900 Days

Tomorrow it will be 900 days since The Temporal Lisle came to me in a flash.

I suspect I’ve spent 800 of those days doing nothing but suffering over the struggle.

Though the battle with Resistance is never won, I have been writing steadily for weeks. There are 16 chapters left to write. That’s not much. Yesterday I realized I’d left a major character hanging in limbo; they walk offstage and simply disappear. It took four short chapters to resolve their story in a way that organically served the larger story, and I wrote it all in a single sitting.

Come November 3, 2018, the 3rd anniversary of the burst of creativity, this book will already be published and selling well.

And the next one ain’t gonna take three years.

Feet First

He looked down the cliff’s face to the water. It wasn’t the distance that concerned him; he’d gone into water from far higher than the 30 feet it looked to be.

No, what concerned him was the dark surface. It might mean deep water.

It might mean shallow water with a dark bottom.

Even deep water could have jagged rocks, old tree trunks, any manner of solid sharp debris.

If you have no choice but to go in, it doesn’t matter whether the water is deep or shallow, or so he told himself. What matters is that you go in feet first. An injury to one or both legs could be survived. Head injuries, out here in the middle of nowhere, probably not.

The first arrow hit the dirt close enough behind him that he heard it, felt a tiny shock in his feet. They would wait until they were close enough before loosing any more.

He leaped.

And as he went over the edge feet first, one foot snagged in the tangle of a tree root sticking out, flipping him completely, holding for less than an instant before he dropped again.

Head first.

Three Applauses

I’ve noticed something about an audience’s reaction to live music: how the applause happens.

Obviously, there’s applause at the end.

And at the beginning, there’s applause—twice.

Some people recognize the opening notes on the guitar, the first piano chord, the drum riff leading it off, and instantly cheer for what they know is coming. There’s a medium sized round of applause in the opening seconds.

Then, the singer starts the song, and people recognize the words. That applause is a roar. People recognize words more than they recognize music.

Some bands play around with this. Bob Dylan is famous for rearranging his music so much that, until he starts singing, even fans aren’t sure where he’s going—and sometimes, not even then. Okay, we always eventually get it. He’s an extreme example. Sometimes a new intro delays the applause until the singer makes the song clear.

Comedians and storytellers play on this. Telegraph where you’re going with a joke, a humorous story, and people will slowly start to get it. A rising chuckle, a few laughs, and before the punchline everyone gets it—and then, you leave it there. They’ve figured it out and told themselves the joke. Don’t kill it by nailing it down.

Listeners, readers, those people who take stories in, whether they’re jokes, morality plays, songs, are smart. They love story, they understand it. They don’t need to be led by the hand, they just need a compass and a map.

As long as you’ve marked the trail clearly, letting readers find their own path makes a more satisfying experience.

Loss

Found out this morning that a dear friend and spiritual mentor died yesterday.

We were supposed to get together for lunch soon. I keep thinking about what we would have chatted about, how much we laughed when we visited.

Death is not, as many claim, a natural part of life. Death is unnatural, an enemy.

This space is too small to hold everything I believe about life and death and love and loss. I’ll just say I’ll miss him, and hope all the rest of you are happy and well.

Anniversary Flavors

For our 14th anniversary on December 26th Best Beloved bought me The Flavor Bible. Pick a food, any food, and find suggestions from obvious through interesting to bizarre (but still right) for flavor combinations.

Not a cookbook. Dishes are mentioned by name only. The suggestions are classed by the number of world class chefs recommending them.

This book is the epitome of principles rather than rules, my favorite way of gaining expertise. I want to be, not just a good cook (already there in spades) but an excellent cook, an interesting cook. Knowing how to follow a recipe is important, but on its own does not lead to creativity.

Long before I discovered it is an unusual ability, I used to taste combinations in my mind. I’ve long chosen spices based on what works in my head, and I’ve rarely been wrong about a combination. This requires great familiarity, though. Spices or foods I’ve never or rarely eaten don’t work this way.

Seeing what brilliant chefs find interesting but tasty allows me to think about new ways to combine flavors while still keeping it delicious.

