Tag Archives: Writing

Someday Never Comes

karatekidcrane

Some of you may already know already that my day job is not a day job. It is, in fact, a nights & weekends job. I’m one of those lucky perpetual adolescents who can make a living doing theater. This means none of my pants are new, I know which Ramen is the good Ramen, and my work schedule ebbs & flows like the leak in my water filter. Once every other month or so I work like a madman for 2 weeks, then we open the play and everything settles into a routine, and I work more like a congressman.

For those two weeks of crazy, everything gets put off like a supreme court nominee. Sleep? After opening night. Dishes? After opening night. Laundry? Well, look who thinks he’s the queen of England. Shall I fetch the stain stick your majesty?

All this is by way of saying that I’m professionally suited to putting stuff off. To everything there is a season. And that season is after opening night, dammit.

This life-triage gets plenty of use as a parent. Except instead of “after opening night” it’s either “after he goes to sleep” or “sometime in the next 20 years.”

I remember that first month back to work after Little Man made his entrance (or, technically, his exit) into the world. If I showed up to work on time, fully dressed and functionally awake, everything else could wait.

And now for something completely different.

A few months ago there was a huffpo article making the rounds on the facetagrams and the chatsnaps. It basically told all the creative types to chill out. If you’re having writer’s block, then relax, wait, you’re inspiration just hasn’t come. If you’re struggling with a painting that’s not coming together, then it just isn’t the time. The planets – the article said, in so many words – may not be aligned for you know. Don’t worry about it, the article said. Things will get better for you, just wait. The article said.

Which is bullshit.

As a writer, I’m going to tell you something and I want you to hear me when I say this: never, ever give a writer an excuse not to write. We have those. We have all of those already. If you’re having writer’s block, the last thing you should do is not write. What you need to do is not think. Copy somebody else’s stuff for a couple pages, write stream of consciousness, write what you’ve already written backwards. Work the muscle lightly till the cramp clears. If you don’t think your novel is any good, then write a bad novel. Write the worst novel known to literature. Because, unlike waiting for your inspiration, at the end of the process at least you will have written a novel.

And I’d extend this to painting, or wood-turning, or seed-portraiture or whatever discipline you’re in: if you’re struggling while making art, then make more art. Make crappy art fast and in great quantities for no one but yourself. Life will change – whatever circumstances you think are blocking you will change eventually. But then something else will come up, and instead of developing habits and routines and tricks that keep you creating you’ve been waiting for the damn planets to align.

Which brings us back to parenting.

There is no excuse like a baby. Especially for the introvert home body. Hygiene, appearance, courtesy, coherent speech – failures in any or all of these areas can totally be excused by a baby. Basically, a baby lets you look and act like a homeless dude.

And you can ride that train. It’s there. You earned it. But I found, as I was out in the world, interacting with other humans, that patience, like toilet paper, will eventually run out. And, like toilet paper, it never happens at a good time. There is no answer to the baby card once it’s played, it is the crane kick to vanquish all cobra kai. But only a jerk walks around in crane stance waiting to drop people.

There comes a time for every parent when the kid can no longer be an excuse for not having your act together. That time can be when the kid’s 18. Or when he’s 8. Or when he’s 8 months. There’s no right answer here, but, as with creating art, if you’re waiting for things to get better, they won’t. You’re always gonna worry. You’ll never have enough sleep again. The list of household chores, and emails/texts/calls to return, the pile of dishes – it never gets shorter, not for more than a few hours. It’s not about the circumstances changing, it’s about you. It’s about digging deeper, adding 5 minutes on to your allotted commute to make sure the stains are small and mostly out of sight. It’s about taking time after work to hang out with your coworkers even though you’ll be up in 4 hours. It’s about being a guy who supports the people around him rather than someone needing support.

And it sucks. And it can only be accomplished in tiny, steady steps.

I think what that huffpo article was trying (and failing) to do was teach people to forgive themselves. I think, as parents, we come to drown ourselves in the needs of others, in the expectations of lists and bills and obligations. It’s a drastic thing to completely surrender the idea that your life is about you, instead of this other little person. And eventually you do catch up to yourself, and then you try to implement these changes that I’m talking about. You try to return to some semblance of functional adult. And I’m just gonna tell you now: you’re going to fail. You’re gonna fail a bunch. It’s gonna be like junior high again. But it’s okay. Forgive yourself. Everybody fails. Batman failed, like, lots of times. Try again. Keep trying. Everybody’s trying, nobody really has it figured out, they’ve just been trying for longer.

