Impermanence

The idea occurred to me several times before, but I’d never had the courage. And honestly, this was the first time an opportunity presented itself when I was actually in a relationship, when any initials I carved wouldn’t have been and exercise in imagination. Cowardice disguised as confidence. One day, RSC hearts KEC or ABC or HIJ will mean something more than a long list of letters inferring a long list of never been lovers. 

Which is exactly as pathetic as it sounds.

But she was different. Or I was different around her, which might be saying the same thing.

She liked winter rains, the sort that iced your eyebrows and lashes, made walking dangerous, filled with ankle twisting, bottom bruising obstacles. And she preferred silence when given the choice, her feet up on the sofa, across my lap while I read a book, no words shared for hours.

I also liked the rain, but preferred the October variety. As for silence, well, I didn’t believe it existed. There was always some little noise, a scratching in the back of my brain, which I trusted, if only because it helped me feel substantial, genuinely present.

*

One warm afternoon late in September, we hiked into the woods along a favorite trail for almost an hour (autumn leaves scattered across the ground, reds, browns, and my favorite yellows piling up, begging to be stomped or kicked about), rarely speaking, until we came upon a massive oak, somehow left unmarked among the aspens and elms lining the path, all etched with layer after layer of scribbles that stood out like scars on skin.

We stood in front of the tree, marveling at its unlikeliness.

“I can’t help but think,” she started, then paused. “No, you’ll think I’m being silly.”

I shook my head, somehow stopping myself from adding phrases which would only detract from the moment. I adore words, but I often say the wrong ones at the wrong times.

“I feel like this tree appeared out of nowhere, in this moment, in this place, just for us.”

I pulled my knife from its leather sheath, then walked forward, keeping my eyes on the tree, convinced she was right and if I looked away for even a moment it would disappear. With my free hand, I touched the bark. Deep, rough grooves touched back, and for an instant I thought the tree quivered beneath my fingers. I pulled away, looking up at the branches far above my head, swaying gently in the light breeze. A pale blue sky seemed impossibly far away. I tightened my grip on the handle of the knife, turned my attention back to the trunk, and selected the location to make my first cut.

In my head, I imagined the task already complete. I could see each letter already formed, rising out from the wood, tangible evidence of our connection, hers and mine, our shared adoration and affection. I wanted to say one word out loud, shout it, but it came as a whisper- love- because I did love her, and I believed she loved me.

I imagined other outings we’d take, coming back to this tree, staring up at the crudely carved initials somehow meant to represent us, hoping our love would last as long as the tree itself. Someday, we would bring our children, spread a blanket on the ground, share a picnic lunch and stories about the inevitability of our meeting, the permanence of our devotion. Our timeless love.

I wanted to cling to this image, but before I could lock it away in my head, store it like a memory my heart sunk and I knew.

What a ludicrous notion. I suddenly wanted to be anywhere but here, in front of the magnificent tree.

Before I could compose my thoughts, she stepped up beside me and put her hand on my shoulder.

“I don’t want you to do it either,” she whispered.

I slid the knife back into the sheath, put both hands upon the oak and wished it well.

Without looking back, we headed down the trail together,  towards the parking lot where we’d left her car. A cooler in the back seat held cold water and some good chocolate.

Fifteen steps down the trail, she slid her hand into mine.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

IWSG- July 2018

A day early for the monthly blog hop of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. We get the 4th of July off, and I imagine the members outside the United States are wondering if they get their national holidays off as well. Nope. Sorry.

InsecureWritersSupportGroupBadge-300x295

If you aren’t already a member of IWSG (and I honestly can’t understand why you wouldn’t be), check us out and join HERE.

The optional question for this month-

What are your ultimate writing goals, and how have they changed over time (if at all)?

From the time I was 11 years old, I’ve dreamed about being a published writer, being famous. My early stories were science fiction tales including my friends and love interests. My parents claimed to love them, and the one friend I dared to show really liked the part where his bully died. I liked writing about relationships, I was terrible at writing romance. That hasn’t changed much. I keep hoping something will click and I’ll suddenly figure it out, but at 47, that seems unlikely.

