Still Not Writing

I read a post the other day, over at The Passive Voice, about a writer who self-published five years ago, and has sold over 3,000,000 copies of her books since, most of those of her self-published books. While I rejoice at her success, it’s hard to read that and think “Why not me?” Very bad, I know, to compare oneself to another writer. She says her first break-through came without any publicity effort on her part, though actually her publisher (some of her books are with trade publishers) had a promo of one of her books that happened to coincide with her self-publishing release. Hence, she did have what turned out to be an effective publicity campaign.

In another post, a writer who went from trade publishing to self-publishing in a similar, or perhaps later, time frame, made a post about how dangerous it is to check your sales numbers. Dangerous in the sense that it’s useless, doesn’t get you to writing more, and in fact can turn you away from writing. Well, it’s true that I check my sales numbers every day, and it’s also true that seeing those zeroes pile up discourages me from wanting to write.

I was going to write Monday night, but came home and was diverted. My mother-in-law, who now lives with us, needed help with her finances. My wife was helping, but it was a situation where it was better if one person searched through check registers and another wrote. So I helped with that. After we had the data concisely on paper, I went to The Dungeon to put it in a spreadsheet in order to compute the magic number. I had to do a work-around for a couple of missing statements. Sometime close to 10 p.m. I had the number, went upstairs, and gave it to her.

That was too late to go back downstairs and try to shift my brain’s focus from numbers to words, so I wasted the hour before going to bed with mindless Facebook reading.

Yesterday evening was filled with going through a week’s worth of accumulated mail, then watching two television programs and some news. Tuesday is the only evening that has programs on that I want to watch.

So here it is Wednesday morning. This is the first bit of writing I’ve done all week, except for my blog post on Sunday. I realize that, should any fan happen to drop by this page, or even should a casual visitor somehow surf here, or—heaven forbid—a family member come upon this, this will seem like whining. I suppose it is.

Perhaps life will turn around. Or perhaps I’ll learn to be productive in 15 minute chunks of writing time, or learn how to write in manuscript with significant distractions. And then, perhaps someday, I’ll have a reason to check sales numbers.

Thank You Notes

Our pastor has a short series of sermons leading up to Thanksgiving. He’s titled it “Thank You Notes”, and modeled it after Jimmy Fallon’s such notes on The Tonight Show.

Now, I must say right off I’m not a fan of that show; never have been going all the way back to Johnny Carson.  I’ve never liked any of the late night entertainment shows. I guess by that time of night, if my work for the day and evening is finished, the bed and sleep seem more entertaining than TV.

Why not DVR it, you ask? I don’t have one of these. I guess the price has come down, and I could now probably afford one, but I don’t see any point in spending money on a device that will allow me to watch more TV when I have little enough time for the TV I now watch. Why try to expand my TV watching?

But I prate. Back to the sermon series. I’ve seen Fallon a couple of times, and am familiar with his thank you notes sketches.  I found them moderately funny, but not something to lose sleep over. I would say the thank you notes “written” by Pastor Mark, complete with desk, stool, hand gestures, piano playing while he wrote, and a nearby sidekick, were significantly funnier than Fallon’s. Or perhaps it’s that Mark’s subjects were more local and hence of greater interest to me than are Fallon’s subjects, and thus are funnier to me because they are more about where I am  in the world.

Today he tied gratefulness to stewardship. He proposed three levels of stewardship as being equivalent to a good, better, and great approach to life. Those are my words, not his.

Well done, Pastor Mark. You’ve exceeded Fallon at his own game, and brought us an engaging sermon series on a subject that can easily be difficult due to the commonness of the theme.

A Shot in the Arm on a Dull Sunday

I had my flu shot a little over a week ago, but that’s not what I’m referring to.

This morning we had a good sermon, a great service, and a great Life Group class (that I didn’t have to teach). It was a difficult lesson, and my co-teacher did a wonderful job with it. But that’s not what I’m referring to.

After church, we dropped off recyclables, which is on the way home. That’s a once or twice a month Sunday ritual. Then we had a simple lunch. I pulled out the piano and vacuumed behind it. Then I vacuumed one little place in our bedroom that needed it. I paid a couple of bills and walked them to the post office, about a 2 mile walk. Thence it was re-hydrate with some ice water, and to The Dungeon to see what I could accomplish. Many things to do, including write this blog post, and not enough time to do them in.

