The Business of Writing

Yeah, so the last blog post I did in these parts that wasn’t about Phish was over a year ago. Not that I’m complaining. I like writing about Phish and their music and if this is more Kaufmak’s Lazy Phish Blog, then so be it. Might be a little more accurate these days. Of course, then I want to write about other things.

More to the point, I want to write more, but that just is about impossible these days. There are a lot of reasons, family, job, social life, video games, television, simple exhaustion, you get the idea.

But, I don’t want to just write more, I want to write…for a living? Yeah, I’m really not sure how that works. A big change needs to occur, one that I’ve been slowly circling like the water going down the worst drain ever. That change is a one of identity. I need to see myself as a writer, at least as part of my identity. I just can’t seem to mentally pull that trigger.

It’s not like getting a Ph. D. Someone told me, now I’m a historian. All you fuckers need to call me doctor. Some people have told me a I’m a good writer (some have said I suck.) But writer validation doesn’t work that way, at least not for me. I’m so glad my writing gets out to others, even if the numbers are small. I’ve even won a couple of “posts of the month” deals at the other blog. But I haven’t been paid to be a writer. Production is great, but production for free just doesn’t work in my head.

This is my hang up, by the way. I’m not say if you write a blog and aren’t getting paid for it you’re not a writer. However you define your “writer-ness” is entirely up to you. I’ve got this annoying notion about pay and validation, not you, you’re a sane, rationale person. Good on you! You writer!

What’s more, I’m seriously stuck in two places. It seems like the people who strike out and make a go of it, get further opportunities, and get to make a living at this stuff seem to have three things in common. They write, or started to write, about one thing, did it well and did it frequently. I’m not sure if I’m 0-3 in that last sentence, but in the light of optimism, let’s say 0-2. Time just needs to happen, either make it or not. It’s that other part, that “one thing and stick to it” thing that just doesn’t work. But if I don’t do that, then I’m just some dude with a blog writing about stuff. Why read it? I mean, I’m a nice guy and all, but yeah, why else? What makes me so damn special?

It’s the one thing, that niche that I can’t seem to find. I like to write about certain things more than others, but I get bored or discouraged or busy. Sometimes all at once. These last couple of months, it’s been a shitty place to be.

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Where Ya Been?

Yeah so I haven’t blogged in about a month, a little less. Part of it was being busy, part of it was being uninspired to write about anything in particular, but overall it was a feeling of… finality. The blog has always functioned as an outlet for ideas I had about current events, mostly sports, while finishing my dissertation. The dissertation completely wrapped in August and other than writing up a few Phish shows I just felt finished, nothing left to say. That isn’t true of course I’ve got plenty to say about all kinds of stuff, but after getting the final stamp of approval regarding the dissertation and the overall degree, I’ve just been sort of coasting along. And why not? Even though it took a lot longer than I had envisioned, I still worked pretty hard to get here and I’ve been enjoying the mountain top quite frankly. For the first time in a really long time, I have been enjoying television from an absolutely guilt-free perspective; no thoughts about what I should be doing, what I could be doing while I was perched on my ass watching yet another crime procedural or sit-com. Nope, I’ve watched plenty of good and bad TV with a completely clear conscience. Since the dissertation wrapped I’ve had a few urges to write here and there, but overall it has been really easy to resist, or better said, really easy just to ignore and go on watching.

The other thing about blogging that I kind of lost sight of really, was that this shouldn’t be a chore. Writing the recaps of the White Sox this season just became painful. Even when they were in contention they just weren’t that fun to watch, let alone write about. On top of that, the other on-going things that I had started were losing steam and felt a little too much like working on the dissertation. The great thing about the blog is that it is fun it is not a job or requirement. There is no penalty for not completing a series that I started, but it was feeling that way. Self-imposed deadlines for a blog that a dozen or so people read take the joy out of the whole process. (Though a couple of days ago, the blog got over 1500 hits! WTF)

Nothing last forever, however and a few things have crossed my mind lately that I want to get down before I forget or get too comfortable on the couch. I don’t feel like I need to comment on the end of the White Sox season and everything else, but I actually want to. My rekindled interest in soccer is also something that I want to get into and the “New 52” from DC Comics. Along the way a few other things seem to be popping up in my head and writing seems like it could just be fun again. We’ll see.

Vacation, Mortality and Awe.

