Sunday, January 15, 2012

Writing Bliss

Sunday, January 15, 2012—Long Beach, CA

An overcast day, with the slightest amount of drizzle. I slept kind of late, watched a little of the Ravens-Texans game, listened to Ian Masters’ Background Briefing (which I do on most Sundays), and then went for bike ride along the beach and a half-hour soft-sand walk. Then I road downtown to Portfolio Berlin coffee shop where I am now. The rest of the day will consist of trying to get some stuff done for school and BSP, maybe watching some more football, studying some Greek, and perhaps working on my current short story. I’ve also got to write an application letter for the Ventura job, which I also might try and start today.

I mentioned in my last entry (I think it was that entry) that I’ve been feeling really good about things lately. I still am. But I’m also feeling restless too, like it’s time for a major change in my life (the job apps, the Greek option, and even my foray into the world of short-story writing are of course symptoms of this). A part of me just wants to do something radical like sell almost everything I own, buy a really good road bike, and just start riding—to anywhere. I think the only thing that’s stopping me from doing that sort of thing is BSP—I really want to keep the press going, build it into something that matters. There can only be so much wandering while that dream is still around.

I’m sure part of my restlessness is coming from the fact that I can feel myself embarking into new places in my writing that I’m anxious to go deeper into. Though I’m only maybe two-thirds of the way thru Girl in the Orange Bikini, the short story I’m working on, it’s already showing me a way into a big new world, in regards to storytelling; I know it’s going to be the first of many stories that as a whole will be something really substantial. It’s so refreshing after writing two novels to work on so much smaller of a scale, to put things like atmosphere and feeling in the forefront—it’s so great to leave the tyranny of plot behind. My dream of approaching storytelling like painting is already coming true in my first effort! This amazes me. I’ve had this idea floating around in my head for a decade at least, but I could never before realize it (though it crystalized into prose here and there in my novels). I’m also now seeing how I can explore aspects of my life that I’ve never been able to before. The first story is set in Seal Beach—the Seal Beach of my youth. I’m envisioning stories being set in Hawai'i, where I live for a sizeable chunk of my twenties. Maybe my travels to places like Australia will make an appearance at some point. Most of my life, before I was about thirty-five, has been a dead issue for me as a writer. During those years I was essentially in flight—from everything: from myself. Because of this I’ve had little to say about it: my denial made those years lies in very important ways—and it’s the admittance lies that matters, not their details. But there were moments, staggering moments of beauty and wonder, if not clarity, that haunt me, that demand to be refashioned into some sort of art. Now it’s finally happening! How can the coming days not be good ones, when things are suddenly so right for me that my long-bolted doors are now gently opening?

I’ve been looking back at some of these diary entries recently, and they worry me a bit. As I've earlier feared, this on-line format is limiting me. There are certain things about myself I simply do not wish to discuss in a public forum. More troubling, is my continuing reluctance to write about the people in my world. It’s privacy issue. I have every right to put my own existence on display, but I don’t have the right to do that to other people’s lives. This, combined with the areas of my life I won’t go into, has left my path thru this project a somewhat narrow one. Maybe it’s a blessing, though, in that that things about a writer’s life that are most important to his readers are those aspects that have something to do with his relationship to the written word—and that’s the area I’m most comfortable going into here. I could be that when I look back on these pages a decade from now I’ll see that my instincts were right on, that I was doing exactly what I should have been doing. Still, these pages seem a little strange at times. I’m a largely solitary person, but not to the extent these entries imply. Hopefully there are enough hints to the other aspects of my life that they can provide a bit of context. I’m of course too close to all this now to know for sure.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Mellowing Out

Thursday, January 12, 2012—Long Beach, California

Strange warm winter days continue. Today was sunny and in the mid-seventies. I guess we’re supposed to start getting Santa Ana winds at any moment, which could jack the temperature up even more. It’s the middle January and we’ve hardly had any rain this fall/winter. I keep waiting for things to turn and a big deluge to come in. It may not happen, though: sometimes we go years without substantial rainfall (we can also spend a few winters in a row under water). I know intellectually that we need the rain and that I should be hoping for it, but I’m really enjoying this warm spell. Like I’ve said before, winters like this is why I stay in Southern California.

Feeling pretty good lately, less stressed. This is an especially good sign because I’m managing to remain mellow even though I’ve been pretty busy. One thing I’ve really noticed about myself in recent years is that I tend to turn everything into a job: the doings of my life all become work I have to get thru, as opposed aspects of my existence I get to experience. Another way of putting it is that I’m always trying to get thru things I have to do so I can then experience my real life. Those things of course ARE MY REAL LIFE, or at least parts of it. Last semester this attitude really spun out of control for me and I very much lost my center. A big symptom of all this is that I’ve been finding myself worrying about the future, where I’ll be in five, ten years. This is a foolish mindset. There is only now (the future and the past, by definition, don’t exist) and as long I’m living my life the way I should the future will take care of itself. To worry about the future is to destroy the present, to be taken out of the moment, which, again, is all there is. This doesn’t mean I shouldn’t plan, only that I shouldn’t sweat the potential outcomes, especially the elements I have no control over. Just write, Rob, I keep telling myself. Just write and think and dream and love and get as many good nights of sleep as you can along the way. The rest of it all just isn’t that important …

