Writing Questions

I’ve been writing for a long time. Well, it seems like that to me, and for most people, 14 years isn’t anything to sneeze at. That’s a quarter of my life.

If you’ve been a reader of my various blogs, then you are somewhat familiar with my story. If you haven’t heard it before, here it is in a nutshell. At the age of 39, after dabbling with writing on-and-off for a couple of years, I got serious about my craft. Much of this newfound motivation was a result of reading Stephen King’s well-known book about writing, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I followed his advice in establishing a routine and adopting discipline. About a year later, I had an essay published. Three years later, my award-winning first book, When Towns Had Teams, came out. That was in 2005.

I continued on through two Moxie books, the period I called “the Moxie years,” and in 2012, decided it was time to move on to something more personal—a book of seven essays touching down on my life experiences, with several centered on my hometown of Lisbon Falls. That book was a failure from a sales standpoint, even though it contained my best writing to date.

During the last decade-and-a-half, I’ve also spent extended periods freelancing for local newspapers, regional magazines, alt-weeklies, and a few websites. I’ve gathered a file of clips, with my most recent ones posted here.

A week ago, a talented local writer who also happens to blog posted about her own challenges as a writer. She was honest about her own struggles and a recent tough patch that she’s been through, including receiving rejection notices for her latest novel.

It takes courage to remain transparent and not paper over our failures and the moments when we question whether writing really matters, or not. I commend this talented writer for being forthright.

When I decided to get real about my own quest to be a writer, I embraced blogging. That was back in 2003 and I was working at a large insurance company I often refer to as, “Moscow Mutual.” My posts pretty much wrote themselves, I had so much to talk about and wanted to share everything with the whole world.

During the past 13 years, I’ve experienced maybe two “dry spells” as a blogger. The last one was back in 2007, I think.

My routine of blogging twice weekly since 2012 has been fun. This self-imposed schedule used to be something I shared as a point of pride, especially with writing students, as an example of “writers gotta’ write.”

Yes, “writers gotta’ write” until it feels like writing is self-indulgent and whatever I have to say has been said by others (much better). After years of at best, mediocre traffic at any of my various blogs, I have been wondering, “what’s the point?”

I’m not going to deep-six the JBE just yet, but I’m not feeling any real urgency to post regularly, either.

Maybe the multiple “jobs” I’ve taken on to cobble together my daily bread have sapped some of my creative energy. I’m no writing super hero, you know! Or perhaps I’m just tired of being ignored by everyone, save for a few devoted readers and commenters.

Sometimes, words escape us.

When it’s hard finding the words…

At one point, I was overtly political as a blogger. I’ve decided that I’m not going to tell you how you should vote each and every week. Not that any of it really matters, anyways. There are only so many ways you can frame posts that posit “technology is bad” before you sound like a broken record. I think it’s better to just keep my thoughts and ideas to myself.

The last time I went on a blogging sabbatical, it was short-lived and I came back a few weeks later armed for bear. Maybe that will happen again, I don’t know. Until that happens, I have plenty of tasks on my to-do list to cross off.

In the old days, people seemed to know how to track us down. They sent letters, or picked up their rotary dial phones and rang us up. Now, email is to labor-intensive to bother with.

In our current era of button-pushing and “liking,” it seems much harder to remain tethered to others outside of the digital realm. There’s an isolation that I’ve been experiencing for some time now.

There is no blog post, or series of posts that will fix that.

What’s the Call?

I am a baseball umpire. I enjoy telling people that and I’m proud of my development over the past four years.

Baseball is a sport that I’d say is “in my blood,” one I’m intimately familiar with—I played it, then served as a coach and later—ran a summer college league (one of the oldest in the country) for five years. I can say with authority that I know the game of baseball. I think that’s played a role in helping me advance as an umpire. This spring and summer, I’ve done 65 games and save for a couple of miserable games in the rain, enjoyed every experience of being on the field and calling games.

Several weeks ago, I learned from one of my umpiring partners that volleyball is growing rapidly in Maine and that there is a need for new officials. He had begun attending rules classes, and he encouraged me to check it out.

I asked Joe if he had played the game and his answer was, “no.” That piqued my interest because like him, I have never played volleyball, save for the backyard-variety version of the sport that many of us have dabbled in at a party or family gathering. I’ve also been interested in picking up a “second sport” to officiate. Perhaps volleyball could be added to my repertoire? A secondary question could be added;  “Do I need to add yet another task to my already loaded list?”

I'll be calling a brand new sport this fall.

I’ll be calling a brand new sport this fall.

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Travel Day

Last Thursday, I got on a plane headed to Omaha, Nebraska. On the way, we had to stop in Charlotte because the airline said it takes two planes to make it halfway across the country.

My travel companion was headed to Omaha to swim, bike, and run. This was for the 2016 USA Triathlon National Championships in her age group. She had qualified at last summer’s Challenge America Triathlon held in Old Orchard Beach.

