The Silence Carried

The Silence Carried

While I’m not the most worldly traveler — having never seen another country outside of Canada — when it comes to the United States, I’ve seen quite a bit. I carry with me parts of the places I have been.

I’ve been fortunate to have traveled a fair amount on my own, finding comfort in the sounds that only I’ve created. While others on business trips find the nearest bar so they can drink into the night and talk about old jobs where they did exactly the same, I’m more likely to head out in search of places many locals never find.

If I’m there, why not see all a place has to offer?

East Texas

I’ve hiked around the Pacific Northwest and wandered through alleys in Seattle in search of the kinds of restaurants that look like a movie set from another country. I’ve driven across the desert Southwest in a huge boat-of-a-car painted in house paint. I’ve juggled beneath the cottonwood tree in front of the lodge at Zion National Park; also among the pillars of Bryce Canyon, and even on the edge of the Grand Canyon. I spent two months in Atlanta on my own, becoming enough of a regular at a vegan soul food restaurant that when I went in for brunch on the weekend — knowing I was in a strange town and away from my wife — they packed lunch and dinner in my to-go bag just because that’s the kind of people they were.

I’ve been all over the US, sleeping under trees and beneath the stars, but I’m not sure I’ve seen any place as magical as the woods of East Texas.

Civilian Conservation Corps Pavilion at Caddo Lake State Park

Retreat

Last week, a friend and I left the day jobs behind and took off for Caddo Lake State Park for our annual writing retreat. I’d been there twice before, when I got my first travel writing assignment for the Dallas Morning News. It was nice to finally see it in spring. Pollen be damned, once the car doors opened, the smell of pines brought me back to being a kid camping in Wisconsin and Canada. It was like returning to a home that was never wholly mine, but still a location that came with a sense of belonging like few places I’ve ever been.

A long weekend retreat is no different for productivity than taking a Friday off and staying home to write. Hell, I could probably get more writing done at home if I dedicated a weekend to writing, but that’s not what a retreat is about.

Last weekend was a commitment to something I do not have to do. I’ve heard many writers say, “I have to write!” as though they were in pain. It always struck me as a bit dramatic, a way to convince themselves they are a writer only in some perceived mood because many times it’s not backed by action. The annual retreat is a reminder that I am serious about this thing I do not have to do; it’s something I carry with me even after I’ve packed up and left.

Caddo Lake State Park Cabin

The World Will Not Win

So cut me off in traffic, yell at your kid in the grocery store, or try to bombard me with advertising. I won’t let you in because, in my head, it’s still a silent night in East Texas that cannot be taken from me. It’s also the sound of the pine trees of Lake of the Woods in Ontario. It’s a sky full of stars on a mountain top in Utah or the ocean below me as I hike past the sign in Oregon warning hikers that bears are in the area. It’s the slapping of juggling clubs in the hands of jugglers at a weekly gathering in Atlanta or even walking a Chicago neighborhood to get a beef sandwich at three in the morning when the big city is as asleep as it ever gets, slumbering with one eye open.

My head is full of the sound of corn and wheat in the breeze and waters rushing by with enough fury to carve canyons or gently lapping at the rocky banks of lakes as big as oceans. These are the locations that, once visited and experienced, never leave your head.

There is an agreement struck with these places: “Give yourself to me for even a moment, and I will always walk with you.”

Pinecone and lichen

More about Having a Thing

More about Having a Thing

One of the strangest things I think I’ve seen on social media is an almost rage from some when someone shares with them something they associate with that person. By this I mean…let’s just say someone is really into flying kites. Articles about kites are written every spring and people share the articles with the kite flyer…who’s probably seen the articles because they’re really into kites. Instead of a polite, “Thank you,” and moving on, it becomes this:

People, I am really into kites…do you not think that I haven’t seen the things you share with me since that is my thing?! I see these articles weeks before the rest of you — there’s no reason to keep sending me these things, so stop!

The Horror!

If the New York Times, Forbes, or someplace else has an article about podcasting, chances are several people will share it on my Facebook wall or email me the link. The rare juggling article: I’ve probably seen it weeks before the people forwarding it to me, sure…but how hard is it to say, “Thanks,” or even — if one feels the need — “I’ve seen this already, but thanks for thinking about me.”