First thing I did was check my e-mail. Ten new ones, which I figured were the usual junk and “who cares” type of e-mails. But there, in the middle of the ten, in the “from” line, was the name of a high school and college friend I’d lost contact with. Actually we’d all lost contact with him. By “all” I mean every single one of my high school and college friends I still keep in touch with. Every time we get together we speculate about ________, wondering if he was alive or dead (an awful speculation, one that will only grow through the years), where he was, what he’d done with his life, etc. I had looked for him on FB and not found him.

He found me. Said in his e-mail he was organizing old negatives, found a couple with me in them, went looking for me on the Internet, found my website (I guess) and thus my e-mail, and sent me the photos. We’ve now exchanged a couple of e-mails, and have caught up a bit. Turns out my February business trip will be to his current city of residence. Hopefully we’ll be able to see each other.

It’s always a shot in the arm to reconnect with someone after four decades. But what’s even nicer about this is he tried to find me. That has happened so rarely in my life that I’m sure I could count them on the fingers of one hand. Sorry for the cliche.

That wasn’t what I was going to write about today. I had two other things that crossed my mind and would have made good posts, but this seemed better. Hopefully the other ideas will come back to me at some point.

Can’t Write

It’s not writer’s block, but I just can’t write. It’s not as if I have something to say but can’t figure out the words. Nor is it that I can’t figure out anything to write. It’s more, why bother? How will it help me or the world?

I had every intention of sitting at my computer this afternoon and writing a blog post about our recent road trip to Massachusetts and Rhode Island.  I have much to say about that. But why bother? There’s aren’t three people in the world who will read it and care about it. Will it further my writing “platform” to add a post about that? I doubt it. I even have an idea for a follow-up post for Wednesday, but why bother?

Life is pressing in on me. Lynda wants me to look over some stock trading material with her, for which we paid good money, so I need to do that. With that hanging over my head, I just don’t feel like writing. I need to leave The Dungeon, head upstairs and do that.

I really don’t know what’s to become of me as a writer. At present I can’t see much hope for it. Perhaps it’s a tunnel I’m in and I just need to get through it. But right now I feel like I’m running from crisis to crisis, or major (and time-consuming) event with no end of them in sight.

I guess I don’t write well under adversity.

I don’t know when I’ll be back.

I Need A Rest

Well, another week went by and I didn’t do my mid-week blog post. I don’t suppose the excuse that I was in two days of off site (though in-town) meetings would make any difference. Days like those are enough to fry the brain and dull the senses. Wednesday was the first day. I came home and don’t remember if I came downstairs to the desktop, which is where I usually write my blog posts.

I’m not writing much today. Yesterday was a busy day, though not as busy as some Saturdays have been of late. At the end of the day the house was more of a mess than it was at the start. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? We took some things off the walls in preparation for selling them. That’s good, though having them in other places in the house is bad. We went through my shirts and found 21 XXL that are too big for me now, and took them out and prepared them for sale or donation. That’s good in two ways, except that’s bad in that these shirts are now hanging from the bar in the kitchen, and a couple fall off almost every time we walk by.

Some other good things happened, however. Lynda put a couple of ads on Craig’s List for things we have for sale, including for a general, private sale of all the many kitchen and linen items. The garage is more stuffed than ever, but having the ads up gives me hope.

I’ve put all writing projects on hold for now. I found myself being too easily provoked and way too irritable when minor things go wrong. Today, after returning from church (where we had an excellent brunch during life group and so we didn’t eat lunch at home), I went to the sun room, plunked myself down in the easy chair we just moved there, put my feet up on the hassock we just moved there, and read in my book of A Conan Doyle letters. I think it’s been a year since I did that. I read about five pages before falling asleep, and maybe two or three after waking up.

It’s amazing what a nap will do for your outlook. I don’t think it was more than half an hour, but I felt much better. I came downstairs and, instead of a writing task, I completed all my budget entries on my budgeting spreadsheet. I even went back and picked up the tiny interest deposits that go monthly into our HSA and money market accounts. All three accounts are now fully entered and balanced. I still have a stack of papers to file, but will try to do them over the next couple of days.

Yes, writing is shoved aside for now. Perhaps in two or three weeks I’ll be ready to get back into it, in a small way.

Saying Goodbye to an old friend

045We are assimilating the “stuff” of my mother-in-law into our house. Her large furniture has been sold, or put in use in our house: one bedroom set and three easy chairs. In the garage are a mattress and box springs (surplus), and an extra box springs (bought by someone years ago but never picked up). In the house are mostly smaller items, including linens and paper items. Those will take time to go through. The garage is full of her stuff spread out on tables, mostly marked for sale. When the sale will actually take place is a mystery, but hopefully soon. Part of our work yesterday was more work going through the pantry to see what might be too old to keep, seeing what was now duplicated, etc.

