I create context. I also write blog posts:

Why Writing (Fiction) Is Hard… for me, at least.

Posted: April 26th, 2011 | Author: | No Comments »


This isn’t a topic I particularly enjoy talking about, but I sat down at my desk a few nights ago for a session and that scribble above was the result. Doubt I’m the only one who’s ever done that.

I don’t know how to describe it, really, so — like the rest of my life — I’m going to resort to metaphor.

Picture the human head — all eighty-eight and a half cubic inches of brain jelly rattling around in your skull — as a house. You walk up the porch steps, open the door, and walk into the foyer. There’s a living room and a kitchen and a family room and a dining room on the first floor. Upstairs, a couple of bedrooms, an office or something, and a door.

All of those rooms have things that make you who you are. My family room has Penguins posters and jerseys everywhere and a DVD collection and all of the CDs on my ipod and everything else. The kitchen is entirely filled with potatoes and boxes of brownie mix. Et cetera, et cetera. The house is filled with things that make up my personality.

But let’s go back upstairs to that door I didn’t explain. It goes to the attic. You open it and you’ve got a set of stairs:

This is where writing comes from. There’s no light switch, just a string hanging from the ceiling at the top, which, if you get to the there without tripping over something you’ve discarded lazily on the steps on a previous trip that didn’t pan out, you can pull. It takes a little while for the light to actually get bright. I don’t know, maybe it’s one of those new, environmentally safe ones. Probably not, though, it’s probably just old. There are a few windows to help, but it’s very rarely sunny enough to make a difference. So you walk up the steps, managing not to trip on anything. At the top of the stairs is a closet with a door. To the left, the attic opens up, clumps of boxes and old clothes and books and old trophies and things — it’s basically a dusty microcosm of everything that *used* to be downstairs.

Now, when you get to the attic, you can walk over to one of those windows, under which sits your writing desk. It’s big, wooden, beaten, with a typewriter if you’re nostalgic (or a new MacBook Pro if you’re lucky) sitting with a half-written page ready. That’s where it happens, so hopefully there’s a comfy chair that comes with the desk.

And while that’s kind of interesting, we’re drawn to that closet, that closed door. Maybe it’s got a padlock, maybe you gotta work to get in there. With all the things in the house stored out in the open, what’s kept shut away, out of the light?

So you open the door.

I’m not going to tell you what’s in there, and if you ever look in yours, you probably won’t tell anyone either. But every time you hear a heartbreaking song, read a dreadfully beautiful story, or stare at a dark painting, you’ll know somebody’s opened their closet and given you a glimpse.

Every time you go up to the attic to sit at that desk with the comfy chair and the new MacBook Pro, you have to walk past that closet.

And you better be ready for it. You better be ready to walk straight past without stopping. If you do want to stop, you’re gonna need a good glass of Scotch and to cancel your plans for a while.

Because that’s where all the stories you *have* to write come from.

You better make them worth it.


Writer’s Block In A Bar

Posted: April 21st, 2011 | Author: | 1 Comment »

Ordinarily, I’m not one for “writer’s block.” I mean, you can be uninspired, you can be stuck in the mud, you can be lazy, but those have nothing to do with writing. Even when you feel like you’ve run out of ideas, it’s not like somebody’s put a kink in the hose and or you can break through by pouring Drain-o (or Jack Daniels) on the situation.

To get through those? I don’t know. Take a vacation, read something you love, talk out loud about your ideas. Or just sit down and start writing again. The blank piece of paper is a terrifying thing, I know, so put something on it. Anything. The genesis of the tiniest idea in the world, a description of a character you’d never actually want to write. Anything to fill in the page until you can get back on your feet. But sitting around waiting for “writer’s block” to go away isn’t going to do it.

I was at the Fifth Season in Port Jeff on Sunday night, learning how to drink, having this same conversation in my head. And for no reason other than to fill the paper, I just started writing whatever I was thinking. It didn’t lead to a fantastic new story or even a new idea, but I left feeling productive. Instead of leaving the bar angry with the blank piece of paper, I filled a few of them.

And if you’ve ever been there before, you know that leaving with a few scribbled-on pages that you’ll never use is still better than sitting tight with a blank one.


Play Ball?!

