Lulled by the lullaby

So lovely. So soft. Fuzzy. Warm.

On Effexor, paranoia is spread out like peanut butter on white bread. It’s diffused, all concentration gone. It’s less important. That’s what happens when the salmon-colored tablets pole dance down my throat. It brings my humanity back to a bearable point and whispers to my mind that it’s been wrong all this time. But who is right? Should I be paranoid? Isn’t there a truly dark and terrible reason for my depression? Or is Effexor right? There is no reason for the depression. There isn’t really anything to be paranoid about.  And if there is a reason, who cares?

Romanticizing authors for their love of alcohol is why many are as popular as they are, or at least one of the reasons they’re adored. Everyone loves to think someone so messed up can create something so loved. And there are a ton of messed up authors. Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, Poe; the list (15 top drunks here) is pretty endless. All the cool writerly types get hammered when getting fat at their keyboard. At least they used to.

Now they’re on Effexor.

Effexor is why I can listen to Linkin Park’s Meteora album while driving (at the speed limit) in my Volvo without feeling like people will think I’m old. I was already old when the album came out.  It’s why writers don’t need to drink. It’s a lullaby for an anxious existence. It’s Wyeth-Ayerst Lab’s gift of sublime “synapsical” serotonin. Thanks you guys. I can alter my existence without throwing up now. Only I can’t leave your drug. It won’t let me.

The mid 90s came with turbulence. Bad relationships, new homes, mortgages, higher incomes, 3-D puzzles, Voltron, Princess Diana, Mike Tyson’s ear eating, and then came Effexor. It’s been a smooth ride since, like sitting in the backseat of your grandpa’s Buick Park Avenue.

Only he was a drunk.

From a Big Sur writing retreat part VI


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Damn you, Aquaman

There is a kind of hunger for free time. Real free time. Without the damn dishes, the weekend laundry, or any chores whatsoever, without feeling pressured to write by my own OCD mind and just read any of the books I feel like reading, or paint. Or write. Or all of the above.

There is a kind of hunger that makes me jealous of Aquaman. It’s a desire to swim without breathing air, to swim all day long, to explore the sea alone. Damn that guy.

There is a kind of hunger to eat pizza and cheeseburgers all day every day. Only I can’t. If I want to know my children as middle-aged adults I will have to know cheeseburgers and pizza a little less intimately.

There is a kind of hunger that grows as you get older. It rises from your stomach, telling you to finish those lifelong bucket list items and do it soon. Checking off the list becomes all you think about. Write those five novels you’ve fleshed out or die.

There is a kind of hunger for acceptance, but only kind of. We all accept in one way or another, just rarely in the way you hope. You can try to tame them, steer people into accepting you in the way you want them to, but you end up being the weirdo, the misunderstood understand. It’s okay. Just accept it.

There is a kind of hunger for death. When the kids are old enough. Or when the grand kids are old enough. That hunger is for life’s goals to lose their luster, for acceptance to go to hell, for there to be as much free time as you would know what to do with (maybe sell it?), and best of all, maybe I could BE Aquaman.

From a Big Sur writing retreat part V


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Shove it in with a shovel-spoon

  • One bag of macaroni shells
  • A stick of butter
  • A block of orange (radioactive orange) cheese

THESE are the things that subdued my anger, my sense of indignation at the world, and put an end to my whining to this very day. These three things my mom combined when it came time to make a home-cooked meal. On these nights, when there wasn’t a Hungry Man in the oven, I felt better. She knew it would fix things.

Boil the shells. Grate the neon orange cheese. Why does my brother get to go to Ireland? He got arrested and I got better grades in school? But then I’d pop a tuft of that grated cheese into my mouth and forget about her answer. Something about BECAUSE I was good she didn’t have to worry about rewarding me. My brother needed bribes.

Once the shells boiled tender and soft, mom drained them. She’d dump them into a glass baking dish and drop the stick of butter on that steaming pile of macaroni shells. Lastly she’d stir until it all melted. Why are you buying my brother a second vehicle? You haven’t even bought me one, I’d cry. The smell of grated cheese, sprinkled over the butter-drenched shells, muted the whining until my tone turned conversational in nature. YOU can take care of yourself, she’d say.

After ten or fifteen minutes the cheese would turn crusty around the outer edges of the baking dish. I think you like him better than me, I would say.  No, I love you both DIFFERENTLY, she’d reply. Then she’d serve up the baked macaroni and cheese and I’d forget about my jealousy for a bit. We’d douse it in Heinz Ketchup.

I never knew my mom wasn’t a very good cook, not until I moved into my own apartment. But on those macaroni and cheese nights, she was the BEST cook.

