Days in a Life

Life, Writing, Photography

Words, Lessons, Successes, and Shortcomings

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The blank page attracts and repels me at the same time. Adding to this morning’s reluctance, the computer has decided to drag its feet. It doesn’t want to open my blank journal page, it takes forever to find the file from the shortcut I’ve placed upon my desktop. Is Norton running one of its endless background tasks without telling me again?

Maybe it’s time to run Malwarebytes again, and to defragment my hard drive.

This is the last day of my vacation. Somehow, I need to carry through what I’ve learned – the rest, the renewed joy of writing – into the regular days, the ones that plod on forever with me stuck behind a desk at someone else’s company, doing someone else’s job. My wife assures me that it’s only for a few more years, but a day behind that damned desk feels like three days anywhere else.

Inspiration, that’s a big part of the key. I’ve been re-reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, as well as my friend Susan’s Conversations with Screenwriters, to remind myself that every single person who sits down to write faces the same hurdles, and that we must each find our own ways around and over them.

I’ve done okay this week. Maybe I didn’t create something new every day, I didn’t write in my journal every day, but I recharged and renewed myself. I tapped into that creative sap line again. I reminded myself that I could do it, and I remembered some important lessons.

When I get stuck, when words aren’t flowing, it usually means that I’m thinking too much. The antidote is to just start spewing whatever appears inside my head, as fast as I can, until the blockage has been cleared.

But there are other things I haven’t figured out how to avoid, mostly to do with interruptions. There are times when I’ve finally got the words flowing, the fingers moving, and the outside world barges in. Nature calls. I answer, then settle back in to write. The dog arrives, needing to go outside. Then the cat appears, wanting attention. The computer turns balky, the pen runs out of ink – there are a hundred different things that can break the flow. The are all, as Laurell K. Hamilton describes them in her blog, “Invaders from Porlock,” variations upon Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s unexpected visitor who interrupted his creation of the poem, Kubla Khan, leaving it forever unfinished.  

These things are, I’m sure, the reason Hemingway rented a small, bare flat away from home to use as his writing office. You need a place to go where you won’t be bothered. Even that won’t guarantee you’ll write, of course. There are other distractions that can’t be avoided, and we’re very good at creating our own when the outside ones don’t appear.

I’ve read about at least one famous author who would rent a room for the day, then strip off his clothes and hand them to his manservant with instructions to take them away and not return for several hours. I don’t know how well it worked, but I suspect there were days when it did. I also can’t help picturing the poor writer if there had been a fire or earthquake during his naked solitude.

Personally, I’d settle for a personal library where I could close the door or, better yet, a small outbuilding, a garden shed with a desk.

I feel the usual end-of-vacation depression and crankiness settling in. I’d love to take the rest of the week off, carry this all through into the weekend. If I do that, though I won’t have any vacation time left to take over into next year where it will be needed for the “real” vacation we never got to take in this one. I need a few days’ time to visit my family, and a few more for the seemingly endless stream of visits to doctors and dentists and veterinarians. I’m even more depressed having thought of all of that, and Merlin-cat is driving me mad with is endless pacing and squeaky meows. I’ve gone into headphone mode, maybe that will help.

I need to focus upon the good things. What have I done, what have I learned, that might carry me through the spiritual desert of corporate life in between weekends and morning writing sessions?

I wrote two Halloween stories and submitted them both to the local contest. That’s gotta feel good, right? And, yeah, it does. But I can’t rest upon past laurels. I need to keep writing. I need to practice this short story business more regularly.

What was it about the Halloween story contest that worked as a prod to get me to write?

The contest had two key things, I think: a deadline, and a specific challenge. We could write anything we wanted as long as it fit, in some way, a Halloween theme and included three specific words or phrases. Those things helped focus the thing. They took me out of my usual “groping into the nebulous for the unknown” and into something more concrete: I had to write a Halloween story. The story had to include the words/phrases “black cat,” “fog,” and “Randy Quaid”. It was due by midnight on October 26th, and it had to be less than 640 words long.

I’ve learned I do better when I’m faced with a specific challenge like that. One fellow author on a writing site I belonged to used to post an “ordinary horrors” challenge. She would pick some common, innocuous object, and challenge everyone to write a horror story around it: a deck of cards, a writing pen, a paper clip, a coffee cup.

Okay, there’s something I can carry through from this vacation, then: a self-imposed short story challenge. One thought is to pick three words at random and write them into a story. Another might be in the “ordinary horrors” theme: look around the room, or maybe close my eyes and turn my head before opening them, and write a story around the first object I see.

That scares me. I feel intimidated by having to actually write a short story every day, or even every week. I need to get past that boulder of fear in my river of creativity. I need to keep chipping away at it until it finally breaks into pieces, wears away, and gets washed off downstream.

For now, though, I’ve run out of time. My wife has an appointment to get her bangs trimmed, and I’ve agreed to go with her and have lunch afterwards. I need to think about showering and getting ready to go.

No, wait – that’s another avoidance. I have half an hour before I really need to shower and dress. I can do this. I have time.