Meanwhile, the need to de-clutter has been on our minds. We knew we had to start, so that we don’t leave our kids in the place my dad left us, with a houseful of stuff to be sorted, priced, and sold or discarded. Yet, saying you will de-clutter is easier than actually doing it.

I made a little progress two weekends ago. I moved things around in the basement storeroom to accommodate a spare bedroom set. While doing so I found four suitcases we’ve had since heading to Saudi Arabia in 1981. These are well-traveled suitcases, but still in good condition. We originally had 12, of two different sizes, but through the years the others have been damaged and discarded. Even though we have new suitcases, we kept these because…why did we keep them? I suppose because they were in good condition and we thought we might use them someday. I pulled them out and set them in a place where I can easily take them upstairs when we have the garage sale, which hopefully will be soon.

Then, behind where the suitcases were, I saw my old trumpet. I bought this in the fall of 1963 (6th grade), with my own money, Dad later chipping in with some money he owed me (that’s a long story), and played in the school band from 6th grade through 12th grade. Truth is, I was never very good, and in high school never made it past 3rd trumpet. But I enjoyed it and I played.

Then came adulthood and children and overseas adventures. The trumpet went in storage twice while we were out of the country, and otherwise was in whatever storeroom we had in whatever house we lived in. Here in Bella Vista that’s the basement storeroom. The last time I played it was about 20 years ago. The interim of no practice hadn’t made me a better player.

So I thought, “Time to de-clutter; unused trumpet.” Two and two went together. I thought I should donate it to a school district for a kid who wanted to play but couldn’t afford one. The problem was the case was really beat up. I once rammed it into a fence post while trying to avoid hitting Adele Palazzo with it between home and school (another story, not so long). That gave it a crack, which later expanded, and a small piece of the case was lost. Then, around 1997 I loaned it to a family at church who couldn’t afford to buy one. It came back in a few weeks with several long cracks in the case. And when I pulled it from storage, a 7-inch piece of the case was on the floor under it. Would anyone want it with a severely damaged case?

I decided to check. One of my wife’s step-sister’s husband works at a Catholic school system, was a music major years ago, and is involved in music with the school. I asked him if his school system would like it, damaged as it is, and he said yes, very much so. I told him I’d bring it to Oklahoma City next time we were there, and he said he’d actually be passing through our area soon and would pick it up. That happened yesterday, and it is now gone, somewhere in Norman, OK, waiting to be used by some student who can’t afford one and can live with a bad case.

So I say goodbye, old friend. Sorry I never gave you a name. You were part of my life for 52 years, though admittedly I’ve neglected you for the last 45. You were money well-spent. Yesterday it was nice to see your valves still worked after at least two decades without maintenance. May you find love in a new home, and help some kid to come to appreciate music. And may your tones bless the world for decades to come. Over the next year, no telling how many of your storeroom buddies will also find new homes.

Unfinished Writing Projects

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy intention for today was to write a lengthy post on the status of several writing projects. However, two things intervene. First, I’m in New Orleans on a business trip. I’m not sure I feel like taking time to do a detailed analysis of my writing-in-progress. Second, since around Sunday my gumption for writing has tanked. At present I don’t know that I care much if I write any more or not. The reasons for that are complicated and I won’t go into them here. Suffice to say these are not the days for me to be making bold plans for adding to my published titles.

I will say a few words about my projects. The easiest one should be to publish my last short story, “Sierra Kilo Bravo“, at Smashwords, making it available to Nook, Apple, etc. That means pulling up the file for the Kindle publication, making a few simple changes, and hitting Publish. Along with that I want to republish the other stories in the series to add a link to this one to it. Also fairly simple. But I haven’t felt like doing it, now a month since it went live for Kindle.

Another fairly easy project will be to correct typos in my two baseball novels, In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People and Headshots. I re-read them some time ago on my Nook, found enough typos in each to warrant fixing them. This is a one-day project for each book. So far, I just haven’t felt like it.