Stars: a Song by Fiona ER Canfield

Recorded the vocal for this about 2012, when Fiona was 6 or 7. It’s taken all these years to learn enough about music and have the equipment to put it to music.

I was astonished to discover that other than a few flat notes, she’s singing perfectly in the key of F. This is worth investigating. I wasn’t aware a small child could, a capella, sing exactly in key. (I adjusted the final note because she was precisely two semitones flat; I suspect that was voice control, not pitch awareness. Also she was 6.)

Maybe children are more musical than I’m aware. Maybe I have an overdeveloped proud father muscle. Maybe I just love my little girl and music and when they come together, why wouldn’t it be perfect?

Stars
Fiona ER Canfield

If the stars could talk
What would they say?
Would they say those words to you?
If the wind could tell secrets
Would it share them with you?
Would you protect them with all of your strength?

If the sun could make you smile
Would its smiles be for you?
Would your eyes have protection from the rays?
If the moon could give you dreams
Would they be happy?
Would the dreams be for you?

Good night for now
And when we wake up
We’ll have dreams of the things that I said
And when we meet again we’ll discover
That the dreams have come true

Our Hummingbird

not our little guy, someone else'sThere is a ruby-throated hummingbird that lives in the neighbor’s tree. That’s an assumption, of course; I don’t know where it lives, but every morning I see it perched on the highest twig, surveying its domain, watching for errant pigeons to dive bomb.

He (I’m assuming it’s a he, who knows?) disappeared for a while when the weather turned cold (cold being a relative term here in southern Arizona.) I worried he’d left us, but he’s been back for a while, buzzing around the little tree where he lives and dodging in and out of the huge mesquite in another yard in the neighborhood.

We become attached to what’s familiar. Thoughts, like that little hummingbird, flit, buzz, hover, dive, soar, disappear, return. After while, we accept our frequent thoughts as truth. When they serve us, motivating or comforting, that’s a good thing. What about when we tell ourselves we’re not good enough, when we tell ourselves that The Other is somehow lesser than us, or too different to be accepted?

Don’t believe everything you think. Go ahead and believe in hummingbirds, though. That’s fine.

Embarrassment and Death

Patrick, the little kid up the street who ate 3/4 of a stick of Imperial margarine trying to get the crown to magically appear in his head like in the commercials, had a swimming pool. Just once, all the kids in the neighborhood were invited over to swim while his father played lifeguard. Patrick, tiny as he was, jumped into the deep end like a fish. My older brother and Rose the neighbor girl both swim around in the deep end. And there I was, in the shallow end, with the babies. Except Patrick. He was a baby, but perhaps margarine made him buoyant.

I said I wanted to swim in the deep end, too, and Patrick’s father said, “Why don’t you swim over to the ladder on the side and let’s see how you do.”

I confidently ducked under, knowing I could swim farther underwater, and in about 3.4 seconds, ran out of breath and popped to the surface, yelling, “Help! Help! Help!”

There was a huge splash and someone lifted me out of the pool and set me on the side. Patrick’s father, from in the pool, said, “Perhaps you should stay in the shallow end for now.”

It is astonishing to me that 50 years later, I still find it embarrassing. I’m not saying I would have preferred a tragic death in front of my friends to being rescued. I’m not saying that.

We are strange creatures indeed.

The Time in Maggie’s Room

Maggie knew her father hadn’t meant her to fall. When he pushed her into the room to pull her door closed she had stumbled over the rug, hitting her head against the corner of the oak armoire. The sound of his own heavy boots must have covered the noise of her fall, for why else would he have locked the door and walked away without first determining that she was unhurt?

Weak and wobbly, she pulled herself up by the massive knobbed handles on the doors of the armoire, then stumbled to her bed, more falling than sitting. Her head didn’t hurt, but the spinning wouldn’t stop. Closing her eyes helped. She rubbed her temples, which didn’t.

Her stomach reminded her that she was stuck here until supper. It seemed hours since she’d fallen, but since supper was promptly at six and her father’s quite unreasonable burst of anger had befallen her at five, she had not long to wait.

