Why Potholes are Stylish

I travel a LOT.

Although I’ve traveled to many places around the world, (London, Paris, Rome, Dublin, Seattle, New York, Washington DC, etc) most of my traveling doesn’t range to anywhere very glamorous. Nowadays, other than the odd writing conference, I spend most of my hours on the road zipping between home and my aging parents house or my college son’s apartment or escorting my daughter to some function or other across the state.

I love to drive. LOVE to drive. Love love love to drive. Did I mention I love to drive? I really love to drive.

But … I hate the interstates. I can’t stand traffic. I am insanely NOT patient with slow or rude or demon drivers, my theory being: if you’re going to drive slow, get in the slow lane – if you needed to be there yesterday, you should have flown – blinkers were made for a reason – and – trains were a wonderful way of transporting goods across country and didn’t clog up our roadways with unpredictable semi-trucks spraying tire shreds and gravel into the windshields of unsuspecting drivers.

So, I drive the back roads.

Two problems exist with my approach.

1) farm vehicles with top speeds of 15 mph and widths greater than the two paved lanes provided

and

2) potholes

And yet, as my title indicates, by all manner of extrapolation and rudimentary logic, I believe potholes are stylish. I mean, they have to be, right? They are old, run down, cursed about, etc … They’re ignored, smoothed over, patched and repatched, and eventually left to go to hell. Right?

But isn’t that how things become stylish nowadays?

In our world of Paleo/Primal/Neolithic cuisine, backwoods, homesteading, non-GMO fighting, organic, raw, pot smoking, hipster culture, potholes should be the stars. They are everything we seem to find value in.

We’ve become a culture of “if it’s old and broken, let’s make a tv show about it”. Really, how many junk collectors are getting rich buying junk while a camera crew follows them around doing it? And yet, if someone is a hoarder (which is the same thing really), another tv show gets made about how appalling they’re lifestyle is. Really? It’s the same thing. People buying piles of junk to which they are somehow attached and enamored.

And it’s all fodder for our entertainment.

Then, there’s the lifestyle choice of “homesteading”. Oh wow. It’s so exciting and the “thing” to do to grow a garden, raise chickens, and learn how to fix your own stuff. EXCITING I SAID!!! EXCITING!!

People promoting that lifestyle even put out “memes” saying things like: “The first grocery store wasn’t opened until 1946. Before that people had to grow their own food.” And those wanting to be “hip” jump on the bandwagon and tell them how great they are for promoting this lifestyle and start asking questions about how to dig a garden.

But it’s all a bunch of bull.

Don’t get me wrong. I garden. I have my whole life. If my grandparents hadn’t gardened, they wouldn’t have eaten. Not because they didn’t have a store to buy groceries at. They did. But they never could have afforded to buy everything they needed to survive. They were poor. Dirt poor, as the saying goes. I garden because I enjoy it and I’d rather eat fresh food. As they say “it’s in my genes”.

And I have chickens and ducks and turkeys and goats and rabbits … because I love animals.

But there is nothing glamorous about living this way. It takes a lot of work. As I told my son the other day, if gardening didn’t involve work, it would be called shopping.

Shopping developed for a reason. Because somewhere along the way humans figured out that they can’t survive on their own. They can’t work hard enough to produce everything they need or find everything they need to survive on their own. Civilization wouldn’t exist without shopping.

Our first cities were market places, trade days to exchange cattle for grains or share the best water sources. Shells were made into beads and traded for salt. Furs were exchanged for an iron pot. Trade – markets – shopping.

And probably more importantly, shopping helped us develop as human beings not just because our physical needs were being met, but also because it allowed us to have more time to do other things, like develop religion and art and technology. Our emotional, spiritual, and intellectual needs also grew and flourished.

So why do we find so much value in “old” things and “old” ways? Why is the junk man suddenly a rock star? Why is hard labor intensive work that keeps us from doing anything else good?

They’re all a bunch of potholes in the road.

30 years is a Long Time to Wait

I attended my 30 year high school class reunion this past weekend. It was odd.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed reconnecting with old friends. I enjoyed the food, the music, the speech. I enjoyed the conversation. But as a writer my observational skills were in overdrive. I was completely overwhelmed.

Faces of the past loomed before me, morphed by wrinkles, gray hairs flanking their cheeks, bald heads defying our mutually held belief that somehow we were all still eighteen. Names that I should have known were whispered to me by those who remembered. Other names we all just shrugged.

