Archives for 2014

Bloggers Need The Write Stuff

Internet Trolls

The commenterus assholus is also known as a troll.

Bloggers need the write stuff is sort of tongue in cheek for me, a comment about the eternal chase to write a post that goes viral.

It is a dread disease that I have succumbed to more than once for no reason other than blog envy.

You read some post that is being passed around Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus and wonder what the fuss is about because the writing is awful, the post is pandering to a particular group and you can’t figure out why some schmuck gets the attention you deserve.

Sometimes I read those posts and I ask myself, “Self, what would you tell your children if they came to you and said they were jealous of the success someone else had?”

The answer is I would tell them we don’t find happiness by comparing ourselves to others. But in the silence of my mind I am making like Gollum and staring at the accolades saying “my preciousss.”

And if I am not careful I start thinking about how to get that other writer arrested so I can have them shanked in prison. Do you think I took Sons Of Anarchy too seriously?

Maybe I ought to go Heisenberg and start screaming about being the writer who knocks. I suppose I’d Better call Saul and ask.

Where Our Focus Should Be

If you ask me for a serious response I will always tell you to stop writing for SEO and start writing for people. People read blogs. People like stories.

Computers don’t care what you write. They have no feelings. Writing for keyword searches and SEO benefits might position you in a way that provides more organic traffic but it is not the kind of thing that lasts.

There needs to be a balance of some sort. That is why my focus is on trying to entertain, educate and or inform. It is why I keep tweaking my blog in ways to try and provide a reading experience that is easy and pleasant.

It is why I don’t limit myself to writing about one topic. I write about what drives my passion and when I do it well it seeps into the pages and the reader feels my energy.

They feel the effort and they respect that or so I like to believe. Might be wrong. Might be misguided. Might be a lot of things but I am entering into my eleventh year of blogging so maybe there is more going on inside than a Masters in Mishegoss.

If you are among the more active readers you know Success Is More About Effort Than Luck. It is about putting in the time and doing the best you can to learn your craft.

Easy Versus Hard

Easy Versus Hard

Most of the time the biggest challenge I have is to shake loose restraint and just write with reckless abandon.

The funny thing to me is sometimes I find it easier to just write here than when I focus on my fiction.

It is a crazy contradiction because fiction shouldn’t have the same restraint as fact. It should be easy to just write and adjust as needed but my internal editor barks more loudly during fiction than almost any other time.

*****

I have never read any of Gaiman’s work but I plan on rectifying that.

That quote brings a sort of wry grin across my face because I get it. I get it, I get it, I get it.

Sometimes the children complain about how easily I do certain things and I laugh. I always ask them how they know it is easy and if they can tell me how long it took to reach this place where it is easy.

Easy comes after countless hours of work, effort and practice and no, they are not always the same thing.

If you are lucky you find the write stuff and figure out how to put it down on the page in a way that makes people sit up and notice you but it rarely happens solely because of luck.

It is not all based upon talent either.

I can’t say there is a single formula we can use but I can say there is a recipe and like every good recipe for a home cooked meal the ingredients vary and the method is slightly different for each cook.

The reason I keep throwing myself back into the breach each day is because I figure one of those times I’ll find the mix that works for me and catch lightning in a bottle.

But it is more likely to happen because of the time and effort I put in than because I got lucky but between you and me if getting lucky makes it happen sooner I’ll gladly accept luck.

What about you?

Success Is More About Effort Than Luck

Jousting

“It is only a game, you don’t have to hit me so hard.”

I smile and tell him that is why his team is going to lose. He tells me I need to back up the trash talk or it doesn’t count.

Fifteen minutes later my team has won and he is yelling for us to get back on the court because he wants a rematch. The third time I dive on the floor for the ball he goes with me but I outweigh him by at least a 100 pounds so he bounces off me like a pinball.

“Kid, don’t get in the way of a freight train. I won’t ever lose this fight. It is basic physics.”

Two hours later we walk off of the court and he reminds me they won two games.

“We took four. Five years ago we wouldn’t have lost any.”

He shakes his head and tells me it is just a game.

“Don’t you worry about getting hurt?”

I shake my head no.

