Archive for the ‘Random Thoughts’ Category

This is a story of a children’s magazine. It may not seem like it at first, but as always, I get there eventually.

I can still remember much of my hometown’s main public library. All I have to do is close my eyes and I’m flooded with so many minor details that went completely unnoticed in all the days of my youth spent there—obviously not completely so, since my brain picked up on them even if my conscious mind didn’t.

It’s a four story building that was what I would call then a ‘square doughnut’. The first two floors surrounded a middle area which held an enclosed garden that open to the sky. There were windows on looking in on it from all sides so you never felt enclosed. Even the slow but serviceable elevator had a glass side to look out over it as you went up and down. The decor was very much a 60s style: sharp lines and curves shapes combined and colored in muted tones that I’d only ever seen in magazines and visiting my older relatives.

The periodicals were kept in the basement. It was only two large rooms, one for the archives and one for viewing them. The smell of aging newsprint permeated everything, but not in an unpleasant way. I like to think it added to the ambiance. The microfiche machines were an endless fascination to me, reading through old newspapers and picking up bits and pieces of history. I once thought they were just humoring me when I would ask for random dates that I’d pulled from the catalog, but now I think that their smiles were more genuine, that a kid would actually be interested in that kind of stuff was a pleasant surprise.

Then there were the two main floors. The first floor was mainly fiction, with a small section for reference books (of the ‘how to’ sort), the main checkout desk and card catalogs. Tucked away in a corner next to the stairwell going to the basement was a film archive, both reel-to-reel and VHS, with private viewing stations. Being a kid I mostly watched the cartoons. But one of those ‘cartoons’ was The Snowman, a hauntingly beautiful short film that beautifully haunts me to this day (if you haven’t seen it, watch it. Don’t argue. Go, watch. I’ll be here when you get back).

The second floor held almost everything else. More fiction (including the comic strip collections, which I never got tired of reading), nonfiction and the audio section, which had both audio books and music albums both modern and classical. There was even an art gallery. Yes, they lent you prints. You could take home art with a library card. That still blows my mind.

The third and fourth floors… to this day, I’m still not sure what all really went on up there. They didn’t go all the way around like the first two floors, squatting there on the far corner from the street. The windows looking out were tinted, and the main area was never brightly lit. On the third floor there was a small room dedicated to authors from Nebraska, another room that was only open whenever there was a book sale and the rest was a complete mystery. The elevator doors opening onto the third floor (the fourth needed a key) was like opening up into a different world. As an adult, I realize now that it was probably where the library offices are, partially open to the public but by and large not meant for it. I’d probably be gravely disappointed if I were to return today, so I’ll keep that little bit of memory as a memory because it’s more fun my way.

The enclosed garden was also a little world unto itself, though a much more terrestrial one. Stepping stones were scattered throughout clusters of plants that had little plaques with plant names and their genus species, a couple of small trees, a pump-fed stream and two small ponds on either side. It was open to the public most days of Spring and Summer, even to the kids. Though not very many besides myself would go out there. They did what maintenance had to be done, but mostly let Nature do its thing, which for me added to its appeal.

You’re probably getting bored by now. We’re almost there, I promise. Just a little more rambling.

Finally, we come to the children’s section. Counting the Young Adult shelves, it took up almost a third of the first floor—and this was no small building. It was a full quarter of a city block. One side was a glass-enclosed area where the bulk of the children’s books were kept. This is where I got to sit on beanbag chairs and get to know the works of Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, Mercer Mayer, Beatrix Potter and countless other names that I can’t think of but would recognize instantly. The main area held the aforementioned Young Adult books, plus a little spillover from the previous room, more traditional tables and chairs for reading and a listening station for children’s albums. It even had a door directly to the garden area and out to the street. It was its own small library inside of the big library instead of just a section where it all got dumped.

And then there was the magazine rack. It took up a good-sized portion of a wall all to itself and was filled with every kid’s magazine imaginable—though as an adult, I have to raise an eyebrow at their inclusion of both Mad Magazine and Cracked. While not adult in the National Lampoon way, they certainly weren’t humor geared towards kids. But then again it’s not like they had a separate ‘teen’ section so you take what you can get.

All of these magazines had another thing in common: passed around dozens of grubby, clumsy hands on any given day, they were naturally mauled pretty heavily. Loose or missing covers, torn or missing pages, no thought put into where they were supposed to be placed on the rack. It was always a chaotic riot of colors and print. But again, these are kids we’re talking about, so it’s to be expected. You takes your magazine and takes your chances that some big selfish dummy hasn’t ruined this month’s issue of Highlights by circling all the differences or giving Goofus and Gallant an ink makeover.

