After finishing his latest fiction I’m rereading Stephen King’s On Writing which, although not precisely instructional, is the most inspiring book I’ve read when it comes to staying the course as a writer.
Last night this reminded me why:
“I was ashamed. I have spent a good many years since—too many, I think—being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who as ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent.”
“. . . in my heart I stayed ashamed. I kept hearing Miss Hisler asking why I wanted to waste my talent, why I wanted to waste my time, why I wanted to write junk.”—from Stephen King’s On Writing p50
Country folk have odd recipes, but we always eat good.
My mom had two cakes she introduced us to when I was a kid. She called them Mayonnaise Cake and Tomato Soup Cake.
Yeah, that’s how we reacted, too. Allow me to expand: the mayonnaise is used as a substitute for eggs and oil in a chocolate cake with coffee in the batter. A thick, dense, moist explosion of coffee-chocolate flavor. Frosting would be pointless. Vanilla ice cream works. We’d stir them together, unknowingly creating a cookies and cream experience 30 years before anyone was selling it.
My father was most precise in his speech. It was from him that I learned to look for the right word, the difference, for instance, between “loping” and “trotting” or “thinking” and “pondering” and such shades of meaning which give depth and clarity to our communication.
(That’s called “setup” so you’ll wonder, as I relate this, where it comes into play.)
Railroad ties make a good retaining wall. Heavy and thick, they’re impregnated with creosote so they’re nearly rot-proof. Peg them together with 3/8″ rebar and they’ll be there 20 years later (according to this picture. Neighborhood has sure run down since I lived there.)
The process is to lay down the first layer of ties, drill holes where the pins will go through, lay down the next layer, drill, and repeat. Somehow, I kept performing the miracle of drilling the holes exactly where they needed to be. Stupid confidence sometimes turns into wild good luck.
I’d finished the fronts of the walls, tied into the sides next to the steps. I do not remember why (trauma, perhaps) but as I neared the end, I asked my teenage son Tristan to come help.
“Here, hold this,” I said, with a 3-foot chunk of rebar placed in the top of the hole in the railroad tie.
We worked in the back of a great big van, more like a delivery truck. Not as big as a moving van, but far bigger than a passenger vehicle. Workbenches, grinders, air and power tools of all kinds, bins of parts and whatnot. It was convenient for work, being totally mobile. For driving, not so much. The van was awkward, felt top-heavy, and it as a nightmare to back up. I could always hear stuff shifting, rattling, pinging as we hit bumps or turned corners.
After lunch at a new place one day I headed out the back exit of the parking lot.
In this week’s 21st Century Creative podcast Mark McGuinness and guest Laurie Millotte discuss creating a global business. Laurie’s challenge to listeners was to create a round-the-world trip based on your creative desires. Here’s what I wrote:
Before Best Beloved and I spent a year traveling the US and Canada doing house sitting, we’d already built a location-independent business. As a result, we’ve already done a fair bit of traveling. But this week’s challenge has me thinking.
1. San Francisco. The entire city, but especially the waterfront and the trolleys, fire up my creativity. I’d want to start my trip with a total immersion in a city that has always inspired me.
We sat in the dark back seat, watching the digital clock (made of actual light bulbs) atop the bank in Chula Vista. It was a long red light. We’d seen the time change from 7:03 to 7:04 and all four of us started counting the seconds until it changed again.
Quietly, in the back seat: “57, 58, 59” and then, not quietly at all, the four of us shouting “Now!”
At that moment, the left turn light changed to green.
We read in order to learn how to face life’s challenges.
A book without challenges teaches us nothing.
The greater odds our hero faces, the more we learn from their success (or, to be fair, failure.)
I’ll confess that the young boy in my current work in progress is me, and I’m using the book to work through some childhood difficulties I’ve never been able to shake; nothing world-shattering, just the usual pains of being different and trying to grow up.
I was playing bass in a few bands and thought I’d see if anyone had ever posted anything about me online. Googled my name and “bass” and lo and behold, there’s some guy named Joel Canfield, a bass player somewhere in Michigan.