In high school, I switched over to poetry writing, and I tell you, If anyone ever wrote a collection of poems more sappy, more over the top, more ridiculous, I’d like to meet them. We could break the universe together. Even more surprising, I honestly thought there was a career to be had writing poetry. Silly Ryan.

I was sure once someone in publishing (magically) read my poems, I’d be an instant sensation. Even as I aged and my poetry matured, I still expected someone to just discover me. I made almost no effort to enter contests, submit to magazines (even at university, which should have been so easy and obvious). When my efforts and heart returned to writing fiction, I was so out of practice, my stories were pretty awful, but I had a wonderful professor who saw some talent in my writing and encouraged me. Still, I didn’t seek out opportunities, take risks.

I’d like to say I learned my lesson and submit like crazy now, but I don’t. My 30’s passed by in a rush and not until I finished my first novel (at the age of 42), did I finally take the plunge and seek out representation.

I still want to be a published writer, and still believe it is a matter of getting my work seen by the right people. What has changed- at last I understand that for that to happen, I have to put myself out there, take risks, be bold. I’ve entered two contests and queried several agents recently. I’m about ready to approach some small presses, ones that take unsolicited submissions. I remain hopeful, and while 11 year old me thought he might be famous one day, 47 year old me knows that is irrelevant.

Short Fictions

The query edit continues. I’ve found a few kind persons willing to aid in my efforts to create a solid bit of writing and I’m super thankful to them for their help. My hope is to have these paragraphs polished and ready by the middle of July. That would be swell.

Next on the agenda, getting the courage to submit short fictions. I’ve always struggled with knowing where to send stuff, what contests/publications to approach, and if paying an entrance fee is a good or bad thing.

And of course, the super hard part- feeling a story is polished, presentable enough to get attention. Like most writers, my confidence in a text varies from day to day, read to read. Today, most of what I’m editing feels right, feels good, and what I should do on days like this one is find someplace to send something right this moment.

Maybe I should do that, end this post, seek out someplace to send that one story I’m really liking.

Am I brave enough?

Looking

Hey IWSG friends- I’m sorry to have not commented or returned comments for this months posts. Soon after publishing my blog, I came down with a lovely fever/cold that knocked me out of commission for five days. I’m just getting back into the swing of life, and might finally get to returning comments later this week.

I hate being sick. But so does everyone else. I’m not special.

This week, I’ve been going over my query letters, submitting to a few nibbles I received during #PitMad. I realized I haven’t really tested these letters out on any beta readers, and wondered if anyone would agree to help me out with that?

I’m looking for some honest feedback, and ways to make these letters pop off the page. If anyone is interested, please get in touch. I really feel it is time to submit more and in order to do so, I need to have top notch queries.

I am more than willing to trade for reviews, beta reads, whatever. Let’s help each other.

IWSG-June 2018

It’s the first Wednesday in June. You know the drill-InsecureWritersSupportGroupBadge-300x295.

Check us out and sign up HERE.

It has been a crazy month! My twins decided it was worth the effort to graduate from high school. It was down to the very end for one boy in a few classes, but he figured things out and got the grades.

I have to admit, I was more emotional than I expected. I had a few tears, watching my (seemingly suddenly) almost adult children cross that stage and get their diplomas. Of course the hardest part was realizing how fast time really flies. I’ve only spent ten years with these two, but from this vantage point, the years have slipped by in a blink.

As one might expect, writing has been on the back burner, simmering, sometimes bubbling over the rim, scalding the burner. I have every intent to stir that concoction a little more this month.

The optional question for IWSG Wednesday is-

What’s harder for you to come up with, book titles or character name?

Honestly, they are both hard for me, but titles are likely harder. In my first book, I had the MC name pretty early on. His daughters name came pretty easy as well, but the rest of the characters took their sweet time getting named. A few altered midway thorough. That first novel has had three different titles, and I’m finally satisfied with the one on the first page.

