Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Blank Page

Every new day is a chance to start over. Even more so for the first day of the year. This year I took my brand new shiny Border's gift card out and bought--guess what?--brand new notebooks! Ah, your heart is beating faster, I can hear it. Thrilling, yes?

Okay, so it's not a stack off the "New Releases" shelf. It's just a notebook or three with empty, blank pages staring at you, demanding ink. But that's what the new year is supposed to represent, isn't it? A new beginning. A chance to finally get it right. Naturally, we'll screw up 2010 just as badly as 2009, but we've got at least one day to dream! That's why we get a vacation day on January 1st. That way, we can say we've gotten through the first day of the year without completely hacking up our lives. No work, no mistakes. You can't mess up your teenagers, because they'll sleep all day. Wives will be taking down the Christmas tree and husbands will be outside ripping down the lights (we don't care if they break, we've got a whole 11 months before they have to go back up).

So here's what you do: go to your nearest Borders, Office Max, or any other notebook seller, and shop. Yes, shop. Do you know how many notebooks there are? You can go with the basic legal pad or lined notebook, or you can go all the way and get Moleskine. I went in between this year and got Piccadilly. One large for home and one medium for the truck. Both have rubber band thingys to hold them closed. You never know when a sudden gust of wind will try to rip them open.

A blank notebook isn't like a blank Word document. Notebooks won't be submitted for publication. You can do anything in there. So no pressure. I started mine with the proclamation that I am, indeed, a writer and set a few goals. Right there on the first page. Now I can't miss it. Do that. Write a letter to yourself on the first page. Be encouraging yet demanding. Set your goals and take no prisoners.

It's a blank page. Just like a new year. You write the story.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What's a Writer?

If I had to choose a word to define myself, other than Christian, husband, and father, it would have to be "writer." The normal people among you would naturally assume I write for a living and, if fact, make a decent income from my chosen craft.

The writers among you know better.

I first decided to write a novel in 1997. I've completed three since. None published. I've had a few magazine articles published, even paid for two of them. But the dream has not yet been fulfilled. I admit, I've allowed myself to become discouraged and even given up for a year or so. During that time I watched several of my friends go on to be published. I'd be lying if I said I weren't a bit jealous. It's all part of the writing life. We simply can't understand why others get published while our own awe inspiring talent goes unnoticed. Never mind the fact that I haven't actually submitted anything in two years. That has nothing to with it, I'm sure.

Here's something I've learned along the way: if I'm feeling sorry for myself, my writing buddies are not going stop and wait for me to pull myself together. Writers aren't coaches. They're herd animals. Keep up and you'll get all the encouragement you need. Fall by the wayside and you're dinner for the lions. Only a fool would stop and wait for you, lest the lions get a double portion.

I hate New Year's resolutions. But I will resolve to re-acquire the tenacity I once held. The drive that made each minor victory a reason to celebrate, because the journey itself made the destination all the more desirable.

Tomorrow is my 43rd birthday. I'm in good health (lost 30lbs. in '09), still a pretty darn good writer, and I have the full support of my family. I'll write another novel, better than the last, and see where it goes. If it goes nowhere, I'll try again. After all, writing makes me a writer. Getting published or not doesn't change that.

The lions will have to sleep tonight.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Not Another Christmas Blog

When you choose the blogging lifestyle, there is immense pressure to post something poetic and heart-felt during the week leading up to Christmas. While I'm quite capable of that task, I get the feeling that there are approximately 17 million bloggists doing the same thing. why fight it?

While lying on the couch last night, watching the George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol (which so blows Disney's away), I was thinkin' deep thoughts. I quickly got rid of those before I required an Advil. What popped in next was what I entitled my "Life Christmas Card." It was a culmination of memories that paint my Christmas portrait. I'm ashamed to say that it had little to do with Christ. I'd say it's more of a 1970's version of an American feeding frenzy.

But here's my list of top ten childhood Christmas memories. You can play the home version if you like.

10. Running over Jennifer on the most awesome Flexible Flyer ride of my life.
9. The smell of laundry detergent and rubber boots when I walked into my grandmother's side door.
8. The color coded branches (purple went on the bottom) of our fake Christmas tree.
7. The cardboard fireplace that went with us from Hawaii to Washington.
6. Making popcorn balls with dad and using butter to reduce the pain of the second degree burns.
5. Our Firestone Christmas albums, which I played from October to Christmas (and not a minute afterward).
4. Shopping at the Oceana Navy Exchange with a total stranger on "Dependant's Night."
3. Lying on a couch in the Goodboe's Oceanside Navy Housing dwelling, listening to Sleigh Ride on the radio while mom and the Goodboe's were out shopping (Dad was underway on the Kitty Hawk).
2. Watching Fiddler on the Roof--all of it--with my wife when we actaully had time to do that sort of thing in December (okay, not a childhood memory, but it's definately a top 10).

and my number 1 Christmas memory of all time...

