A year in my shoes.

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This was supposed to be easy.  Throw a picture up, toss out some words and poof!  Instant post.  Instead it’s over four days past my plan of posting and I’m still struggling.

I fell into the trap of overthinking. I needed new work boots and wanted to explain why I picked those originally and why I switched to something else.  The idea was good, but the words that came were so sterile and analytical.  Completely uninspiring and off-putting for me. I wanted something else, something better.

Kinda like my boots.

The boots I had were so disappointing this time.  They were Wolverines.  I’ve owned four pair of Wolverines in my life and three of them were this style. This pair just did not work.

You see the toes?  It took just one day for the leather covering the steel safety caps to wear off.  I was weeding and the shuffling of my feet against the asphalt wore the leather off by the time I was done.  The boots were one week old at that time.  I’ve had that happen with $30 boots, but never Wolverines.  There was no way I could explain this as normal wear and tear either, so I didn’t bother to call or write about warranty work.

The rest of the boot was fine.  They still were comfortable and supportive.  Together, we dug, moved, pushed, hiked, crawled, and even kicked through our work time.  I had noticed that this set of boots wasn’t as flexible as the earlier ones.  It took more effort to flex on the balls of my feet.  Still they did their work, but the stress was showing.

Then the rains hit.

Florida is known for its torrential rains, but this one was impressive.  It wasn’t tropical in nature, but the results were the same.  Roads closed, traffic diverted, trees fallen, electrics under water, and hundreds of fire-ants huddled together in a ball, just waiting for some poor soul to latch on to.   The last time I saw flooding like this was after tropical storm Gabriel.  The water was so high that the utility vehicles stalled from the strain.  I pushed mine off to the side.  It took three days for my boots to dry completely.  The leather never fully recovered.

The final straw came when the left sole split completely through.  I hadn’t noticed it until the day I had to clean brush out of a drained canal.  The area was drained, but not dry.  Its mud was slick and water seeped up with every step.  My soaked sock alerted me to the crack the boot’s sole.

It was time for a change.

But to what?  I sifted the search engines, read articles, and waded through the horribly arranged Amazon filters.  (It was easier pushing the utility vehicle through the flood than it was trying to find decent work boots with specific requirements on Amazon.)  Given the events of the year, I came up with an unusual result.  Jungle boots.  What other style would handle the abundance of water, humidity, and mud?

Jungle boots are not the easiest things to find.  Rack Room Shoes, Sears, and all the other usual stores were out and while I will buy some things online, boots aren’t one of them.  You have to go to an army surplus store.

Army surplus stores are very interesting to visit.  Tucked in the corner of a strip mall, they can be as bright and organized as Dick’s Sporting goods, or as dark and cluttered as a Hollister’s run by teenage boys.  The store I found was a mix of both.  The lights were low, but everything was organized.  Unfortunately they didn’t have any Jungle boots.  They did have other choices.  Desert boots, training boots, combat boots, parade boots, boots for almost anything.  I had no idea what to look for at this point.

So I asked for help.

The lady listened to what I wanted as well as the price I was willing to pay.  She offered a pair that is light, flexible, durable, and well-constructed.  They aren’t water proof, but they are good against high humidity and dry quickly.  They also are bought by police and fire fighters who are used to standing in their boots for long hours at a time.

I’ve had them for a week and they have handled having the toes scraped against the concrete, heavy mud, miles of walking and flexing of the soles.  So far I’m impressed.  Only time will tell if they last they year.  A future review will be coming.

In the end, this article is similar to my journey into new boots.  I struggled with it at the beginning and took many unexpected turns along the way before ending in an upnote.

With the creative damn broke, I look forward to the journey ahead.

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Turning the Flywheel of inspiration and hope.

If there’s one thing a writer or blogger will talk about is the persistent problem of writers block.  It can come numerous sources.  Boredom, stress, family, work, obligations, distractions; the list is endless.

But there is a book that puts all these problems to shame.

Flywheel:  Memories of the open road.

It’s a collection of an automotive monthly magazine put into book form but it is unlike any automotive magazine you’ve ever heard of.  This magazine was created by and for Allied prisoners of war during World War Two.

Soldiers imprisoned in Stalag IVB formed a small “car club” called The Muhlberg Motor Club (MMC).  A membership of six soon grew to over 200 with most never even owning a car.  (Most learned to drive while in the military.)

Not only did they have the challenge of creating stories to write about, but they had to work hard just to get ink and paper!  To create colored ink, they stole quinine tablets from the infirmary.  The glue binding the pages together was created from their daily millet soup.

Under the stress of imprisonment, these soldiers  created storylines, thought of new technologies, wrote and illustrated not only the vehicles of the times but of what the future would bring as featured in a report of an auto show.

