The Best-Laid Plans (Often Fall By the Shitter)

Several months ago, in the spirit of the New Year, I decided to set some personal goals for myself for this year. I wrote a lengthy blog post about setting realistic goals and finding ways to make myself more accountable for the things I want for myself.

I set for myself the following primary goals:

  • Continue with my diet and exercise regimen
  • Spend every available moment with Jaime and Sophia and make that time count.
  • Meet with my therapist once a week
  • Read one book per week
  • Write 8-10 hours/1,000-2,000 words per week
  • Post 3 blogs per week.

These primary goals have since gone by the wayside, ever since life got in the fucking way.

With May coming to a close, I thought I’d publicly humiliate myself take a look at the goals I’d set for myself and see how far I’ve gotten in achieving these goals. Drumroll, please.

  • Diet and Exercise: I was the Paleo diet kick, eat the way our cavemen forefathers eat. Lots of protein, zero processed foods. It was a bit of a bitch at first, as the sugar withdrawals were unbearable, but I grew to really enjoy Paleo-centric eating. I was also running again, and because Paleo was helping me feel lighter, I was able to run longer distances and not feel as worn out. But since my job’s become something of a 60-hour-a-week job, and with all the stress about possible relocations and a new home purchase and the uneasy feeling that we may be able to afford the new home after all, the diet and exercise has given way to apathy and emotional eating. I know I shouldn’t beat myself up about this, but I really feel like a shit. Oddly enough, I haven’t put on weight. Go. Fucking. Figure.
  • Time with my wife and daughter: No problems there. If anything, living in an apartment over the past eight months has meant we’re spending every available moment together, whether we like it or not. All kidding aside, I can’t complain. I want to spend more time with Jaime, and more time with Sophia. This is a complete win for me.
  • Meet with my therapist once a week: AND THANK THE GODS FOR THIS, BECAUSE IF I DIDN’T HAVE SOMEONE FOR WHOM MEDICAL INSURANCE DIDN’T PAY FOR ME TO BITCH TO ONCE A WEEK, I MIGHT JUST DO SOMETHING REALLY FUCKING STUPID. LIKE WRITE AN ENTIRE BLOG POST IN ALLCAPS.
  • Read one book per week: I’ve read fourteen books so far. For some of you voracious readers who read a book a day, you’re probably reading this and thinking to yourselves, “Geez, what a slacker.” Whatever. You have time. I clearly don’t. But I’m making more time for reading. I just started reading The Goldfinch. It’s over 800 pages. Light summer reading to enjoy while lounging by the pool, right? At any rate, one book per week roughly averages to about 50 books per year. I may need to read some James Patterson novels to help me pick up the slack, but then I would feel like a whore while knowing subjecting myself to the literary equivalent of a drunken bachelor party.
  • Write 8-10 hours/1,000-2,000 words per week: Ugh. My writing schedule’s been so ridiculously inconsistent, writing only in fits and uninspired spurts. I did manage to crank out seven short stories over the past few months, but my WIP is simply sitting there, waiting patiently for me to pick it up again. I’m almost afraid to , as if I don’t know how to even write it, or even a sentence, anymore. Think I’m joking? I just bought this course as a refresher. Hey, I’m not ashamed to admit I might need to re-learn how to write a sentence.
  • Blog 3x per week: See above. For a while, this blog was pretty dormant, but I’ve fired it up again, and as many of you may have noticed, it’s gotten a makeover. I realized what better tool for me to bounce off my frustrations than my blog? Why just limit my blogging to musing about the writing process, now that my writing has slowed to a crawl, and whatever I have to declare about writing is just bullshit, anyway?

I did promise that I would not beat myself up for not reaching these goals…OWWW!

I won’t beat myself up.

I won’t beat myself up.

I won’t beat myself up.

On the personal front, I want three things to happen:

  • I need to hit the pavement, and start running again. Even if it’s just fifteen minutes of me sucking wind. I need to shake off the cobwebs and send a shockwave through my system and jumpstart my drives again.
  • Give my WIP the attention she deserves. She shouldn’t be treated like a neglected housewife. This means I need to have at least a draft done by the fall, and revisions by Christmas.
  • Keep blogging 3x per week. Even if it’s just me babbling excitedly about the new Led Zeppelin reissues. In vinyl, no less. Hmm…maybe now I’ll finally buy me that turntable I’ve been dreaming of…

I won’t beat myself up.

Christians Behaving Badly, Or: There’s One in Every Family

Every family has one, that crazy relative that’s chock-full of badly-formed opinions and wants to get in your face about them. Maybe it’s your slightly senile grandmother. Maybe it’s that off-the-grid uncle no one likes to talk about. Hell, maybe it’s you. In my side of my family, it was my mother, and her sister. Clearly, there was a loony gene there, which, hooray for me, was passed down to me. My mother was prone to fits of violent outbursts and emotional abuse. My aunt was irrationally impulsive, at times bordering on the comically homicidal. I say comically because not a day went by where she didn’t threaten to either kill someone or herself. She’s done neither so far, but that doesn’t mean she still isn’t capable.

On my wife’s side, there’s her aunt. Let’s call her S. Crazy Aunt S. I’m not saying this lightly: she’s a psychiatrist’s wet dream, the very reason why the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders even exists.

Add to her mental instability is her religious fervor. She’s a born-again Christian. You know the type, the one who wants to tell everyone within earshot how much she’s been filled with God’s love, all the while conveniently ignoring the fact that she’s an insufferable asshole with the maturity of an 11-year-old boy who’s just discovered his daddy’s stash of nudie magazines. Oh, and a chronic liar, to boot.

