You Don’t Mess Around with Jim

It started when my darling wife wanted to watch “Wolf,” a movie from the nineties starring Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer.  Although it started with some promise, it was horrible, truly horrible, and I tried to figure out why it got made.  In my research, I found a remark from one of the writers, Jim Harrison, of how, after a falling out with the film’s director, he went to a wolf den and apologized while his dog hid under his truck.

I poked around and found out that he had recently died, but had left behind a huge trove of work.  I started with the book of novellas that had made him famous, “Legends of the Fall,” and my brain lit up like a christmas tree.  Now, wherever I go, I hear radio stories about him, or see reruns of food shows with cameos of him.

Jim Harrison’s writing is beautiful, and I’m still trying to figure out what makes it so good.  He is brilliant at narrative summary, and has written entire books of it.  His sentences are long and beautiful without fancy ticks and curly cues.

Also, there’s something about the way he lived his life.  He gave himself up to life and to writing with an almost spiritual passion.  He gave himself up to love and to hunting and fishing and to food and drink.  He looked like he lived hard, and his early death (Is 78 early?  To my grandmother, 90 was early.) may speak to that.

I feel like something  is trying to give me a hint, and even the ghost of Jim Harrison, at least his authorial voice and amusing video image, is tapping me on the shoulder about something that I’m just a little too slow on the uptake to get.

I hope I figure it out before too long.


The Hungry I

I know we have to eat to live, but I want to live to eat.  

At the same time, I don’t want to clog my arteries, blow up my sugar count, and make my heart explode.  It’s difficult.  You see, I’ve been programmed to want fat and sugar in some deep reptile part of my brain so much that I’m ready to fight off a saber tooth tiger for its kill to get a piece of that nice buttery mastodon belly.  

Unfortunately for me, these days I can pick up a decent mastodon belly in most supermarkets near my house and there are no more saber toothed tigers to make it even sporting.  My reptile brain couldn’t care less about the lack of competitive predators, so it’s way too easy to go to the Safeway and return to my cave with armloads of crap that will kill me, slowly, but thoroughly.

I can’t outwit my reptile brain.  It’s older and more primitive than the rest of my head parts.  I just need to plan, plan, plan what I want, and hope that I can stick to my plan, despite the howling in my head that happens every time I pass the cake-cookie-candy, deep fried chicken/steak/what-have-you, salty snacks now with extra salt aisles.

Maybe my plan will work.  On the other hand, there’s that Mike Tyson quote:  “Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth.”

If I can just avoid Mike Tyson, maybe I’ll be okay.


Aggravation

Names have been changed to protect the slightly guilty (me).

So I get this call from Angela, a manager from another department, asking for my help to finalize a document on the computer.  I agree and wait for the document to show up in my “to do” list.  An hour later there’s no sign of the document and I’ve got to run to a meeting, so I call to tell Angela that I couldn’t help her.

OTHER PERSON
Hello, you’ve reached such-and-such.  May I help you?

ME
Hi, this is Art from what-do-ya-call-it.  Can I speak with Angela, please?

OTHER PERSON
Who is this?

ME
Art from what-do-ya-call-it.

OTHER PERSON
Who?

ME
Art.  May I please speak with Angela?

OTHER PERSON
What do you want to talk to Angela about?

ME
I couldn’t help her with a document.

OTHER PERSON
What is it that you want to talk to Angela about?

ME
I couldn’t help her.

OTHER PERSON
What was that you wanted to talk to Angela about?

ME
I couldn’t…(losing it) Just get her on the (fucking) phone! (The fucking was silent).

OTHER PERSON
(bitter)
Angela is not here.  She stepped out half an hour ago.

ME
Can I please leave a message?

OTHER PERSON
Who is this again?

ME
Art.

OTHER PERSON
Who?

ME
Art from what-do-ya-call-it.

OTHER PERSON
Who?

ME
Arrgh!

I felt this rage well up and I could have chosen not to get mad, but decided to go for it anyway.  It felt good momentarily and I felt guilty just after (though not all that guilty).

My spouse later wondered what the hell else was going on with me, and I admitted that I’m frustrated that my writing isn’t as good as I want it to be (lame but true).

Instead of getting angry with myself and feeling hopeless and depressed (about the writing), I displaced my anger onto this other poor schnook (who was pretty unhelpful, when you get down to it).

Sounds crappy, I know, but this is a step up for me.


The Real

I’ve been writing for a long time–years and years, actually.  During all of that, I’ve looked at writing as an escape from my real life.  Writing was a place in which no boss could deny my vacation days, no customer could become angry with me, no loved one was unhappy with something that I had done or said, and no parent could display contempt for me.

I’d work from project to project and hang onto the belief that I had written something perfect or perfectible, so I could stop thinking about it, and whistle through my day, transcending the petit suffering of my middle class white life.  

And at the end of each project, I would send its imperfect slouching self out onto the sea of the larger world where it sank without a trace.

