Friday, March 29, 2013

Sounds Easy, But It's Not

Taking a sabbatical away from the keyboard for the past year or more was exactly what I needed.  Not only did I need a break, but life's ups and downs weren't nearly as interesting as times past.  I mean, seriously, who wants to read about me sitting in a cube all day, fixing co-worker's screw-ups, doing busy work, and trying to bring some sense of order to my corner of a company that is built on chaos?

I don't even like talking about my job, much less writing about it, and since I have to spend so much time there, I've truly been at a loss for things to write about.

But even though I can't help but think of it as a jail sentence--the penalty I must do for spending over five years living it up in Sin City--I've reached a sort of detente with the sorry realization that I'm kind of stuck there for the time being.  The economy is still in the shitter and the benefits are just too good to give up.  And as much as I bitch about the money, it's actually been pretty good so far this year. But I know I'm going before figurative parole board next March, if not sooner, and I will get my walking papers.

In the meantime, I'm trying to make the most of my time here in Nashville.  I moved here because it's where the family is, and I appreciate that, but I'm thinking that I may move on once again.  Of course it's a LONG ways away--my plans are pretty much set in stone through October of 2014.  Having the health issues I've had these past couple of years, coupled with living way the eff out in the woods--a geographical oddity, forty miles from everywhere--my social outlets have been somewhat lacking. 

So, and I may have mentioned this before, I signed up with the Nashville Meetup groups.  I think I'm actually a member of about five or six sub-groups, but I spend most of my spare time with the Writer's Group.  Oh, there's a bunch of other ones I meet with on occasion (I know I've ranted about the hiking group and the full moon hike), and I joined a new one recently called Fit Journey, which is basically me and about a dozen women, all of us kind of chubby, huffing and puffing our way around the Couchville Lake greenway trail.  Basically, it's kind of like Weight Watchers without the fees and weigh-ins, and it's great to hike with a group when I'm nowhere close to being the most out-of-shape person in attendance.  I think that next weekend we're having a healthy-recipe potluck dinner, too, which I'm looking forward to. 

I've also joined a Nashville 40+ Singles meetup, and although I don't really have much as far as expectations are concerned, it would be nice to meet some new people outside of work and family.  I think the first thing I've signed up to attend is a Sunday afternoon jazz concert in a few weeks, followed by a group dinner at a restaurant in Germantown.  I'll let y'all know if I come away with some digits...

But my favorite thing has been the writers group.  I've attended meetings all over town, ranging from general writers chat to memoirs and personal non-fiction essays, to my favorite, a group called 'The Craft of Writing'. They are all helpful, and it's a real eye-opener to attend some of these gatherings.  First of all, there are some really talented people out there.  Of course, there are some real head-shakers in the groups too, but that comes with the territory.  Luckily, for the most part, the sub-genres are pretty well defined, so I don't have to sit through too many people sharing their own version of Twilight or a running re-telling of their World of Warcraft experiences. 

While I love to share my material and get feedback from people more talented than I, it's hard to sit though some of the stories that just make me scratch my head.  I try not to be to harsh, but at heart I'm still kind of a misanthrope that bears the cross of impatience at all times.  These past couple of weeks have been especially trying. 

The other day I went to my Memoirs group at an East Nashville coffee shop, for the second time, and while there were a couple of people there I could truly learn from, there were a couple of others that made the whole experience about as enjoyable as a trip to the dentist.

One lesbian couple had, at some point in the past, gone to some sort of new-agey writers workshop that had absolutely nothing to do with writing memoirs, and insisted on sharing their elementary-level exercises on how to figure out exactly what the writer is talking about. 

No thanks, if I want you to figure out what I'm talking about, you can read my whole essay, not fold each page into quarters, draw a circle around the middle where the lines come together and look for key words inside the circle.  If you can't understand what I'm trying to say, that's fine.  I'm ok with some people 'not' getting it.  The cool kids do.

I believe I even got called out for rolling my eyes and shaking my head.

Then there was yet another couple there who really didn't have anything to contribute, the husband making a point of saying he wrote 'on a higher level than this group', yet kept interrupting as other people were doing their reading, while the wife just wanted to market herself as a ghostwriter for old people.  She told us that she writes memoirs for the elderly, but it seemed to me that what she was doing was following a fill-in-the-blank formula found in dozens of workbooks readily available on Amazon. Hey, I say god bless you if you can carve out a niche and make some money doing what you love, but since I wasn't getting anything from it, my attention completely shut down after about thirty seconds.  Thankfully the group organizer had the stones to say "Hey, that's not what this group is about, we're not here to share already-published works or try to generate business".  They were a bit miffed, but it was wonderful that somebody put the brakes on that nonsense before it got out of hand.

While I was a little disappointed with the distractions of people wasting a good chunk of my afternoon, I still came away with some good feedback and I chopped my Foreword back to just a few paragraphs and the rest of it became the kernel of Chapter One. So the day wasn't a total bust.  I've also spent the better portion of the past two days writing yet another chapter, and even though it drove me crazy, two thousand words and four pages later, I was done.  I sent it to our group organizer, and she promised to look it over this weekend. 

So I'm finally on my way.  All those Vegas stories are going to become a book.  And even though a good chunk of them are already written, the hard part is coming up with the thread that ties them all together so that it's not just a series of copied-and-pasted blog posts.  Of course they need to be edited, clarified, and tightened up, so I've got my work cut out for me.

In the meantime, I've been squeezing in as many of those Great Courses lectures that I can fit into my already-packed schedule.  The first one I tackled, Building Great Sentences, is amazing in it's complexity.  I've got the first 12 lectures done, and I will admit that they're a little tough--not that they're boring, far from it.  But they are technical, and even though I know most of the material intrinsically (I've been doing it for years), there is still a lot to think about. I may have to watch 'em twice.

I'm also really enjoying the Writing Creative Nonfiction series, too.  I'm about five or six lectures in on that one, and like that guy in Depeche Mode said, I just can't get enough.  After each half-hour lecture I feel inspired to sit down at the keyboard and let it rip.  Of course, some of the stuff that makes it to the screen is trite, lame, and downright embarrassing, but I figure that it's like anything else--it's a numbers game.  You throw enough spaghetti at the refrigerator, eventually some is gonna stick.

So that's what I've got going on in my life these days.  I work, I take walks, I watch lectures, I attend meetings, and I sit at my keyboard trying to write a book that doesn't come off as being too snarky, which sadly, is my default setting.

It's a hard thing, trying to tap the well of creativity.  Anybody can write a laundry list of experiences, but it takes an artist to tell a good story.




Vegas Linda Lou said...

You're doing everything right, my friend. The rewards of all this hard work will come!

scottw512 said...

I'd like more details about why you believe you were called out for "eye rolling" and "head shaking". I bet that's a hoot.

Dave said...

Hey Mikey,

Glad to hear you're doing well. Congratulations on your weight loss! That's excellent. It was fun hearing about your trip back to Vegas. Just like old times.

If you're enjoying those Great Courses, and with the new healthier you, I've got a suggestion for you - "Nutrition Made Clear". It really is a great offering from Great Courses. I got this out of a local library and ended up buying a copy. It tells you all about what you put in your body, how your body uses it, and what you can do to treat yourself better. Check it out if you have interest.

Good luck with your writing.

Dave P.