I intended to make “memory” the theme of this week’s posts. I didn’t count on getting bored with the subject. I have been digging into childhood memories a lot lately but most of what I’ve dredged up isn’t all that interesting. On the subject of memory in general, I find I have no special insights worth sharing. Thus endeth the memory theme experiment.
Ending the experiment leaves me with no direction for blogging tonight. I suppose I could pick another theme. The problem is that right now, I find it difficult to do justice to any subject I take up. I am drained by the end of the work day. Blogging in the morning is out, because that is the the only time I have to work on my novel. Not that I’ve done any work on that this week. Other obligations have intruded on that time.
I am loathe to give this exercise up, though. I want to regain the skill I once had of being able to write short essays quickly. Establishing and maintaining the discipline of writing something every day is the only way I know to get there.
Couple of weeks ago, I wrote about finding a memory that seems to have sown the seeds of depression in me. Finding out that I was so much more advanced than other children my age made me feel like a freak.
In an even earlier memory about reading, I had a much different reaction to being ahead of my class.
It was early in kindergarten, within the first week or so, I guess. The teacher separated us into two groups. That part is hazy. What I remember clearly happened after we were dismissed for the day.
As we filed out, one of the other children taunted us in the “non-selected” group. “You don’t get to learn to read, but we do.” His tone was provocative, sneering. He was trying to mark himself and his group as better than we who had been coloring or playing with trucks or whatever the heck we were doing.
I wouldn’t have it. “I already know how to read,” I said. It baffled me that he couldn’t. I was happy about knowing how to read. I felt superior. What changed so that three years later, I would be embarrassed by my skill?
Last December, I was in New York City for a night, so I arranged to meet my friend Don for drinks. He teaches in Connecticut but is often in the city. We shared an office when I was in graduate school and have maintained the friendship for almost a quarter of a century.
He asked about the novel I’m working on, role-playing a busy publisher whom I had to hook. I said I was writing the best prose of my life. He asked what had made that possible. “I guess I needed to care about what I was doing,” I joked.
“But you’ve always cared,” he said. “Don’t you remember how much you wrestled with ‘Charlie’s Heart?’”
“Charlie’s Heart” was a story I wrote in graduate school about a young boy who discovers that he has literally lost his heart. (I was experimenting with magical realism at the time.) It took me months to finish, because I was determined to tell not merely a “good” story, but one that was honest, as well. Don read multiple drafts and helped me see it through when I despaired of finishing it.
That reminder was such a precious gift. Sometimes I doubt myself when I write. Sometimes I wonder if I wouldn’t be happier doing something else. Sometimes I feel as though I have made no progress as a writer. Don reminded me of who I am and who I have always been.
WordPress informs me that I am on a sixteen-day streak of blogging. I almost didn’t write anything yesterday. I didn’t sleep well the night before and working in the sun that afternoon drained what energy I had left. I didn’t like the cards I was pulling from the Hemingway Deck. They all required more depth of thought than I was capable of. I didn’t want to skip a day, though. I felt that if I did, it would be even easier to skip the next, and so on. What I wrote was inconsequential. The important thing was that I wrote.
I want to keep this streak going as long as I can, but I’m becoming bored with random subjects. I want to pick up a thread and follow it for a while. This week, I’m going to experiment with writing about childhood memories, both good and bad. I already wrote about my earliest memory as part of “Freak,” so I won’t cover the memory itself again. I’m interested in how I know that it really is my memory, and not a story someone told me and that I internalized.
I have some pseudo-memories from when I was younger than my first true memory. For example, when I was between two and three, we went to my mother’s best friend’s wedding. I was a gregarious child and liked to greet everyone I knew and shake hands. (Everyone joked that I would grow up to be a politician.) Concerned that I might disrupt the ceremony, my mother cautioned me not to call out to anyone while we were in the church. She went through a list of all the people I would see. She missed one, though, so when he appeared, I stood up on the pew and shouted, “Hi, Joe!” (Five decades later, I have no idea who Joe was.)
I remember that incident, but I know it’s not my memory. My mother told me that story several times. I have other pseudo-memories like that. In each one, the viewpoint is outside myself, seeing myself in action.
In the memory of my mother telling me about our new neighbors, I can’t see myself. I see my mother, sitting on my bed. The memory is coming from inside my brain.
When I pulled a few cards for today’s blog post, one of them said, “Describe your worst fear.” And I thought, “Hell no.”
I am not about to put my worst fear on the Internet. That is not information you want anyone else to have. I’ve read 1984. You let people know what your greatest fear is, and you find it waiting for you in Room 101. No, thanks.
Just kidding. My worst fear is being forced to watch Superman cartoons in my jammies while I eat a big bowl of macaroni and cheese. Honest, that’s it. Please don’t make me do that.
I played my guitar for the first time in years last week in honor of John Prine. I haven’t played it since and although I want to play more, I probably won’t.
It had been five years since I last played. I was rusty, for sure, but I thought I hadn’t lost much skill. I could get back to where I was five years ago without much effort. The trouble is that I wouldn’t likely get much better than that, either. The reason I stopped playing was that I reached a plateau. I couldn’t increase my skill any farther without devoting more time to practice than I could spare.
