Day Twenty-three

The Miracle that was Saul Kagan

VIEWTY2

You’d want to see what it was like in that room. All the leaders of every major Jewish organization from around the world, everyone with their own agenda, coats and hats off separating the religious from the secular, a few forearms with prison camp tattoos, each face holding various tells of politicking to come. Saul Kagan knew them all and disarmed them at will. He no longer held voting power—in fact, he and his secretary, Fran, who nobody will mention, were relegated to the back of the main office already—but that room was his domain. He was the only one amongst us who had been in Luxembourg when Konrad Adenauer signed the agreements. Mr. Kagan had been one of the architects of this strategy to obtain “justice not charity,” and fifty years earlier he watched the signatures go on paper. At every turn of Adenauer’s pen he repressed the faces that came to him—his mother and siblings who were killed by the Nazis, his destroyed community, all the suffering of Europe. He saw the ink take to the page as plain as desert sun: it was a big compromise for a little justice.

In 2003 I was on the Luxembourg trip acting as the special assistant to the heads of the Claims Conference, the New York City-based umbrella organization that evolved from that famous meeting that legally established the Jewish claim to material compensation from the German government. I had already witnessed the harrowing business of distributing funds and I anticipated the hostile relationships that would play out in that room, but we were there to commemorate a crucial moment in history and most of the weekend was devoted to ceremony. It didn’t mean there weren’t informal meetings held throughout Luxembourg City that week. From sizing up the bicker in our hotel lobby I imagined the names of powerful men paraded and trampled in conversation in all its districts. The hundred or so of us crossing paths like characters in a “Shakespaherian rag”: Mr. Kagan’s holdouts and some of the others still committed to work done on actual paper, my bosses arguing their methods of administering programs more expeditiously to ageing stakeholders, the old guard complaining about the costs, the new guard interested in paying for what they got. They all relied on Mr. Kagan as an adviser.

Back in Manhattan, Mr. Kagan still came to the office every day, and every day he met important men and women whose actions had an enormous impact on thousands of lives, and at the end of the day most days he took his briefcase, walked east to the subway, and rode the Lexington line back to the heart of the Bronx where he had lived out his adult life and never left, even when he was one of the few remaining European faces. He had an accent you couldn’t figure, and you didn’t mind where it was from, it was just surprising that he wasn’t born in the States. Everything he said was eloquent. He cared deeply to communicate meaningfully with people. He told me that he taught himself German so he could negotiate with the Germans. You can research what he accomplished in his lifetime and try to believe it. He was somebody who would blend in the crowd but also be thinking in ways nobody else could. He was an engaging man. He used to call me into his office to help him with research and I found myself wanting to ask him my own questions. I often took his responses and then engaged him further with a lump in my throat. He told stories that made him incredibly real. He put history into context with passion and plot so that you were made aware your love for him came from the irrational sense that one day he would no longer exist.

At that point in my life I wasn’t disciplined with my notebooks so I never wrote down what Mr. Kagan said. In fact, it hadn’t been so much the content that gripped me as the character. I had grown up around survivors in Los Angeles and within my family, and I knew few Jews unaffected by the Holocaust. There was not much I didn’t get; it was harsh, it was cruel, it left brutal marks on the way everybody felt and treated one another. To a first generation American boy growing up in a bedroom community, though, the weight of someone’s grandmother’s journey was too tremendous to bear. I wanted something that was festive. I wanted to make fun of accents. To eat fruit and be told old tales that I should not to eat too much or too close to the white of the rinds or I’d get sick. I wanted to look on the sunny side of life. It’s impossible to understand fully the experience of another person, unless their version relies completely on logic. That’s what I took from the stories my mom and dad told me and from the faces I saw in Israel when I went for the first time in 1980. I admitted to myself then that I had a different way of thinking. Why my petit mind knew that, I imagine, has something to do with survival itself. Protection. I felt something very deeply at the simple sight of the faces, but there was nothing to do at all about them.