But don’t wait for the perfect set up. It’s not coming. Anybody who tells you different is over 40 and does their parents’ laundry for an allowance.

 

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Hubris, Much?

Big Bad Barry

It’s funny how things come back to bite you.

I wrote a piece a while ago about the benefits of a little deprivation now and then. As only a graduate of a liberal arts college can, I went on and on about how giving things up makes you appreciate what you have. I should have kept my mouth shut.

“Play” means lots of things with a toddler: pushing toy trains around, variations of peekaboo, running in circles shrieking “Doc MacStuffins” – all these count as play. A game is nothing more than a convention established, added to, and modified. Its very organic, like an ensemble-created piece of performance art. Except without all that pretension.

There’s been a common theme in Little Man’s games of late. I’ll be working the pirate bath toys, they’ll be riding their boat in the tub, when Big Bad Barry the shark, to great gales of laughter, capsizes the stalwart vessel and then drags it down to the sudsy depths. The pirates then commandeer any number of maritime devices from cups to fish to frogs to papa’s feet, all of which suffer the same fate.

Or maybe I’m working some bit of train cargo meant to fit on one of the cars. The cargo tries to get on the train. The train doesn’t stop. Many giggles occur in conjunction with this. The cargo continues to pursue this sysiphusian task with iron persistence and a cunning wit (if I do say so myself). The train, to the uproarious amusement of certain people, does not stop.

You can, no doubt, begin to grasp the through line here.

Endless frustration on my part is, apparently, hilarious.

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Primary Sources

As a father who works with a lot of people who don’t have kids, I try not to be that guy.

That look-at-the-cute-thing-my-kid-did guy.

At least not too much.

And I try to keep my bloggery a little higher order as well – the subconscious motivations of bathtub games, the existential ramifications of blow-outs, play-doh trafficking, that sort of thing.

But sometimes the mind of a toddler shrugs off all filters literary and paternal. Sometimes, you have to hear the word from the man himself.

This morning, at breakfast, discussing a trip to Duluth, MN.

“Duluth! It is so far. Duluth is so far like Africa. We must skate to Africa! You. Must. Know. How. To. Skate! On a skateboard! I know how to skate: you put one foot on. You put one foot off. And then you skate! We must skate to Africa! So quickly!”

So there.

skate africa

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Mea Culpa

mybad

It’s not that I haven’t been writing. It’s just that I haven’t been writing here.

You can see my witty turns of phrase over here and here.

But really, I got nothing. I could blame my day job, which wouldn’t be inaccurate. I could blame the fact that spring keeps teasing MN and then we go back to single digits and snow. I could blame climate change, Obamacare, I could blame all this and more, which might be good practice. Blame being such an essential part of raising a healthy child.

He types ironically.

I won’t strut and fret too much here about writing and not and the tragedy of both, since I already said it all in this post. I just wanted to check back in – I’ve got a couple more posts coming in the next few days, then I’ll get back to posting every Wednesday, regular as a toddler on a high melon diet.

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You Can’t Spell ‘Misanthropy’ Without ‘Yo, Ham!’

There are all kinds of great reasons for not writing much lately. Work’s been busy, we lost power for a few days, then we went out of town. Somebody invented the “cronut.” There was bacon in the fridge. I have a toddler.

It’s all bulls!*#t, of course.

Not the part about having a kid, though. That’s true. It’s all true (except the bacon. I wish I had bacon in the fridge). But it’s all still bulls!*#t.

Writing is a lot like sit-ups, I really only feel good about doing it after I’ve done it.

It’d be alright if it was at least consistent, but sometimes I barely have to think about it. Sometimes I’m like Batman against so many unnamed goons – I just start flinging batarangs and when I next look at my watch, Gotham is safe once again.

And it’s not like I have a shortage of material. It’s not writer’s block. Not really. Not so much as it is that when I’m confronted with a choice between sitting down to write and, say, staring silently at my perfectly shaped ankles, it’s my ankles that are always winning out.

I’m finding that one of the hardest things about writing is writing.