Flywheel:  Memories of the open road shows that inspiration and creativity can happen in even the worst conditions imagined.

Spring, the worst thing that can happen while writing.

As you may have noticed, there’s been a lag between postings in my latest story.  While this has been a more involved project than most, I have to admit that I have been very distracted lately.

One is my wife throwing out her back with repetition.  It first happened three weeks ago, and then every time she thought it was getting better, she’d over do it again. And then again.  Finally she’s gotten the message and is taking it easier.  (Notice I said “Easier” and not “Easy”.  She still has to do something.)

I’ve been doing more around the house which has been a double edged sword.  On one hand, she appreciates all the work I’ve been doing.  On the other, she’s been feeling guilty about not doing anything and wants to do more.  (I’ve found duct tape to be very useful in these situations.)

The plus side is that she is getting better, moving around more, and will not need any major medical procedures.  We might even try a movie next weekend.

But that’s the only real excuse I can quantitatively use.  The others are me letting my distractions get the better of me.

First is a book that came in the mail.  “The Way of the Scout” by Tom Brown Jr.

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I bought it used off Amazon.  Tom Brown Jr. was raised in Pine Barrens of New Jersey.  Somewhere along the way, he stumbled into an elderly man who was Apache.  Tom learned primitive survival skills from the man as well as the spiritual point of view of nature.  To clarify it, think of Cody Lundin but with moccasins.  You might also know of Tom Brown Jr. from the movie, “The Hunted”.  He was the technical advisor for it and the script was loosely based on one of his real life events.

I first heard of Tom Brown Jr. from a customer I met at my old job one day.  I don’t recall her name, but she did leave an impression.  With short cropped black hair, glasses, blue jeans and an athletic build; she reminded me of Janine Turner from Northern Exposure.

Wanting to talk to her, I saw this book she was carrying and asked her about it.  She told me that the guy had many books of stories as well as woods crafts.  Loving to hike, I thought it was worth checking out.  Nothing ever happened personally but I did find a new author out of the deal.

I read his “Woods Craft” skills books and bought three of them (In fact, they helped influence me towards landscaping) but I never read any of his actual stories.  In a way, I’m glad I didn’t.

Tom Brown JR. may have mad skills when it comes to living with nature, but there is a certain amount of arrogance in his words and a definite disconnect with society.  Psychologically, I can understand the disconnect.  Spending most of his formative years in the woods learning native skills instead of hanging out at the burger shop (trying to get the time-line right) will definitely create a gap between his viewpoint and the average suburbanite. His arrogance seems, to me, to be a defensive measure.  He seems to look down on city people and how they live their lives not paying attention to their surroundings and filling their lives with what he felt was unnecessary pressures.  What he seems to forget is that if society had chosen to live like he chose, the woods would be overrun with people and not be the place of serenity he finds it to be.  I wonder if he’s realized this fact since he wrote this book.

To be fair, the stories he tells is the book are entertaining.  I’m still flipping through the book and reading the stuff I haven’t read yet.  It’s just not what I was expecting.  “The Way of the Scout” talks of tracking and stealth raiding to scare away vandals or capture criminals hiding out in the wilderness with one story of exploring New York City thrown in for good measure.  I guess I was hoping for something more in line with Richard “Dick” Proennecke’s “Alone in the Wilderness”.  Maybe I’ll buy his book next.

This is also where I need to give you a strong piece of advice:  Never, never, never read a book that is totally different from what you are currently working on.  Not only will it distract you; it will inexorably change your mood and make getting back into the right mind set for continuing that much harder.

Finally came the last distraction and it was a legitimate one:  It was spring this weekend.

Ok, I know that sounds weird coming from Florida, but unless you’ve actually experienced late April and May weather here, it’s needs explaining.  April and May are completely different in Southwest Florida than most of the United States.  Instead of nice, cool mornings full of crisp, dry air and deliciously pleasant afternoon temperatures, we wake up to fog, high humidity, mid seventy mornings that quickly climb to high eighties or low nineties for the afternoon.  The rains have also come early this year and you can see steam issuing off the roads the moment the rain stops.  As the saying goes, Spring – “It’s like a sauna in here.” That is, except for this weekend.

We were so lucky this weekend.  It was northern spring weather.  Dry air, moderate temps, and good wind gusts.  I did a batch of serious yards work yesterday and was rewarded with even better weather today.  With light winds and temps only reaching the upper seventies, there was no way I was going to stay inside and write.  I had a major woods land hiking itch and I was going to indulge it.