Saul Kagan did the work. I just came I after and managed some of the logic. The story was buried along with the bodies. Very often it was so far behind the scene, or so produced, that even putting a face to it in a photo was difficult. History can only speak in reverse, engineering a version of what it was. I wanted to live in what was right then. Not to hear about how these people would soon depart from the world and leave us to carry the culture. You often love someone much more dearly when they leave you, but I couldn’t do that. Nor could I love them when they were right there, either. The powerful feelings had no outlet. Empathy was useless.

Mr. Kagan was vibrant. He had conceded to the new administration and they to him, and there are examples to prove it, but he was bigger than that. I’ve tried to understand why I felt such a kinship with him. It takes considering the other relationships I’ve had like that. There are times when I looked up to older men because I liked how I felt around them. They were grown and yet they hadn’t given up on the life inside of them. Whether it was their vision to help as many people as they could, or opening the window in their office to have a celebratory cigarette, or being such an institutional memory that the wrecking ball of progress couldn’t crush them, my reaction to these men always had something to do with my own desire to want to know what it was like to be a man.

I never asked my dad why I felt so much for him I could never express. He would have answered with logic. I might have asked him how to take real action when you love somebody. The war within myself was between revealing and restraint. I knew how to parrot what I had seen. I didn’t know how to translate my feelings into action. There was all the unessential verbiage that occupied my moving lips and nothing to show for it.

The toughest thing in the world is not to be able to love who you love. So how do you show someone you love them? Someone who is also caught up in their own battles, who you see as having a life inside them? Maybe they don’t mind when they are flat-lined by external factors, when things don’t come out right; maybe they have controlled all of the other elements in their lives to discount their failures. Some must have the courage to never look back. We become our own meaning maker, take our own chances at building our own loves, improve on the mistakes that came before us, repent for some, rejoice in the progress others made, and afterwards what we have left is what we build with our imagination.

IMG_4647

Recently I wrote the Claims Conference to ask if they had the photograph from the fiftieth anniversary in Luxembourg. I still know the people there and it seemed promising. While I waited to hear back from my contact, I thought about the job I had there once. It was a job that I liked very much, with people who I really enjoyed. I was hired for a specific function and I was given a good office on the eighth floor looking out past Madison Square Park to lower Manhattan. But once much of the work was done there wasn’t enough for me to do or invent. One day it was so slow I wrote a short story. A little while after I left and moved to San Francisco to write.

When the email came back quickly saying that the Communications Director could not find the photo, it was clear to me that she didn’t look for it. I remember her and she remembers me, and that’s all there is to that. I wish I had it, though. You would see mostly older men in it, four rows of fifteen people or so, a few in their late thirties, and me. I was trying to get the neck badge off of me when the photographer snapped the shot, so I’m the one with my arms up who messes up the photo for everyone. If memory serves, Mr. Kagan is standing not too far from me. Or I am not too far from him.

The great Saul Kagan died last week. His work lives on in our love. When I finish crafting Inspiration Drive, he and many more of our dear hearts will be included in the story of that love.

If you’re one of the 250 backers of this project, thank you for continuing to show me your support in many important ways, large and small, quiet and vociferous, and for having faith in my vision. At the time of writing this there was nearly $3,300 left to fully fund this Kickstarter campaign: http://kck.st/1gntNMQ. That means 100 more books and we’re there. When you get the book, you become its audience and the project grows out of you, too.

Advertisements

Day Fourteen

Five Ways to Finish Your Writing

It begins as an idea or a hotbed of ideas. A hotbed is hot because it never goes cold. Your ideas are on your mind day and night, minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour to the point where you can’t take it anymore. You have to put them down on paper. The writing you want to do is complicated. It’s not a conversation between you and the page. It’s a conversation between you and a third party, the reader. So you’ve got to consider that you first have to translate your ideas into words and make it so that the reader translates those words back into ideas and images that concretely capture the universe you are trying to share. This is going to take more work that you can imagine. When finally you have all your raw material, you’ll need to revise. Over and over again, you’ll need to revise. Revision is the writing.

IMG_4494 NB page 2 revised

You’ll have to be able to finish a draft first. With everything happening at the same time you are no doubt full of excuses as to why you can’t finish. All of us, even the most prolific authors amongst us, have those excuses, but the worst is losing the idea itself in the process of being busy with the rest of life. Once you lose the idea, you lose momentum, and the work has to be saved or cut and pasted, and that won’t do. Here are my five ways of getting my projects done.

