Summer, our year-and-a-half-old golden retriever, is always nearby, it seems. Right now she is in repose, stretched out, her nose on one paw, the snout about 4 inches away from my left foot. I can hear her steady breathing, but she is not asleep. If I were to get up and move to a chair in the next room, she very likely will come in there and settle near me again. At the end of the day, I will climb into bed and she will hop up and curl next to my feet.
Dejah, our 9-year-old puppy, will greet me with Summer when I get home after being away, but then Dejah will go about her business. She does not seek out my companionship the way Summer does.
She is barely out of puppyhood and engages in some exasperating behavior. She digs holes in the back yard. When cavorting with Dejah in the house, she will nose under an area rug to “hide.” I am constantly folding the rugs back into their proper position.
Now Summer has rolled completely onto her side and has fallen asleep, her front paws folded one over the other. I haven’t left this chair for a half-hour, so I guess she trusts that her companion will still be here if she risks a snooze. I wouldn’t mind spending a day like this.
How did we build this interspecies love and trust? Her ancestors’ ancestors would be out in the cold on a day like today, unsure where or what their next meal would be. How did they know to trust humans, and how did humans intuit that they could be trusted?
I don’t know the answers to the questions, but I’m grateful for those ancestors’ ancestors, because the sweet calm of a dog trusting me to watch her sleep fills me up.
I should be writing the novel, not writing in this journal. I should be writing to share in the blog, not writing for myself. But wait — I am writing. And both those sentences began, “I should be writing.”
In one of my favorite films, a dying man tells the hero, “I don’t care what you believe — just believe.”
That would be my final words to would-be writers and would-be creators: I don’t care what you write — just write. I don’t care what you create — just create.
We are creative souls, you and I, and so we are empty when we are not creating.
I know I repeat myself with this statement, but it bears endless repeating: God created the heavens and the Earth, and then created humans in God’s image. Ergo, we are creators, because we were created in the image of the Ultimate Creator.
Now, somehow a destructive streak was snuck into the mix, but I’m telling you, when we create, when we build, when we make something out of thin air or out of the materials at hand, we are fulfilling our basic nature. You feel it when you make a meal, when you hammer two boards together, when you compose and important email, or when you pave a road: You are a creation designed to be a creator.
When we destroy, or tear down, or blow up, or demolish without reason or cause, we violate our very purpose. That’s why war is such a stupid thing. It solves nothing and is the opposite of why we are here.
The best advice is to strive every day to leave this place in better condition than we found it. We accomplish this in the act of creation.
The images flashed at him, too many images, too many words, all at once, too many sounds, too many too many too many, his mind screamed, and the scream was another sound to go with the too many others.
“Stop!” and he suddenly realized he had said it out loud.
“Stop what?” she asked.
“There’s too much coming at me at once,” he said, reaching for his cellphone. “I guess I just can’t process it all.”
“You can start by setting that cellphone down, don’t you think?” she said.
Back in August 2020 I challenged myself to make sure I added something to this blog every day for three months, a 92-day commitment. Today is Day 900 of that challenge.
This is my most successful attempt at a writing discipline ever. If I could translate that discipline to my efforts at fiction, I’d be gold.
I did have a breakthrough during this latest 100-day sprint. (I’ve found that reviewing progress every 100 days can be useful.) It happened after I left my latest novel-in-progress in a jam for a very long time.
You may recall the book’s working title is Jeep Thompson and the Lost Prince of Venus, and I’ve been struggling with it for, what? At least three years, I think. But I was finally cruising along, passed the halfway point and getting at least a few words in almost every day. I even got a major plot twist in.
But then the story went dry. No, that’s not true. It went stone cold.
The story just wouldn’t move past the discovery of, well, it’s a big discovery that changes a key relationship in the story. I even set the book aside for at least a month or so, hoping that Jeep’s next move would come to me.
It’s frustrating. I usually know how the story ends. I wrote the last paragraph of Chapter 26 of my 27-chapter first novella, The Imaginary Bomb, before I wrote anything else, for example. Not only do I know how Lost Prince of Venus ends, but I know the general sweep of four Jeep Thompson books. Sometimes, though, I’m in too much of a hurry to get from here to there.
And finally, a few days ago, I realized that’s why Jeep stalled this time: I was in too much of a hurry. That plot twist that changes a key relationship came way too early. It’s a pretty nifty twist, and I can’t wait for the reader to find out — but not yet.
The solution involved abandoning a chapter and a half and rewriting the moment of the big discovery to make it more of a what-the-bejeebers moment that won’t really make sense until the discovery is made at a more appropriate time.
Was laboring over the now-deleted chapter a waste of time? Of course not. Should I be carefully outlining books instead of doing this “discovery writing” where I know generally where I want the story to go but let the characters show me how they get there? Probably not; I once outlined an entire trilogy, but the process of developing an outline so satisfied my desire to tell the story that I lost interest.
So I’ve been meandering around Venus with Jeep Thompson and her pals, and this little detour did something interesting: The fire to tell this story is back. And when she does get to that big discovery, wow. Oh, wow. Just not yet.
I do have a definite goal for these next 100 days, though: I will finally finish the draft of Jeep Thompson and the Lost Prince of Venus before the 1,000th blog in the streak. I’m more confident about that than I’ve been in a long time.
I’ll let you know how that works out in, oh, about 92 days.
Here is a little something I rediscovered while listening to 78s yesterday: There’s really only one thing you can do while playing old records — listen.
The song is anywhere from two minutes to (if it’s a 12-inch record) maybe four minutes, so you can’t really do much more than listen to the song. Before you get settled, pick up a book or much of anything else, the song will end and you’ll have to change records, so you may as well just listen.
Longer-playing records and their successors have allowed the music to fade into the background, but when you can only play one song at a time, each song becomes the focus of your attention.
