Tag Archives: Telling Stories


The End of the Season

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Telling Stories, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , ,

It’s October.

There’s a lot of sleight of hand involved in October, but perhaps its greatest achievement is bringing an end to baseball season without generally making me upset about said end. Granted that the excitement of playoff baseball and its association with October helps, but all too often October comes with no real hope for the Mariners and often no hope for any team I particularly care for. (Indeed, with the demise of the Twins tonight, I find myself rooting for, what, a Red Sox-Phillies World Series? Yawn.) Yet October is able to draw me away from baseball with smoke and mirrors and pumpkins. Mostly pumpkins.

Tonight (or rather, the last night of September), I had the distinct privilege of listening to the full game of perhaps the most satisfying Mariner win all season. I mean, strategically it was unsatisfying, given that the M’s were eliminated from contention over a week ago. But Brandon Morrow nearly threw a no-hitter, Griffey hit a three-run homer in the first inning, and the M’s clinched a winning record for the campaign, leaving themselves an outside shot of passing the Rangers for 2nd in the AL West. And Rick Rizzs almost predicted a homer (turned out to be a triple off the top of the wall) on a precise pitch and then nearly had a stroke calling the play he had nearly predicted. All the while, I was reminded of how much I love listening to baseball in particular, how the quiet nights in my room with a game remind me of so many quiet nights in my room with a game from younger years.

The nights have been quiet lately largely because of Em’s efforts to acclimate herself once more to a studying routine, while I try to write and (much harder) find the discipline to code changes for the Blue Pyramid. Tonight, for example, I was working on the tedious conversion of the Book Quiz pages to the new navigation-bar format. I’m also trying to get the jump on the long-awaited Book Quiz II, which I’m hoping to have out by the time American Dream On is ready. The former could not be much less of a priority, however, especially by comparison, though watching the BP’s sagging stats always gets me back on my horse for a while.

Like anything, these projects – even Em’s studying – are all about momentum. Getting in a groove and then finding things satisfying or rewarding enough about that groove that make it worthwhile to stay there. Or, more accurately, to return there time and again, to recreate that space. When the space is wide enough, this is easily done with writing. Pretty much everything one does (or at least I do – perhaps I shouldn’t attempt to speak objectively about what may ultimately be a very personal experience) relies on the renewal of the font of momentum, the benefits of being in the zone. This is perhaps why so many people give up so completely in their place of work and general approach to a day job: the feeling of obligation alone is insufficient to charge the batteries that generally get their best fuel from excitement or passion.

Of course, obligations provide a fear factor and disciplinary onus that those who haven’t completely checked out come to rely on to keep them going through a day job work week. So a big part of the game of these two years is about revving the engines without overt obligation (though self-imposed deadlines help) and pacing oneself with the constant celebrations of milestones in writing, in coding, even in playing basketball or walking the cat (long story, but she needs to eat grass for her digestion). Debate, unsurprisingly, is taking care of itself. If anything, I need to find ways to limit my attention on the debate coaching side so it doesn’t consume the time required for everything else.

Why? Because debate is exciting, innately sort of passionate. It creates its own rewards very quickly. The thrill of one round, the excitement of even one well-answered Point of Information, these things are enough to charge months’ worth of batteries. I have had so many dreams in the past seven years about being back in rounds and wanting to savor a last competitive semester or year. Despite my interest in both, I have had no such heartbreaking dreams about the summer of 2001 or a chance to code a quiz.

The challenge right now, the challenge of a life lived creatively and deliberately in a variety of pursuits, is the create the fire of a competitive event in everything I do. And starting in four days, I won’t have baseball to distract/inspire me.

It’s starting to get colder. Already we’re starting to debate when we’ll have to bite the bullet and actually turn on the heater.


