Your Imagination: The Original Frenemy

“Situations—even “dramatic” situations like bankruptcy, divorce, death and economic recession—cannot directly cause a feeling of any kind until the brain interprets and creates a story about said situation.”

 

Steve Chandler, Time Warrior

As a writer, I find my imagination is a true frenemy. He lacks a conscience. He can spin a hell of yarn but he cares not for the consequences. He says he’s there to do a job, and by God, he’s going to do it.

When he’s cooperative, I love the guy. He’s inspiring. He’s fascinating. He’s turning left when I expect him to swing right.

But like any bullshitter, there are times when you just want him to tell the truth or go away. Stop trying to scare me. Stop trying to goad me into thinking that I’m making a horrible mistake or that I’m just no good. We all know you’re convincing, Mr. Imagination. We all know you’ve figured out exactly which buttons to press.

Please, just get back to pressing other people’s buttons so they’ll keep reading your stories. Use your powers for good, for heaven’s sake!

-Phillip

Cookin’ Burgers

Try as I might, I’m having a hard time finding something engaging to talk about today. Must be the heat.

I thought I would share a cookbook based on a cartoon: The Bob’s Burgers Burger Book 

Not only are the three recipes we’ve tried so far delicious and unique, but the writers have imparted their senses of humor onto the text. Bob’s Burgers was a show my wife and I could not stand after the first few viewings, but somehow Angus grew attached to the animation and we’ve actually fallen for the odd, lovable family.

Anyway, the recipes are put together by this guy, and are based on the fake “Burger of the Day” chalkboarded in each episode.

How can you go wrong with burgers named “A Good Manchego is Hard to Find” or “To Err is Cumin?”

FYI, for the herbivores among us, these can all be converted to vegetarian.

Happy Burgering!

-Phillip

One Part Humility, One Part Hubris

“…please remember this: excessive pride is a familiar sin, but a man may just as easily frustrate the will of God through excessive humility.” – Cuthbert from Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth

One of the difficult things for a published (or hopeful) author to square, at least this author, is the need for humility with the need for hubris. We feel like we have something to say, so we say it. We have to assume someone will care about what we say, otherwise we’d never publish, and it may even be reason enough to keep some of us from ever writing at all.

But we also need to be aware of our shortcomings. We can’t allow arrogance to get in the way of what we want to say. We could end up sabotaging the very message we’re so intent on communicating. We could forgo learning a new trick because we think we know them all.

So we have to strike a balance. If you’re like me, cycling between arrogance and abasement is a daily occurrence and I’m usually tottering over the edge one way or the other before I realize I need a course correction.

Most everyone reading this is a writer, well versed in conflict. How do you deal with this?

– Phillip

This Is Where It’s At

You can get with this, or you can get with that.
You can get with this, or you can get with that.
You can get with this, or you can get with that.

I think you’ll get with this, for this is where it’s at.

 

The Choice is Yours by Black Sheep

You ever experience those times where you have everything planned out and your finger is on the button, then someone pulls a Joker from the deck and changes everything?

Yesterday morning, my mind was clear and the workweek was coming to a comfortable close. I finally wrapped up a months-long study of novel structure and was ready to get back to writing my own stuff. I’ve been feeling more confident, more excited than ever to start putting everything I’ve learned to work.

Then I find out we have a leaky air conditioner which has caused some major water damage to our downstairs flooring. On the bright side, we’re renters. On the not-so-bright-side, we do live in the house and that means we now have to deal with the headache of scheduling contractors and insurance folk, figuring out the living situation in case we have to move into a hotel for a week, what are we going to do with the cat, oh boy this month is not bearing out as expected, just hand me the cyanide pills, blah.

Alright, it’s not that bad. But it’s enough to get my mind thinking about too many things when I had spent the week cleaning it out for story work.

But I woke up this morning, hit the gym to force myself to focus on something physical, came home and brewed the coffee, and sat down with my laptop. I set the timer on my Timex for twenty-five minutes, and got to work. The first couple of minutes were spent in monkey-mind mode. Then came the flow. Pure flow.

Before I knew it, the timer went off and I smiled at the output on the screen. I stretched my legs a bit and prepared for another sprint.

I had made a choice.

I could get with this, or I could get with that.

I chose this.

Because this is where it’s at.

-Phillip

Fire! Get out of the house!

I found this little gem in the veritable treasure chest of trivia and historical keepsakes that is The People’s Almanac #2, published in 1978.

Most of us probably remember a similar robot popularized by Rocky IV. If you’re interested in what ever became of Klatu, read this. Lots of information from people who knew the inventor. What a crazy history and despite James Cameron’s warnings, it’s no wonder the robopocalypse didn’t happen in the coming decades.

Happy Friday, friends. Be sure to set your robots on stun before you turn in tonight.

-Phillip

Busy Being Busy

It’s hard to find anything to say about life without immersing yourself in the world, but it’s also just about impossible to figure out what it might be, or how best to say it, without getting the hell out of it again. – Kreider, Tim (2012, June 30). The ‘Busy’ Trap. The New York Times.