Posted: April 4th, 2011 | Author: | 7 Comments »

Like a lot of kids growing up, I played Little League baseball. And also like a lot of kids, I was not very good at it. I couldn’t hit the ball to save my life. I used to make a pact with myself as I was walking up to the plate: if the pitcher didn’t bean me in the head, I’d swing at the first three balls he threw — whether they were in the strike zone or not — and then I’d sit back down on the bench. (As you can imagine, I didn’t tell my coaches about this little deal…). I didn’t mind playing in the field though. Sure, for a while there I was afraid of high poppers (more so that I’d look like an idiot than of actually being hit with the ball), but I got over that. And I loved to catch. I started playing catcher not long after I started playing goal in hockey, and to me, there was nothing better. I even used to trash talk, like the kid in The Sand Lot.

But after the summer before sixth grade, I decided to give it up. I recorded the final out of the season (well, I mean, somebody else recorded the final out by tagging me trying to steal second base on one of the unlikely occasions that I actually drew a walk) and I told my dad I was quitting on the way to the parking lot.

I still loved baseball, I still loved playing catch, but what the hell was the point in wearing funny socks, standing around in the blistering sun two nights a week, and being terrified all the time?

No thanks.

Growing up, we used to go to a lot of minor league games in Rochester (I remember sitting in snow pants under blankets watching the opening game at Frontier Field in below-freezing temperatures — Jason caught a foul ball from Kelly Gruber! — and I remember getting to sit in the “Couch Potato” box over the right field wall at Silver Stadium). And because Jason was a Mets fan (he had a Greg Jeffries poster on his wall for the longest time), I was too.

I’m a hockey fan because I like the excitement and the speed and the toughness. I like it when two hockey teams play down to the wire, go to triple overtime in the playoffs, and players lose teeth for their teams. I like it when players are sprung on breakaways and deke the goalie out of his jockstrap. I like it when a guy gets pasted into the boards trying to make a play, that he knows it’s coming and he still takes the hit because that’s what’s best for the team. I like it when players inspire their teammates with their toughness, even if it means taking a punch in the face. It’s exhilarating.

I like baseball for the opposite reasons. I like that it’s a slow-moving game and that it’s a game built on statistics and averages. I like that it’s somewhat boring. I don’t need my life to be moving 90 mph all the time, and there’s no better reminder of that than by watching a great pitching duel. I like that fans can tell you the batting average for the starting lineup of the team they grew up watching fifteen years ago, or that strategy dictates why you would bring in a reliever making 4 million dollars a year just to face a right-handed batter and then take him out again. I like how baseball announcers fill the silence between pitches with stories about the clubhouse and the bus rides and the “old days.” I like that baseball has history. I don’t want any of those things in hockey, but in baseball, they just seem right.

Fast forward sixteen years from that final Little League game. I miss it, sorta. Not the funny socks and the sunburn and the being terrified all the time, but I miss going to the games, playing hot-box in the back yard, and rooting for a team.

So I sent this email off to my brother last week:

So I’m thinking of getting into baseball this year. But I need a team. I really have no affinity for the Mets (other than, “I rooted for them as a kid because that’s what my big brother did”), so I’m looking elsewhere. Also, I’m against the idea of rooting for teams from New York (or Boston or LA)…

Was thinking it’d be fun to start cheering for a young, rebuilding team with plenty of hope for the future. And while I wanted to root for the Pirates, I think that statement disqualifies them.

So who should I start following?

I don’t want to start with a winning team, I don’t want to jump on any bandwagons, and I don’t want to root for somebody who just throws money at the problem until it’s solved. I want a team with character, with players I want to succeed. So basically, not the Yankees or the Mets or the Red Sox or the Dodgers.

The conversation went from there and we discussed a few different options. How about the Milwaukee Brewers, I thought? Milwaukee never hurt anybody. Jason’s response? “ugh — bud selig??” That’s true, I don’t want to root for anyone who would allow a baseball game to end in a tie. Here were his suggestions:

nationals. no doubt.

twins are a perennial contender and build from home grown, and you’ll be able to cheer for former red wings.

I had a lot to think about. On the one hand, the Twins are Rochester’s major league team, so there’s a sort of homegrown connection built in. It makes sense. And Washington, while they might have the potential and the character that I’m looking for, comes from the city that Alex Ovechkin calls home. Screw him. But they both seem like viable candidates. So whom to choose?

Well, my decision was made for me this morning, when a UPS guy knocked on my door. Not expecting a package, I was curious why this one had my name on it and a return address I didn’t recognize. So I cracked it open and lo-and-behold, it’s this t-shirt:

You make a convincing argument, Jason…

And it got me out of having to root for an American League team, which is cool, because the designated hitter is the wimpiest rule in sports.

Go Nats!

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