A hat, and old crumpled hat, sitting atop a stack of books….

Henry looked at the hat and felt depressed. He hated the sun, hated what it represented: his growing old.

There was a time when he loved the sun. He rolled and played in its light as a child, baked in its loving rays. He turned his telescope upon it and, with its image projected onto a white screen, marveled at sunspots drifting across the star’s surface. The sun meant light and warmth and thriving plants. It meant life.

Now, it only reminded him of death. His skin had become so sensitive to the sun’s rays that he developed pre-cancerous spots any time he even thought about going outdoors. At least when he used to bundle up to face the Michigan winter’s cold, he could revel in warm imaginings of the coming of spring, of summer. Now, summer required its own protective clothing. The grim image of a Kevlar body suit to protect him from bullet-like ultraviolet rays flashed through his mind.

His body craved the feel of air upon bare skin.

Was this, then, what old age was about: the shriveling and shrinking of one’s world, one’s environment, one’s own body and spirit?

Henry let that image carry itself to its mathematical limit. He saw himself, old and pale and desiccated, huddled in the darkest corner of his bedroom like an ancient and dying spider.

He picked up the hat, with its sensible wide brim, and threw it Frisbee-like into the mirror. No! Death was death, and it was coming anyway. That long, dark sleep was damned cold enough. He would be warm while he could.

Hours later, Henry’s wife followed a trail of her husband’s clothes through the house and out the back door. She found him there, raw and crisp and blistered in the sun, a final smile upon his face.

   * * * * * * * *

There! That didn’t take so long, did it? No. It took less than ten minutes. And was it so painful? No.

In fact, it was pleasant. Okay, the story itself was unpleasant, and the feelings it purged were real and unpleasant, too, but now it’s a story. The feelings and fears have been placed into another character’s life, where they can be seen and studied in, pardon the pun, the bright light of day, but with less immediate threat (and maybe more entertainment) than if I’d just said, “I’m tired of hiding from the sun.”

Okay, now I really do need to go. But at least I wrote something first. Whew.



Vacation, Day 4

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     It’s hard to believe I’m already starting the fourth day of my short vacation. What have I done? What do I still want to do? Too many questions – my head has barely stopped spinning from my last days at work!

     I have to keep reminding myself that this vacation is not about doing, it’s about being. The goal is to swim deeply in each moment, to have time to take long, deep breaths without worrying about what needs to be done next, and to reconnect with nature and life and writing.

     Saturday’s nature cruise on the local lake/reservoir helped fill the nearly-empty nature barrels inside me. I’d love to rent a pontoon boat and do the same thing by ourselves, just my wife and me, taking our time, enjoying the lake and the wildlife.

     As for writing, I’ve done some and it has felt good. I finished a 630-word tale for a local Halloween short-story contest, and I think I did a pretty good job of it, too. Cutting it down from its original length to under 640 words was the hardest part.

     I have a second one vaguely in mind, but I don’t know if I’ll get it done or not.

     Yesterday was too busy. Some necessary practicalities forced their way into our time – always a danger when you take your vacations at home. I think today needs to be an antidote to that, although I don’t yet know what the best choice would be.

     Inspiration. I haven’t done very well at keeping up with the daily inspirational readings. Let’s see what Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way Every Day has to say. Hmmm. Today’s entry isn’t one of my favorites, but yesterday’s really hits home.

     “We have to free ourselves from determining our value and the value of our work by that work’s market value. The idea that money validates credibility is very hard to shake. If money determines real art, then Gauguin was a charlatan. We must learn that as artists our credibility lies with us, with God, and with our work. In other words, if you have a poem to write, you need to write that poem – whether it will sell or not.”

                        — Julia Cameron


Written by Daryl

October 25, 2010 at 9:55 am

Starting Over – Again

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It is the first morning of the Days of Rest, Recreation, and Recovery; the first of our six days off together to rediscover ourselves, each other, and our positive connections with the world.

The day has, so far, begun normally enough, except that I have eight hours of sleep behind me. I’ve fed the pets, used the toilet, made myself tea and a bowl of cereal, and now here I sit, typing away. But there are small differences already.

For one thing, the sky has cleared. For over a week we’ve had fog, clouds, dampness, grayness, and rain – until this morning. Dawn today brings blue, partly cloudy skies with the fall chill. You might almost believe that the weather is conspiring on our behalf, except that we did plan this time with the weather forecasts in mind. It was supposed to clear up, ‘though as of yesterday it looked as though it might not. Still, if the weather is choosing to help us, I will thank it and be grateful.

This morning, I am not going to fall into the usual pattern of whines and worries. I am changing direction. I have just downloaded the appropriate books to my DROID via Kindle: Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and The Right to Write, Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and samples of a couple of other books that may prove inspirational. Now I can have them with me all of the time, whenever I have my cell phone. I also unearthed my copy of Jill Jepson’s book, Writing as a Sacred Path, which has me enchanted even though I’ve hardly begun it.