But there was one magazine that was always untouched. One magazine that sat in a corner of the rack all but neglected. There was nothing fancy about it. It didn’t have pictures on every page. It didn’t have any bright, flashy attention-grabbing glossy covers. It was mostly page after page of words with little doodles throughout. It was the most boring kid’s magazine you could give to your average kid.

I wasn’t your average kid.

And that magazine was Cricket Magazine.

TCricket Magazinehis little publication was a hidden gem that I’ve only come to fully appreciate as an adult. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it’s a literary publication for children, with every story and work of art submitted by children. The ‘doodles’ were a cast of insects— including the eponymous Cricket— and other little critters kibitzing on the submission in fun yet constructive ways. It also had book reviews submitted by children, so these weren’t the books the grown-ups said were “recommended reading”, these were true peer reviewed books. It was these reviews that steered me towards the likes of Redwall, A Wrinkle In Time, A Wizard of Earthsea and many more like it, books I could sink my teeth into and expand my mind instead of simply entertaining it.

But the most important part of Cricket Magazine to my childhood was its inspiration. I wanted to be in it someday. I wanted to write a story that would be read by everyone who knew the magazine existed. I wanted to open up an issue and see my name on the Table of Contents.

Cricket Magazine planted the seed that made me want to be a writer before my age was even in double digits. Sadly, I never got to make that dream a reality. The ambition never went away, but I was too busy being a kid to focus on the task.

Now, I’m an adult trying to make it as a writer. The ambition that was born from a neglected literary publication for children remains with me in a likewise grown up but still largely unchanged way: I’m gonna do it someday.

And just like then, there’s still a part of me too busy trying to be a kid to fully focus on the task. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

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I’ve had a very active imagination from a young age. I started playing Dungeons & Dragons while still in single digits, along with a plethora of other  role playing games between then and now.  I would go to my best friend’s house and the two of us would take turn making ‘movies’ with his ridiculously huge collection of action figures, vehicles and play sets.

As I entered my teenage years, my characters began to become much more developed. I finally understood the concepts of personalities and back stories. Every single last one of them, from ones I’d had since I first started playing to the most disposable character created for a one-shot game session, got the same treatment and became ‘real people’.  As a result, they began to get their own ‘movies’ as well. I would have a gaming session, and in the time until the next one I would act out the characters—what they would do and say in situations that had arisen or might arise from the developments of the previous session.

All of this took place, as Eddie Izzard once said, in my mind (if you’ve seen the routine, you’ll know why it’s italicized).

My interest in becoming a writer also developed in my teens. Being a voracious reader as well, I began to get a better grasp of sentence structure (with a generous amount of help from my English classes, of course) and got a general idea as to how to tell a story. I finally had both the knowledge and opportunity to present the ‘movies’ I was making in a format that was easier to follow—and arguably a lot more interesting—than simply telling people the elaborate stories I had created in my mind.

I didn’t stop with just tabletop characters either. I had several characters that were never put down onto a character sheet. Some were characters that I never got around to making, others were ‘personas’ I had adopted when playing with friends that stuck in my memory and some were simply ideas that had popped into my head.

Anyway, the point to all of this is that I’ve had a problem ever since I began putting these thoughts to paper that persists to this very day. I will create these elaborate scenes in my mind, complete with entire conversations, actions, reactions et cetera. Most of the time I had plans to put them down into words, to create a story for others to read (some people out there insist I’m good at that sort of thing). The problem is one of a huge mental block on my part. I’ll create these scenes and then never put them to paper. Why? Because there’s a voice in the back of my head that says, “You already know how this story plays out, you have it memorized. Why would you need to write it out?”

And then I stupidly listen to that voice and never write it out.

There's barely enough room in here for me!

Now we come to the Magic Spreadsheet. I’ve only been going at it for two weeks now, but it has been a tremendous help to my writing. I’m getting something down every day, even if it’s only a few paragraph. However, I must confess that the last few days, I’ve been flagging. Where I started out strong, pumping out three to five times the minimum word count for the day, the past few days have seen barely over the minimum. The worst part is, I knew this was going to happen. I’m falling into my predictable pattern of early enthusiasm followed by lethargy that sits there staring back at me and only muttering a “meh” when confronted.