Normally comfortable, her boots pinched, as if she’d had them on too long. She drew her feet up on the bed one at a time to unlace them, dropping them on the floor. Another wave of dizziness lurched through her stomach. She rubbed her temples, eyes closed.

As the dizziness passed, she stopped rubbing and opened her eyes. Surely it must be near six.

Her clock read 4:15.

She must have forgotten to wind it this morning. It was her habit to wind it each day, but as is the case with habits, it had become unconscious, automatic, and so she didn’t remember winding it. May as well wind it now, estimating the correct time, and set it properly from the hall clock downstairs before bed tonight.

It was ticking. The clock was ticking when she picked it up. She had indeed wound it this morning. But why was the time wrong? It was not old. Her father had given it to her in the spring upon his return from the city. Surely it would keep better time than this.

Yet something was amiss. The ticking of the clock was clear in her ears and her fingers.

And now it pointed most definitely at 4:14.

Maggie returned the clock to its place on the table and felt behind her for the bed, climbing up to sit crosslegged, head bowed, face in her hands. She rubbed her temples, rubbed her eyes, shook her head, pinched her cheeks, tugged at the shorter hair in front of her ears.

Wiping her eyes, she looked again at the clock.

4:13.

A Winter of Sorts

You can tell when the conversation is running dry because the talk is all about the weather.

Turned the heater on this morning for the first time since a 4-day stretch in December. It was 63º inside the house. Upstairs. It’s normally about 76º up there.

Fiona sleeps with her window open and her face near the window. I used to sleep like that as a kid in San Diego. Winter nights there get down in the 40s, so I always had cold air to breathe. I like heavy blankets and cold air when I’m sleeping. Trying to sleep when it’s warm is hard.

Took a drive today and listened to all 19 songs I’ve written so far this month. I’ve done well. Two more I need to finish, a travel song for with Fiona, and a third song to go with Not Just Believe and Laminated Map of the World.

Thus far, every song has been entirely voice and tenor guitar (except a collaboration, which really needed bass and screeching electric guitar; if someone shares their lyrics I play what they need, not what I want.)

More Songs, Including My Daughters

I’ve written another handful:

but the real treat is that my two girls collaborated on one, and we can actually hear the Little One singing: Sister.

Choosing Wealth

In Vagabonding traveler and author Rolf Potts talks about choosing how we define wealth. Rather than assuming that “wealth” and “money” are the same thing, he suggests measuring wealth in what we value. Wild concept, I know.

I would love to have more money for things like a trip to Ireland or new tires on the car or a new instrument (still deciding between octave mandolin and mandocello, but it looks like I’ll have plenty of time to ponder it.)

It’s not what I value most. Every time discontent creeps in I remind myself that I have plenty of the stuff live is made of: time.

I rarely wake to an alarm.

Nearly every day, I play some kind of game with my daughter, the last of our 7 children still at home.

Every day, I cook three interesting meals for my wife while she runs the business.

Every day in February, I’ve written a song. Every single day. And recorded a demo thereof.

Deadlines are almost unknown around here. A day off only requires balancing personal needs or desires with what’ll have to be done tomorrow.

Want to spend August in northern Wisconsin (highs in the low 70s) instead of southern Arizona (highs in triple digits and humid as an old sock)? Arrange our work schedule to allow it, plan for gas, the primary expense, and go. (Our travel requires two other factors, a location-independent business [check] and oodles of friends to stay with to avoid expensive hotel bills [check] but those didn’t happen by accident either.)

Today I’m worried about money. Ausoma has lost two big clients (they love us, but need to get other things done before they come back and work with us again) and for the first time, rent for the 1st of the month isn’t a slam dunk. It always works out. Always. We both have faith, Best Beloved and I, and it always works out.

So today, I’m going to enjoy the time I have and not worry about what I don’t.

Songwriting Finish Line and Missing My Kids

Unrelated, just the two things most on my mind today.

there is nothing here

Tough part: my 4 adult kids haven’t spoken to me since their mother and I split 15 years ago. The youngest was 13 at the time which means I’ve missed more than half his life. They’re adults, they make their own decisions, and I have to accept the consequences of breaking up the marriage. Doesn’t stop me missing them achingly and wishing things were different.

