A Writer’s Horror Story

I watched an excellent documentary this evening.  It was called Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously and it surprised me by telling more about my favorite writer than I already knew. It reminded me of why I want to be a writer. It was a magical collection of serendipitous moments, interviews, and the odd anecdote.

It reminded me that I needed to acquire the Sandman collections and read them from start to finish. It reminded me of the bittersweet story of Terry Pratchett mentoring Neil. We got to see a few clips from an interview with Terry before he passed.

But mostly it reminded me that if you believe strongly enough that you are normal and everyone else is strange, keep doing the things that you love to do in spite of the odds of success, and are incredibly lucky, you can make a career doing the things that you love.

I must admit that my career thus far has been fairly charmed. I have been able to turn my passion for computers and programming into a decent living. I am still having fun doing it. Ah,  you can hear it can’t you? The eminent “But” hanging in the air waiting to be said.

But, one charmed career isn’t enough. I long for the second career as a writer. I am training for it like a runner trains for a marathon. I’ve got my eye out for a good coach but in the mean time I’m putting my butt in the chair every day and writing. The only way to get good at something is to do it a lot.

My photography teacher in college, Chuck Swedlund, told us to buy a hundred foot reel of black and white film and put it in the freezer. That keeps it from going bad as quickly. Then hand load rolls of 35mm film and shoot lots and lots of pictures. The only way to become a great photographer was to practice and the only way to practice was to take lots of pictures.

Neil also reminded me of something that I’ve always known but quickly forget if I don’t constantly remind myself of. Your life is the palate from which you draw the material with which you paint your stories. If you don’t live your life large, do new things, meet new people, you will run out of things to write about.

That is one of my secret fears, running out of things to write about. I haven’t yet and when I’m not feeling the pressure of a deadline I can think of dozens of ideas to write about. But when I’m sitting here, staring at the blank page, trying to will my fingers to move, working on calming my mind so that I can hear that tiny voice that is waiting to tell its story, I have to struggle to stifle the panic that waits just below the surface. “What if I really have run out of things to write?”

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Getting to the Point, Finally

When I started writing about my experiences in the sixties I didn’t plan to go into quite as much depth. The point that I was out to make was that at the beginning of the sixties I was a child and by the end of the sixties I was an adolescent. Adolescence is a strange time in a persons life. We suddenly have the body of an adult with a mind that hasn’t quite caught up. We are feeling emotions and thinking thoughts that we have no experience with.

What’s worse is that in our society there is profound discomfort on the part of many parents when it comes to the task of talking with their children about sensitive topics like sex and career choices and how to choose a life partner. And, to add to the problem, the discomfort is passed down from generation to generation.

I find myself at sixty one, just beginning to appreciate what I want to do with my life, how I should have raised my children, what is important and what is not. This could have happened forty or fifty years ago if my parents had been taught how help me with these issues. What’s worse, my children and grandchildren face similar delayed epiphanies.

I look at the generation that is just getting out of college and I see how so many parents have failed their children. We have taught them that they should get a trophy for just participating. We have taught them that they can live at home as long as they like. It was made clear to me that when I got married, I was on my own.

The world is different. College costs more. College or some other form of post secondary education is expected of anyone who wants to pursue a good job that pays a living wage with benefits like health insurance and a retirement plan. And modern retirement plans aren’t the pensions that were common when we started working. They are typically deals where the employer matches employee contributions to a 401K up to a certain percentage of their salary.

We’re faced with the fear of many more jobs being done by machines in the very near future. This should be good news. We should all be reaping the benefit of a more productive society. After all, in order to make money selling goods and services you have to have customers to buy them. And those customers have to have income available to spend on those goods and services.

Is it any wonder that the world is in such chaos? The fundamental economic model is being invalidated and no one knows what we are going to replace it with. But in spite of all this uncertainty I’m convinced that the only way through this is to face our fears and love one another. I’m not sure of much but I am sure that love is the answer. Pure, unconditional, brotherly love. Namaste.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.