Yes, liar. I’ll get to that in a bit.

For someone who talks a lot about loving everyone, her hatred for gays rears it’s ugly head frequently. Case in point: at a monthly dinner with her high school graduation class, one of her former classmates spoke to the group about his decision to come out of the closet many years ago. It was a difficult decision for him to make, being he came from a family of Southern Baptists, but a decision his family came to accept.

S wasn’t having any of this gay shit. She stopped at nothing to humiliate him in front of the entire group. “God won’t accept faggots into Heaven. You better repent or you’ll go to Hell when you die.” When S was told to keep her opinions to herself, she declared, “I am a good Christian and I am straight and I am going to Heaven!” And if her point wasn’t made enough, she continue to spew her venomous rhetoric on the HS reunion group’s Facebook page. She’s since been booted, but S declared its because she’s taken a principled stand against liberal permissiveness.

It’s one thing to spew hateful rhetoric towards others based upon their race, gender, religious or sexual preference. It’s another to hide behind the laughable yet offensive hypocrisy of “being a good Christian” to justify your rancor. Because S is anything but a good Christian. A Christian Behaving Badly, really.

Let’s use the holiest of Judeo-Christian principles, the Ten Commandments, to determine how good a Christian S is:

THOU SHALT NOT STEAL: Over the years, S has made it her personal mission to defraud as many government agencies as possible. Social Security, Medicaid, the Department of Social Services, Food Stamps. She claims poverty when she has assets, liquid assets at her disposal.

THOU SHALT NOT COVET: Being that this is the commandment that everyone’s guilty of not paying heed to – George Carlin’s legendary riff on the Ten Commandments basically called this commandment “bullshit,” as coveting fuels the economy – I won’t give S too much shit, but she’s a greedy fucker. Any way she can get get get without giving anything in return is a win-win for her.

THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTERY: She cheated on her husband. She cheated on the man she lived with (in sin!)…with his brother, no less.

THOU SHALL HONOR THY MOTHER AND THY FATHER: Let’s see…S robbed her parents of money and medication, used their social security numbers to open department store credit (which she never bothered to pay), and as they grow older and sicker, mishandled or outright denied them of basic medical needs.

A good Christian? No. A fucking hypocrite, plain and simple. She’s quick to judge a gay man living comfortably under his own skin, which begs the question: why, as a so-called “good Christian,” are you so fucking worked up over homosexuality in the first place? After all, if there is a God, isn’t it God’s work to judge who’s going to Heaven and who’s burning in Hell? If so, then let God judge.

If you ask anyone, they’ll tell you I’m the least judgmental person they’ll know. I simply do not and will not judge others. But I will call people out on their bullshit. Especially bullshit wrapped up in “good Christian” hypocrisy. And S is all full of “good Christian” hypocrisy.

Doesn’t read to me like the makings of a good Christian, does it? But in her mind, she is one, because a) she attends church every Sunday, so she’s good with God on the attendance thing, b) she hates faggots, like all good Christians do, and c) she votes Republican. The last point is an irony completely lost on her, as she’s exactly the kind of votes the GOP pays lip service to yet actively despises. If a complete Republican-run executive and legislative branch of our Federal government had its way, all those social programs Crazy Aunt S uses like her government-sponsored ATM would go the way of the dodo. A good thing, maybe, because then that might force her to, you know, stop being such a lazy cunt. Then again, it’s her fraud that’s the reason why Medicaid and SSI and Food Stamps are always on the GOP’s crosshairs, and someday when these programs do run out, the people that do actually depend on these social safety nets, honest, hard-working folks who want nothing more than to not have to depend on a government handout, can thank S for ripping them off like this. Let me know if you want her address and phone number.

I get that S isn’t indicative of any kind of behavior set of Christians everywhere, but having lived in the South (the Bible Belt of America) for nearly 15 years now, I’ve noticed two things: one, people here sure love God and Jesus, and, two, there’s a lot of people that say and do things that go against of a Christian life that Jesus preached in his lifetime. And one of those things is to not be judgmental.

Funny enough, some Christians want to be judgmental because they themselves want to be judged. It’s as if they can’t wait for their day of judgment, so they begin to judge one another, so as if to keep tabs as to who’s going to walk in the Kingdom of Heaven for all eternity.

Well fuck me! Because if the Kingdom of Heaven is filled with the likes of S, and Hell is populated with gays and lesbians and every other sinner, I’ll roast in damnation with the sinners. At least the music will be awesome.

Planning (For Life, and For Writing): It’s Not Just For Planners Anymore!

I think a lot of you who read my blog know I don’t really like to plan much. Nothing against planning, really. It was just something that ran contrary to my nature. Of course, there was a lot wrong with my nature…I’ve since been on this “kick,” if “kick” is the right word, about finding ways to make myself more accountable. So I’ve embraced the idea of making plans. Setting realistic goals for myself. But also giving myself the right to not reach those goals, and, conversely, not beat myself up for not reaching those goals.

With 2014 already underway, there have been a slew of blogs and countless other postings about resolutions and plans for 2014 and the like. A great many of these posts have been eye-opening reads for me.

I was particularly inspired by Lorraine Reguly’s blog post about planning. In her post, Posting, Planning, Publishing, Productivity and a PDF Planner for FREE for YOU! (boy, that was a mouthful…), she documents her reasons why, as someone who didn’t like planning much, she was making a more concerted effort to plan and schedule for the upcoming year. If you go to her blog post, you’ll find what she means by planning and scheduling, in which she’s created for herself some planning aids that include a daily checklist, a weekly checklist, and some other ways to plan her week. She and I talked some more about planning, and I was encouraged to use her planning aid – she’s offering it free on her blog site – and tailor it to suit my own needs.