SBC book front coverThen, I have some typos to fix and new data to add to my family history book, Seth Boynton Cheney: Mystery Man of the West. This is a little more complicated. It’s a print book, so unless I want to have the cover redone due to pages added I’ll need to add the new data without too much lengthening. The good news is I sort of planned for this, putting a couple of blank pages at the end of the book. So long as the new data doesn’t take up more than them, I should be okay. I have some of these marked, and one of my wife’s cousins also marked some. She didn’t give them to me, but will when I ask her. This should be my priority, I suppose, but so far—you guessed it—I just haven’t felt like it. A related project, some cousins have asked me to publish a color edition of this. That will require rework of the cover, since the page thickness is different when you print in color, but otherwise is a simple thing. I need to do that right after making the corrections to the black & white edition.

So what does that leave as far as w-I-p go? I have three books started:

  • Preserve The Revelation. This is a sequel to my first church history novel, Doctor Luke’s Assistant. A couple of years ago, when in a period of uncertainty as to what my next project should be, I wrote the first chapter of this. Since then ideas for the book continue to find their way into my conscious thinking.
  • Documenting America: Civil War Edition. This would be the next in my Documenting America series. I got well into this last year and early this year. I’d guess it’s 40 percent done. I have pushed this far from my current thoughts.
  • The Gutter Chronicles, Volume 2. The first volume was a reasonable success at the office. I’ve completed three chapters in that, and am well along with the fourth. It’s been over a year since I’ve worked on it, but I’d say I’m about 20 percent done. Ideas for remaining chapters of this have been bubbling up of late.

TCEEA print cover 01That leaves my two Thomas Carlyle projects, wanting to join their brother on my virtual bookshelf. These are the two I’m actively working on. At the office I use my free time to work on Thomas Carlyle Chronological Composition Bibliography. At home I use free time to work on Thomas Carlyle’s “Chartism” Through the Ages. Both are well along, though neither is close to being done. They are perhaps silly things to work on, as neither would be a commercial success. However, at least these two are holding my interest.

Well, this post ran longer than I expected. Still, it’s the short version. I write it not so much as to inform you, my loyal readers, about what’s coming, as to help me bring order to the chaos that’s happening in my head and finding it’s way to paper and pixels. May the order come soon.

Not All Modern Worship Songs Are Awful

Several of my friends are quite critical of modern worship songs. Or, perhaps I should say modern worship choruses. The repetition of the words, the lack us substance, the lack of focus on God and Christ, and, they feel, you have music (often not to their liking) and words that don’t speak to them, don’t feed them, and don’t lead them to worship. And, the lyrics of modern choruses don’t contain doctrine, they say, making them less effective for worship than the old hymns, which do contain doctrine.

I must confess to being somewhat in this category myself. I don’t listen to Christian radio because they play the latest songs, and I don’t like them. They come into the church fairly quickly after they appear (or so it seems to me), and I don’t like them any better live than I did on a recording. My reasons are more music and instrumentation related, not totally the lyrics—although some of them have lyrics that leave me cold. I understand the church has to keep itself relevant to those who will be around longer than I will, so I haven’t troubled myself too much over music. The third or fourth time a new song is sung I generally get it and sing along too. Blessing follows.

So today, when I walked into early service just a minute and 28 seconds before it was to start, and saw some people on the platform, ready to lead in worship, that I didn’t recognize, I was concerned.  The youth pastor was there too, and a couple of other people I recognized, but not the two in front. As service started, they say a song I didn’t know. Very modern. Somewhat repetitive. Not very fulfilling. I didn’t sing along, nor clap. At the end of the song the youth pastor told the congregation that this was the youth praise band, and who the two “strangers” were.

Based on the first song, I wasn’t optimistic. However, the next one (I think it was the next one, or was there another before that?) was a wonderful song, “In Christ Alone“.  This has been a favorite of mine for a number of years. I figured it was an old song, but once I got home I looked it up, and see it was copyrighted in 2001. Okay, for me that’s not old; that’s new. This song was wonderfully done. The combination of words, tune, instruments, and the voices of the praise team and the congregation gave us a wonderful worship experience. Two segments of the song particularly speak to me:

And as he stands in victory,
sin’s curse has lost its grip on me.
For I am his and he is mine,
bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No power of hell, no scheme of man
can ever pluck me from His hand.

So full of meaning, and poetry, and worship.

They finished up the singing part of the service with the song “Cornerstone“. I knew this was a newer song, but wasn’t sure how new. Found it when I got home however: 2011. Now that would count as new in anyone’s book, I should think. This is another wonderful song, with tremendous meaning in the lyrics.