Because pee


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The line at this particular bathroom killed her. She hated lines like she hated obscurity. But she had to go. Bad. Justine was a pretty little thing. She’d just cut her long blonde hair off a week ago, going for a tomboy style she found charming. The men in her life weren’t so sure about it, but that didn’t stop them from drooling at the clubs in San Jose. She was in Paso Robles today, far from her base of popularity. Justine made this trip inland to Arizona regularly. It was part of her job, stroking and grooming pharma accounts. She got paid to act flirty and smile with sexual charm at the old men in charge of her business. The rest fell easily into place.  Except this particular bathroom at this particular gas station. It always pissed her off.

She held her pink iPhone over her face and snapped a saucy selfie while standing in line. She stood there patiently and posted the pic to Instagram, then realized there wasn’t a line to get into the men’s bathroom. Her line was six women deep. She typed, “Screw this. I’m going into the mens room. Because pee,” and hit share. Oh, there’d be a few hearts on that, she was sure.

Just as she’d forgotten the word because was once followed by more than one word, she’d forgotten that rules were often in place for a reason. It could be they didn’t apply to her. It could be so many rules were just stupid. It could be Justine was stupid. The reasons didn’t matter to her. She didn’t even think twice about going in there. Because pee.

She kept her eyes straight ahead and trucked in, strutting past the yellow-stained urinals with a sense of high dignity (and by a large man hunkered up to one), and entered one of the two stalls. A pair of brown boots were visible in the stall next to hers, but she ignored it. It was only when she sat down did she hear the deep, manly voices.

“Think we got a tranny in here,” one of them said.  “Must be a dude to think it can come in here.”

Justine scowled, indignant. “Hello? Did you see the line out there for the girl’s? I didn’t want to wait, but I am a woman.”

“Like we believe that,” the other man said, flushing the toilet next to hers and walking out of the stall.

Justine was about to reply when a brown boot kicked at her stall. She stood and just yanked her pants up when the door crashed open. A storm of wide, bony knuckles fell over her. She’d never felt pain like that before. Never thought she would either. It filled her very soul, that pain, squeezing out her own indignant anger like a vice. She went to black and collapsed on the filthy floor. Boots kicked her a few times to make sure their point was made.

Because ignorance.

Here’s the deal

They say never look at reviews of your own writing. It’s like a vampire trying to gander at her reflection in the mirror. Why bother? they say. But that little narcissist in all of us, that peeping Tom or Tina, often urges action louder than the sleeping Sam or Samantha has ever spoken. Sam or Samantha can go to hell. I want to know what people think.

Then you see a bad review and you want a stiff drink.

And you want to take that reviewer out back and get their face familiar with your knuckles.

Some bad reviews are better than others, but it’s never a good idea to let them get the best of you. Coming from a background in journalism, I remember days full of criticism, some of it pretty nasty. It felt like spears heaped on your back. There are days when you hear praise too, when you win an award, and when you feel all flowery inside.  That’s when you know you are doing the best you can. If you love doing it, keep on churning it out. Just as they say the best way to sell books is to keep writing new ones, the best way to ignore critics is to do just that. Ignore them. Ignore them all to hell.

I recently took a peep at my Amazon author page. I keep thinking I should just leave it alone, but I probably won’t. I want to change the picture, try to change the order of the books, make sure the links go where I want them to go, regular old narcissistic author stuff. But then I thought I’d peek at a couple of my books to see how the reviews were coming along. Usually there aren’t new ones, but I did see one for my book “Grand Canyon’s Tusayan Village.” The review was written by “Arizona,” similar to “old west guy,” who wrote a bad review for my book “Williams.” It was pretty harsh. And I disagree with Arizona’s assessment.

Some authors would like anonymous reviewers to, at the very least, leave their real names so they can perhaps reach out to talk with the person wronged by the book. A fake name just insulates the attacker, some think. But I’m okay with it. Some people will not like a book no matter how many other people love it. Some people will not understand a book despite the fact others get it. It’s all fine. They say you can’t please everyone all of the time. We’ve all heard that nugget. Look at the original Star Wars. Fans dig the unaltered version more than they do the enhanced versions out there now – complete with additional scenes and computer generated alterations. Some fans (or at least Star Wars creator George Lucas) like the newer version better. And a book on the small community outside of Grand Canyon is just like Star Wars. Totally.  Those of you who’ve ever lived around there know what I mean.

I’m glad Arizona and old west guy pulled up to my books and spent the time writing a little something for the world to see. After all, as the author of those books, that’s all I’m doing too, writing a little something. And I’ll keep writing, with or without Arizona’s blessing, but probably with a stiff drink.

