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Gen-X or Ex-Lax?

How is it you wake up one day and you’re 33 years old?

Actually… It’s not like that. It’s more like, you’ve been waking up like this every day of your life, only some days you think about your age and other days (most days) you’re too busy to give a flying fuck. You don’t wake up one day, look in the mirror, and think, “who the hell is this saggy bag of rust standing before me?”

It doesn’t happen that way. Age creeps up on you.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to imply that 33 is an advanced age, but it’s certainly not 22, or even 27.

About a month before I turned four, my mom celebrated her 29th anniversary of being alive. I remember sitting on the carpet next to my mom as she lay on the floor at the foot of the stairs. She was obviously distraught about something.

“What’s wrong?” I asked in a concerned munchkin voice.

“I’m turning 29 years old today,” my mother replied with a sigh. “Next year, I’ll be 30. I’ll be old.”

“Mommy, you’re not old.”

My mother stared at the ceiling, trying to maintain her composure as she pulled me into a tight hug.

To this day, I’m not certain why my mom was so upset about nearing 30. I can only speculate that it had something to do with her own vanity and my father’s wandering eye. It’s funny how such a small, forgettable encounter can shape you. Seeing my mother so terrified of something that was 100% inevitable, molded some of my feelings about age.

Age should be a badge of honor in the animal kingdom. You’ve survived all the millions of possible deaths that could have possibly been inflicted upon you. You didn’t get brain cancer. You weren’t hit by a train. You haven’t been eaten alive by a polar bear.

So many deadly possibilities… and you’ve escaped them all.

The moment you were born, chances are there was someone looking out for you; making sure you had everything you needed to thrive. Then you struck out on your own for the first time when you were 18 or 22, or whatever age you were. And you went through a rough spot. Maybe you went through 14 months of surviving on ramen and cigarettes. All this, and you managed not to kill yourself or anyone else while driving drunk.

Then you hit your mid- to late-twenties and you find yourself a mate and a mortgage. You’re gaining weight and your spouse and your boss are driving you nuts. You hit your early thirties and you wonder what you’re suffering through all this for. Is this nuclear family and this fancy house really worth it? Somehow, you manage to make it through this “mid-life crisis” with your sanity mostly intact  and without putting a bullet in your head.

Then you hit your forties and… Well, to be honest, I don’t know what the fuck happens when you hit your forties, but I do know that all along the way you’re constantly being brainwashed into thinking old age is something to fear.

Old age is not frightening, considering the alternative is death. So wear your badge of honor (or bag of wrinkles) proudly. Next time someone asks for your age, tell them the truth, unflinchingly. Embrace your saggy skin (if you can actually wrap your arms around your fat lump of a body) and slick your scraggly gray hairs into a faux-hawk. You’ve earned it. You didn’t die–again.

Ice Cream Soup

My earliest childhood memory is of being carried in someone’s arms, I think it was my father’s, at my first birthday party. I’m not sure if the party was being held in our own home. The room had that golden haze that all rooms in the seventies seemed to possess. There were so many people all around us, but I had no idea why they were there.

I clearly remember my father standing very near a refrigerator as he held me close. I was squirming in his arms. Something had caught my eye–a shiny magnet on the refrigerator. I had to have it, but it was just out of my reach.

I don’t know if I ever reached the magnet, because that is the extent of the first memory of my life. I can’t help but wonder if it’s a fabrication of my imagination and the surviving photos of my first birthday party. It’s funny how memories can become distorted. It’s easy to imagine how people can be manipulated into believing in things that are not real.

My second earliest memory is of sitting at the dining room table when I was three years old. My mother had just plopped me down on the booster seat and placed a bowl of ice cream and a spoon on the table in front of me. She left the room to do something. Though I was just three, I understood that she would be back.

I picked up the spoon and began swirling the scoop of ice cream around in the bowl, until finally I had a thick amalgamation of neapolitan ice cream soup. I scooped up a spoonful and held it to my mouth.

“No! I don’t want any!” I muttered through clenched lips, pretending my hand was the doctor’s hand and the soup was medicine.

I continued to “force-feed” myself the “medicine” until the bowl was empty. It was for my own good.

For some reason, I have no doubt that this memory is 100% accurate. There’s no golden haze in this memory. The images and the dialogue, even the emotions of being completely content playing by myself, are crystal clear. Is this a product of two more years of cognitive development or the the lack of a photographic record of the event?