Solitary, Bookish, and Mid-Sized

Categories: A Day in the Life, Telling Stories, Tags: ,

September still has a week to go, but the stats are looking pretty good for work on American Dream On. While work on various other projects, including three short stories and a quiz, has slowed substantially, this has been the output 24 days into this first full month of work on the novel:

31,294 words (~125 pp) in 15 chapters

Suffice it to say that I’m pretty ecstatic about this. That’s just over 1300 words (~5+ pp) a day, every day, which includes several days that I’m not able to write, such as when I’m overnight at a debate tournament (second one coming up tomorrow). Now obviously the quality has yet to be evaluated fully (editing takes some time), but actually slogging out the execution is the real bulk of writing work, both in terms of time and energy.

As far as the experiment of working on this as a full-time schedule vs. trying to integrate it with a day job, it’s worth noting that I only wrote about 19,000 words (~76 pp) of the book from June 2002 through July 2009. So, uh, 76 pages in 85 months vs. 125 pages in 24 days. I think we can close the book on any experimental wonderings about what allows me to do my best work.

Not that this is a surprise, of course – this whole life is based on trying to take the summer of 2001 and apply it to a year-long or even multi-year scale. But I’m almost starting to wonder whether three books in a year is a – gulp – conservative estimate of what I can do when I get rolling. The major question on that front will revolve around how much down-time (if any) I need between books and on whether I can keep this roaring pace going for months on end. Certainly deadlines create incentives, though their value may be diminished when I’m on a pace to beat them by almost a month. We’ll see how well I’m still chugging along come Thanksgiving.

If there’s a message that’s more widely applicable from all this, it’s probably a familiar one: you have no idea what you might be capable of without the bonds of a daily obligation to school or work.

I just hope the book’s good. I’m certainly enjoying writing it, but the proof will be in everyone else’s opinion. Of course, no previews are available since I very much try to avoid others’ opinions impacting the actual process as I’m working on the piece. But at this rate, Christmas might be coming early for those of you intrigued.


And a Star to Steer Her By

Categories: A Day in the Life, Blue Pyramid News, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Telling Stories, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , , ,

When I lived in Oregon and wasn’t attending sixth grade, somewhere between my acting life and my speech and debate life, I opened a play directed by a friend of my parents with a recitation of “Sea-Fever” by John Masefield.

The poem is brief (briefer than I remember), but conveys powerful imagery of the pull of the ocean and its eternal hold on those who sail upon it. I was adorned in a cap not unlike what I’d worn as Oliver Twist (but newer and nicer) and some sort of scarf that the director had determined sufficiently aquatic. Despite these elements of costuming and the placement of a stage beneath my feet, I think this may have been the birth of my understanding of the power of spoken words. Not the magic of theater, in full regalia, which I’d long known and loved, but the actual power and presence of mere strings of syntax, dramatically spoken.

Of course, there was my third grade talent show rendition of the Gettysburg Address, which I remembered made a couple teachers cry. But I’d been disappointed with my performance there, forgetting some words and feeling immense pressure. I had not felt the command over that performance that I did in the practiced rhythms of Masefield’s cadence.

It is somehow fitting to remember that preface on a night back from introducing members of the Rutgers class of 2013 to the basic tenets of parliamentary debate. Just as every word written makes for better writing next time, so every word spoken has led me to this point in my life. And perhaps I can forgive myself for sacrificing tonight’s writing efforts (unless I can start after completing this post) to the twin duties of education and navigation.

This last is the true inspiration for tonight’s title, for a navigation bar has been introduced to The Blue Pyramid for the first time ever. Over the course of the next few weeks, the navigation system will filter out through the rest of the website. The focal points of this bar also come with an acknowledgment that several projects have been archived, most permanently lost at sea.

I would like to say that this move will usher in a new era of updated content at the site, with quizzes and new projects abounding as long planned. I have learned enough over my millions of spoken words, of course, to know that such promises are of no worth. Either I shall make good, which will speak for itself, or I shan’t, which will undermine the promises’ purpose.