Now, as to the nature of my recent busyness … School has started at Irvine Valley, which has meant coordinating with my mom to use her car, as my scooter is still (still!) in the shop. I’ve also been filling out job applications for full-time teaching positions, to Irvine Valley and also to the Ventura Community College District, who just posted a position a few days ago. I know I’ve been hemming and hawing over this, and I’ve been leaning against going down that road, but I think I need to apply, if for no other reason than I don’t want to find myself regretting not at least exploring this option (this all may be moot—the odds are very much against me getting either of these positions). Part of my less-stressed attitude is explained, or perhaps represented by, my rapidly evolving attitude towards these jobs. Namely, I don’t really care if I get them or not. If I get one of them I’ll deal with that decision then. If I don’t, it’s an opportunity to leave teaching and go down perhaps more productive roads. Either way I know I will come out happy—I can make my life work just fine in either situation.

What else has been happening? Steve E came down from Sacramento for a few days, which was great. It’s nice to hang out with someone my own age who shares so much of my background and who is also going thru some at least broadly similar life changes. I wish we lived a little closer together. Been writing some on the “The Girl in the Orange Bikini” (I’m slightly stuck and am not trying to force it). I also finished reading The Long Goodbye. It’s a good novel, longer and grungier than any of Chandler’s other novels I’ve read. It’s been interesting experiencing how the Marlowe character changes thru these books. Thru the early novels he’s cynical, but there’s a strong streak of the hopeful romantic in him. By The Little Sister, the fifth novel, he is simply angry, maybe even enraged; the slimy side of L.A. life has finally broken him in some important way. With The Long Goodbye it’s a return to the romantic cynicism from a different angle; it’s like he’s moved past his anger, rediscovered certain good things about himself and life in general, but he’s also lost something too, his, youth for sure, but also his hope—he’ll happily take the little victories in life because he now believes that those are the only ones possible.

I’ve decided to keep this classic crime fiction phase of mine going a bit longer. I just started Playback, Chandler’s last completed novel (most reviewers consider it his weakest). I’ve picked up his collected short stories and The Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammet. I’ve been meaning to onto his stuff for a while and now seems like a good time. Still plugging away at Gay’s first Enlightenment book. Great stuff, but it’s going on a little longer than works for me.

One other things I’ve been doing is selling stuff on Half.Com. I’ve always hated “stuff” and lately my life feel bloated materially. I’d love to dump about two-thirds of everything I own. Lean and light is how I want to live. If it’s not playing a useful role in my life it needs to be pitched out the door. Hopefully over the next few months my shelves and closet will start looking mighty empty. Stuff not in use is just stuff I have to dust.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Raymond Chandler Weather

Wednesday, January 04, 2012—Long Beach, CA

Another beautiful day here in Southern California. According to the weather report it’s made it up to eighty-two today, and that feels pretty accurate. It’s also bright and sunny with little in the way of wind. It’s days like this that remind me why I’m willing to live here, why I’m willing to deal with all the bullshit this place lays down on a daily basis. There aren’t too many places in the world where summer days are slipped into the middle of the winter. It’s probably gotten to the point where the weather is no longer enough to hold me here, but I have to admit it’s still a strong pull.

I’m having a kind of lazy day today. I couldn’t sleep last night and was probably up till around four, so I wasn’t able to pull myself out of bed until eleven thirty. After eating some breakfast, I worked on a lecture for an hour or so and then headed over to the my library branch on 3rd Street to pick up a book they had waiting for me (The Long Goodbye, by Raymond Chandler). Now I’m sitting at Portfolio coffee shop tapping away on my netbook. Later I’ll head home and finish the lecture I was working on earlier, put in an hour or so studying Greek, and then put some work in on the short story I'm tackling. Throw a naked girl in there somewhere and it would pretty much be a perfect day.

This little bit of time off I’ve had is again really making me see how misplaced I am teaching anthropology. The discipline has given me a lot and I’m glad I got those degrees, but I’m feeling more than ever that I’ve come to the end of the part of my life. This of course means I’m up for a big decision very soon because I’m supposed to be applying for the full-time teaching position at Irvine. Now that I’ve started writing again (and gotten my head out of anthropology long enough to gulp a little literary air) I’m realizing how much I’m missing that world, my true world—I’m also once more realizing how my next move in life is to dedicate myself to a life of letters. I’m also now seriously thinking about trying to get a job teaching English in Greece as my first move in that direction. This issue is how to do that and still run BSP. I’ve got some ideas on that, but their pretty sketchy. What it all comes down to is that I’m not happy when I’m not writing and anthropology pulls me away from the muse. If I were to apply for that full-time job it would mostly be for the check. No, my future lies with my books and maybe BSP—I think I’ve already made my decision.

