Tag Archive: writing


Giving it away: Prelude

giving-it-away

Note to self, scratched in the back of “On Writing” by Steven King.

Lemme go ahead and put this out into the world: the prelude to my book.

It’s not perfect. It’s not edited (at least to any degree that I, as a professional editor, would admit). And it probably ain’t final. But it is. So there. Here. Read it, free of charge and with my compliments.

Early this year, I warned that this blog might not be pretty, so I guess this is one way of delivering on my word.

If you want to share your thoughts or impressions, feel free to comment and feel free to push it further into the world. With the caveat that I’m doing this for myself and my muse and not for others, I thank you in advance.

Prelude

Spires of smoke rose above the city of Kigaru, wedged between the twin mountains of Mizuyama and Kayama. Thicker, darker columns – from the larger kilns and blacksmiths – reached the greatest heights before dissipating in the cold winds of early autumn. Lower, lighter threads of smoke spoke of more humble origins, of temples and family hearths.

Surrounded by the mountains’ mist and the fog of the bay, Kigaru bore a shroud about and above it. The tops of its tallest trees were bare, exposed to the whipping winds – all but the ancient ginkgo tree inside the Himeji Temple grounds. Leaves yellow and gold clung to its branches, holding fast against an approaching winter. Proud, perhaps, but no less resplendent, they’d eventually succumb to the rhythm of the seasons, falling, with few exceptions, together.

One fan-shaped, yellow-gold leaf floated down, just missing the top of the temple wall and coming to rest just shy of the gravel footpath. It landed amid the ceramics covering a ragged tatami mat.

“Aren’t you lovely?” asked the old man, picking it up and studying the leaf. He cast his gaze over his shoulder to the 1,000-year-old tree in the courtyard. “And no doubt lonely,” he added with no hint of sadness. “Not to worry. You can stay with me for a time.” Between a weathered thumb and forefinger, he rolled its stem back and forth, back and forth before tucking it into a pocket inside his coat.

Voices and commotion rose on the other side of the wall. The throng of temple visitors, moments before meandering through the gate and along the pathway, quickly split apart at the insistence of three horsemen. The old man and other seasonal vendors like him gathered the goods at the edge of their mats, trying to keep their wares from being trampled by pilgrims who were trying to not get trampled themselves.

After the riders passed, the crowd reunited. Another vender, a younger woman – a potter, a novice as judged by her crafts – leaned toward Jinbei, who had already brushed dirt of his tatami and began setting out his crockery.

“Say, weren’t those Nakagawa riders?” she not so much asked as confided.

“Mm-hmm,” he mumbled an answer an agreement. “Didn’t expect to see them this early.”

“What? Early in the day?” she asked. “I hope I don’t have to make a habit of saving my goods getting crushed.” The young woman righted a set of thick teacups. “I thought I’d be less dangerous here than on Sochira Street,” she said with a bright laugh that reminded him of the leaf in his pocket.

“The season. I mean early in the season,” he said. “I didn’t expect to see their family crest before the Autumn Grand Ceremony, attended by all noble houses – the Nakagawa clan and lesser estates. That’s not for another three weeks.”

She arched an eyebrow. “And so?”

“And so, they don’t enter this holy ground except on such occasions, except when it’s expected, when it’s required of their station.”

The young potter had stopped setting out her goods to look at and listen to the old man. “Then why were they here?”

He was quiet for a breath. “Beats me,” he answered, then returned her attention. “But whatever the reason, it was important, judging by how quickly they left took off.”

She kept watching him as he got back to work.

“Who knows?” he said, allowing himself a grin before feigning reverence. “Maybe they all achieved simultaneous spiritual enlightenment, satori, and each of them wanted to be the first to brag about it to Lord Nakagawa.”

Such a jibe could get him struck down – he knew it, as did she. Yet she chuckled, covering her mouth with her hand and trying in vain to muffle her mirth, like the yellow-gold leaf in his pocket.

Until the end

Steal like an artistIt’s National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as #NaNoWriMo … I think. Otherwise known as 30 Days of Self-Inflicted Anxiety for would-be, could-be, perhaps should-be writers. I’m not in this year.

But serendipitously, on the first day of NaNoWriMo, I found myself finishing up “Steal Like and Artist,” which I had started months ago, stopped to blog about at a low point (with myself/career, not the book), and never completed reading.

