Life in Sweats

January 3, 2014

You’d think that I would have a lot of time to write, considering I have been “retired” since 2008.  I spend most of my days indoors either in sweats (winter) or jammy pants (spring-fall).  When summertime settles in, I am comfortable in whatever the spirit decrees.

Maybe that is what blocks my creative juices – I am just too damn comfortable.  I should rise at 4 AM, work out for two hours, dress in too-tight, starchy jeans, then get to work writing the next personal tragedy to top the charts.  Are you angst-ridden?  Perhaps you can share some of it with me?

I have news for you, fellow writer.  As this is the New Year, my resolution is to write more!  If you are a writer yourself, you may be familiar yourself with this proclamation.  But this time, for me as I cannot speak for you, this is real.  I absolutely, positively will write more.  And, I hope write better.  I’ll just throw out the garbage, and through attrition will succeed in preserving more quality sentences.  It’s simple if you follow the formula.

The problem is that I do not write mysteries, suspense thrillers, pot boilers, or bodice rippers.  There is no easy-to-follow formula to follow for what I write.  And there is probably no easy formula for you either.  Your writing is creative and unique, as is mine – I pray.  Formulaic romances or memoirs or mysteries is just not my thing.  Never enjoyed reading them and I can’t imaging why I would enjoy writing them.

Which brings me back to wearing my comfortable sweats and enjoying every moment as it comes along as if it were my last.  I suppose I am in good company with other celebrated writers who enjoyed every moment – does Oscar Wilde come to mind?  Like him, I can overcome this hardship of comfort and excess to write enduring works.  I will strap my belt too tight, sit in my straight-back chair, and plunk away on my IBM Selectric (well, it’s really a MacBook Air) for eight straight hours each day until my great American novel is complete.

Uh, good luck to you with that.  I just don’t have time…

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An Irish Blessing for a German Shepherd

May 25, 2013

Hanging on the wall in my Galway Bay vacation cottage is the traditional Irish Blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face;

The rains fall soft upon your fields

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.

This is a very famous blessing for good reason.  Who wrote it?  No one knows, as the great majority of Irish history is undocumented.  Yes, the Irish monks were excellent historians and wrote down what they could – even saving the early Christian texts and Roman-era documents they passed on to continental Europe as it recovered from the barbarian invasions.  But the vast majority of Irish, and their frequent invaders were illiterate and maintained a spoken, not written history until modern times.

This most famous of Irish Blessings is often attributed to St. Patrick.  But in this land, almost everything that is good has been attributed to St. Patrick.  Pilgrims spend an entire day hiking up a steep mountain in the Connemara region to perform Hail Mary rituals and prayer at three separate stations to honor the place where the great saint rang his bell and banished all snakes from the island.  Of course, this is an analogy for driving the non-believers away.  But in the Catholic tradition, this miracle actually happened on that mountain peak.  Who is to say this is truth or analogy if nothing was written down?

Written language is now an under-appreciated blessing bestowed upon most of us.  All of us could write more – or better – when given the opportunity.  And I will write more (and hopefully better) from now on as well.

In the meantime, my Irish-decended wife and I bestow a lesser-known but equally beautiful Irish blessing upon you, and especially upon our beloved old German shepherd girl, Tessie who died last night while we were not there to comfort her:

May you always have work for your hands to do,

May your pockets hold always a coin or two,

May the sun shine bright on your windowpane,

May the rainbow be certain to follow each rain.

May the hand of a friend always be near you,

And may God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.

Suaimhneas síoraí dá hanam


The Good Writer

April 27, 2012

I am not a good writer.  Yes, my fiction and nonfiction pieces have won awards and a few have been published.  But that does not make me a Good Writer.  Yes, my stories have had occasional bursts of originality, humor, and even a bit of profundity at times.  But all of that does not add up to being a Good Writer.

You see, the Good Writer drops his or her butt in the chair in the wee hours and writes the whole day through, or at least until that chapter or article is complete.  The Good Writer, we have been told by many credible speakers at conferences and gatherings, has a work ethic that requires daily progress.  Don’t worry about the quality of the first pass writing, these credible speakers urge.  You can always go back and clean the mess up once your ideas have flowed down your arms and onto paper (or more accurately these days – into your laptop memory).  How are you ever going to write if you don’t – you know – WRITE?