But good news: since FAWM‘s slogan is 14 songs in 28 days, I’m a winner (that just means I’ve written 14 songs, not that I beat anyone or anything except maybe Resistance.) I am happy with the songs I’ve written. Most are performable, at least once, and I’m especially proud of #14, called Here Before.

My plan was to write 28 songs, so I’m still going to plug along, writing the happy and sad as they occur to me, and most days, writing a chapter of that time-travel fantasy y’all are dreaming of.

The Temporal Lisle: Chapter 42

Thought I’d share one of the most recently written chapters of Rafe Keyn‘s time travel fantasy.

Long before the Traveler had crashed around packing up his camp and moved out, the old warrior was awake, watching. Knowing he would hear the inexperienced man’s noise and smell his artificial scent a long while after he disappeared into the trees, the old warrior dropped to the ground and tidied up the mess left behind, covering the ashes with dirt, pushing rocks back where they were better suited, burying a dirty bit of something the Traveler’s food must have been wrapped in.

It took less than five minutes to clean up the site, during which he listened to the other’s noisy passage. Slipping through the shadows, the old warrior was within sight again in less than ten minutes, and spent the morning following what rapidly became a familiar path. Had he known this Traveler’s destination he could have arrived in an hour and had two more to rest before that one emerged from the woods—if that had been his intent.

Instead, after circling around at what seemed to the old warrior an excessive distance, he settled in to make another oversized fire and camp on the far side of the village where the old warrior had first believed he would find his stone. Finding the Traveler was a surprise, then it felt obvious. That the man led him here made the old warrior suspect he should stop being surprised at the twists and vagaries of this quest, and simply forge ahead, eyes and mind open.

This time, rather than sleeping rough and going without food, he circled the village and came upon a farm on the outskirts where he was invited to share a meal and offered a bed for the night. The Traveler’s ignorance of the prospects of hospitality were another mark against his intentions. An honest man didn’t hesitate to sit table with others and accept the warmth of their fire.

After eating, he slept a short time, asking his host to be sure he awoke again before the sun had fully set. Though he offered to help with the farmer’s evening chores before leaving, that one laughed and wished him a safe journey and more excitement than feeding a few chickens and goats.

Moving quietly back around to the Traveler’s camp, he smelled the sickly sweet scent of the man on the breeze, and minutes later, heard him making a fire. With a full belly and two hours’ rest, he once again climbed a tree to await the Traveler’s next actions.

Dozing in the tree, noises from below woke him. The moon had set, and in the pure darkness the coals below glowed. The Traveler pushed dirt over them, gathered his few things, and moved toward the village.

Moving more quietly than usual, the old warrior followed closely. If this one was considering something untoward, he wanted to be in a position to act if necessary.

Their path was straight to the village, along a narrow alley behind a row of houses and shops. At one, the Traveler looked through a window, then squatted under it. In the darkness, the warrior couldn’t make out what he did as he hunched facing the wall, but a sharp ugly smell came through the dark. Rising, the Traveler moved around the building. By the time the warrior followed, the man had disappeared. He stayed behind the corner of the house, not sure if this was a time to act or wait. He had seen the Traveler’s dagger, true, but he had also smelled a medicinal smell which made him believe the man’s plans, though troubling, were not violent. Still, he listened as only a woodsman of his caliber could listen.

From inside came the sounds of the Traveler’s clumsy shuffling attempts at stealth. Whatever he was doing was taking ages. His sounds came now from farther back in the home, then stopped, replaced by other sounds, still quiet, but troubling to the old warrior. A woman’s voice, stifled; not words, only a harsh breathy gasp.

Then, silence.

Less than a minute later, more shuffling noises, and then suddenly the Traveler burst through the front door with something slumped over his shoulders. He stumbled and struggled with the weight, but once out of the building he straightened up, adjusted his burden, and walked between the buildings and back into the forest.

Rhymes with Gloom

Rumor has it Phoenix sees 360 days of sunshine a year. Anecdotal evidence suggests we could skip some of those during, say, June, but no, the few gloomy overcast days come in winter, no surprise.