In a way, it’s like parenting as well. In the first few months, there’s no choice – if you carve out any time you have to spend it sleeping or eating or else you’ll collapse. Eventually the pressure lets up, but the tendency to chose basic needs over anything else stays fixed in habit. Lamentations flow about lost social lives and stain-free clothing but as babies grow a little and you have the mental space to become more aware of your failures of hygiene and smalltalk, you still feel powerless to stop it.

Which, as I’ve said before, is bulls!*#t.

Effort must be made. One clean shirt, one returned email, failure by failure you have to claw your way back until some reasonable imitation of normalcy is achieved.

So also with writing. Take this post, for example. It sucks. It’s vapid, reaching, and shallow and it still took me two days from the first line till this one. But I’ve missed too many deadlines, and rail against it though I may, I won’t have written something unless I write something.

Effort must be made. And now I have a post. And my shirt is stain free.

It’s dusty. But that’ll brush off

Thanks for reading. I’m only bothering to post this because I’m posting two more this week to make up, somewhat, for my recent delinquency.

Happy Fourth of July, too. If you’re into that sort of thing.

If you’re not…man, don’t you just hate people? They’re all outside my window right now being dumb. All of them. All the people. Dumb.

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Dream A Little Dream

So yeah, you may have noticed a certain lack of bloggatry up in here.

About that.

…I got nothing. Everybody’s healthy, nobody’s in jail, no evil Gods from the Norse pantheon have attacked the city, I just haven’t been writing. I don’t really have any excuse. Aside from having a toddler and a full time job.

Oh yeah, I have a toddler and a full time job.

What the hell am I doing blogging?

That’s a punch line, but it’s also the question of the day here. I got bread to earn, dishes to do, diapers to wrestle onto a fast-moving bum, language & motor skills to foster, mamas to relieve and don’t those grandparents need the most recent pictures? Plus, plus, somewhere in all that I have to sleep, eat and infrequently wash myself. Why, oh, why do I then impose further responsibilities on my pitiable self? Why assume the additional burdens of deadlines and grammar when my current load is enough to crush a well-rested childless 20-something?

I work in theater, as I’ve mentioned. I work on the technical/production side – we make the sets, build the costumes, set up and run the lights, we keep the paperwork up to date and call people who are late, and if we do it correctly you never know we’re there. And I love it. It’s awesome. I love where I work, I love the people I work with everyday, I love that quite often the problems I encounter at work can be solved by repeatedly kicking something.

Try working as a CPA and saying that.

To be paid a living wage to do what I do is a rare privilege,. And to get here, you have to put in far too many midnight calls, miss far too many holidays, and collect far too few paychecks to ever say you’ve “settled” for this job. And I’m proud of what I do here. I don’t feel unfulfilled in my career and I have no plans to go anywhere anytime soon…but in all honesty, this isn’t my dream.

Yes, stagehands have dreams, too. My dream is to be Batman.

Failing that, a writer.

Don’t laugh.

That is actually what drew me to theater, but ignorance of how to go about it, low self confidence and the realization that there was more (and more lucrative) work to be found as a stage manager or carpenter saw me leave writing for later. Things progressed and I found myself inclined and suited to backstage life and writing became something I kept meaning to go back to…eventually. After this show’s down. When I’m a little more stable. After this episode of MacGuyver.

And here I am.

And now I have a son.

While it robs you of any lingering illusions that you’re still a kid yourself, having a child makes you see yourself through their eyes. It confronts you with all the inadequacies of your so-called adulthood, and leaves a papa with the powerful urge to be better. You come to understand, as you swear in traffic, as you pick your nose in public, as you watch Hoarders – you understand how closely a baby observes you, how much they actually understand and adopt. And you realize that the best (maybe only) way to guide them towards being a reasonably stable adult is to model that behavior for them.

And I don’t have any romantic notions of quitting my wonderful, steady, well-paying job to somehow ‘get by’ while pursuing my dream. But at the same time, if I stand before my son knowing that fear and ignorance kept me from pursuing a dream, then how can I expect him to pursue his? And if I’m not doing everything I can to help him towards his dreams then what the hell good am I? I might as well be on Jersey Shore for crap’s sake.

And so I write. It’s not important that it lead to fame or fortune – ask the Velvet Underground how important the money was, then ask Vanilla Ice how important the music was.

I write because I breathe. I write because I want to look my son in the eye.

 

I just have to take a break once in a while to do the dishes. Let’s not go crazy.

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