The Reinvention Chronicles #1: Put Up or Shut Up

Rude Awakening

Guy_LombardoI woke up one day when I was 42 and realized I was 44.

I can’t explain it, but I swear to you it’s true: I had lost track of my age and truly thought I was 42 until, compelled by some small voice in my head telling me to “just double check that, buddy,” I scratched the math onto a napkin once, twice and a third time. Each time this, minus that, borrow a one, came out the same: 44. Thus began a high-speed existential crisis: Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining, Acceptance, all in one day. Truth be told, I’m still working on the acceptance piece. I have reconciled myself to the fact I can’t do anything about the age I am now and I recognize that to be here, still aging, is better than the alternative.

But I haven’t reached all my goals yet and it’s later than I thought.

When I got out of graduate school in 1995, I thought I would become an author. I’d have a novel published by the time I was 30. But, instead, I acted on an opportunity to start a business with two friends and told myself that if the business succeeded I could become an author later and do it without having to rely on my writing to support my family. It was a good opportunity, it was a good move, it was a good experience. We succeeded. But when I became 44 that day when I was 42, I realized I’d forgotten to work on the other piece of the plan. To be clear: I hadn’t forgotten the plan, I had forgotten to WORK on the plan.

Until now. I’ve published a short story on Amazon. You can download it for FREE through Monday, September 29th. Free, that’s the right price for an unproven author, right?winnebago_cover

We sold our business last year. For other reasons, not related to any of this. But when people ask me if I had any reservations about selling the business and walking away from a success, I can honestly say No.

I find life gets stale if I don’t reinvent myself from time to time.

It was time to work on another goal. The original goal.

The Meter Keeps Running

I was 44. Now I’m 45.

  1. Dammit!
  2. No. It’s simply impossible.
  3. There’s no point in trying now; it’s too late.
  4. Look, God or whoever: let me succeed as an author and I’ll be a better person, I promise.
  5. I’m 45. So be it.

I still have my identity as a successful entrepreneur  with nearly 20 years of experience, and some days I think I should leverage that into comfort and security. Get fat and happy. But I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t pursue the original goal, the desire that is at the core of who I am. I’m working on my new identity. This is my new adventure.

Some of you may be saying you’ve heard this from me before. It’s true I’ve written about being a writer before. But that was about writing. This is about authoring. Publishing. I can write. I have written. Now I will publish. That’s the adventure.

Acting on the vision. Doing one thing every day to move forward. That’s the adventure.

Spoiler Alert

Here’s how the adventure ends: I succeed.

Here’s what makes it an adventure: I don’t yet know how I succeed. But I’m not going to wait to act until I know. I’m going to make it up as I go along.

Stay tuned…

In the meantime, did I mention you could download my Kindle Short for Free?

Thanks to Kelsye Nelson for inspiring this post with her post: “How Do You Become a Writer?”.  

 

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At 2300 I Say Thank You

poempoleI heard a story on the radio one time about a writer who so desperately wanted his poems to be read that he would print them without his name on them and then walk around town stapling them to telephone poles.

He didn’t write to get rich, he didn’t even write to get known. He just wrote because he needed to express ideas in the medium of words and he needed to know that what he had expressed was making its way into the lives, the minds, the hearts of other human beings.

For me, this blog has been my telephone pole since I started it two and a half years ago. When I started writing here, no one was reading it. I kept writing, kept posting. And then one day someone clicked “Follow” and I had one follower. One person in the world who found something I had written and decided it was entertaining enough that she wanted to keep an eye on what I was doing. As someone who had written for years in anonymity and didn’t even admit to friends or family that I was writing, the power and significance of that moment was immense.

I never properly thanked her. She’s Nichole Eck and she’s a writer too, a novelist-to-be. Go look at her blog. She hasn’t updated it in a while, but you can find her on Twitter too. Nichole, thank you.

In August of 2013 WordPress picked this post (“I Really Don’t Want to Punch You In the Face”) as a Fresh Pressed selection and suddenly I had 10, then 20, then 50, then 100 followers in just a couple of days. I was terrified, as I expressed in this post (“Oh, shit, I Succeeded. Now What?”).

In the year since that breakthrough, you have continued to click that Follow button. A few each day. Slow and steady. The numbers kept rising and for a long time I refused to believe you were real. You had to be robots; spambots. I was sure of it. But, I think some of you really are people. Maybe most of you. And you’re really reading my writing. As of this week, there are 2,318 of you in my followers list.