I took her planning aid one step further. I wrote what I wanted my weekly accomplishments to be, without fail. They are:

WEEKLY CHECKLIST

  • Continue with my diet and exercise regimen
  • Spend every available moment with Jaime and Sophia and make that time count.
  • Meet with my therapist once a week
  • Read one book per week
  • Write 8-10 hours/1,000-2,000 words per week
  • Reconnect with someone I haven’t spoken to in some time.
  • Talk to my father and sister.
  • Post 3 blogs per week.

Then, being the writer that I am, compounded with need to be completely granular about planning – that is, for anything that doesn’t involve my life – I wrote a goals summary for 2014 that looks a lot like the project plans I’ve devised for many a project in my professional career.

SUMMARY

        I.            Personal Goals

  1. Marriage and Emotional Growth
  2. Physical Fitness
  3. Financial
  4. Inter-personal Relationships
  5. “Personal Time” Activities/Vacations

      II.            Professional Goals – Current Career

  1. Current position
  2. Future contract/full time job opportunities

    III.            Professional Goals –Writing and Blogging

  1. Writing
  2. Blogging

    IV.            Weekly Checklist

      V.            Monthly Checkpoint

    VI.            Annual Checkpoint

I won’t bore you with the minutiae of every single deliverable needed to meet each goal – not to mention, there are some things I’d rather keep to myself – so I’ll instead dispense with the “greatest hits” version of my Goals for 2014, along with some commentary:

PERSONAL GOALS

  • Marriage and Emotional Growth – the end of 2012 and all of 2013 was time I dedicated to my own mental wellbeing, and towards rekindling my marriage. It was a rocky, often times emotionally taxing road, but it’s helped me gain a strength I didn’t know, or forgot, I possessed. However, this is an ongoing process, and 2014 should be no different for me.

(1)    Continue improving my marriage and build upon the trust and commitment that have been the foundations upon us – and me – rebuilding our marriage.

(2)    To keep being the best husband I can and will be for Jaime.

(3)    To keep being the best father I can and will be for Sophia.

(4)    Continue working with my therapist using IFS programs and strategies on helping me with the following:

(a)    Understand and resolve deep-seeded emotional issues – i.e., unresolved anger, guilt, shame, trauma.

(b)   Learn how to best quiet my inner critic.

(c)    Gain more self-esteem and a more positive image of myself.

(d)   Understand why I am prone to procrastination, how that procrastination leads to my being depressed, and how to work through my procrastination and achieve my goals.

(5)    Continue working with my psychiatrist on medication management, suited to what works best for my mental and physical well-being.

(6)    “RELEASE THE BATS!’ – More on this in an upcoming blog…this is my mantra for 2014.

  • Physical Fitness

(1)    Paleo Diet – continue diet that places emphasis on high protein grass-produced meats (i.e.,  chicken, turkey, beef, bison, etc.), fish/seafood, fresh fruit and vegetables, eggs, nuts and seeds, and healthful oils, and removes cereals, legumes, dairy, refined sugar, potatoes, processed food, salt, and refined vegetable oils from my diet. – This was MURDER for me the first week. Quitting sugar was a bitch, but the more I’ve detoxed from sugar and processed foods and cereals, the more I’ve realized how much these were staples of my diet. On the flip side, I’ve eaten more steak in two weeks than I’ve eaten in almost a year, and, while I’ve always enjoyed vegetables, I’ve grown fonder of them even more.

(2)    Physical Activity – Begin running again: –I was an avid runner, until a hardcore case of plantar fascitiis slowed me down. It pains me to say this, but it’s been more than six months since I last went on a run, and now it’s time to rebuild, one running step at a time.

(a)    Short, timed runs, 30 minutes in length.

(b)   5K races before Memorial Day 2014; start signing up for races to give myself a deadline to work towards.

(c)    10K races before October 1st

(d)   Half-marathon by 12/31.

  • Interpersonal relationships

(1)    Make a more concerted effort to talk more frequently with my father and sister.

(2)    Re-connect with someone I haven’t spoken to in some time.

  • Personal Time Activities/Vacations

(1)    Read more – 50 books in 2014.

 

WRITING/BLOGGING GOALS

  • Writing

(1)    Write 1 hour per day, minimum. – So far, so good!

(a)    Impose no word limit; give myself the freedom to write as much or as little as possible.

(2)    Complete final draft of current work-in-progress by end of 2014.

(3)    Implement beta reading program for current work-in-progress, regardless of status; solicit call for beta readers. – If anyone wants to raise their hand, well, then, raise your hand.

(4)    Submit material to various online and print sources – Use Poets & Writers and Duotrope to research these sources and their submittal guidelines.

(5)    Research writers’ conferences to attend after July 2014.

(6)    Begin researching editors for hire – determine if the cost would be prohibitive.

(7)    Look into participating in online writers’ groups.

(8)    New home – have my own writing place, with a writing desk, a filing cabinet, and a bookshelf.

  • Blogging

(1)    Blog three times per week, without fail.

(2)    Solicit and post new guest blog posts for 2014; post guidelines on expectations for guest blog posts. – Many of you took part in this, and if you’d like to participate again, or if you’d like to take part for the first time, then let me know!

(3)    Sing up for guest blog posts where and when possible.

(4)    Discover and follow at least five new blogs per month.