Because I have a hardcopy of Cameron’s The Artist’s Way Every Day here next to me, let’s start with her entry for today, October 22: “We are intended to be conduits for inspiration. There are high thoughts and high intentions and higher realms that can speak to us and through us if we allow it. When our ego and ego-driven fears are given a central place as regards our art, we have rolled a large boulder into our own way, and our career cannot unfold unimpeded because it must divide to make its way with unnatural intensity and velocity around the boulder settled in the stream of our good. On rivers and in the river of creative flow, such rapids are treacherous. We are far better served by being of service.”

Well, she’s got me pegged: I am a perfectionist. I grew up being told, “If the task be large or small, do it right or not at all.” Not only do I put boulders in the river of my creativity, I have been known to drop them squarely upon an emerging idea before it has had time to even take form.

That is one of the things I need to work toward changing in this time of healing. Not every idea has to be good. Not everything has to be perfect. And even if perfection was the goal, it has to be done in the manner of making a piece of furniture: first you chop down a tree, then you rough-cut it into planks. The planks must be planed down to size and cut to length before you can even begin to use them. There is no room for perfectionism in that phase of the process.

No. Perfection only comes later, in the construction, in the careful sanding and polishing.

What I do is simply to look at the tree and decide that the chair is not worth building, that it would probably turn out ugly anyway. Viewed that way, perfectionism looks like another form of laziness.

Well, it’s not laziness, not really, not for me. It comes more from being overextended, stretched too thin.

It takes a lot of effort for me to face the corporate world every day, to spend so much time in an environment where one is expected to be and look busy every minute or else be seen as wasting The Company’s precious money. The physical whips may not be in use, and there are continuously scrolling illusions that the oarsmen have the glorious creative freedom to design their own oars and join in the cheering as the ship heads toward its destination, but the slave ship analogy still works in many ways. After a day of rowing and then trying to keep things from falling apart at home afterward, there’s not much energy left for creativity, and I find there’s less energy to spare as I get older.

The next six days are meant to be an antidote to that. My wife and I are hoping to find deep, warm, quiet, restful pools in which to swim, amid scenery that feeds the soul.

As I was looking for today’s entry in The Artist’s Way Every Day, the book fell open to another page. April 23rd’s entry reads, “Drama in our lives often keeps us from putting drama on the page. Some drama happens and we lose our sense of scale in our emotional landscape. When this happens, we need to reconnect to our emotional through line. We need a sense of our ‘before, during, and after life.’”

The next week is also meant to be a time out of the drama. We’ve put up the barricades, cast a protective ward around ourselves with the words, “Unless it is a matter of life and death, we will deal with practicalities and with the outside world only after this time we have set aside for ourselves.”

“Make it so, Number One. Engage.”


Written by Daryl

October 22, 2010 at 8:29 pm

Spider Night

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     I woke this morning gasping and trembling, hardly able to believe that I was still alive.

     The doctor’s last words echoed in my ears from the dream: “What time is it now? Ten o’clock? It will take about ten hours for the poison to move all of the way through your system. By eight o’clock tonight you’ll be at the peak of it.”

     “Is – is it survivable?”

     The doctor looked away and took a deep breath. “Usually not.”

     “You mean…?” I couldn’t even finish the question.

     “Yes. Probably. You’re not likely to make it through the night.”

     I looked over at my right arm, the arm where she had been. The doctor’s assistant was opening and draining the huge, swollen ridges. He was still peeling and cutting away sticky wads of spider thread as he went.

     Dying. I was dying, and nothing was going to save me.

     The dream had begun lightly enough. I was traveling with friends – pacing, for some reason, the border land between Michigan and Indiana, but on my way to Mississippi, which had defied geography by moving out west and inserting itself between Arizona and California. We had stopped for gas and were talking as I filled the tank.

     “It’s getting late,” I said. “We need a place to stay.”

     “I’ve got a buddy who lives near hear,” one of my companions said. “I’ll give him a call.” A few minutes later, “Okay, he says he’s got plenty of room. We can stay at his place, if we don’t mind a bit of construction.”

     His friend’s house was spacious, but the room we were in was incomplete. There was an open, partially-excavated section of floor next to the bed. I peered into its depths.

     In its open dirt and rock was a mound, and in the center of the mound was a hole that curved and plunged out of sight. At the edge of that curve I saw legs, spindly, spidery legs.

     “Whoa,” I said. “That’s a big one down there! You guys see that?”

     “Let me borrow your phone a minute? I want to look something up.” I handed my DROID to my friend. He punched its buttons for a while, then handed it back.

     “You want to watch out for her,” he said, nodding down toward the spider. “That’s a red recluse – part woman, part spider.”

     “You’re full of it,” I replied. But he was backing away, and his fear felt genuine. I, stupidly, continued to stare.

     The creature saw me, and instead of retreating into the dark depths of its den, it dashed out quick as lightning. It was huge, at least the size of a tarantula. Its eight-legged body was sleek, though, with a rust-red back ringed in black.

