10/18/17

Kidney Stone, Right Now

Slight change in plans in what I was going to write about tonight.  A change to both the subject and the venue.  Instead of writing about Trump and Empathy from my writing Starbucks, let’s talk about kidney stones from my garage.

I’ve talked about kidney stones before, but they’ve always been after the fact.  Right now, as I’m writing this, I’ve got some intense pain in my lower back on the right side.  It might not be a kidney stone, but it feels a lot like how all of the others have started.  And over the last 17 years, I’ve become something of a subject matter expert.

Tonight, I’ve taken some precautions.  I’ve contacted Melissa to warn her that I may be having a bad night.  I came home from Starbucks as soon as I knew what was going on.  I drank a bunch of water.  I’ve taken an old Vicodin left over from a previous kidney stone.  I’m staying ahead of the pain.  I’m not nauseous yet.  If the Vicodin is still good, and it takes effect before I get nauseous, I might not have to go to the E.R.

Kidney stones are terrible.  They really, really are.  And like I said, I’ve been through this quite a bit.

How many times have I altered my diet in order to avoid kidney stones?  Too many.  I gave up soda and caffeine.  For a while, I was only drinking water for a beverage, even though water alone made me miserable.

Let’s talk about the pain a little bit, while I’m going through some of it.

It always starts off subtle.  It doesn’t feel like anything more than bad gas at first.  When I arrived at Starbucks tonight, I thought I might have sat in my chair wrong all day.  There was a mild discomfort in my lower back, like a muscle cramp.  I rubbed and stretched while I walked in and placed my order.

When I sat down, the pain ratcheted up a notch.  On the pain scale, it went from a 1 to a 3.  That’s when I started to get a suspicion that it wasn’t a muscle cramp or bad gas.

For me, the worst part about kidney stone pain is its merciless persistence.  It’s never felt like a stab wound or anything so sharp.  It feels more like pressure.  The pressure escalates into a deep, low pain, and then it just sits there.  It doesn’t decrease.  It doesn’t subside, regardless of whatever position you put yourself in.  Walking doesn’t help.  Throwing up doesn’t help.  Eventually, the body starts vomiting because it doesn’t know what else to do.  The cold feel of the bathroom linoleum on your cheek doesn’t help, nor does the cold, smooth surface of the toilet bowl.

If you didn’t get the context clues, I’ve spent a lot of time in bathrooms while trying to deal with kidney stone pain.

The first stone, I didn’t know what was happening, and I fought it for hours.  I resisted the torture.  But eventually I broke and let Melissa take me to the hospital.

The second stone, I recognized it for what it was.  I was at one of my son’s little league games.  I was assistant coach, and I was out near third base.  The pressure turned to pain fast.  So fast, they had to help me off the field.

Tonight’s is the 6th or 7th stone.  It’s hard for me to keep track, now.  It started to hit hard, like the second stone had, but I think I got to the Vicodin in time.  I’m still really uncomfortable, but the pain is at a manageable level.  I don’t think I’ll need to prostrate myself before the toilet.  Unless I’m misjudging what’s going on with my body right now, I think I’ll be okay tonight.

If I’m correct about this being a stone, this may be the second time I’ve gotten to the Vicodin in time.  Most of the rest of the stones came on at very inconvenient times.  One of them hit me while I was driving to work.  I’d just hit rush hour traffic, and the highway was backed up worse than usual, and suddenly the pain was just there.  I had a really hard time driving.  I called ahead to work, and I called Melissa.  By the time I got to work, I was drenched from both sweat and tears.  David took me to the hospital and Melissa met me there.

A few people think that the stone hurts leaving the body.  As in, they think it’s worse for men because of the penis being involved.  The truth is, the urethra is the largest tube involved in the entire urination process.  Once the stone reaches my bladder, I don’t notice it again.  There’s no pain or discomfort from that point forward.

There’s something that happens during and after every kidney stone.  I’m going through it right now.  I keep asking myself, “What could I have done to prevent this?  What did I do wrong?”

