable device an eye is? You might, if you shut your eyes tight and try walking around the room. Don’t peek! Now open them and consider how these two little orbs, wired to your brain, take the world and transform it into something you can understand — the colors, the obstacles in your path, the people and flora and fauna around you, the words!

Turn your head in any direction, and there is so much to see. Your eyes are stuffed with imagery! How can you contemplate what’s right in front of you and not be filled with wonder?

When we wake up in the morning, no one is promised they will see the sunset. Might you drop dead in 10 seconds? Could this be the day you breathe your last? It’s always within the realm of possibility. You’re not completely certain a heart attack or brain aneurysm won’t snatch your body away from you a few seconds from now, or a runaway semi truck won’t crumple your car beyond recognition, or a meteor won’t land on your house.

How do you live as if you’d drop dead in 10 seconds? See the world! Love your neighbor! Hug your family and your friends and your puppies! (Cats may be hugged, too, if they will let you.) Pay attention!

I am as guilty as anyone of neglecting the wonder in every corner of my life. My eyes glaze over as I drive past vistas as breathtaking as any on Earth. I doomscroll until I have lost more than a few precious minutes. I tut-tut over what some idiotic politician has said or done, and I wonder what has become of the world. 

But then I open my journal, and my eyes happen to land on Mr. Bradbury’s encouragement, and I look about the room and out the window, and I see the world, the marvelous, miraculous world that is still there and beckoning us to use your life to be alive! And my eyes and ears fill up with all there is to see, and I’m so glad I thought to write down those words.

This, this, I suspect, is why I wrote them down in the first place.