What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Fuzzy thinking. I whore my brain out an hour at a a time. Clear thinking and the ability to assimilate large amounts of information into a coherent structure are sort of the baseline level expectation. I think one of the biggest reasons I’ll never be a “drug person” is how much harder it is to take on and process information even when just under the influence of fairly innocuous over the counter medications. Being stoned is fun an all, but I’ll be happy to trade it away for not having to will every single synapse to fire individually in order to get through a complete thought.

2. Taking ten minutes to tell a two minute story. If you have something to say, or if you think you have something to say, go ahead and get to the damned point. It’s bad enough that you’re calling me on the telephone, but when you don’t keep it to an absolute minimum amount of time required I’ve already tuned you out around the two minute mark.

3. A Day Without Immigrants. I don’t know anyone who is downplaying the roll immigrants had and continue to have on this country. I don’t know anyone who is arguing in favor of slamming shut the doors to American citizenship forever. What I do know, though, is the Day Without Immigrants protest refuses to make a differentiation between legal immigration and those who have arrived and/or stay in this country illegally. You can flail your arms and shout until you’re purple in the face and you will simply never convince me that I have a moral responsibility to provide for the care and feeding of those here outside the law beyond what is necessary to adjudicate their case and return them forthwith to their country of origin (or next convenient parallel dimension). So you can close all the big city restaurants you want for as long as you want, but I’m going to continue to insist that 1) legal immigration is a net positive overall and 2) illegal immigration should be stopped.

Letting go…

So, because it’s the thing that’s preoccupied the bulk of this long weekend, it seems that I can’t quite get my mind off the impending availability of Retribution. We’re in that interminable stretch where the retail giants are doing their thing. I have absolutely no control over how that process works itself out… and since a writer, at least an independent, has absolute control over every other step of the process, I’m finding this moment of “letting go” an absolute agony.

I’m not lunatic enough to think this little offering of mine is going to sell a million copies or really change the world in any appreciable way. It’s one small story out of hundreds (thousands?) that gets self published online every day of the year. The only difference is that this one is mine. That doesn’t make a lick of difference to the world, of course, but it makes all the difference in the world to me. That’s not surprising since this story has been living completely in my head for the last six months. I never really thought of myself as the “creative type,” at least until I sat down at the keyboard and realized creativity isn’t just paint on canvas or chisels and stone. I’ve heard that kind of self-discovery is a good thing.

For the first time so far in 2014 I’m sitting here without an active project in front of me demanding time and attention. Being “done” is a good feeling. It’s a happy place. It’s fulfilling in a way that’s rather hard to articulate. It’s also full of a gut wrenching fear that about whether what you’ve done is good enough; whether it’s going to pass muster with the dozen or so family and friends who you might be able to convince to give it a read.

So there’s your Sunday morning sample of what it’s like being inside my head. When you add that to the daily requirements of dealing with an unrelenting tide of stupid people, I’d say it leaves little doubt about why I end every day completely exhausted.

An unsettling dark streak…

One of the many things I’ve sacrificed on the altar of having more time to write has been the time I use to spend reading. I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself “literary” by any stretch. I wasn’t reading many of the Great Books or even much fiction at all. Far more often it was history, biography, social science – books that taught me things about the world. I’d occasionally venture out into fiction. When I did, it was normally of the pulp variety (not that there’s anything wrong with that). My fiction reading also had a heavy dose of Tom Clancy, James Michener, and Herman Wouk. I liked the books that landed on the coffee table with a satisfying thud. I still like books like that, though the thud is far harder to get with a Kindle than a 1000 page paperback.

As usual, none of that is my point. What I want to turn you on to tonight is a Steven King. Some of you might be familiar with his work. I read a few of his better selling books years ago, but I’m the first to admit horror isn’t my thing regardless of whether it’s in print, movies, or television. Even with that disclaimer, it’s impossible not to recognize Steven King’s absolutely monumental abilities as a writer. The guy is just a force of nature when it comes to using the written word to draw a response out of the reader.

Not long ago, Amazon offered up a screaming deal on one of his books that I’d never heard of before. Since before Christmas I’ve been toting the electrons of 11/22/63: A Novel around without bothering to really give it a look. Until this past weekend. Since then, I’ve been off to the races and using every scrap of free time to get through just another few paragraphs. I tend to find King’s books a little too ghoulish and grisly for my taste, but this one… this one is just different.

Without giving anything away, he pulls you in with a story of time travel, righting past injustice, decisions, consequences, and then paints in a truly unsettling dark streak that you can’t quite put your finger on. It’s just a magnificent piece of work. If you like Steven King, or historical fiction, or just have an itch for a good (if unconventional) goosebumping, 11/22/63 has the jeffreytharp.com seal of approval.

Disappearing act…

Reading blogs can give us a window into what someone half a world away is thinking about. It’s fascinating in its way. It’s not without its problems, though. One that’s been troubling me lately are the blogs that have been around for years that suddenly just disappear. It’s frustrating because you’re invested in the story the author is telling and when it goes away it’s like you’ve been cheated out of learning how the story ends. For some of them, the troubled ones, you wonder if they finally found peace in their writing or if the end of their blog means something more ominous. Because the can be such a transient place of broken links and bad URLs, I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that some pages just up and vanish.

Still, it’s disturbing in its own way, because it represents years of work gone in some cases. I think the thing that bothers me most is the not knowing. Did the author just decide it was time to move on or did something horrendous happen? Maybe the only thing any of us are doing here on the internet is building a monument to our own electronic egos, but now that I’m closing in on 500 posts, I’d like to at least think that I’ve put together something permanent here – a record of what, at any moment in time, mattered to one person. If I decided to stop writing, I mean, geez, I’d at least leave a note or something.

The process…

I wish I had more time to just sit and write. There are always enough things that need to get done that writing never seems to fall at the top of the list, but there are still hundreds of ideas, even one or two big ones, that are just screaming to get out. Finding the time to massage them through from concept to notes to drafts to reality, though, has been the challenge that I haven’t been able to overcome.

One of the definitive characteristics of writers, of course, is that they write. They have a process. My process is mostly jamming 150-300 words down on a page in whatever free minutes of the evening I have available. It’s hard to work out the definitive history of anything 150 words at a time. And thinking about telling the epic tale of the rise and fall of a small government organization a paragraph at a time? Forget about it. You’ll end up with pages of notes and a couple of intro paragraphs and then lose focus completely.

For me, the process is not working. Maybe I’m not supposed to write an epic. Maybe the story is supposed to come together in 200 word segments; one blog post at a time. Maybe I need to change direction completely with my idea of what it means to write. Whatever the case, I need to find a new process – one that works better for me and one where I can start seeing the threads of the story coming together. It could be time for a change of focus around here.