The most recent are Peanut Butter Jelly Wife (have a look at her blog; I like the story of how she came up with the name for it), and LifeCoachWriter (her most recent post is titled “Accept Your Flaws”; timely and good advice for me). Thank you, PBJwife and LifeCoachWriter.

thankyoucardI don’t know what you all have seen along the way that has led you to click Follow. I don’t know if, after you’ve clicked Follow, you ever return. I don’t know if, after you’ve clicked Follow, you suffer Follower’s Remorse and only remain in the list because you can’t figure out how to un-follow. All I know is that in that one moment, you read something I had written and thought it was worthwhile in some way, and by clicking Follow, you gave me a pat on the back, encouragement, validation, assurance that what I’ve been writing is making its way into the world, into other minds, into other lives. And that’s all I ever wanted. By clicking Follow, each one of you gave me a gift.

So, really, thank you. All of you.

My Agreement with My Mind

One day my mind came to me and asked if we could talk.

I hate when people ask if we can talk. Nothing good ever follows that question.

But my mind looked worried and I do care about him. So I said, “Sure. What’s up?”

My mind wrung his hands. He looked at the floor. He started organizing things on my desk. “OK,” he said. “You know I love working here.”

Here it comes, I thought.

“No, don’t do that,” my mind said. “Let me finish.”

“OK,” I said. I stopped thinking. “Say it.”

“You know I love working here,” my mind said again. “You’re great. The work is really interesting. It’s just — ” my mind paused and then went on “– there’s just so much of it,” he said. He looked at me, cringing a little. I knew he was watching to see how I would react. I can always tell what he’s thinking.

But he was right and I knew it. “We have been going pretty hard lately,” I said.

“Yes,” my mind said.

“You know I appreciate everything you do,” I said.

“Absolutely! Without question!” My mind said. “That is not what this is about.”

“Are you asking for some time off?” I said.

My mind nodded. He looked hopeful now and I really felt my heart go out to the guy. I had been asking a lot of him. And not just during business hours. All night sometimes and I’m sure I hadn’t properly thanked him (although, between you and me, I have to say that sometimes I was ready for him to stop, to shut off, but the guy never shut up, he never cared that it was 3 AM, but that’s petty, I don’t want to get like that, he’s great, great). We had been getting on each other’s nerves. It might do us some good to spend some time apart.

“Alright,” I said. “Look. We don’t have any deadlines. You’ve been going really hard. What would you think of a week off?”

“A whole week?” My mind said. I could tell he wanted me to say yes. And he knew I was going to.

“You deserve it. Take a week,” I said.

“If you think you can do without me,” my mind said.

“Hey,” I said. “I appreciate you. But don’t let it go to your head.”

“No! Of course!” My mind said. “I’m just so glad you understand.”

 

My mind left while I was sleeping. When I woke up in the morning, I only had one thought. It’s so quiet I thought.

It was quiet. My mind’s a great guy, but, you know, the guy talks a lot. I mean A LOT. Constantly: “What if we this? What if we that? Hey, I wonder what the chemical process for x,y,z is. Did you ever notice it’s always the same birds that sing first in the morning? Don’t forget to get the propane tank filled. Does this sound like a British accent? Who was the first idiot who thought to eat an oyster — it had to be a dare, right? Do you remember when Mrs. Holloway’s dress got caught in her pantyhose when you were in the 5th grade and only Carrie what’s-her-name told her while you and the rest of the class just giggled? It’s its, right? Or is it it’s?”

And on like that.

But now he was gone and it was quiet. It’s so quiet, I thought. I realized I had already thought that. It is quiet, I thought.

 

I had big plans for the week. It was so quiet. I was going to work on my novel. But I couldn’t figure out how to move the plot forward. I decided to read a book. I pulled one off the bookshelf at random, but I couldn’t get into it. I read the first page of another one. It didn’t hold my interest. I ended up in front of the TV. I switched it on and right away I found a Kardashians marathon. This was a show my mind would never sit still for if he was here. But my mind was gone. So I watched.

I couldn’t keep up with it. Maybe I haven’t given those girls enough credit. I switched to the weather channel. I liked the way the maps moved.

 

My mind was gone for more than a month. When he came back, I was still watching the weather channel. He didn’t say anything. Neither did I. I wasn’t happy that he found me on the couch, staring, in the quiet, at the high pressure system circulating over the Northwest. And I could tell he didn’t want to tell me where he’d been.

We’ve agreed to focus on the future.

We got some work done on my novel today. My mind helped me figure out there’s a connection between the story about the dog and the story about Martin’s sick mother. It’s not an either/or proposition; the novel only works if I tell both stories. That means a lot more work for me. For us. But he was right. He’s always right. “You keep coming up with solutions like that, I might never let you leave again,” I said.