Vacation was great. We did the Oregon coast for the second time as a family and what was great is how much the kids think they remember from the first time. I say “think” they remember because my son wasn’t quite three and my daughter had just turned one, so I’m not sure exactly how much they can really recall. If I had to guess, I think that now, five and almost seven, respectively they can see how much my wife and I remember from the last trip, how much we reminisce and how much we were cherishing the moment. They might not really remember that first trip, but I’m pretty sure they’ll have memories of this one.

All things considered, there really isn’t a lot to tell you about the coast. It is breathtakingly beautiful, but pictures and descriptions just do not do it justice. I think the main aspect that draws me to the coast is how massive it is. The scenery is so mobile, so striking. I have lived my life in the Midwest and I do find beauty here as well, but the Pacific Ocean, especially in the Northwest is simply overpowering. Everything seems to be crashing, colliding and rising above. Two instances really showed me the power of the ocean. First we went on a whale-watching trip; unfortunately, no whales. The seas were actually a little rough and that was the inspiring part (and nauseating part.) A few times as we were rushing from Devil’s Punch Bowl to North of Depoe Bay the waves appeared to be above where we were standing. I knew logically that we were in a trough and the wave was at its height, but it still reminded me that compared to the ocean, I am really small. The other episode was a bit more frightening. I dove into the ocean twice on this trip and that is enough. If you’ve never been to the northwest trust me the ocean is really cold. My brother-in-law and I both went under but the second time I stayed under a little longer than I planned. I tried to time my plunge between waves so there was enough water to actually go under. All went well until I tried to pop up; another wave came much faster than I thought and I was pinned down for a few seconds. I think what scared me the most was that I have never felt afraid in the water, never felt out of control. I was definitely out of control and I did not like it. After the wave let me go I jumped up and ran to the shore. I don’t think I was ever truly in danger, all the same I was glad to be by the fire and finished with the ocean for another trip.

I could tell you more about my favorite past time while by the ocean, gathering agates, sea shells and stones, but really I can’t bring myself to do it. It really is a lot of fun and not as boring as it looks on screen.

G'ma does the rock thing

Rock gathering unto the second generation

The last thing that I’ve been dwelling on since vacation has to do with death and remembrance. We spent a day visiting my mother-in-law’s parents and sister in a cemetery about 80 miles inland. The kids didn’t quite know the significance of the visit, but they did realize that it was important and we really quite wonderful. They helped grandma tend to the stones, place some flowers and give big hugs when all was said and done. What I realized from this is, I haven’t really thought about how I want to be remembered, or more accurately how do I think those that I leave behind want to remember me. While I get the, “they are in our hearts and thoughts, no matter where we go” idea it was obvious that Donna found comfort at the memorials. While I’m certain she remembers her parents and sister in a variety of ways throughout her daily comings and goings, for lack of a better description she was happy to be at the cemetery. I’m not sure where I want to be laid to rest, or better said scattered, but after this visit I think my kids and other family members might like a place to visit. As we entered a park shortly after coming home, legacy bricks were at the main entrance. Some were for local businesses, some from local churches and donors but some were memorials. I think that would be a good place to start, a brick at a place where we all have strong memories, where those that want to remember can go and feel connected, feel comfort, and feel something resembling joy, not in death of course but in a life shared.

True Confessions

Went to the movies tonight with my lovely spouse and had a great time. Dates are always a good thing and with kids, harder to come by than you could possibly imagine. The movie was Up in the Air, starring George Clooney and a couple of actresses who were great, but I don’t have the energy to look them up on IMDB right now. Short review, it was fantastic. That’s not what I’m writing about, however. Nope, in the middle of the movie as I was watching it unfold, I realized that I could never write a movie this good. I know, sitting here at age 40 and realizing I couldn’t write a movie sounds ridiculous. However, I’ve thought a long time about writing some kind of screenplay/play/tv show, I’ve just never really done it. As a matter of fact, my prose writing has amounted to about five short stories, a really bad play written in the 7th grade, a couple of horrendous poems and more starts and stops than an expressway at rush hour. When it comes to writing, I’m not what you would call a closer. Watching Up in the Air made me realize that I could never write something like that but instead of making me feel down, I kind of feel energized. I sort of found my voice as it were. I may like pithy, smart movies about relationships, coming to grips with mortality and the benefits and consequences of isolation, but I just can’t write about it. I can, however, write about other stuff. So to the dozen or so folks reading out there, I’m going to make a promise, kind of like letting you in on my physical goals. I’m going to finish my dissertation and here’s the kicker: And I’m going to finish something else. I don’t know what just yet, but there are about 3 things hanging over my head that the longer I let hang, the sooner they will rot. On that note, I hope to put together a few more blog posts. I’ve come to realize that writing leads to more writing and that has always been a good thing in my life. Oh, I can’t tell you my thoughts on writing other stuff, I’m still too much of a coward to go that far, give me time, I’m only 40 after all.