Watching A Charlie Brown Christmas, which we can never do again because the DVD doesn't include the Dolly Madison commercials.

There were a few that probably should have made it. Like staying up until 4am with Randy playing Sea Battle on his Intellivision. Going to Showcase Cinemas to see The Black Hole. The first time I tried a piece of divinity, which turned into a lifelong love affair with sugar and corn syrup. The one time I opened and re-wrapped one of my presents and it turned out to be a Coke can with a blue strobe light in it (Mom loved Spencers). Ronco commercials. Shopping at Perry Drugs. Getting a Billy Joel cassette from Uncle Wilbur, who had no idea what to get a 13 year old boy.

By the way mom. Thanks for a great Christmas in San Diego. Dad was out to sea. We had a tiny 3rd floor apartment. The tree was pathetic. The plastic fern was tacky. The greasy hamburgers on University Avenue were awesome. The fake snow at Sea World was just silly. It will always be one of my favorite Christmasses. And not just because it's the year I discovered divinity.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Waiting on God...Patiently

You'd think, after being a follower of Christ for over 10 years, I'd have the system down by now. I mean, really, Jesus made it sound pretty simple. Follow me. I can do that. Where we goin'? When we gonna get there? Are we there yet?

Thus is the problem I face. Somehow I missed the scriptures that talked about the patience that the servants of God had to endure. I mean, really--bondage for 400 years, then you'll get to the Promised Land? "Excuse me," I'd say as I raised my hand from the back row (closest to the bathroom), "but, uh, won't we all be dead before that happens?" I'd surely embarass my tribe as I requested the "Quick Start Guide."

And then there was Moses. Fifteen years into legal retirement age, collecting his sociable security benefits, getting the free coffee refills at the Wal Mart cafeteria, and he's called to lead a million people across the desert. For another 40 years.

I'll be honest. Patience is not my strength. I think of microwave popcorn as "a step in the right direction."

So, whenever an opportunity to serve God has popped up in the last ten years, I've jumped in like a congressman at a spending party. And the results were always about the same. I've stopped lately, and asked myself, "Self, maybe you should pause and seek the will of God before making a total arse of yourself again." I wonder if Moses had the same thought after he offed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand.

I've got a lot of buried Egyptians myself. Sunday school teaching. D. Heading up the Wednesday night children's ministry. F. Adult Bible Study. D+. Stewardship Committee Chair. C-. The list goes on.

Not the proudest ten years of my life. I didn't even do so well in the prayer department. But I suppose I should learn from this. All these failed or mediocre attempts had one thing in common. They were my idea or I jumped on someone else's idea. I'm not sure I prayed once to receive direction from the Lord. And, if He gave me direction, I was probably too busy or distracted to listen. My wife had endured this shortcoming of mine as well.

It's tough for me to grasp that my life is a mere tick of the second hand in God's eternal clock. I may never see the fruit of my labor. I may die in the desert after my nine hundredth meal of manna and qual. Not even microwave popcorn. But, somehow, I have to deal with the fact that my calling may seem unimpressive to me and the rest of the world. I suppose I should be happy that God's still talking to me, regardless of my failings.

I call this time between Thanksgiving and Christmas the "Long Pause." It's a time to reflect, think about the direction of our lives. I often find myself wondering what happened to the dreams I used to have. Did I just give up and settle for what came my way? I think probably I did. I started digging into my writing again this year, and it feels great. But I've also seen those who've passed me by, their success leaving me in a trail of half written novels and dusty keyboards. Where did I go?

Yes, I know. Regrets won't do any good. But, somehow, I get the sense that plowing right in is not the right answer, either. Maybe I get frustrated and quit because I'm following my own direction instead of His. It just so happens that my 43rd birthday falls at the end of this month, another time of reflection. It's a double whammy for me. I think, for my New Year's resolution, I'll promise myself to do nothing. I'll do nothing without first seeking His will and waiting--patiently--for a response. And following His lead, no matter how small a step it may seem to me at the time.

Maybe then I'll finally get a report card I can hang on my Father's fridge.