Archive for the ‘Spilled Guts’ Category

Today’s lesson is simple. If you put your work and yourself out there, in the public eye, some people will celebrate your work and your effort and your success, no matter how small. Other people will use your exposure as a way to exalt themselves by denigrating you, your efforts and your work.

I knew this, and have seen it with the works of others. Whether artworks, or stories, poetry or crafts, some people will say, “Wow, congratulations!” Congratulations for the recognition of your peers, the public, the publisher or the gallery, and sometimes even the critics. Even if the genre of the work is not something they personally care for, they are generous in their praise for your success.
Others  – not so much.They do not say “Congratulations” or provide any positive feed back whatsoever, for effort or success. They may say something offhand, like, “You only got one story published? Lots of people got more than that.” Or they may say, “If 300 people submitted and they picked 50, then you had a one in six chance! Pretty good odds. Better go buy a lottery ticket.” Or, my personal favorite, “He got one story published, and then he died.”
I am going to take the success of this moment of personal triumph and squeeze every drop pf personal satisfaction I can out of it. I am going to use the juice of that success to fuel further efforts and aim for greater success with my work. It is not about money or fame, it is about the joy of acceptance and the knowledge that someone out there is going to read my story, relate to it, and smile as it brings them to a recollection of their own.
I will write for me and for them and that will be success enough.
Addendum:  Another lesson learned from a Master:
Stephen King’s definition of a talented writer on Wikipedia: “If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.”

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Cast Out the Demon

For forty years I have been unable able to keep a journal. Not since the first one, a little pink number from 1960-something that I won at a fun-fair penny arcade. Lined pages with a space every five lines to fill in the day’s date. Small enough to fit in a pocket. Cool beans. I wrote in it sporadically for nearly a year.

When I was sixteen my step-mother read my diary while I was out of the house for the day.

Then she re-read it, underlining parts of it for special attention. Writing comments in the margins in the textbook of my sixteen year old life. After that she editorialized, writing pages of commentary in my diary about what she had read. She wrote way more in her rants than I had ever written in mine. Neater handwriting too.

When I got home she made me read it. All my entries. All her comments, margin notes and all. Her pages of day long rant written between spates of housework. Took her the whole day to vent her spleen. Took me almost two hours to read it all.

Out loud. In front of my father and her.

I  was so angry. Humiliated. Furious. Embarrassed. Devastated. And really angry.

Then she said, “I think you should write in this book one more time. Write about how sorry you are for hurting your father and I. Write about how nothing in here was worth the ink or the time you wasted on it.” She went on for a long time, getting angrier by the minute.I had seen this before. To save my life, I took up my pen and wrote in the little diary again.

Very carefully, and with neat handwriting. Because neatness counts for more than content, don’t you know.

I  said nothing about being embarrassed or hurt or angry myself. In those days, my being angry was not allowed. So I  wrote how silly it had been to put down anything about my life in this book and how nothing in it would be worthy of ever reading again. I asked rhetorical questions like, “Who did I think I was writing this for, Posterity? Entries about girls and drinking and smoking dope? Who could care about any of that?” Besides my sixteen year old self? I kept that thought out of my head and off my face.

When I was done I got to read that out loud too. Then we tied the little pink diary up with string and sealed it with sealing wax and wrote on the cover,

“Foolishness and wasted time. To be opened every year on June 15th and reread”

Then I got to decide how many smacks with the wooden spoon I got on my writing hand. I picked 10. It hurt like hell. It kept hurting the whole week, every time I took up a pen to do my homework.

I can still feel it today.


I have struggled with writing for years. Stories I did manage to write were birthed at the tightest edge of the deadline set for their completion. Every word carved from my mind like ore trapped deep in the surrounding rock. But sometimes the words slid off my pen like butter from a hot knife. My finger flew across the keyboard and the stories flowed out, spring flash floods in the desert of my creativity.

In the intervening years I have been given many journals. All lined. I have never been able to enter more than a few lines on  a few pages before abandoning them to the bookshelves to gather dust. Years between entries. Entries that sounded like they were being forced out through clenched teeth. A lot of, “Who do I think I’m kidding?” and “Why bother writing?”

One day I was reading a blog entry by a terrific creativity coach, Quinn MacDonald. She creates wonderful art journals. The blog was about the types of journals people keep and why. Quinn admits to being a journal junkie, in need of a 12-step program to lower her dependencies. It struck a chord with me. Here was someone with the exact opposite problem I had!

I was scanning through the comments after the entry and one in particular got my attention. A reader said she had tried for years to keep journals, but all the ones she tried to keep were lined. She said she felt constrained by the lines, her writing trapped in them. Plus, she said, she had very small handwriting, and when she used lined journals it felt as if she were wasting half the pages, because her letters only took up half the space between the lines. All these problems disappeared the first time she got a blank, unlined journal. She was even happier when she discovered a journal with a lightly printed dot-grid, because then she could write in any direction she wanted, use the dots as lines or not. She was FREE.

An interesting thing occurred in the midst of all this. I had read about something called Deep Writing in yet another Quinn post, about opening up and writing honestly about our past and our self-made histories. While looking for a piece I had written years ago about another incident with my step-mother, I found my little pink diary in a box of books.

So I thought, “Blank pages. That  might be just the ticket.” I wrote a comment of my own in reply, told a little of the story of my step-mother reading my diary and my inability to write in journals since, but that I was going to try a blank paged journal and see if that opened any paths for me.