1. Write in public

Everybody has their own writing process; this is about generating the next sequence in your work, continuing to the finish. The idea and the words could come to you at any time so you have to be prepared. The strongest memory is worse than the weakest ink. I started grabbing for my pen when I wanted to remember was happening around me or the exact words that were being said. It was a long time before I realized that my notebooks were full of code I often couldn’t re-engineer. The thing that pushed me to write out the full idea—all the way to the clear feeling beyond the logic—was being in public. Take your notebooks out and do this: force yourself not to think about how other people are viewing you. Between the distractions around you and your own effort to center yourself around the material, the stuff you want to write will hit the page unconsciously, directly, and with surprising clarity.

2. Apply timed conditions

Sure a work of art needs to be crafted with great care and without the imposition of time limits. It must become inevitable. But you aren’t doing that. You are overthinking. I am not telling you to speed it up, I am suggesting that you use time as an instrument of pressure on your writing process. Time often provides the ultimate stakes in a story. The bomb that’s going to go off, the winning lottery ticket that can’t be found, the money needed to pay a ransom. These are all plot details that play with time. Why not relate the fact that you can’t finish your work to the idea that you have too much time to finish it? I use the clock to generate content and to innovate form. My experiments have clearly defined time limits and conditions. That way I can focus on my task to produce material, not yield the best results. It’s okay to fail. You should plan on it. Setting a time limit makes me less worried about failing and more interested in completing my session. It helps me sharpen my voice and my powers of observation. For a sustained period of time you can do anything and then you can be prepared to work with the results as a part of a process and not the final outcome.

3. Be spontaneous

Overly-formal and predictable material is straightjacketing your designs. Whether you want to write the next bestseller or a work that is more clever than your latest read, your writing doesn’t come to life when you force it to live up to your expectations. It has to come out of life and life is inconsistent. Get this through to your mind as you write: inconsistency enables you to finish the story you are writing. When you allow for spontaneity in the writing you follow the line and not the intelligence that you want to bring to the work. You have to allow yourself to lose your way so that you can find what that way is. In the end you’ll see that the difference between writing as a craft and writing as a mindless expression is that when you craft a work maybe you don’t know where you are going, but you don’t confuse yourself by abandoning the formal elements of the work (like voice, perspective, and narrative distance), you keep them under control and make the substance of the work surprise you. If every time you read your own work there’s a fresh excitement to it, you will keep yourself and your reader invested to the end.

4. Ignore the critics

Your material cannot be judged by publisher or critic alone. We are in a new era of natural selection. More and more ideas are being advanced by people developing their own tastes. The market is epidemically cluttered and real competition is coming from the clutter. Those people who judge you are those who have earned the right to invest in ideas by using their earnings. Don’t focus on zigging when everybody else zags. You can exaggerate your differences to gain attention or you can see for yourself that if your work manages to be intuitively good and different it’s not because of your desire to be a tastemaker, it’s because you stuck with what you had for the first draft, finished it, and revised. New emerging programs are already reversing the social norm of the individual not having to form her own opinions. By the time people begin to understand the merits of your work, you’ll have a reliable process that comes naturally.

5. Develop a larger body of work

When I’m writing something, I like to put it into perspective with a more ambitious project so that I won’t try to make whatever it is an impossible task to finish. You will never get everything you want to say into one work. It’s ridiculous to think that possible. You have to finish writing what it is you are working on so that you can make progress as a creator. If you think of those pieces as part of a larger body of work then they will seem sufficient on their own, and you can focus on getting them done.

There are 15 more days in my Kickstarter. If fully funded an innovative creative residency subscribing to these ideas will become a reality. To become part of my work at this early stage, both as potential architects of the program and as future residents, please visit http://kck.st/1gntNMQ and consider backing me. And if you are inspired by this article or my project, help me spread the news by re-posting, tweeting, and blogging.

Day Three

Let there be the second installment of “Jebediah Banks’ House” from Households. And if you haven’t read the first part, click here. This is all fiction, people. Nobody approaches the truth through the front door.