The teen praise band sang both of these songs in a wonderful way. All the instruments blended, yet I could pick each one out. The drummer played the song to enhance and supplement the other instruments. We weren’t overpowered by the booming of the drums, which can all too easily happen.

The result was an exceptional worship experience. When Pastor Mark got up to speak, I was in great expectation of what he would say, and I think most of the congregation was. What a wonderful time. “Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.”


The Busyness is Overwhelming

Right now, I simply can’t commit time to blog posts. I’ll still slip one in once in a while, but unfortunately I won’t maintain a regular schedule. Life has thrown many things at me right now, and just now I have to process through them. An example: the lock on our front door no longer works. We discovered this Friday evening. Rather than call a locksmith then and perhaps pay extra, I’m doing it today. I’ve looked them up, have three choices written, and will call shortly. Then I’ll have to call home and tell them whether a locksmith is coming. Such a pain.

At the same time I’m trying to maintain a little bit of a writing schedule. I published a short story last weekend, and last week I worked on my two Thomas Carlyle projects. I have that mostly worked out of my system at present, but not fully. Maybe by the end of today I will, then will put those projects back on the shelf for six months. But today I pick back up my book Seth Boynton Cheney and begin to make edits for it, and then to prepare a color edition for printing.

So, my couple of faithful readings, feel free to check in from time to time. Just don’t expect posts to be coming on a regular schedule.

Poetry No Longer Comes To Me

I began writing serious poetry on August 31, 2001. Yes, I remember the date, because I was at home, laid up after a heart attack scare (it wasn’t one), and during those days at home decided to try my hand at it. The poem I wrote, “The Spring House”, is included in the one poetry book I’ve published, Daddy-Daughter Day. One person has told me it’s the best poem she’s ever read. Of course, she’s only seen it after it’s gone through much pondering and editing.

But of late, say for the last two years, poetry barely comes to me, either by inspiration or perspiration. I think if I should decide this evening to sit and write a poem, I would be unable to. I’d stare at a blank sheet of paper, perhaps write a title, and then…nothing.  Knowing a poem should consist of images and metaphors, with lines as the defining unit, I’d search my brain for an image or metaphor that would illustrate the title, but then…nothing would pass out of my brain. I’ve even found it impossible to write simple haiku (though, granted, my rules for haiku are somewhat more restrictive than what many people use).

I could speculate long on why this has happened. Is it life closing in on me, squeezing me? Is it the heavy concentration on prose writing over the last four years? Is it the turmoil in the world? Is it any of twenty other things I could write? Or probably the combination of them?

Or, perhaps, I was destined not to be a poet. Perhaps that was a false start on my writing career. Perhaps prose is my field, not verse. I used to sense inspiration on my noon walks, or while commuting to and from work. I’d observe something in nature, and begin a haiku in my mind, without being able to write it. Perhaps one in four or one in five of these might find its way to a completed haiku, and survive until I was back at the office or at home and could write the words on paper. I have dozens of pieces of paper with these haiku on them, waiting to be gathered and put in a retrievable file.

But, as I say, even these simple stanzas eluded me. But yesterday, on the way home, I was thinking about this. Since inspiration wasn’t there, I decided to try perspiration—work at it. I observed the sky. Cumulus clouds were ahead of me, to the north: towering, white, fluffy. The same clouds were to the west, with the lowering sun giving them a back-lit quality. Traffic was more or less normal. My health, well, yesterday was a bad day. I had an increase in sinus drainage and, I think, a high blood sugar episode. I spent half the afternoon simply sitting at my desk, getting nothing done, but being there in case someone needed me.

I took all these elements, and over five minutes of driving was able to hack out a haiku, using my rules, which include the 5-7-5 syllables as being the longest allowed, not a fixed amount. I did break one haiku convention, in that the third line is actually a metaphor, whereas haiku are supposed to be images, not metaphorical. I doubt my editor will care.

I thought it wasn’t bad, and said it over and over till I was home. There, I became immediately involved in supper prep and forgot to write it down. It wasn’t till about 10 p.m., more than four hours after the writing, the I realized I needed to commit it to paper. Fortunately I remembered it, found a note pad, and “created” it in tangible form. That means it’s copyrighted, even in manuscript.

It’s still not in a retrievable file yet. Perhaps that will happen tonight. And I’m not saying it’s a good poem. But it was a creation wrought of perspiration, finding a little inspiration from intentional observation. I’ll take it, and maybe build on it. I considered posting it here, but think I’ll not inflict it on my couple of readers.

Author | Engineer