     An instant later, a woman crouched over the spider hole. Her red-black hair spread around her in wild, static-electric strings. Pointed teeth showed through strings of saliva in her long, skinny face. Her mad, hungry eyes looked directly into mine. I had been bold enough to stare, they said, and now I would be dinner.

     I fled, along with my friends, into the next room.

     “We can’t just leave that thing in there,” someone said. “It could wander anywhere in the house!”

     “Shovels,” said another voice, “and flashlights.”

     Thus armed, and with pounding hearts, we tip-toed back into the room. The woman/spider was nowhere to be seen.

     We should have been more careful in our search. We should have left the room, closed and bolted its door, and never gone back. Instead, God only knows why, we sat on the bed near that god-awful hole in the ground, and we began to talk.

     Only a few minutes had passed before someone pointed to my right arm. “Dude, what’s with that?”

     I looked. Under the sleeve of my shirt, my forearm now rippled with huge, swollen ridges. I unbuttoned the sleeve and rolled it back.

     My forearm had become a mountain range, its flesh rising in fluid-filled rows. Around it were untidy, sticky clumps of spider webbing. “Holy shit!”

     It took a moment to find her in the mess that my arm had become. She was smaller now, only an inch long, hiding as she injected her poison. I scraped her off. She hit the floor and tried to scuttle away with all of us stamping our feet at her. Finally, one of us connected. We stomped until only an unrecognizable pulp with spindly legs was left.

     “What are we going to do about your arm, mate?”

     “Get him to the emergency room.”

     “Right,” I agreed. I was surprised that there was no pain, no sensation at all aside from the tickling strings of spider silk. I grabbed a handful of the stuff and tried to pull it off while my friends led me out to the living room. It did not yield easily.

     A doctor, we discovered, was already there. He was treating the woman of the house for a cold.

     “Man, are we glad you’re here,” said one of my friends. “Can you take a look at his arm?”

     I raised the arm to show him. The doctor’s eyes flickered wide for an instant before his professional control returned. “You’d better lie down here,” he said. He beckoned his assistant.

     I clenched my jaw and looked away as they worked. I could feel the scalpel opening my skin, seeking out pools of her poison that might still be drained away before it went any further. When I finally dared to look, the assistant was trimming away more gooey wads of spider silk.

     “So, doctor,” I said. “I’m amazed that this doesn’t hurt. I don’t feel any pain at all, in fact. If my arm hadn’t been swollen, I wouldn’t have even known she was there. This can’t be too bad, can it?”

     “I’m afraid it can,” he replied. “Very bad.”

     “Very bad? What will happen?”

     “What time is it now? Ten o’clock? It will take about ten hours for the poison to move all of the way through your system. By eight o’clock tonight you’ll be at the peak of it. You will have fever, chills, periods of paralysis.”

     “Is – is it survivable?”

     The doctor looked away and took a deep breath. “Usually not.”

     “You mean…?” I couldn’t even finish the question.

     “Yes. Probably. You’re not likely to make it through the night. I’m very sorry.”

     I awoke then, but I was not free of the dream. I was sure I still felt her sticky threads on my right arm. I felt certain something had been crawling on me only a moment before. I reached over with my left hand and felt. No, everything was normal. Normal.

     I touched my wife’s hand. Normal.

     I touched the dog’s warm, soft, furry body. Normal.

     Normal. I wasn’t dying. I wasn’t dying!

     But still, even as I write this more than an hour later, I feel a slight tickle, slap the spot with my hand, and thank all that is good that this time, at least, it is not her.

     Wait. What are those marks on my arm? Are they bites?


Written by Daryl

October 14, 2010 at 7:40 am

Kite Fight

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     Work was not going smoothly Friday morning. My main software tool, which had been working well the evening before, suddenly forgot where to look for its license files. I did what I could, then called for help. While I waited for the problem to be resolved, it hit me: I needed to go bobcat hunting. How long had it been since the last time? A month? No, more like two. I went to see my boss.

     “I just lost an hour and a half on this computer problem,” I began.

     “Wow. Okay, I’ll find an overhead number for you to use for that. It’s definitely not in the program’s budget.”

     “Thanks. Also, well, you know this is my short day.” She nodded. “Would you mind if I took off a couple of hours earlier? I,” I hesitated a moment. “It’s been too long. I really need to go bobcat hunting.”

     My boss is a bit of a photographer herself, and she’d seen my bobcat photos. She knew this was a bit of a passion for me.

     “No problem.” She smiled. “Do you always keep your camera with you?”

    “Yeah,” I laughed. “Most of the time, anyway. But I haven’t used it nearly enough lately.”

     “Happy hunting.”

     Twenty minutes later I was there: Lake Los Carneros, a little sanctuary of nature in the middle of suburbia. I thought back. It had been eight months since I got those wonderful bobcat pictures, eight months since that long-awaited adrenaline rush that lasted for weeks afterward.     

     Would I see her again today?