Best Beloved and I both suffer from mild versions of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Grey days bog us down and make us cranky. Awareness is 51% of the battle, eh?

First time in months, we took a bike ride together this morning. Once around the block. It’s a small start, because we believe in the power of small wins. Persistent consistent effort, not grand gestures. She’s been sick, I’ve been sick, we’ve been pummeled no end the past 6 months, but it’s all working out, as it always does.

I’ve reached the point with this month’s songwriting that I’m filling gaps with experimental stuff, goofy lyrics, and songs I’ll never bother performing. Writing 28 songs in 28 days, I give myself a lot of slack. A lot.

Imposter Syndrome

The group of mad songwriters I’m hanging with this month have a thread with 100+ posts about imposter syndrome.

Every artist who’s ever created something they feel strongly about has also felt like a fraud. Who am I to pretend to be an author? Who am I to pretend my songs are worth your trouble to spend 3 minutes listening?

John Lennon anguished about his lyrics. Stephen King is, to this day, ashamed of his subject matter, still smarting from a teacher’s disdain for the junk he wrote.

I have reached a point where I’m confident about my song lyrics, and getting there about my books. Every smart writer I trust has said they learn to ignore feedback except from very specific people in very specific ways. Not the 1-star haters on Amazon. Not their Best Beloved (though mine is my first audience, but her one and only job is to smile and pat me on the head; we both know her job doesn’t involve anything like honest criticism, that comes later.)

I don’t believe in the anguished lamenting artist who must bleed and die to create. We choose to do this. On some level we’re driven to it; I don’t think I’d be happy if I stopped writing novels. But no one makes me do it, and a lot of folks never feel the joy of publishing a book or performing a song they wrote. I get to make art, and I’m happy about it. It takes work, though, to focus on the positives when Imposter Syndrome and Resistance strike.

Next time you see someone doing something creative, whether it’s performing in public or just sketching a doodle in the park, thank them for daring. They can always use the boost.

Coffee, 2 Weathers, Please

People make funny assumptions.

Because I (usually) drink decaf, apparently people think I like weak coffee. One place I worked, my morning ritual was to dump out the watery half-strength muck someone had just made and make a pot of strong-and-a-half decaf. At home, my coffee is the strongest you’ll ever taste. Not kidding. It will punch you in the tongue. I love the taste of coffee. What I don’t like is the caffeinated shakes.

When we were traveling, everyone we stayed with or even drove with assumed that because we were from California, our preferred temperature was somewhere around 80ºF. It’s closer to 65º, thank you very much. We’d sweltered our way through two experiences as guests when we realized what was going on.

Having moved from far northern Wisconsin to southern Arizona, it is only natural that every single person we meet comments on how nice it must be to finally see some decent weather. I’ve learned to respond that it sure is sunny here, oh ho oh ho.

We hate the heat. We love the snow. Since we work from home and don’t have to go out if we don’t want, two feet of snow overnight is fun for us. We all prefer sweaters to short sleeves, and a roaring blaze in the fireplace to living cooped up with a/c for six months.

Also, apparently from the way I talk, everyone assumes I love bacon.

Got that right.

2 Happy Songs and 2 Long Drives

Tucson

Our little one visits her sister in Tucson every month. She usually stays 3 nights. They have a studio so while the little one and her sister are up all night singing and laughing and making videos, the good husband is trying to sleep so he can go to work in the morning. We’re all (especially him) hoping they can move to a bigger place soon.

It’s 3 hours down, drop her off midday, then 3 hours back. Two full days at home, then do it all over again, pick her up late afternoon, arrive home wiped out after dark.

Music

Two more songs, making it 4 for 4. Four for four. Fore! These two were happy.

The next one will be pensive. Many lines will begin “I remember . . . ”

I never know which list songs will end up on: lost and forgotten, performed once and abandoned, or regular rotation crowd faves. Some songs I thought were great when I wrote them don’t interest me much anymore, and some I thought were throwaways get played all the time because people love them.

This is the planting time. Harvest will happen later, and as always, will surprise me.