I would always get what I secretly wanted–to remain in my perfect fantasy of escape from life.  If I ever got what I imagined, I’d lose the fantasy and become stuck in the existential “now what?” of the real world.

Only recently, I’ve come to a very different way of looking at things.  Writing is about being more engaged in the real world.  When I struggle with theme, character, and plot, I struggle with my own life.  I try to see if my struggle reflects the struggle of others.  Could anything I write be of use to anybody else?

Today we are surrounded by fear.  Tyrants threaten to save us through brutal hatred.  Powerlessness, hopelessness, and the death of innocence is the order of the day.

The writing now haunts every day of my waking life.  It is in the background of everything I do.  And the struggle is always about making it work better, speak louder, and be more true and relevant for other people.

I might succeed at speaking this truth, or I might not, but at long last, I am engaged in the attempt to write something real.


Back to the Blog

Here I am again, and again, I’m tempted to whine about my writing.  Frankly, I’m bored of complaining, so I’m not going to do it.  The writing is what it is.  I should spend more time doing it.  I also need to finish things.  And I need to get better.  Much better.  But enough about that.

The spouse and I just finished a popular thirty day diet in which we cut out most things people like to eat.  It was difficult.  I missed soy products.  I missed cooking with wine.  I missed cheese, glorious cheese.  Was it worth it?    Who knows?  In the end, I did feel better, not that I felt that bad before.  The best thing, I admit, was doing all that cooking.  I’m not at a point of combining flavors and proteins and inventing recipes, but I’m a lot better than I was before.  And I actually like to cook.  Who knew?

The one thing I learned is forget all of those Whole30, super paleo etc. recipes.  Just take the dishes that you like to eat and replace the forbidden gluten filled dairy frothing evil nastiness class of ingredients with something equivalent (or maybe nothing at all).  Who needs all that sugar?

So long, and I hope it’ll be less than a year before I blog again.

Your pal,

Art  


Lost in the Jungle of Story

I haven’t been online in quite a while.  Most of my time has been taken up with avoiding being online.  It feels oddly like keeping a private diary and then putting it in a store window for everyone to read.  For me, it’s sort of like wearing underwear on the outside of your clothes.

At this point, my spouse would say, “Get over your precious self!”

“I will try, honey.”

I am currently between draft one of a novel and draft two.  This is usually my cue to dump the whole mother and start again.  I’m really trying not to do that.  The tough part is distinguishing what doesn’t work from what almost works, and not recoiling in disgust and hurling the manuscript out the window.

I’m peering beneath the skin and tissue down to the very bones of the story and hoping I can figure out how to fix it.

To calm myself down about this process, I do what everyone else does.  I search for some writing gospel that I can believe in.  Some answers to my eternal questions of how to make my writing into something enjoyable for others to read (or at least coherent).

There’s a ton of stuff out there about the mechanics of story.  I find a lot of it very useful, particularly during the rewrite process, when I’ve actually got my mound of clay to work with.

On the other hand, I think what I really long for is someone to show me the path that my story can cut through the jungle of material.  If only I could read the correct how to book, or blog, or fortune cookie, I will know what to do.

The horrible truth is that no one can show me that.  The other paths that have been cut are familiar and successful, but they are their paths.  Only I can find my own path.

There’s a moment in the movie “Stargate” just before James Spader is about to step through into the unknown.  It seems as if he is about to touch the face of God.  This is what it’s like when I happen upon a reasonable approach to understanding story.  My heart swells, I fall to my knees, and I cry like the true penitent believer that I want to be.

When Mr. Spader actually passes through the stargate, of course, it’s just more plot stuff.  And that’s what it feels like when, again, I come to the realization that no one can save my story but me.


Fire Storm Scientist

I’ve got a new story named “The Fire Wish” in the Japanese Mythology issue of Penumbra Emag http://penumbra.musapublishing.com/.  It takes place in the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant just after the 2011 tsunami struck and involves a worker struggling to bring a reactor under control.  It is the darkest story I’ve had published so far.

I have always felt a kind of mad glee when one of my stories goes out in the world, and though I do have some of that feeling right now, the subject matter of this story is so serious that it has tempered my usual effervescence.

The rest of the issue of Penumbra is absolutely great.  I strongly recommend getting a copy.

 Penumbra eMag Vol 2 Issue 10

***

On another note, I’ve just returned from San Diego where I visited my sister Alison, her husband Craig, and his extended family.  They don’t actually live in San Diego but in a small town named Ashby, Minnesota.  Their nearest big city is Fargo.

They were so nice I thought maybe I should leave northern California and move there.  My wife caught me thinking this, I suspect by that far away “I could be a Viking” look in my eyes, and pointed out that they have something in Minnesota called winter.  I knew she was right, but still, it sounded nice.  At least it did until everyone started talking about the storms.  Apparently at least twice a summer they have to rush into a storm cellar before some tornado rips a freight train off of its tracks and hurls it at them.  How do they know when it’s time to get underground?  They feel a change in pressure.  My brother-in-law does this in his sleep.  He’ll just sit up in the middle of the night open his eyes and tell my sister to grab the kids.