Last night, I spent thirty minutes trying to get through three paragraphs of a National Geographic piece on the hardships of widows in the world. I was tired. Emails buzzed my work phone every five minutes. Angus was prying at my fingers so that I would come and play cars.

Of course, he then started bugging mom who was trying to get some cross-stitching done for a friend’s birthday present and had been dealing with him all day while I’d been in the office (dealing with children of a different sort). I reluctantly put down the magazine, hid my phone, and as tired as I was, fully engaged myself with Angus and his cars.

The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.

As I wrapped a flexible, rubber Mr. Bean action figure around the top of a toy ambulance and pushed him toward Angus Hospital, my brain began to boil over. Potential characters, settings, and plots based on those three paragraphs I’d read popped out faster than I could grab my phone and record them.H

Of course Angus protested while I furiously tapped out the thoughts, but then I put down my phone and made sure Mr. Bean’s pal, the six-inch rubber iguana, made it to surgery on time.

I was reminded that disconnecting is precious. Not just to create good memories me and my son, as in this instance, but for being creative. The National Geographic magazine isn’t going anywhere. I won’t receive my walking papers the next morning because I failed to read a work email after business hours. As for being tired? I’m pretty sure that’s a synonym for parenting.

-Phillip

Struggling to Give Good Things Power

“Suffering is sometimes cleansing,” said the man. His clothes were casual, but expensive. “It can purify.”

 

“It can also fuck you up,” said Shadow.

 

– Neil Gaiman, American Gods

I love it when the brain takes two completely different sources of input and creates something new.

I just wrapped up my initial round of studying Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (one of five novels I’ve decided to really break down and hopefully gain insight as to why it resonated with me and other people, and also why it didn’t resonate with some). I’ll try not to spoil anything, but the central concept is that things only hold great power if we believe in them. I’ll leave the universal truth of this up to theologians and philosophers, but the idea is a simple one and I believe it to be true on at least some level. I’ve seen thoughts have a large influence on actions, both with myself and with others. The whole movement behind “positive thinking” is testament to this creed.

But as useful as positive thinking can be, that’s only one part of the equation. Next comes the action.

“My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” – 1 John 3:18, Holy Bible (King James Version)

Joe Rogan and Jocko Willink believe struggle is an imperative of mankind. Without it, we’re never truly human.

It’s so easy to give power to the bad things these days. How do we ensure that the things we become don’t harm us or others?

How do we give good things power?

Is a person you know suffering with depression or grieving? We’re so busy. We can send a text or make a quick phone call and leave it at that. That fits into the ten-minute time slot you have between meetings today. Then you can feel the lingering guilt the rest of the week over your token sympathy.

Or you can postpone the “me” time you had planned for Saturday and invite them over for their favorite meal, play a board game, and remind them of the good in life. Even better, you can ask them what they most need right now and do that thing for them — iron their clothes, clean their kitchen, and so on.

What about deciding what you’re going to put in your body? You can pick up that $5 cheeseburger combo meal on the way home from work and burp the night away.

Or you can take the extra time to stop at the market and pick up some fresh spinach, a few other vegetables, maybe some salmon if you’re omnivorously inclined, and spend the evening preparing a meal that your body will not hate you for.

All this isn’t to say we should always and only be struggling in life. After all, the point of struggling is the celebration of overcoming. Of knowing that you earned your place.

But it’s probably a good idea to keep a running tally of the things you’ve achieved of which you’re most proud and remember the scar-inducing battles you fought along the way. It’s also good to remind ourselves that not all struggles are large and visible. Most of them, in my experience, are quiet and personal.

Please, join me in the struggle to give the good things power.

-Phillip

In No Hurry

“He was in no hurry.” – Neil Gaiman, American Gods

The ribs are marinating. The cobbler’s been baked. I think we’re ready for today! I just wrapped up my initial outline of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (appropriately enough). The idea of time, and what we do with it, weighs heavily on my mind this morning. Make the most of your days.

For those in the States, Happy 4th of July.

For those elsewhere, please, find something to celebrate.

-Phillip

Busy Day

Lots of preparing for tomorrow’s Fourth of July festivities. Finally settling down for the evening and watching the final episode of GLOW. What a great show. As a child of the 80s, every aspect perfectly captures the look and feel of a time that looms large in my memory banks. Even if you don’t have the same twinge of nostalgia, it’s still well produced. If you have a Netflix, I recommend checking it out.

See you all tomorrow!

-Phillip

Percolating

“I realized that I was going to have to get up at five in the morning if I wanted to write fiction. It took a while, the alarm would go off and I’d roll over. Finally I started to get up and go into the living room and sit at the coffee table with a yellow pad and try to write two pages. I made a rule that I had to get something down on paper before I could put the water on for the coffee. Know where you’re going and then put the water on. That seemed to work because I did it for most of the fifties.” – Elmore Leonard from The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard

I don’t write on a yellow pad and I make sure the coffee is at least percolating while I’m tapping away. But it’s nice to know I’m in good company. I picture Elmore sitting across from me at the dining room table, occasionally peering over his newspaper to make sure I’m working.

-Phillip