Driving West

Black Dragon Canyon, Utah

“Wander: To move without purpose; often in search of livelihood”… took this en route to Los Angeles.

Writer’s block?

Oh hell no!

Making the Clackity Noise, an article by Merlin Mann, was a game changer for me as a writer. I recommend it to any artist who has ever felt like they just couldn’t “tap into it.”

…It’s not your brain that makes the clackity noise, it’s your fingers.

Your brain helps you to breathe and to buy beer and to pretend to understand Kant and to use Spanish to ask the hot waitress for “mas salsa,” and, thank God, your brain is a boon companion at helping you avoid deadly attacks by bears, monsters, and SEO marketers.

But, your brain’s a piece-of-shit writer. I know this, because mine is too. So, let me assure you that there’s no point in waiting for your brain to start making the clackity noise for you. It can’t. That’s all on you, and on me, and on each of our extant fingers.

Weird thing is I still have to relearn this every single day. The only way I can tell I’m relearning this is I notice that the keyboard has been making the clackity noise for several contiguous minutes. I see that words have started to come out and sometimes they’re good and almost always they’re not and increasingly I’m not all that worried about it either way…

-Merlin Mann

I would be hard-pressed to relay here all the excuses I’ve used in the past as to why I absolutely could not write. No bright idea, not enough time, Thursday night tv… to name a few. After reading this article, I decided to stop making excuses, and now I make the clackity noise every. single. day.

A reason why not never feels as good as just doing it, even if I don’t like the result. Sometimes, the short story that sounds like a second grader’s first draft later morphs into something I like.

So, write. Or paint, sing, take photos, draw, etc… and don’t stop. That’s what I learned from Merlin. Thanks Mann.

(read the rest of  “making the clackity noise”)


A poem I wrote, inspired by an Edward Hopper painting:

Late night watched by city lights,
I ease into the must of an old leather chaise,
like an alley cat folding itself into soured cream,
shamelessly drawn to the rot.

Smoke rings keep time to Ella Fitzgerald,
framing the firefly eyes of the night watchers.
She promises me heaven if I hold you in a dream
yet when I close my eyes,
I see your face in sepia-tone, fading.

Minutes slink past, strappy sandals fall
in synchronized thuds to the floor.
Red lipstick smudges my glass
as I nurse a flat bourbon Coke.

I catch my blurry reflection in the window,
and pose for a Hopper painting.
Except there’s no one here to talk to,
and no woolen suited man to lean on,
and I am not feeling particularly beautiful.

(Painting by Edward Hopper “Nighthawks“- for more by Hopper visit Artsy’s Edward Hopper page)

Cat Meets Dog

“Cooper” – brother
“Cayden” – brother’s Rottweiler
“Baloo” – one of my new kitties

Attempted introduction between kitty and Cayden goes as follows:

Baloo spots Cayden at the front door and our snuggle fest on the couch quickly sours into a mewling debate; she injects several claws into my side and I can see my “cat meets dog” idea will do nothing for our friendship.

Cooper and a trilling, quivering Cayden inch their way toward us in slightly intimidating fits and starts. I suddenly remember a story about how Cayden likes to attack any little creature that moves suddenly… and I also remember Cooper laughing pretty hard while telling it. This concerns me. Baloo anxiously glances between the approaching, drooling predator and me. I can only coo soothingly as she migrates slowly up my side (though my voice is hardly comforting to either one of us two days into our relationship, and I anticipate getting my face clawed off).

At this point, I am wondering why I INSISTED on this meeting.

Coop gets close enough to simultaneously pet the kitty and Cayden, which puts the latter into a near-convulsive state of electrification and excitement (CAT RIGHT BY MY MOUTH CAT CAT CAT CAT BY MY MOUUUUUUTH!!!!!). I want them to be friends. I do. However, when Cayden snaps at a flicking tail while staring intently at kitty head, and Baloo starts yelling at me… well you get the idea.

No Milo and Otis love story here.

I’m on a phone!

Michael Covino is a newly discovered friend who is one of the founding members of The Misundertoods – a group of funny peeps who WILL make you laugh…

This is a spoof of the SNL Digital short “I’m on a boat,” shot for Smule’s “I am T-Pain” contest. Check it out:

Energy Stamps

Great Britain Energy Resources Stamps from 1978

Great Britain Energy Stamps from 1978

(via grain edit by Peter Murdoch)

When asked why my mother left him…

he massages the coat of our black Schnauzer,
busy hands busy explaining that we’ve grown apart,
that we want different things.

I want to ask like what? what happened?
but don’t because I know the answer won’t have changed.
We made it twenty-two years,
until fighting over curfews and phone bills was easier
than saying ‘good morning’.

The dog sighs blissfully as she slides to the floor.
We both shake our heads and smile,
but the gestures feel used,
as if borrowed from another time.

Holding her extended paw,
he says maybe I should have been a stronger man,
and wets his lips,
neck stretched and eyebrows raised-
god, he’s just trying to swallow.

And then, with a cough,
he says Your mom, she loved to go to parties.
But I never could remember everybody’s name,
and she always had to remind me. Your mom

I stare at the pale molding along the walls,
afraid of my great size in this room too small,
these imposing hands on chair arms, wooden,
afraid of all the times I never said ‘good morning
and the strange longing to hold my little dad,
or be held.

