This Writer’s Life

This is where you can follow along with my public life as a writer, up to 500 words at a time.
Contact me at any time with your thoughts. Read down for more. It goes from newest post to oldest.

#4. November 11, 2022. (on Veterans Day)
Forty years ago I did one stint in the United States Navy and got out. Nothing dramatic happened. I was just a tiny cog in a very big wheel. Yesterday, I stopped and had a chat with a young Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sergeant, E-9, standing downtown outside the recruiting office. I worked for one of these for two years when I was a U.S. Navy Petty Officer, E-6. Me being navy, and the Master Gunnery Seargent USMC, I was worked much harder than if I worked for a similarly ranked supervisor in the navy. I know because everyone around me at the time thought it was hilarious how hard I was pushed. So much was expected of me. But he was the first actual soldier I ever got to know, surviving much violence in Vietnam. I learned a great deal. He breathed duty, discipline, and obligation. I remember we were changing commands, moving from one building to the next. I had to make sure all the furniture was transferred. That meant lugging a lot of desks. The last thing to be moved was the flag, from one main office to another. The Master Gunnery Seargent took the flag off its stand, carefully rolled it up, and he held it out to me. I tried to take it, but he wouldn’t release the pole. He stared into my eyes and said, “don’t let it touch the ground.” For about ten seconds we both held it tight. Then he let go. As I talked to that young man downtown, wearing his crisp uniform, I felt 23 again, but only for a little while. Then I thought about how it takes multiple enlistments to get to his level. As I walked away, he sincerely thanked me for my service. I didn’t turn around, I didn’t know what to say: he was the one I should be thanking. I wanted to hand him a flag and tell him this story, but I didn’t. So much sacrifice, from those so young. But I did sleep better last night, knowing that millions of tiny cogs, and thousands of others with more responsibility than that, are standing guard over everything I hold dear, day and night, even though I rarely see them.

#3. September 13, 2022.
Sometimes the universe just throws you a bone. I was in the coffee shop on my third cup of hot medium roast and deep in thought about composition. An ambulance stopped at the red light outside. It said “Trinity” on the side. I learned in art class that the best visual compositions have an odd number of elements. So I thought deeper. I tend to work best with the reductive. When I write fiction, the magic number seems to be three. All my best short stories have three characters. My best essays are three pages. Most of my poems have three stanzas. Then I started thinking even deeper. I have only been madly in love [with real people] three times in my life. I blew up these relationships all three times. I take medication three times a day. I have three degrees: an associates, bachelors, and a masters. The number three can also create. When writing lists, if you have more than three elements you get to pull some new commas from the universe. There also seems to be mainly three parts to a day, we call them morning, noon, and night. With light it’s either pitch dark, visible, or so bright you can’t see anything. You’re either young, middle aged, or old. At my favorite coffee shop are three stools near three big windows. Today there were three bees crawling on the glass. I always sit on the stool on the left. A new person sat next to me at the window. They asked me what I did. I pointed to my notebook and said, “I’m a writer.” Then they asked me what I write. I said, “stories, essays, and poems.” There’s that number three again. So I decided I needed to try something singular, just to see if I could make it work. The stranger asked me, “what’s your new story about?” Not wanting to waste an opportunity, I took a sip of coffee, looked them dead in the eye, and said, “you.” They got up and left. I think I better stick with the trinity from now on. The singular is clearly problematic. 

#2. July 23, 2022.
I write so much that each day my fingers cramp up and my hands start shaking uncontrollably. I soak them in warm water to keep going. I’ve also trashed my eyes. My foggy vision is full of black dots, floaters, and spiders. Was it worth it? I have tons of unread material: stories, poems, plays, and songs. I’ve learned many things writing them down. Serious writers know there are certain cardinal rules that must be obeyed. For example, a sentence should start with the subject early on, and it should build to the right and lead to the object. Another rule, use a strong word early in each sentence and a powerful one at the end. Fluff goes in the middle. That’s why you can have two word sentences. Here’s one: David wept. That’s a sentence. An odd one, with a phantom object. You can fill in your own, but it’s a sentence nonetheless. I also learned to break these rules in search of the memorable, so it all becomes sort of a paradox. Try this one. For whom do I spend so much time painfully writing each day? Now that’s a broken sentence. It started with the object and “I”, the subject, got tossed into the middle. The first and last words are boring. But it sort of works, in a creative kind of way. I used to think what motivated me was a desire to be discovered, seeing my work in a library or bookstore. But I was wrong. I write for two reasons. One, I write because it’s the only vocation in my life I feel capable doing. It’s been an extensive journey of discovery. My life traversed many iterations. Ask me about them sometime. But the second reason dramatically outweighs the first. I write because I give life to characters. There are so many, and they all waited for me for a very long time. I believe every writer reaches a point in their life when they hope they have enough years left to give all those characters existence. Perhaps that’s what ghosts are, characters who never had the chance to make it to the page. My apartment is full of these characters. When I’m speaking on-line I watch them walking behind me on my camera. I see them all, with unblemished eyes, so I know what they look like. They also tell me what they need to say. I’ve been chastised many times for misquoting them. I don’t write characters, I relay them, taking them out of the place where they exist and putting them into our own domain. Everything I do as a writer is for them. Characters are forever, and if I run out of space or time to give them life I’m sure the next relay artist will be more than happy to pull them into our dimension. I certainly can’t take them with me when I go. That just wouldn’t be fair at all.

#1. July 19, 2022
The managing doctor said it has a name: retrograde amnesia. Sounds like a punk band. My challenging past makes me familiar with blackouts, those awkward mornings that follow a fuzzy night of forgetfulness. But this is different. It’s memory loss that works backwards. Any person I met over the last two and a half years, I have to meet again. Any place I visited in the last two and a half years, I have to see again. I have photographs of lakes, landscapes and cities that should be familiar, but looking at them is like looking at images from someone else’s diary. Any appointments I kept, I’ve forgotten, and it’s difficult going back to all those places that know me, but I don’t know them. I have years of emails I’m afraid to review, because I can’t remember sending them nor receiving a reply. I’m also scared to go back and review my texts. I sat in the park one day last week, with a notebook, and wrote down everything that I last confidently remembered. I searched back to those memories I knew were true. Three years ago, I was in a comfortable place in my life. I remembered faces, with names, that I spent most of my time with. Such wonderful people. I have good taste in friends. We watched movies, rode bikes, had ice cream and went out for coffee. But something must have happened. They’re all gone. None of them stayed in touch during my struggles. I don’t know where they went, or why they went, it’s all a mystery. Did we have a big fight at the end? Did we all mutually agree to part ways? I just don’t know. I only know that there’s a great void in my life, for I miss them all so much. I spend so much effort preventing myself from reaching out, for I know that they all left for a reason, and sometimes the not knowing, as hard as it is, can be easier than living with cold, hard facts. I wonder if I will ever find the strength to delete them from my address book, and contact list, but that would mean the end of all hope of their return. I should call that managing doctor again. Perhaps she can pull two more years into Darkness, and that would be one of the greatest displays of mercy available in the toolbox of modern medicine. They simply didn’t erase enough time.


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