So I present what is done and will call it a night. Perhaps to write briefly before sailing for sunrise.

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
and quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.


Number Nine, Number Nine, Number Nine

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, Awareness is Never Enough - It Must Always Be Wonder, Quick Updates, Telling Stories, Tags: , , , ,

Today (defined loosely as from noon yesterday till right now), I:

  • Took delivery on a flat-screen television, which will hopefully never have network or cable TV thereon.
  • Spoke to my parents on the phone.
  • Listened to Barack Obama’s speech and…
  • …Decided that I am against the current incarnation of “healthcare reform”.  (More on this later!)
  • Spoke to Em’s mom in person.
  • Welcomed Pandora back into our home.
  • Ate a bunch of fried food.
  • Had a soda for the first time in weeks.
  • Wrote Chapter 21 of American Dream On, weighing in around that magic 2,000 words.
  • Played “Hero” by Regina Spektor on repeat for some time.

The only difference between these days and the old days is that these days matter. I am writing and that changes everything. My whole outlook on life can be determined through the filter of how much control I have over what I do on a given day and how much of that links to what I feel I was put here to do.

Daily fulfillment is not about the space in between, the margins, even most of the time spent. It’s about intentionality, living deliberately, and whether what is done is part of what should be done. Not on the path there, or some esoteric larger vision of being there, but actually a PART of what is intended overall.

This makes all the difference. And I am grateful, eternally grateful, for every day on this side of things.


Six Hours Good, Eight Hours Bad

Categories: A Day in the Life, Telling Stories, What Dreams May Come, Tags: , ,

Last night, I threw in the towel early after about 1,200 words. Not a bad output – way better than zero – and I even felt pretty good about them. I was actually reading my early chronicles of writing Loosely Based yesterday to contextualize my current pace and it looks like I’m on a blistering tear by comparison.

Anyway, I threw in the towel because I had a migraine that I’d been denying most of the night to try to get to a place where I could write something. It wasn’t completely debilitating yet, though it was on its way there, and this is actually a good opportunity for writing. Having lived with migraines for a decade and a half, I have learned a great deal about them, including the fact that they actually represent a state of heightened awareness and sensitivity. Ultimately, this heightened state becomes completely non-functional, as all light, sound, and stimulus of any kind create overwhelming pain. But the moderate parts of the upswing represent a blood-surge to the brain that creates intense focus and ability.

Don’t get me wrong – I would never intentionally induce this state, because the downside of being knocked out for 8-12 hours (or way more in the bad cases) far outweighs the brief preliminary increased consciousness. But if it’s already underway, there’s no harm in taking advantage of it in that very small window. Unfortunately, the tipping point comes very quickly where the pain of trying to maintain interaction with the world outweighs the benefits of that interaction being of higher quality.

So I turned in early, around 4:00, after eking out four pages and change. And I realized that, migrainous, I was going to have to sleep more than the six-hour standard that I’ve been on the last ten days. (My ideal sleep cycle is four hours, but I think I may have gotten too old for this to be feasible on a constant basis.) And that, my friends, would mean dreams.

They were disjointed and unmemorable at first, as they often are when I’ve prevented myself from dreaming for an extended period. Then they started to coalesce into my standard night fare. In the first of memory, I was grinding my teeth into a pulp (sadly all too realistic, Em reports), to the point where I could feel into my mouth and pull out little chunks of tooth and some accompanying powder. The visceral reality of that dream was absurdly compelling, especially since it was set in my actual location, on the bed in Tiny House.