Initially, I wasn’t bullish on going to Omaha, Nebraska. But a vacation is good once in awhile, even if I think they’re overrated. Plus, Warren Buffett lives in Omaha, and maybe he’d give me a pile of money if I saw him on the street.

Miss Mary (my travel companion and wife) swam in some water on Saturday morning. This was Carter Lake, and I think it was actually in Iowa, but I’m not sure. Iowa is really close to Omaha—it’s just across the river, truth be told.

After her swim, Mary biked. She did really well. Mark (our son, who met us in Omaha after coming down from Vancouver, headed to Providence, RI) and I cheered every time Mary went by us. We took lots of pictures, too. Continue reading

A Bit More About John Gould

[I’m “off the air” for a few days, holed up at an undisclosed location. It’s what guys like me call “vacation time.” While I’m away, I’ll leave you with the transcript of my talk on former Lisbon writer, John Gould, held at the Lisbon Historical Society, Wednesday night.–the j(b)e.]

John Gould is one of a handful of Maine authors that once were known statewide and beyond for their literary contributions. Today, few people outside of a demographic that is likely to be weighted towards card-carrying members of the AARP know who Gould is.

So, who was John Gould?

A thumbnail bio reads like this:

  • Between 1942 and 2003, he wrote more than 30 books.
  • He also maintained a weekly syndicated column for The Christian Science Monitor that ran for 62 years, which makes him America’s longest-running syndicated columnist.
  • He wrote a best-selling book, the book that put him on the map for many, Farmer Takes a Wife. That book reached best-selling status 71 years ago.
  • Gould’s final work, Tales from Rhapsody Home, or What They Don’t Tell You About Senior Living, was released when Gould was 92-years-old. For his efforts to put the spotlight on how many seniors were being mistreated in the twilight years of their life, and paying for that “privilege,” he and his wife Dot got booted out of the home where they were living at the time.

You could say that Gould was the Garrison Keillor of his time and generation. His wry observations, mixed with a contrarian streak, offered a portrait of small-town Maine that few others have been able to capture—Ruth Moore (another forgotten Maine writer) is someone that comes to mind. Ironically, Moore’s book of letters contains several between her and Gould, as he was also fond of corresponding in a fashion that once marked how we kept in touch, long before social media made button pushing the bomb.

Nice turnout at the Lisbon Historical Society to hear about John Gould.

Nice turnout at the Lisbon Historical Society to hear about John Gould.

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Vacations are Overrated

I rarely take vacations anymore. The main reason is that freelancers don’t get paid when they’re not working.

On the other hand, many people that I know that work a traditional job with vacation benefits seem to be on vacation all the time, or at least several times a year. I was at a family party on Saturday and I asked where some people were—the answer was, “they’re at the Jersey Shore.” I wasn’t surprised because these are people who seem to live to take vacations. To each his own, I guess.

Once you get into a certain rhythm for work, you actually don’t require as much downtime as the traditional 6-week-a-year vacation types insist that they must have. A day here or there seems to suffice.

Old school vacationers playing golf.

Old school vacationers playing golf.

The best vacation I’ve had in recent memory was when Mary and I rented a camp in Steuben, sight-unseen. That was back in 2007, when our Sheltie, Bernie, was still alive. Mark and his girlfriend-at-the-time drove up from Boston. It was a bucolic week spent frolicking along the seashore, walking the neighboring nature preserve, biking off-the-beaten path, and eating clams that we bought each day from a local digger—we even visited the site where a baby whale had washed up on the beach. Continue reading

One Week, in One Year

Our lives are made up of minutes that become hours that run into days that eventually become years. Then, it’s over. There’s an announcement in the newspaper, or a Facebook update mentioning an obituary. Maybe there’s a visitation, a funeral, or simply the memories of a life lived out across a small ripple in a sea of time.

I’ve lived out more than half of my ripple. Will it leave even the smallest of marks on the water’s surface after I’m gone? Nothing’s certain on that front. I hold the belief that how we live and what we do while here matters—at least that’s the hope, lacking any guarantee.

Last week offered perhaps the most representative summation of the freelance lifestyle from my vantage point. Equal parts enjoyable, even empowering, intertwined with a stretch that left me uncharacteristically weary, requiring tapping into a reserve that I wasn’t sure I had. Every segment of my puzzle-piece work life was represented.

Back when I was running laps around the usual five-day-a-week labor track, I complained that my two-day weekends weren’t long enough. Now, finding a 48-hour stretch of time to step away from wage-gathering happens so infrequently for me that I sometimes resent those who have it so good—and yet find the need to voice their displeasure in my presence or via social media—not knowing that it irritates me (although I try to overlook it).

The world of work continues evolving.

The world of work continues evolving.

Writing is a passion of mine. If I have to name what it is that I do, I’ll always self-identify as “a freelance writer.” It took me nearly 40 years to recognize a talent (some might even qualify it as “a gift) that remained hidden under layers of work, family obligations, and even romantic notions about what constituted “the writing life”—as if there’s one defining frame for being a writer. Runners have different strides, just like pitchers rely on their own style and array of pitches in getting batters out. My writing experience is probably different than yours (if you’re a writer), as it should be.