Funny enough, in the second book, the title was super easy. Names weren’t particularly difficult either, but in this case, harder than deciding what the book would be called.

In the third novel, again the MC came pretty fast, but the other names hid away for a few pages, maybe 50. The title eluded me until the third draft. For almost a year, the document was called Novel Three, and the first page of the document said, “Insert clever title here…soon.”

I think any difficulty i encounter in naming characters comes from wanting the names to stand out, be memorable, but not appear too outlandish or too common. The wrong character name can really make the rest of the writing difficult. Many times when I’ve felt I needed to change a name, it is because writing it nevert feel right. Is that a strange thing to say? I hope so.

Titles on the other hand, need to say something interesting about your book. They are often the first thing a potential reader encounters and the wrong title might lead to a book being skipped over. I hate to admit this, but I used to (and maybe still do) want my titles to be super clever. I know that is why my first book was so hard to name. Calling the second book, “The Reset” was not all that clever, but made sense for the book.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by. Leave me a comment and I’ll be sure to visit your blog as well.

Happy writing.

Poet

The afternoon I met Craig Arnold was a stressful one. It was my first day at the University of Utah (I’d just transferred from SLCC), and I was trying to pull a fast one. I had not taken the prerequisite for English 5520 (advanced poetry writing workshop), but regardless, had put myself on the waiting list. I’d been writing poetry for most of my life, and thought I had some skill. But that didn’t mean the professor was going to agree with me and allow me into the class.

Thirty one years old, Craig was a PhD candidate, the English department’s golden boy, about to have his first book published. He was the Yale Younger Poet of the Year for 1998, and from the very first moments, of our relationship I wanted his approval.

Craig asked me to email a writing sample, and if it wasn’t crap (his word), he’d sign off and let me stay in the class.

The workshop was small, 12 students, and my presence would kept no one else from joining the class, but I stressed over the writing sample for days. I highly doubt he gave it all that much thought, but he told me the poems were passable, that there was some potential.

“It’s not all bad,” he said.

In the workshop setting he was absolutely ruthless and absolutely always on point. Never before (or since) in my writing life have I felt like someone genuinely wanted my writing to be successful as when Craig was ripping apart my poetry.

It was never personal, and looking back it was in that class where I learned criticism had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the writing.

I am grateful for that.

Craig was also in a rock band called Iris. He played guitar and sang terrible songs with really odd lyrics. I saw them perform at a coffee shop in downtown Salt Lake City. Forty people were there, some of whom were likely annoyed that their late night coffee came with the added price of listening to live music.

And he had literary groupies who stood in front of the stage, sang all the songs, hung around after the set just because. Of course Craig soaked every moment of attention.

At the end of the semester, we gathered at the apartment of one of the members of our workshop to celebrate, drink beer, say goodbye. Craig’s book was coming out soon, but all he wanted was to talk about the female body builder roommate of our cohort (her photos from competitions were all over the walls), and how many times he’d had sex that day.

Three times in case you were wondering, and with a wink in my direction, he implied he was ready for a fourth.

But that was his personality- Brash, bold, confident to the extreme. And oh, how he could write. His poetry blew me away. My favorites were his narratives. One in particular was composed in couplets that flowed seamlessly from end rhymes to slants, rich and eye. His stories were precise, and his writing clean, tight.

That night at the class party, five or six beers into a twelve bottle night, after I spent fifteen minutes complaining about my lack of writing success, my envy at his, without the slightest guile he shook his head and said “your day is coming. Be patient.”

The most important thing he taught me about writing poetry- Form is the vehicle, not the destination, which altered the way I approached writing, changed how I used words.

I saw him sporadically after my graduation. He’d show up at the library where I worked, and we talk about what he was doing. He always asked about my writing, and I always lied, telling him it was going great.

A little over ten years after our first meeting, I learned he’d gone missing while hiking on the small volcanic island of Kuchinoerabu, Japan. Searchers found traces of him on a trail near a high cliff and it is presumed he fell to his death.

