NaNoWriMo Starts!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’ve been busy trying to get my first novel done before November so I can participate in NaNoWriMo. Yesterday, I completed the first draft of my first novel just in time. Now, I’m working on my second novel. It’s basically a story about a man who lives next to a house where lots of artists die. Anyway, I know it’s only day one, but I’m right on track to meet my goal of sixty-thousand words at 2k done today. I didn’t want to post everything, but here’s some of what I’ve written so far:

As often as he could, Francisco sat on the porch smoking a cigar. He found the most time to smoke in the early morning. Gurkhas and Liga Privadas were the only cigars he smoked. Francisco’s husband, Thomas, would sit with him at times, but only after noon. Francisco enjoyed the cool, East-coast breezes that swept through just after sunrise. Nine months out of the year, Thomas was uncomfortable. After so many decades of forcing himself to sit in the wind, he decided stopped. His opinion was that there were better ways for him to spend time with his husband.

                Francisco agreed with Thomas that there were better ways for the pair to enjoy their days together. For many long years, they worked together at the small grocery store that they owned in town. The only store around for miles, it was a very successful business venture. Now, they were old, though. A young man, Xavier, worked there for the majority of the time Thomas and Francisco did. Xavier ended up investing some of his pay in the store. He became part owner and took over the entire operation when Francisco retired. Thomas worked the counter for a handful of years after his husband lost interest in it. Eventually, he decided it would be best for his health if he didn’t stand still at the cash register all day.

                Thomas and Francisco both loved spending time in their home. It was a large plot of land. There were so many trees that their gardener, Maggie, always said the forest would swallow the whole property one day. Thomas designed the house himself, with a bit of aid from an architect he attended university with. The couple’s dinner guests would regularly get lost on their way from the living room to the dining room. After several complaints, Francisco hung cleverly placed paintings that helped to point out the path. One of them was of a Russian writer with a stern expression, holding a quill pen in his outstretched arm. Another, a ballet dancer dancing with a swan, both facing the direction of the dining room door.

                A massive porch wrapped around the entire house. Chairs sat around every corner. If Francisco wanted to sit in the sun in the winter, there was a chair. When he felt like overlooking the small pond next to the house, he could. Thomas preferred the front of the house, but rarely sat outside alone. In the early days, men would come to their house to threaten them. Many a pick-up truck sped by, tossing road kill at the couple as Thomas drank tea and Francisco smoked. The tranquility of the New England air was always interrupted by those frightening memories. Not long after the third Racoon landed on their steps, Thomas bought a shotgun.

                Neither of them ever had to shoot the shotgun at anyone. They each took it out once, behind their house. Thomas shot a pumpkin and Francisco didn’t hit anything. Word must have got out about their purchase, according to Francisco, because once they had the gun, the taunts only came from teenage boys. The boys would end up coming into their store a few days later to apologize. Xavier often remarked on how funny it was that the grown men, who likely owned guns as well, were so afraid of the cheap, wooden twelve-gauge. Francisco would argue, saying it was intimidating. He would say that grown men know the difference between a toy and a gun, but boys do not. There were a few good years, after purchasing the gun, that neither Thomas, nor Francisco, had anything to worry about. Then, all of the sudden, their quiet life became full of hissing static.

                Their neighbor, known to them only as Joe, lived in his house since the end of World War Two. His wife died the year before Thomas and Francisco moved to town. For the entire time that they lived next to one another, Joe neither caused nor reported any problems. Not a sound came from his windows. After a while, he could be heard yelping in pain while working on some project in his garage. That phase only lasted a few months. He’d lost the hearing in one ear while fighting the Germans. Had a nasty scar all the way across his back. His wife, Ethel, was pampered for the rest of her life after they wed. After she died, Joe was only seen outside working in his yard. There was a beautiful garden that grew thanks to his efforts. Thomas and Francisco regularly found baskets of vegetables outside their front door. Anything that would grow, including things that weren’t supposed to grow that far north, Joe would share with them.

                Eight years after Ethel died, Joe joined her in the afterlife. There was a large estate sale, where Francisco found an Italian tobacco pipe and a box of beautiful cigars. Shortly after Joe’s death, a new neighbor moved in. This man was an artist. He painted large pictures that people liked looking at. Thomas and Francisco spoke with Maggie in depth about how they didn’t understand why people liked looking at his paintings so much. They didn’t understand why he was driving an expensive convertible, having never worked a regular job. The first time they met, he introduced himself as Radwin Ali. He gifted the couple the painting of the Russian writer. Francisco hung it outside of the living room because it was the place that bothered Thomas the most.

