This is what happened

© Mike_kiev | Dreamstime.com

The most powerful words in any language may be “Once upon a time” or “In the beginning …” The words arrest your attention at once: “Listen up! I have a story to tell, and it all starts here, whatever ‘it all’ may turn out to be.”

It all began when …

We never realized until later how important the moment would be — how important that moment was — because “it all” was different before it happened, and it definitely all was different from that moment forward …

Once upon a time — you know, that time when Quirinius was the big boss — you know, that time when something unusual appeared on the horizon — you know, that time when people saw a wagon propelled by a machine, not an animal, for the first time. Oh yeah, THAT time …

… and away we go, back to the beginning when it all started, or forward to the beginning when it all is going to start.

Now, may we start?

Writing advice from Andy Weir

One of the heroes of the “choose yourself” independent publishing movement is Andy Weir, author of The Martian, among the most successful self-published novels of the last decade or so. I recently blundered across an excerpt of an interview with Weir that included that immortal question, “What is your advice for new writers trying to make it in today’s publishing world?”

He had three thoughts, and the first and third seem obvious, except perhaps they’re not. The first thought is “to actually write.” If you want to be a success as a writer, you need to write and keep writing until you’re able to write well. Aaron Judge didn’t hit a home run with his first swing. He had to swing and keep swinging until he was able to hit a baseball with power. “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice.”

Weir’s third thought is that “This is the best time in history to self-publish.” The barriers and most of the stigma have been removed. If you just finished your book, you can publish the ebook in less than a half-hour and have it on sale tonight. I’d make sure it’s polished first, but the technology is available if you’re in that much of a hurry.

The middle thought is what caught my eye: “Resist the urge to tell friends and family your story.” It’s such a good story that you want to share it along the way, but sharing “satisfies your need for an audience, which diminishes your motivation to actually write it.”

I know that feeling. I’ve leaked out a detail or two about an ongoing project to friends from time to time, and “leak” turns out to be a good word to describe it: It feels like the story is a balloon or a tire, and if it leaks, some of the pressure to tell it is lost. Sometimes, even when the person says, “Wow! I can’t wait to read that,” the balloon deflates completely.

Weir’s advice is basically, when someone asks you what you’re writing, just smile and say, “You’ll find out,” or some such. Say anything, but don’t explain what you’re writing. 

And write. That’s always the best practice for anyone who wants to be a writer. It may take a long time to reach the point where your writing is “worthy,” although that’s subjective anyway. The only way to reach that point is to actually write. So write, gorram it. It ain’t rocket science — although, as Andy Weir demonstrates, it can be.

And so, create

So Dad would have been 99 years old today, if he hadn’t passed a few months before his 97th birthday. Where’s that “things that happened in 1923” card I bought him a couple of decades ago and never gave him? I saw it again recently while moving boxes from there to here.

A few of the records I own are 100 years old now — platters by Sir Harry Lauder and the like — it’ll soon be a century since the megaphone they sang into was replaced by an electronic microphone. When my Philco radio turns 100, I’ll be 88, or at least it will be the 88th anniversary of my birth.

Mmmm, I’ve been thinking a lot of thoughts about endtime lately. I need to focus less on endings, more on creations, I should think.

“There’s nothing new under the sun,” and yet there’s new stuff all the time. We were made in God’s image, and God is a creator. Every culture has a creation story, an “In the beginning.”

It’s all the same but different. A man imagines a world where he never existed, but it’s a different wonderful life than Frank Capra’s. A little girl travels to a fantastic world full of strange creatures and magical beings, but it’s not at all what L. Frank Baum thought of. A couple torn apart by war meet each other again in a different place, but not Casablanca. We are billions and billions of stories, with common themes and echoes of each other, but never quite the same as each other. There are archetypes and stereotypes and plain old types, but we mix together in infinite variations so that even the strangest story has an air of familiarity and, simultaneously, a sense of newness.

And here I am thinking about how creativity works when I began by contemplating how all things must end. “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” The phoenix dies after 500 years of mystical flight, but another phoenix rises from the ashes.