Write between the lines
One thing that stuck was the idea of being creative within confines. Of time, of energy, of space.

Net: confines can foster creativity. So I gave myself a page and decided to fill it up with long-hand — no more, no less. What follows is what happened next. And what follows that is a typed, altogether more legible version.

until-the-end

…scribble, scrabble, drabble on the memo pad I babble…

If you start, you may not end where you wanted to go. But when you stop, you’ve reached an end. Not the end, perhaps not your intended end. But you’ve gotten to the Omega to your Alpha.

Maybe for this, it’s here.
Or here.

Apparently not.

So the push comes from the scratch inside your head. That in turn scratches the pen across the paper. Dang, my arm is tired already. Just this far in.

But there is an intoxicant at work here – it’s blue ink, lines no longer barren. Thoughts reaped, harvested across the line like bundles of wheat across a valley floor – gathered together. Upright, spent, but with life-giving power.

There’s an opportunity in each line. Tabula rasa is it? Blank slate? I dunno.

So as I scoot toward the end of the page – cresting halfway – between accomplishment and anxiety. What I’ve said vs. what I’ve written.

But I’m only pushing myself to fill the page. To reach that Omega.  This is my constraint. This is my Incredibly Shrinking Goal – not to be feared. It should fear me.

Stare long enough into the Abyss and it will stare back. I am the Abyss. I am the unfathomable. I am without limit. The lactic acid builds in my arm, as the ink drains in proportion. Here – take this last line and absorb my ink, my words, my creation, and retain it until the end.

Wave

I’ve avoided writing about a difficult topic for some time. Today I found myself writing about it to a friend. But in so doing, I found I couldn’t stop.

Click the image for relevant background music. She’d like this version of one of her favorite songs.

The act of writing–as it often does–helped me step back and consider the topic, the circumstances, and see things in a new light. And that helps. So I suppose that means it’s time to post this.

My mother is dying.

Mom’s cancer has progressed, and she is staying home now, sleeping/laying down most of the time, and not really taking in any nutrition to speak of. The ladies from the personal care service have been fantastic and are spending most of the day and all of the night at her place. A room at the hospice center would give her the same 24/7 support, but this is what mom wants — a few weeks, maybe days at this point per the RN.

I get mom to smile a few times daily. Her thoughts are clear since coming home from a respite stay at the in-patient hospice center a few days ago. Although weak, frail, and losing weight, she’s in a relatively good space for the shape she’s in.

It’s hard to see her this way. The little nutrition she gets comes through that Southern elixir: sweet ice tea. Yet, most meager sips merit a cough. For some reason, her pain has lessened, necessitating fewer doses of powerful narcs like Roxicet administered through her peg tube. What hair survived the radiation and chemo is white, close-cropped and nothing like her style pre-cancer. Clothes don’t fit her either. Buying some pajama bottoms for her today, I opted for the XS and think that those should work.

Regardless, the person who now appears nothing like the lady filling my memories is still my mom, a buoyant beautiful soul. That remains.

I think that cancer nearing its run is a bit of a blessing, insofar as you see the end coming. So you can prepare for it. It’s not unlike standing chest-deep in the ocean. Your feet are planted in the sand, the current swirling around you–but you can see the wave coming, so you can prepare. You make what adjustments you can and receive the wave.

Despite how well you’ve prepared, it will move you. So I think I’m ready for that. In the meantime, I have to keep my eyes forward, head down, and do what needs doing.

MADE IN THE GARAGE

Happy holidays, y’all. I’ve been busy with family, new freelance work, and a new gig too. I’m firing on all cyclnders on all of them and enjoying life in general, challenges included.

The following is something I wrote for my new outfit’s blog. You can find it here and, well, here:

Another winning holiday sweater entitled "Dignity? What dignity?"

In an age of more, more, and more, a handmade gift becomes all the more meaningful. There’s something about the personalization – the care that goes into a handmade gift – that people grasp when they unwrap it. Look at their eyes. That’s where you can see them realize that the gift in their hands didn’t come with a receipt: It came from you.

And since it’s from you, it can be as original as you are. As a writer at heart, I like to write poems for people on special occasions. Here’s a poem I wrote for a coworker’s birthday:

Roses are red/
Violets are pretty/
We hope that your birthday/
Is not a bit … boring.