There’s a park in the ranchette area of town north of me.  I hadn’t been there in years.  In fact I went online to make sure I knew what road it was on.  It’s a nice park with multiple trails for hiking, biking, or horseback riding.  There’s a “No dogs” sign posted on the placard along with other rules, but it seems to be happily ignored.  I ran into two friendly Border Collies and a West Highland Terrier during my hike.

A quick running, rambling stream is one of the highlights of the park, Having kids crash can lids together as their mother yells at them is one of the downsides of it.  (Hey, it’s a park.  Different people are going to do different things to entertain themselves.  You just have to accept it and move on.)  I moved rapidly to create some distance between me and the mother with the children.  Once I did that, the hike was nice.

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I spent my time looking at the different tracks trying to see if I could figure out what animals might have crossed.  I found horse shoe prints and a mountain bike track, that’s it.  I listened to the buzz of the horsefly, the chirp of the cicada, e crash of a squirrel, and some singing of a mocking bird.

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I smelled the air, felt the different densities of the ground beneath my sneakers, and picked out various possible sites for camping if it was allowed.  I made as little noise as possible, took pictures and, most of all, enjoyed myself.

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I’ll be able to write again no problem.

How was your weekend?

Loving the plateau

That is a great line.   The guy I heard it from learned it while studying marital arts.

He explained to his teacher that he was frustrated with his learning curve.  Instead of a curve, it seemed more of a stairway.  He’d improve for a bit and then get stuck at that level for some time.  It then would seem like forever until he would start improving again.  Then the whole cycle would start again.

The teacher nodded and smiled at the student.  “That is good.”

“How is that good?”  The student asked.

“You notice your accomplishments more.”  He answered.  “Instead of one swift, continuous move upward, your accomplishments are pointed out and you are given time to enjoy that moment before moving on.”

“So what are you saying?”

“Love the plateau.”

The plateau is where I find myself after writing “Ghost Story”.  My subconscious creativity seems satisfied for the moment and nothing new is entering my head.  (Otherwise known as writer’s block.)

I tried the usual trick of driving around town to stir the creative juices in my head, but nothing.  My dog, Sadie, didn’t seem to mind though.  Stuck inside the house and yard for three weeks, she had a severe case of cabin fever and enjoyed the distraction.

I’m not too concerned about the lack of words and ideas flowing right now.  I know they’ll be back soon enough.  It’s one of the things we just have to get used to.

Until then, let’s just enjoy the moment.

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Thoughts of: Writer’s block and the perfect song

SOmetimes you sit at the keyboards and sit, and sit, and sit.  Nothing seems to flow.  The well is dry.  You start to panic and try to force somehting out.  It’s mental constipation due to overthinking.

You need some sympathy and a little distraction.

Take some time out to listen to the song and know you’re not alone.

Thoughts of: Walking the dog

Cool, moist air fills Henry’s nostrils as he drinks the night air.  Cautiously he wraps the lanyard of his flashlight around his right hand while juggling his walking stick and the ever moving leash in his left.  Satisfied with the wrapping, he shifts the walking stick to that hand so he can wind in the leash to a more practical length.

“Ok.” He says wearily.  “Let’s go.”

Little is said as Henry and his companion walk alongside the road.  The dog trots gingerly from side to side, looking for thorns and discarded treasures while Henry keeps an eye out for traffic.

His mood is as dark as the night sky.  He wanted to write, but nothing would come.  He had tried every trick in the book.  He had thought of items that would create an emotional response in remembrance.  He had stopped at a motorcycle shop to look at, take pictures, and dream about his favorite bike.  He had looked at various pictures, hoping to stir a spark of creativity.  All for naught.   Every story line seamed as thin and pale as the ghosts haunting him.

“You’re trying too hard.”  He thought to himself.  “You can’t say, ‘Be creative’ and expect something to happen.  It doesn’t work that way.”

Henry paused for a moment and looked cautiously into the night sky.  He wanted to make sure that no cars were speeding upon him before he turned down the side road.  The dog was oblivious to any possible danger and pulled the leash eager to continue.

“Maybe about Luke.”  Henry thought.  “It might be a good time to write about him.”

The street scene faded a little into the night as Henry visited Luke in his mind.  He could see a cold winter’s night.  The inside of a log cabin painted a warm yellow orange by the glow of a low fire in the stone fireplace.  Luke slowly sharpening his carry knife while looking thought the window to the stars shining in the night sky.

The piercing brightness of a fog light interrupted Henry’s thoughts as a motion sensor detected his movement.

Henry squinted under its harshness while muttering to himself, “Damn light”.

A small dog barked wildly from behind some random closed door.  Henry hunched his shoulders and urged his dog forward.