The Writing Demon

Writing Demon is a counterpart to the Cookie Monster. I try not to hang out with either one of these characters for too long–bad influences–but I’ve heard that they often get together at the local pub for milk and whiskey (Writing Demon’s beverage of choice).

Most of the time, however, Writing Demon just follows me around everywhere I go. Sometimes it seems as if he lives inside my body, like a parasite, feeding on mostly metaphors and pain.

If I haven’t written anything in a while, Writing Demon will begin to poke me while I lie in bed so I can’t get to sleep. He’ll plant evil daydreams in my head, making me imagine myself signing a publishing contract, quitting my job, and tending to my garden in my spare time. He’ll screw with the synapses in my brain so I get distracted at work and start thinking things like, “This must be the best time to get some editing done.” He’s even tried to get me fired on multiple occasions, just so I’ll have more time to feed and nurture him.

Writing Demon must be fed on a daily basis or he gets irritable and depressed (hence the drinking.) He rejoices when I’m too tired to workout, because he knows I’ll head straight for my laptop. He snaps at my daughter when she interrupts him while he’s feeding.

But once in a while, Writing Demon will do something that makes up for his sly, ornery disposition. Sometimes, he’ll reach his hand out and point with his dark, skinny finger at a juicy metaphor on the page. I’ll tilt my head and stare at the screen in awe for a moment. Did I do that?

Writing Demon will nod his head, reach for the phrase in all its glory, bring it to his lips, and, with a painful longing in his eyes, place it gently in my mouth. Thank you, Writing Demon. That was delicious.

I’ve been thinking lately about writing poetry as a means of mastering the art of alliteration and sentence structure. Then I began to think of how therapeutic and useful poetry can be for a novelist.

Like most writers, I went through a gut-wrenching poetry phase in my teens and early twenties. If I can find some of those poems, I’ll try to post them here soon. The poetry phase began when I was 12 years old. It started innocent enough with poems that incorporated cheesy commercial slogans and parodies of popular rap songs. Then I had my first experience in the world of heartbreak and the poetry took a turn for the sappy. I wrote about unreturned phone calls and my desire to live in a universe impervious to such things as unrequited love.

Then came the rolling twenties, or the suicidal twenties, in my case. I began to write about hollow-eyed sheep and oozing self-inflicted wounds. Not a pretty time in my life, but it was necessary for me to experience it. This dark phase gave me the courage I needed to give up on writing. Yes, you heard me right. I think it takes courage to give up on a dream; maybe not as much as it takes to continue pursuing that dream in the face of adversity, but it takes courage nonetheless to admit that you are nowhere near ready to pursue something you want so badly.

Those few years away from poetry (and writing, in general) were absolutely essential for me to find out what kind of writer I wanted to be. Not writing left me with unlimited time to dedicate to reading. As I luxuriated in the unencumbered extravagance of reading for pure pleasure, I felt myself being drawn back to the page, little by little, until finally I could no longer deny the impulse to write.

I realized when I came back to the blank page, the words flowed freely and without the agony that had embodied so much of my poetry. But I also noticed that the sentences had a poetic quality. Every syllable had a purpose. Every word had movement. Every sentence had structure. This is what all those years of poetry had helped me achieve.

Next time you feel yourself stuck on a certain passage or sentence or word, and you feel like you’ve rewritten it so many times that you’d rather bang your head against a brick wall than fuss over it any longer, WALK AWAY.

Or, pick up your pen or pencil and write a poem.

If only….

So, we all like to post our favorite quotes on Twitter and Facebook and our refrigerators and our bumpers, and this got me thinking about one of my favorite quotes.

“In the pursuit of happiness, the difficulty lies in knowing when you have caught up.”
– R.H. Grenville

This is something I know I always struggle with. When is what you have, what you’ve accomplished, what you’ve experienced…. enough? When is your life good enough to make you happy?

I struggle with this idea often. Constantly.

“If only I could lose those last 15 lbs….”

“If only I had a more fuel-efficient vehicle….”

“If only I had perfect skin….”

“If only I had new flooring….”

“If only I had my degree…..”

“If only I had a publishing contract….”

“If only……”…. I could just be happy with what I have.

Anyone else have any “if onlys”?

Powering down

I will be on hiatus from the blog as I work on getting my website up. If anyone wants to help a struggling writer build a website (hopefully like this one), please contact me.

Welti out.

Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules of Writing:

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that they will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character they can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things – reveal character or advance the plot.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them – in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing:

  1. Never open a book with the weather.
  2. Avoid prologs.
  3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialog.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
  6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the parts the readers tend to skip.