the circular runner

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Running in Circles is moving…so come on along

In career, life, observations, Uncategorized, writing on January 14, 2013 at 8:00 am
moving sale sign

we’re not exactly selling anything–except good writing.

In case you didn’t see the previous post, my friends, this blog is a moving to a new spot.  It’s still all the neuroses you’ve come to expect, but it’s a newly designed site with a really new theme: reinvention.

Like I mentioned previously, you can only run so long in circles.  Sooner or later, you need to get moving towards something.  So, the new site is called re-Do or Die, and that’s what it’s about.  Just so you know, this very day, we have our first guest blogger, Joe Ponepinto, from Saturday Morning Post fame.  Joe is the editor of the Los Angeles Review, and he’s a friend of this blog.  Most importantly, he’s an up and coming fiction, and he’s got some inspirational words about re-inventing himself as a fiction writer.

Come on out and check out the post.  See you in my new diggs!

we are packing it up

In career, life, writers & books, writing on January 12, 2013 at 5:00 am

210440-Royalty-Free-RF-Clipart-Illustration-Of-Retro-Black-And-White-Men-Carrying-A-Were-Moving-Sign

I’m moving sites, and I’m really hoping you will come along for the ride.

For over two years, I’ve been writing this blog, which kind of roamed free over a number of subjects, but the underlying theme was this idea of spinning my wheels and not going anywhere.  Hence, the name of the blog.  Eventually, as the great film, Shawshank Redemption, will remind you: you got get busy living or get busy dying.  I choose life.  I choose motion.  And hence, as a symbolic gesture, I’ve chosen to self-host a blog about reinvention defined broadly.

The new site is called, re-Do or Die.  As I mention in the description of that site, my hope is to chronicle this next year and my goals.  But I am also hopeful the new blog will be more of a dialogue than this blog has been.  I really do want to create a community of and for other reinventionists.

To that end, I’m going to have regular guest bloggers, and I’m going to try and get a little more interactive.  So, come along for the ride.  It should be fun.  At the very least, it should go somewhere, not just around and around.

a guide to getting along with in-laws over the holidays

In humor, life, observations, Uncategorized on January 1, 2013 at 9:37 am

The-Taunting-mother-in-law

One of the many disappointing things about getting older is that you can’t just be an ass and blame other people for your shortcomings.  BOO, old age. BOO!!  Case in point: I’m in Florida for the holidays with my wife’s family.  I’ll admit that at first I wasn’t keen on coming.  I don’t really love traveling over the holidays; I’ve had run-ins with my brother-in-law in the past (though I will say he’s been a real great guy on this visit); and really, Flo. freaks my shit out.

Still, it’s the awkwardness I feel around some of my in-laws that freaks me out most.  When we all sit down for a meal, it feels as if I’m on a bad date–a bad date in which I have to sit across from like a dozen people who don’t want to be there with me.  This is where my progress shines through.  Are you blinded yet?

The other night I was at dinner with the clan.  My father-in-law always likes to go out to some restaurant with everyone at least once.  Odd thing is that almost always, he sits and stares off into space when we get there.  He works hard, to be fair.  And he always works.  He’s also not the only one who seems distant.  My sister-in-law’s boys can sometimes have meltdowns, which only add to the strange feeling because as a whole, I think the family feels some shame for the boys’ behavior, and many of us kind of drift off as the boys are being reprimanded.

Anyway, no one is really talking, or maybe they are.  I am bored out of my mind.  This year, I have The Boy as a shield, and as a friendly face to focus on, SO I’m getting by.  But it hits me.  Part of the reason I feel awkward around my in-laws is that I am always wishing it were different.  Basically, you have a room full of strangers who only come together because of their spouses.  There’s little chance that I would hang out with many of these individuals and the same is true on their end.  And this is where the age thing comes in.  In the past, I would sit back and assume the problem was elsewhere, i.e., with my in-laws.  Occasionally, I would shift the blame to myself.  I know I’m no saint.  But what I think I realized this time out was that I am wrong to assume it’s a matter of blame because the truth is no one is to blame.

It’s no one’s fault.  It’s just what it is.  And I do better when I accept it as such, because if I’m honest, I think that’s where my awkwardness comes in–it’s a masked disappointment that I just can’t seem to find a way in with these people who are so close to the woman I married.  Maybe that’s sad.  Maybe it isn’t.  What do you guys think?  Do you get along with your in-laws?

I hope so.

I also hope you are all having a wonderful holiday season.  See you in 2013.

how do you know if you’re a dreamer (the good-kind) or a dreamer (the loser-kind)?

