Still Pushing the Envelope

Aging is many things—we stop being active, no longer take risks, start referring to ourselves as “old”—these are just three things that come to mind when I think of people I know who have transitioned from being “young” to being “old.”

I’ve been thinking about my own life, and what motivates me to keep pushing through resistance. Recently getting another book out the door—my fourth title in nine years—doesn’t qualify as prolific, but it’s still a respectable output for a writer that does more than just write to make a living.

When I set out down the road to be a writer in 2002, I knew nothing about what lie ahead. Fortunately, I was aware that in order to compensate for starting later than many (I was 40 at the time), I would have to work my ass off at learning the craft of writing. For me that’s always been about writing as much as I could carve out time for, in a nod to Stephen King’s advice in On Writing, I’ve written almost every day for the past 12 years.

“Have you written your own success letter?”

I hear writers talking about “writers block” from time to time. Personally, I don’t know what that is. My problem is usually figuring out what to pick from—I almost always have more things to write about than the time to fully develop each idea. Most days, even on the blog, I’m choosing from 2 or 3 different topics to post about. I guess I’m lucky in that way.

Occasionally, this can also be a curse. My son believes that there is danger inherent in talking about ideas before setting them in motion. I agree with him somewhat. Sometimes, talking about our ideas engender feelings akin to accomplishment, which take us away from actually doing the hard work of creation and following projects through to completion. Not always, however.

My new book of essays has been in process for at least four or five years. I say, “four or five years,” because most of the essays were written over that period of time. One in fact, “A Dog’s Life,” about losing our beloved sheltie, Bernie, was written in May, 2009, just after he passed away in our dining room at age 15. Mary and I were devastated. So was Mark. Fifteen years is a long time to have an animal that embodied many human qualities—or at least we ascribed this qualities to Bernie—and then, losing him, it rips your heart out.

“A Northerner’s Journey Crossing the South” was written a few months after Mary and I hit the road to meet up with Mark in 2010, as he walked crossed the US in a mere 81 days. We met him in Sweetwater, Texas, spent two days with him, and he ushered us on our way. He gave us a gift, recognizing he had his own journey to complete and that we needed to find our own. We were sad to leave him, but compliance and traveling east bestowed unique experiences on Mary and me.

Sometimes we need a spark to take a project from mere idea to completion. My spark became my fall 2013 writing class for Lewiston Adult Education.

After teaching narrative nonfiction classes for the past three years, I wanted to offer something new and have it be a bit provocative. The class, Let’s Write That Book: 8 Weeks to Writing and Publishing Your First Book, became my most popular class for LAE—we had to turn people away.

No one writes a book in 8 weeks—at least not a book anyone would want to read. However, it gave me the kick in the ass I needed, and here we are in mid-2014, and I’m now marketing a brand new book.

The challenge now becomes—how do I convince people to buy it and read it? For me, it’s the best writing I’ve ever done. I’ve moved on from writing about novelty subjects, like Moxie, and I’m tackling life and the challenges that come from living it. Pushing past the strictures of organized religion, including Catholicism, fundamentalist Xianity, and parents that didn’t really understand who I was, along with some really tough years out in Indiana with a young family, working in a prison—these are just a few topics I tackle in The Perfect Number: Essays & Stories Vol. 1.

Part of the Jim Baumer Experience brand is given to being provocative (but able to back it up). So let me throw this out there. While I may not be Maine’s best-known nonfiction writer, I think I might be one of the more unique ones.

While many so-called writers seem to be focusing their energy on building a Twitter following rather than long-form content like blogging and books, I keep trucking along, working on putting up consistent content, building a diverse catalog of books, tackling independent publishing, and bringing a DIY sensibility to the process.

Who else in Maine is doing something similar?

Up next (on Friday): I’ll be writing about how the poor and capitalism, with comments about John Hope Bryant’s provocative new book, How the Poor Can Save Capitalism: Rebuilding the Path to the Middle Class. Provocative stuff and much different than this drivel coming from Maine’s current governor, and passing for informed journalism.

Staying Married

Popular culture often fixates on falling in love. Rarely does a movie, a book, or even popular song, pay tribute to staying in love. Divorce statistics cite that about 41 percent of first marriages end in divorce. We also know that people aren’t getting married as often as they have in the past.

So how do you stay married to the same person for 32 years? I’m not sure I have a formula worked out. Mary and I took some detours, and spent time bumping along in the ditch, before we managed to get our ride back on the smooth blacktop. That’s probably common for many people when first married.

I do know that back in 1978, I met a wonderfully, special young lady who was 17-years-old. We were both too young and lacking in life experience to fully grasp the ramifications of what was about to happen.

When you get married young, you are apt to grow up together—or eventually grow apart. Luckily for us, the former happened.

Marriage Day, July 17, 1982.

Marriage Day, July 17, 1982.

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Weekends in July

This past weekend was a busy one. There was an abundance of activity happening at our house, and across the river, in the ole’ hometown.

Friday night was the Moxie Recipe Contest. My sister again choreographed a cook-off that had moxie, with dishes enhanced with Moxie, the distinctly different soft drink that’s followed with cult-like fervor here in New England. If you missed it, you can read one of the more unique articles about the evening written by Mark LaFlamme, intrepid Sun-Journal reporter.

Giving instructions to the Moxie Recipe Contest jury.

Giving instructions to the Moxie Recipe Contest jury.

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Scripting Your Life

Is it possible to script your own life? Can you put things into play that lead to the outcomes you desire?