In a couple of cases, I might have brought the pain on myself because of my diet.  Being a little dehydrated is bad for people susceptible to kidney stones, and when Cataclysm came out, I spent about three days straight playing World of Warcraft.  I didn’t drink enough during that time.  I’d been having fun at the time, but the kidney stone made it not worth it.

After the second stone, I thought it was because I’d been eating a bunch of shelled peanuts a day or two before.  With the third stone, I’d had a handful of pistachios.  With the first stone, I’d been pounding vitamin C in order to try and muscle my way through flu season.

The truth is, with the exception of the dehydration, there’s probably nothing I could have done differently to avoid these stones.  After the last MRI, my doctor pointed out several stones floating in my kidneys, waiting for their time to shine.  Some people just produce stones.  I’m probably one of those people.

Writing about it right now is helping.  Even after Vicodin, anything a person can do that is a constructive distraction is a good thing.

But unfortunately, I’m running out of things to say on this subject.  I feel bad enough, because I know I’ve talked about kidney stones on this blog before.  Much of what I had to say tonight is a repeat from previous entries, and I hate to repeat myself.

I’m sure I’ll use this experience in a story, eventually.  Maybe I won’t make it specifically a kidney stone, though.  Some kind of abdominal pain that the character has to struggle through, in order to accomplish some kind of task.  Pain like this brings things into clarity for me.  Reminds me of what is important.  I’m sure it would help show the reader the true stuff that makes up one of my characters.  It might be useful.

10/17/17

Writer’s Life and the Role of Music

Most of the writers I know talk about listening to music while they write.  In On Writing, Steven King talked about listening to hard rock while doing a lot of his work.  George Lucas listened to symphonies while writing Star Wars.  My new friend Mark Gelineua listens to music while writing, and at Con-Volution 2017, he spoke about the idea of writers posting their writing playlists.

Maybe I’m strange, but I cannot listen to music and write at the same time.  It just doesn’t work for me.

I think it’s because when I’m reading, I hear the words in my head.  As a teenager, I remember trying to listen to a radio presentation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and I couldn’t get into it.  Marvin’s voice was wrong.  After reading the book, I’d made up my mind how the character was supposed to sound, and the actor’s voice didn’t match up.

I’ve tried writing to different genres of music.  Music without lyrics, like classical and electronica.  Nothing works for me.  If I turn it down low enough, I can find the words.  But at that point I’m not really listening to music.  I’ve just turned on some noise to fill the background.

I can listen to music while programming without a problem.  In fact, one of the ways I’m able to focus at work is to put on something catchy.  Rock, pop, metal… even some rap works.  I put on my headphones, turn up the music, and I write code.  I dance in my chair.  If I’m alone or so deep in my work that I don’t notice that there are others around me, I’ll sing.

While writing, the best sound I can hear is the clackety-clack of my keyboard.  I have a gaming keyboard with mechanical keys, and I find writing with it to be very soothing, especially when I’m on a roll.  But that’s not really music.  The rhythm isn’t steady enough to be a cadence.

I’ve been playing music a little bit longer than I’ve been writing stories.  In spite of that, I consume the respective medias differently.

For example, when I read other people’s stories, I’m unable to fully disengage my writer’s brain.  I see the beats of the story.  I build a scaffolding of the plot and character arcs and make educated predictions as to where everything is going.  I’m rarely surprised by a story anymore, which frustrates me.  I read for escapism, but there is rarely any escape.  I read, hearing the words in my head, noticing the adverbs when overdone.  I trip over the places where the prose falls flat, and I cringe where the writer engages in silly gimmicks or deep, self-indulgences.

When I listen to music, I do not listen so deeply.  I’m able to float off on the waves of harmony and melody.  Sometimes the lyrics inspire stories.  Sometimes I get hooked on a tune so completely that I replay it over and over, feeling a weird sort of guilt every time I hit the back button.  It doesn’t matter the music genre, either.  I have very eclectic tastes.