Broadcaster Ira Glass talked the fact that as beginners, creative people often have less skill than taste. The gap between what they want to create and what they can create is disappointing. That disappointment is why many quit. That is where I was: unsatisfied with my skill, but unable to improve. If I’d had the time, I don’t doubt that I could have been a very good guitarist. But writing called to me more than playing did, and so I decided to focus on fiction.
I’m almost halfway through revising my latest novel, with the working title Faithless. It is the best thing I’ve ever written, and when I finish this revision, it will be better still. For the first time, I look forward to trying to find an agent because the story is good. I believe there’s at least one agent out there who will see its potential and find it a home. And my next novel (already percolating in my mind) will be better still.
I miss playing guitar sometimes, but I made the right choice to set it aside.
For years, the tag line for my web site was, “Coach, Writer, Speaker.” I felt that those nouns best described who I am and what I wanted to be. I coached product development teams and organizations for a living. I write crime fiction as a hobby and aspire to publish novels. I had dabbled in public speaking and thought I would like to do it professionally.
Today, I’ve changed the tag line to “Think. Create. Teach.” Those three verbs better describe the activities that feed my soul.
They come from a conversation with a colleague not long ago when I said I could write my ideal job description in three words. I was being flippant, but as soon as I said, I realized it was true.
I love to think. I love to do research, to read, to learn, and then synthesize and evaluate what I’ve learned.
I love to write, but writing is only one way I create. I draw. I play music. I invent games. I build things.
For a while, I pursed speaking engagements at agile conferences. I enjoyed engagements I had. But when circumstances forced me to set that activity aside, I didn’t miss it all that much. The part of speaking that appealed to me most was the teaching aspect.
I’m fortunate that I can make a living doing the things that feed my soul. As a Professional Scrum Trainer, I can engage my desire to think, create, and teach on a regular basis. That’s why I’ve changed the tag line on this blog. I plan to focus more of my writing here on those areas.
I had insomnia last night. It wasn’t the kind of insomnia where I’m alert, so I might as well do something. I don’t mind insomnia on those nights. It’s a little extra time to read or write. Often, I don’t even drag the day after those kinds of insomniac nights.
No, last night was the kind of insomnia where I can’t sleep but every cell in my body is weary. Forget getting up to read or write; I couldn’t focus enough to enjoy watching a TV show—not even one I’d seen before. I dragged all day. Coworkers on videoconferences noticed my energy was low. I had to assure them that I wasn’t depressed, but weary.
This is a long way of saying that I don’t have to brainpower to engage with a journal prompt tonight. Two of the three cards I drew from my deck of prompts don’t apply to me. Both are in the genre of wishing you were someone else. The third, though, is juicy. I want to dig into it, but I can’t focus. Tonight, I’m cheating. I’ll save that card for another evening.
Today’s journal prompt: If all jobs paid the same, what would you choose to do?
Setting aside the question of what the economics of that would look like (that’s difficult because my wife and I have been watching the Paul Krugman Masterclass and so economics is very much on my mind), how I answer that question is what we mean by “job.”
What springs to mind when I see that word is “work for hire.” To “have a job” means to work for someone at a wage or salary. And if that’s the meaning behind this question, then I suppose I’d do more or less what I do now. I enjoy being a trainer and I enjoy coaching product development teams. It’s rewarding apart from the salary.
Another sense of the word “job” is a piece of work, a task. A brake job, for example. If all pieces of work paid the same, what would I do? I’d write fiction, almost exclusively. (Granted that, as a dude, I like to explain things, so I’d probably write advice, how-to, or opinion articles as well.) I like to tell stories even more than I enjoy my day job.
I miss letters.
During my first year at college, going to the mailbox was often the best part of my day. Mail arrive twice each weekday at ten and three. People swarmed the campus post office like addicted gamblers fighting to place last-minute bets at the track. I knew it was foolish to join them. Why not wait fifteen minutes until the crowd evaporated? I plunged in anyway. I had to see what awaited.
In my first quarter, the girlfriend I’d left behind wrote to me almost daily. Even after we broke up, though, I could count on something being there more often than not. A letter from my parents (if I was lucky, with a check). A packet from my sister containing a week’s worth of “Calvin and Hobbes” strips cut from the Orlando Sentinel. (The local paper didn’t carry it.) Postcards and letters from friends at other schools.
Letters were treasure.
After I transferred schools, I kept up steady correspondences with the friends I’d made in my freshman year. It kept me connected to a world I missed with all the longing of an unwilling expatriate. I wrote letters in big batches every Sunday night. I looked forward to the responses throughout the week.
It didn’t last, of course. Someone would forget to write back. Or I would. The flow of letters slowed to a trickle. By the time I got my first email account, I was only getting regular letters from one person. Then she got an email account, too, and we shifted our correspondence online. It didn’t last much longer after that. Email lacked the warmth, personality, and permanence of letters. I still have many of her letters. I don’t have any of the emails.
If you miss letters, too, write to me at the address below. I promise that I’ll write back.
PO Box 11052
Saint Petersburg, FL 33733