There are places I remember.

I had tickets, well my wife had tickets, to a concert and we couldn’t find a babysitter so she decided I should find someone and go. Long story short, no takers. Along with this episode, some old fraternity brothers have been posting pictures from our college days which are fun to look at and led to this post. I don’t want this to veer off into morbid reflection, but something that I’ve struggled with for a long time is feeling connected with others. I look at those old pictures and it reminds me how I always felt like the odd man out, that my brothers were really close and I was outside of that circle. Many of those guys are still really close friends, or at least appear to be, and I would be embarrassed to get in touch with any of them, except on Facebook. Honestly, how does that conversation start? “Hey, how are you? Been about twenty years, want to hang out?” That just seems odd, to say the least. The other thing is my personality or who I’m attracted to, more or less. Not to put to fine a point on it, but as I reflect over the course of my life my closest friends tend to be women. I can’t honestly say why this is and I’ve pondered it for awhile I even tried to “correct” it from time to time. That usually involved such things as joining a fraternity, attending men’s groups in AA and trying to hang out in a “group of guys” (clique is probably a bit more precise.) Nothing quite felt right and the usual pattern is, look for a group, get involved in the group and realize I don’t particularly fit in with said group, all the while envying the closeness that the people (namely men) in the group seem to share. In recent years, all things considered I haven’t really been a part of any significant group and more to my detriment I haven’t been particularly close to anyone, except my wife, which is wonderful but I definitely think more is need to remain healthy, not only as a person but for our marriage as well. What has made that a much harder thing to accomplish is that, and this is mostly conjecture (but hey what is a blog for if not conjecture?) but my tendency to be friends with women as a opposed to men is inhibited in some way. Not that my wife would object, but I get the sense that female colleagues and associates aren’t quite sure what to do with the friendly family guy co-worker. Also I think that on some level I’m not quite as willing to put myself out there, as willing to meet people as I once was. I think part of this comes from the fact that over the years I’ve had some very close friends who have drifted away and the older I get the harder it is to establish that kind of relationship with someone new. What doesn’t help in all of that is how much I value my time alone, which is harder and harder to come by between work, kids and evening commitments. So when I do have time to do something that might include someone else, my first instinct is usually to go it alone. Also, honestly I hate to be a bother. Many of friends have very active lives, between work and family and other interests that I just don’t think they would be able or willing to do some of the things that I want to do on a rare night out. Of course the unfortunate side effect is that sometimes I’m not able to find someone to go to a concert with on a Friday night. (Some of you reading might be thinking, “Hey douche, I would have been happy to go to a concert, so get over yourself and get on the phone.” Your point is very well taken.)

I also see people like my brother and am amazed by the friends that he has had since college, still visits with them, gets together every year, and the like. My wife too; she has close friends from high school that she keeps in contact with regularly. I can’t help but feel like I’m missing out on something, that I’m deficient in some way or, when I’m in a particularly dark place, that there is something wrong with me. (I won’t even discuss my in-laws, except to say their ability to sustain a thriving social network is truly amazing.) I’ve been told, by professionals no less, that there isn’t anything wrong with me, in this instance anyway. It seems my personality type sort of lends me to this type of existence. I’m good at making acquaintances, small talk but as far as making really close friends, I have a really tough time feeling that connection. When I do it’s very true, I mean I know I’m with a kindred soul, which is a wonderful feeling. There are a couple of downsides, however. First, it doesn’t happen all that often and in some ways I feel like I’m in the longest drought of my life not having that relationship. The other thing about this, again told to me by a professional, is that once a person is out of my life that’s it; the plug is pulled as it were. I’m not built like my wife or brother or many, many people I envy. The effort, for lack of a better word because it looks effortless really, to stay in touch just isn’t in me. Not out of laziness or disinterest, but I just don’t do it. Of course as good friends have told me about my feelings of remorse of losing touch with people who have meant a lot to me, “Well, has your phone been ringing off the hook?” The answer is no, of course. Seems my closest friends tend to be like me and losing touch is something that many of us do which is what makes Facebook so much fun.

