time

Flipped switches

The Zumba girls were dancing badly to The Pretenders‘ “Precious.” Terrible. No sense of rhythm.

Wait a minute. “Precious” was blasting through my headphones. Blasting through my headphones as I worked on the elliptical machine. It was the only machine available and I felt funny taking it since it was the closest to the classroom where the ladies of the day were grooving to some anonymous song. I had never seen Zumba and was curious. I also found it distracting that they were all dancing so badly to the song running through my head.

Call me The Sweaty Voyeur if you must, but I am pure of heart and soul.

Someone on an elliptical machine two spots to my right was apparently running from hungry wild animals, all settings on full blast. On another, a twenty-something woman was walking backwards while talking on her wicked-smart phone. People of all shapes and sizes, rippled dudes in Iron Man t-shirts, lithe women sweating after seven hours on the treadmill, gym employees checking out the crowd, men of my certain age and older in various stages of health and acceptance, some bewildered that health and conditioning had become so impossibly out of reach, passed as I trudged my way up and over an imaginary, hilly path.

The silent dancers in the glass-enclosed classroom struggled to find the groove of The Pixies‘ “Where Is My Mind” that now sluiced from the iPod Shuffle through my cheap headphones and into my sweaty ears. Didn’t they hear it? What was their problem?

For the record, my playlist today on the elliptical and the torture machines, went like this:

The Pretenders, “Precious”
The Pixies, “Where Is My Mind”
Jimi Hendrix, “If 6 Was 9”
The Rolling Stones, “All Down The Line”
The Rolling Stones, “Brown Sugar”
Faces, “Stay With Me”
Bush, “Everything Zen”
David Essex, “Rock On”
Living Colour, “Back in Black” (cover)
Screaming Trees, “Shadow of the Season”
Band of Skulls, “The Devil Takes Care of His Own”
Bruce Springsteen, “Atlantic City (Live)

Today, somehow, switches flipped in my head to the “on” position.

This was Day 1 in search of health and Day 1 of coming to grips with the concept that I will be doing something new for a living, leaving some things behind while mining for new crown jewels. I had been orbiting these ideas for weeks, months: lose weight, get healthy, keep writing the book, reinvent yourself, study hard that social media and believe you can play that game. Get your boots on and your big boy pants and stop whining and worrying, start doing and trying and taking aim.

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Are writers crazy… or courageous?

Are those of us who write — with the purpose of being published and read by strangers — out of our minds?

I ask this of myself many times, since writing, fiction or not,  is hard enough. Unless you’re already under contract, your the one who gets to decide when the project is ready for public consumption. You have to put the word out, market yourself, tell everyone and anyone about your book or store. Brag.

Lunacy or abject bravery?

You write a book and bark out, “Look at me! I made this! I wrote a book!”

You’ve never heard the sound of crickets laughing?

“Well, I know you don’t know me, but I promise it’s good! I mean, hey, it’s on Kindle so it has to be good!”

Well, that’s way too many exclamation points, someone said.

Piss off!

Then someone reads what you have done — wife, father, friend, complete stranger — and you realize that you just exposed yourself and your precious creativity to the outside world. That you want the reader to like the book is an understatement. You want the reader to love it, almost as much as you want that person not to hate it, because if they do and they’re part of your inner circle, you’ll get an awkward but polite smile and a halfhearted pat on the head. If your reader is a stranger…look out.

Many believe that the hardest part of writing is the re-writing, the editing. I say it’s the promotion. The selling. It feels so good during the writing process (at least it does for me), why ruin things by having to get out there and grind away at trying get other people to read your most personal work? What are we, a public service? Who cares if anyone sees it? Is it all about money? Ego?

No.

Whether it’s romance, pulp, sci-fi, fantasy, chick lit, satire, literary fiction, sports, current events, SEO-heavy web content, biography, articles, blogs or even advertising copy, there is still one common thread, one reason for it all to exist: Telling a story.

We as living, thinking creatures have told stories since cavemen drew on walls, since writers and painters worked under the weight of poverty and never finding fame until their bones had turned to dust. Storytelling is an effort to relate or elicit emotional responses, to find out that we’re not alone in our thoughts or fears and that there is something connecting each of us.

I plan to continue telling stories to anyone within earshot until I turn to dust, crazy or not.

Thirty years gone… but the loves, the friends, and the music are still with me

Time flashing back and forth in my mind today, slicing shards of memories, disjointed, out of context and questionable in accuracy.

Tomorrow night — yes, I think it’s tomorrow night — I will attend my high school reunion, again, this time the event will mark 30 years since graduation.

Thirty years. Impossible.