But goals arent’ goals, and a project isn’t a project, unless there’s some accountability. Which is why I will do a monthly checkpoint to determine where Iam I at the end of the month with my goals? Have I been reaching them so far? Which goals have I been successful at accomplishing? What are the areas where I need help the most? Which goals have I decided not to pursue? An annual checkpoint will also take place, to determine where am I at the end of the year with all of my goals? Have I reached all of them? Which ones were the most successful? Which ones proved the hardest to achieve? Which ones did I not achieve? Were there any goals I decided not to pursue any further?

So there you have it, folks…my goals for 2014. What are your goals for 2014? Go on, share ’em!

In Addition to My Writing Goals, Or: Building a Better Person

A few weeks back, I wrote about my writing goals for 2013. Ambitious goals, all, and I intend to accomplish all those goals by years’ end.

But writing is really a secondary goal for 2013. My biggest goal for 2013 is to be a better person.

I say with no exaggeration that 2012 was the worst year of my life. I went through an extended hypomanic stage, in which I was rapid-cycling from pure ecstasy to deep depression, and every divisive and toxic emotion in between. I’m still not comfortable talking about all the details over what took place, but the bottom line was, if you look at what happened from a 30,000 foot view, I was hell-bent on self-destruction, and destroying everything I loved around me. My hypomanic episodes, and the lies and deception and the insanity surrounding it all, nearly cost me my marriage. My wife had enough, and she threw me out.

I had a decision to make: continue on this path of self-destruction, and reach bottom, or beg for forgiveness, climb out however possible, face the ugly truth, make amends, own up to the emotional pain and turmoil I’d inflicted, and get help.

In the past, I would have chosen the former. It’s what my family would have done. I come from a long line of manic depressives, cheaters, liars, abusers. Why own up to the truth when you can bury all of it in more lies and more self-delusion? Clearly, for me at least, my mental breakdown was being caused by my inability to cope with the demands of life, so I chose to drown those inabilities with self-destructive tendencies. It’s what my father did. It’s what my mother did. The circle of life, huh?

Making the latter choice was the most difficult choice I’ve ever made. It meant having to face up to my wife’s pain and anguish and anger. It meant having to rebuild our marriage. What I put us through would have destroyed any other marriage, but I chose, we chose, commitment. We’re still committed, day-by-day. It hasn’t been easy, but what I’ve learned, through the assistance of an extremely compassionate marriage counselor, is that in order to heal, we must deal directly with those traumas. If my wife was hurt, it was my tendency to withdraw, which in turn hurt her more. Well, no more. If I was hurt, it was my wife’s tendency to overreact. Well, no more. We’ve become mindful of understanding that we both harbor tremendous amounts of pain, but how each of us deals with that pain is different. I know now that when my wife is hurting, all she wants is compassion, for me to tell her it’ll be alright. The same goes for me.

In choosing the latter, I chose to break that toxic circle of life.

I chose a commitment to myself. To be a better person. A better husband. A better father. The things I know I can be.

All of those things, I know, will help me be a better writer. Writing has been the best form of therapy for me. I’m not fooling myself into thinking that my work-in-progress doesn’t have anything to do with me or my life. Part of what prompted me to write the novel was a plea from my wife, during a low time for me: “I need you to be my superhero.”

I can never be a superhero, because superheroes aren’t supposed to be flawed. But the best fiction is made up of flawed heroes. Hence me pouring my fears and hopes and traumas and joys into this neurotic mess of a novel.

 

When I finally reached out for professional mental health, I learned two things: one, I am bipolar. Two, being bipolar isn’t a death sentence or anything like that. My psychiatrist, after reading my 12-page evaluation form, pretty much called me a “textbook case.” I’m inclined to agree with his opinion, and not only because he’s really one of the few certified psychiatrists in the area that specializes in mood disorders. I was always a moody fucker. Elated one moment, angry the next. Like living with Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. Being under the right medication – and having that medication managed properly – has helped stabilized those moods. My wife tells me that often. Mind you, I can still get pretty angry about things, but my mood flip-flopping is pretty rare nowadays.

Funny, for me, being bipolar helps explain a lot about me. For some, it would be a source of shame, but for me, it’s a badge of honor. Yes, I have a mood disorder. No, it doesn’t mean I’m going to fly off the handle and stab you in the chest. In the same fashion that one learns to live with diabetes, I’m learning to live with bipolar disorder. It’s knowing what triggers you, and how to help calm yourself down.

Calming myself has been the work of my therapist, who has been even more instrumental in my recovery. During our first session, she explained my manic behavior as being the result of a breakdown of the self. My “managers,” meaning my coping mechanisms, have been non-existent in the past. I was all about drowning my triggers and traumas and pains through self-destructive means: drugs, alcohol, sex, porn, affairs. These drowning mechanisms are known as “firefighters,” putting out fires but leaving a path of destruction in their wake. She’s helped me rebuild those managers, and understand that seeking out “firefighters” for a temporary fix isn’t a solution.

In short, she’s helped me to understand that, yes, I’ve made mistakes, and I’ve fucked up, but I’m not a fuck-up. I should stop beating myself up. I can be a better person. I should stop short-changing myself and take the easy way out. I wanted to be a writer. Well, then, here’s your opportunity. Here are the tools. You now have the coping mechanisms, and the confidence to do this, and succeed, in any way, shape, or form. Go.

It’s my intention to make 2013 the best year of my life, one way or another. To be a better person. And a better writer.

And it’s my hope that you’ll tag along for the ride too.

Thanks for reading.