The follow-up was a more traditional, artificially located dream, in which I had been sent into a movie theater as some sort of harbinger of doom. My goal was equal parts to warn a specific person that something troubling was coming to the theater and to create a general aura of discomfort that aware people would be able to pick up on and join the target and I on the way out the door. Those that made it out the door before I did were safe as a rising tide of panic started sweeping in. Just before I left, the shooting began. I was then instructed to push the double-doors behind me shut and hold them there no matter what. Without considering the consequences in detail (I was mostly focused on how infeasible this seemed for one of my strength), I followed the orders. I felt a surge of almost supernatural power through my arms as I was somehow able to resist the stampeding mob shoving the doors in the other direction, while hearing the two machine gunners make their way through the crowd with a sickening series of automatic bullets and the accompanying anguish of their targets. I was torn between my incredible guilt at what I was aiding, the sweet surprise of my strength, and the fear of realizing that if I let go of the doors, I might well get shot myself. Eventually, it was over and I was able to let go after two minutes of silence. No one in the theater was still alive. I met up with a suspicious-looking counterpart who was apparently the operative holding the other exit shut – the one through which the gunmen had initially entered. We briefly discussed the horrible compromise we’d just had to make to save our own lives before I woke up.

I was going to end the post there, dramatically demonstrating why I aim for less sleep and why I see dreams as such a potent enemy of my own peaceful state of mind. But I have just recalled a third dream, I think just before the tooth dream, that might as well accompany this narrative. Funny how intensely recalling dreams prompts the further recessed recall of others.

My group of male high-school friends and I were all hanging out at what was some sort of college or graduate school, mostly in the cafeteria, but occasionally in the dorms, which resembled hotel lodging more than student housing. Fish hadn’t processed his paperwork properly and was thus deemed unwelcome on the campus, though we hadn’t been caught yet. The dream was basically an extended chase scene where we kept trying to get away from these two slick-looking undercover cops who were going to root Fish out and probably punish all of us as well. Throughout the dream, Fish was the only one of our crew who seemed unperturbed by the situation, while Jake and Gris and I struggled in frustration with how serious our circumstances were and how hard it was to get Fish to recognize this. For some reason, I kept being the one to have cryptic conversations with the cops, as though they suspected I was shielding Fish but didn’t quite have enough evidence yet, so they couldn’t just take me down. The climax took place on a used car lot, somehow the last place I expected them to find us, and they told me the jig was up right before I saw Jake tear out of there with a stolen used car, Fish in tow. I gazed down the highway, wondering if they would make it.

I’m aiming for a return to six hours tonight.


I Remember This

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Telling Stories, Tags: , ,

I remember this feeling – the elation of finishing much more of the book than you were planning on even working on at the outset of the night, especially given how late you were hanging out with other people, eating into your writing time. (In this case, the Rutgers debate team I’m coaching, in that case Schneider & Kunkel). The pure exhilaration of watching it get faintly lighter outside and knowing how productive you’ve been while all the rest of your part of the world slept. How everyone is still asleep and you just want to stay up one more hour, fuzzy-tired but eminently satisfied with being in the right place doing the right thing with your time on Earth. Tired, satisfied, and… hungry.

And before, during those blessed days in the summer of 2001, I would get in the Kia and drive down to the Frontier. I would have a breakfast burrito and fries and the world would take on this radiant hue that matched the pinky-purple-orange outside and I would polish off spicy bites with the anticipation of sleep that can only be joyful (for me) knowing exactly how hard and sound you’ll sleep and how happy you’ll be to awaken in the face of the prior night’s accomplishments.

Box of Cheez-Its, loaf of country potato, you are not the Frontier. I know I’m trying hard to eat at home these days, but mornings like this call for an exception. Although I still don’t think driving to Albuquerque is the answer.

These bread products will have to do for this morning. Good night, world. Can’t wait to see you again.


Eight Pages a Day

Categories: A Day in the Life, Telling Stories, Tags: ,

This blog may be in danger of becoming a writing blog. I think I’m okay with that, since writing is what I’ve been wanting to do since I was about eight years old, but you should probably be forewarned.

I remember when we were talking about living together a long time ago (it never happened, though we are in much closer proximity for the time being), my friend Ariel said she had cooked up images of having friends over and sneaking around by candelight, shushing them and pointing upstairs to the literary nook. “Shh… he’s writing,” she imagined herself saying.