 

Okay.  I’m not moving to Minnesota any time soon.

I’ve got a six-year-old nephew named Aksel who has decided that when he grows up he wants to be a scuba diving scientist.  His dad explained to him that they call these people marine biologists.  Aksel understands this, but he prefers the title scuba diving scientist.

 

I think he has a point.  After thinking about this, I realize that I want to be a scuba diving scientist too.

***

Photographs are difficult.  Most of the time, for whatever reason, in photographs I look like someone just ran over my puppy.  I don’t even have a puppy.

Lucky for me, I have a friend in Los Angeles named Christopher Popp that I knew from the bad old Hollywood days.  He is a brilliant cinematographer and although he hasn’t shot stills in some time, he took pity on me.

Art 1

Not bad. Maybe a little puppy concern, but not much.

 


The Manticore

I’ve got a new story up at a great flash fiction magazine called Every Day Fiction at www.everydayfiction.com/the-manticore-by-arthur-lorenz/.

This one came out of a writing exercise proposed by Jon E. Greene about an annoying reporter that pesters mythical creatures until they get fed up and kill him.

The reporter, Badger McCormick, was created by everyone in that group:  Matt Nelson, Eric Del Carlo, Timothy Kay, Doug Nerad, and, of course, the legendary Jon E. Greene.

We picked names of imaginary creatures out of a hat.  I got “gypsy” and flashed back to my L.A. days where I knew a number of gypsies, and, try as I might, I just couldn’t imagine my friends as imaginary, so I picked through what was left and found the manticore.

One day, Eric walked into the group and told us he had just sold his Badger story to Every Day Fiction, which was about a week after I had submitted mine to the same magazine without knowing it.

When I got feedback from EDF, they liked the story, had notes, but there was something familiar about this Badger McCormick character, as if they had heard of him somewhere before.  They were good sports about it when I explained what had happened.

At any rate, the story is really about my nostalgia for progressive rock, which I used to love, and then hated, and then appreciated as an artifact from the lost civilization of my youth.

I hope you like it.


Yippee!

I’ve got another story published!  It’s in “Silver Blade Magazine” and can be found at www.silverblade.net/content/?p=1351.  My story is called “I Love Death” and it’s a little like my relationship with my wife, but with more fear, trembling, and pillow fort building.

Here’s what happened.  The wife was on a committee that amends California legislation and there was a particular statute that no one wanted to deal with.  She was a little late getting on a conference call, so she got stuck with it.  This piece of law had to do with the disposition of bodily remains, as in, who gets the body after someone dies.

People joked that my wife had become a sort of Wednesday Adams, and she pretty much embraced that.

My paranoid imagination started churning and the story wrote itself (It did not rewrite itself.  That was a lot of work).

***

It has been a long time since I’ve blogged.  Here’s what’s going on with me:

I have a two week vacation coming up and I can’t wait.  As usual, work ramps up the closer I get to leaving.  I don’t know if this happens to other people, but during the final week before I go, urgent meetings appear out of the mist that I must attend, and extensive issues that only I can solve that can’t wait, and trainings that are vital that I must attend and and…well, you get the picture.  This time I’ve got actual tickets and family responsibilities that I cannot wriggle out of (I mean, I can, but I would expire from guilt), so, but, anyway, this week is going to be intense.

Holy snap.  I’ve written 60,000 words of a novel.  Now I must make something coherent out of it and hopefully gain another 20,000 words.  Also, it must be (ha!) good.  Oh, and, it has to be compelling, and entertaining, and actually interesting to other people.  Gulp.

Since I’ve last blogged, Ray Bradbury died.  R is for Ray.  When I was a kid, his stories made me feel less alone.  The angst hidden in them mirrored my own.

I admit, though, I got a little upset when I read “R is for Rocket.”  I wanted it to be a full novel and only realized it was a collection of stories at the end of what I thought was the first chapter.  I think I’m still waiting to read the rest of that book, which doesn’t exist.  I mean, some day, when I’m good enough, I could write it, but it won’t carry that weird ‘60’s modernist optimism about space travel (and, frankly, Mr. Bradbury’s lyricism).

But, speaking of ‘60’s modernist optimistic space travel, man, when I was a kid we were on our way to the moon.  It seemed that after we got there, we’d visit Mars and Venus, maybe about a week later, and then on to the stars.

That didn’t happen.

On the other hand,

maybe Gil Scott-Heron had a point.

Oh.  There’s one other thing I wanted to say about Ray Bradbury:

One night, some years ago, I found myself at the American Film Institute, and Ray was the guest speaker.  He was amazing.  He talked about following your heart and originality and how everything else would follow after that.  He was so inspiring that my friends and I thought we could actually do anything that we believed in.

 And we did.

***

I’m not usually a big fan of KPop, but, this is, well, the best video in the world, at least it was way back in the middle of July.