If you are self isolating and getting little inspiration from the latest news, maybe this is a good moment to reconnect to some of your favorite music. Most people nowadays listen passively—ear buds in while washing the dishes or clicking through screens on the computer. When I can, I like to listen actively; I pick an album and take in the whole program from start to finish–no random playlist! At the same time, it’s great to look at jacket art and pictures of the band if I have a CD. I particularly enjoy reading the lyrics as a catchy tune plays; great songwriters convey mood and imagery with an enviable economy of words coupled to all the pretty notes. I’ve found reading lyrics from my favorite tunes confers a greater feeling of connection to the song and artist, and actively listening in this way allows me to carry a song, with its mood and message, around in my head for days.
So, bust loose from the news periodically. Comfort and inspiration are only a few songs away. Sink into a great album, and oh yeah, wash your hands.
Lately I have had my head down replacing rusted steel in the bottom of my boat. Twenty-five years ago I first made this sort of effort on the boat, and as I completed work I said to myself “this should last twenty years–easy”–like that day in the twentieth year would never come. Happily, I’ve just completed round two of bottom work, and can at last spend more time churning out words for my second novel. Getting back to the keyboard is like a return to the gym at first, but less traumatic than welding steel plate. I hope I’ll write a third novel, and a fourth–welding steel, however, I’m pretty sure I’ve done for the last time.
Last night I met up with old shipmates from my earliest days of sailing, most of whom I haven’t seen in thirty years. Recognizing each other was a bit comical since some of us have changed considerably while others haven’t so much. After a short time some sort of acceptance set in and the familiar characteristics of old friends wiped away what the years had made of us all. It was a fantastic night, catching up and also reliving some of the crazy adventures and dilemmas of our formative years. We talked and sang late into the night, but at last I had to go home. After leaving I reflected that these were people I had really known, certainly among the best friends I’ve ever had. I don’t know why I haven’t seen them in so many years.
For several years now my wife and I have had something of a nomadic existence, shifting from north to south with the change of season, and sailing over blue ocean. But life as a nomad isn’t always chasing the great herds across fresh prairie; quite often you return to old, familiar ground and in doing so feel a sense of punctuation in the passage of time.
Recently, after a five year absence, we returned to our house–a house that we built together with my father. What struck me about being there was how well my hands knew where the switches and knobs were, how sure my feet were of the number of stairs when walking in the dark. I would reach, repeatedly, for where a certain lamp used to be, only to find myself mildly surprised that it had been moved. It is strange to think that our physical selves carry memories that our conscious minds stow away. I have been through this before when rejoining ships I have worked on in the past, and also in a different way when meeting up with old, faraway friends. These episodes of muscle memory feel like visits to a former version of your self; they call to mind past efforts and struggles that partly explain who you are today.
Now I’m somewhere else again, working with some pals from past jobs. It’s a sunny spring day in Maine.
After three days and nights of solid freezing temperatures, on Thursday, my wife Corinna and I decided to go skating on a nearby lake. We took due precautions; I chopped a small hole in the ice and checked the thickness. When I found it was three inches deep, I knew we would be safe going out so, off we went! Conditions were marvelous: the surface was mirror smooth for the most part, a light dusting of snow coated the ice, and hardly any wind could be felt. We skated the lake’s entire shoreline—about 4 ½ miles.
On Friday a mix up in scheduling sent Corinna home from work early. The forecast predicted snow for the weekend so we knew that this could be our last chance to have a whole lake to skate on. Despite having a long list of things to do, I played hooky as well and we skated around the lake in the opposite direction.
Seize the day is a popular maxim and this week we definitely feel we caught hold of ours. Today a light fluffy powder has fallen over the region, about 4” deep. Skating’s out, however it would be perfect for skiing, but sadly, one can’t seize the day everyday so today I’m back to routine.
And so we have arrived at December 21st, the shortest day and longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere. I miss the daylight, but the long night hours are good for a few activities–among them storytelling. With telling and hearing good stories in mind, my wife and I have recently started attending The Moth, hosted by Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor, and on Wednesday night I made it up on stage to tell a five-minute, true story about joy–the theme for the evening.
I haven’t done much public speaking, so my heart was pumping a little stronger than normal as I took the stage. Having written down the story, I had rehearsed beforehand, but as I was given my instructions–“Stand with your feet here. Speak loudly. Don’t touch the microphone.”–all my pretty words fell out of my head. I pulled it together and began, I know I rushed a bit, but it came out okay.
I’m still not sure what I’ve learned here so far, however telling a true story from your past in front of an audience has a much more immediate feeling of danger to it than writing a novel where you have so many ways to hide. I’ll definitely try The Moth again with the hope that it will improve my craft.
I hope you have a happy holiday with friends and family, or a quiet time with your dog and a good book.
A couple of weeks ago, I set out for my first book signing full of hope. I got to the book store early, lugged in three boxes of books, set up my table, stocked my cash box with correct change, then sat down—pens at the ready—and waited. Despite my and the store’s promotional efforts, only about twenty-five people drifted through over the next three hours. Apparently there was a Michigan vs. Ohio football game on—something I had overlooked. Even so I made one sale, and if even one more person is reading your book, you’ve expanded your readership. I also learned a few things: Keep an eye on the football schedule; People generally turn right when they walk into a store unless they already know where they are going. If you are set up on the left side of the store, and the customers enter right then circle left around the floor plan, they will have made their purchases before reaching your spot. If given a choice, set up on the right side of a store; It is hard to look interesting or remotely intelligent as part of a static display, have something to do. With this in mind I have the following suggestions:
Write something. People will assume you are scribbling away at your next book and it might draw them in. If you can be writing your next book then it’s time well spent.
Build castles out of peanut butter cups. This will attract hungry people, tinkerers and kids. They flock to the gold wrappers like magpies, and if they eat one of your building blocks…well, then they kind of owe you; they’ll have to pick up your book for at least a glance. Have a thumb-through copy at hand that you don’t mind getting chocolate on.
Anyhow, I must extend my thanks to 2nd and Charles bookstore for hosting me, even if it was a quiet time for both of us.