Or some Effexor.

Alien in Big Sur – Dead


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Alien-2The creature made a move. It wasn’t much of a move, but it totally counted. It’s pale, fleshy head with almond shaped eyes (if almonds were the size of watermelons) nodded in my direction. But hell if that scared me. I’m an American. So keeping my iPhone as steady as possible in my right hand, I lifted my pistol with my left hand and fired. The thing staggered backwards behind a fallen pine tree. I kept filming with my phone, hoping it wasn’t too dark for the camera to pick up the action.

I go to the range regularly and know for a fact I hit the thing, just like I killed a rabbit a few minutes earlier on the trail. But the creature, an alien for sure, kept moving even after it took a round. It dropped the rabbit I shot. Still not sure why it picked it up in the first place. When the rabbit hit the ground the damn thing scurried off. I know it was dead a minute ago, but somehow just touching the alien brought it back to life.

I may not have some fancy degree, those totally worthless pieces of paper sold by the liberal media like store bought intelligence, but I do have something better. My instincts. And those trump your un-American agenda any day. Not having a degree just means I haven’t been brainwashed.

So I kept my instincts in my back pocket and reloaded my gun.

I may live on my parents’ property in Big Sur, but I’m not a hippy. Far from it. And I’ve seen Independence Day.  If I’d wanted that rabbit to be alive I wouldn’t have shot it. I popped off another round at where I thought the alien might be hiding, then snuck closer to the fallen pine tree.

“This thing wants to kill me,” I said. I talked into the camera on the iPhone, for the sake of the video. I’d quit Farmers Only if it didn’t go viral, but I knew it would. Within hours of posting it too.  “Not sure what it is, but I know it’s not from here. Not from my planet.”

The alien leaned against the fallen pine tree, gasping for air. Eucalyptus bark, shredded from recent wind storms, covered the area. I could smell the trees, but also the hot blood of my enemy. I knew I’d got him. He held a long skinny hand over a bloodied wound on its shoulder, the wound I caused.

“You’re not even wearing clothes,” I said, glad for the camouflage jacket I had on. Made it harder to see me in the night. Actually I rarely ever went outside not wearing it. The alien’s other hand rested on the trunk of the tree. Flowers were popping out of the dead tree wherever the alien touched it. Unbelievable. It’s touch, just it’s touch, seemed to bring life. The flowers looked like poppies, maybe some violets too, I don’t know. It’s like it was trying to tell me it was the second coming or something. I wasn’t having any of that, so I kept the iPhone steady and shot it a few more times in the head. This time I was sure I’d ended whatever plans this monstrosity had for me and my neighbors.

“This pistol right here is my God-given right,” I told the dying alien. “You might want to think twice about invading an armed country next time. You hear what I’m saying? Think twice about coming to America!”

But it was dead. Guess it’s healing touch didn’t work on itself. After a few close-ups I stopped recording and got down next to the thing. Had to take some selfies with it. Make for a sweet profile pic.

Then I uploaded the video. I put it on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, everywhere.

I wrote, “Killed an alien tonite. Your welcome,” and waited for the likes.

From a Big Sur writing retreat part IV


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Nog and sap

Anticipation in the house was almost palpable at Christmas time. Decorations, the large real tree, the Burl Ives and Bing Crosby holiday records; these were all lugged out of the big blue storage trunk the first week of December. Back then Thanksgiving actually included decorations that kept the event separate from Christmas. Once Santa rode through the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, however, it meant all bets were off. The yuletide season could begin. About a week later, we’d drive the Volkswagen bug to the local tree lot and spend our sweet time walking through a grand display of spruce, Douglas firs, blues and more. The smell of fresh cut wood and sap filled our nostrils. For me, that pungent odor meant Christmas. There’s nothing like it. And then Mom would come home from work with egg nog. Usually we drank it for two reasons – either we were decorating the tree or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer would be on that night. Just the smell of egg nog brings a sense of warmth to my heart. I feel that tingling sense of excitement I felt when I was seven. Toys, candy, special food, Christmas specials on television, advent calendars with tiny pictures inside; the smell of egg nog makes me think of all these things.

Today I buy it for my children in the hopes they also feel that tingling reaction. It means good things are coming your way. It means love is in the air. I think they feel it too. Maybe they’ll tell me about it someday. I’m looking forward to it, just as I am that first egg nog with a grandchild.