I don’t listen and analyze music the way I read and critique writing.  I can appreciate good music analysis, though.  Take for example, Andrew Huang’s break down of Find Me by Sigma (featuring Birdy):

He hears the chords and transitions.  He appreciates the music theory and how the song was constructed.  Maybe it’s because I play the sax, incapable of playing chords, but I don’t hear the music the way Andrew Huang hears music.

If I did, would I become dissatisfied, the way I am when reading fiction?

I’m slowly learning to play the guitar.  Maybe I’ll find out the hard way.

10/16/17

A Few Words on Parenting

This is another topic suggested by a friend.  This is another topic I would never have chosen on my own, and there are a lot of different directions I can go.  So, I’ll start from the beginning.  My beginning.

I was an accident.  A teenage girl and a teenage boy had unprotected sex, and later on, I came into the world.  We all know how that works.  But knowing I was an accident had a profound impact on me.  It shaped my feelings about sex and parenting.  Fear of producing an unexpected child kept me celibate even more than my religious beliefs.

You can’t choose your biological parents, but your parents can choose you.  My biological mother wasn’t ever really in my life.  I’ve never met my biological father.  The people I think of as Mom and Dad adopted me, and made sure I felt chosen at an early age.  That is the first lesson in parenting that they gave me: make sure your children feel not just loved, but chosen.

My parents weren’t perfect parents.  I can go into their faults, but that doesn’t seem important right now.  I learned from their mistakes and tried to be a better parent by not copying them.  For example, I wasn’t an alcoholic.  I tried not to hit my kids beyond a certain age.  I made sure never to call my kids names like “idiot” or “stupid.” I tried to make it to all of their school functions.

One of the lessons I learned from my parents about parenting was that I was going to make mistakes, and there wasn’t anything I could do to avoid that.  Kids are more durable than we give them credit for.  We make mistakes, shape our kids in ways we didn’t expect, and then we have to hope for the best.

Parenting is a journey.  We start with babies that need everything, and our role as parent is to do everything for them.  Then our babies turn into kids, then into young adults, and before we know it, they’re grown adults.  We never stop being parents, but our responsibilities shift.  Every step of the way, we have to learn to let go as our children grow and stand on their own.  That’s a tall order for some parents.  None of us want our children to fall and get hurt.

My kids are adults now.  In some ways, they’ve had more life experiences now than I had when I was their age.  In other ways, they’re less worldly.

There are things that we can’t teach our children.  We can try.  We can throw words at them and hope that some get through.  But with subjects like responsibility and ambition, words don’t do enough.  My kids have to learn to be responsible and drive themselves the same way I did.  It doesn’t matter how many opportunities I try to give them.  There are things they won’t learn any other way but the hard way.  That’s been a part of this parenting journey that I’ve really struggled with.

I’m proud of both my children.  Melissa and I made really good people.  The world is a better place because they are in the world.

That’s all I can really say about parenting.  There is no single answer.  The best we can do is love our children, listen to them, and listen to our hearts.  What worked for my kids probably won’t work for someone else’s kids.  We’re all different.  As children, as parents, we’re just fumbling our way forward, trying not to break too many things along the way.

10/15/17

Openness to Change

Are you open to new ideas?  Do you celebrate change, or do you fear it?  Are you willing to sacrifice some of your cultural heritage and history if it means that other people gain greater justice and freedom?

Depending on how you answered those questions, you might be a liberal.

The word “liberal” is a fighting word in many households.  It’s often accompanied with the descriptor “bleeding heart.” Maybe that’s the old way of insulting liberals.  What I usually see now is “libtard.” Or worse, “cuck.”

Looking around the internet, the political definition of liberalism is usually defined as the opposite of conservatism.  That strikes me as strange, since “conservative” these days is so often synonymous with Christian.  The greatest irony of the day is that Jesus Christ, the religious figure at the head of conservatism, is the perfect example of a bleeding heart liberal.

I personally strive to be like Jesus.  I believe in the message of love and forgiveness, and I’m not ashamed or afraid to admit that.  Based on that, do I consider myself a liberal or a conservative?