Sadly, this is probably more akin to what it’s like to live with me while I have a migraine than while I’m writing. Such romantic notions are (and were) fun, but the reality is much more like what happened with Emily and I today. She called on her way home from her evening Economics class while I was in the midst of a 7:00-9:30 burst of inspiration on a short story, the third I’ve done at least some work on in a week. I picked up the phone in case she needed a ride for some reason in the dark, but was cranky and annoyed when I realized she was just doing a routine check about something. Nearly derailed, I hung up as fast as possible and tried to recapture the magic.

It took a little bit, but I was back in the groove shortly. Then she came home after a long day at school, wanting to converse. But I could have none of it. We had an awkward interlude where I told her that I was really sorry, but I just couldn’t be interrupted while in the throes of inspiration. She thought I was talking about the phone call. I observed that too, but gently noted I was talking about now.

If you’re wondering what Emily was doing that was so unreasonable, the answer is absolutely nothing. The problem is that writing is a fickle beast, especially in this fragile first week of full-time focus. There may be people out there who are writing for eight to ten hours a day, but most of them are actually thinking about writing for that long (or longer). And this work and time is important, and should be scheduled and dedicated, but it’s not the same as being in the crosshairs of the muses, churning out words like the language will go extinct in 30 minutes and you have one last thing to say before they pack it in.

That time is precious, and it’s when most of what people think of as writing gets done. And if you disturb that time, you might as well punt a full day’s worth of work. Because, honestly, you’re spending the whole day trying to get yourself into just that state.

I think this is why so many writers use routines, and why so many of those routines involve alcohol. Artificial substances are so often used as an inducement or a proxy for a specific state of being. And routine, ritual, rote behavior can sometimes train us into the same stupor.

For me, routine is a part of it. I somehow seem to perform exceedingly well on a dawnish to noonish sleep schedule (which I’ve already discussed to excess), with around ten or midnight till dawn being the primary time set aside for the really intense writing work. I have always done my best work in the wee hours, being able to raise my mind the loudest when the surroundings are at their most still.

But the routine only gets me so far. A lot of it is just intensity, meditation, focused thought trained on the particular subject or problem at hand. Or flitting between several. Or just deeply taking in whatever the universe seems to be throwing down.

It is painfully unscientific, unscrupulous, and mercurial. Writer’s block is just what it’s called when the usual combination of meditation, routine, and mumbo-jumbo doesn’t somehow flip over into magic after a little more than the typical requisite time. It’s not that one can’t come up with words to put on a page, staring at a blank screen. It’s that the words are empty husks, severed from the life-giving inspiration that can only come when the mind of the writer is aflame and haunted, slaving away for a mysterious master who strikes at random but offers such sweet rewards.

Much has been said by so many writers about the process’ solitude, its pain, its pyrrhic feel. I say nonsense. Writing is just being the only thing it can be, which is this weird daily fight to create the platform for hours of mystic captivation. But every time that captivation descends, locking in place, it’s like rain coming to flood a drought-stricken land. Nothing has ever been so perfect, so blessed, so wonderful. And it’s all one can do to drink, absorb, wallow in the water before the clouds are spent and it’s time once more to trudge through the desert with a divining rod.

I love it. I love every minute. The coaxing of the next big thing, the slow exhilarating tumble of realizing that inspiration has struck, the torrid tempest of typing, the perfect conclusive feel when one knows the last sentence just finished has completed this segment of the festivities. Even if I didn’t like the results of writing, I would probably try to run through exercises like this just to feel this progression.

It makes me a pain in the behind to deal with. It makes me a logistical nightmare. It makes me even more sine-curvy in my emotional perspectives than normal. Yes, really.