We create something new every day. Oh, it may be a repetition of an old thought, but it’s framed against the freshness of this day. Maybe it’s not original enough to share, or maybe it is, and it’s a thought someone else is hearing for the first time, so share away. One person’s echo is another person’s epiphany, and so the dance of creation continues.

I am fascinated by what came before (Roger Mifflin is one of my favorite characters), because back in the past we can find so much in common with what comes next. The echoes teach us — what? tolerance? humility? You discover you’re not so smart, someone had that insight 100 years ago — but see how you incorporate that elder knowledge into what we have all learned in the meantime.

And so, create! Put pen to paper, brush to canvas, pixels on the screen. Craft something, make something, create! It will help you make sense of all this for yourself and, in the making and the sharing, for many other folks, too.

Listening: Crosby, Stills and Nash

Red asked me to play some music, and I told her this album came from a box that I got for free from a new friend who was trying to get rid of her vinyl. (Of course, 25 years later she not only did not get rid of her vinyl but gained several dozen boxes more.) I sat down to write and listen and, perhaps inevitably, I wrote about what I heard.

“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” is a remarkably great work. Stephen Stills was inspired by Judy Collins, of course; she does have very blue eyes.

Then Graham Nash takes us on a ride on the “Marrakesh Express,” the first hit single. The harmony on “All aboooard” is reminiscent of a train whistle — how did I not catch that for 50+ years?

Here’s “Guinevere” now, a lovely haunting ballad by David Crosby. Holy cow, this is a great, classic album. But you know that.

I wonder how Stephen, Graham and David met, and what the moment was like when they realized how great their voices sounded together. Crosby, Stills and Nash transcended Buffalo Springfield, the Hollies, and even the Byrds — each a classic band in its own right. “Supergroups” don’t always live up to the word, but this one did.

I’m trying to write here, but I am caught up in listening to the music, hearing it again as if for the first time. Too often we treat music as comfort food, putting it on in the background and saying, “Oh yeah, I love this one,” leaning on the memory instead of experiencing it again. That has its value — music has a soothing effect on the soul in either case — but listening, taking the time to concentrate on hearing the music — is the difference between standing in a sunny field lost in thought and standing in a sunny field seeing the clouds drift by in different shapes that spark the imagination, watching the wind ripple across the grass and sway the wildflowers in their yellows and reds and blues and purples and of course green everywhere, and the song of birds and crickets, and the fresh smells — know what I mean?

In the quietest moments — “Lady of the Islands” — the ticks and crackles are a bit of a distraction. Some vinyl has worn better than others. But sometimes a worn record is a signal: Alert! Magnificent music here, worthy of repeated listening.

“Magnificent music” — is that an oxymoron? After all, music itself is a magnificent invention that taps something inside us, a thing of healing and universal understanding.

It’s a long time coming sometimes to remember to listen, to hear. And when I remember how sound can spark the imagination and inspire the best in us, it’s like revisiting a place of momentous discovery.

Is this the best way to experience music — on an otherwise quiet morning in an easy chair, a dog sleeping at your feet, and time to listen and relax? All I know for sure is that it was today.

The riddle of the ages

Someday I’m going to die of some disease, or

Someday I’m going to die in some accident, or

Someday I’m going to die slowly, or

Someday I’m going to die suddenly, or

Someday I’m going to die when this ol’ body wears out, but

Someday I’m going to die.

That’s such a weird thought.

And on the subject of weird: Where will I go?

You know, the “I” who is thinking this thought and sending a message to my fingers to write it down. The consciousness that sees this page, turns the head and looks at the water that’s only visible through the trees when their leaves fall off. Where will this consciousness go?

Of course, that’s the question of the ages. Where is Pontius Pilate? Where’s old Will Shakespeare? Is the consciousness that inhabited Amelia Earhart inhabiting some other body, or is it flying around the universe in some other form, or is it just gone, a product of the biological machine that carried it around for all those years?

You want to finish a thought like this with a conclusion, and many people are confident they know the answer, but it seems to me the answer can’t be known for certain until we get there, and then we can’t share the answer in any way we’ve been able to determine.