Still trying to figure out what I’m doing, reading wise. I know I need more fiction in my life, more stories, but I’m having trouble figuring out what writers I should be reading. I’ve abandoned Paul Bowles yet again—he’s just not working for me right now (there must be something there, though, or I wouldn’t keep going back to him). As I mentioned, I picked up Chandler’s The Long Goodbye today, so I guess I’m back to my study of crime fiction. With him, though, it’s of course more than that—he’s just a great writer period. While I was at the library I also grabbed The John Fante Reader. I’ve long since read everything in it, but I thought it might be interesting to see how his writing works in that format, in collage. Plus, since so much of Fante’s career parallels Chandler’s time wise, and because they both write about Southern California, I thought mixing Fante’s stuff in with The Long Goodbye might be interesting. I also checked out a novel by Isabel Allende, A Portrait in Sepia. I know little about her work, but I read the first few pages and it felt like something I might get into.

OK, that’s it—back to work. I’ve got to keep the boring anthropology beast at bay (as well as the Greek gods, who now apparently expect something from me).

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Writing Again

Monday, January 02, 2012—Long Beach, CA

Impatient-ass Rob. In my last entry I discussed how I was in a fallow period in my writing. A couple days ago, though, an idea for a short story I’ve had for a long time suddenly came to life; I’ve put down three pages of work on it and I’m very happy with what’s come out so far. It’s the real thing too—I can ultimately always tell when I’m faking it: everything seems contrived in one way or another and the writing is usually slow and difficult. This one, though, feels very right, and it’s just falling out of me. With it I’m also putting into play my ideas for stories with little movement, stories that instill the feelings one can get when looking at a worthwhile painting. It’s working title is “The Girl in the Orange Bikini.” It takes place in Seal Beach, California sometime in the mid-1970s, and concerns the sexual awakening of a boy, probably aged around eleven. I don’t want to jinx it by going into it more than that (I also don’t want to give it away—even to myself). With this story I’m also now seeing ways to approach other ideas for stories that have been rolling around in me, in some cases for quite a while. This little breakthru has really opened some artistic doors for me, I feel. Suddenly I’m now in a much better mood than I’ve been for months.

I still think my earlier point about being in a fallow period is valid. I’m sure I will be feeling my way thru these story ideas very slowly; this will be part of my transitioning into a new period as a writer; I’m not ready to dive headfirst into any kind of sustained narrative. What I find really interesting is now that I’m taken the first baby steps down this new road it makes perfect sense to me. I REALLY NEED TO GET AWAY FROM THE NOVEL. That structure is an incredibly demanding one and I’m burnt out on it. I need to go gently into new characters, new universes, which don’t demand all my heart and soul at once. I still have a lot to give, but for the moment I need to dole it out in smaller amounts. For the foreseeable future I want to write in the manner equivalent to painting a small canvas on a bright summer’s day—and when that one’s done I’ll start another and then another … Together they’ll hopefully add up to something bigger, something in some sense unified …

What else is going on? Not much. I’m still trying to de-stress, to figure out ways to retool my life so it isn’t so demanding in all the wrong ways and places.

Today’s a beautiful day out, a genuine 80-plus degree summer day dropped into January (California at its best in other words). I slept late (I was up till three last night). After eating a little breakfast I road my bike a bit, down to Belmont Shore and then to Portfolio Berlin, a coffee shop in the East Village, where I am now. The rest of the day will invole studying Greek, working on a lecture for school, and hopefully working on my new short story a bit more. A pretty typical day in other words. Feeling the need to be outside more. I hope this nice weather holds for a few more days.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Dynamics of Not Writing

Saturday, December 31, 2011—Long Beach, CA

Late night, just after midnight. Feeling stressed lately, about all sorts of things, work, money, etc. I realize that I’ve also been stressed about my writing. For months now I’ve been searching for my next writing project. I’ve been toying with ideas for a book on Greece, short stories, and the third Backwaters book. I’m now finally realizing, though, that I’m simply in a fallow period—the reason I’m not writing anything besides this diary is that there is nothing else right now I should be writing. As of the moment there is no Greece book—there’s nothing going on that area that really moves me. The short stories might start arriving someday, but right now I’m just forcing it. The third Backwaters book will happen, but for the moment it’s a little green (I’m thinking it will be at least a few more months before I can bring myself to work on that one in a sustained way). The reason I’ve been stressed and in such denial about this is that when I’m not writing I begin to lose my identity as a writer—which is a very scary.

We writers don’t have very much to keep us going. Most of us don’t make much money, or get much else in the way of rewards—except for the work. When I’m not writing I really start to question my life, why I’ve given up so much to do this thing that I’m currently not even doing. From this point it’s just a short jump to depression and self-doubt. The thing I have to remember is that not writing is part of writing. The writing is really the last step of a long process of internalization, of figuring out what I really feel and think about myself and the rest of the universe. Besides, the point isn’t just to churn out book after book, but to write the books I should be writing. So far I’ve done mostly that: Heaping Stones, Edgewater, and the two Backwaters books are exactly what they should be—honest expressions of what I’m about. There will be others like these—I just need to have faith. I never want to write a bad book, or another false one (What Love Is, my shelved second novel, to some extent, falls under this second category, I think). The way to avoid these fates is simply to wait for the book to come to me, so to speak. I am a writer—I’ve already proved that. I shouldn’t need to be continually hitting the keyboard to understand this.