That’s a tough question for me to answer.  Not because I fear retribution for picking a side, but because there are parts of liberalism and classical conservatism that I agree and identify with strongly.

The whole idea of picking sides and joining the fight bothers me.  I don’t like either extreme.

Are there things about liberalism I don’t like?  Yes.  Once you get far enough into either extreme, things start to get a little bit strange.

One trivial example: food.  Is free range, organic, non-GMO food a conservative or liberal ideal?  If you said liberal, you’ve been paying attention to society.  But if you said conservative, you’ve been reading ahead and know what I’m about to say.

If you look at how organic, non-GMO food is grown, you’re looking at old models of farming and food production.  Holding to traditional methods is part of the definition of being conservative.  Being open to new ideas and technology is supposed to be what it means to be a liberal.  From what I’ve read, there is no real benefit to getting food that is organic, and no real harm eating genetically modified food.  So why is that part of the liberal ideology?

Not all liberals are so picky about food.  And like I said, it’s a trivial matter.  But there are other nuggets floating in the stew that is liberalism that I don’t want to consume.  Fortunately, we can all pick and choose the things that we agree with.  The things that align with our personal code.

I consider myself a moderate that leans left on a lot of issues.  If I was looking at myself from the outside, I would label myself a liberal.  But if that label would interfere with my ability to reach out and talk to people, to listen to them and hear their views and opinions, then I’d rather do without the label.

I think that our country is wounded right now, and I’m not just talking about Trump and the Republicans.  Emotions are running high enough that I fear neither side of the isle is prepared to listen and compromise.  There are a few liberals I follow on Twitter that speak loudly about not forgiving Trump supporters.  That kind of behavior is as bad for the country as anything the right wing has done lately.

We need to unite as a country.  Put the “U” back in USA.  For us to be healthy nation, we need strong liberal voices that are brave enough to look for new ways of achieving our goals.  We need liberals to continue to push progressive ideas, so that those with a smaller voice can still be heard.

Being a patriotic liberal American is about supporting freedom for those that are not strong enough to defend themselves.

10/14/17

Let’s Talk about… Trucks?

This post is specifically for Richard Crawford.  When I asked a few friends for topics I should write about on my blog, Richard cheerfully suggested trucks.  He was looking out the window at the time.  So, without using the word “defenestrate” even once, I’m going to talk about my thoughts on trucks.  My primary focus will be on their usefulness to me as a writer.

As much as it seemed like a joke topic, there’s actually quite a bit we can talk about.  To start with, the “truck” vehicle category is quite broad.  It could describe a small pickup, like the Mitsubishi Mighty Max.  Or it refer to a huge 18 wheeler hauling huge loads down a crowded highway.  All along the truck spectrum, you can find cultural touchstones, from country music and Southern Pride to CB radio lingo.

As a writer, trucks are amazing because of just how many implications come packed inside the concept.  If the writer describes a character as owning a truck, the reader immediately starts imagining tertiary details.  Baseball caps, five o’clock shadow, boots, maybe a denim jacket or plaid shirt.  Without any prompting, there are all of these delicious stereotypes to draw upon.

Quick sidebar… stereotypes have their uses.  We shouldn’t use them when dealing with people in real life.  Applying stereotypes to individuals is the first step in prejudice and objectification.  But stereotypes still exist within the culture, and using them as a shortcut in fiction isn’t explicitly evil.  The writer channels The Dark Side when they perpetuate painful stereotypes.  But like tropes, touching on a stereotype can be useful for setting up the reader’s expectations.  Good writers often take the opportunity to turn those expectations upside down.  For example, the parable of The Good Samaritan was based on the stereotype (at the time) that Samaritans weren’t nice people.

Okay, back to trucks.

