Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Guns, guitars, and grads -- lessons for a writer

Listen up you all: I have had one CRAZY ass week.

Now I’m not talking about your typical busy week where you run from work to the kids practice to the other kids game then to the other kids concert recital, then home to dinner and dishes and...

No, I had all THAT too... but there was more. Oh, so much more.

This week was the week to end all weeks.

I think I did almost all a person could possibly hope to do in one week.

Let me give you a brief blow-by-blow.

The week started with an awesome firearms training class given by the wonderful folks at the Missouri Department of Conservation. I learned SO much from this class: how to handle a firearm (and to not call a firearm a “weapon”), how to clean a firearm and how to shoot, and tons more (and that’s where the GUNS part of the title comes from).

And then at some point last week we attended my senior sons Baccalaureate service, which is a kind of spiritual send-off for the seniors so that they Go-With-God... you know, go-with-God, but please just go! At this service a young man played a guitar and sang a song (we will get to that in a moment)... this song, played at this particular time by this particular kid was a real tear-jerker. This is the GUITAR part of the title.

Then, I spent the rest of the week days prepping for my sons Grad party on Saturday. I had to take an extra vacation day I had not planned to take (not complaining about that one) and spent Wednesday through Friday mowing, cleaning, scraping, PAINTING, moving furniture to make room for guests and THEN helping bring in all the food (yummy) on Friday night and setting up for the BIG DAY. And THEN... on Saturday, the PARTY. We had over 200 guests streaming through our house (thank goodness it was an OPEN house party). And this is the GRAD part of the title.

Soooo... after all that you MIGHT think (mistakenly) that I would now get a break, right?

Well I almost did.

Sunday night, for Mother’s Day, my wife, the mother of my children (and btw just gotta say I literally HATE the term Baby Mama... ugg... shoot me if I EVER say that)... anyway, me and the wife went to the movies to see The Avengers. My wife is the best. Loves the cheesy B-movies including sci-fi end of days and zombie movies. And to top it all off she is a REAL hottie!

So, we’re leaving for the movie and she says, “Oh, by the way, we have to stop at my mom’s to fill up a load of their belongings in the van, and oh another by the way, we are driving to their new lake condo tomorrow to unload for them.”


See, I had taken this whole week off because my sons actual Grad night is today, Wednesday and I had hope to be rested by then/now. But, no.

So, we moved stuff. Every day so far this week.

Now let me be CLEAR! I am NOT complaining! In fact, we got some really cool furniture out of the deal that they can’t take with them, and anyway, even without the cool free stuff, they have done SO MUCH for us over the years that I would’ve helped anyway.

The ONLY reason I am telling you all this is simply to illustrate that I have had ONE CRAZY ASS WEEK!

OCAW baby!


I have actually pulled some incredible gems of lifes-lessons turned to writers-lessons that I am about to impart to you that WILL make your head do a round-about and leave you asking “Hey... just WTF happened here?”

Guaranteed. Well, sort of. Not guaranteed in the sense that if you don’t actually say “Hey... just WTF happened here?” I will give you some money back or something. That ain’t happening.

But, you will say... hey... that’s pretty cool, or something like that...

Anyway... OFF WE GO!

Here are the three little gems I will now impart to you:

Guns are pens: Yea, whatever, you might say. We all know that the pen is mightier than the sword and yada yada. This is just a rehash. Yes, sort of. But in the immortal words of Elton John and Bernie Taupin: “But then again, no.”
You see, I learned some things at the firearms safety training that I really don’t think I would have learned elsewhere. It was the environment, the atmosphere of the training that opened up new vistas of understanding for me.

For one, I heard in that class that it takes 1000 CORRECT repetitions to fully eliminate 1 INCORRECT habit. Now, think about that for a minute. Consider a bad writing habit that you may have. You will need to discover and habitualize the new, good thing and repeat it 1000 times before you completely wipe away the instinct and desire to fall back to the old one. Have trouble with the “there/they’re/their”? Do it right 1000 times. Have motivational issues? Force-start yourself 1000 times.

Now listen up people! This is NOT a discouraging commentary! Instead of looking at the dirty old used side of the piece of paper you just found on the ground and wishing you had something clean to write on, TURN IT OVER! Look at the OTHER side!

Its pristine whiteness is just sitting there waiting for you to write on it! And by this, I mean to say that having to repeat something 1000 times (yes, that’s one thousand) is not a bad thing... instead, it means there IS hope! You CAN be a better writer! You CAN figure out a way to get motivated! You CAN figure out a way to stop misspelling the “there’s” of the world!

And guess what? I learned a ton of other stuff at firearms safety training and over the weeks I will very likely incorporate much of into this here blog. So, there you have it. Guns are pens. They can teach us stuff too.

Guitars bring sorrow: Music. The great leveler. Raise a man up, tear a man down. At my sons Baccalaureate service, the same kid who played and sang as Joseph in the incredible high school adaptation of the Technicolor Dream Coat, played guitar and sang Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe”.



Yes, I cried a little. But I’m a guy, so it was all insidey-like crying, not the big crocodile tears flowing down the cheeks crying. I swear I didn’t. Hey! Shut up! I said I didn’t!

Just check this lyric: “As we sit alone, I know someday we must go...”

Sigh. That really got me. And... it made me think.

What parts of that particular scene would I write about in order to have the same impact to someone who was only reading about it?

How could I make a reader feel the same things I was feeling, and at the same depth I felt them?

I really stopped to think about this because this was REAL emotion. REAL feelings. These are the things I as a writer need to be able to convey to a reader.

How would you do it? Think about it for a minute.

I (and you) could do this:
The child in front of me was fidgeting up until the fist strum of the guitar. The singer seemed at first to avoid the microphone, and I thought this would be a detriment to my enjoyment, but his voice, barely above the volume of the guitar, became intimate, a whisper, forcing me to listen more attentively. The singer made a mistake once, but he smiled... not at me, but somehow at the whole audience, teasing us, making sure we were listening, tripping up the lyrics as an exclamation point to the words so we would catch their meaning.

What would you do/write to capture these moments?

Grads are us: My son has been the focal point and theme of this whole week, as he should be. He attended the firearm safety course with me, and of course all the other things this week were for him. I had a great week. I love my kids. And he’s my only son, so... it was a great week.

But all this, the gun class, the Baccalaureate service, the party preparations, the actual party itself, and the graduation tonight... all these things in retrospect are  graduation. These experiences are like the milestone markers proving that he has made it to this point, succeeded at all the things he needed to do to get here, passed all the tests, attended all the classes, that he is READY for the diploma.

And, you know what? If we choose to do so, we can look at the milestones in our lives in just the same way as the graduates today are looking at their milestone.
Why do we have to stop congratulating ourselves? Why can’t we celebrate our accomplishments?

Not the everyday mundane accomplishments. That would get old.

But, what about that new job?

Or, what about the fact that YOU got your kids through the school year again?

How about that manuscript you just finished?

We are ALL graduates, at many different points in our lives.

I suggest that you take some time to FEEL like a graduate. Imagine the Pomp and Circumstance, pretend you have a gown and mortar board, walk down the aisle and up the steps to the podium and take that diploma in your hand... and FLASH your naked underneath parts to the world!

We are ALL graduates, dammit!

So act like one today! Live it up a little!

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