I began the writing journey back in 2002, with 2003 being the year that I set my face “like flint” towards a goal to make writing central in my life. By 2006, I recognized that writing didn’t automatically deliver riches, but rather (at least for me) required creativity and supplemental income—at least if I didn’t want to end up foreclosing on my house, or worse. I turned back towards a more traditional, 40-hour way of making a living, while still continuing to write. In fact, it was during this stretch that I released my two books on Moxie. Continue reading

When Your Autopilot Fails

Cars have always fascinated me. This likely dates back to what I can recall of my earliest memories—sitting next to my father, riding with him in his 1962 Ford Fairlane, and watching him manually shift on the column. He’d even let me grab the shifter and after he depressed the clutch, I got to throw the Ford into third gear.

My earliest driving lessons were in a 1962 Ford Fairlaine.

The 1962 Ford Fairlaine: Back when men were men, and cars were meant to be driven.

I’ve just spent much of the past week trying to get JBE1 back to where he was pre-breakdown. For some reason, when my electrical system failure related to losing the serpentine belt, the incident also threw off my air conditioning. All seems to be right in the world, or at least with my car, at the moment.

The automotive world, like much of the rest of the things in our lives, has been increasingly altered by technology. Techno-utopians always consider technology’s upside, while minimizing and often, whitewashing any of the negatives of computers controlling most of our lives—and now, our cars. Continue reading

Hot in Cleveland

I’ve never been to Cleveland. I did drive a U-Haul truck through the middle of the city on a couple of occasions between Mike Pence’s Indiana and Maine. They tell me that the GOP is having their convention in the place where rock and roll is lionized, at least by the arbiters at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I do remember a night from Cleveland’s past, filled with smoke and burning records. That took place at a strange intersection where baseball and disco came together—at a stadium by the lake that’s a mere memory.

Rock and Roll and disco are like oil and water.

Rock and Roll and disco are like oil and water.

Not much to say today, at least nothing that I can say that won’t get me on the wrong side of the PC fence from the real fascists and censors.

I did have the strangest of dreams last night. I was at the Democratic National Convention and I was supporting Hillary in the most lukewarm sort of ways. Oddly, she had morphed from the frumpy and shrill, to slender (in a female volleyball player’s body) and unassuming. All the attendees were pudgy white males and women worshiping their queen. Bernie Sanders’ gang were not present, so no graying ponytails. Continue reading

My Car Let Me Down

I was looking forward to Wednesday night. Not because I was planning a night on the town, nor was it a high-end date night at one of Portland’s finer restaurants, either.

Wednesday wasn’t even my “day off”; that happens to be Tuesday nowadays—me with my five variant shades of work. After knocking out six hours of financial coordination at the credit union, I was off to umpire in South Portland, at SMCC. The night was comfortable, especially with the school’s ball field situated, overlooking Casco Bay.

What was the source of my anticipation? A night when I wouldn’t be beckoned while being on-call at the funeral home. I’d finally have a night where I could finish my game, drive home, eat dinner, have a beer or two, and somewhat approximate the normal end-of-the-day experience of most Americans.

Instead, JBE1, aka my 2008 Ford Taurus, had other plans. He would choose Wednesday night to shed his serpentine belt and offer a glimpse of the night ahead.This was foreshadowed while we were tooling along Broadway in South Portland, headed towards the college. A red battery icon began glowing, while a message of “check charging system” commenced flashing across the car’s instrument panel. Continue reading

Pride and Prejudice

Everyone’s looking for a tribe to run with. Sometimes, people find it when they embrace a certain way of seeing the world—religion and politics being two of these.

Turning on the Tee Vee is always fraught with the potential that it could ruin one’s day. I was reminded of this again on Sunday.

After standing in the rain for 5 ½ hour, umpiring two AAU tournament games, I got home late on Saturday, cold, hungry, and exhausted. If you were out in the elements on Saturday, you’ll remember it was unseasonably cold, with precipitation alternating between light drizzle and downpours.

With yet another game on the books for Sunday afternoon, I was looking for a weather forecast, while also wanting to see if the local news puppets bothered to cover the Moxie Festival parade from Saturday, I flicked on the television after pouring my first coffee of the morning.

Oddly, I was treated to a series of social justice warrior gatherings in the first 10 minutes of the newscast. Maine, like the rest of the country, seems to be in the midst of some kind of collective meltdown.

The second story, about a group of white people, mainly women, caught my attention. They had gathered on Saturday in Belfast, Maine, and held a Black Lives Matter rally, or so I was told by the newscaster, reading from his teleprompter. Have there been a rash of racially-motivated shootings in Maine that I missed?

Blacks Lives Matter in Belfast.

Blacks Lives Matter in Belfast.

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