Our consciousness either continues, or it doesn’t. I find reasons for comfort in both alternatives. In either case, I’m happy to wait for the answer.

Oh no, he’s writing about moving all his stuff again

This is the first journal entry in five (!) days, after a flurry of office-moving activity, and the first thing I’ve written at the new rolltop desk, a fine piece of furniture purchased for $6 at an online estate sale auction, 90 minutes after it reached its final (for now) resting place. It was the biggest bargain of my life for about six days, and then I purchased the five-piece bookcase and entertainment center ensemble for $1 at another online sale. Nobody wants to buy big hairy furniture anymore, I guess.

There are stories and stories to be told about the struggle to move all this furniture from here to there, but those can wait until my various aching muscles heel and we can laugh about it a little.

It has been a long time, if ever, since I had this much space to plant my arms and write. I don’t want to clutter up this wonderful writing surface, but I’m sure I will, eventually. For now, I’m really enjoying all the elbow room.

I still have boxes and boxes of stuff that somehow piled up in the other room and need to find a new place, either in this room, in the basement, in the recycling bin, or in the Goodwill box. Some decisions are easy — I will never need that oil change receipt from 2014 again — but some are a bit more challenging.

For example, remember the guitars I hung on the walls? They were supposed to remind me every day that I love to play the guitar and write songs. Instead they became sort of artwork on the wall, and the callouses on my fingers are long gone. I hauled the guitar cases out of the basement, and the guitars are back in their old position, just over my shoulder and ready for me to pull one out and play. We’ll see how that works.

This is a brand new opportunity to find “a place for everything and everything in its place” again. I want the boxes empty as soon as possible, and that means oodles and oodles of decisions and Marie Kondo-style moments, as I handle all my stuff and remember what gives me joy and what has become expendable.

My problem, and my blessing, is that I’m surround by so much that gives me joy. And I’m not just talking about the stuff.

A long, long time

© Jaysi | Dreamstime.com

“This isn’t the way I imagined it,” George Turner said, looking out the window at the blackness. “Are we even moving?”

Yolanda Xenophilius looked at a computer screen. “Yep.”

“There’s no way to tell for sure. Do you see any movement out there?”

“George,” she said. “We’re still going 10,833 kilometers per hour. We’re still going 3 kilometers per second. Just chill.”

“This isn’t the way I imagined it,” Turner said.

Behind them, a snort.

“You watched too many space movies when you were a kid, George,” Jason O’Toole snorted. “You know they put those moving stars in the windows so you could tell the model starships were in motion, right? Real space doesn’t look like that.”

“Of course I knew,” Turner said, sourly. “That’s not what I meant.”

They lapsed back into silence for a few minutes. Then Sally Ripley, sitting next to O’Toole, started to sing softly.

“Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids,” she sang. “In fact, it’s cold as hell.”

“NOT. FUNNY,” Turner growled, but his crew mates grinned. “Come on, Sally, stop singing that.”

“OK, what would you rather hear?” she said, then began to hum. “Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer …”

That one didn’t get quite as much of a guffaw, so she trailed off around 96.

“Are we there yet?” said O’Toole.

It was Xenophilius’ turn to scowl, but there was something inauthentic about the scowl.

“Don’t make me come back there,” she said, and this time even Turner laughed.

They lapsed back into silence for another few minutes. Then Ripley said, “Anyone up for a movie?” They had thousands of choices in the digitized library.

“How about ‘Waiting for Godot’?” O’Toole said, and then, “What? Too soon?”

They settled on the film that won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2036. Afterward, they all agreed the Academy was comprised of loons.

“I do think the pelican scene was hysterical,” Xenophilius said. “But otherwise …”

“I know, right?” Turner said, but at least he had forgotten his malaise. They grabbed another movie from ’36, one that had only been nominated in a couple of technical categories, and had a lot more fun.

When they returned to Earth, they were frequently told they were heroes and so lucky to have been chosen for humanity’s first mission to Mars.

“Frankly, I liked the book a lot better,” Turner would say.

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