     In the early days, I just grabbed whatever camera I had at hand, hoping to catch a snapshot of one of the cats I knew lived there. Sometimes it was a larger Fuji point-and-shoot SLR wanna-be. More often, it was a pocket-sized one that I keep in the glove box of my car. Today, I pack a Canon XSi – not a professional model, but still an SLR and something much better than I used to carry.  I snapped on the  55-250 mm zoom, checked the settings, took a few sample shots to dial in the lighting and, filled with hope, started down the path.

     It was a little late in the morning to really have much hope of seeing her, but these are cats after all and, like any cats, they follow their own rules. I remembered another day a year earlier when I’d gone to Lake Los Carneros for a lunch-time walk. Figuring that it was nearly noon and that the place would already have been visited by lots of people and their dogs, I decided there was no point in lugging the camera with me. There was no chance of seeing a bobcat at that time of day, under those conditions.

     I was wrong. There was a bobcat, a large adult, and it was standing right in the middle of the main path just as I got to the lake. From then on, I didn’t assume any more. Dawn, dusk, or mid-day, I kept a camera with me. One day last February, the persistence paid off and I got the photo I keep plastering around my home, office, and web pages. Would I get another chance today?

     In short, no, I didn’t see her on Friday. I prowled the back trails and looked in all of the usual places. I saw rabbits and crows, jays and dozens of tiny, shy little birds that stayed just hidden in the depths and shadows of bushes and trees, but no bobcat.

     It was hard to feel too disappointed, though. The day was beautiful, I was out in nature in a place that’s always touched my heart, and there might still be surprises lurking if I just kept my eyes open.

     The surprise came as I walked across the dam: movement in the sky, a White-Tailed Kite coming straight toward me from the north. My thumb slid the camera’s switch to “on” while I watched the bird. I quickly checked the autofocus mode – auto/AI Servo, found the approaching bird in the viewfinder, and zoomed in as much as I dared. I managed half a dozen shots before he flew past me and vanished into the trees. When he didn’t reappear, I walked on. One or two of the shots looked reasonably good.

      At the dam’s far side I took a well-used path that paralleled the lake’s contour. Three men were flying model airplanes in a clearing. I stopped to watch, remembering rockets and model planes from my childhood.

     The Kite must have flown in from behind me while this was happening, for he suddenly appeared in the sky to my right. Now he was hovering, poised, ready to drop from the sky onto something in the grass below.



     He hovered for a moment, changed his mind, and turned to watch a different spot.

     Focused upon the hunting Kite, I didn’t see the other’s approach. He was just suddenly there, in my viewfinder, attacking.

      In the flurry of dives and dodges, attacks and counterattacks, I lost track of which was which.

     I don’t know how the battle ended. The two Kites disappeared behind the trees, either to separate or to continue their fight elsewhere. I watched and waited. When the did not reappear after several minutes, I walked on. I felt a little sad that the kite I’d been watching had been chased away, that he was still hungry and looking for a place to hunt. I also knew I’d had a rare privilege, that if the photos turned out I had managed to capture something I had never seen before, and might not ever see again.


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     The sound was high-pitched and rapid, the second beep chasing the heels of the first without a pause, and both of them together taking no more than a third of a second to pass through Frank’s mind.

     Frank, meanwhile, had just begun a happy descent back into sleep. The double beep had been quiet, barely over the edge of his awareness, but it was enough to startle him awake again. Had he heard it, or was it the opening sound of some oncoming dream?

     He listened a while, heard nothing more, and began to drift back toward sleep.


     “What the…?” This time he almost sat up. Instead, Frank ran a mental inventory of the things in his room that might say beep-beep, and came up with none. Then, a moment later, a man’s voice, urgent and insistent, “Did you touch it?”


     “Did you touch it?”

     “No. Touch what?”

     But the voice was gone, and whatever crack in the fabric of space-time that had let it through had closed.

     Somewhere far away from Frank’s sight and hearing, a universe exploded, but he never knew.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The little tale above came from something that actually happened to me yesterday morning in that mysterious state between waking and sleep – well, the beep-beep part did, and so did the man’s insistent and worried voice asking, “Did you touch it?” Whoever and wherever he was, I hope the real ending was different.

Written by Daryl

October 6, 2010 at 4:44 pm

The Usual Struggle

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     Lethargy has taken hold of me. I try to pry its stiff, powerful fingers from my shoulder but it is stronger, far stronger, than I am this morning. And so I sit, staring and unmoving as my mind tries to push words through the lead of my arms to reach the keys. The dog sleeps next to me, and Lethargy says that she, the dog, has the right idea.

     “Just sit,” Lethargy says. “The day will be full of activity later. Why bother with trying to do anything now? Feel that residual heat? It’s only going to get hotter. Foolish, then, to think of doing anything at all, isn’t it?”

     “I’ve called myself a writer,” I reply, “and therefore I must write.”

     “But that takes so much effort, doesn’t it? All of that thinking and plotting, choosing what words or images are worthy and which ones are not? There are so many people writing already – why, it’s as they say about poetry, isn’t it: ‘everybody writes it, but nobody reads it’. Even great writers have a hard time getting published. Let’s face it, darling, you are not a great writer. Better than mediocre in your good moments, maybe, but not great. Is it really worth all of the bother?

