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.
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.
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.
Hey friends! It’s the first Wednesday of the month, which means it is again time for The Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. Check us out HERE and sign up. You won’t find a better band of writer folk, ready to help you through your struggles and be happy for your successes.
On the writing front, I had an interesting few weeks. Thanks to the IWSG Twitter Pitch Party, I had a small publisher from NYC ask for a full manuscript. I pretty much kept this to myself because I know a request does not mean anyone is about to publish my work. Still, It was hard to contain my excitement.
Everything in the publishing world moves at a snails pace, and I was told to wait 16 weeks before inquiring as to the status of my manuscript. So I waited. Patiently, I might add. As this was my first ever full manuscript request, I was very thrilled and excited as well as anxious. I fought back the desire to tell everyone and anyone about what was happening, because I really didn’t want to get friends and family thinking a publishing deal was right around the corner only to be disappointed.
Last week (the 12th week), the rejection came. And I have to admit, I was pretty annoyed with it. Mostly because of the form-letter nature of the email. I guess I wrongly expected a more personal response, maybe some feedback as to why the manuscript wasn’t a good fit for their publishing house. Lesson learned. I’ll add it to the others and push forward.
On a positive note, I’ve got a solid query written for this book. Now I need to find the publisher/agent who is as passionate as I am about the story.
Also, I attended an event for the author Jonathan Evision where I learned he had four completed manuscripts written before landing a deal for his fifth book. I’ve got three sitting on my hard drive, looking for a home. Time to get working on the fourth.
Wish me luck.
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine tagged me in a Facebook post, challenging me to share a list of ten albums that had the most impact on me, and that still got regular play. I’ve made this sort of list many times in the past, and have my *go-to* albums I usually pull out whenever someone asks for my favorites.
I fully intended to do the same with this challenge, convinced that these records still were representative of my current tastes. I stood in front of the stacks of records and CDs, pulling out the albums I wanted to use. I made a mental note of them, made my first post.
I wrote a few paragraphs detailing why this record was important to me, how it has affected my musical appreciation and the sorts of music liking this record opened up for me.
So far so good.
Day two was much the same- an album, a description, an hour spent thinking about what that music has meant to me. Then my father commented that while he loved the album in question, it was not his favorite from the band. I was about to argue in defense of my choice when I realized it wasn’t my favorite either. In fact, it might have been my third favorite. At that moment, I realized this list was going to be very different from others I’d created. I no longer had interest in a list of favorites, but rather a list of records that pushed me forward.
Any mental notes I’d made about the remaining albums were tossed aside. With a different perspective and mission, I went through the records again. At least four of the titles I planned to use didn’t remain on the revised list. Some I never expected to be on the list suddenly needed to be there.
In the end, I think this current list is a much more accurate representation of my musical education. One realization, I talk a big game about my varied musical tastes, and while I do enjoy all sorts of music, my favorites reside in a very narrow style window. Which means I need to give more attention to other genres, styles, and see if one of those albums might push its way onto the list. Some are very close. Some I haven’t owned long enough to see where they take me.
It was a very fun project and as I always love listening to music, a great opportunity to spend ten days listening to the stuff that had the greatest impact.
Here is the list if you’re interested. It isn’t in any particular order.
Big Country- The Crossing
The Cure- Pornography
The Police- Synchronicity
David Bowie- The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars
The Nocturnes- Aokigahara
Russian Circles- Station
Siouxsie and the Banshees- Peepshow
Nine Inch Nails- Pretty Hate Machine
If asked, what sort of list would you make?
I’m writing today while listening to one of my favorite records of all time. You should listen to them and then be sad they don’t make music anymore. I want you to feel my pain.
You know the routine by now. First Wednesday of the month blog hop time. Check us out and join up here.
The optional question for April-When your writing life is a bit cloudy or filled with rain, what do you do to dig down and keep on writing?