 

Work-in-Progress, Or: Fun With Playlists

First, an announcement, and some housekeeping: I earned my 2,500 blog view today. Minor golf clap. OK, continue, please..Also, I’ve made some updates to my About page, and added a Contact Me page, in the event that you want to drop me some hate mail.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way…

My muse comes to me by way of an art form whose medium is sound and silence, its common elements are pitch, rhythm, dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and and texture. Wikipedia’s words, not mine. In other words, music. I get a lot of my writing cues from music.

During NaNoWriMo, I pieced together a list of songs that I thought would fit together nicely as a soundtrack of sorts to what I was writing. This iTunes playlist totaled 55 songs at first, and by the time I was done with the first draft, I narrowed the playlist down to 18 songs. For your listening pleasure, I’ve compiled the playlist below. Keep in mind several of the songs don’t directly correlate to the plot or theme or conflicts of the novel, but because they contained certainly lyrical cues, they’ve become an integral part of the playlist that’s been my muse during the Work-in-Progress.

Also, this gives me an excuse to post links to some really good songs I’ve been listening to ad nauseum lately…

Peter Gabriel – “Lead a Normal Life”:  It’s nice here, with a view of the trees/Eating with a spoon?/They don’t give you knives?/’Spect you those trees/Blowing in the breeze/We want to see you lead a normal life.” 

The Smithereens – “Miles From Nowhere”:  A true shit-stomper from the criminally-underrated Smithereens, a band I used to see perform quite a lot in the clubs in downtown NYC. Being “miles from nowhere” is what my protagonist feels, metaphorically speaking.

Azure Ray – “Don’t Leave My Mind”“We can break plans/I’ll keep all I can/You’ll be my friend/And start over again/And you can go to New York City/Get a place on the East Side/But don’t leave my mind.”

Frank Sinatra – “Night and Day” – the song Daniel and Emma danced to on their wedding day, and the song that triggers Daniel years later into a mental collapse. Ol’ Blue Eyes absolutely SMOKES this version, among the many versions he recorded of Cole Porter’s classic.

Iggy and the Stooges – “Search and Destroy” –  Because every dangerously unhinged superhero needs a dangerously unhinged theme song from one of the most dangerously unhinged bands, courtesy of one of the most dangerously unhinged lead singers ever. God bless you, Iggy Pop!

Atlas Genius – “Trojans” – Change the locks, change the scene/Change it all but can’t change what we’ve been/Your trojan’s in my head

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – “Manic Depression” – …for obvious reasons.

Band of Horses – “Is There a Ghost” – To conquer his fears of failing as a superhero, Daniel must conquer the ghosts that haunt him, the “ghosts in his house,” so to speak. Lyrically simple, yet so powerful.

Bruce Springsteen – “Adam Raised a Cain” – “In the Bible, mamma, Cain slew Abel and East of Eden, mamma, he was cast/You’re born into this life paying for the sins of somebody else’s past/Well Daddy worked his whole life for nothing but the pain/
Now he walks these empty rooms looking for something to blame/
But you inherit the sins, you inherit the flames

The 13th Floor Elevators – “You’re Gonna Miss Me” – A kiss-off to an unfaithful girl…or a lament to losing one’s mind? I say it’s the latter. Holy fuck this song rocks; this is the kind of song you crank the speakers up to 11 and dance stupidly to in your living room.

The Pixies – “Vamos” – that feedback-drenched instrumental break, when Frank Black’s screaming like he’s trying to chew his restraints off…yeah.

John Coltrane – “Blue Train” – those opening seven notes just kill me every time.

Au Revoir Simone – “Shadows” – “I’m moving on/I hope you’re coming with me/I hope you’re coming with me/’Cause I’m not that strong/Don’t blame it on your shadows/’Cause I know all about you.

Another song told from Emma’s point of view.

Bat For Lashes – “Daniel” – I thought of this song when I wrote the scene when Daniel first met Emma, and the pain she felt when she was forced to leave him.

Leonard Cohen – “First We Take Manhattan” – “Ah you loved me as a loser, but now you’re worried that I just might win/You know the way to stop me/But you don’t have the discipline.”

Genesis – “Back in N.Y.C.” – “You say I must be crazy, ‘cos I don’t care who I hit, who I hit/But I know it’s me that’s hitting out and I’m, I’m not full of shit/I don’t care who I hurt, I don’t care who I do wrong/This is your mess I’m stuck in, I really don’t belong.”

The Who – “Is It In My Head” – “I pick up phones and hear my history/I dream of all the calls I miss/I try to number those who love me/And find out exactly what the trouble is.”

A Post-Thanksgiving NaNoWriMo Update, Or: Little Miracles Do Happen

Happy Cyber Monday, everyone! Cyber Monday is a holiday, right? It better damned well be, if my slow-assed internet connection is any indication. Anyhow, I hope everyone’s had a terrific Thanksgiving. Well, at least us Americans have. You non-Americans don’t get to pig out on turkey and stuffing and candied yams and stuffing and more turkey and sweet potatoes and more stuffing and pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce and more turkey for 4 straight days. Suckers. You’ll never know what it’s like to open your fridge and stare at yet more turkey to be eaten, and you just can’t give the turkey to your dogs, because too much turkey can actually kill your dog, so you’re wondering, is it possible to make Turkey Soup? Turkey Pancakes? Turkey Milkshakes? 

Sorry if I just made you puke in your mouth. My Thanksgiving was fine, thank you for asking. What I was most thankful for was the relative lack of leftovers; the turkey and all the trimmings had been devoured by Friday night. We were smart this time: a smaller bird, less side dishes, less leftovers. And no worries.

