Soul Cleansing

i-have-cleaning-meme

Wow, I’ve been gone for damn near a whole month, and I’m sure your lives have felt empty without me. But I’m back, and I have good(ish) reasons for being gone this long I swear. And I promise never to abandon you like this ever again.

I would love to tell you that August was about landing a dream publishing contract. I would love to tell you that August was about a series of misadventures (okay, there were a few) that make really wild and dramatic stories (not so much). Basically the catalyst for my absence was that my car had a minor issue and my laptop gave its long overdue death rattle at the beginning of the month. So, for the first few days of August I was without both.

It’s amazing what you start to accomplish when two of the things you use most are not available to you.

As a result, I finally got around to my annual deep cleaning of the apartment. I do it once a year. I clean and organize every drawer, cupboard and closet. I dust, sweep, mop and scrub every crevice. I wash all the sheets, towels, slip covers, etc.

I always save the kitchen for last. I could make up some bullshit about food being the energy of life. But in truth the kitchen is a gigantic pain in the ass, so I put it off. But I always feel better when it’s done. Until a week later when I managed to put the underused spices I just happen to need for once in the back of the cupboard and have to dig, and dig, and dig to find them and fuck up the organization.

It’s a two-day process and CrossFit has nothing on all that movement. I’m not too proud to admit my old ass was sore at the end. But it’s the good kind of pain.

It feels daunting at first, but once I get going it’s always cathartic. There’s something soothing about cleaning. It brings clarity and helps me organize my thoughts. It’s also a good time to take stock and realize all the things I truly have to be thankful for.

Don’t worry, I’m not gonna bore you with a full list here, no one wants to read that shit.

The central theme is that I really like my life right now. Although it’s far from perfect, every day it gets molded more and more into what I want it to be. Not enough people can say that about theirs. I have fought hard to create this, and focus on what I want, and my own expectations of myself rather than the expectations of others.

That was a hard-fought battle. That I put my soul into winning. There is a feeling of fulfillment that even as a wordsmith, I lack the words to describe.

The next day my new laptop arrived. It was inexpensive and is pretty basic, but it works, which is a step above the old one. And I don’t care how old you are, new toys are fun. It was also a great opportunity to organize my files, particularly my writing folder. I spent hours getting everything back into its place and set up just how I wanted it.

I also learned a very valuable lesson. Always check your fucking cloud files to make sure everything has been backed up recently. I thought I had it set to automatic. Nope. Not so much. Seriously, if you only take one thing away from this random post about cleaning shit, take that.

Always check your fucking cloud files.

Fortunately, I had updated in mid-June when I started to realize my laptop was on death’s door, so most of my shit was fine. But my podcast scripts all came back in a previous format, which was okay since the first four episodes had already been recorded and uploaded. And the audio files all came back corrupted, which means that all the work on the background audio I had done and just copied and pasted for future episodes had to be rebuilt from scratch.

And that sucked balls, because that side of podcasting is not my strong suit.

But it was an opportunity to do it better the second time around since I had learned a thing or two in the months since I built it the first time. And although I’m biased, I think the audio quality of the two most recent episodes is higher as a result.

And I never would have even thought to redo it if I hadn’t been forced.

I also took the opportunity to look at a few other writing projects from a fresh perspective, most notably the novel that I’ve had in development hell for the better part of the year.

Part of it was exploring other writing opportunities to get me out of there, and putting my shoulder into getting the podcast off the ground. But most of it is because the first finished draft of the novel is crap, and no amount of editing can seem to fix it.

At the beginning of the year, I was two-thirds through the rough draft and although I knew it had plenty of holes, decided to go ahead and finish it. And I did. And Jesus fuck is it awful. That thing will never, ever see the light of day.

But the bones are good. And so is the concept. I am not willing to give up the ghost. I had been reluctant to shred it, 100K words is a lot to trash. But when I started reorganizing my files, cleaning my house, and taking all the stock that goes with that, I realized that I would rather take another go at doing it right from the ground up, rather than put what I had out into the world.

So I’ve been going back to basics, filling out character profiles for the major and minor characters I want to put in the work (basically any character that isn’t completely and intentionally flat. I’m not doing this for “beat cop 2” or any crazy shit like that). I’m writing out descriptions of all the settings as well.

Also, I realized I need to do some research other than a few quick articles on the internet. So I’ll be doing more religious reading in the next month than I have ever done in my life. I don’t plan on finding Jesus, but I’ll have a pretty decent line on where he hangs out.

In short, I’m fully embodying Hemingway’s “Iceberg Theory” of writing. And I’m having a ton of fun doing it.

Oh, it turns out that Cards Against Humanity is looking for some freelance writers to work “as needed” or “sometimes.” I don’t have a shot in hell of getting it, but man that application was fun as fuck to write. I may post it at a later date.

