There are several times during the year when we celebrate heroes: Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, among others. This is a memoir of a time when I had the opportunity to meet one of my heroes. Not a major hero, mind you. It's not Steve Largent, for goodness' sake! While this encounter fostered a certain cynicism in me, by no means do I mean to belittle the heroes I mentioned above. To the best of my knowledge, they truly deserve whatever honors they can get. I merely use this story to warn against picking heroes frivolously. It also showcases my own attempt at using time and cultural references to help create a setting. hero_memoir.docx
Honestly, I have no idea. Probably in as many ways as there are writers. I can tell you some of the things that made me, and a big one is my health. For the most part, I'm in pretty good shape. Not athletically speaking. Oh, good lord, no! A clumsy pickpocket could still easily get away from me at a brisk walk. But I look healthy, and I don't get sick with colds or the flu any more often than the next guy. Even so, there are a couple of things wrong with my mortal shell. You may have picked up on the fact that I'm legally blind. In this story, I'll talk about the other central fact of my existence. What follows is going to be a horror story for some (sorry, Mom), but I share it only to give insight into what makes me tick, and to show another example of early memoir-writing. health_memoir.docx
The more recent one... show_and_tell_memoir.docx They're slightly different themes, but they share a lot of the same information.
New Year's Resolutions. Everyone loves those. Eight days into the year, a lot of people have already decided to postpone theirs for another fifty-one weeks. I am still working on the goals I had set last year, so I don't feel that I have the luxury of being able to delay any longer. I've written two separate memoirs about my goals - one from early in my memoir classes, and the other from late in the class. I think you'll be able to see the growth that my writing skill experienced in that seven months. aspirations_memoir.docx I will share the second memoir in my next post. Make sure you stick to your resolutions until then!
In May of 2019, I took what I think was the most important trip of my life. Edison and I went to Bangor, Maine. Exciting, right? When you consider that my favorite author has his summer home there, grew up near there, and set a few of his more famous books in a fictional city based on Bangor, then, yeah, I was pretty excited about it. The last time I had traveled to anywhere outside the Pacific Northwest was nearly thirty years earlier, on a trip to Irving, Texas to visit the campus of the University of Dallas, and that trip had all been planned for me. This trip to Bangor was my baby. I booked a tour of my favorite author's Bangor settings (I urge you to check out SKTours. It's run by a very friendly couple who are very knowledgeable about all things related to Stephen King), I booked the flights, and I booked the lodging. The only thing I left to a friend that I was meeting there was the ground transportation. For our second full day there, I booked a walking ghost tour of Bangor, also. Just for something fun to do. I urge you all to contact the Bangor Historical Society to participate in that, too, if you're ever in that area.
We visited Mt. Hope Cemetery, where Pet Sematary was filmed, and where it's said that King found some inspiration for a few of his other stories. The photo at the top of this blog is of a crypt at Mt. Hope. I don't know who is entombed there, and it has no connection to King that I'm aware of, but it encapsulates and projects every dark and creepy, sinister and mysterious, and utterly gothic feeling or thought I have about cemeteries. Don't be surprised if it shows up in one of my stories someday.
We saw the standpipe from IT, and the statue of Paul Bunyan. We saw the buildings where one of the kids in the Losers Club lived. We saw the Barrens, and, of course, we visited the stormdrain where little Georgie Denbrough encounters Pennywise. I'll include a great picture of Pennywise reaching up to pet Edison. We saw Mr. King's house, and his radio stations (he owns three. WKIT plays some great classic rock!). We visited the Bangor library and the children's hospital, where the Kings have done some truly heroic charitable work. And we went to the mental institution that serves as the basis for Juniper Hill. Every one of these stops was accompanied by stories and anecdotes. It was a fan's dream come true.