Interesting how (for me) when the writing life is cloudy, its likely because the rest of my life is pretty sunny. It’s not that I have to be sad to write, but when I have loads of positive things going on, it is very easy to allow days or even weeks to pass without sitting down at the laptop, being creative. Even sadder, I find I don’t miss writing as much when I’m in that sort of situation. I still write on this blog, occasionally put some story idea down so I won’t forget, but actually composing something new…
One trick I’ve used in the past to keep myself motivated is dusting off an older work and editing. I’m one of those odd writers who loves the editing/revising process almost more than creating the first draft. I enjoy restructuring, rewriting, hammering the rough edges. That is where ideas become complete (or at least more realized). Few things get my writing juices flowing like looking through something I’ve already completed.
What about you? Also, tell me how much you love editing. I don’t want to feel like the weird one anymore.
I met a friend this morning at one of my favorite newish restaurants. Eating out for breakfast is among my greatest weaknesses, and I really should do it less. I’ll add that to the list of things I need to change.
I’ll make the joke myself- It’s a long list.
This friend and I, we are neighbors but haven’t interacted much, and really are just getting to know each other. Because of that every topic of discussion is new and littered with tiny little land mines. I shouldn’t have been surprised when the conversation went great. We negotiated the dangerous places with the practiced ease of humans who are decent at adulting, and don’t let little things offend or anger them. Neither of us tripped any wires. Nothing exploded. It was really good.
This morning, before I left, I anticipated some of the topics we might discuss, and gave some thought as to how I wanted to present my opinions and stories. I sat in the drivers seat of my car, and an image of my 25 year old self came to mind. That person was convinced his opinions and beliefs were rock solid, and would be slow to change if they ever did. That concreteness gave my life meaning, defined me as an individual and gave me a place as a member of certain groups, political or social.
Ideologies are interesting things.
The person I have become sees things in a more fluid manner. I’m less convinced of or concerned with the rightness of my opinions, more willing to listen and change than when I was younger. I don’t think that is a unique perspective, but it was a strange moment of clarity, one I didn’t expect to have this morning.
I liked how that felt, the freedom (to use a word I really dislike) fluidity offers me, and the opportunities for continued growth that perspective allows.
I’ve come to understand that my personal beliefs have nothing to do with the rightness, the actuality of anything. Sure, it’s nice when facts and what I think align, but the person I was (and most of us were) years ago would easily have equated that accidental alignment with an affirmation of everything and anything I thought about.
I’ll add that understanding to the list of things I don’t have to change about myself. It’s a shorter list…
Breakfast was delicious, by the way.
I arrive for work at the usual time. Fifteen minutes of chit chat with the dinner chef, George (later, he’ll earn the nickname Jorge Flambe’ after burning his eyebrows off lighting the convection oven), before daring to walk into the dish washing room where I’m certain my friend Darrell has left at least three trays behind for me to finish.
It’s not that he’s lazy (though I know he takes an hour nap each morning between the two breakfast rushes), because I’ve seen him work. And I want to believe it isn’t because he dislikes me and wants me to start my shift with something unpleasant. I should just ask him outright, but I’m only 18 years old, and the thought of confrontation still fills me with dread.
I’ve talked to Joel about it. He works with Darrell each morning. Also, he’s my best friend.
Joel says they often run out of time, and certain things take priority- The pans that must be ready for the next shift. The line that cannot be covered in debris when George comes in to work. The floor that must be swept of all food and filth or the head chef will be angry (though the thought of an angry Stewart almost makes me laugh).
So I swallow my frustrations and clean the leftover dishes, rinsing them with water so hot it scalds my skin (I’ve lost sensitivity to the point I have to test shower water with my elbow, unable to trust my fingers). Then I send them through the *sanitizer* before making my way back to the kitchen where a massive pile of green beans waits to be cut.
I pull a tape from my pocket -Nothing’s Shocking, by Jane’s Addiction- put it in the grease covered tape deck and press play. George hates this music, but allows me the honor of the first selection each shift. He gets to play all the classic rock he likes when the restaurant opens and the bus tours arrive.