     “Everyone else is sleeping, enjoying their rest. They are not worrying about such trivialities. Maybe they’re the wise ones, simply being happy, while you are playing the deluded fool at a keyboard?”

     I recognize, now, Lethargy’s darker sisters’ voices blending with hers: Despair and Resignation.

     Maybe they’re right? Why should I bother? What have I got to say that hasn’t already been said? What story could I tell that has not already made generations yawn themselves to sleep?

     Even when I do find a rare and nearly original idea, nothing seems to come of it.

     “No.” This is a new voice, a hoarse whisper. “Do not listen to the Three Hags. While they drink your energy, you will languish, give up, and finally die. Look at what they’ve already done! How many dreams do you have left? How many hopes? Do you even see any more bright places in your future? They have you, my boy, and you’d better shake them off!”

     “Who are you?”

     “You’ll remember me later, when you’ve written more. No! Don’t stop and think – just keep typing. If you keep your fingers moving, you can outrun them, The Hags. Hear how they scream at you with each keystroke you make?”

     Oh, yes. I hear them. They don’t sound like hags at all. They sound nice. They promise rest. I could use rest. What could be wrong with just sitting and breathing? It’s the Zen prescription for everything, isn’t it?

     “Boy! Wake up! You’re not sitting zazen – you came here to write. Just keep those fingers moving.”

     Moving. Keep the fingers moving. But what should they say, these fingers? They feel so aimless, so devoid of ideas. I have ideas, sometimes. I have clever thoughts, too. But they never come when I sit down to write. Never.

     I sit staring at the screen, sifting in vain through cerebral detritus for the funny turn of phrase that came to me yesterday while I was driving, the clever observation I made while waiting in line. I chase ghosts of revelations that came while looking at a spider. I hear faint and fading echoes, receding at the speed of life, of characters who spoke to me at odd moments when I was busy with other things and could not record their words.

     Does every writer face this same thing?

     The Sisters tell me that I am alone. They say other writers are overflowing with words and ideas, mourning only the fact that they cannot split themselves into a hundred people so that they can capture all of their perfect stories at once.

     “For one such as you, my dear,” Resignation sighs, “it really is best to just leave it. Come. My sisters and I will hold you. We will always love you and take care of you. You will be ours, and we will be yours forever.”

     “Love? Bah!” The strange, gravelly masculine voice has returned. “They don’t know love from a rock. They’re cousins of the Sirens – you know that, don’t you? They lure with sweet-sounding seductions, but instead of dashing you quickly upon the rocks they inject their subtle poisons and then suck you dry while you lie dreaming. Movement is the only escape.”

     “Movement, yes.” I am surprised to hear Lethargy agreeing with him. “Movement is a good idea. Go and make yourself another cup of tea. Then you can sit and think some more. Doesn’t that sound perfect?”

     Yes, it is time for another cup of tea. Almost.

     “That’s it, boy – fight them! Just keep writing. Another few lines and you’ll have two whole pages! Then you can make that cup of tea, right before you come back and type at least one more page.”

     “I feel like the rope in a tug war. Leave me alone, all of you!”

     “There you go, boy. It’s your choice, after all. Choose for you. Just don’t let your hopes and dreams die, that’s all I’m saying.”

     “And I am saying that I’ll get that cup of tea right now.” I hear the Hags giggle in victorious relief.

     “Then,” I continue, “I will come back here and look through those story ideas, and through some recent photographs, and I will see what I can make of one of them.”

     The Hags cry, “No!” and reach out for me, but it is too late. I am up, and I will return.

     “And don’t you gloat, either,” I tell the cat-growl voice of Encouragement. “I’m just getting a cup of tea, that’s all.”

Written by Daryl

October 2, 2010 at 8:59 pm

Hell’s a-Leakin’ Heat!

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It’s four thirty in the morning. I woke up an hour ago, still sweating in the unexpected Fall heat, crawled out of bed, and opened all of the doors and windows. It’s still over 80 degrees in here, even with the slight breeze blowing through.

I’m lucky: there will be air conditioning at work. My poor wife and pets will be stuck again in the sweltering steam of the day. I keep hoping a cool wind will magically appear from the ocean to cool the house before I leave, but it doesn’t look likely.

My computer is nearly too hot to use, even with two sets of fans stacked beneath it.

Where did it come from, this heat, appearing in the first days of autumn after an unnaturally cool summer? Maybe Hades has sprung a leak?

I am thankful that there are no wildfires. This is perfect firebug weather: hot, dry, windy in the mid-afternoons. We’ve been lucky so far this year, and I’d like us to stay that way.

Getting up early did allow me to finish setting up a couple of Café Press shops as outlets for some of my photos. I don’t understand Café Press, though. First, I have to create a separate shop for each image I want to use. That means my bobcat pictures need one store, the butterfly another, and the pretty ocean sunset requires a third. After all of that, it still appears impossible to search Café Press and find my stuff either by my store names or through any reference to them. What’s up with that? Do I personally need to supply the links to anyone who might be interested? Maybe anything more than that requires going “premium” and paying them? I don’t know – still learning.