“I play hard or I don’t play. Don’t have enough talent to half ass it and if I did I would be ashamed of myself for not trying harder.”

*****

The 19 year-old kid I mentioned above is a real person and that was a real exchange between us. The conversation was friendly and though I barely know him my intent was to try and teach him something.

Don’t know if that is obnoxious or pretentious on my part but after setting picks that rattled his teeth and crashing through the screens he set I felt like it was only fair to share a tip he could use for his own success.

Success Is More About Effort Than Luck

Somewhere in the pages here are a comment or two about why sometimes it is better to be lucky than talented. Call that a comment on how sometimes some people have tremendous success not because they are smart or good at what they do but because they won the birth parent lottery.

If mom and dad own an empire and you are born into it well, that is a good thing for you but it doesn’t mean you deserve it or get it because you worked hard. Just means you are lucky.

That is really not a value judgment, it is a comment.

But that doesn’t mean those of us who don’t seem to have the same kind of luck because good things come to those who put the effort into making things happen.

A cynical person might respond to that by pointing out how bad things happen to good people and how working hard doesn’t always translate into the type of good things I am referring to.

I take a middle position here and teach my children to do so as well. We might not be able to guarantee that working hard is going to give us all we hope to achieve but it is more likely to help than hurt us.

It is the type of attitude that lends itself to sleeping well at night because it is much easier to close your eyes at night and feel good about yourself when you know you tried hard than when you didn’t put in the effort.

Sometimes that effort doesn’t yield the results you want it to. I am frustrated with how He Named His Intention Texas came out because it fell short of the mark I set for it.

But I published it because sometimes the way you improve is by looking at what you did so that you can figure out how not to make the same mistakes again.

Sometimes truth is better than fiction.

Sometimes truth is better than fiction.

Sometimes heroes fail to save the day and sometimes murderers save lives. Part of the absurdity of life are the daily contradictions we encounter.

The kids tell me stories about how the kids who are jerks to everyone sometimes break character and do something really nice for someone else.

Can’t tell you how many times I pulled a card from the deck praying I’d get the Ace of Spades and discovered I pulled the Joker. But some of those moments where I wished I could punch that fool in the face led to places I never expected to reach.

I like to believe that effort had something to do with it because in the moments leading up to that one I created a chance to turn possibility into opportunity.

That 19 year-old kid and his team should have beaten us at least fifty percent of the time. They had youth and talent on their side but they lacked effort and I took advantage of youthful naivete the same way the old guys once did to me.

I suppose it is proof that maybe this hard head of mine isn’t so damn thick. Maybe I have learned a thing or two.

When it comes to writing I’d sum it up by saying my favorite thing to do is tell a simple story that has a beginning, a middle and an end. Some people mistake simple for being an insult but it is not.

If the goal is to tell a story that people respond and relate to simple is the way to go. Don’t mistake it for condescending either because that is not it.

Simple is the comfort food of writing. It is what you read when you feel blue or sick and where you go when you just need something to warm your heart.

“This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its done. It’s that easy, and that hard.”― Neil Gaiman

He Named His Intention Texas

Intention and decision work together.

Intention and decision work together.

Texas 1993-1994-1995

The boys and I hit Texas for a wedding.

It is my first visit to the Lone Star State and I fall in love with it but I don’t really recognize it. At the time I figure the four days in Houston were memorable because so many of my friends are there and we are having one hell of a time.

I have no idea that in a few months I’ll go back for a business trip but this time I’ll be in Dallas. It is a good trip that would have been better had my boss not tried to eat every single meal with me.

He is twice my age and the conversations are strained because when we aren’t talking about work we have nothing in common. The Saturday night of the show he tells me to go entertain a prospective client at a bar in the West End.

When I get there I find out it is not a client, it is clients. It is a family business and now I have to make them happy, president, vice-president and general manager.

The president and general manager are substantially older than I am but the VP is my age.

They drink like fish and tell me that a surfer boy can’t possibly keep up with them. I give $20 to the bartender and tell him I am playing a joke on my dad, uncle and cousin.

“Pour real shots for them and water for me.”

Bartender thinks it is funny and does a great job of making sure the guys don’t realize that they have have multiple shots and beer and all I have had is one beer.