Obviously, that’s a good thing. The composer and the performer intended to be heard. They meant to move you one way or another. When we push their work to the back of our minds, we lose that.
And so I have a better appreciation of “La Vie En Rose” by Tony Martin or “Before It’s Too Late” by Sunny Gale than I would have if the recordings were playing at random on a CD or stream, because I needed to sit or stand next to the speakers during the entire song.
This phenomenon is most fun when there’s a lot happening in the song, which is probably why “Frenesi” by Artie Shaw or “Powerhouse” by Raymond Scott are among my favorite 78 rpm records, and why “Good Vibrations” is my absolute favorite from the 45 rpm era. Each of those tunes twists and shifts in surprising ways and rewards a careful listen.
In our multitasking world, we consign music so far into the background that we can forget that listening to the music can be an awesome task in itself. I’m glad the clunkiness of the old technology forced me to rediscover this essential fact.
One of the first books I read in 2023 was The Year of Less by Cait Flanders, which chronicles a year in which she put a moratorium on buying new stuff and, in the process, reduced the amount of stuff she owns by 70 percent. It got me to thinking about all my things.
I’ve collected books and music and movies and old TV shows by the thousand and built what I always considered an archive of entertainment and enlightenment that I can explore in my retirement, if no time else. I’d be hard-pressed to think of something I would like to have owned that is not now somewhere in this house, waiting to be enjoyed. Could it be time to let go of it all, or at least catalog it so I know what I have? There’s something appealing about Flanders’ journey, but there’s also an appeal to the stuff.
The process of transferring stuff to my new/old wall of bookcases showed me just how much stuff I have — even though they are huge pieces of furniture, I have bins of books that did not fit on the new shelves. Meanwhile, I realized that in the last three weeks since Christmas, I bought four more books anyway. Enough is enough, you would think.
I declared a Cait Flanders-style moratorium on buying new stuff for myself, which was fortuitous because the next day I discovered that Bruce Springsteen is selling CDs and downloads of hundreds of his live concerts. I sampled samples from 1984, the year I saw him in concert, as well as more recent years, and I would have been sorely tempted to grab one or two if not for my newly minted moratorium.
I even toyed with the idea of selling off some of my “archives.” Would I really regret not having such-and-such a book or record on my 90th birthday? On the other hand, would I pass on to the next world regretting that I never sold off enough stuff to take Red on a trip to such-and-such a place?
“Whoever dies with the most toys” most definitely does not win any kind of race, but there may come a day when I want to pull down that Nathaniel Hawthorne book again, or play those century-old 12-inch platters by Sir Harry Lauder. (Funny that those examples were the first that came to mind.)
In any case, some cataloguing is certainly in order. What treasures have I accumulated without remembering? What words and music are in my possession waiting to touch my soul again or for the first time? That’s a big reason for pausing before I buy anything more: As I’ve been vacuuming up possessions I have reached the point where I’m not entirely sure what I own. I haven’t had, or taken, the time to review all the piles and make sure I can find what I’m looking for when I look for it.
For example, I know I have at least three copies of “Music! Music! Music!” by Teresa Brewer on 78, once because I forgot I had one, and another time because it was in a lot of records that I purchased to obtain several other tunes. Put another nickel in, and I bet I have more than a few other things that I bought not realizing that I already had one.
These musings sent me down to the attic (Fun Fact: My podcast “Uncle Warren’s Attic” was filled with recordings that I pulled from the storage room in our basement) to do a little exploring and maybe begin that catalog.
I came upstairs with an album of 78 rpm records that I’d picked up at an online estate auction and listened to such gems as Kitty Kallen’s No. 1 1954 hit “Little Things Mean A Lot” and a delicious swing version of “All of Me” by Louis Jordan with fellow vocalist Valli Ford. When I bought my beloved Audio-Technica turntable a few years back, I invested in a separate headshell specially designed to play 78s, and I was again impressed by how crisp and clear a 70-year-old record can sound if the owner took good care of it and it’s played on the right equipment.
Yes, I could downsize significantly and rely on digital versions of the same recordings (see below), and I know the day is coming when that’s not only more practical but necessary. In the meantime, though, there’s a special joy in holding the real thing and watching the stylus float through the grooves as the sounds of a long time ago burst forth like old times.
I don’t much feel like writing today, but here I go.
It’s like they say about love — it’s a commitment, it’s a decision, and maybe you made that commitment in the heat of passion and glorious emotion, but sometimes you love just because you said that’s who you are. And so sometimes you write because you said you would write, and if words aren’t written then you prove yourself a liar, or a slacker, or both.
And so here are some words to fulfill the commitment, even though I feel as creative as a rock on a dark and stormy night by a castle that looks like it was carved out of a “Cliches for Dummies” coloring book.
The cellphone just interrupted this dreary train of thought, chirping from across the room, out of my reach. Was it an important call, or was my car warranty about to expire again? I suppose I’d better check; it’s not as if I was feeling inspired anyway.
Still, for the first time in a few days, I sat down to write for no other reason than “writers write,” and so I fulfilled the first rule of writing, and that is progress. And I wrote even though I didn’t feel like writing, which is also progress. And I kept writing even though all I wrote is that I don’t feel like writing, and I didn’t even write that very well. All I did was put a bunch of blather down on the page, but blather is better than nothing, which is what I wrote yesterday and the day before, and so I made progress today.
It’s sad when scribbling garbage on a page is an improvement. But if I grew from nothing to blather in a single day, think what I might accomplish if I kept doing this every day. Well, yes, it could be that I just fritter and blather away for days and weeks and years, but more likely I eventually will write something worth sharing. After all, before you write something sublime, first you have to write something, period, and see where it goes from there.
And so — I made progress today. I didn’t write nothing.