So it’s been a busy month of getting organized and getting some shit done that I had been ignoring in pursuit of the more fun and exciting things on my to do list.

And you know what, it turns out all that shit was more fun than I thought.

The Art of Tunneling

Writing Journey

Last week I listened to a podcast called Tunnels, and the creator said something in an author’s note he tacked on to the beginning that resonated with me. He pretty much announced that the first season wasn’t very good (the podcast is on season three) because he was a first time podcaster and was essentially learning on the job. He flat out said that he had no idea what he was doing. And he was right, season two was much better than season one. But more importantly, you could see the creator’s passion for creative content throughout.

This is not a review of Tunnels, what I want to talk about is this concept that it is okay to suck at something while you are learning to do it. It is okay to suck at something while putting yourself out there and learning at the same time. That it is okay to suck at something and bring people along on your journey as you learn. Because I am late to this party, and this concept is a wonderful game changer for me.

This runs completely counter to my life experiences so far. I was raised in a house where accomplishment, achievement and intellect were expectations. It was about the trophies, and winning as though the skills were supposed to be downloaded instantaneously like Neo from the Matrix when he learned Kung Fu. No attention or space was given to the idea of growth, and the idea of sucking at something while you learned, or worse, failing at something, was not tolerated. Period.

As if that wasn’t enough, I went into politics and then nonprofit fundraising. These are two industries where the stakes are high, the learning curve is steep and unforgiving, and consequences for failure are significantly higher than other industries.

I’ve let the fear of criticism be a primary motivator in my life for far too long. And it has prevented me from doing the things that I actually want to do.

In short, the idea that is okay to suck at something while you are learning how to do it is foreign to me. This discovery is like a brand new tool I am just learning how to use. I can already tell I am going to like it. This concept plays well with my constant sense of wonder and imagination, the two things that most fuel my creative drive.

This concept, which puts attention on the journey and the growth, is going to be key in terms of pushing myself to put my work out there. I’ve been so worried about creating superior quality,  that I forgot that creative writing degree and talents as a wordsmith in and of themselves are not enough. It is a good start, maybe even a running start. But it is a running start on a long journey, and knowing that it doesn’t have to be perfect is definitely going to help with creative paralysis, in fact it already is.

The ghosts of our past don’t have to define or present and don’t get to define our future.

I Am Peter Pan, Come With Me If You Want To Live

why-is-peter-pan-always-flying

Why yes, yes I do have a Peter Pan complex. And I regret nothing. It comes with a never ending sense of wonder, excitement and imagination. You can’t teach those. You can’t learn those. But just like anything else, if you don’t use them, you can lose them. And I can’t imagine how bland life would be without them.

It’s been awhile from my last post until this one, but it has nothing to do with not being creative or pursuing my passions. It has a lot to do with trying to organize all the projects that started to flood my mind as I made the conscious choice to make my creativity a priority, rather than something that I would swipe at on the few occasions I was left with any energy after spending it all on what I believed I “should” or “needed to” be doing.

It’s also been a little bit about fear (okay, maybe more than a little). It can be a little scary to start putting yourself out there, even on a blog that you “soft open” to ten or so friends while talking about promoting it and secretly hoping no one reads it, while also hoping everyone loves it.

I’ve come to realize that is not how creativity works. You have to go, you have to take that leap. So it is time for me to continue down the path that I started down with this, and to leave the learning for along the way. And also to actually promote this blog so hello, to anyone who is just now joining.

The creative process is not linear, and that has been a huge lesson to to learn.

I got mostly done with the first draft of a novel, Sins of a Smaller God, and then realized I had NO female character, at least not one that was strong enough, and some of the progression was disjointed in terms of pace. However, in writing it, I also created a new layer of flashback that I didn’t have in the outline that adds significant and much needed depth to a work that I want to see eventually become published.

It may be back to the drawing board in terms of the draft, but the lessons learned are infinitely more valuable than time spent putting the words on the page, and I look forward to continuing this project while learning and growing even more in my craft. Plus, I suspect the writing happens faster when you start getting a sense of where you are going.

Within the next month, unless there are any unforeseen snags, a friend of mine and I will be launching a podcast called Spirits on the Plains. I will be dedicating a specific post to it when we are ready to go live. Although I listen to podcasts, I don’t actually know a fucking thing about creating one. So I set out to learn. I’ve found people that know more than me and solicited their advice, read countless articles, and found a co-producer to counter my weaknesses with his strengths. It’s been a rewarding and challenging experience, and I look forward to getting it on the digital “airwaves” despite being nervous and hating the sound of my own voice.

I also have plans for this site. I wanted to keep it basic at first as a head nod, a dipping of the toe at putting myself out there. But soon I will be trying to expand it with a serialized story idea I have outlined, guests posts from fellow creatives and a few other ideas that at the moment are nothing more than a few scribbled notes on a page.