Later on they’ll tell me how impressed they are with my drinking skills. I am almost tempted to call my folks and tell them fraternity life has paid off again.

Had that taken place today it probably would have been immortalized on some smartphone but back during the payphone era unless you were a professional or amateur photographer you probably weren’t going to carry a camera with you.

****

It is February of 1995 and I am back in Houston for another wedding. Two weeks ago I was in Jerusalem and I am not happy to be back in the states.

Two weeks ago I sat a pub drinking beer with a group of people from Scotland,  Australia and a couple of South Africans. They made fun of my American accent

It is Friday night here in Texas and the groomsmen are sitting at a table with bridesmaids, most of whom are recent graduates from U.T.

One of them tells me I have a drawl and wants to know what part of Texas I am from. When I tell her I am from LA she says she doesn’t believe me.

Now I am shaking my head. It is the second time in a month where someone claims I have an accent.”

Maybe It Is Time To Leave LA

It has been almost twenty years since my last trip to Texas but I am not going back to Houston. I am going back to Dallas for another business trip.

Same sort of business as before but a slightly different industry. It is a ridiculously easy flight from LAX to DFW and within an hour of landing I am in my rental car heading for my hotel.

The first thing I notice is how it feels like it could be home. Can’t decide if it is because the weather is almost identical to what I left behind or because houses, malls and stores look familiar.

It is not quite exact but close enough.

Two nights and three days go by in a blur but I still have time to kill so I drive around and check out a few open houses. The prices here are so much lower than back home I wonder if maybe we should take a serious look at leaving LA.

****

Eighteen months later I am back in Dallas for business again. Things back in LA have gotten very ugly, won’t be long before the entire country is mired in a big recession.

I have that same feeling of belonging as before. Texas could be home.

It is something I think about the whole flight home.

When I get back to LA we have a conversation about moving but it just doesn’t happen. Won’t be much longer before circumstances change and we have to sell the house.

The last night in it I shake my head and think that I should have sold it years earlier and moved to Dallas.

Two years later I am in Texas again but this time I am living in Fort Worth. It feels surreal to be here. Been to, in and around Dallas but never made it to Fort Worth so it is brand new to me.

Doesn’t take long for me to get settled and I decide Texas could definitely be home. The rest of the family is back in LA with a plan for them to come later.

During each visit back to LA I grab more of my stuff and bring it back with me. Slowly but the most important pieces of my gear end up in Fort Worth. All I need now is to get the kids over and I’ll be set.

But life happens, things shift and I end up moving back to LA. It is not my first choice but it is supposed to be temporary so I shrug my shoulders and go.

He Named His Intention Texas

Been back in LA for a bit more than a year. Everything on the short term list of accomplishments was taken care of but the long terms ones got shifted, mixed up and tossed around.

I was certain I would have moved back to Texas already but it didn’t happen.

For a brief while I sort of shrugged my shoulders and said I would just go with it but then I had this thought that it was time to name my intention.

I name it Texas.

LA hasn’t been very good to me for a while now. It will always be home, but it is time to spend more time planting my Texas roots. That feeling of home has been around for more than 20 years now, about time to really do something about it.

What’s Your Story?

What is your story?

What is your story?

Morning comes far too soon but 1 AM is the first moment I have had to throw some words upon the page so I’ll take the time to share that Count Basie quote again and think aloud with you.

If I trust my gut and listen to the little voice inside my head I can smile because I am on the verge of figuring out my story again. Two steps closer to determining what the next part of life is supposed to look like, where to live and how to live are tied into it and maybe even who to live with.

This is not a mid life crisis or me screaming into the wind because I am scared or angry.

Truth is I am a bit of both but mostly I am excited because I feel like I spent a chunk of time off track and now I am close to fixing that.

If you are among those who believe there are no mistakes or failures and that life is a journey through moments and time than you might see this as part of a journey.

I don’t really regret the time I spent doing these other things because they provided a foundation that wouldn’t otherwise exist and helped me grow in ways I never would have.

Doesn’t mean there aren’t moments of regret or questions I would ask of the world because they are there but I would be more concerned if they weren’t because that would indicate a significant change in person and character.