On bus tour nights, I’ll be running between the dish room and the grill for the entire five hours the restaurant is open. There are only two of us and when 85-170 people descend on the dining room, George can’t cook all the burgers, fish, and chicken by himself.
I’m the jack of all trades- Dishwasher, food prep (I make the best cheesecakes, Cajun potatoes), short order cook, errand boy. Sometimes it is overwhelming, but most of the time I enjoy the routine. Even the days I get yelled at by the asshole who runs the front end become comical stories, and we all have our tales for sharing.
This night there are no buses at the hotel, only a few guests here for a midweek mountain getaway, and we are not anticipating much of a rush, so we talk more, laugh more, pause between tasks. George tells the same jokes, and I laugh at them like this is the first time I’ve heard them.
The tape ends and George puts on something atrocious by Aerosmith, and since I’d rather chew nails than listen to this, I excuse myself to run silverware to the dining room. The lights are still out and I don’t hear the usual bustle of servers getting ready for opening. Puzzled, I return to the kitchen.
“Hey George, isn’t John supposed to be opening tonight?”
“I think so.”
“Well, it’s quarter to five and there isn’t anyone out there.”
He replies with a string of profanities, then walks to the office to call the asshole who runs the front end. He shuts the door. I pour myself another coke from the soda machine. It is one of the perks, free soda. Also, we get one free meal a day, and 2$ a night lodging at the hotel. It’s a good gig, really. One night after my shift, I made a steak and cheese sandwich with the trimmings from the beef fillet. Best. Sandwich. Ever. I figure retail on it was close to 25 dollars.
I hear some muffled talking, then George’s raised voice. A curt goodbye and he is back in the kitchen.
“Someone will be here by 6. You’ll have to be host and server until they arrive.
I’ll have to what? I’ve never waited a table in my life, and how can I host and serve?
“George, look at me.”
I motion to my working clothes- A dirty pair of jeans, a stained apron, a grimy black Brian Head t-shirt, shoes covered all sorts of yuck, a greasy baseball cap.
“It’ll be fine. And we likely won’t get anyone in that first hour anyway.”
By the time I wash my hands, try and make my hair presentable, it is 5:05 and one couple waits at the still locked door. I swallow my nerves and unlock the restaurant.
“Sorry folks, We’ve had a bit of trouble this afternoon. Two for dinner?”
They don’t appear too upset and reply kindly to my inane questions on the way to the table with the best view.
I hand them menus and offer bland suggestions as to what they might like. The woman looks me over, most likely noticing her server is covered in kitchen filth and smells like deep fryer oil mixed with stale sweat.
“I’ll give you a minute to look over the menu and I’ll get the drinks.”
I smile, turn and walk briskly back to the kitchen. George laughs at me as I overfill the glasses and spill all over the floor.
“You’re making more work for yourself.”
They order the baked chicken. I check on them twice after taking their order, bringing them refills and a basket of poorly cut bread.
I’m still too nervous to stand still and wander back and forth from the front desk to the kitchen, sure it’s taking way too long for the food to be ready and the couple will walk out very soon.
Finally, the chicken is done. I carefully carry both plates to the table and place them in front of the couple.
“Can I get you anything else?”
No, everything looks great.
I retreat to the host desk, hoping there is no one else waiting. From my stool, I can see them cutting into the vegetables, the meat. They seem pleased.
George wanders out from the back, gives me a wink. Just then, John arrives.
“Sorry guys, I totally forgot it was my night to open.”
“It’s cool,” I say, hoping I’m not letting on how glad I am he is here. “Just the one couple and they seem alright with my service.”
“I’ll take over from here, but I’ll bring you the tip.”
Back in the kitchen, I finish making a pan of potatoes, put them in the oven. The Aerosmith tape ends and before I can put in some Oingo Boingo, George slaps in something from Supertramp. It could be worse.
Ten minutes later, John comes up and hands me two bills. Both ones.
They tipped me two dollars on a 30 dollar meal.
John laughs, tells me to keep my day job.