I recognize that part of this is the problem mentioned above. I have lots and lots of words crammed in my head and a self-defeating ability to never get rid of them in a useful manner. I hate it. I really do. It only leads to disappointment for everyone involved and only I can change that. Well, I’ve decided to try a new tactic to combat this problem.

The idea came to me two nights ago as I sat around surfing the Internet and suddenly realizing it was 10 minutes to midnight and I hadn’t written a single word. Before the Magic Spreadsheet, I would have just said screw it and completely written off the day.  But no, I had to get something down. Not only for myself, not only to keep the streak going and maintain my ‘score’, but for the person that introduced me to it and more importantly, believes in me. I didn’t want to let her down. I’ve done it too much already, no matter how much she may deny it.

So I just started writing. But not just random thoughts that tumbled around in my head. I focused on getting just the conversations down. I figured once I got those out of the way, I could go back and flesh out the rest when I wasn’t in a slump. Lo and behold, it worked like a charm. I let the dialogue spill out onto the page and the minimum word count came and went without even noticing it.

I’ll be trying this tactic from now on whenever I feel like I’m in a slump.  It’s really only a minor variation of the mantra, “Write it down, make it pretty later.” And it feels like something I can manage.

Olfactory memory is something that has fascinated me for some time. I was recently linked to an article that showed a definite link between smells and memory. I doubt it’s the first time such a study has been conducted, because this was something I, as a young teenager many years ago, believed to be a real thing. I used to call it “memory smells”. It was the best way I could think of to describe how certain smells would trigger not necessarily distinct memories, but more often simple reminiscence of places I’d been before, in some ways putting me back into those places to ‘re-experience’ them.

I’m really not sure how much sense I’m making, here. It’s hard to put something like this into words. Hopefully, if you’ve felt it (or something similar) you know what I’m talking about.

Today I experienced something which was almost a reversal of that. Instead of a smell triggering memories, it was a memory that triggered the reminiscence of certain smells. At the end of a nap today, I had a very brief dream just a second or two before I woke up. In it, I was on the first day of one of my handful of manufacturing jobs I had after high school. I was being shown around the various machines where I would be working on finishing parts. Just as I awoke, I had a crystal-clear remembrance of my junior high shop class. More specifically, the odors it had.

The warm odor of plexiglass being smoothed on a bench polisher; the slightly acrid yet strangely appealing scent of burned carbon; the unmistakable smell of wood going through a table saw or pushed a little too hard into a belt sander. In an instant, I had such a clear memory of all of these smells and more of my shop class from over two decades ago that I could almost smell them. And each memory of those smells brought with them equally clear memories of the shop class: the feel of the materials I worked with, the plans I had drawn up and submitted to the teacher for approval. The sounds of the machines and my friends and fellow students. The mistakes I made and the sense of accomplishment when making something exactly as the schematics said.

For just a few seconds after waking up, I was back in that junior high shop class, reliving events that I had consciously forgotten for years on end. All because of a dream that reminded me of what it all smelled like. I’m still smiling about it.

Winter is one of those events that in my mind is proof positive that no matter how much we evolve and advance our society and intellect, we are, at our core, animals. To be more specific, I spent the last three months or so wanting to crawl into bed and not come out until green things started poking out of the ground again.

Alas, this is a luxury that even I as a work-from-home person cannot afford. Okay, technically I could, but I wouldn’t feel good about myself for doing it. I do have a desire to contribute to the well-being of the household, even if a meager amount. I’m not a total slacker.

Yes, I do have a point. I’m getting to it in my usual roundabout way.

It would be unfair to completely blame Winter for my slump in productivity. Motivation is a precious commodity in my life, as I can never seem to dig up more than a few chunks at a time. It’s a failing of mine that I am trying to correct. I won’t lie, NaNoWriMo was a dismal failure. I was set back by a week at the beginning due to a mini-meltdown of my computer. By the time I got that all sorted out, the motivation to write slipped away more every day. It wasn’t a total failure, though. I did manage to get a couple of pages down, and that’s better than nothing.

I haven’t touched the damned thing since. Hell, I haven’t even touched this blog since November. I could conjure up a myriad of excuses but in the end that’s all they’d be: excuses.

By now you’re probably wondering what the title of this post has to do at all with the post itself, so I’ll get to the point: today is the first day of March, and while not technically Spring for a few more weeks, I decided to make a fresh new start at this whole writing thing. Having been officially published in December, it’s planted the seed inside my head that, hey, maybe I can do it again. I’ve had the support, encouragement, collaboration and outright help from some wonderful people in the last few years. I’ve fallen out of regular contact with many of them, much to my regret, but they are no less of an influence on me and my creativity. It’s about time I did something with everything they’ve given me.