When writing The Repossessed Ghost, I described two characters as owning trucks.  The first was a young woman that thought herself to be above others.  I reflected this characteristic in her choice of vehicles.  She thought herself better than others, and in her big shiny truck, she sat higher than everyone else.  She also drove like the rules didn’t apply to her, going over curbs and taking up multiple spaces when parking.  The truck allowed her to get away with this sort of behavior.  I was able to use the truck to convey some aspects of that character’s personality without explicitly stating them.

The second character that owned a truck was a man that pretends to be a psychic, selling his services to celebrities and performing on stage.  With this character, the truck is a part of his mask.  He wears jeans most of the time, but his nails are manicured, and his hair is perfect.  He drives a truck because he wants people to believe he’s down to earth, a man of the people.  A simple man with a gift, which he shares (for a nominal fee) to the people that need him.  There are a lot of lies surrounding this character, but the truck is also a reflection of the truth about him.  Where the first character with a truck in the story drives over curbs and can’t stay in her lane, this guy maneuvers his truck with skill and precision.  Again, it’s a reflection of his character.  He is observant and in control, even when he’s behind the wheel of a tall pickup.

That’s how I used the trucks in my story, and I only scratched the surface of how trucks can be used to convey subtle ideas about character or theme.

Do any of you remember when Senator Ted Stevens talked about the internet saying that it’s “a series of tubes”? It’s been a long time, so I forgive you if you’ve forgotten.  In that same speech, he also said the “Internet is not something you just dump something on.  It’s not a big truck.”

In addition to being somewhat hilarious, Senator Stevens’ words demonstrate what I’ve been talking about.  Trucks are something you can dump stuff on and haul away.  We all accept that description of trucks.  If a writer is crafting a metaphor about getting dumped on, with the expectation that they will carry someone’s burdens, a truck may serve.

Trucks aren’t the only things in our world that carry connotations or hidden meanings.  The exercise I’ve done today with looking at trucks can be applied to lots of things.  What do you assume about a character if I mention that they’re carrying a Starbucks coffee cup in one hand?  What do you think about when I describe a rocking chair, sitting on a porch, its paint faded and flaking?  What comes to mind if I mention a tube of cherry red lipstick, sitting on the edge of a nightstand, or maybe at the bottom of a purse?  We imbue objects with cultural meaning.  As writers, we can tap into those objects and use their ideas, like drawing power from a fresh battery.

Thanks for the topic, Richard.  Talking about trucks has been fun.

10/13/17

Blade Runner 2049 – Fast Review

I enjoyed it.

If you liked the first one, I think you’ll like 2049.

I’m probably going to be thinking about it for a while.

The contents of the movie have me really thinking about what I’ve been putting into Synthetic Dreams and the questions I’ll be playing with.  I have some original ideas, but I’ll definitely be treading on some thematic ideas that have been touched on by movies like this one.

It’s worth seeing in the theater.  It does have some slow parts, but it’s a gorgeous film, and everyone is great in it.

Go watch it.

10/12/17

Writer’s Life and the Role of Lying

Right up front, let me just state that I have no intention to make this a political post.  I want to talk about lying as it relates to my life and writing, and not talk about Trump.  Even though it would be so easy to talk about the Liar in Chief, I want to keep this topic positive and constructive.

Besides, Trump is a terrible liar.  To writers of fiction, you have to be great at lying.

In Steven King’s On Writing, one of the major points he makes is that writers should strive to tell the truth.  What he means is that what we write should ring true, and we shouldn’t be lazy or cowardly.  If in the course of your story your main character would pull the trigger, jump out a window, or set fire to a building, then you must let them shoot, defenestrate, or commit arson.  If they would say “shit!” and not “poop!” then you must let them use profanity.  The idea of truth in this sense is being true to the spirit of the characters and the story.

But unless you’re writing a memoir or non-fiction, your characters aren’t real.  The setting might be based on a real place, but it’s still the land of make believe.  Perhaps the events that transpire in your story are drawn from the memory of real life events.  But as soon as you started putting them on paper, they became fantasy.