But at eight pages (2,000 words) a day average, a week in, with four projects going (three short stories and, of course, American Dream On, the novel), I wouldn’t change a thing. I really didn’t think I’d get here this quickly, but, God, I never want to leave.

In a programming note, while I finished one story already, it still has some editing to be done before it is ready to send out to those of you out there who have so generously volunteered to be readers. Given the state of things right now, I’m actually thinking I might send out a small suite of three stories at once as the first dispatch, if only because they are all so different and thus demonstrate the range of what I’m working on. The first one is such a departure from my normal fare that I fear it might be somewhat off-putting, or at least distracting, if sent first and by itself.

I don’t want to start setting story deadlines for myself, so I can’t be more clear. But hopefully “Name Game”, “Life is Good”, and (gulp) “The Greatest Story Never Told” will be ready for other eyes sometime this month. American Dream On is the priority, though, so no promises.


The Shorter Story

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Telling Stories, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , ,

Yesterday, I completed* the first short story that I’ve written in years – possibly more than five years. Entitled Name Game, it still needs some editing before too many other people read it (hence the asterisk), but I think it has a good deal of potential. More importantly, it took me just two writing sessions over two days to write the whole thing, which weighs in around 7,000 words. If I can write 3,500 words a day, I’m going to be in good shape.

Granted, I’m here in this situation now to write books, not really short stories. Though I have been newly inspired to write some stories, they aren’t exactly intended to be my focus. So this success offers a bit of a dilemma – how much do I divert my efforts if the stories keep coming? On the one hand, stories have a lower threshold for publication and indeed may almost be a prerequisite for getting a larger work printed by a significant press. On the other hand, my success in writing books is going to depend on setting a deadline and making it stick. And if my daily 3,500 words are being diverted from longer works to shorter works, it’s going to be hard to keep to the deadline.

All of this is coming at the same time as I contemplate a major overhaul of the Blue Pyramid, both the front page and subsequent pages. I’ve decided, for example, that it’s time for me to have a navigation bar. The BP is suffering its biggest drought of traffic since the quizzes came out, which is hardly surprising in the face of how much I’ve neglected it. And I don’t want this to distract me from any sort of writing, though one can’t be writing 24/7. And I can’t help but think that a traffic revival could only help the general momentum of all my projects – getting my name out there and having something serious and creative to refer people to when they’re asking who the heck I am anyway.

Regardless, I was contemplating all this and wondering what to do about having a possible writing section of the BP linked on the nav bar when I remembered that I once assembled my so-called collected works before. And I was shocked to rediscover that I wrote no fewer than 51 short stories in a 3-year period from September 2003 through August 2006. Fifty-one! Now that’s productivity.

Granted, of course, few were of really sustainable value (other than the process and its incredibly helpful practice in improving my writing – hard to imagine being able to write Loosely Based without that kind of narrative experience behind me) and many of them were outright absurd. Although, it does make me wonder how many plots are retrievable – rarely were the ideas the dealbreaker in the stories so much as the execution. But still, 51 stories while going to school and living a full teenage life. That was some dedication. I really used to be so much cooler than I am now.

So I’m newly inspired as I stare down my tentative deadline of December 15th for American Dream On and contemplate a full slate of stories to compete with its completion. Surely I should be able to outpace my fourteen-year-old self in volume of output. Surely, like anything, enough work input will lead to worthy output.

And speaking of output, if you’re interested in being on the list of potential readers for either stories or the novel when they’re ready, let me know. I sort of threw Loosely Based at most of my close friends at the time it was done, with mixed results. Some of the recipients still haven’t read it. I’d prefer to take a much more measured, opt-in approach to the next stage of my writing life. A few folks have already volunteered through Facebook, which is great. My only request would be that you are completely honest in your readings and that you look on the work as an attempt at art, not an opportunity to try to analyze me or find yourself in my writing. You won’t be there. And I don’t need cheerleading – I need earnest, critical feedback.

Standing in the shadow of my youth, here I go.

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