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Into The North Wind by Jill Homer

I went to Spring Training in Arizona this past weekend.  In preparation for the trip, I decided I needed some books.  Yes, I’d be watching a lot of baseball.  Maybe doing a few other things.  But, while the other guys were playing golf, I was going to have some down time.

I golfed at one point in my life.  Five years or so when my kids were just in the process of becoming members of the human population.  I gave it up because I took it too seriously and had neither the time nor the money to get any better at the stupid sport.  I’ve golfed rarely since then, and not nearly enough to justify spending the money needed to golf in Arizona in March during Spring Training.

So, I thought I might read a bit.

Or maybe I might write.  I took my laptop, too.  Never cracked it open.

To ensure adequate reading material, I found a couple of books on a list I thought were interesting.  I also asked Cinthia Ritchie for some recommendations.  Cinthia is a writer, runner, reader, and just all around fascinating person — one of those people I’ve “met” through blogging that intrigues me.  She occasionally writes about the books she has read and she always seems to have a good mix of books to recommend.  So, Cinthia, what should I read?

She offered me some suggestions, I took almost all of them.  Before I left for Phoenix, I had ordered six books — four of with arrived before I left, two of which arrived after.  I plan on posting about each of these books as I finish them in the next few weeks.

I began with one of the books I know was a Cinthia recommendation.  Into the North Wind by Jill Homer.  In Cinthia’s words, once she started this book, she simply could not put it down.  I’ll have to agree.

I never knew this was a thing.  A mountain bike race.  Across 1,000 miles.  Of Alaska.  In winter.  Alone.  Virtually without support.  And that’s what Into the North Wind is about.  Jill Homer’s 10-year fascination with this challenge.  The race follows the Iditarod trail.  It’s relentless.

I do have a couple of issues with the story.  One that is really just me being picky — there’s some repetition here in Ms. Homer’s struggles across those 1,000 miles.  That’s kind of understandable, so I’ll let it go.

My other issue relates to this.  The annual challenge along the Iditarod trail involves a number of different distances and options.  There is the 100 mile distance, 250 miles, 350 miles. And the full-blown 1,000 mile trip through a frozen hell.  And, really, any distance in between if the participant so chooses.  The distances can be accomplished by running, walking, skiing, or mountain biking.  There’s a whole lot of flexibility here.  Which isn’t the problem.

What the problem was is that in the initial reading, the impression is made that once you get past the 350 mile point, you are utterly and completely on your own.  You are in a vast wasteland for 650 miles until you get to Nome.  The only problem is that once Ms. Homer got past the 350 mile point, there were still villages, there were still shelters dotting the trail.  This is a minor quibble — it doesn’t really minimize the accomplishment described in the book — but it just felt like a little bit of false advertising, a little bit of making it sound much worse than it really was.  Which made me wonder what else might have been an exaggeration.

So, you’re probably wondering if you should read this.  I’d heartily recommend this book to anybody fascinated by such things.  These extreme adventures people put themselves into fascinate me.  Into the North Wind is a really good story about the extremes some of us humans put ourselves through to achieve these odd dreams.


Thought For The Day

It’s amazing how much better a day goes when I manage to sleep until 9:00.

Where am I?

What if …

… I told you that …

And here’s where my effort to create an analogy for you breaks down.  Because I don’t know you.  I don’t know what it is that you have tried to fill your life with.  I don’t know what the thing is that you have found that fulfills you, makes you feel something close to whole — because that’s all you want, something close to whole, because if you could find that, that would be good enough because being completely whole is like being perfect and you know that perfect is impossible.

I don’t know what that thing is.

I know this though.  I thought I had found it.

And I know this too.  Kevin Brennan touches on the problem here.

If there’s one thing I know it’s that I am a searcher.  I have regularly described my quest for the thing that will motivate me and keep me interested and make me happy with my life.  Learning the guitar, cooking, baking, gardening, my kids, this and that.  It’s all been a never-ending … search … for fulfillment and … a solution to my quest for happiness.

I thought I found it almost fifteen years ago.  A lifetime of being a voracious reader led me to the idea that I, one day, wanted to try to write a novel.  My father wrote a number of books on the techniques and craft of writing that were published.  And some manuscripts for novels that were never published.  When I read his manuscripts I was intrigued by the idea.