In career, life, observations, Uncategorized, writing on December 24, 2012 at 6:00 am

img-thing

I sometimes wonder if the answer to this question is akin to that old saying that history is written by the winners.  If you’re not getting my drift here, then let me tell you a little story.  (If you have already received my drift and are thanking me for its wisdom, well, then my story is gravy–haha.)

OK, so about 8 years ago, a good year and a half before I met my wife, I was dating someone at work.  She was a lovely woman–an ex-ballroom dancer, intelligent, pretty, ambitious.  All good things.  I was living in Brooklyn at the time in a big shit hole with a good friend, but I was hating my office job.  I had an interview at a think tank in D.C. for a job heading their communications department.  I hated D.C., but I liked it more than my stupid job, so I was willing to entertain the idea of moving.  The woman I was dating, let’s just call her E., had been through a bad divorce a couple years before and was surprisingly supportive of my prospects.  As I’d later find out, these two things were connected.

At the time, I took E’s enthusiasm at face-value.  We’d been dating a few months, and it was nice that she’d be so happy for me.  But the enthusiasm was a little odd, if not in type then certainly in intensity.  It seemed almost personal.  Still, I tried not to suspect anything.

As it happened, E had an old friend in Baltimore, and she contacted him and asked if I could spend the night after my interview.  The friend, a slightly older man who had a family,  was gracious and offered me a home-cooked meal and a nice bed in his home.  All was great.  Great until we sat down for dinner.  That’s when he started in about E.  “She’s been hurt a lot, Gabe.”  I nodded.  “But E. is turning a corner.  She’s moving up the ladder at work.  She’s going to be really successful, Gabe.”  I smiled, agreeing.  E. was moving up the ladder.  Nothing unusual about the comment, though I have to say that I felt like he was lingering, seemingly waiting for me to say something.  What exactly, I had no idea.  It almost felt like I was her prom date getting interrogated by her father.  Which, as it turned out, was almost exactly what it was, because the very next comment brought into focus something I had suspected but did not want to face: E. wanted to move things along with me, but she wasn’t sure if I had the stuff.  And by stuff, I mean, earning potential.  I know this because the next thing out of this man’s mouth was a pointed: “E used to be a dreamer.  But she’s grown up.  She’s gotten past that silliness, Gabe.”  GIANT PAUSE.  “Have you?  Are you a dreamer?”

Over the next couple minutes, this man would go on to tell me how E. had mentioned numerous times how concerned she was about my wanting to write for a living–a concern she had never voiced before to me, though I knew she was not a fan of my stuff–“too dark, too depressing,” she used to say.

I guess I could have been angry.  I mean, we’d been dating for a couple months, and I was not looking to get married any time soon, so it was kind out of line for her to go and have this guy vet me.  But the truth is I wasn’t pissed.  I was hurt, actually.  And yet, at the same time, I was sure of what I needed to do.  I needed to break up with E.  I was never good at breaking things off with people, but the fact that E. just didn’t get me–because if she had gotten me, she never could’ve have doubted my intentions as a writer–made it easy for me.  I called her that night from the man’s home.  While lying on a pink, frilly comforter that I imagine belonged to the man’s daughter, I basically broke up with E.

All these years later, I’ve had a few little things happen with the writing, but I certainly haven’t broken through.  I can’t say I ever have felt a need to prove E. wrong about my earning potential as a writer.  My wife believes in me.  I’ve had some support from people I trust and respect.  The money, I still hope, will come.  The only unbeliever I have to deal regularly is myself.  Sometimes, I feel things are coming.  Lots of times, I have no idea.  I know that as an artist, this doubt, this constant back and forth between dreaming I can and the nightmare of failure is par for the course.  Hell, I’m not even sure what failure really means to me.

No. That’s not true–not exactly.  I know that failure really means giving up.  And if that is the case, then I have already won.  That’s right, dear E.  Regardless of how it goes for me, I have won because I won’t give up.  That history has already been written.

 

 

what my holy crotch taught me about writing

In career, life, observations, Uncategorized, writing on December 20, 2012 at 10:50 am
batman

holy crotches, Batman. I’m still reinventing myself.

Last week, I was getting ready for work, and I found a hole in my crotch.  (Don’t worry this is a PG post.) I went to my closet only to find out that all my jeans were in the wash.  I wasn’t about to don the slacks–I refuse to do that on two important grounds: 1. I like to be comfy when teaching and 2. I haven’t had to wear slacks in some time and I think I might not fit into any of them any more–a fact that would depress me, vain man that I am.