Anyway, for anyone out there who might be interested, I’ve put together a 2011 calendar that’s available for purchase (that part does work – I checked it out by buying some samples to evaluate and to show around locally):

There’s another “store” where you can buy all things bobcat: t-shirts, coffee mugs, water bottles, hats. I had a couple of the t-shirts made for my wife and me in green; they looked pretty good. You do have to choose your colors carefully, though, or it looks like you’re wearing a picture frame:

A few other images from the calendar have their own stores, too. The links should work, even though the search engines don’t:

I have to admit, I was excited about this yesterday, but learning that nobody could just search for or even randomly stumble across my stores or their wares took away a lot of my enthusiasm for the project. I’m sure there are better ways to do this; I just haven’t had time to figure them out yet.

Meanwhile, despite the heat, this week should be easier for me than the last two have been. There have been (knock wood!) no lost rental car keys, no cracked teeth, no dental extractions, no frantic 10-hour days of running tests at work. Okay, I’ll miss the tests; now we’re down to the data processing and report writing, which quickly becomes tedious. But at least I can slip out for a little lunch-time reading and writing again. I’ve even written down a couple of story ideas.

Written by Daryl

September 28, 2010 at 4:14 pm

Locomotive Breath

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The dream can begin in any number of ways, but it always leads to the same situation: I am driving, I am in danger, and I cannot react in time.

Last night, I was behind the wheel. I felt it in my hand, felt the gas pedal under my right foot.

“Daryl?” My passenger’s voice trembled slightly. “You see that red light coming up, right?”

Yes, I saw it – saw it, and could do nothing about it. My foot turned to lead, my muscles to mush. My mind screamed commands that my body ignored.

“That’s nice,” it replied. “Let’s just take a nap first, shall we?”

No! You have to move that foot! We need to stop – now! NOW! STOP!

The intersection flew by and was gone. We’d somehow survived. But my foot still would not move, and the car continued on its own course until the dream finally dissolved into other situations.

At other times, in other dreams, I find myself driving from the back seat. Everything is fine as long as I only need to steer, but how far can you drive without needing to touch the brake?

Odder still are the ones where my car is suddenly four stories high, despite being the usual length and width. Try parallel parking one of those things!

I wonder what these dreams mean?

I suspect they are stress dreams, dreams of worry, perhaps reflections of feeling like I’m not in control of my own life.

They’re different from the exposed vulnerability of the other sort I have, the ones where I need to use the toilet but find either that the bathroom is unusable or that I am suddenly on public display at the most crucial moment, or both. Still, they have some of that same out-of-control feeling, the sense of needing sanctuary that I cannot find.

The last two weeks definitely call for more sanctuary than life has offered. Last week seemed one endless string of fiascoes, from losing the rental car keys (only to find them again after I’d finally given up and had the thing towed a hundred miles to Los Angeles for re-keying and reprogramming), to cracking a tooth to its root and having to have it pulled, to my granddaughter falling and breaking both bones in her forearm.

This week, although blissfully less traumatic, has been one of extraordinarily long and demanding work days.

Hang in there, Daryl. Hold on. Fun times are coming. Remember the pow wow, and the Big Sur Jade Festival. Those will fill two out of the next three weekends.

Yes, they will. I do hope I’ll be able to step on the brake when I need to, though, especially on that narrow, cliff-filled, winding drive up the coast.

Written by Daryl

September 23, 2010 at 7:51 am

Tooth and Consequences

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The week, and my tooth, fractured on Tuesday.

I woke up that morning with a toothache that ran from lower jaw to upper on my left side. The pain was so widespread that I couldn’t even be certain of its source. I took two ibuprofen tablets and called my dentist’s office. When I described what was going on, his receptionist put the man himself on the phone.

“Pain?” he said. “That’s not good. Sounds like it might be root canal time, my friend. I can get you in on Thursday morning. Meanwhile, I’ll call in a prescription for some antibiotic. You’re not allergic to amoxicillin, are you?”

The words “root canal” sent ice through my veins. I’d never had one, but I knew it was something to fear. Watching the faces of people I told during the day helped not at all.

Later, I was to pick up my car from the shop where it had spent the last week. We’d been planning to replace The Beast, but other demands on our money had scuttled that idea for the moment. For a tenth of the money we had saved up for the newer car, I could get mine fixed up to limp along for another paint-deprived year or two. I was a little sad to be returning the nice little Kia, but it would be good to be free of the odd premonition I’d had about damaging it.

I drove home early from work, parked the rented Kia in the driveway, and rode with my wife to the mechanic’s shop. My car was ready to go, just as ugly and comfortable as ever. I stopped at the drug store on the way home to pick up that antibiotic, then got some Mexican carry-out so we wouldn’t have to worry about what to have for supper.