“Oops, I’ve done it now,” he said. But he smiled.

“Its good to have you back,” I said.

“It’s it’s,” he said.

Butterscotch

butterscotch candiesCruising the city one night in high school my friends and I stopped in at Pizza Hut. Against the wall, sitting alone, was a redheaded girl about my age. We made eye contact and I was drawn to her in the same way you may be drawn to stare at old photographs of relatives you never knew. You see something there, something familiar, though you can’t quite place it.

I went over to her and suddenly I knew her. Cheryl. My neighbor until I was eight years old. I played in her sandbox. We played Toss-Across and Operation in her living room. We rode the school bus together until I moved out of the school district. Kids were always mean to her when we were little because she was fat. Maybe they were still mean since she was still a big girl. Maybe that’s why she was alone.

We said a few things to each other. Hey, how you doing? Wow, can’t believe it’s you. What grade you in now? Nothing deeper than that, and then my friends were ready to leave. We drove around all night looking for connection but I spent the rest of the night thinking about Cheryl. I remembered her crying a lot. I remembered her dad. I remembered him being a real asshole. I remembered how he would chase Cheryl around in the street in front of our house with a wooden spoon in his hand. When he caught her he would yank down her shorts and beat her big bare behind with the spoon in front of all the kids who were watching and laughing. Usually he beat her just because she hadn’t come home on time, or because she hadn’t completed some chore or had completed it but had done it wrong. There was no winning with him. Kids were mean to her. Her dad was mean to her. She was surrounded by meanness. That’s what I remembered about her.

When we moved away I struggled with the very real sense that I was abandoning Cheryl. Our last night in our house, when everything was packed into the moving truck and our sleeping bags were spread on the bedroom carpets, after dark, I snuck out and over to Cheryl’s house. I crept through the bushes to her bedroom window and on the windowsill I placed three Brach’s butterscotch candies in their golden cellophane wrappers. I was eight; it was all I knew to do. I hoped Cheryl would find them in the morning and somehow know that they came from me and somehow know that I was protecting her, that I was thinking of her even though I was gone.

I did think about her. But not for long. I grew up and I forgot her.

A Storyteller Tells Why

TimestoppedI want to tell you stories.

I have always — ALWAYS — been vividly, acutely aware of the passing away of each moment even while I am in it. Have you ever, after a summer swim, draped your body on the hot boards of a dock to warm in the sun and then rolled over to watch as the pools of water that have slid off your skin evaporate? They shrink, they disappear, they turn to nothing before your eyes. That is how I experience time. How I experience now. How I experience you.

I am here, with you, participating. But I am also always just outside of here, looking in. Just outside of now, watching it turn to vapor.

My wife tells me sometimes she is full of joy. I cannot relate. I come close to joy, but when I recognize it happening I fixate on how delicate it is, how fleeting it is, how it is beginning to pass before it has finished beginning. I watch the moment disappear. True, I am not the life of the party.

In every moment I am homesick for the moment that just passed. Even the shitty moments — I want to keep those too.February_2007 109

This is why I have always wanted to tell you stories. Because in stories I can stop time. When I build stories, I build moments that do not fade. I can say “this is how it is” and that is how it still will be tomorrow, the next day, the day after that and forever if the story lasts that long.

That’s all I’m trying to do: govern a universe, control time.

Bodies In Motion — The Final Chapter

Shadow in Lamplight

Photo by msheridan6

Owen did text and call Amy two more times. He wanted to hear directly from her what Debbie Arble-whatever had claimed was the truth. That she had given up on him. That she wanted something from a man that she did not find in him. But she didn’t answer. And a week after Debbie had come to him in the library Owen walked across campus to Amy Wheatman’s dorm on a Saturday night hoping he might see her and talk to her. In the darkness he walked the pathways through the fallen leaves.

At Amy’s dorm room, Owen knocked. No one answered. He knocked again as a girl came out of the room next door. “She’s not there,” the girl said.

“Do you know where she is?” Owen asked.

“Upstairs. There’s a party in Scott’s room. Want me to show you?”

“Yeah,” Owen said.

The girl led the way and Owen followed her to the stairway and up one flight and into the hallway. The lights had been dimmed, music thumped and people spilled out of a room halfway down the hall.

“She’s somewhere in here,” the girl said to Owen and then she ducked into the room and was absorbed by the swirling bodies there.

The noise of music drowned all voices and Owen scanned the room and the hallway. Then he found her.

