Comparisons, and an update

One of my morning stops around the web is a particular writer whose work has helped me to the point where I consider him a mentor. When he writes about writing, I pay attention.

More often than not, he just writes about what project(s) he’s currently working on. Some days it feels more or less like advertising or promotion. On the other hand, I’m kind of interested: So this is what a prolific full-time writer does, day to day. It’s instructional, although not as instructional as when he writes something specifically about doing the craft or running a writer’s business.

I have had nothing approaching the long- or even short-term success that this writer has had, so I feel self-conscious when I update my projects here. What does anyone care about my comparatively meager efforts? If anything I’m the bad example to counter his constant activity.

For example: A few months ago I celebrated passing the 10,000-word mark on Jeep Thompson and The Lost Prince of Venus, a novella or novel of at least 40,000 words that I have promised you and myself and God will be published this year. I’m only now closing in on 15,000 words, including one stretch in March where Jeep didn’t move for more than a month. Five thousand words is a good weekend for my mentor.

OK, he’s full time in the business, and I’m back to 40 hours a week at the day job after a 2020 that saw the hours cut back to 22 for quite some time. I have less time for writing these days. And I did get a handful of books out the door last year.

I’m almost ready to release Full, my next collection of thoughts and poems and random fragments to join A Bridge at Crossroads, How to Play a Blue Guitar and Gladness is Contagious on the shelf. I said a couple of weeks ago it may be out there by June 1, and it may. I am flirting with making an audiobook of it and waiting to release the ebook, paperback and audiobook all at once, except I couldn’t do that by June 1 so it feels like stalling.

This is the 294th consecutive day that I’ve posted something on the blog, and I expect to complete a full year of daily posting on July 31, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise. Don’t get me started on my mentor; his daily streak is in five figures, and I have two years of this before I even hit four figures.

This post is a fine example of how comparison-itis works. Full will be the 16th book currently in print-on-demand that I have written or edited. Jeep is already the longest bit of fiction that I’ve written in almost a decade. And I never, ever blogged as many as 294 days in a row. When I compare myself to my mentor, I’m a very small fish in a very big pond, actually an ocean. When I rightly compare myself to myself, I’m wide-open floodgates.

I’m not that guy. I’m this one. I’m a writer, and I’m writing. As the mentor at the top of my list, Ray Bradbury, said: “You only fail if you stop writing.” It’s a good thing I taped that sentence to my computer.

See y’all tomorrow. And watch for my next book.

born free

We are born free

… and we see that other people are free, too, and everything works pretty well if we all agree we’re free as long as we don’t hurt others or their freedoms

… but then we start building little walls and barriers over what we can do, and then we encounter the permission-givers and who appointed them anyway

… and the little walls and barriers grow into cages, and we don’t step out to test the limits as much, and so we don’t realize how far we can go and we forget we’re free

… and people encourage us to think outside the box, but the box is comfortable, so very comfortable that we forget it really doesn’t exist, and we sit inside a box of our own making, free to come and go but not daring to be free

… so very comfortable that we don’t see the permission-givers building a real box where the imaginary walls had been

… until it’s too late.

Until it’s too late?

Actually, it’s almost never too late.

You’ve been free all along, and still are.

Remember the part where it works really well

and get back there.

A cup of coffee and a lifetime ago

I drank my first cup of coffee the morning of May 19, 1975, after successfully negotiating four years of college, including all-nighters, without the beverage.

It was the day after graduation from college. I had spent the night in an old old hotel in Waupaca, Wisconsin (I was there not long ago — Waupaca, that is, not the hotel, because I went to where it was and it wasn’t anymore), and I reported as requested at 5:30 a.m. to the WDUX Radio studios on Tower Drive, where my first newscast as a professional journalist was due to be broadcast an hour later. Or wait, maybe it was two hours later, around 7:40-ish after Paul Harvey. Funny how the details blur after 46 years.

The morning man — I can see his face, but not quite his name, which is OK because it wasn’t his real name, everyone had radio names then; I would be Warren Phillips for five months, chosen because Wally Phillips ruled Chicago radio at the time — said you look tired, kid, have a cup of coffee.

I don’t drink coffee, I said, I never got around to it. No time like the present, he said. I poured a cup and tried it. And another. And another. And a rest-of-my-life caffeine addiction settled in.

Would my college career have been different if I’d surrendered to the coffee gods earlier? Hard to say. But waiting until that morning helped cement the fact that my new life had begun. Living in an ancient hotel until I found the apartment above the TV store a week or so later? Check. Starting my first full-time job in the adult world? Check. Drinking coffee? Check. I even attended my first Waupaca City Council meeting that night so I could experience my first 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. workday. Or was it 10?

I get nostalgic this time of year. WDUX recently remodeled and posted photos of its remodeled studio on Facebook, and I could see the bones of the old place in the pictures. That was the summer I bought my 12-string guitar and recorded an album’s worth of songs on a Sunday afternoon in the radio station’s production studio and kissed a girl shortly before midnight while “Dance With Me” was playing that time I substituted as a Saturday night DJ. I remember doing a remote broadcast from the newly opened car dealership out on the edge of town, which is now a mile or so from the edge of town because of all the development that 46 years can bring.