I basically had two choices: get a dirty pair of jeans out of the hamper or wear the jeans with the holy crotch, which I had put into the trash a few minutes before.  You might be horrified to know I pulled the holy jeans out of the unholy trash.  But there a 10-second rule on pulling jeans out of the trash–something equivalent to having food fall on the ground.  At least there should be.

I did have a third option, by the way: an old pair of black jeans, which I hadn’t worn in over eight years.  Did I ever think these mommy jeans were cool?  Did I not see the extra room in the crotch that made me look like I had a saggy diaper?  Did these very basic fashion issues get past me?  Was I coming off the 90s?    In the end, I stuck with my holy crotch pants, but not before I went through the pockets of my saggy-butt specials.  And now, here is the point of this story: I found a piece of paper with my writing on it–a list of sorts.  And on that list, number three was:

Re-invent yourself

This means that I have had this vague idea in my head for over eight years.  It’s odd how your memory works.  In my head, it’s as if that were a new thought.  I wake up thinking about it.  I write in this blog about it.  I probably talk to my wife too often about it.  But even so, it’s not a new idea.

How I have not realized this probably has to do with the fact that I keep trying new things, and in the last year and a half, the attempts at reinvention are coming faster and harder: novelist, short story writer, graphic novelist, flash fiction writer, scriptwriter, and now, scripts for commercials.  Oh yeah, blogs, too.  The only thing I haven’t tried to write are instruction manuals, video games, and street signs.  At this rate, it won’t be long until I get to some of those, as well, though I fear that my signs would be a little verbose.

I’m not sure what I think of these attempts at writerly reinvention are really leading to.  Is it better to sit on something for a long time and craft it out?  Or is it better to go where you will, to make stuff that’s as good as you can get it and then move on?  By nature, I think I prefer the latter, but I’m not sure if that’s me just going after immediate gratification.

I will say that finding that list shook me.  It makes me realize the importance of keeping a journal and actually reading past entries.  I wonder how that Gabe, the Gabe who actually liked his black mama jeans with the saggy bottoms would have felt if he’d known where I am now–all Old Navy Premium loos jeans and shit.  Would he be pleased or bummed?  And eight years from now, how will I be?  Will I still be looking for reinvention or will I be reinvented?  Will I be wearing mu loose jeans or, will I be wearing skinny jeans?  Scary thought.

Yoko-Ono-Fashions-for-Men

I guess there ARE worse things than black mommy jeans

Of course, I don’t know. And that’s just it: things always look so different when you’re in the process.  Whether it be mom-jeans that you used think looked good or a script that you thought was strong until you realized it wasn’t.  I guess that’s just life.  You keep evolving.  So maybe I don’t have to feel like a failure.  Maybe I will keep reinventing.  Maybe.  I just hope I won’t be wearing skinny jeans.

what fatherhood has done for me…

In observations, parenting on December 12, 2012 at 12:37 pm
oh, the horror!

oh, the horror!

It’s made me scared…more scared. And judgmental.

The other day I had a break between students, and I go get a coffee.  It’s a Boulangerie, which if you’re not from Cali, is a Disneyfied “French” bakery that was just bought out by Starbucks, which I guess makes it corporatized, as well.  It’s a big place.  Noisy.  Wood floors.  I am sitting facing a window, my headphones are on.  Behind me I hear a big family pulling tables together, but I’m not sure I was really aware of them–at least, I wasn’t until I hear a crash and then a woman making the most unholy sound.  It wasn’t a screech, not a wail, either.  I can say this honestly: the sound was that of a wounded animal.  Think pierced beluga in the pacific or a cat with a crushed leg after it’s fallen from a tree. Even as I write this, I can feel the sound in the pit of my belly.  It was the sound of horror, of loss–or at least, feared loss.

In this case, it was the sound of this mother looking at her child doing a face plant while strapped into a car seat. I turn and I see the woman’s face and then look down and I see the car seat butt-up, and a small hand wiggling out the side.  The child, as it turned out, was fine.  More freaked out than anything.  The edges of the car seat coupled with good straps kept the child in place.  But for those many seconds before someone–someone much braver than I–was willing to lift the chair up and see if the baby was ok, I thought I was going to be ill.  I thought that all that shitty coffee and the Frenchified sweet thing I was stuffing my face with up until that point, was going to splatter across that polished wood floor.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m sure I would have been moved by this before I had a kid.  But there is something so much more intense about seeing a child in that position after you have been up all night with your own, after you have handed that child over to your spouse ever so carefully because you realize how vulnerable he is, like some treasure.  NO, not LIKE a treasure.  He IS a treasure.  And well, not being a Buddhist who can just disconnect from this world and what I have in it, the fact that I have this treasure that I didn’t have before makes me scared for it.  It reminds me of a Louis CK bit in which he says that the best case scenario for any relationship is that after a life together, one of you will die before the other.  ckIt’s different with a kid, I know.  But it’s similar in the sense that when you love someone, it’s hard not to worry, not to look out for the possible threats to that loved one.