Continued from “Jebediah Banks’ House”
A short story

     Most people thought she was dumb, but she used to be a classroom aid when she finished school. She was excellent at maths and sciences and only mediocre at everything else, which was opposite of Jeb. Well, she had to admit, Jeb was good at anything he wanted to be good at. He was especially good at eating, which reminded her that she had to order the pizzas.
     She always wanted to be a nurse, not a single mother, so she treated Jeb like her patient. He was a good patient. Sometimes he told her that he loved her and sometimes he screamed at her and wished she was like everyone else’s mom. But she knew that was typical. Her psychologist told her so.
     Naturally the boys got to playing a game of whiffle ball in the street before it got too hot. Jeb had his black jeans on held up by a leather square-buckled belt and the Quicksilver T-shirt that one of the kids got him for his birthday last year. Mrs. Banks saw her emptied home as an opportunity to use the restroom. She slid open the opaque window above the tub to spy on the game. Nobody quite saw her. The boys turned on the radio and propped their glasses on the steps to the front door. They unlatched the front gate and divided up into two teams with some efficiency. Patrick always said he was a terrible baseball player so he got picked last and was on Jeb’s team. They put the batter’s box three houses down and were careful to determine the bases by marks in the road.
     Patrick looked at the smooth palms of his hands once more knowing that it was only a matter of time before they would be skinned and burning. The wind picked up a bit, sending pollen and helicopter-like seed pods floating past them in the blue sky. There weren’t any trees along the street and it was possible to see the tips of the San Mountains still covered in snow. Hwang excitedly suggested they catch lizards in the wash or go to Tropical Snow instead of playing ball because he had bad allergies. He was also fat and notoriously lazy. And the answer was no. Patrick felt the sun on his neck and supposed it was nice by the beach where his parents were spending the day. People liked to leave to go somewhere but there was nothing that he would rather do than play games.

228522_10151094514518648_206600086_n

     They started up and the other team got out on three pop-ups, one of which was saved from falling on Mrs. Price’s front lawn by Jeb’s reaching grab over her gate, which was right to the sidewalk. He took his applause as a plane droned overhead. Then the teams switched and Patrick was first at bat. The kids laughed when he missed but his swing was enormous and they knew it. The first time he caught up to a lobbed pitch, he ripped the ball left over the homerun line and into the Price’s backyard.
     “Home run!” Jeb started yelling. “Home run!” The other team got mad and started jumping at his throat. Mrs. Banks let out a laugh that drew their attention but she couldn’t be seen crouching in the tub.
     “It was too a home run, dude. Anything past the outfield line is a home run.”
     “I thought you said that line was the sewer cap,” freckle-faced Moonie, the pitcher, argued with Jeb, holding his hand up to block the sun from his eyes. He was small and feverish.
     “Naw,” Jeb said, “not the cap, the line. Can’t you see the civil engineer’s orange spray paint?”
     “The what?”
     “What are those for?” Patrick interjected.
     “They’re plans for when they build a new road,” Hwang answered.
     “Who cares? It was foul before it went over either line,” Moonie announced.
     “I think he’s right, Jeb. It looked foul to me,” Patrick admitted.
     “Why don’t you shut the fuck up? That was a home run. And even if it wasn’t what are we going to do about getting that ball? Does this mean game over?”
Hwang came over from first base and the other four kids got tired standing around waiting. They all huddled around making faces. Safety Dance came over the radio and a few of them drifted into doot-doot-DO-do-doot-doot-doot-dooting in unison, moving like robots to the beat. Then everyone chimed in to frustrate Jeb. He went to wrestle the bat out of Patrick’s hands and Patrick threw the bat to the tall and lanky kid who quickly went out looking to pass and they played keep away like that while making or faking the words to the song. Jeb didn’t know and didn’t care about the words. He got the hose and held it up.
     “Alright. It wasn’t a home run, but someone better get that fucking ball.”
     “Don’t you have another ball?” Hwang asked. “Those balls come in three-packs.”
     “That’s not the point, dude, and no I don’t.”
     “What about in your backyard,” Lips smirked.
     “Maybe your mom has some balls in her room,” Moonie blurted.
Jeb pulled the trigger of the hose gun all the way down and Moonie ran. Jeb started to chase him but tripped over his wet pant legs, landing on the gravelly road with a bone-cracking thud.
     “Are you okay?” Hwang asked.
He launched up and started the hose at him.
     “Okay, okay! I’ll get the fucking ball!” Patrick yelled.
All the boys turned and said, “Oooooo, you cursed! You don’t curse, Patrick.”
     “Shut up! I’ll get the ball.”
     The plan was to try the front door first and if nobody answered go out back.
Never mind that Mr. Meeks joked that his son had two left feet; Patrick was built to climb walls. He was decently tall and he had faith in his leaping ability. The only thing that might have set him back was the fact that he was partially blind in his left eye. He skateboarded and BMXed and played sports just like he could see, so people just thought that he was squinting from the sun. But doing something for the first time took him a little longer and he’d never been over that wall in Jeb’s backyard before.
     Mrs. Banks lost sight of Patrick ringing Candy Price’s doorbell.
     He was nervous so he approached his mission cautiously, held his head low, pushed the hair from his face, straightened his shirt. He was going to ask if they could get his ball. That shouldn’t have been difficult. He unlatched the gate and walked on the cracked concrete path up to the front of the house. A black iron screen was locked in place two inches in front of the solid hardwood door. He could make out the faint smell of ivy and the dust that mixes with desert heat. Somehow the ripe green lawn and the shade from the awning made things seem a lot cooler. Patrick had goose bumps.
     Nobody answered. On the second and third ring he thought he heard voices, but when he turned back to the group it was just them whispering. Patrick tried to see into the windows behind the hedges on either side of the door. The curtains were drawn. The chain-link gates alongside the house were locked.  He went back down the concrete path and said he thought no one was home. Jeb helped him get through the gate to his backyard. It looked like it hadn’t been swept for a year. The houses were about ten feet apart in the back and it was obvious that the concrete walls were there to outline the properties. Patrick thought about the boys waiting in the street and wondered if this house was the only one without anything green in the yard.
     Mrs. Banks came out just as he was thrusting himself up.