Those that know me, know that I can’t stand children. However, I do like looking at the world with the eyes of a child.

It Only Ends Once

Rumi Quote

Author’s Note: I do not like the term “God” as I don’t involve myself with organized religion. When I read this I use either Universe or Spirit.

“It only ends once. Everything else that happens is just progress.” That’s my favorite line from the show LOST and I love the sentiment behind it. And I have found myself thinking about it a lot as I close out 2017 and look forward to 2018. As much as anyone I am ready for 2017 to go fuck right off.

Without a doubt this has been tumultuous year. I lost my job after being there less than a year. This just after my second trip to the ER in that time span to treat symptoms stemming from anxiety attacks. A condition I had successfully navigated for over 20 years prior. This has also been compounded by fighting within my family, with many longstanding issues finally starting to come to a head.

Looking back at 2017 with hate and disdain accomplishes nothing, and when I stopped looking at it that way for a moment, I realized the value of what I learned through the turmoil.

I learned that I had spent far too long trying to be someone I am not. Too long being someone others told me that I should be. That I had convinced myself I should be.  I learned that in order to unburden myself of anxiety that was becoming crippling I needed to heed the advice of Polonius: “To thine own self be true.”

This is not as easy as it sounds. First you have to know yourself. I never really took the time to do that the way others had. I’ve had glimmers of it, but in order to start seeing the fuller picture, I needed to divert the energy that I was spending trying to be someone I wasn’t, and instead spend it on discovering and becoming the man I want to be. Self-discovery is a never ending journey, but it can only happen when you are on the right path.

I also learned in turn that this will be met with resistance by others. The more you disrupt the status quo of some people, the more push back you are going to receive. And that sometimes when you are being true to yourself, you have to make the hard choice to let people you care about go if they are toxic.

I was reminded about the incredible power of friendship. In fact, I have an entire post dedicated to it called Will They Help You Bury a Body. My friends are truly amazing. Encouraging me as I explore my creative side and start to carve out a path for how to best turn my passion into a profession.

These lessons are helping me come into 2018 with a clear vision of what I want to achieve. I gave up on setting broad sweeping resolutions years ago. It almost never works out. But this year I have some clearly defined goals complete with benchmarks and steps written out to get them done to help keep me mindful of the process. These goals include publishing my first novel, launching a successful podcast and expanding this site among other creative ideas. I also have goals financially, as well as for health and wellness.

So as much as I am glad to put 2017 in the rear view mirror and watch it get throat punched by a bear, I am grateful for the lessons it taught me.

Looking onward, upward and forward to 2018.

Training Sprains

Running Injury

In Chasing Another Ultra I talked about being  on the path to another 50K. Immediately after that post I started off strong. I wasn’t getting great times on my runs, and I didn’t expect to. But I was getting good time on feet, and good consistency, which are far more important. That lasted about two weeks.

Everyone complains about Kansas City roads, but Kansas City sidewalks are just as bad. I was humming along engrossed in an audiobook. I failed to notice that up ahead the sidewalk was not in its natural state of flat, but had become an obstacle course meant to ensnare my unsuspecting toe.

My toe screamed into the sidewalk with great fury and was promptly punished for the indiscretion. I was reminded of the cost of not paying attention as I limped home for the next 2.5 miles. And for 2.5 weeks after that.

I’ve had numerous injuries throughout my life as a result of sports (mainly running) and toe injuries are among the worst. I’ve actually dislocated both of my big toes before, making them susceptible to re-injury. They are painful as fuck, and take forever to heal when it is impossible to completely stay off your feet.

I try to use everything as an opportunity to learn and grow, and injuries are no exception. I am a fairly high energy person, and running is a soothing activity to me. So as I sat with my foot in an ice bath I tried to figure out what the lesson was, other than “pay attention and be less clumsy.” Which anyone that knows me would tell you is not likely to ever be learned.

Then I remembered a passage while reading Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman:

“Look, what happens if you have a sore ankle one day?”

“I work some other area.”

“It’s the same with your three centers. If one area isn’t going well, it’s still an opportunity to train the others. On some of your weakest physical days you can learn the most about your mind.”

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I turned my injury into a transformative experience. But it did give me the opportunity to focus on a few areas of training that I tend to ignore: breathing, stretching and core work. And since I wanted to keep making forward progress, I decided these would be the areas I would focus on.

And the results showed when I finally got back to running. My breathing felt more natural, and my muscles weren’t as sore and stiff when I got back to the actual practice of running. I haven’t gotten faster yet, but I feel more like a whole runner than I had before I got injured.

I am grateful for the lesson about shifting focus when one area is weaker, in an effort to become stronger as a whole and plan on applying it to all areas of my life.

I just hope that next time I need the reminder, it comes more gently than a sprained toe.