I recognized almost everyone there, although I couldn’t tell you why or where I’d last seen them. Since high school, outside of social media, I have engaged with exactly two people that attended. One of them was my best friend and the other I went to university with. My best friend and I hadn’t seen each other in eighteen years, however. My college mate and I reconnected at a funeral a few years ago.

At our age it’s almost amazing that more of us haven’t reconnected at funerals. We’re getting old. We have grand children … well some of us do. Our children are driving cars and getting married. Our parents are passing away. We’re contemplating retirement.

And, as a classmate said in his speech Saturday night, … we’ve all had the rug pulled out from under us at least once.

Friday night, after our pizza party, I went to the hotel room of my best friend from high school. As teenagers we spent many hours sitting up til 3:00 am contemplating the fate of the world, of our world, of our lives. We did it again Friday night. We had to cover eighteen years in a heart beat it seemed. But we barely scratched the surface. She had been on my heart and my mind so many times over the years. I can’t tell you how many times I searched for her only to receive an email from someone in Germany who didn’t speak English or from someone in Canada who wasn’t the correct nationality in response to my queries.

Honestly, I had given up. It was too hard to keep remembering, to keep searching, to keep aching for a friendship that was ripped from us.

Sure I’ve had the rug pulled out from under me more than once in my life … jobs have gone, friends have left, people have died, finances have been rocky, relationships have been sketchy … but that eighteen years without my friend was the worst.

We all form relationships as children, as teens, that define our conversations, our expectations, our visions, our needs as we mature and grow into adults. Those people we went to school with, those friends, those classmates, no matter what our connections later in life, are the ones who shared the ride, the music, the expectations, the stresses of trying to be someone other than who we were, of trying to find ourselves.

And yet, here we are, thirty years later, and most of us are just now beginning to understand that it’s okay to just be who we are.

Thirty years is a long time to wait to see a reflection of ourselves in another person. But that’s what a reunion is. A mere moment of a reflection that captures who we were, what we dreamed, and filters it all with what we have become.

 

The Birth and Death of A Day

For some reason I have been fascinated lately by the sunrise and sunset. So much so that my kids have begun to think I am nuts every time I pull the car over to take another picture. They lean back and turn the music up so that the whole car vibrates. Trucks and semis hauling to and from the oil fields whiz past. I ignore the growling in my stomach for breakfast or supper.

And I stand there, snapping picture after picture of the birth and death of another day.

What is it about the sunset and sunrise that garners so much attention from the humans on this planet? We photograph it, write poetry about it, paint it, change our clocks for it, wrap our language around it … as if dark and light meant everything to us.

I suppose it’s engrained in our souls from a time before light bulbs dulled the night sky fading the stars with their electric buzz. When the difference between light and dark, between day and night, meant hunting and planting crops or starving while hunkering down to sleep under a tree.

But even after a century of living with artificial light, we still change our clocks every spring and every fall to cater to the schedule of a demanding sun. Even our most genius, life-altering inventions can’t win against the tilt of the earth and the pull of the moon sloshing oceans upon our shores.

Every day the sun comes up and goes back down reminding us that we are merely human. None of us were born with tights and a cape, the ability to fly or leap tall buildings, the power to capture the moon with a shrink ray.

We were born frail and weak with nothing more than a passion for eating and breathing and learning.

The sun is so much more.

And yet, we are world changing, life altering beings. We own something the sun will never have. We share something with one another every day through language and art and … sometimes even silence … that the sun will never know no matter how many times it rises and falls, no matter how many days it commands.

Because we are compassionate beings with the ability to love or hate, to laugh or cry, to project our thoughts upon those around us in whatever form we choose to take.

The sun can move us to wake and sleep, to moments of awe, to snap another photograph and write another poem, but only we can tear out someone’s heart in a moment with a mere word.

 

Being Alone in the Vast Vast Universe

I’m never alone, it seems. I have people about me from the moment I wake up until … well the moment I wake up the next day.

Maybe it’s crass to mention, but really the only alone time I get any more is in the toilet. And even then, sometimes, I have someone knocking on the door asking a question.

So, it’s kinda bizarre then that I feel so alone in my writing.

I don’t need people when I’m actually in writing mode. It isn’t that. But I need people who are willing to read and comment when I get to that point, who can review and critique, who are committed to helping. And those are the people I can’t seem to find on a consistent basis.