Copyright ©2010 Teg Down Publishing

Day Two

IMG_0987

5 p.m., the first backer transaction of the day. My eyes welling red, passing out in my chair, I am jolted. This is the casino culture that I come from. The thrill in the hit, the loose slot ringing, the royal flush. Much of the support that I’m getting is coming from the across the Atlantic where I learned the mentality that sometimes we gain more from a moment of glory than a lifetime of small victories. In the USA we love indulging in our own legendry. The story leads the way. The reputation precedes the person. Moments of glory initiate a certain myth-building sequence, which is all we really need to see ourselves the way we want to see ourselves. We are all works in progress. Either we accept what we have become or assume the role of becoming. At this point, for me the myth is gone and the small victories are actually the moments of glory, but the thrills remain thrills.

I’m thrilled that people are coming to contribute to my Kickstarter and I hope that they come with a sense that Inspiration Drive is going to grab, gut, tickle, and embarrass them. And if it’s not that then what is it?

Is it the race to the finish?

Listen to the radiolab podcast, “On the Winning Side.” It’s about rooting for the underdogs and top dogs.

I can probably relate to the underdog as much as I can the top dog, but it’s something else that drives these thrills for me, some other paradigm. Allow me to make some other association with competition that toys with casino culture—gambling on real skill. How much fun is it to exalt when a pitcher goes nine innings with a no-hitter? How thrilling is it to watch an amateur singing competition in which the talent you spotted goes all the way? These are unlikely events that confirm to us that the biggest desire we have is for the chance to lose ourselves in the joy of the feat. We want to be there when it happens. We want to be a part of it. That’s entertainment.

For most of us our thrills are different than what appears in the spotlights. We work on a daily basis to get somewhere, to feel the pleasure of being part of something that has nothing to do with the spectacle where all that appears looks better because whatever looks better will appear. We live for the difference.