This is natural, I know.  But wait, there’s more!!

After the room returned to normal, the family recovered and stuck around and had their coffees and Frenchified sweet things, and I wanted to yell at them.  Specifically, I wanted to yell at the mother for being a dumb-ass and for being a fat-ass who loved her fucking crescent more than her baby (she wasn’t fat, but I’m just saying).  I knew it was crazy even then.  But I kept on judging her in my mind.  Here’s the highlight of that imagined rant:

of course you don’t put a car seat on a precarious wooden chair in the middle of Disney-croissant-land.

and if you’re lacking that basic common sense, then you don’t deserve your lame-ass coffee and sweet thing.

Go home.

Be ashamed.

Talking of shame, I am ashamed for thinking these things.  They are ridiculous thoughts.  I know.  But I felt them.  And damn it, what’s a blog for if not to share some of your most shameless thoughts?  I ask you.

No. Actually, I’m not asking that.  I’m actually asking this question: see below.  It’s a new WP function, a poll, so let’s try it out together.  Shall we?

Writer Down, Mayday Mayday!

In career, Uncategorized, writing on December 10, 2012 at 7:30 am

A good friend of the blog, Joe Ponepinto, blogger extraordinaire and creative force behind The Saturday Morning Post, recently wrote a heartbreaking post about getting rejected.  I often write about rejection, but Joe’s post, which you should read, made me think some very sad thoughts.

Thanks a lot, Joe.  I’m not really looking for help when it comes to pessimism.

Kidding aside, because he is a good writer, Joe brought up concerns for me that any creative person should think about: what do you do when you get your heart broken by your art?  It’s hard to know what to do.  It’s hard to know if you should keep going, give up, or change something?  And as you get older, and the success does not come, the doubts grow exponentially.  And yet.  And yet.  I know Joe will keep writing, and he should.

It’s easy to say that and mean it when you’re talking about another person, but it can sometimes be almost impossible if you are having doubts about yourself.  I don’t know about you, but I know I have and do exaggerate how much of a hack I am.

So what to do?

I’m reminded of a bit I once saw Dennis Leary do.  Basically, he’s screaming that life just sucks, and that we need to get used to it–rejections and disappointments included.  As he says it, “life is hard, get a helmet.”  Yes, true enough.  But as funny as the bit is, it’s not so simple.  Life’s just hard sometimes, and there’s no helmet that’s going to do the trick.

what’s so scary about writing?

In humor, life, observations on December 8, 2012 at 5:55 am

Heck if I know.

That’s all I got, folks.  An abstract question and a really silly answer.  There’s nothing scary about writing, but you wouldn’t know that from the way I put off writing today.  I had a solid hour and a half–a veritable bonanza of time nowadays with The Boy and work X 2 and the other crazy things I keep trying in order to make the dinero.  But what do I do with this gift of seconds and minutes?  I squander it.

I wanted to write.  I have a 52nd story to finish.  (For those new to my blog, I made a goal in 2011 that I would produce for better or for worse, 52 original stories.  I got to 47 and The Boy was born.  Then, I wrote what I will call the Crappy 4, which brought to story 52.)  OK, now that we’re all up to speed, I have the new goal that I will write my final story before the end of the year.   I can do that.  I should be able to do that.  I should have gotten a start today.  But no dice, Rollo.

It would be one thing if I were just being a lazy-ass, preferring to play Bike Barron or Temple Run instead of doing the work.  That’s be kind of lame considering I’m a 41-year old man, but at least, I’d get some joy.  Today, I felt no joy, only fear.  But what was I scared of?

Heck if I know.

If I dig down, I guess I fear the effort involved, but I don’t mean the effort required in writing.  What I fear is the cut-off, by which I mean, when I write fiction, I cut ties with this world in order to make up another.  Problem is, I’m not part of that world.  I’m making it, but I’m not part of it.  I almost always get a kick out of writing once I start, but those first few minutes as I’m starting to disengage from my concerns, from my daily self, I feel the difficulty, and the difficulty is caused by…. in a word, loneliness, a loneliness I don’t seem able to get myself accustomed to.