Because that’s why people share some things, and why I can never get mad when someone sends a podcasting article I’ve already seen 10 times: it means in the minds of people who share these things that I am what they think of when they think about podcasting.

Stuff about Amtrak’s writer residency program I received, recently, means people think about me when they think about writers they know.

If a juggling video shows up on people’s feeds, it’s often sent my way because people associate me with the juggler they know.

The Thing(s)

I recently wrote about the power of having a thing. These are the things that mean the most to me in life:

  • Being a good husband, son, friend
  • Being a good writer
  • Being a good juggler
  • Being a good podcaster

So if people send me articles about writing, juggling, or podcasting, it means I’m doing my job on some level. It also means if they hear about an opportunity for any of these things — chances are — they will come to me with the opportunity before others.

Really…how bad is that?

The Power of Having a Thing

The Power of Having a Thing

It’s no secret that in the past, I struggled with working and doing my thing. (My thing being writing, blogging, podcasting, making videos, and other “things.”) Now that I have my favorite day job ever, it’s not the struggle it was at jobs I didn’t like, but there will always be that want for doing the things I love more than anything…even more than my job. For me, though, having a day job I love helps me do my thing without concern…and because I can do my thing without concern, I value my day job more than ever.

This sometimes leads to moments when someone at my day job sees me accept something they would not accept.

“You’re seriously gonna let that slide?!” they say. And my answer is, “Yes — that does not bother me as much as it bothers many others.”

Someone wanting more control at my day job is not reason to bristle because…I have my things…

The Things!

Every week on a podcast I do, my partner and I close with the motto: “Chill the fuck out, and make the damn thing!” By this, we mean, “Don’t get so caught up in every little thing that it steals from you the ability to do at least one thing you love!” (More about our motto, here.)

My big things:

  • Writing
  • Juggling
  • Podcasting

Of these, writing and juggling are wholly mine — meaning nobody else has a say in what I do with these two things I love. (In the case of Men in Gorilla Suits, Shawn and I flip-flop, letting each other run the show every other week. It works very well, and it keeps us on our toes!)

The Power of Having a Thing

Having something that is wholly mine means when someone at work wants to control something, I can let it go. Same thing in many facets of life.

I see so many people tired because they try to control everything around them; they turn little things into full-scale battles rivaling a crusade. It looks so exhausting and often comes with anger.

It’s amazing the hours lost at old jobs when I’ve seen people arguing about applying punctuation to bullet points, or even people fuming about using Oxford commas or not. Now, I will defend the Oxford comma to the end, but when I’ve written newspaper articles — AP Style — I’ve had no problem not using them. It’s style, and I’ll write the way I’m paid to write. (“Tildes instead of bullets, and two commas after each point with and/or and then a period at the final point? Sure — check, please!”)

Some people, though, spend their dinners complaining about these things to significant others who don’t care. Somewhere this evening, a kid will beg:

Daddy, not the bullet point rage again…

Have a Thing

This is where having a thing matters.

When all around me people are drawing sides and demanding blood over something as small as a punctuation argument that can go either way (Oxford commas), I’m waiting for the issue to be settled so I can write to a style guide…and then go home and write what I want, the way I want — all that other stuff be damned!

Swimming in Chaos

Swimming in Chaos

I recently listened to a podcast with Terry Gilliam. I’ve written about Gilliam’s influence on me before and I’ve talked about it as well (17:40-18:11). Just know this: I’ve been a Gilliam fan since before I knew I was a Gilliam fan. (I liked the animated spots on Monty Python’s Flying Circus, but at the the time, I didn’t know who was behind them.)

There’s a section in the podcast with Gilliam where they discuss a scene in the movie, The Fisher King. It takes place in Grand Central Station, in New York City. They had permission to shoot, but as is often the case with Gilliam things, it didn’t go as entirely as planned. To get things done, they just had to do it! They shot footage after their allotted time, using people who weren’t extras. In the end, by the way it was cut, they made something wonderful from the chaos of the moment.