This advice has posed a psychological dilemma for me.  I consider myself a writer, and I associate with talented, published writers who think I am a writer.  Some are convinced I am a good writer.  But my writing habits do not conform to the Good Writer I frequently hear about .  You know, Good as in, “Be a Good Boy and eat your peas”.

Sometimes I sleep in, enjoying the liberty of my vivid early morning dreams.  Often, I attend to other matters that the non-writing world considers “life”.  I spend too much of my time in my large garden, listening to my musical chimes sing in the wind, pulling weeds rather than spraying, lugging large quantities of homemade compost to the planting beds.  And then there is my family, both furred and non-furred.  All require my attention, it seems far more insistently than my writing muse – uh, named herbert, or sherbert, something like that. My hearing fails me sometimes, but he speaks in such hushed tones as well.

Why am I confessing to the fact that I am not a Good Writer?  Because I feel guilty about it, yes I do.  But also because I suspect I am not the only writer in this big writing community that feels guilty about less than ideal writing habits.

I need to feel inspired by a thought, idea, or theme to write.  I have tried to plop my butt into the writing chair at 6 A.M.  All I do is a lot of staring.  My mind at that time of day is as creative as a rusty water pump.  The ideal of the Good Writer does not work for me.  Am I the only one?  Let me know that there is still hope for me nonetheless.


Empty Land?

March 30, 2012

We were driving back to my dad’s place, my sister and me.  To the north, the towering Mount San Gorgonio, tallest mountain in Southern California, hovered over us, with lines of snow descending its steep canyons.  Next to the road, cows grazed in a seasonal green pasture, ignoring the dramatic scenery that surrounded them.

“Isn’t that sad,” my sister said, “they want to put five thousand homes on this empty land.”

I turned to her.  I could not believe in these challenging times for real estate of all kinds, that a development like that would make it to completion.

“Really,” I said.  “Are you sure, Kathy?  There are thousands of homes around us in this little town alone that are vacant or foreclosed right now.  That doesn’t make sense.”

“Well, Dad and I read it in the newspaper.”

This statement from her, I know meant that it must be true.

Empty Land.  Empty?  Just because it did not have roads and underground utilities, sidewalks, and homes with manicured lawns and fire-retardant roofs, dogs in the front yard behind chain-link fences barking at every stranger on his morning walk?  RV’s up on railroad ties with their wheels removed because gas was too expensive?  ADT signs posted near the front door warning visitors to keep their distance?

Empty land, indeed.

I thought about that comment as I took my brisk walk up the road toward the “empty land” on the edge of present day development.  On my way – in just one morning walk – I spotted a flock, six or eight to be precise, of western bluebirds frolicking in a small pine wood next to the open pasture.  The females twittered and the deep blue males followed.  Then, several bright yellow American goldfinches burst into their canary-like song.  Further along, in a part of the subdivision that had not yet been built on, I was treated to a contest of meadowlark song between two brightly colored males sitting in opposite corners of a prematurely built cinder-block wall – a signature of Southern California privacy shields.

I walked further up the road, past the Baptist church and the old Morongo Indian reservation well.  Four beautiful horses grazed in the “empty land” that stretched from the other side of the road up toward the high country beyond.  I witnessed four large hawks – or maybe they were eagles, too far in the distance to be sure, screeching and circling their two nests on consecutive Edison high voltage towers. This was a land of contrast for sure.

Empty land?  The native grasses had gone to seed and blew back and forth in the cool spring wind – the waves of grain of our national songs.  Ground squirrels scurried about in the field at the end of the road, where civilization yielded, finally to the (empty) land.  I walked on a little way, but felt more and more like I was out of my element.  That I was trespassing into a natural scene that had done just fine by itself for hundreds of millions of years – without our homes and RV’s and roads – thank you very much.

I turned around and headed back to my dad’s small mobile home, where I sleep in his living room and dread the next administration of morphine for his pain.  I look forward to the morning when I can go on my walk and once again experience the abundance of this “empty land”.