Does anyone else suffer from this?  I’d love to know I’m not the only crazy person out there.  Come on, folks, share your craziness.  I needs me somes crazy.  Give it over.

what Walt Disney taught me about getting the job done

In career, humor, life, observations, Uncategorized, writing on December 5, 2012 at 5:01 am

It’s no secret that the secret to better writing is to put words on a page often and frequently.  (Yes, I now there’s some irony to what I just wrote.)  What’s also ironic is the fact that I seem to come to this conclusion every few months as if it were the first time.

Case in point: this past weekend, I applied for a Disney Living Worlds fellowship.  Or is it a grant?  Is there a difference?  Whatever it is, I applied for one.  I actually applied with two different projects.  It didn’t cost anything to apply, and there was no mention made as to a limit applications you could submit.  The really interesting thing for me is that I wrote both applications over the weekend.  These weren’t the most in-depth applications, I’ll admit. There were tight word limits, and basically, you had to explain what your project entailed and how you would incorporate multi-media into it.  Tight word limits can sometimes be more difficult because you really have to choose your words wisely.  You have to get to the point.

I’m not really sure I did a great job on these apps.  But what’s worth pointing out is that I just forced myself to get them done and turn them in.  In the end, I think that’s a lesson I’ve come late to.  There’s a quote, I think it’s Emerson.  I’m paraphrasing, but it’s something like,

“perfection is the enemy of progress.”

I’ve never done anything perfectly, but I know I’ve tried to make things so good that I’ve become paralyzed or overwhelmed or so frustrated that I have given up.  You need not look further than the hard drive of this computer, which has on it 3 versions of 2/3 of a novel, which I referenced in an earlier post. The novel was never going to be perfect.  Maybe it was never going to be good, for that matter.  But if I would have finished it, I could at least say I had a novel done and be free to move on to the next.

I know there are some who are going to argue that this is facile.

    • How do you know something is done?
    • There’s real value to sitting on something until it is as good as it can be.

To the question, I’d say that it’s done when you can’t think of anything else to do with it and when a trusted reader can’t come up with something that you think is valid.

And to the other point, DUH.

But at the same time, I’m reminded of a podcast interview I heard recently with Mark Duplass.  He’s a filmmaker, supposedly some hero of the mumblecore aesthetic.  That’s not that important. What was really cool about this podcast is that when asked about his process, Mr. Duplass basically said it’s all about being good enough.  It’s not about being perfect.  It’s about giving it your best and then moving on.  Mr. Duplass, where was your wisdom when I was struggling that beast, AKA, my novel?

So, my application this weekend.  Hey, I’m not saying it was genius.  But I had a goal of getting that thing in, and I did it.  And I’m feeling good about that.  I’m not going to let myself think I could have done better if I’d taken more time.  I’m not gonna.  And neither should you.  Go out there and get shit done.  Done, being the much more important word than shit, by the way.

 

1 lesson for writing and life: simple is good…

In career, media, Uncategorized, writing on December 3, 2012 at 5:30 am

Last week, I joked that even though I knew in my heart of hearts that simple was the way to go, I was unable to comply.

Well the Gods of Simplicity heard my little joke, and they decided to make their case once more, just a tad more forcefully.  Below, is a link to a very wonderful little film.  It’s two minutes.  There isn’t a lot to it, and still, for my money, it packs quite a punch.  It’s lyrical.  It’s wonderful, in the true sense of the word, as in, it’s full of wonder.  And I know I feel this way in large part because it is just…it’s just…I can admit it, because it’s so damn simple.

Gloam from We Are The Forest on Vimeo.

It’s not a good idea to compare yourself to others, but comparisons, of done correctly,  can lead to better ways of doing things.  After seeing this short, I am filled with the desire to craft something this small and wonderful, but as in life, I tend to complicate things art.  I know that if I were the filmmaker in charge, I would worry that I didn’t put enough in, that my viewer would get bored or not get the message.  Actually, come to think about it, I wouldn’t even let myself do something this small and open-ended.

There’s a real talent to keeping things small without also being vague, and the filmmakers achieve this.  And though I’m not a natural at the whole simple thing, and thuogh I’m not promising I’ll learn the lesson and apply it my life, as an artist, I will keep at it.

If you want to know more about David Elwell and Gareth Hughes, the filmmakers, check out this article on The Atlantic. These guys are really worth following.

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