Doing It

Gilliam is big on just doing it. In almost every documentary or interview about his process, there is a time when all the people around him believe there’s no way something can be done. Whether it’s a sick actor, flash floods, or other things, when producers and others say they need to wait, Gilliam says, “Let’s just do it!” and shoots anyway. In shooting, he’s doing something — and in other interviews he’s said some of his greatest moments came from cobbling it all together after the madness.

Writers can be known for not liking changes to what they’ve written. While Gilliam is a perfectionist, he’s also a realist and knows that sometimes he has to break from the scripts he’s written and shoot what he can and make it work in the end. He doesn’t stop…even when setbacks have everyone around him throwing up their hands in defeat.

At that point, Gilliam is at his best…swimming in the chaos.

Comfort in Chaos

Now, I know there are times one can’t “just do it.” My wife is an artist, and when things are placed on a final sheet of paper or canvas, she can no longer charge in — at that point, it’s sometimes wisest to wait a day or two until the moment is right. As long as there’s some progress and it doesn’t become habit, waiting is good. I’ve written about taking my time writing before; I do not need to be convinced that there’s a time for patience.

I just think patience and chaos can co-exist.

When people try avoiding chaos until just the right moment, I do think it’s best to find comfort in chaos and move forward. Sometimes in life, chaos lasts long enough that to let it win means setbacks in something important to you. Right now, I’m coming off a weekend of working. I put a lot of things off, but I still made time to write. I could easily be working right now, but I want to write this entry and go for a nice walk. It’s a chaotic time in my life with big deadlines, but right now I’m in my little bubble, comfortable with the situation.

Chaos might be common, but it doesn’t mean it has to pull you in and win. Or even steal your time for more than a bit of time…

Adapting

I’ve worked with enough people to understand the frustration of those who feel defeated when things don’t look good. “Let’s just do it!” can burn you at times; however, more times than not, it’s a great way to get things done because you’re deep enough in that you have no choice but to figure things out and finish. I know people who will not write for months because conditions aren’t perfect. In Gilliam’s world, it seems, perfection is only a target he strives for — there is no doubting his need for perfection in every little corner (and even in the shadows) of what he does. But he knows there are no ideal situations. More than that, he knows that to wait for ideal situations means never finishing things.

When one realizes that, no matter what it is they do, it’s a bit easier to move forward. Maybe we’re wise not to tilt at windmills with the reckless abandon Gilliam often seems to have, but at least charging in is some kind of movement forward. Maybe you get knocked back further than where you started, but you change the plan and just do it until it works out.

It’s that ability to adapt that can lead to such wonderful things…

The Power of Generosity

The Power of Generosity

During the heyday of the independent comic book boom in the late 80s through the mid 90s, the Dallas Fantasy Fair (DFF) was third to only Comic-Con International in San Diego and the old Chicago Comicon. What set the DFF apart from other conventions was the support for independent creators by the person behind the show, Larry Lankford. Lankford didn’t care if you only had an ashcan preview and a dream to be published — if you made comic books on some level and you presented yourself even reasonably well, he gave you a table.

For free!

That’s a huge thing. Beyond that, though…if you made comic books and were given space, you were treated no differently than the big names bringing in guests: there was no waiting to get in, the provided space was always generous, and there was access to the pro suite, where you could chat with the people comic book geeks and pop culture fans only dreamed about paying to see at other conventions.

While rubbing elbows with one’s heroes was always cool, there was something even better about the shows…

Friendships Forged

I was fortunate to have met so many friends at the old DFF conventions; I’m still friends with many of the people I met back then. More than a handful have gone on to making a living in the industry, some now the very names people go to shows to see and meet.

The Dallas Fantasy Fair brought us all together. For many of us, the shows taught us to be serious about our dreams. While I no longer do anything with independent comic books, I carry so many lessons learned at those shows in my early 20s, all because Lankford was generous enough to let us in as guests.

Today, a good friend met at a DFF show in the early 90s told many other friends that Larry Lankford recently died. I had limited contact with Lankford, mainly just always thanking him for allowing my punk ass in for free so I could make connections and share my enthusiasm for the medium with other creators on my level and above.