“Too much.”  Henry thought.  “Luke didn’t have to worry about things like this.  It  would never happen.  There was no one else around for miles. No electricity, No phone lines, no infrastructure at all.  Just him living peacefully off the grid.  Well, as peacefully and as off the grid as possible.”

Henry knew that unless Luke was a vegetarian, he would have to hunt.  That meant Luke would have to kill and that’s not peaceful.  Henry also knew that Luke was a modern man in his own right and would not be willing to give up every luxury known to man.  Especially music.  Music would be essential in the wild.  Nature’s hushed quiet can be soothing when drowning in societies noise, but over time, it can become as oppressive and suffocating as a wool blanket wrapped around you while you are in the middle of a lake.  Music would anchor Luke to sanity during the long days of dark.  He would not give that up.

Henry moved over to a wooded lot, letting the dog wet the grass.  A woman’s voice squawked from a few streets away.  The tone high and grating while the words indecipherable.

Henry shook his head.  “How can I get the feel for Luke’s story with everything around me crashing in?”

Henry looked at the dog that was now looking at him and said, “Home”.

As they walked back the way they came a stranger came into view.

“I see you brought your bodyguard with you.”  The man said noticing the dog pulling excitedly at the leash.

“Yeah.  You have to be careful or she might just jump up and kiss you to death.”  Henry replied drily.

Henry pulled the dog away as he left the man chuckling.

“Too much.”  Henry thought again.

As he reached the driveway, Henry looked up at the clear night sky.  He could easily make out the constellation Orion.

Henry stopped and pondered for a moment.  “I wonder if Luke sees the same sky at night or if he sees it differently given his latitude.”

He fumbled for the keys in his pocket and thought.  “Maybe tomorrow, he’ll tell me.”

 

Thoughts about not being able to choose.

When it comes to writing, there is a dark truth that few will acknowledge, let alone speak of.  Sometimes you don’t get to choose what you write.

It’s a strange phenomenon that confounds even the greatest writer and is more frustrating than writer’s block.

You can have the greatest idea for a story, with all the notes readily at hand, and yet; once you start typing it all falls apart like dried clay.  Your fingers stumble on the keyboard.   Your mind becomes overly focused on details so small as to be irrelevant.  Narrative drags and plods along with no sense of flow until finally you get bogged down in the mire and morass of what used to be a great story.  If you ever fished it would be akin to making a great cast with your pole only to see the line twist, flip, jumble, and knot itself until it becomes a giant bird’s nest upon your reel.

In either case, there’s only one thing left to do.  Cut the line and start all over.

That’s what I did yesterday.  I had this great idea for a science fiction short story.  I had the idea, plot, narrative, and mindset all figured out.  I knew who the players were; What was going to happen; and how it all would end.  The perfect story in my mind.  Then it all fell apart the moment my fingers touched the keyboard.  I couldn’t get anything to flow.  It just wouldn’t translate from my mind to the screen.

Was the story that weak?  Did I subconsciously not like it enough to not want to write it?  Did my day job’s experience affect my creativity?  Or was it something else?  I don’t know.  All I knew is that I had a self-imposed deadline looming and that I needed to come up with something worth writing.  So I fell back on an old lesson.  I took a picture that grabbed my attention and made a writing exercise out of it.  I told myself to just write without overly thinking and limited my time so that I wouldn’t obsess on the details.   I got a general idea when I looked at the picture of what the story would be, but I had no idea of how the characters would develop or the how the scene would play out.  I just typed and learned about it as I went along.  In the end I had a decent story, but was surprised by the amount of swearing in it.  That’s why the disclaimer at the top.  Jack was an idiot, but he was a real idiot and those words are exactly how he thinks and talks.  There was no way to edit them out without making Jack an unbelievable character.  Jack is who he is and to try and change him would be wrong.  The story was strong because of his cursing and swearing.  It would’ve been labored and plodding, if I had tried to edit it and push it into the way I wanted instead of the way it naturally wanted to flow.

And maybe that was went wrong with the sci-fi story.  Maybe I had so much information thought of and planned for the story that it couldn’t flow.  It just sat there in a frozen lake of information and could not break free.

I wanted to talk about this because I know that many of you have experienced or will experience this in your blogs or writings.  It happens and is the most frustrating thing period.  I wanted to show you how I get out of it, so maybe it will help you.  When it happens, drop everything and switch gears.  Go to a great photo site (I went to http://photonatureblog.com ) and scroll through the pictures until something catches your eye.  Look at it and then write.  Don’t think too much, let it flow.  Once you are done with it, reread it if you must and see if it’s not better than what you were planning in the first place.

As I stated before.  Sometimes we do not get to choose what we write.  Sometimes we must just write.