The Science Project

Part of the reason I am first getting to the computer at such a late hour is I spent a significant chunk of time helping my son, Steiner the minor with a science project.

A project that was not his alone but was also the province of multiple other 8th grade boys none of who had the good sense to start working as early as they should have upon it.

If they had begun a week before instead of a night I probably wouldn’t have spent until midnight trying to help my son figure out why bits and pieces of the project weren’t working as they should.

Nor would I have taken him to Home Depot at 10 PM on a school night but they didn’t begin when they should have and we needed some supplies.

So I marched him through the aisles and told him what I wanted him to look for and as we walked he asked me why I was smiling.

“I like this store. I like tools and I like places that provide me with things I can use to create.”

“Grandpa is a lot like that too.”

“Where do you think I got this from? My dad and I spent hours at the hardware store and worked on all sorts of projects together.”

“Do you think I’ll like tools as much as you guys do?”

“Yeah, it hasn’t completely kicked in yet but it will. You like building Lego sets and working with your hands. It feels good to know you fixed something yourself or created something that didn’t exist before.”

On the ride back home I started thinking about my favorite tools and it got me thinking about the joy of having a favorite hat. Not sure everyone will make or see the connection but there is real value in having something that provides service and utility and a good hat does that.

When I think about what I would do if I won the lottery I think about the hat I would take with me on the trips I would take around the world and the classes I would take to learn how to do more with my hands.

Wood working, metal shop and so much more.

The joy of creation calls to me.

What’s Your Story?

I have more than one answer to that. It varies from time to time and person to person. Really depends on what you are asking me and whether I think you deserve an answer.

Maybe it is about finding the people, places and things that make you feel alive and fill you a sense of purpose that is greater than yourself.

Might be a relationship in which you recognize that you and someone else are magical together or maybe it is just something about your career and what you want to do.

Lots of possibilities.

Told my son that one day my father’s tools will become mine and one day mine will become his. Hopefully it will be a 100 years from now but whenever it does come there will be happiness mixed with whatever sadness might accompany it.

That is because when you hold tools that were used to fix and create something, well that is magical. And every time you use one of those tools to build or repair it will be like the hands of the men who came before you will be a part of that moment too.

And that is part of my story.

Writing, Ranches & Relationships

Ranch Fencing

“I can’t believe you own a ranch and that you never told me about it.”

“It wasn’t something I tried to hide from you. When you went silent on me I figured you needed time to take care of your own stuff and I wasn’t about to just wait around for you.”

She waited for him to hand her a beer before she replied.

“What happened to the guy who told me he would wait for me forever? Guess he didn’t really mean it, did he.”

“There is a distinct difference between living my life and waiting for you.”

“Oh yeah, how are you going to spin that one.”

“There is no spin here at all. After the divorce I took my time to clear my head and get rid of all of the stuff I didn’t want or need. Part of reducing the clutter included figuring out if I could get some of the things I really wanted and not focusing solely on what I need.

I wanted a place to write. I wanted somewhere with a lot of space to roam around that wasn’t in the middle of the city but not so far away I couldn’t grab a good meal that some one else cooked for me and whomever I wanted to spend time with.

Finding the right place was something that filled want and need. I have to have a place for writing and I wanted something that met other needs. This one serves both purposes.”

She took a long sip and continued to walk around the house.

“Are you done with your inspection yet?”

“Who said I am inspecting it.”

“Me. The same guy that you told to go away more than once.”

“You don’t listen very well, do you. If you did you would have answered my question. What happened to the guy who said he wouldn’t wait?”

Dark eyes looked straight into his and he laughed. She was a good 12 feet away but it still felt like she was inches away.

“What is so funny? Don’t laugh at me.”

“I am not laughing at you. I am laughing with you. Trust me, this is a good thing. The guy who said he would wait for you was told by you not to. Took a while for me to take on that part but I did because I didn’t know if you would ever get your act together and decided I needed to take care of some stuff.”

“Yeah, you probably went around banging every chick you could find. Makes me feel so very special.”

“Woman, you jump to conclusions far too quickly. I didn’t go looking for someone to keep my bed warm. I needed time to myself and I didn’t have any interest in worrying about what anyone else wanted or needed.