                “Do you really have to hang that ugly man on the most looked at wall in our house? This isn’t what I pictured seeing every time I lead our guests to the back of the house.”

                “Thomas, it looks perfect in this light. There’s nowhere else in the whole house that this would look good. I know it’s dreadful, but it belongs right here.”

                Francisco didn’t believe at all that the painting belonged on the wall where he hung it. He thought it was a good way to tease Thomas for years to come.

                Radwin Ali invited the two of them to his house warming party, but they declined. He’d left the note in the same spot that Joe would leave his baskets of vegetables. Seeing the paint smeared envelope on the porch brought back a group of emotions that Francisco, who found it, didn’t want to feel.

                The party was loud. In one form or another, it seemed to go on for a month. After it ended, another party took its place. Whether it was day or night, Radwin Ali kept a constant stream of visitors. The guests were all enamored by the isolation and colorful nature of the area. None of them failed to express their awe. A car would pull up next to one of the dozen others in Radwin Ali’s driveway, then someone would let out a horrible shriek. Overnight guests of Thomas and Francisco were regularly awakened at odd hours by the screams. Their shock would subside when Radwin Ali shouted back.

                “I know. Isn’t it extravagant?”

                Things got to the point where if Thomas didn’t warn their guests of the disturbing activity, Francisco would. it became a strange habit that neither of them enjoyed forming. Many of their guests would announce that they’d changed their minds about staying the night upon hearing the warning. The couple became jealous that Radwin Ali could have all the guests in the world, and they could have none.

When he died, a torturous social weight was lifted from their shoulders. Thomas said he felt bad about how he reacted afterwards. Francisco called him a liar. Truthfully, they were both relieved that they were able to resume normal life. They began having their own guests over again. Those guests would stay the night. For years, no one asked about Radwin Ali’s death. It was a summer night, while the group was drinking a variety of Malbecs, that someone finally asked about it. Francisco was reluctant at first, but told the story as his friend persisted.

“Radwin Ali drove a fast car. It was a convertible. It was blue, with a tan top. He never took it to a mechanic. Obviously, he didn’t know how to work on it himself. The thing had a simple problem. Looked to me like the connector between the alternator and the headlights, or something of that nature. Every so often, his headlights would go dark.

When he drank at those infernal celebrations, he liked to take girls out for a drive. He’d go up and down the dirt road here to the east. I don’t think he lived here long enough to learn them well, because he’d ran his car into a ditch once before.

He took two girls out in his car one night and sped up and down the road, through the fields out there. I saw his headlights go out when they were still far away. Thomas says he thinks Radwin Ali lost track of where he was. I feel bad saying it, but it is kind of ironic, in a way. The man was famous for his paintings. That one you saw of the man with the pen in the hall on your way back here, he gave that to us. Anyway, he had the house painted white when he moved in. When he crashed that convertible into it, he and those poor girls were splattered all over the wall. We still can’t figure out how he didn’t go through the whole damn house, going that fast.”

“He had a lead foot, that’s for sure.” Thomas commented.

The dinner guests were so amazed by the story that they brought others to the house hear it. They’d tell Thomas and Francisco that they tried telling it, but didn’t do the tale justice. Neither of the men told anyone about the frantic pandemonium that had gone on.

The Invisible Flame

I’m standing at an alter in a dank, shadow filled church. The alter is off to the side, in an especially tucked away corner. There are a few candles sitting on the dusty white cloth draped across it. Only about half of the candles are lit and it seems like they’re going out one by one. Those candles are my goals and dreams. The alter is hidden away, far off to the side where no one walks anymore, that’s my spirit. As time goes on, my adult mind picks out certain flames to suffocate. There is a candle near the back that burns low and dim, but hasn’t been put out, yet. It’s my dream of being accepted as an artist. Not becoming famous or rich as one, but being able to really call myself a writer. To have regular readers, have people enjoy my work, and to be able to dedicate as much time and effort as I need to in order to feel justified in calling myself one.

I’ve made what I consider to be a lot of progress in a very short time as a self-published author. A handful of folks have bought and read my poetry, which I wasn’t expecting. Someone once recited a line from a specific poem back to me. That was like being taken briefly into another dimension. Everything’s been moving so fast that I need to remind myself once in a while that I haven’t even been working on this for a year, yet. When I really started writing again, almost, but not quite a year ago, I hadn’t even considered publishing my work. The thought was something I’d always toyed with, but it always seemed so out of reach. One of the things that I learned about art while making music in a past life was that it is a participatory sport. It requires interaction from other people for it to matter. When we’re younger, we suffer delusions of grandeur. Some of us still do, obviously, but not to the extent we do while inexperienced. This isn’t something that I want to write about, though. It is hard to walk the line of writing your unique perspective on an aspect of life and parroting what’s already been said. I’m trying my best not to do the latter, so I am working to avoid the first.