The next day was when I learned something valuable about writing. On the ghost tour, we heard about the local ghost stories and legends. A famous gangster was shot to death on a downtown city street. Stephen King grew up listening to and learning these stories and legends, and they've worked their way into his writing. Ideas don't have to be totally original. In fact, since that day, I've learned that people in the know figure that there are only a handful or two of basic themes. It's the author's style and voice that make stories original and unique. And settings should be more than just geographical; they should be cultural, as well. The setting can be a character just as much as the, well, characters.
The other valuable thing I learned from that trip was that I can do it. Whatever "it" is. I planned the trip, I got my guide dog through it despite his ugly trail of nervousness (sorry, Seattle, Phoenix, and Philadelphia airports), and there were no major mishaps, except for Edison's famous Trail of Smears.
As the current election year approaches, and the country is as divided as I've ever seen it... even reaching into my own family... I thought I'd share another early memoir, written in the Spring of 2019. Sure, I have views on political issues, but the issue that bothers me the most these days is the hatred and animosity shown by one group of people towards anyone who doesn't agree with them. values_memoir.docx
In mid-January of 2019, my Braille instructor assigned some writing homework. Writing in Braille requires the use of a slate, or a hinged, metal frame that folds over a piece of paper. The slate I use has four rows of cut-out rectangles in which to form the Braille codes for letters, numbers, words, or punctuation. Once you've made your sandwich of metal frame backing, paper, and metal frame, you take your stylus (a short metal stick that makes me think of corn-on-the-cob holders) and start at the right-most corner. Yes, reading might be done from left to right, but writing is done right to left. Then, you simply poke dots into the rectangles, forming mirror-images of the code you wish to be read when finished. When done, you flip the paper over, and read left to right, like a normal English language reader.
Anyway, my assignment was to practice writing words with the letter 'Z' in them. In a fit of creativity, I started writing a story about a character named Detective Rene Zeroe. It was just for fun, so I did quite a lot of the writing. My instructor, Joy, can confirm that I did far more writing than I did of reading. It's a fun little story, packed with grisly humor and a questioning look at relationship ethics, and the role of morality in marriage. The characters are under-developed, though, and the dialogue is stilted.
I had written the story all in Braille, so when I decided to try to get it published, I had to translate it back from Braille to print. I was in a time-crunch because the decision to try for publication was made for a different class, and that class ended on June 19th. I had to finish the story, learn about editing, and investigate and learn about publishing, all in only a couple of months. Due to my inexperience, both in writing and in publishing, this first effort is having a fair amount of difficulty in finding a home from which to thrill and amuse readers. I still have a few more publishers to try, but I'm learning to come to terms with the idea that the story might need more work. I'm not including it here because, if it is going to be re-worked and published, I want to be the one to do it. Not that I don't trust you... it's the other people reading this that I'm not too sure about.
This entry is a little out of order in the story of my journey into writing, but it's timely in that it's about the holiday season, which is upon us as I write this. As far as writing goes, the story I'm about to share is one of my better ones (in my completely unbiased opinion). It has fun, little things like dialogue, creative setting description, and changes in tone. As far as theme goes... well, themes are tricky, slippery creatures. What I get from it, as I settle into middle-age after a very fortunate life with all of my nuclear family members near-at-hand, is that family shouldn't be taken for granted, no matter what form it takes for you. I do wish you all a very Merry Christmas. holiday_memoir.docx
Let's talk about editing...
I've heard that Kurt Vonnegut Jr. labored over each page until it was perfect as soon as he wrote it. He wouldn't have a rough draft of a book, or even a first or second draft. Just a final draft. That's not just rare, it's unique. Good storytelling takes practice. The storyteller must try out different phrases, different cadences, even different themes, and choose the ones that best tell the story. It takes rewrite after rewrite, usually. There's a story about James Joyce that says that a friend of his found him slumped over his desk with his head in his arms. His friend asked him what was wrong, and he replied, "I've only written seven words today!" His friend answered, "But James, seven words is good, for you!" Joyce responded, "Yes, but I don't know what order they go in!" Editing is important, and it takes time. Stephen King is my main influence, and I've read some of his work that hasn't been polished up for publication. Holee-mackerel, is there a difference! It's still leaps and bounds ahead of my own writing, but boy, is there a difference! The point is that I'm still not an expert editor, especially of my own work, and many of the stories I'll share here aren't meant for mass publication, so I haven't spent a ton of time on them. What I'm trying to say is, they get better. If the first few, or dozen, seem like a mess, give it a chance. They do get better.