When I used to do workforce development, which involved training and preparing individuals for employment, I was amazed by how many of our trainees’ lives were out of control. Poor choices in men, past employment decisions that marred resumes, the permanent altering of aspects of their bodies, and criminal histories, all severely limited many in the choice of work we could train them for. There are reasons why some jobs pay $9/hour, while others pay $20.

Setting off in a certain direction 10 years ago, I had a global sense of where I wanted to go. My primary goal at the time was leaving the place where I was working—at Moscow Mutual—embarking on a life of writing. Looking back on 2004 from my current vantage point, I am amazed by how few of the specifics I had figured out at that moment in time in respect to reaching this point on the timeline of my life—for instance, I had no clue about what a gap analysis was. Continue reading

The Summer Season

Summer has arrived. After what seemed like an interminable winter, and a cool spring, heat and humidity are now the order of our days as we proceed into July’s second week.

Maine’s shortest season is one that we all seem to relish. It’s a time for heading to the state’s abundant coastline, or inland to the lakes. Residents of the state try to cram as much outdoor activities into their social calendars as possible.

For me, summer is usually the time I release my books. When Towns Had Teams was a summer book, and of course, both Moxie books were set to come out during Moxie Season. The Perfect Number is also coming out during the summer, with books arriving on Friday from the printer.

There's nothing like the Maine coast in the summer.

There’s nothing like the Maine coast in the summer.

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Building a Consistent Body of Work

Taking a book from idea to finished product, especially doing it yourself, is a process. A process, I might add that very few know much about. Many wannabes aspire, but few actually do it once—let alone multiple times.

After the manuscript had been completed for my first book, When Towns Had Teams, I was having trouble finding a publisher for something I’d poured my passion into for more than a year. Faced with a choice—keep banging my head against a door that wouldn’t open (traditional publishing)—or figure out a new way of doing things, I opted for the latter. I launched my own micro-press imprint, RiverVision Press. It became the vehicle to get that first book out, and subsequent titles of mine (as well as one ill-fated foray into publishing a book by someone else).

Once you figure out how to publish your own book independently, you get hooked. You think, “I’ve done it once; can I do it again?” The gauntlet has been laid down. You are determined to work the DIY angle once again and see if you can improve your process.

Building a catalog.

Building a catalog.

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Why Moxie?

I’ve moved on from Moxie—at least that’s what I tell myself. But, just when I think I’m free, Moxie reels me back in.

An important Lisbon matriarch passed away last Wednesday. Her death, just two weeks prior to the festival she nurtured for nearly a decade resonates through the town where I grew up and where upwards of 50,000 people will be coming to visit, the 2nd weekend in July.

Sue Conroy; Community Leader

Sue Conroy; Community Leader

I’ve written about Sue Conroy in my two books about Moxie. I referred to her as the “behind-the-scenes maven” of Moxie at the time (2008, when I interviewed her for Moxietown). If I had to “blame” someone for the topic that I’m sure some people get tired of hearing me talk about, probably thinking, “STFU about Moxie, already,” then I’m sorry Sue, I’m laying that honor at your feet.

I’ve been working on a story about the upcoming Moxie Festival that will run next Sunday, in the Lewiston Sun-Journal. When b-Section editor, Mark Mogensen, who I’ve been freelancing stories to at the paper for a couple of months, including my latest Explore! columns asked me about writing it, I wasn’t sure I wanted to crank out another piece on Moxie. I mean, what more can I say about the distinctly different soft drink that has spawned a festival in a town that desperately needs the positive energy that fans of Moxie will bring with them when they come to visit for three days? Apparently, a little bit more. Continue reading

Explore! New Gloucester-Bonus Material

In May, I began contributing to the Sun-Journal’s Explore! feature in their Sunday b-Section. I pick a town and explore it with fresh eyes. Last month I visited Wilton, and for June, I was nosing around in New Gloucester.

I had a bit of bonus content last month about a giant and a naked man in the wilderness that I tied in to the print piece. This month, with Moxie deadlines looming, a new book just off to the printer, plus a few other irons in the fire, I wasn’t intending to post bonus material. However, since Pineland Farms is in New Gloucester, and is mentioned in today’s feature, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share just a bit about Pineland’s past, my own ties to it, and the unique destination it’s become. Plus, I’m a writer and a blogger, and I can’t help myself.

The entrance to Pineland off Route 231.

The entrance to Pineland off Route 231.

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When Weeks Become Months

Last fall I taught a class called Let’s Write That Book: 8 Weeks to Writing and Publishing Your First Book for Lewiston Adult Education. It was my favorite class of all of the ones I’ve taught in the four years I’ve been teaching writing to adult learners.

I didn’t really believe you could write a book in mere weeks, but I wanted a class that was different than the previous narrative nonfiction classes I’d taught—one with a provocative orientation. It obviously worked because we filled the class and ended up with a waiting list.

The class was beneficial for me, as it lit a fire under my own ass and got me motivated to get a fourth book rolling forward. It was also the best group of writers I’d gathered for any of my various classes. Continue reading

Some Fans Are Better Than Others

Umpiring is more demanding than most people realize. I’ve umpired before, the last time being 2002, yet I don’t remember having to run as much as I have when working the bases in a two-man system, which is what most amateur leagues employ (as well as lower-level pro leagues, too). The plate is an entirely different and demanding experience.

After working back-to-back doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday, I was back behind the plate last night. My lower back, calves, and hamstrings are tight this morning, and I’ll be out there again tonight, my seventh game in the last five days. Continue reading