Cheesy? Yep. Sophomoric at best, moronic at worst. But, hey, it’s original. It gets a smile and hopefully a laugh. To me, that’s the whole point of gift giving.

Or take the “bookshelf” my son built for my wife. He used a couple 2’x4’s; some screws; and red, blue, and yellow paint. The finished product is basically a rectangle. If you lay the “bookshelf” flat and fill it with soil, it transforms into a tiny planter. The only way that books could fit in this thing is if it’s placed horizontally. Again, it’s the thought that counts. 

Practicality is important for some gifts, sure, but I think it plays third fiddle to giving something original.

We’re all creative, right? So go for it this year! Bake a batch of cookies, craft a one-of-a-kind T-shirt, or present a slideshow of your time together. Even a simple holiday card would take no time at all, yet it could bring someone cheer over and over again (and it could possibly be worth something when you’re famous someday.)

What’s the best handmade gift you’ve ever gave or received? Share your pictures or stories via this post and/or our Facebook page, and have a happy and original holiday.

The conversation this morning ran the gamut, but — as it’s wont to do — wove together nicely: history, writing, Japan, vacation, finding direction. It was all there.

I was talking with a friend about writing and how research plays into good writing. In that vein, she shared that she had earned her degree in history. She enjoys writing, too, and I remarked that her interest in history would inform her writing. I left out the fact that I had somehow gotten into an advanced placement American History class in high school and somehow managed to score a 1 on a scale of 5 on the final exam.

Why did they go left? Why did they go right? And most importantly, which fork leads to the cookies?

We talked further about history’s importance in why we do what we do — our traditions, our actions, our beliefs. From our mutual understanding of and experience in the Japanese culture, we recounted how their understanding the history behind tradition creates a connection to the past.

Further, and applicable to our own culture, knowing why we carry forward certain traditions makes the tradition richer. It teaches us why we do what we do. If we don’t know why, we might do things in form only. And that’s never good.

When we know the why behind something, it can inform our decisions today, help us choose one thing over another. So, despite what Sting might say, history can teach us something.

Never one to disappoint, Coffee Wednesday was chock full o’ nuts, mainly because both my wife and I were there. The gathering was full of conversation. And good ideas. And cellos. Did I mention cellos?

If cellos play in the forest at Coffee Wednesdays, does anyone hear them? You bet they do.

The fifth grade cello students delighted us with a few selections from their repertoire. It went nothing like this, but was at least as delightful, and begat at least as many smiles. The four or so songs included a piece entitled “Babylon” and some traditional music as well. It was such a treat. And it’s so refreshing to hear live music, especially when you’re not surrounded by thousands of screaming fans. I can’t wait for next week’s 4th grade cello performance.

While Carmen spoke with a new acquaintance, Ashley and I talked about writing for the school and otherwise. She brought up a fantastic point about writing: it’s an invitation to experience something. What a good way to put it! And so true; when you put words down on a page — paper or electronic — you’re conveying a thought, striving to impart something you’ve experienced to someone else who hasn’t.

That isn’t an easy task. Not with three words. Not with a thousand. No matter if you’re trying to convey a vacation or a vacuum cleaner. I guess that’s one reason that writing is such an important (if overlooked) art. As a friend pointed out this morning, editing is, too, but that’s another ball of yarn. (Thanks, Jen!)

As another pal pointed out a loooong time ago, “Good writing means never having to say, ‘Well, I guess you had to be there.'” (Thanks, Gary!) Writing — quality writing — is an invitation to an experience, but it’s also a conveyance, a vehicle that takes the reader there.

If you haven’t made it here, to Coffee Wednesdays, consider this an invitation. And if you can’t make it, I hope this Heavy Mental weekly feature gets you at least halfway.

I’ve attempted several Regular Features on Heavy Mental, but without much success. Not unlike Italian forms of government since WWII. I’ve tried read-alongs. I’ve tried retrospectives.

But this one is different: this go-round, I’m making  the time for it, once a week. I’ll be scribbling some reflections and ideas engendered from Coffee Wednesdays at the Waldorf School of Atlanta. It’s Wednesday, and I’ve had my coffee. So let’s get started.

Getting mugged at WSA. You're doing it right.