Amy stood at the end of the hall, her back against the wall looking into the face of a boy who stood in front of her and pinned her shoulders against the wall with his hands. He was leaning toward her, the weight of his body holding her in place. The boy and Amy were talking at the same time, both of their mouths moving angrily. A few of the hallway stragglers were noticing the argument and edging closer as if drawn by the tension between the two.

And then the boy’s hand left Amy’s right shoulder and, in a flash, he slapped her across the face. Amy’s hands flew up and covered her eye against a second strike. But the hallway crowd had seen the boy hit her too and in a wave they broke upon him with a scream and pulled him away from Amy and lifted him and pinned him against the wall and a large hand from the crowd held him around the throat choking him. Others in the crowd pulled at the hand around the boy’s throat until they bent the fingers free and the boy ran from them, down the hallway to the stairwell and out.

Silhouette in lamp light

Photo by msheridan6

A moment passed. Girls in the hallway crowd ministered to Amy, touching her bruised face with their fingers. Owen took a step toward her, and then another and then he was running toward Amy. He pushed into the crowd of girls. He would get to Amy. He would hold her, heal her. But Amy shook free of the girls, she pushed their hands aside and in that moment her eyes met Owen’s and she shook her head. No. She jogged away from him, down the hallway, following the boy.

Owen left after that. He walked out into the night and drifted toward the center of campus; the main square and the fountain. Soft yellow light spilled from lamp posts around the square and a few shadows and silhouettes moved across the bricks. Near one lamp — half in the light, half in darkness — stood a boy and a girl. The boy’s arms hung limp at his sides and he bent his head and rested his forehead on the girl’s shoulder. The girl wrapped her arms around the boy’s shoulders and one hand stroked his hair. Owen could not see their faces. But he did not have to. He knew that the boy was Scott. And he knew the girl. She was Amy Wheatman.

Bodies In Motion — Chapter 4

The next afternoon Owen walked into the student fitness center wearing shorts and a t-shirt and carrying a racquetball racquet. Amy had called him that morning and asked him to play racquetball with her. He had borrowed a racquet and now here he was. He looked around the lobby of the center and spotted Amy watching the swimmers through the glass that looked into the pool. She wore a blue cotton tank top and black spandex shorts. Owen pored his eyes over the soft lines of her body as he walked toward her.  As he neared, Amy turned and smiled and then she laughed.

“Cute legs,” she said.

“Yeah, well. Yours too.” Amy held her own racquetball racquet and a can of new balls.

“Have you ever played racquetball before?” Amy asked.

“Once or twice,” Owen said. “But my dad used to play, so I get the gist of the game.”

“Your dad used to play? I don’t think that’s going to help you today.” Amy smiled and gave Owen a playful shove as they walked down the hallway to the racquetball courts. Owen swayed away from her with the shove and then let his body fall back against her small hand and bumped his shoulder into hers. “Scott and I used to play a lot,” Amy said.

Owen heard the echo of racquetballs slamming against the walls of the courts and the squeaking of sneakers on the polished floors. Bodies thundered inside the tiny pen-like enclosures and the air was filled with the smell of sweat and rubber.

“So are you good?” Owen asked. He and Amy had reached their court and he opened the low door, waited for Amy to duck through, then followed her in and closed the door behind them.

“I’m not bad,” Amy said. “Why? Are you nervous?”

“No, just want to know what I’ve gotten myself into.”

“Shouldn’t you have asked that before? Maybe when I invited you? Why did you say yes?” She opened the can of balls and pulled one out and put the can in the corner of the court.

“It sounded like fun. And you said how much you liked it. So — I don’t really care if you’re good at this. It’s just fun to play, right?”

“Absolutely not,” Amy grinned. “I want to win. Don’t you?”

“Just serve,” Owen said.

Amy stepped to the service line and rocketed the ball off the wall with a deft flick of her wrist. It caromed back toward Owen, sailed over his head and bounced against the back wall of the court and then bounced forward past him and rolled and stopped against the front wall.

“That’s a point,” Amy said. She walked up to the front of the court and picked up the ball and returned to the service line. “That racquet you’re holding,” she said, “it’s to hit the ball.”

She turned and served again.

This time Owen jumped at the ball as it sailed toward him and he got his racket on it. But the ball skidded along the side wall before hitting the front of the court.

“Gotta hit the front wall first. Another point for me,” Amy said.

Her wrist flicked and the ball was sailing at Owen again. He smacked at it. Good contact this time, but off target. The ball shot forward at waist height and spanked Amy in the right butt cheek. She squealed and then turned grinning at him.

“Are you flirting with me?” She said.

“I’m sorry,” Owen said. His face felt hot. The ball had rolled to him. He picked it up and held it out to Amy.