In an empty lap, he kneads his empty hands,
hunched with the weight of defeat on his shoulder,
and says I love your mom.
But she doesn’t love me.
And when I reach for my wife’s hand,
I want to be unsure whether I’m reaching for hers
or she’s reaching for mine.

funny drooly incident

this morning’s email from Austen in Missoula…

I went to the dentist this morning to get a crack in one of my fillings fixed. After one mostly pleasant hour, during which I almost fell asleep in the dentist chair, I returned home, made Annie’s mac and cheese, and sat down on the couch to read “The Kite Runner” while I ate. As usual, I made the mac and cheese with too much milk and it was runny. I bit my fat, numb lip three times while eating– can’t wait to feel that tomorrow. I also kept dripping cheese sauce off my fork, and pushing my puffy-vest down to see where it had fallen. Miraculously, none of it ended up on my clothes. “How lucky” I thought. I took Haley for a walk around the block, returned home, and went to the bathroom to wash my hands. There in the mirror I saw it. All the dripped cheese sauce. Yep. It was right there globbed up on my chin where I was too numb to feel it. Panic set in. Had I talked to anyone on my walk? Seen anyone I knew? No. I only waved at the postman. whew. That was close.

Coffee and Cigarettes

Coffee and cigarettes. Two habits I should give up (she says, with a steaming mug in one hand and a dangling ciggy in the other…) but don’t. They make for a comforting combo. Even back in college, when I had cleverly procrastinated and left a term paper to the final hour, caffeine quivers in rhythm with a clacking keyboard at 4 a.m. offered bittersweet consolation. Smoke breaks became a welcome reprieve, and often I would discover a housemate in the same boat who could be wooed away from their own pressing deadlines simply by holding out a spare cig. I like to think they were probably looking for an excuse to hang out on the porch and chat anyway. How many times did Abigail and I abandon our International Relations papers to philosophize on God and the universe, or more likely, our latest crush? Those late night convos peppered an otherwise hellish twelve hours with laughter or intimate revelations. In short, they shaped my collegiate experience.

Now, ten years later, coffee and cigs are still a reassuring duo. When I have an article deadline and I’m staring at my screen in the middle of the night, out they come. Sure, I have switched out the Camels for American Spirit Ultra Lights. Instead of a triple shot espresso from the 24 hour coffee shop, I might opt for half a cup of home-brewed French pressed decaf. And just because I don’t live with 9 other girls in a big house doesn’t mean I haven’t discovered a smorgasbord of distractions, like emailing, photographing my cats while they dangle upside down off my bed, or in more desperate measures, photo surfing random Facebook friends.

Maybe I’m writing this because Abigail just visited from the East coast, and we reveled in each other on the balcony sharing smokes at 3 a.m, or because I just finished an article and have remnants of last night’s habits scattered over my desk. Either way, I should probably stop meditating on the valuable role that coffee, cigarettes and wasting time have played in my life, and get back to the article I have due later today… after I refill my cup of course.

(Photo by friend and talented photographer Ashley McCue “Coffee and Remnants”)

Letter from Missoula, MT

This letter came from my first friend in college, who remains of my closest ten years later…

I feel remarkably ungenerous at the moment. It is cold here. There is a thick layer of crunchy ice covering the top of every road. The city has tried salt, sand etc but its too cold for anything to work.

I stopped at the gas station after the gym to fill up. I wasn’t that close to empty but didn’t want to risk the gas freezing over night. Dang. Cold. I was standing next to the pump in a sweatshirt and sweatpants– no gloves or hat. Its too cold for too long here. Its not worth worrying over gloves, hat and jacket, just for 5 min of pumping gas.

As I stood there, hunched over and tense, a nice looking man approached me carrying a red gas container. “Can you spare a gallon of gas?” he asked. Instinctively, I replied “No, sorry”. “Ok, thanks,” he said. He wasn’t rude or put off by me. He also wasn’t embarassed. He understood. He likely believed I couldn’t afford it.

As he walked away I felt sort of sorry about saying “no”. That welled up in me, and a few second later, I wanted to chase after him and apologize. I wanted to say “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I said that. I would be happy to buy you a gallon of gas”

I mean for christ sake Austen, even if he is trying to take advantage who cares? Its 5 degrees and dark in Missoula and a gallon of gas costs less than $3. What’s wrong with you?

I tried to peak subtly around the gas pump to see where he had gone. Just then, I heard his voice. “Excuse me, could you spare a gallon of gas” He asked a lady at another pump. “Absolutely” she replied. Kindly, enthusiastically. Happy to be asked for help. “Thanks,” he said, and proceeded to tell his story to the woman though I couldn’t hear it all. Why couldn’t I have said “sure”? Why wasn’t that my first instinct? It would have been few years ago. Have I become harder and more cinical, less idealistic? In a way it seems necessary to be so. For some reason I feel I can’t care about others. I might feel too badly about the hardship in the world if I let myself engage in it. I tell myself “that’s the way it is. I can’t do anything about it”. I tell myself that “it isn’t realistic”. But I know deep down that isn’t true.

On a less serious note, we are watching the Texas v Alabama football game, eating nachos (deluxe I must say) and drinking beer. Wylie went to get chicken for the nachos at Taco del Sol, the burrito place in town. He got a containter of chicken, dropped it in the car, and ran across the street to grab some beer. He retuned to the car to find Haley devouring the chicken. I mean, I guess you have to expect that, but seriously. Now Haley Is laying bloated on the floor farting softly and fanning it around with her tail. Nice.