There’s a hatchback full of cliché going on around in my head and the hour is slowly encroaching on evening in Paris. I’m watching numbers with a sick obsession, trying to having an impact on the outcome. There’s a high that comes from thinking people buy the book because they know it’s going to make a difference in their lives. Inspiration Drive is not like anything that’s ever been written about a father and son relationship or coping with death. You won’t need Oprah to tell you to read it, either. It’ll be your find and it will find you. And there will be passages, like this one from December 2011, just after my dad told me he had six months to live:

“Up until now everything has been alright. Everyone in good health, the heart beating strong, the lungs pumping air, the electric storms conducting their way in the brain. Now we’re at a standstill: the four-way crossing whose lights have just gone out. There’s a bit of a sway in the hanging lamps, the wires, the wet wires. Across the street a big white truck doesn’t see well; the red car neither. All three of us know we’ve got to make a move and if we don’t stop and think we’ll get into an accident. We’re looking out into the desert night sending signals in our thoughts to the other cars. One out of three imagines the people in those cars, the way they rest their elbow on the door, their hands on the steering column, their slumped position. Genetics and gravity running its course, cells dividing, time moving forward—the only way it moves. The red car sounds his horn and mutters to himself calling other people names, easily becoming frustrated. A passenger shaking a rolled newspaper, putting all of her excess energy and deadbolt thought into the curve of the paper, looks through the tube along the floor to the thin torn carpet mats. Her thighs are big, getting bigger, her feet are tiny, hands clean. She wants to be thin because maybe that will get him to love her better. I’m 43 years old and having trouble finding a job and a place to stay for the night, goes the story of the blind boxer on the side of the road. Not this road. The one she takes to work where she opens her change purse every day. One focus is not another’s, one lens shifts as the subject changes. The last of the three cars punches the gas pedal thinking aggressive/aggressive when he should rather be aggressive/cautious, but who knows his place on earth, his time here, the fight he has to fight each and every day as the road grows darker and the weather more grim? None of them saw the fourth car who mistook the color orange for green. But the horn caused the gas pedal to ease up and the white truck felt the life blood flow in his own body.

We heard about the kids taking on characters, given names, acting the roles. Maybe cells do that, too.”

Inspiration Drive is written in the midst of life in a world of real skill, where when one thing happens, everything else is still happening. Buy it here today.

Day One

You Should Know This

I started a Kickstarter campaign less than 24 hours ago to give a house to directed idealism. If I succeed to get the backing then you will slowly begin to see and hear what ideas can really do. Not only the shaped and guided ones, the rawest of them all.

IMG_4494 NB page 2 revised

This story begins back in May 2001.  I made one of the most difficult decisions anybody ever has to make. I broke my own heart because I couldn’t finish what I started. For the next eight months I traveled around the world and searched for the words to talk about what I did. I learned to say that I discovered I wasn’t the person who I thought I was. I had lost my sense of youthful idealism. To make meaning of things, I borrowed an image from Joseph Conrad’s novel, Lord Jim: Jim dreamed of being a brave sailor, but when the ship was sinking he abandoned it. I drew one conclusion in that: we never really know who we are going to be until confronted with a given situation.

And it’s true—reality is a bit of a mediated concept. All the messages in our society are reinforced to the point where who we are and who we want to be gets played out in our heads before becoming concrete. I went traveling to experience my baselines, to conduct myself through unsure and undecided moments, so that I had a set of behavioral data upon which to measure my true self against the self that I wanted to be.

One thing resulted from my travels was that I confirmed that I shy away from confronting myself publicly because I am afraid of my contradictions. While I was gone I found a way to maintain my identity, and when I came back I proved to myself that it wouldn’t do to be so rigid.

November 3, 2003, I left New York City and the adult life I’d made for myself there. I wrote down the costs and benefits of my decision to move. I still have the list. The way I weighed it was just, but I favored this notion of measurable data and the data set was skewed by my intense desire to be something more than I was. It wasn’t that I didn’t get anything out of my career or my relationships—I was living my dream alright; there was just the constant fear that I was wasting time, that I could be doing more to maximize the little bit of potential which made me different from the rest of the happily employed. That bit of indefinable something that often resists naming. I didn’t want to sacrifice it to a job that would make a good living. The living was something I would do. I could live with the unease of work that didn’t require any of my qualifications. It was the boundary between needing the esteem of others and self-esteem that drove the hardest wedge in my daily life. But it’s always something—job, relationship, status, friends, house, children, schools—and there are too many ways to worry.