What editing skills I do have came to me by way of a memoir-writing class that I started attending in April of 2019. The writing coach, Heidi Thorsen, has continued to be supportive and helpful while I undertake this journey. This is the first memoir I wrote for the class, and it provides a little background information about me. money_memoir.docx
December 8, 2018, I was a week and a half into training with my first guide dog, Edison. I live just outside of Seattle, but I had traveled to New York to meet and work with this amazing dog at the Guiding Eyes for the Blind facility. I had become legally blind three to four years earlier, and I had finally taken the opportunity to avail myself of some of the resources that would help me adjust to vision loss. I apologize for not giving a more precise date for my blindness. People often ask when I lost my sight, and my answer is always a stumbling, awkward response. My vision loss was a very gradual process. My first major eye issues happened in the mid-90s, but there were treatments and procedures that could be done to temporarily restore my vision. In 2014, though, those past procedures presented me with their bill. My vision failed relatively rapidly, and there was nothing to be done about it. In January of 2015, I was formally diagnosed as legally blind. There was a big ceremony, with sacred artifacts and hooded figures... no, of course there wasn't, but that's my idea of a "formal diagnosis".
One of the other resources I was availing myself of was a vocational rehabilitation program offered by the state of Washington. I had been enrolled in the residential program on the day before Halloween. For three weeks, I studied Braille, how to walk around safely, and how to use a computer accessibility program. I was also in a class designed to help blind students apply for and keep jobs. The first step was to decide on which career to pursue. Since "jet pilot" and "Army sniper" were off the table, I had no idea what career I wanted to pursue. I figured I could resume my studies in my other classes where I left off when I returned from New York, but I made arrangements to stay in the careers class discussion via email, because it only met once a week, anyway.
I had worked many retail jobs in the past, and had almost completed an Education double major in college. I'm not sure why, but my interest in working with kids, of any age, had dwindled into non-existence. I'm sure that it's only coincidence that my own children were born at roughly the same time as The Great Dwindling. Retail didn't have a glass ceiling where education was concerned - it was an adamantium ceiling. Without a college degree, there was only so far I could go in retail. So I followed my teacher's advice and looked at what I was passionate about. My conclusion? Nothing marketable. I'm a really laid-back, easy-going guy. I liked a lot of activities, and had many interests, but not a ton of red-hot passion. I was lost as far as potential careers went. I was seriously considering just subsisting on my disability income. Living in some tiny apartment, in some crime-ridden neighborhood, with my dog, eating microwave dinners, and listening to audiobooks. I loved reading.
All my life, I've loved reading. A good story is the best escape from reality. I still remember crying as I watched my mother die from a hunter's bullet through Bambi's eyes. Later, I struggled to keep my best friend's spirits up as he tried to destroy the evil ring he wore on a chain around his neck. And when I was a teenager, I dealt with bullies in a small town in Maine, while something much, much worse stalked me and my friends. I immersed myself in stories. As a kid, this can be detrimental when reading scary stories. When I discovered Stephen King and Peter Straub, part of me would remain in their books even after I had put it down. I was terrified until I had finished the book. It took me two years and two tries to finish Salem's Lot. I just couldn't get into it at first. But for those two years, vampires were real for me, even when I was reading other books. Perhaps, in the minute or so that it took you to read this entry, you've made the same observation that it took me forty-four years to make: I am passionate about stories. On December 8, 2018, I still hadn't reached that conclusion... but I was close.