On to the business of NaNoWriMo…

STATS (as of Day 26)

TOTAL WORDS: 39,038

WORDS PER DAY (AVERAGE): 1,501

The fact that I’m even averaging 1500 words per day is something of a miracle for me. By my count, I’ve lost 6 complete days of writing this month, either because of time away or Thanksgiving. I still think holding NaNoWriMo during November is a shitty idea, but I don’t call the shots, I only write the words. Still, the finish line is within striking distance. Like in the races I run, I can feel myself picking up the pace once the end is within sight. Shit, I can even smell the end of the month from here, and my sense of smell sucks.

I’m a bit more than 10,000 words away from the 50K goal. With five days to go, that rounds out to more than 2,000 words per day. And I am not sweating this. At. All.  But I can’t help but wonder how much progress I would have made had I even had but 3 or 4 of those days I lost. Is it possible I’d be at the 45-47K mark by now? Or would I be at 37-38K, procrastinating like usually, and revving myself up for the mother of all literary surges? Like cramming an entire semester of Molecular Biology in one night. Doable? Hell yes. Crazy? You bet your ass.

Another minor miracle – well, I’m being modest here; the miracle, for me, is pretty massive, but it’s moot if it doesn’t pay off down the road – is my realization as I’m hammering out the ending of the story that Daniel’s story is incomplete, because it dawned on me that I really didn’t know much about him. I knew about his background, his dysfunctional upbringing, but did I really know what the roots of his trauma and his (deadly) dance with bipolarity and schizophrenia were?

So I made the plunge, and what I learned stunned me: the most important character, next to my protagonist, is his father. The father he hardly knew.

I’ve written some truly dark material, even during Thanksgiving – yeah, I begged off and carved out about 2000-3000 words per night this weekend – that came surprisingly easily for me. For one, it’s helped me see some of the traumatic events in my own childhood that have caused me trouble as an adult. It’s also been fun exploring some of my childhood memories: going to Shea Stadium when the early 80s Mets were truly dire, seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time, wandering the aisles at the local Key Food or Path Mark, just to name a few.

Obviously, fleshing out a protagonist’s back story should have been left for the outlining process, but writing out his childhood memories has become an integral part of the novel itself. And it’s been a liberating experience; I’ve found that the real story was in the past, and not the present, nor the future.

Alright, gang…5 days left. If you’ve finished, and you’ve gotten your novel’s word count validated, then I say fuck you, you fucking showoffs I mean who the fucking fuck hell do you fucking think you fucking are, fucking Hemingway or something job well done! For those of us who are still plugging away, let’s do this. 5 days. No guts, no glory. Make it happen!

Blog Hop: The Next Big Thing

I got roped into participating in a blog hop, courtesy of the very talented Melanie, aka Ink Out Loud. If you haven’t read or subscribe to her blog, do so right now. She’s exactly the kind of young, gifted, go-getting writer and actress and all-around creative type that’s going places.

God, I hate go-getters.

At any rate, Melanie asked if I’d participate in this blog hop thingy, wherein I’d answer 10 questions in relation to my work-in-progress, and I’d agree to post my answers in a separate blog. Additionally, I am to keep this blog hop going by tagging five other bloggers/writers who are also in the midst of pulling their hair writing during NaNoWriMo.

(Regarding the tagging thing, there are so many great blogging writers I’m a fan of, so picking 5 isn’t as easy as it seems. So, instead, if you’re reading this, and you want to participate, let me know in the Comments section below, and I’ll send you the instructions on what do to. Okay?)

Alright, here goes me making an ass of myself. As always…

 

Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing:

1. What is the working title of your book?

There are several working titles for my book, depending on what mood I’m in when I’m writing. So far, “The Trouble With Superheroes,” “The Book of Daniel,” and “Crazy Like a Superhero” are the ones I’m considering.

PS: I hate coming up with titles.

 
2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

Two main ideas converged: the first idea for the book came from a conversation I was having with my wife about working in a corporate (white-collar) setting, like we both do, and riffing on ideas on how to make working in the corporate world more absurb. I threw in an idea about superheroes working in a corporate setting, and suddenly the idea became a pretty amusing satire, sort of X-Men meets The Office, complete with workplace drama and people you hate working with/for.

The second idea is more personal. Having dealt with depression most of my adult life, I’m in a contemplative mood recently, and I’ve put a lot of thought into what it means to be something bigger and better to those you love. Being more heroic, so to speak. The novel is a rumination into this: an examination on what it means to be a hero, a superhero, and whether we have it in us to be that kind of person.

The protagonist is someone who’s clearly heroic, yet he’s emotionally and psychologically fragile. He’s got that inflated sense of self and that massive ego that comes from being a superhero, but he’s prone to fits of mania and depression that ultimately leave him in a state of psychological paralysis. His internal conflict, along with the external conflicts, are what he’s to face throughout the novel.

 
3. What genre does your book fall under?

I would think it falls somewhere between literary fiction and genre. I have much respect for genre, but I also feel there’s a lot of constraints to genre; it can feel somewhat formulaic, even if the formula’s guaranteed to work. I’m trying to write something that blends the demands of genre with the freedom of literary fiction.

 
4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Come back to me when my agent’s negotiated a film deal.

Honestly, I haven’t put any thought into this. The protagonist, and the supporting characters – his ex-wife, his best friend/sidekick, his arch-nemesis, are aged between their late-30s and early 40’s. Plus, the protagonist is more than your typical one-dimensional superhero; he’s undergoing an emotional and psychological breakdown, so an actor who can be both action-oriented and plumb into some internal dark territory is a must.