I can’t say that I think of my entire high school tenure fondly or remember everything all that well. There are names disconnected with faces in my memory, now thrust at me via social media as the information flies through my eyes and my ears ahead of this… this… thing.

And as I ponder my high school years now — Did I know him? Why don’t I remember her? Did we really do that? — I can thankfully, blessedly, fortunately ease back into the comfort of knowing two things, deep and softly into what have become pillows upon which I can rest my weary mind, tired heart and aging body.

  1. Without realizing it then, I had already met my future wife in high school. It took decades to find her, find us, but it happened.
  2. To this day, I can count on four men as my closest and most important friends. We have known each other for 33 years; a few of them have known each other even longer. Loyal. Vital. Absolute.

Saturday night, 30 years and about a month later, we will gather. There will be small talk and big talk. There will be laughs and, due the saddening and maddening realization that we have lost too many of the class already, there could be tears. And there will be the attempt by many to relive the lost glowing and out-of-focus days of our youth. People who barely spoke those years ago will be, for a night, friends.

Someone asked me the other day if I was popular in high school. Hell no, I said. But I had my friends, and we were popular to each other, easily shifting between the cliques and the sides and the groups without fitting into just one. We were our own group, our own armada of teenagers looking out at the world with varying degrees of wonder.

My high school served grades 10, 11 and 12. I moved into the town in time to begin that first high school class there, the one that joined two other junior high schools and transfers like me. Many kids already knew each other, but not all. There was a definite, palpable division between those who attended Junior High School A and Junior High School B. I floated between the two, which was good since there were no preconceptions and no baggage. Of course, I was also new, so no one really had to care about my presence.

What did she say, the kid sitting next to me asked.

I have no idea, I replied. We have been friends ever since.

Struggling now. Get the brain moving again, deeper, clearer…

Funny, what sticks out in my mind the most about high school — other than the obvious  wife and friends thing— is music. I picked up my first guitar in high school, and my appreciation of music deepened with their help and diversity of thought. As an even younger boy, well before the big move, I used to dig through my parents’ album collection to find Sinatra, Doo Wop, Carole King, James Taylor, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Big Band. High school brought the blues, more jazz, alternative rock, heavy metal, what was becoming the New Wave. I opened up to it all, and we took it all in, happily finding sanctuary.

Again, that was all 30 years ago. As much out of curiosity as out of a desperate need to refresh my memory, I sought out listings of albums released during my senior year of high school. And while some of you might remember that Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” single, a hang-over release from 1981, was the Number One single of ’82. If you liked it, so be it… but, yikes.

I also found that Rick Springfield felt it necessary to release his follow-up album to “Working Class Dog,” which gave the pop world the simple but everlasting “Jesse’s Girl.” Why he and his record company every thought that 1982’s “Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet” was a good idea, I’ll never know.

I have to confess that I never liked Michael Jackson’s music, but in 1982, the kid from the Jackson 5 put out the iconic “Thriller.” In hindsight, I commend that album, but still don’t like it very much.

There were some fine albums released that year, ones that changed the music industry forever. Some of them directly altered my personality and the way I would look at life.

Here now are the 10 albums dropped on the world 30 years ago, the ones that mattered, to me if no one else:

10. The Jam, “The Gift” — I never heard anything like “A Town Called Malice” before.

9. Sonic Youth, “Sonic Youth” — They didn’t need to say anything more with the title, and I, too, have nothing more to say.

8. The Talking Heads, “The Name of this Band is The Talking Heads” — A game-changer.

7. Modern English, “After the Snow” — Maybe not the greatest album of the alternative era, but “I Melt With You” is still with us and still great in its painful honesty and simplicity.

6. The Clash, “Combat Rock” — Maybe this was not The Clash’s best entry. Fair enough, though it was still very good and among the best of the year. I mean, come on. “Straight to Hell” is this one.

5. Bruce Springsteen. “Nebraska” — When we really got to know the real Bruce Springsteen. He changed his image forever here.

4. Marshall Crenshaw, “Marshall Crenshaw” — “Someday, Some Way” isn’t enough?

3. The Psychedelic Furs, “Forever Now” — The title track and “Love My Way” open this killer post-punk classic.

2. X, “Under the Big Black Sun” — L.A. punk at its finest. I had never heard such music, such poetry, such anger before.

1. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “Long After Dark” — Life-altering music from a band of artists already molding my taste and appreciation for perfect execution, melody, harmony and musicianship wrapped around distinctive voices and approachable lyrics. Thank you, Tom.

Thirty years is a long time. I’m happy, lucky to have been able to carry many treasures with me along the way.