The Last Show

The last DFF I attended was with my wife. We were in the process of working together on a book of our own, and while the venue had changed from Dallas Market Center to a hotel with far less room, Lankford still gave us a table. It wasn’t a table shoved off in a corner, but a spot in one of the busiest sections of the show. (It didn’t hurt that he seated us right next to Adam Hughes, one of my wife’s favorite artists.)

As the show went on, it was clear the lack of space was an issue. Lankford needed our table for a much bigger guest, and it was evident his decision to ask us to move was not an easy one for him. When the guest (Mark Waid) saw that we were leaving to give the entire table to him, he insisted on cramming the three of us behind the table. There was no way we were going to do that, even though it would have meant the chance to show Waid what we were doing. The show was tight on space, and we gladly gave up our spot, knowing how fortunate we were to be there at all.

Given a Shot

It’s easy to look back and say that Larry was ahead of others, realizing there were independent fans…so why not let independent creators in for free to draw those fans? Savvy marketers get that, now, but even today, the thought of even a well known independent creator being allowed into a large convention for free is crazy talk. It never seemed like a move to get more fans in with Lankford, though — he really seemed to take serious creating a place where all creators, regardless of where they were in their careers, had a shot.

That’s all any of us can really ask for in life: a shot. Lankford gave a shot to people like me, who never made it in comics…and he gave a shot to many who have lived the dreams we all talked about in our early 20s at Lankford’s Dallas Fantasy Fairs.

The Power of Generosity

If there’s a sad tone to this, it’s not intended. As I mentioned, I was not friends with Larry Lankford…just one of many acquaintances he gave a chance. If there’s any sense of melancholy behind all this, it’s that I’m a bit nostalgic as I think about how many great friendships and careers began at Dallas Fantasy Fairs. They were a lot of fun, a break from working in hot warehouses and believing, if only for a weekend, that something more was possible.

Most of us, on some level, have affected the lives of others in positive ways we may never know. I can name so many people who were affected by Lankford’s generosity. It was a little gesture, but I hope giving up our table when he needed it at one of his last shows was seen as the thank you it was meant to be.

We were all given a shot — and while dreams of making it writing comic books never happened for me, the friendships made because of one person’s generosity are far better than 23-year-old me could have ever imagined. More than that, I hope Lankford’s generosity — something I’m not sure many of us even realized was as big and rare as it was at the time — lives on in those he helped make their dreams a way of life.

Body of Work II

Body of Work II

I’ve talked before about creating a body of work before (even used an image of piled wood to make the point). In fact, that post was in honor of the 25th episode of the Men in Gorilla Suits podcast. Today marks Episode 53 — our one-year anniversary!

Whether hit with overtime at work, sick, busy with other things that come with living life, or even just wanting a weekend or two off, we produced a weekly show for a year — never skipping a week! Looking at the Podcasts page of the site really is a bit like looking at a pile of stacked wood. Everything said in that first blog post about creating a body of work is true: sticking with something regularly results in the ability to look back and see a big pile of work you created!

In this case, it’s a weekly podcast, but it’s not much different than restoring a car over time, creating illustrations or paintings, or piling up pages of a book. The formula is simple:

Effort + Time = Body of Work

Speaking of Books…

The last time I posted, here, was to announce that I was taking a break from social media, and even slowing down with blogs. I wanted even better focus and clarity in the work I do. It did not take long to find both. With the focus of really getting back to the novel-in-progress, I was able to see that the book I’m writing is really three books. So instead of one big book about June’s life and rise to fame as a magician, it will be several books about June’s life — and that excites me more than I’ve ever been excited about anything I’ve written.

For the sake of word count in a single novel, there were things I wanted to stick with longer, but had to move on to other things to avoid a ridiculously large book. June is born in a circus, and circus life lasts only three chapters in what I was doing. I’m now able to spend more time in the places that shape June as she grows into a young woman on her own by the end of what is now the first book of three.

In all the years I’ve been writing, I’ve never enjoyed it more…