That’s the day I started using my middle initial D. (It’s for David, and no, I have no idea why my parents gave me two Hebrew Bible names, especially considering my siblings each have two Celtic names.) My introduction at business mixers was “If it doesn’t have the D it isn’t really me.” So, it’s Joel D Canfield, because I need the D but didn’t want the period because I’m an artist and I have my affectations and it’s my name fer cryin’ out loud.
I know, the phrase is cuttingtothe chase. But that’s not what’s happening.
Poor Jake Calcutta has been in and out of my top drawer a hundred times the past 6 months. I’ve printed bits and read them, highlighting and underlining. I’ve binder-clipped and folded and organized and shuffled. I’ve enlisted pre-alpha readers.
I’ve ignored it mercilessly for weeks at a time.
A third of the way through, Jake left me. Hid out somewhere in the wilderness of Whatcomesnext and no matter how I coaxed, he wouldn’t talk to me.
Count Alexander Rostov is placed under house arrest in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow in 1922. For life. Because art loves constraints, telling a story within the confines of a single building helps make this both deep and broad. There’s an understanding of Soviet thinking I’ve rarely seen. In the sweep of more than three decades, the joys and pains of life take on a stoic Russian feel, especially in the author’s footnotes which tell us “don’t pay attention to this character, he’s not as important as the scene might suggest” or “sadly, this character, much as we’d love to see them again, leaves our story here and never returns.”
During our year-end sabbatical and post-mortem/planning episode, I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to do all I can to separate my art from money matters. This past year related issues brought me closer to abandoning writing than anything ever has in the past.
I’m planning on writing like mad, but I’m planning on giving it all away. Take money, marketing, business out of the equation so I can create without feeling the obligation to give people “their money’s worth” which is a phrase I haven’t been able to get out of my head for years.
Artists who make a good living learn to separate these issues, the art and the business. Great thinkers I’ve followed like Mark McGuinness at Lateral Action, Hugh McLeod at Gaping Void, and Bob Dylan at everywhere, have all managed to do this at various levels. Maybe I’ll get there after while.
tl;dr — I’m taking a break from my online presence
I registered my first domain name in February of 1999. (It was spinhead.com, the one I use for my web design company and my primary email.) I’d already been designing websites for 4 years prior, and working with computers since I first went to work with my Dad sometime in 1976 or so.
For the past 20 years I’ve spent more and more time online.
And less and less time in the real world.
I’m trading the deceptive ease of online relationships for the messy complications of infinitely more satisfying connections in real life.
More time out in nature.
More time playing music.
More time with Best Beloved and our Little One.
More time sharing meals with friends. And taking my cooking from good cook to creative chef.
More time writing and studying the craft of writing, novels and music.
More time out in it and less time in my head.
Some Things to Note
If you know me in real life, you know how to get in touch. Do so, or wait till you see me later in the week.
Otherwise contact Sue (Sue@Spinhead.com or 715.296.0347) and she’ll know what to do.
Here’s what this is not about:
Nothing is wrong. Honest.
This is not a reaction, it’s an action. A choice based on deep thinking, meditation, and conversation with those I trust most.
It’s not about you. You didn’t offend or hurt me. Not now, probably not ever.
I’ll still be writing. A lot.
I don’t know when, or if, I’ll resume my previous online shenanigans, meaning posting everywhere, emailing like a dervish, living in social media. But don’t hold your breath.
P.S. from Sue – I fully support Joel in this decision. As his Chief Social Media Officer however, you’ll note that I’ll be managing his social media accounts on his behalf. So if you see his tweets or posts on his Facebook Author page, that’s me behind the scenes. ;)
and, overnight, fall
fall the leaves
fall the mercury
fall the crisp carpeting dead to begin the blanket
fall the snow another blanket to hide beneath
to lie beneath
what lies beneath
I searched for the word mercury to see if I’d posted this poem here before. I didn’t find it, but I found an amusing bit I wrote about the end of the universe, inspired one morning as I tried not to listen to the feed mill 100 yards up the street from our home in Wisconsin.