I’ve been working on two novels consistently now for several months. One is nearly finished, and while it’s had a few critiques of various parts, no one has given me comments on the whole. The other is still in the initial chapters and I’ve had tons of critique on it … so much so that advancing is becoming a problem. I can’t seem to get it edited fast enough to move on for my readers.

Of the two novels, the one that’s almost finished is my favorite. Historical fiction with mystery and suspense and a little romance. It retells the story of a former slave and his ultimate curse on a local cafe through the 1930′s segregation in the south. It isn’t bashful. Nor is it cliche. I don’t know why no one will review it. I guess handing them seventeen chapters is too daunting?? Shrug.

The other novel was started as a spoof, a joke, a bit of comic relief in a long class period. Something referring to vampires and the such. I’ve had no shortage of readers for it though. In some ways, I’ve had too many, each with their own opinions, even though they all claim to love it. It was always my plan to self-pub it as a lark just to see what happened but now I’m not so sure.

So what is it that makes it so hard for writers to get good critiques without having to pay out the arm and leg for it? I never had this issue as an architect. There were always other architects willing to give a critique, offer help, share their knowledge. And when I’ve painted and sketched and sculpted, I’ve had tons of help.

So why the writing loneliness?

I really don’t get it. Of all the writers I’ve met, they are, for the vast majority, a lovely lot of people. They are friendly and cheerful and they love to talk about their art.

I’d say it was because I haven’t given enough critiques for them or something, but that isn’t true. I’ve critiqued everything that anyone has ever asked me to. I sometimes probably go too far with it even … but I always give what I would want to get back. And I’ve never charged anyone.

I’m beginning to believe that I live in a hole in the universe, an alternate time period, with a void in exactly what I need.

Alone, in the vastness of space, surrounded by words, words, and more words. Maybe someday, they will save me.

Latent Writing Goals Revisited

When I was five years old, a bump formed under one of my eyes. It itched and itched despite my mother slathering on Camphophenique oil. In her wisdom, she declared that it was a mosquito bite and that if I left it alone, it would quit itching.

Two days later, the bump still itching, she sent me off to a birthday party where I sat in a fog on the floor and refused to eat cake before I went outside and threw up. When my parents arrived, a fever of 104 raged through my body and by the next morning I was covered in itchy red bumps all over my body.

I had chickenpox.

No, having them didn’t inspire me to become a writer or anything. I’m quite certain that goal is a genetic abnormality. But having them has, all these years later, created something else. A horrible thing called Shingles.

Apparently, the virus that causes chickpox lies dormant in the body for years and years waiting for just the perfect moment of stress in a person’s life to spring back into action. I can bear witness to the fact that it is extremely painful. Debilitating in some ways. Stabbing throbbing pain through one side of the body is kind of nuts to live with.

But really, no one has developed a “cure”.

So I haven’t done much the last couple of weeks other than the things I had to do. Taking care of goats and garden and new baby chickens, moving my son home from college, carting my daughter off to a conference, …

Last night I got a break. I went to dinner and a Broadway show with my parents and sister. I don’t know how many years it’s been since just the four of us have done anything together. We always have children or spouses tagging along. We spent two hours eating dinner, drinking x-rated margaritas, and watching the Monaco Grand Prix before seeing “Sister Act” where we laughed so hard we cried.

It was all a glorious time.

The drive down and back home again was spent, as I always spend driving time, writing stuff in my head. If I had a voice recording device in my car’s audio system, I’d be set.

And last night, I worked out a solution to a rewrite issue I’ve been struggling with for seven years.

Yes. I said seven years.

That’s when I completed the writing on my third book in my trilogy. At the time, I loved it. I love it still. I love the story. I love the characters. I love the setting. But something always nagged at me that it wasn’t … perfect.

I’ve moved on since that story to write several other novels, always knowing that I could finish them because I had finished that first one all those years ago. But I’ve never forgotten it and I’ve always planned on revisiting it and revising it and pushing it for publication.

Last night, like those latent chickenpox springing forth in my body to create shingles, a discussion of my latest novel with my son triggered exactly what I’ve been missing from that trilogy. Unexpected, unknown, un-pursued. The solution appeared before me, reflecting in the darkness of the interstate on my car window, under the glow of the alien head from my dash.

At least it didn’t wait forty-plus years … or cause a rash.

Writing Conference Brain Freeze

So, what is the exact critical mass of a group of writers all gathered together in one place that will cause them all to either explode or implode?

No idea? Give up?