You have to have eyes in the back of your head in this life. Or you just need to slow down enough to understand what it is that you are supposed to do with your days. I believed that I would write. On the morning of November 4, 2003, I woke up in San Francisco in my sister’s apartment and the first thing I did was pick up a book. There was something in my still-broken heart that I wanted to write about, but I didn’t decide how I would go about it. It’s hard to explain, but you know it’s worth waiting to figure out. So then you tell people that you are writing and they ask what you are writing. “Write what?” they say, skeptical. And often, even if you have any answer, you want to tell them things in generic terms. It takes all your energy to describe your dreams.

Some people do have answers. They say exactly what they are writing the way that the average person can get a sense of the story. Do we really want simple ways of understanding the subject and the trajectory of a narrative, or don’t we just want to be engaged in whatever we are being told? Think about it. We are creatures of passion. Every form of communication is grabbing our attention. We need to be bitten, stroked, moved. The quiet things work on us because we are more complex than we can understand. So why do we want things to be simple? Why do you ask me what I write about if you also appreciate that I am dedicated to using the energy to figure that out? You see a break in my sentence and seek to undermine my strength. I want to stop my performance and tell you that there are more than two of me inside of me. And the two of me aren’t going to the same place. Or at least we aren’t looking in the same direction.

IMG_4101

I remember when I got on the plane to San Francisco and the feeling that I was leaving. You abandon some of your selves along the way to gain other selves. It takes strength and courage. It only stings until you get used to it. I was doing a lot of leaving. Leaving was like breaking the rules and getting away with it. It was my way. You keep on going as long as you want to go. How long you went depended on if you knew where you were going.

I wanted to give myself a chance to write full-time, and by that I meant, write without having to expend the creative and mental energy on work tasks that would take me away from the sustained focus. I figured the work that needed to be written would emerge as an outcome of life and living. Some of it would penetrate the seams of what I wanted to write and what I knew. And it could turn out fine, even if I borrowed it, but I needed time to learn not to stitch and glue. I needed to give way to the flow, to follow it, and to let it take over until it was time to do the real work required from writing. It’s not about putting more books out there. It’s about translating the impossibly communicated dualities and multiplicities of personality and heart. We could write a straightforward invention with bullets and vixens, but where would we be in the middle of that? How could we still maintain our park bench view into a life that existed on the margins? Would we sacrifice all that just to be engaging?

I gave myself a decade to write whatever it was that I needed to write, but it didn’t turn out to be anything I needed to write. It was a way of reaching the highest heights—a variation on the life of public service that interested me. Words are the common denominator between you and me now. Most of the time they are combined with images to suggest something to you. If you consider that the way we talk about a thing shapes the way we think about it, then you can begin to get on board with me. My deal was that I wanted to be reasonable and not delude myself about the prospects of making it as a writer. I would contradict myself if I really had to list all the reasons why I think that I’m right there. It’s hard to resist saying everything at once.

There are those who like to refine processes, and those who like the refined process. The difference is as subtle as seeking perfection and perfection itself. Sometimes you have to let go of a word to gain a universe. This universe, our words, the powers within us that some may see honed in their lifetimes, this isn’t the job of institutions or families or neighborhoods, it’s the job of the choices we make when we trust ourselves. It about getting out what we put in.

Yesterday marked the beginning of a new decade for me. I’m starting it with an emphasis on lasting work. I’m focused on outdoing mediated tastes and giving up on the kind of perfectionism that straightjackets innovation. I’m coming out to readers to produce visionary work. It’s been said before, in other words, if you put your heart into something that breaks you then it is the broken parts that become sources of strength and conviction. That’s right there in my idealism. It will also be in my book about the final year of life with my dad. Inspiration Drive is going to be crafted with the intuition and skill that I have learned to trust over these years. I can tell you that it will be surprising because I don’t know what it will ultimately look like. And that’s its greatest strength.