So maybe Robert Downey Jr. would be perfect in the lead role, but he’s already got that Iron Man/Tony Stark thing going, so no sense in him repeating himself.

 
5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

 
I don’t think a one-sentence synopsis will give this novel the summary it deserves, but here goes:

A superhero comes to the bitter realization that he may be a hero to many, but a lousy person to others – especially his ex-wife – and his abrupt retirement sets off a series of events that culminates in a final confrontation with the one enemy he fears the most: himself.

 

6. If you plan to publish, will your book be self-published or published traditionally?

I haven’t put much thought into how the book will be published yet, just like I haven’t researched agents or publishers yet. I would prefer traditional publishing, whether it’s one of the big houses, or an independent publisher, but I’m very open to self-publishing.

 
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’ve been in first-draft mode for a while, but I finally completed the bare bones draft (you can call it a first draft) this past June. Currently, I’m on the second or third draft, depending on what day it is.

 

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

A few books come to mind. Watchmen, of course, as its quite possibly the finest graphic novel ever published, and an excellent examination on the significance of the superhero mythology. Kingdom Come is another one that comes to mind.

Lowboy is another, a remarkable novel about a sixteen-year-old boy who’s convinced that the world is coming to an end, and only he can save the world. The thing is, he’s a paranoid schizophrenic. There are some elements in my novel that I’ve picked up from Lowboy.

I’m a big fan of Junot Diaz and Michael Chabon; The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay are two books I’ve had in mind while writing this novel.

Finally, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, simply for the reason that Gaiman is one of the few writers that can marry the demands of genre (horror, fantasy, sci/fi) with the breadth and scope of literary fiction, especially character development, along with a keen and wicked sense of humor and a love for pop culture.

 
9. Who or What inspired you to write this book?

As I mentioned before, my wife’s been a catalyst; she’s not a writer, and frankly, sometimes my writing gets in the way of things, but she’s been as supportive as a spouse can be, even if she does find my need to write perplexing at times.

I’m also inspired by Super, a novel by a dear friend of mine named Aaron Dietz. His is an experimental and deeply hilarious take on becoming a superhero, and you should read it, only because I told you to do so. Seriously, read it. You won’t be disappointed.

I’ve been surrounded by many friends who are also writers. The immensely talented and very supportive Bud Smith, for example. I love his writing, and his approach to writing. His support for my writing, along with the support from other writing friends, have been very important and inspirational to me.

 
10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s got plenty for anyone to be interested in it: a love story (your classic boy-meets-girl, boy-and-girl-marry-then-divorce, boy-tries-to-win-girl-back), plenty of drama, conflict, and action, loads of satire, tons of humor and snappy dialogue – lots of pop culture riffing – and much to think about from a philosophical standpoint.

 

So there you have it. Hopefully I’ve piqued your interest. In the meantime, I’m going to continue gnashing my teeth and wrestling this WIP into something readable.

Thanks for reading.

Fun With Plotting, Or: A Somewhat Needless Yet Very Relevant Defense of the “Concept” Album

I settled myself last night into my home office, AKA “The War Room,” to get a bit of writing done. I brewed some coffee – okay, not quite “brewed,” since I own a Keurig – and looked around my iTunes library for something to listen to. There are a few books on the desk that arrived earlier from Amazon. One is Pete Townshend’s memoir, Who I Am. He’s on the cover, his sad blue eyes staring right at me, pleading at me to open his autobiography and give it a read. I will, I will! Soon!

Quadrophenia, I thought. That’s a great album. A great double album. I think I’ll listen to it while I’m writing and bringing myself closer to a caffeine-induced heart attack. It’s a favorite of mine. Plus, what the hell, listening to a “concept” album (or “rock opera,” if you’re so inclined), with its “ROCK AND ROLL WILL SAVE THE WORLD!” narrative might give me some kind of subliminal inspiration.

The concept of the…umm…”concept” album goes as far back as Frank Sinatra’s “In the Wee Small Hours,” a song cycle welded together by a single theme – in Ol’ Blue Eye’s case, pining for that crazy, heartbreaking bitch Ava Gardner – but the idea of the “rock opera” didn’t come into full swing until the arrivals of Tommy and the Kinks’ Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire). Songwriters now fancied themselves as novelists, working out their novel-writing fantasies on record. Townshend even admitted that his follow-up to Tommy, the aborted Lifehouse project, a multi-media extravaganza that was destroyed by a narrative that made ZERO sense, was partially inspired by him reading too much Ray Bradbury. At least something good came out of Lifehouse – the majority of the songs Pete wrote for Lifehouse ended up on Who’s Next.

The 70’s was a golden era for the concept album. You’ve probably heard of some of these: The Dark Side of the Moon, 2112, The Wall, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, just to name a few.

And then there’s The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, the final album Peter Gabriel recorded with Genesis. As concept albums go, it’s a sonically-sumptuous, musically-brilliant, lyrically-ambitious album. It’s also vague, elliptical, frustrating, and nonsensical. For reals. Have you ever read Gravity’s Rainbow (I have, 4 times…no wonder I’m mentally questionable), or watched El Topo, and thought, “I have no idea what the fuck just happened. So why am I still obsessing over this?” I’ve heard The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway countless times, and I still can’t give you an honest explanation of what the whole damned thing is about. Maybe that’s a good thing: ambiguity rules. But here’s the thing I keep coming back to when I listen to Lamb or Tommy: both Townshend and Gabriel are great songwriters, but they’re mediocre storytellers.