From a Big Sur writing retreat part III


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I wasn’t sure it was a good idea at the time, and I couldn’t have been more than six. Uncle Vince, a family friend who wasn’t my real uncle at all, once held my brother and I by our ankles over the roof of a K-Mart while it was still under construction (the place, like most other crumbling box stores, happens to be a Home Depot now). Now here I sat in his lap while he drove us around Sand City. Luckily, traffic in the late 1970s wasn’t so bad, not like it is now.  There was no Costco then, no Target and no grocery store with its annual name changes – just a ton of sand.

“You wanna drive?” Uncle Vince asked.

He held a can of Budweiser in his right hand and had a rolled cigarette stuffed in his dark Italian beard. I was perfectly content to sit there and pretend to drive. Really doing it kind of terrified me. His breath smelled of hops and yeast and tobacco. Uncle Vince favored my brother. Josh wanted to work on cars when he grew up, Volkswagen bugs in particular, just like Vince did. Who knew I’d be listening to Agent Orange a decade later, dreaming of cheap thrills, fast cars, losing control and losing my mind? I was smarter at six.

“Can I do it again if Pat doesn’t want to?” my brother asked from the back seat.

Before Uncle Vince could answer, or get mad like he often did, I reached out and grabbed the ribbed steering wheel with my small, pale, and nervous fingers. I knew it wasn’t a good idea, but I seemed to be the only one in the car with an ounce of common sense. The sun shined overhead, and Mom’s bug zoomed lonely and loudly over the sand drifts blowing across the road. The interior of the car reeked of Budweiser.

I held the steering wheel harder than I needed to, but I wasn’t about to let go.

My brother cried out in joy. “Good job, Pat!”

“That-a-boy,” Uncle Vince said.

I couldn’t care less what they thought. I’d been forced me into it.

Central Coast Writers – they seem cool


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Get a group of writers together and you never know what might happen. The term “herding cats” springs to mind. But the term “universe of awesome” also comes up in my head. There are so many different types of people who write, from those who think they’re the next Douglas Adams to those who think the majority of their submitted work is laughed at by some editor with arched eyebrows and a penchant for whips – before ultimately ending up in the shredder.

Having been involved in writers groups in the past, I had no intention of submitting myself to that particular kind of torture again. The groups scared the hell out of me. Upset writerly types can be painful. They can be persistent as shit and they remind me why I love writing to begin with, because writing is solitary. But I’m asking myself a lot of questions now that I’m sinking in the quicksand of middle age. Did I make the right life decisions? I already know the terrible answer to that question. But bulleted under that question is another question (it’s somewhere near the “Should I have chosen Prozac instead of Effexor?” question. Did I give up on writing groups too soon?

I think the answer to that is yes. Following a recent writing retreat at Esalen in Big Sur, I felt the need to reach out a bit more, especially to others with interests similar to my own. They don’t have to write the same stories, read the same books, but they all love writing and stories. The retreat, it turns out, gave me a little more than I bargained for: comradery, totally unexpected comradery. Rather than travel the world to as many holistic retreats as I can find (ones with “healing baths” rise to the top of the list), and realizing that any over zero is more than I can afford, I thought I would try out a local writers clique.

Writing groups, organizations, circles, whatever, cover the globe. It’s like that paint logo that drips over the planet. They are everywhere. Groups of writers meet to read and share their stories, travel writers meet to see who’s going where, journalists meet to make sure they’re still unbiased and still drunk; we all like to meet. This realization, stemming out of Big Sur, got me all souped-up to try out the Central Coast Writers (CCW) group, which meets monthly at Point Pinos Grill in Pacific Grove near Asilomar. I tried to go in with no preconceived notions about the predominant age I would find (I had a suspicion people who maybe hung out with my mom would be there), the predominant level of accomplishment (that I should care nothing about anyway), or the predominant income (I was thinking riches, being that they meet next to a golf course) and am happy to report I found nothing I expected. I did, however, find a pretty cool group of people.

Articles on, and websites for, writers groups have quietly broken the Internet. A Kardashian loudly breaks it, but writers are only loud in their stories – unless you’re a drunk Ginsberg or an armed Hunter S.  Here’s an article, here’s another, and another, and so on. There’s a reason people write about them, just as there’s a reason people join them. Writers groups are worth the time. Maybe they’re not all that great, but the CCW, as far as my initial taste went, seemed like a solid chunk of literary folk. The articles include a number of great reasons to join a writers group. You make friends (which may be called networking), you hear about opportunities that could change the course of your career, and the list goes on. While many writers may try groups out here and there, often leaving after a bad experience, remember to try again after a few years, with a different team of writers. You may be surprised. If you happen to live in the Monterey Peninsula I would say take a try with the CCW, who meet at the Point Pinos Grill restaurant on the third Tuesday of every month.

The garlic fries are pretty damn good there.

CCW website: click here.


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