I am resisting the urge to list and comment on the people I’m closest to, past and present. I would hate to offend anyone by not mentioning them and I’m well aware that some people may read this and think, “dude, we’re friends. I know you have other friends. What the hell do you want?” I can only answer by saying you’re right, and yet I can’t escape this feeling of being out of touch with my fellows, of being, quite frankly, lonely, isolated and discontent. Of course, from the time I started writing this (yesterday) to now I already feel better and realize how foolish I probably sound to a lot of people. Even so, I’m glad I put all this down, foolish or not. Somehow putting these thoughts out to the world (or the 10 people who read this anyway) clears my head and lets more light in, which is what I constantly need.

Here Goes Nothing,

I’ve been mulling this idea for some time, making halfhearted attempts at implementing it, and constantly saying, “Well, maybe next week.” The issue is my weight. Now, I’m in much better shape than I’ve been in many, many years, but the spring/summer before my hernia surgery I was down to a low water mark of 169 pounds. That is down from a high mark of ~204. Currently I’m hovering around 178-180. Like I said, not bad, but I know what it is like to be even lower and, quite frankly looking better. So the half-hearted attempts are over, I want to reach my Weight Watchers goal weight of 163. I’d like to get there by Thanksgiving, but that is a little unrealistic. I’m putting this out to the internets as a motivation, a contract if you will that I’m going to get serious about this. I want to see what it takes to get to 163 and maintain a weight of 165-170. Somehow I think it is going to take a good deal of work and sacrifice, but I know when my weight is that far down, I feel great. So, here goes nothing…

Finding the Extrodinary on a Friday Night.

Every baseball game is different, no great wisdom there, but sometimes one comes along to remind me why I still believe it is the greatest game ever invented.* Me and my friend AJD took in the White Sox-Pirates game on Friday night. Two teams not doing particularly well, in front of a small crowd (though official attendance was at 23,000!) on a brisk night did not promise much. Instead it was one of those rare games that was extraordinarily well-pitched by both teams leading to the un-baseball like playing time of 1 hour 51 minutes. Gavin Floyd carried a no-hitter through 4 2/3, only surrendering two hits for the entire game and Zach Duke scattered six hits over eight innings. Duke gave up one manufactured run and one home run in the eighth. Neither team committed an error and there was only one (unnecessary) pitching change. Of course that only tells part of the story, the part you can look up (just like I did) and get from god knows how many websites. So many other parts of the game experience were perfect. The first, owing to the pace of the game, was the fans seemed more into the action on the field than usual, or at least I did. When a game is clipping along at that speed it just pulls you into its rhythm and you get caught up in the pitch and catch game the pitcher and catcher are playing. You can almost hear the pitcher’s mantra, “get the ball, throw the ball; get the ball, throw the ball…” and when something comes along to slow that rhythm down it is kind of weird. Being more absorbed in the game also affected the conversation that AJD and I had during the game. We talked a lot more about pitching than I can remember and a lot less about our fellow patrons. I’m not saying we didn’t talk about the crowd, but the game was too good to ignore. Another great fringe benefit of a short game is caloric intake. AJD copped out of our gentleman’s agreement to eat healthy at the game, but I decided to try it anyway, well no meat anyway. It’s hard to call nachos and ice cream a healthy diet. Without that third hour, however, the extra food that I always seem to take in didn’t materialize. Nope, I steered clear of the second hot dog (or third), french fries, churros, and usually something else might catch my eye for a change of pace. (like a cheeseburger, or italian beef.)

I know that I’m in the minority, but I enjoy a well-pitched game to a slugfest any day. It feels like a throw back to how games were played in the fifties and sixties, like I’m getting a peek at what a trip to the ball park was like when my dad went to games as a kid. Somehow on a night like Friday, all of the bells and whistles of the modern stadium experience melt away and what is left is what makes baseball everlasting.

*yes, invented. Not evolved or any other crap like that. Yes, everything has its influences, but as the rules were set down in the nineteenth century a completely new game came about that may look like rounders and cricket but it is entirely different. Same goes with soccer, just because you inflated a sheep’s bladder or chopped somebody’s head off and kicked across a field doesn’t make it the same game that was put to paper in Victorian England.