For years, I pondered the idea of a novel.  I’d come up with an opening line, an opening paragraph, an opening scene … and then flail around at the idea of what came next.

Until one day I outlined a novel in my head on my drive home from work.  That outline turned into One Night in Bridgeport.  And another novel.  And dozens of short stories.  For about eight years, or maybe ten years, I became a writer.  Whenever I completed a story or a larger writing project, I would tell my wife that I wanted to take a break but I didn’t know if I could.  I was a writer and I had all of these stories bursting forth.  My wife would nod knowingly and let it go.  I would start a new story the next day.

I even began to think that when people asked me what I did, who I was, I would answer “writer” rather than “attorney.”  Because the reality is that “attorney” has never been about who I am at my very core.  It is only the thing I did so that I could make a better life for myself and then, once tbey came along, my wife and children.

So, I wrote … while my kids played out front.  While they splashed in the pool.  I wrote.  In the evenings, when I only had an hour or so, I wrote.  On weekends, in the in between moments.  I occasionally took what I referred to as a writing vacation.  A weekend away from the family and the home and an opportunity to just write for a day or two.

After those first two novels, I started a third … and got bogged down.  I moved on to a fourth … and got bogged down.  Moved on to a fifth … and got bogged down.

As I write this, I have at least four, maybe five half completed stories of novel length.  I ponder them on almost a daily basis.  I am convinced they have the potential to be really good stories that would have an audience.  Maybe of five.  Maybe of five thousand.  Maybe five hundred thousand.

I don’t know though.  What I do know is this.

Every time I think of committing to finishing one of those works in progress, I read what I have written.  I get excited about the idea of finishing the story and putting it out there.  Maybe I’ll search for an agent or a traditional publisher.  I want to see it to its end — whatever that is.

And once I finish the reading of what’s already been written and begin to think about the writing of the rest … well, you know … there’s the yard work.  And the run.  And cooking dinner for the family.  And the nap.  And weeks go by.

And the other thing I know is this.

Back when I was doing a lot of writing, I could come up with a lot of ideas for short stories. In the in between moments of novel writing, I never failed to come up with an idea for a short story to write — to keep the creative juices flowing, to explore different ideas for how to tell a story.  Now?  The short story idea factory has dried up as well.


What if…

I never wrote another story again.

I think of that and look at the last couple of years as I’ve struggled with this writing thing and I know a few things.

Part of this is that I am mentally and emotionally and intellectually drained by other things.  Work.  Family dynamics.  Things.  The this and the that of my human existence.  And the last thing I need at the end of the day is something that saps me of a little more of that energy.  And that’s the truth of the matter — writing takes energy.  And I’ve got no more energy to give far more often than I’d like.  I need easy distractions and minimization of the demands on my psyche.  Writing doesn’t necessarily fit into that need.

And there’s this other thing.  I can’t tell my internal editor to shut the fuck up and until I can figure out how to do that, there’s really no point because that damn internal editor keeps telling me that whenever I put a few words together, it is total crap.  So, yeah, anybody got some magic gas that can shut that guy up?

So, there’s this piece of me that wants to just put a halt to this idea of writing.  For a couple more years.  Until I retire from that job that drains me of so much.


What if …

I never wrote another story again?

Would that be so bad?

Maybe it’s time to search for something else.

Punch A Higher Floor

The summer after I graduated from high school, friend Jon invited me to go to a Friday softball game with him.  Just a pick up game.  Not a league or anything.

Jon’s dead now.  He had a heart attack at the age of 30 and because he was young and healthy, the hospital didn’t rush to figure that out until it was too late.

But back then, when I was still 17, I started hanging out with this group of young men and women.  Judy and Susan and Allison and Jennifer  and Jill (who ended up dating Jon for a time) and Margy (who ended up being the first girl I dated, but only for a couple of months because I was so flippin’ clueless about the whole thing and she gave up) and Jon and Rick and Fred (who all the girls, or most of them anyway, both secretly and not so secretly lusted after) and a series of other people who kind of rotated in and out.

