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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Walks With Sam

I took a long walk the other day. Before the snow melted, before it was washed away by warmer weather and rain. My dog, Sam, and I set out for a winter hike. It was a couple of miles long, long enough to re-balance. The beauty of a long walk is just that, a matter of re-balance.

I'm also working on a new novel, a work-in-progress, based on a man who tries to re-balance his life through daily walks with his dog. The people he meets, the intersection of thought and movement of feet, the aloneness, the surge of endorphins all play a part in his redemption. But so does the dog, the dog's intuition and the power of unfaltering love. 

The morning was gray, but the snow gave it light. There were tracks everywhere. People tracks, dog tracks, tracks I did not recognize. Little feet had scampered to or from something in the hours before dawn. 

In the park about a mile from home, the village had fenced off a hill to give children a safe place to sled. The snow was packed and icy. But there was plenty of evidence that it had been put to good use.


I wore my knee high rubber boots, a poor man's Wellingtons or Wellies, as they are affectionately called. It was damp, slushy, and muddy in places. The boots allowed me to walk with Sam in the park's most water-swollen spots. I unhooked Sam's leash and let her run and romp. She made circles around me and around the icy pond. She ate snow. It was not easy to get her back on the leash. No dog wants to be tethered. 
It was early enough that few people were outside. Not even the early, dedicated joggers or the reliable dog walkers. Just me. Just Sam. And we liked it that way. There was solace in the silence, a quiet the snow had helped to recreate. And I could think. Consider the place where I walked, and allow my mind to wander, to reconnect with the world. Not the world of the daily news, the Trump chatter, or how spring training was progressing. But the natural world, the world out in the open.



As I write this, Sam is stretched out at my feet on the hardwood floor. She does not know that we are heading out again this morning. She does not know that I will again slip on my "Wellies" and tramp my way around the neighborhood in the light rain that falls this morning. She does not know that I just might let her off the leash again, to jump and splash in the mud and the puddles. She doesn't know that we are again about to re-balance in the world outside, in the grayness of a February morning, but also in the light of a new day. 





Monday, February 12, 2018

Learning to Write

I'm a teacher, a journalist, a broadcaster, and an author. I am not just one of these things, I am all of them. I'm also a guitarist who occasionally writes songs. I am a father, a husband, and a friend. I try to be as good as one can hope to be at all of them. There are occasions I fail. Sometimes fail miserably. I'm not perfect. But I do know this. I have learned much along the way. And I am better, I believe, at every one of these parts of me—these aspects of myself—than I was the day before. It's a matter of incremental steps.

I could write much about this notion of growth when it comes to fatherhood or being a good marriage partner, I'm certain of this. That's probably a different blog post or better left for the therapist's office. So, what I want to write about instead is writing and growing as a writer. 


I have published six books. The sixth coming out this April. I have a memoir manuscript being shopped around now that I'm proud of and feel strongly about. It's received some good interest from potential publishers. We'll see where it goes. I'm also working on a new novel—very early stages—and I am determined for it to be the best writing I've done. For certain, I know I write this now NOT because I want to reveal to you all my accomplishments or want you to think how special this guy is, how talented, how wonderful. I write this because I want you, the reader, and all the other writers out there to know, even after all the writing and work I've done, and being humbled by all the wonderful writers in Chicago, I still believe I have not yet written my best book.

When I go back and re-read my earlier works, I question nearly every word. I read much that I would now change, re-write, massage, tweak. Not because I think it is bad or unworthy, but rather because I am not the same writer I was when I wrote those earlier books. Hopefully, I'm better somehow, have more insight, more skill, and not just technically or as a crafter of words, but more skill as a storyteller with something worthy to share. This said, my desires are not truly about being better, but rather about whether I have grown. Grown in many ways. Grown as a person, a father, a husband and a writer, with all of these "growths" contributing to the writer in me. 

Writers read a lot. I read a lot. Tons. My wife laughs at the number of books that come in the mail. I admire so many writers. Especially some wonderful contemporary writers in Chicago. I could name them, but I would miss many, and I don't want to do that. If you follow the literary scene in Chicago, you know their names. And others you may not know, under the radar writers with much to say. They are extremely talented. I read their work and I shudder. Could I ever write that well? But then again, I know that I do write well. I wouldn't still be doing this, have another novel coming out in the spring; I wouldn't have publishers interested in new work or have been humbled and honored by the awards I have won. Not the National Book Award (Seriously?), or the Nobel (LOL), but awards of value and recognition—Chicago Writers Assocaiton Award, honored at the Chicago LIbrary Foundation's Carl Sandburg Literary Awards dinner, the Royal Dragonflly, The Eric Hoffer Prize.

So why am I writing all this? To pump myself up, as writers often need to do? No. I write this to acknowledge that writing is a journey. It is not about perfection. I write this in the belief that the art of the written word is a moving target. Art in all forms is much the same. Painters change and reinvent themselves and their work. Songwriters do it, too. They grow into new artists with something new to offer. Think of the Beatles. Is the album Revolver better or just different from Abbey Road? And when the surviving members listen to those old records, do they wish they could change a lyric, a harmony, a note, alter the way it was produced? Yes, they do think that sometimes. McCartney has said so much. But their work is what is for the time that it was created, the time along an artist's growth journey, and that's what it should be. 

I will continue to grow. And I hope, continue to find new ways to develop for me and for those who read what I write. And I will move forward and try not to overly critique every word, every theme, or plot—vague or not—and try never to question what I am. For at least in part, I am a writer. 


Monday, February 5, 2018

Submit Your Work

Every single time.

Students, workshop attendees, friends who want to write all say the same thing: "I have this material, and I think it's pretty good, but it probably isn't, but I don't know, and I'm afraid to send it out, and so it sits in a file on my computer."

Or...

Other writers,  beginning and accomplished, say: "I have some work that might fit for that, but no, it's not good enough, or it needs more work, or...or...or..."

Putting your work out there as an artist—any kind of artist—is an act of courage. Beginners and veterans alike struggle with self-doubt, concerns about whether something is perfect, whether it is finished. Here's the truth: It's never perfect and it's never finished. Art never is.

If you wait for perfection, you'll never share it. And art is not art if it is not shared.

I have a writer colleague, who will go nameless, who said once during a bookstore event we were sharing, that when she is finally finished with a manuscript, she is certain it is exactly how she wants it. Every little corner of it. That is probably true. She's an excellent writer. But I would argue that she is only finished with it, that is only perfect, at that very place and time. At that very moment. In time—weeks, months, years, or decades—she will look back at that work—even a published work—and see something she wished she had done differently. I guarantee it.

There is not one piece of writing—published books, short stories, essays, journalism—that I have "finished" that at some point in the future I have not wanted to adjust, change, rearrange. A word here. A sentence there.

Perfection, like inspiration, is elusive.

And that fact brings me to this:

SUBMIT YOUR WORK.

The Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park, Illinois is open for short story submissions. The HEMINGWAY SHORTS contest is all-inclusive—beginners, veterans, writers of all types are encouraged to offer their work. And one of them should be you. Write no more than 1500 words and submit for a chance at publication and a grand prize of $500.

Here's the link to do just that: Submit—Hemingway Shorts

Put your work out there. Make it the best you can, but shun perfection. You can tweak and edit and rework ad nauseum. Just let it go. It will do you good.

Art must be shared.