“Good,” I thought as I parked in front of my house. “Home. More ibuprofen, rest. I’ll transfer my stuff from the Kia to The Beast, take the Kia back to the rental agency tomorrow, and that’ll be one less thing to worry about.” I breathed a deep sigh of relief, reached into my pocket for the Kia’s keys, and found only emptiness.

Panic took me then. Where had I last seen the keys? Oh, no! Had I dropped them in a busy parking lot on my way home? How could I have done that? What an idiot!

I hurried up the walk to the house, sweeping the path with my eyes as I went. No keys. No keys! Where could I have lost them?

They weren’t on the sidewalk, or anywhere alongside it that I could see. I remembered getting my backpack and camera case from the car and then locking it after I got home, so I had them on my way up to the front door. After that, I couldn’t remember.

I got back in The Beast and raced to the drug store. Another car had parked where I’d been, and two more cars were parked on either side of it. I did my best to peer under and around them, but saw nothing. Which way had I walked?

Nobody had turned a lost key in to the drug store or to the grocery store nearby. I raced across the street to the Mexican restaurant.

It was their busy time, and there were even more cars parked there than before. No keys. What about those creepy guys hanging around outside the liquor store? Could they have found them? Maybe one of them was quietly trying the key in various car doors when he thought nobody was looking? No. Two of the guys were college students, more interested in texting their buddies about the upcoming game on TV and how much beer to buy. The other, scarier character was too wasted to know what a car key was.

Where, where, where?

The key wasn’t at my mechanic’s place, either. Deflated, exhausted, jaw aching, I slumped home, gave the house another searching, and collapsed.

I left for work early the next morning, retracing my steps yet again in the hope that maybe, just maybe, they key would appear now that the parking lots were empty. It didn’t.

At 8:00, I called the rental agency.

“There might be a spare hidden in the glove compartment or in the trunk by the spare tire,” the agent said. “Call our roadside service number and have them send someone to open the car. Maybe that will do it?” I hoped so. The alternative was to have the car towed to their main facility in LA, a hundred miles away, to be re-keyed and reprogrammed. I was looking at a $350 fee if that happened.

I came home from work to meet the driver, who broke into the car with surprising ease. The car honked indignantly at the unauthorized intrusion and refused to open its trunk. If the key was in there, it was as good as lost. It wasn’t anywhere in the passenger compartment.

“I’ve got another call,” the driver said. “Sorry. If they rental agency wants it towed, they’ll call us back.” I watched him drive away, then called the agent.

“You know,” she said, “you might want to hang onto the car for another day, just in case? The keys might still turn up.”

“Thanks,” I said, “but I don’t think so. I’ve looked everywhere, I’ve left my phone number with all of the businesses around where I went. They’re just gone, and tomorrow I’m going in to the dentist to get a root canal job. I won’t be in any shape to deal with the car then.” I sighed. “No, I guess we should just go ahead and tow it.”

“Are you sure?”

“No, but I don’t know what else to do.”

I stayed until the tow truck driver returned and watched him load the car and haul it away. Then, with leaden feet and an aching jaw, I drove The Beast back to work.

“I’m sorry you’re having such an awful week,” my wife said later. I’d made it through the rest of the work day, but only just. I was certain now that I’d cracked a molar. Waves of icy fire raced out from it any time I tried to eat or drink. The throbbing ache was coming in cycles, regardless of what I did. By now, even a root canal sounded like a relief.

“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll be glad when it’s over. I sure wish I knew what happened to that damned key, though.”

I looked down, shaking my head. What the…??

I knelt and moved a large dog toy that was lying next to where I keep my camera bag.

“No! No way!”

I stood, hand extended so my wife could see.

Dangling from my fingers was the lost rental car key.

“Quick!” she said. “Call them! Maybe it’s not too late.”

But it was.

“I’m sorry,” the agent said. “They towed the car to LA hours ago.”

“Damn. I figured they had, but I still hoped…. What should I do? Should I bring the keys back to you?”

“They’re no good now. You might as well throw them away.”

But I couldn’t quite bring myself to do that. Instead, they key sits next to me as I write, a crazy souvenir from a crazy week. And there was still the dentist to face.

The dentist.

“Well, the good news is that you won’t be getting a root canal,” he said after he’d examined me. “The bad news is, you’ve got a vertical crack. The tooth is going to have to come out.”

My dentist is excellent, but there’s no way to numb your jaw enough that you can’t feel an extraction. I’d rather not think back on the details right now. It hurt and it wasn’t fun and I’m glad as hell that it’s over.

But the pain’s gone. Even more amazing is the fact that I didn’t even really need a painkiller after the Novocain wore off. I probably could have gone to work after an hour or two, but I didn’t. I’d had enough.

I thought at that point that the week’s madness had ended. As my wife and I sat watching some BBC offering in happy relief, my cell phone beeped. It was a text message from my daughter.

“We’re at the ER,” she said. “Your granddaughter fell out of a tree, and she screams any time she moves her arm.”


Written by Daryl

September 17, 2010 at 5:07 pm