We’d play softball on a Friday evening, gathering at Bertha Henschel Park.  Rick could hit the ball a mile, out on to the street and then some.  Then we went to Denny’s and invariably back to Jennifer’s house because her parents were cool.  Or clueless.  When we got there, they would retire to their bedroom and let us have the family room.

There was the magic sofa where every once in a while things happened.  Sometimes those things remained secret.  Sometimes they didn’t.  The table where we played endless rounds of Trivial Pursuit and other games.  Including quarters at which I was a master.  We drank a lot at Jennifer’s house.

Jennifer.  Who now suffers, in her mid-50’s from early on-set, aggressive dementia.  It’s a tragedy no matter who something like this happens to.  But Jennifer?  The life of the party. The reason we had parties.  She is a fragment of what she once was.

These times went on for years.  Weekly get-togethers.  Fun times that just seemed to last forever.  We played softball and went to Denny’s or Luis’s afterwards for years, didn’t we? But that’s not how it went.  It couldn’t have.  The next year, Judy went off to Berkeley where Susan already was.  Margy faded away.  Jill went off to Indiana.  Jon to Santa Cruz. Fred and I had a falling out.  And a couple more years and I started dating my psycho ex-girlfriend from hell who did a lot of damage to this and to that.

We still got together when we could and maybe that’s what I remember.  I mean for years we got together on New Year’s Eve in the family room at Jennifer’s house and spent the night and people threw up in the bathroom and things happened on the magic sofa.  And plenty of times in between when the out-of-towners came home for a break or a weekend. We found this great place near Santa Cruz that had condos that were right on the beach and went there every year for a few years.  And we were young and having fun and it went on forever.

There was a TV in Jennifer’s family room, back in the days when TV wasn’t much more than a 19-inch box, and we watched so many movies there.  The three I remember the most are Eddie Murphy’s Delirious — a film of one of his stand-up comedy performances before he really hit it big.  It’s pretty much just about the raunchiest 90 minutes you’ll ever see.  And we ate it up.  Over and over and over again.  To the point where we all could pretty much recite the thing from beginning to end.  Hey Ralphie, why don’t you come on over here and … well, you gotta watch the movie.

And The Big Chill — I thought then and I still think that we watched that movie and imagined ourselves growing up and ending up like the characters in that movie.  There is a scene in the movie where the William Hurt character takes a leather jacket off of a hanger. The sound of that, which is impossible for me to describe, convinced me that I needed a leather jacket.  I have had several since.  Sadly, not a one of them has made the sound of the leather jacket in that movie.

And Purple Rain.

I watched the movie with these friends and I look back now and think how odd it is — this bunch of white (except for a couple that were Asian) middle class, college aspiring (yes, we were all pretty much in college or headed there and we were all middle class and we’ve all done relatively well at achieving the middle class American dream) youngsters who just absolutely loved this steamy, sexy, funkalicious, rockadelic movie and its soundtrack.

A couple of days ago, I listened to Purple Rain and the song that is below over and over again on my drive to work.  I don’t know why.  I love the songs and have now for more than 30 years.  I don’t know.  I think it was something I needed.  For a couple of reasons. First, the idea of going crazy is something I crave.  Just letting loose and saying “what the fuck, I don’t give a damn” and just letting it rip.  And then I listened to Purple Rain and heard something in it I probably never got way back then.  It was just a cool song with some great guitar riffs and the movie was sexy.  You know.  It’s actually more than that.

Second, listening to these songs reminded me of this incredible thing that music can do. Movies.  Books.  These things that take you back to a different time, a different moment. These songs will always take me back to a period of my life when I had this group of friends who filled my time with fun, with experiences, with friendship.  Things weren’t perfect, there were some rough patches, but they remain with me today.  We get together every once in a while now and it’s all good.  Except for Jennifer.  She’s getting worse and it’s tough.  And Jon.  He’s gone.

So, do me a favor.  Listen to this next song for Jon and for Jennifer, and for memories, and for the idea of friendship that lasts a lifetime.  (My apologies for the poor quality — live recordings just aren’t as good as the studio version, and this is the best studio version I could find.)

Crank it up.  Go a little crazy.  Punch a higher floor.

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