The answer – two. And yet, many of us dump ourselves together in a single place, and for three or four days do nothing but intensely pick each others brains for tidbits of wisdom we can use. Our only breaks during this time, a moment to steal off into one corner or another and …

read. Gasp.

After an intense three days I’ve decided that I’m experiencing the equivalent of brain freeze – the writers version – where too much relevant and necessary information is flooded into the brain in a short time span. And just like the brain freeze you get from sucking in too much concentrated cold all at once, it can give you a headache.

The conference was amazing. I don’t know how it could have gotten much better. Imagine having the knowledge of Andrew Kaufman, David Morrell, Eloise James, Tara Hudson, Nathan Brown, and Dan Gordon among several other excellent authors, poets, and playwrights at your disposal for a weekend.

I couldn’t take notes fast enough. Light bulbs kept flashing in my brain like a fourth of July fireworks display.

And then I won stuff … Oh My God. How did I do that? Part of me is dancing the happy dance, but that back corner of my writer’s brain is screaming “The judges must have entered the wrong name or something.” REALLY. My suspense novel got a 1st honorable mention? Mine? That thing I created? And another corner of my brain is screaming “It’s a fluke. A one-off that I’ll never be able to repeat.”

But I did already.

I won 3rd place in the mainstream novel category. And honorable mentions in both essay and nostalgic prose. And … this made me cry … one of the judges for the essay contest came up to me afterwards and told me how much my piece meant to them, how much they identified with it, how important it was to them. It made me cry because isn’t THAT what all writers crave? To know that someone identified with something they wrote? That someone felt something from reading the words they put on the page?

And now comes the long and arduous task of sorting through all of that information and applying it to the reality of what I’m writing.

That’s where the brain freeze is good, though. That sudden pain wrecking headache made me stop and slow down. I realized that instead of sending out query letters this week or even this month, I just need to concentrate on getting what I am writing as good as it can be.

Thar’s Wisdom in Them Thar Werds

I spent the last four days at a writers conference in my home state of Oklahoma.

I’d like to say that I’ve been attending for a number of years and working towards the lifetime goal of writing the next best selling novel, gaining bits and pieces of wisdom from authors far and wide, and networking my way through the treacherous waters surrounding this business.

But, the truth is …

This was my first year to attend.

Writing conferences are an odd conglomeration of folks. Much like a group of penguins or … sharks … who spend much of the year roaming the seas alone hunting for their food, only gathering to mate and produce new offspring, writers venture out of their solitary make-believe worlds for these unique conventions to birth new ideas and find help in nurturing them -Or- to get eaten by their older siblings.

I hate to postulate that idea because I really had an amazing time. But, as they say, truth will out.

This writing conference, like many, sponsors a writing competition each year with numerous categories in both fiction and non-fiction writing. I entered eleven pieces of writing and expected exactly zip in awards from them. Apparently, entering eleven different categories is not that common though. Most writers seem to focus on one or two things, one style or genre.

But not me.

I followed the advice I was given long ago from one of my college mentors and professors, Mr. John Bryant, who was fond of the old adage, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with … ” Well, we all know how that goes.

Not that anything I entered in the competition was purposely BS. Rather, John taught me that any time I wasn’t sure of what direction to go I should throw everything I had into the wind and see what landed and grew. So I produced as many different pieces of prose as I could in the time I had and sent them all.

Some were utter crap. I knew that. But being new to this venue, I didn’t (and don’t) have a grasp on what road to travel or what others would like. I had nothing to lose, honestly, and everything to gain.

I won four awards – 1st honorable mention in suspense/mystery/thriller novel, 3rd place in mainstream novel, and honorable mentions in both essay and nostalgic prose. I was both stunned and thrilled and speechless and … insanely grateful all over again for John’s wisdom that has stayed with me all these years.

Of course everyone smiled and clapped and said “well done”. Even the sharks.

Oh yes, there were sharks in my midst. I knew it before I even set foot in the hotel. Those peers of mine who smile at me showing their beautiful white razor edged teeth. I know who they are, probably better than they know who they are. Jealousy shines through even the most flawless makeup.

And yet they have no reason to be jealous. I’m not in competition with them. I’m only in competition with myself.

The whole point of what John taught me was not about finding a place to stay, to land, to end, about winning something and saying “ta da! Look what I did!”  … but rather about finding a place to begin. A road to travel. The beginning of a journey.

And I did that. Above all else, I found where I start.

RIP John, thanks … again