I only spent five months there. They never got around to raising my salary from $120 a week to $125 a week after three months like they said they would, and then the station at my adopted hometown of Ripon called and said they wanted to hire me away but could offer only $170 a week. It’s one of the only times I made a career move for mercenary reasons, but it worked out well enough that I can say I lived in Ripon for 11 years, not just the four.

Sometimes we drive through Waupaca and I see what’s different and what’s still the same, and I wonder how my life would have evolved if I had stayed. But mostly I remember a bright sunny summer and all of life ahead of me, and that first cup of coffee, and changing my name back to Warren Bluhm after introducing myself in Ripon with my radio name and having two or three people say “I thought your name was Bluhm, didn’t you just graduate up at the college?” Ah, small towns.

46 years in the making

It was a hot sunny day and my dad was proud but displeased that my college would give Bill Proxmire an honorary degree that commie and it was so hot in those black robes that somebody fainted and I don’t remember any specific words that were said except “onward.” And maybe nobody said “onward” but that was what they meant to say.

And 46 years have passed 46 (forty-six) [four tee sicks] are you kidding me? That’s more than twice as old as I was that afternoon and so I have lived three of the lifetimes I had lived up to that moment.

Time did not fly, and it is not flying now, it is just hard to believe the planet has circled the sun 46 times since that May 18 when I stood and accepted a bit of sheepskin written in Latin because that’s how traditional my college was, hard to believe because the emotions are just as fresh though long gone.

I have fewer than 46 trips around the sun left and miles to go before I sleep (or at least I hope there are miles, it could be a few feet or a couple of inches) and so much has happened and mistakes and triumphs and wins and losses and pain and gain and all the rest, and here I am still to tell the tale.

I suppose there are lessons learned and all that stuff, but today I just remember, and — all those cliches about it feels like only yesterday but I know it’s been a long long time? Yep. That’s why it’s a cliche: At some point everybody feels it.

Happy Monday!

Here, at the beginning, at the onset, with a clean slate, with a blank page, a new week before us, and some of us, freshly graduated or newly hired or finally retired, starting the next stage of a lifetime, with the bloom of a new day, a new week, a new season, a new year, the newness beckons.

We hear the call, re-energized, re-inspired, refreshed and renewed, as ready as we’ll ever be. We know setbacks are inevitable, but for now we step forward ready for the challenge and eager to get started.

“Monday, Monday, can’t trust that day”? “Blue Monday”? Ridiculous. Monday is a burst of energy. Monday is where it all begins again. Monday is a new chance to get it right this time. Monday is an opportunity to start over, the first step on a journey of a thousand miles, the day the world has been waiting for all this time, the day the ship comes in, the day the tide rolls out and clears the decks.

Happy Monday! We get to try again, or repeat what worked before, or find a new way to get it wrong and cross that one off the list of possibilities on the way to perfecting the light bulb. Every idea looks bright and shiny on Monday. Every possibility awaits to be tried and tested. Oh, what a miraculous world that has Mondays and fresh starts and opportunities and infinite possibilities!

Yes, thank God it was Friday, because the road can be hard and rocky and we need our rest, but thank God it’s Monday, yes thank God I say, because see how grand is the vista before us.

The fine art of riding the torrent

Why do the young (supposedly) write the most amazing songs? The Beatles were in their 20s. I know, not so, not so — some of the great works were by mature authors — but maybe foolish youth doesn’t know better and unleashes work that hasn’t been tinkered and edited to death.

After that first burst of success, they begin to think, “I am a recognized whatever now, and so I am obligated to produce works of genius,” as opposed to “I am flowing with the universe and I must share what I experience, I am the conduit not the genius creator, come see and hear what I see and hear.”

As soon as the acclaim comes, the pressure is on. “What will you do next,” as if that wasn’t enough, as if “you” did it. And you start to seek out the inspiration instead of watching and listening.

Yes, there is a flow to be tapped and there is a Great Architect willing to share the vision, and we are creators made in the Architect’s image and so the act of creating is built into our genes, but in the trying too hard to craft we can lose sight of the spark — just as these sentences are crawling more slowly out of the pen than they were a couple of minutes ago.

Sometimes, when I get out of my own way, here come the words in a torrent, and as soon as I become conscious of the flow — “Look, mom, it’s a torrent!” — it starts to slip away.

Oh, take me away, mad genius, let me swim and swim in the torrent sharing what I see and hear bursting from my chest like some generous alien critter — not a parasite like in the movie that uses my body and casts it aside, rather a creation maker who fills my heart and makes it give — an I-don’t-know-what that sends my hands flying across the page, and I look back and don’t quite remember where it all came from.

Imagine an aging Paul McCartney who never wrote his little masterpiece, sitting down to write and coming up with, “Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away,” and looking at the phrase and thinking, “No, no, no, that’s kind of bogus, I can do better than that …”

It’s a trick, letting the universe talk and not judging what you’ve got until later, and maybe the young are better at it because they haven’t learned the unfine art of second guesses. Ray Bradbury said, “Don’t think,” and I think he was on to something. In thinking comes editing, and from editing comes a trickle instead of a torrent, with only what seems best in the moment coming out.

Somewhere in the torrent will be the real gem, and you must let the river run through you, the wild river untamed and roaring along with all of it, not just the trickle, and you come back and say “Some force possessed me,” not “Oh look, see what I contrived to create this morning.”

And that is what comes of not thinking.