After dropping the young lad at school, I stayed, joining in the fun, bread, and beverages at Coffee Wednesdays. I got my java and homemade bread fix, had some insightful convos (Thanks, Nancy!), and made a new connection for my freelance writing business. The last one was a complete surprise — either a complete coincidence or a divinely coordinated arrangement.

I’ll bank on the latter.

You're doing it wrong.

I stayed to the end of the event and helped to carry a tray of coffee mugs (no Styrofoam(TM) found here!) up to the kitchen, taking the opportunity to talk with a fellow parent. It just turns out that her relative is a contract writer for a local agency and would be glad to pass on my 411 to the relative. Sweet — that’s organic networking at its finest.

To top off a great morning, on my way to the parking lot, I found myself behind Ms. Luba’s kindergarten class as they were heading back from their morning walk.

Ah, childhood: like each day, it’s so full of promise.

The Path

For darn near a year now, I’ve carried around a poem by Antonio Machado. Scribbled by a dear friend who was inspired to share it for some reason or another, it goes like this:

Is this the high road? The low road? I dunno. All I know is I'm on it.

Caminante, no hay camino.
El camino se hace al andar.

Forgive the rough translation, but the English is “On the journey, there is no path. The path is made by going.”

Well, I’m going. And I’m making the path as I do. Having recently found a fork in the road, I took it. I’m freelancing once again as a writer and editor. It’s a path I walked once before, from 2007-09. I gained some fantastic experience and broadened my professional — and personal — acquaintances. But in the end, due to the economy and the offer of a steady gig, I came to the realization that freelancing wasn’t for me.

Or was it?

Now that I’m going along that path again, I’m recognizing that there are traces of this path that have run parallel to my trajectory for quite some time. The path is clearer, more sturdy, devoid of the many obstacles that littered the way years ago.

And that’s encouraging. It’s as if this self-directed course was meant for me to follow, even while I was making headway along another route. I know one thing: I love it.

I consider myself in the fortunate minority of people who can pursue their passion and earn a living at it. Having experienced the freelancing life before, I feel I’m better equipped to make things happen. And it looks like things are happening already. If I can continue to meet with success, sweet.

The poem’s now committed to memory. And I can’t help but think that it’ll stay with me as I seek to find my way.

El camino no es suave.

An uplifting diatribe

Heavy Mental started a few years ago to keep my writing fires bright.

Castle, my hero.

Me, less the bullet-proof vest, brown hair and cell phone. Well, maybe with the cell phone.

While I’ve had my share of dull, warm embers when non-writing work has kept me from fanning the flames, I’m happy to announce the following:

I’m a writer*, by profession and not just by inclination.

A long story short, a former client from my freewheeling, freelancing days offered me a senior writing position. So I said yes. Gratefully. It’s not often that one is happy as a clam in their job and another, seemingly more enjoyable (and rewarding) one comes calling. But it happened. And I’m thrilled.

Check out the Tribe at tribeinc.com, and picture a pic of me in Tree Pose, holding a pen and grinning like a jackass eatin’ briars.

Here’s the lesson as best I can discern it:

  • Work hard
  • Be nice
  • Keep in touch
  • Keep trying

I’ll post more once I’m actually on that side of the firewall. In the meantime, you (and I) can learn about mah new peeps here: http://www.insidetribe.com/.

* As of about mid-July

Point of refraction

The darndest things can spur writing.

Tonight I cleaned the bathroom sink drain (for the umpteenth time) and our dishwasher drain (for the first time).  The first effort was habitual; the second was exploratory.  Thanks go to mom for the Drain Snake(tm) and the Tennessean Dollar General store at which she surely purchased that handy little stocking stuffer in late December.

so much depends upon a white childproof latch

What got me to the keyboard at quarter past 11 p.m. is what I did after I finished my domestic foray: I removed the childproof latch to our kitchen cabinet sink.  Simple enough task … flathead screwdriver … turn turn turn <plink> … turn turn turn … turn turn <plink> . Done.

But it was the thought process behind removing that blessed little white plastic work of engineering genius: our son is old enough that we don’t need it. And other than frustrating adults, the little lock most likely can’t thwart any more little Hambrick fingers.

With several friends expanding their nuclear/familial child to adult ratio recently, of course we’ve considered following suit.  And had we leaned more toward revisiting the lands of poopy diapers, then perhaps I wouldn’t’ve offed the lock.

But I did.  And it’s all good.

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