My wife read the comments, (she follows Quinn too as she is a pastel artist and Quinn’s insights into creativity suit any creative effort) and directed me to another Quinn blog post about a quilt Quinn’s mother had never finished for her. Out of fear and spite. Several of Quinn’s friends had tried to work on it over the years with no success. The quilt was filled with “bad juju” and could never be completed. Several of Quinn’s readers suggested burning the quilt. My lovely wife suggested that ceremoniously burning “that damned nasty, cursed diary” might break the spell it had cast and free up my psyche, allowing me to “write deeply” all the stories that were dammed up inside me, trapped by the cursed effect of that evil incident.

She is very wise, my wife.

We heard the universe talking to me in all these incidents, telling me to do something.  It is unwise to ignore messages from the universe, especially when they are delivered by hand.

So we decided to do it.

On April 11, 2013, a day which will live in famy (the opposite of infamy), my lovely wife and  I  carefully wrapped the old, pink diary into a package of newspaper, birch shavings, birch bark, sticks and fire-starter and tied it up securely. We then set out on the journey to the fire-pit  April 11 would normally be a lovely soft spring night in Edmonton, but not this year. Winter is hanging on tenaciously and we trudged across several acres of semi-frozen, slushy ankle deep snow and ice. In one place the snow had drifted into a  gully and Lorraine went in up to her knees. It felt as if we were journeying across the frozen taiga in an episode from Dr. Zhivago!

We made it to the fireplace, overlooking a man-made pond where confused Canada Geese were wandering over the frozen surface wondering, “Where’s the water?”

We laid the diary in its pyre package into the fireplace using only a few matches (I had brought lots and a lighter, just in case), managed to set the bundle alight.

We stepped back, as it caught and burned high. We used Lorraine’s  iPhone to play bells and  I  chanted. As  I  said, “You have no power over me!”  I  could feel tight band of pressure unwind from about my chest and a smile work its way onto my face.  I  felt very light and immensely happy!


Thanks to Lorraine for this Picture Link: http://lorraineyoung.me/2013/04/14/cast-out-the-demon-part-3-finished/

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Photo Struggle

As someone who has struggled with my weight my entire adult life, I am SO on board with this post. The interesting thing is the number of people who will give the same advice about anything that we struggle with – weight, exercise, writing, housework. WE are judged and found wanting by others, but none so much as ourselves.


It’s so normal to add a photo to your Facebook page, your blog, even your business card. We have cameras in our phones, and use them, sometimes more often than phoning. We change our profile shots, we Skype so we can talk face to face. It’s  the new normal. There are big, bloviated reasons for loving photos of ourselves. “We are visual people, so we want to know the person we are talking to,” says a well-known blog marketer. “We have an affinity for faces, and we like to look at others,” says a coaching company, who won’t let you have a listing without a photo.

weight-stereotypingBut the real reason we want to see photos is one we talk less about. We like people like ourselves. So we look for people just like our ideal self. We eliminate by age, by gender, by race, by clothing, by glasses, by teeth…

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I like The Walking Dead.

Both the television show and the comics (oops – sorry – Graphic Novels). Being born at the lagging tail end of the Baby Boom, I grew up when the concept of zombies moved from shambling voodoo-created slaves in Hammer films to the apocalyptic vision of George (the Gore) Romero in Night of the Living Dead. The film that paved the way for all Zombie Apocalypses to come. All great fun.

But on a more philosophical note, I wonder if when I was a teenager in the early seventies I equated those nasty selfish older people trapped in the house fighting off the zombie horde with other people in the world around me. “The “Man”; the “Establishment”. The only child in Night of the Living Dead was a pre-teen girl who turned out to be the death of her mother and father, Just like mom predicted, I am sure, on more than one occasion.

But the world has moved on and what were fringe creatures and ideas are now mainstream entertainment in big budget movies and multi-season TV shows.George Romero’s original film was made for a budget of $114,000 and was shot in five months. Since its release in 1968 it has grossed over $30,000,000 worldwide and has spawned not only a cult following of its own, but has given rise to (sorry) dozens of cheap rip-off copy-cat films, several sequels, handfuls of homage films with big budgets, name stars and huge production costs, a cracker-jack TV series and hundreds of comics and books.

So what effect have the legions of zombies, or the walking dead, had on our collective psyche? How do we view them, who do we think they are?

Here are two opposite opinions. I heard the first  in a coffee shop conversation in the recent pastbetween a couple of young guys who commented on an older couple shuffling along in line to get their coffee.

“Check out the walking dead people.”

“Yeah. Hey man, how come you never see a zombie with a walker, eh?”

The conversation devolved from there, but the picture stayed with me. Old people seen through the eyes of the young. Taking up the good spaces and the good jobs, hanging on long past their prime, shuffling through this world long after they should have shuffled off their mortal coil. Hell some of them even look dead.

And then I thought of reversing the image and seeing the young through the eyes of the older generation. Shuffling along the streets in undone oversized shoes, pants crotches hanging below their knees, faces devoid of expression, eyes down thumbs twitching over their little god-boxes, earphones in place, completely unconnected to the world directly around them. No respect, no interaction no life as we know it. Hell some of them even look dead.

Not all of the old ones or all of the young ones and not all of the time.

But in the movies not everyone is a zombie either.

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