So I did exactly as I said, I sold or gave away almost everything but books, music and a couple of pieces of furniture. If you haven’t noticed this place is in need of a few items.”

“Yeah, I was wondering if your idea of wide open spaces applied to the indoors as well as outdoors.”

“I sort of figured that one day you’d want to be able to go shopping and decided there wasn’t a reason to waste money on things you might not like.”

“You mean you didn’t furnish this place because you were convinced I would come running back to you and that we would ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after together.”

He laughed.

“I am tempted to say I have pictured you riding, but it is never a horse.”

“Very funny.”

“I didn’t know for certain what would happen. I am not going to lie and say I didn’t think this was possible but if it didn’t happen I would have eventually gotten around to getting stuff.”

She shook her head and asked him again how long he had been living there.

“I have owned it for a good 16 months but until nine months or ago I hadn’t been living in it full time.”

“You have been here for nine months and you own what, a bed, some chairs, a desk and of course a big television. Where do the kids sleep? What do they do with their stuff?”

“I moved in during the school year so they haven’t really had much time to spend here. Mostly I have gone to see them, but there are six bedrooms here so if someone wanted to have lots of family here there is plenty of room for it.”

“Hadn’t gotten around to it, had you. You do a lousy job of pretending you hadn’t thought a lot of this out. You can fool your readers, but you can’t fool me.”

He shook his head again.

“I am not trying to fool anyone. If anyone fits the bill of trying to fool someone it is you and if I was you I wouldn’t buy what you are selling.”

She rolled her eyes at him and shook her head but when he pulled her close she didn’t push him away. And when he broke their embrace she was the one who made a comment about his not being allowed to leave before he kissed her.

They ate dinner on the porch and watched the sun go down. Several drinks later they were still on the porch sitting in silence and enjoying each other’s company.

“It is late. If you want to stay tonight you can have my bedroom.”

“Where are you going and why aren’t you going to be in it?”

“I didn’t want you to think I was being too forward.”

“I kissed you on the lips. Didn’t that tell you something.”

“I didn’t think that meant that anything more would happen.”

She shook her head again.

“For a smart guy you can be really dense. Sometimes you are such a man. Take me to bed.”

chagall, love, a hat and a song

“When did you get that? Please tell me it is new”

He just shook his head and smiled. She punched him in the arm and he pretended to glare at her.

“It is rude to just laugh at me. Stop it.”

“I am not laughing at you. I think it is kind of cute to see you off kilter. The woman who is so organized and on top of her game is like a high school girl. But that is ok, ‘cuz you are my girl.”

He knew she loved hearing that and got the smile he expected, but he made a point not to point it out. Sometimes silence was smarter.

“It is new and I got it with you in mind. Sort of represents how I have to be an acrobat to be with you. See how that poor guy is being put to work by that lady. Might be easier to be gay.”

She hit him again in the arm.

“That is not nice.”

“You don’t like it when I am nice. You like the mean hard ass who doesn’t give a damn about anyone or anything.”

He watched her absorb his words and saw her try to figure out if he was serious or not.

“You’ll make yourself crazy trying to analyze what I said. Why don’t you just ask me if I meant it.”

“Why not just tell me. I hate playing games.”

“You know I do too, but sometimes I like teasing you. Can’t pull your pigtails, but I suppose I could pull your ponytail.”

For a moment they just stared at each other and then he told her she always knew his mind.

“I don’t know how you know these things any more than I know what is going on in your head, but I do…more or less.”

When she didn’t say anything he reached over and took her hand.

“Don’t over think things. I may tease you from time to time but you know damn well we are good for each other. We communicate better than most and it is not a stretch to say we are best friends.

I don’t know how that happened. Don’t know how we managed to get through all of the crap we have been through but we did. And I know that we have always picked up as if we were never apart. We can sit together in silence and be perfectly happy and we never get tired of each other. That is rare.

And after all the craziness that led to this point I am willing to say whatever magic was bestowed upon us isn’t going to run out. Stick us on an island for 50 years and we’ll be content because we have each other.”

She smiled and said thank you and asked him to turn out the light.

“I could do this for the rest of my life.”

“So could I.”

(Editor’s note: A version of this was published here first).