There are times when I swear my WIP feels like The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway: a weighty, ambitious concept done in by an ineffective storyline.

You’re reading this and probably wondering, “What the hell does this needless lecture on concept albums have to do with writing, you long-winded buffoon?” Simple: your narrative better be first-rate, from beginning to middle to end.

As part of my build-up towards NaNoWriMo, I’m experiencing some anxiety about my WIP’s narrative. It makes sense to me, in my head, at least, but it’s only going to work if it makes sense to the reader. That anxiety is a motivating factor for me considering the subtle art of outlining and plotting. At the very least, I can see some trends emerging, some plot lines and subplots coming to the surface.

Last night, I tried this exercise I read in Theresa Hupp’s blog post. The exercise is an attempt to “decide where the story begins and ends, and let imagination and logic fill in the gaps.” The exercise goes a little like this:

  • List the numbers 1-15 down the side of your page
  • On Line 1, give a one sentence description of how the novel begins.
  • On Line 15, give a one sentence description of how the novel ends.
  • Then go to Line 2, and describe what happens next after the beginning.
  • Then go to Line 14, and describe what happens just before the end.
  • Go back and forth from beginning to end until all 15 lines are filled in.

As any writer will have likely experienced, I’ve got the beginning and ending down pat. Well, 95% down pat at least, but the middle part is about as doughy and half-baked as a microwavable cherry cobbler. So I gave this a whirl.

Man, I was glad I did. It took me about 30 minutes to go from 1 to 15. It shouldn’t have taken me so long, but I don’t believe in one sentence; if I’m going to do a proper outline, I’m going to need more than one sentence. I can’t be bothered with word limits. But as exercises go, it was a rewarding, eye-opening exercise.

I was even able to see something in the plotting that reminded me of the Book of Daniel. Something about apocalyptic visions.

Hmm…EEEEEEEEEEENTERESSSSSSSSSSSTEEEEEEEEEEEEENG!

Maybe my WIP won’t seem so convoluted to me after all…

On Depression and the Creative Process

A thoughtful essay on mental illness from tryingtowriteit got me thinking about my own mental state of affairs. I’d been meaning to write something about this for some time now.

Depression has been a part of my life for more than 20 of my 40 years. Half my life, really. Whether it’s been mild depression or serious bouts, depression is an unmistakable aspect of my being. I won’t, however, let depression define me. Not at all.

My personal life has been brutal lately. I don’t want to go into gory details about what’s taken place in my life over the past 12 months. This isn’t the time or place for me to reveal myself so openly, but I will acknowledge, and own up to, the facts: I’ve made some conscious choices in my life recently that have caused a lot of hurt for people that are near and dear to me, people I love. People I should have done a better part loving. And not hurting.

The past 12 months have been an emotional rollercoaster, a juggling act of emotions and thoughts and actions that I fear I’m not mentally equipped to handle properly. One refuge for me has been writing. The novel I’m currently working on – a pseudo fabulist fiction piece about a superhero who comes to the realization that he’s not so heroic – is sort of a mea culpa, an outlet for me to examine choices I’ve made in my life, and how those choices have formed who am I and what I want to do with my life. Writing has become greatly important, urgent, even. Forgive me for the hyperbole, but I get the sense that I’m writing as if my life depends on it.

During this period that’s been taking place in my life recently, I underwent a manic phase unlike any I’d ever undergone before in my life. Even though I was in a self-destructive mode (again, my apologies for not going into further detail here), my writing has never been better. My writing has never been more focused, more muscular. It became clear to me, finally, that after so many years of dabbling with the idea of being a writer, that I more than anything wanted to live the writer’s life.

For a four-month period, my writing was relentless. Ideas were forming quickly before my eyes. I found the words were simply pouring from my pen, and I felt no urge to self-edit. Even better, the Doubt Monster wasn’t rearing his ugly head anymore.

I felt like Bradley Cooper’s character in the film Limitless. What if a pill could unlock your brain’s potential for learning, for creativity? Mania was that pill, along with the circumstances that were driving my mania. The future, my future, was mapped out in front of me. I could see myself as a writer. Finally.

Composition-style notebooks and PBR…ah, the writer’s life!

Fast-forward to this very moment, and my writing has sputtered. I’m no longer writing freehand. I’ve forced myself to outline my novel (a necessary evil, of course). I’m using Scrivener to help me organize. But the truth I’m dealing with right now is that the depression phase I’m going through right now is stiffing my creativity.

Or is it?

The depression phase has had a silver lining: I’ve been able to slow down and give greater thought into what I want my novel to read like. The first draft of the manuscript, forged during the emotional high of mania, is chock full of snappy dialogue and scenes I’ve written that were full of energy, concision, and clarity. But there was no real plot that connected everything together. It was as if mania was simply willing my story into life; how it all pieced together was of no concern. Funny enough, my novel’s making more sense to me, now that I’m in the midst of a depression that’s keeping me up at night and filling me with dread and anxiety.

I’d love to say the manic phase is the phase I’m desperately craving right now, if only to kick-start my writing again. But what I’m missing is the high. And that’s a stupid thing for me to be missing right now, because creativity will always come to function no matter what my mental state currently is. I made the mistake of confusing the “high” with creativity, when in fact I’ve sometimes been at my most creative when I’m at my lowest.

I’m learning to embrace my bipolarity. I’m learning to live with what either mania or depression will do for me, in terms of my creativity. I’m learning to understand the signs, and what those signs mean for me. And I’m learning that maybe, just maybe, my bipolar disorder will make me a better writer.