My dear friend and regular partner-in-crime Veronica has once again given me a spark of inspiration. I took the time a few days ago to catch up with her, and during our conversation she mentioned she was using something called “The Magic Spreadsheet.” Curious, I asked her for details.  It’s a simple shared spreadsheet officially called ‘Daily Writing Challenge’, used by dozens of authors to keep a public running tally of their 250 words per day goal.

As simple as it is, as soon as V explained it to me and gave me the link, something clicked inside of me. I can’t even adequately explain it. It felt like an answer to my motivation problems. Definitely not the answer, but an answer that made sense to me. So I told V that come March 1st, I would start the challenge. As a consequence, it’s also motivated me to dust off this blog. I still won’t promise regular updates, but I’ll do my best to beat my 2 post a year average.

So there you have it. A little bit of magic to make Spring the time where I kick myself into gear. This post alone is two and a half days worth of writing, and I could keep going. It gives me a good feeling about this new little project.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have words to wrangle.  Yee-haw.

October is on its last gasps, set to go out with a boo as usual. For many writers, aspiring and otherwise, this has a special meaning: NaNoWriMo is almost upon us.

This will be the 14th National Novel Writing Month. A challenge for some, an indomitable task for others. I’ll be perfectly honest and say that I never gave it much serious thought. I’ve been a writer in one form or another since grade school and have only just recently have had prose published for the first time. So for 25-ish years I’ve been a hobbyist writer (and in the vein of honestly, still mostly am).

There have been years in the past where I thought to myself, ‘A hundred thousand words in 30 days? I think I can do that.’, and even a couple where I believed it. But never before have I attempted it. Well, by Dog, this year I’m… still not gonna do it. But I am going to do something.

V has been an amazing (and talented) friend for close to a decade now. She’s had this hallucination for most of this time that I’m something she calls a “great writer”. There’s even been times where she’s hallucinated this so vividly that others start to believe it too, including me. We’ve collaborated on writing projects in the past, but in the last couple of years we’ve put serious talk into taking our combined talents away from what is tantamount to fan fiction and focusing them on something more tangible, i.e. a novel.

I’ve dragged my feet on this for as long as we’ve been talking about it. V has the patience of a saint (and a pretty packed schedule of her own) and has put up with my procrastination both in the past and for our latest collaborative work. I admire her for that. But getting to the point of this whole thing, I recently made her a promise: this November, I would write.

The NaNoWriMo goal is still way too much for me to wrap my cringing, lazy brain around. But what I did promise is that every day of November, I would write something—whether it be a paragraph or a chapter. Something. Anything.

This isn’t to appease anyone. This isn’t about getting motivated, or finding my inner potential or anything like that. It’s a plain and simple kick in the ass. And so I will write. Not for V, not for the others who believe in me, not even for myself. I will write because it’s long overdue. And what kind of friend would I be if I broke a promise?

Truth be told, this isn’t my first blog. I’ve made several attempts at one before, from the days when LiveJournal was relevant to my own long-defunct web page to other aborted attempts at an author’s blog.

 

I’ll be honest, part of me still doesn’t “get” social media, despite having been online since the BBS days. I have some of the more modern trappings at my disposal—Facebook, Twitter and now this blog—but I’ve never truly embraced the idea of telling millions upon millions of total strangers all the boring minutiae of my life (in the words of Mario and Fafa, “I do not care that you spent three hours making almond-crusted sturgeon … And I think it’s stupid you took a picture of it.”) and my only Facebook friends are—brace yourself for a radical concept—actual friends that I’ve interacted with long before I was on Facebook.

 

But despite all of that, I do understand the importance of social media in the new millennium. It’s changed the way we interact with the world around us, how we gather information and how we conduct business. And it lets us distribute lolcats at the speed of thought.

 

So with all that in mind, I chose to take another stab at making an author’s blog. What’s different this time around is that I’m actually a published author now and have this crazy idea of doing it more than once. To that end, I’ll be using this blog to post various things I think relevant to that end—whether it be writing exercises, thoughts on people, places and things that affect my work or stream-of-conciousness ramblings. You never know what might turn up. I don’t either.

 

Don’t expect too much of it, either. like I said, I suck at this social media thing. But I’m getting there.
No, really.
—Zen