I had not spoke to him or seen him in at least 8 years, but losing someone I thought of as an important guide on my writing path was hard.

I don’t know what made me think of him today or why I felt like I needed to write down a few of my memories.

Catharsis?

Maybe.

Craig could rub people the wrong way, and there are likely more stories about the awful things he did than the positive ones, but he was always good to me. I admired him for his fearlessness, his talent, his friendship.

He only gave us two collections of poetry, but they are powerful and worth your time. Check them out here

All of us have people who influenced/impacted our lives, changed our direction for the better. I’m curious about yours. 

 

 

 

 

 

City of Books

I’d been looking forward to the last week of April for about 6 months. A good friend of my wife’s was getting married and had invited us to the ceremony and weekend activities. The event was to take place at the Hotel Monaco in Portland, Oregon.

I’d only been to Portland once before (in the summer of 2003) and honestly didn’t enjoy most of that trip. We stayed in a cheap hotel on the southeast end of town, had to drive and fight for parking way too much…

But I really enjoyed my time exploring Powell’s Books. I vividly recall walking into the store, feeling overwhelmed by the massive shelves, the sheer number of books, the impossibility of ever seeing everything.

When I heard the wedding was in Portland, I knew I was going to return to Powell’s and that was an amazing feeling. I made my list of 1st printings I wanted to find (it’s a new passion for me, collecting certain books in 1st printings. I am more of a snob all the time) and tried to keep my anticipation at a minimum.

We picked our hotel (The Mark Spencer, a great place if you’re looking to stay in a great area of downtown Portland. The food options alone will blow your mind) from those near the Monaco and in close proximity to Powell’s. We couldn’t have done better. This is the view from our hotel window. IMG_0987.jpg

We arrived on Friday and planned to spend all day Monday at the bookstore, but when our dinner with the bride and groom ended earlier than we expected, we had several hours to spend exploring and shopping. IMG_0999.jpg

In my head, I was going to find all these amazingly clean copies of books I’d been looking for for quite a while. When I reached the halfway point of my list and hadn’t found a single 1st printing, I began to worry. In my memory, Powell’s was the place to find specific copies of books, not just any old mass market or trade copy, but that is all I was finding.

Then the flood gates opened. I found 80% from the second half of my list. So many that my basket was almost too full for me to effectively search for more. My arms grew tired.

I also learned how tricky the staff at Powell’s can be. After my success in the second half of the list (and finally noticing copies in the staff only section), I revisited the first half, checking the overflow shelves to see if I’d missed anything. Sure enough, just out of my reach was a hardbound edition of a Russell Banks book I was looking for. I had to get a staff member to retrieve it, which I hated doing, but it was worth my discomfort as I  found a signed 1st printing of Cloudsplitter ($6.95 people). This trend continued with other authors, multiple trade copies on lower shelves and editions I wanted up high. It makes sense- Leave the less valuable copies where the average buyer can see them, and place the collectible copies just out of reach.

My unexpected score was a 1st printing of Watership Down. Of course when I was showing it to a friend, some of the glue snapped. Luckily the binding is sewn as well as glued, so it isn’t a total disaster.

We visited the bookstore almost every day and I regret nothing.

All in all I spent way too much money, but when I look at my shelves, see some completed collections, it makes my heart glad. Of course there are still many books to buy, and I have to decide if I want to hope for the serendipity of a thrift store or independent bookstore find or give in and buy from online sites.

As for the wedding- It was incredible. I get very emotional at weddings, and I am unashamed to admit that I usually cry. There is something wonderful about two people finding each other in this crazy world that always warms my heart. It is especially poignant when the people are older and have had a rough go of things, been treated badly.

Yeah, I’m a romantic and that’s fine.

Here is one last photo- some cool art on a building near our hotel. IMG_0998.JPG

What is your favorite bookstore? What sort of things do you collect? Am I a total nutjob?