Instead of taking the ball from his hand she danced up to him, rubbing at the spot on her bottom where the ball had hit her. She pouted. “I think I’m going to have a bruise, Owen. I’ll tell everyone Owen bruised my pretty bottom.”

Owen’s face burned now. “Oh, God,” he said. “You’re too much. I’m sorry.”

“My sweet ass.”

“OK. OK. I said I was sorry.”

“You are blushing. Beautiful! Am I embarrassing you?”

“Just serve,” Owen said.

“It hurts a little. Can you check it for me?” Amy pushed her hip to the right and pulled out the waistband of her shorts.

“Serve,” Owen said.

“You are embarrassed.” Amy’s dark eyes flashed and her eyebrows jumped as she sized him up. Then she shook her head and smiled and turned and served again. Owen’s return sailed into the ceiling.

They played for an hour. As Owen settled down he managed to score enough points to make the match interesting. But it wasn’t close. They played three games and Amy Wheatman won them all.

“Good game,” Owen said as they stepped through the door of the court and back into the hallway. He held up a hand for a high five.

Amy slapped her hand into his and then in a single movement she grasped his hand in her fingers and pulled his arm down and around the back of her waist. She pressed her body against him. Owen felt her heart beating in her stomach as it pushed against his.

Amy brought her face close to Owen’s. “You got beat by a girl, Owen,” she whispered.

Owen leaned his body away from her and looked into her face. “That’s OK,” he said. “I had fun.”

“You got beat by a girl,” Amy repeated.

“Yes, I did. You’re good.”

Amy relaxed her grip on Owen’s hand and she directed his arm from around her waist. They stood facing each other now, just their fingers loosely locked together. Owen’s hand was sweating and he let go of Amy’s fingers and wiped his palm dry on his shirt. Then he wanted to reach out and hold Amy’s hand again, but she had started walking so he fell in beside her.

Amy turned and walked backwards in front of him. “Will you tell people you got beat by a girl?” She said as they walked.

“Yes, of course,” Owen said. “Or, you know, if it comes up. I don’t know why anyone would want to know. Why wouldn’t I?

“I just thought it might bother you,” Amy said.

“It doesn’t.”

“Not even a little?”

“I don’t care if I win or lose,” Owen said. “I had a good time. That’s really all I care about.”

Amy spun on her heel and walked beside Owen to the lobby. They agreed to meet at the library later. When Owen said good-bye, Amy Wheatman did not respond.

At six o’clock Owen was in the library. He found a table and spread his books to save a seat for Amy. At seven o’clock he was still alone and he texted Amy but she did not reply. At eight o’clock he checked his phone again, but there was nothing from her. At nine o’clock he was still alone. At ten o’clock the library closed and Owen went back to his dorm room. He texted Amy one more time. “Did I miss you?” he wrote. “Where were you sitting? I was in the main room.” His phone stayed silent.

The next morning he tried her again. Texted her and called, left a voicemail. He said he’d be at the library again that evening. Six o’clock, main reading room, she should come. He got the same table as the night before, spread his books and waited. He read. He grew tired and put his head down on his books to rest. He dozed until a chair moved and something rocked the table. He lifted his head and looked up into a grinning face. It was Debbie.

Owen had never seen Debbie smile before. He looked at Debbie’s teeth. They were baby teeth, tiny in dominant gums. He sat up straight and looked around for Amy Wheatman, but he didn’t see her.

“Where’s Amy?” he said.

“Not coming,” Debbie grinned.

“What do you mean?”

“Not coming.”

“Why?”

“You’re a dope.”

“Where’s Amy?”

“Not coming. How do you not get that? Not. Coming.”

“No, I get that. Debbie. But why? Not coming why?”

“Because you’re a dope and I was right about you.” Debbie said. Her smile was gone and her lip curled as she spoke to Owen. Her tiny teeth glinted.

“Is she in the library? You’re here?” Owen said.

“She sent me. She’s not coming. Don’t call her anymore.”

“Wait? What? What is going on?”

“I was right and Amy finally sees it and says don’t call her. I said I would tell you.”

“Why not? You were right about what?”

Debbie’s face pulled back into a smile again, her heavy cheeks tugging open her plump lips. She was enjoying this, and this was the moment she’d been waiting for most of all.

“A man who doesn’t want to win is not worth your time.”

Debbie stood up and smoothed her coat around her globe-like body. Her arms were short and her fingers barely reached the equator. She gave Owen a last look full of triumph and then moved out. She sidled between the tables in the reading room and then disappeared between the bookshelves and was gone.

…next, the final chapter…