People sometimes put artists on a pedestal. Some artists try to convince others that the urge to create is somehow painful. They want you to think that, because you don’t quite understand the feeling completely, it hurst them. It’s a bunch of bull shit. It’s a sham. I struggle. You struggle. We all struggle. A lot of people suffer a lot more than I do. I’m not going to try to pull a shade over anyone’s eyes saying I’m more in touch with my emotions than someone else just because I feel the need to create. That little candle of mine, it’s totally, utterly self indulgent. Releasing art into the world to be (justifiably) ignored by the masses, that’s not suffering. It’s the absence of feeling. Emptiness. It’s as though there is a flame, but it emits
no heat or light.

Anyway, I felt like I had to express this, but I also feel like I haven’t thought about it enough to organize my ideas well. When I put out my works, there’s the satisfaction of completion. Hand in hand with that satisfaction is the feeling of letting something go to fly off into the sunset, only to have it plop right down on the ground in front of you. I’ll be lying to myself if I ever start to believe the bird is going to take flight. Definitely not a bad feeling, not a defeat, just something different than I’ve experienced elsewhere in life. Maybe I have and I’m just not aware of the paralel, yet. I do know that the alter where my dreams stand, it gets confusing. Sometimes I can’t tell the candles apart, and there’s no way to guess which ones I should keep lit.

New Book Out Today!

In late 2016, depression hit me hard. Everything about my life made me feel stuck. I hadn’t made any sort of art in two years. It had been at least three years since my last show. The changing of the seasons, on top of everything else, had me really far down. One day that fall, I woke up and decided that would be my last day. I got in shower, decided I’d like to have one last lunch with my wife, then I’d kill myself. There was a short list of things I wanted just one more time. One more cup of coffee, another pipe of Dunhill, one last beer with my best friend. Before I’d left to go to lunch, I thought it sounded like a good idea to write ten final poems. At the time, it would have been around six years since I’d written anything (I wrote “Couch to Couch” when I was 17-21). It sounded like a nice way to leave something other than a note. I made a promise to myself that day. No matter what happened, how I delayed suicide, I’d not put it off for too long.

I got six or seven poems done before going to lunch. My wife convinced me it would be a good idea to get that beer with my friend right after lunch, so I did. Luckily, he was able to meet me. We had a drink, then I went home to write my last few poems. As the story goes, those few poems turned into a bunch of poems. Writing poetry is like Jazz to me. I improvise as I go and don’t look back at what I’ve done. The feeling I had while writing those first forty or so poems was something that I hadn’t had in so long. I don’t remember what it felt like now, but I imagine I feel it a lot more since I’ve been writing so much this year.

“That Which Gets in the Way” is the poetic documentation of what was going through my mind as I was depressed, drunk, and suicidal. As I felt better over time, my writing improved, my drinking lessened, and I started feeling better. Granted, I felt better because things in my life overall were improving. This collection, though, it followed me from a point where I was sitting on my bed holding my Walther PPK in my hand to where I am now, not even able to think about taking my own life. It’s all in chronological order. You’ll see the change in my writing as you read it front to back. Not that you have to read it in order, but I think that’s a pretty neat journey. It ends with me breaking a promise to myself. I wasn’t checking out early. I’m in control. Putting off the unthinkable to write a few poems started something inside of me that saved my life.

These days, almost a year after that day, I’ve accomplished a ton. I wouldn’t have published “Couch to Couch” or “four”, let alone this new collection, if I’d made a different choice. I’m a little more than halfway done with my first novel, a quarter of the way done with another, and planning on finishing a first draft of a third next month for NaNoWriMo. Not that I’m trying to be braggadocios, I’m just saying that things are looking way up for me. That they could’ve been extremely different. I’ve learned a lot about myself this year and I plan on continuing that learning.

So, I hope you really enjoy my book. It’s dirty, gritty, sometimes straightforward, sometimes surreal, and most definitely sad. It’s the most honest I’ve ever been on paper. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for checking it out.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1522087931/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1507160603&sr=1-1&keywords=that+which+gets+in+the+way