The fiction writer is playing make believe.  They’re having wakeful dreams, lucid visions blossoming under the gaze of their mind’s eye.  While having such a fit, they flail at a keyboard or scrape a writing instrument across a page, putting their hallucinations into a permanent form.  Or maybe they go off in the woods and talk to themselves, recording their ramblings until they can be transposed later.

I can dress it up a hundred different ways, but the truth is that the writer is engaged in artful lying.  If they’re really good, their lies will transport the reader to a completely different place, with characters that never existed, except in the shared story between creator and consumer.

Who cares, though, right?  What difference does it make?

I care.  To me, it’s more than just semantics.  I believe that the world is pushed and pulled by the words of writers, and there is value in being aware of what’s going on.

Whether it is a book, a movie, a political speech, or an advertisement, there are writers involved, crafting messages that will sell something.  Usually they’re selling an idea.  Almost always, that idea is a work of fiction.  Perhaps it’s just a small lie, but even an embellishment is still a deviation of the truth.

Our culture is saturated with lies.  Marketing.  Politics.  If I were feeling particularly blasphemous, I might throw in Religion.  Behind all of it, there are writers making the lies as believable as possible.

So how does the writer do it?  How do writers deceive the whole world in all of these different areas?

Sometimes it starts with a grain of truth.  You draw on a memory that is related to the fiction and focus on the details.  Maybe you’ve known someone like the character you’re trying to create.  Maybe the setting is reminiscent of some place you liked to play as a child.  Often, a simple truth can be the snowflake that starts rolling down the hill, growing as it moves, gathering all of the special lies that stick to it until in the end, it is unrecognizable from how it began.

Whether the writer starts with a truth or not, they have to commit.  They have to see the vision and believe it.  The writer is the first person that must be fooled by the lie.  If they do not believe it, no one else will.

Like other forms of lying, the writer’s tale can come apart in the details.  It’s important for the writer to keep track of those details that the reader will latch onto and pick at.  If you present a character as being left handed and bald as an egg shell, then they better stay left handed and hairless unless you have a reason for the change.  Inconsistencies give the game away.

Like a stage magician, the writer may have to use obfuscation or distraction to keep the reader from digging at details you’re unprepared for.  If you’re building a space station in your story that relies on centrifugal force for gravity, you either need to do the math and figure it all out in advance, or you need to have an airlock explode as soon as one of the characters start to ask how it all works.

A good writer is a great liar.  Without that skill, who would believe that a race of short, furry footed people would trek across a barren land to throw a magical ring into a pit of fire?  Who would believe that a farm boy from a desert planet would turn out to be the offspring of the Empire’s chief mass murderer, and that they would face off with swords made of plasma?  Without the art of the lie, the stories we embrace fall apart.

10/11/17

Writer’s Life: Plotting it vs Winging It

I’ve talked before about Plotters versus Pantsers, and where I fall within the spectrum.  To summarize, Plotters want everything planned in advance.  They craft outlines which capture the high-level structure of their story.  Within the nodes of the outline, they outline further, laying out the chapters.  Within the chapters, they outline the scenes.  They go deeper and deeper with their outlines, until it’s a small step to just writing the story.  They string up their structure with prose, sewing flesh onto the skeleton of their ideas.  Famous Plotters include Brandon Sanderson and Jennifer Brozek.

Then there are the Pantsers, though they may prefer to be called Discovery Writers.  They aren’t bound by the constraints of an outline.  They start with a vision.  Then they sit down and write.  They are the first readers of their stories, the words appearing beneath their cursor with the movement of their eyes.  They need the surprise.  They often have an idea where things are going, but they’re more prone to let the characters take over.  Famous discovery writers include Stephen King and Dean Wesley Smith.

It’s interesting listening to writers that are at the extremes of the spectrum, because they seem to have such disdain for the opposite approach.  I remember listening to Dean Wesley Smith on a panel at my first WorldCon (Reno, 2011).  He described how he refuses to outline because when he does, he spoils the story for himself, and he no longer has any desire to see it through to the end.  Years later, I listened to Jennifer Brozek at a different convention.  I think it was a Con-Volution, but it might have been somewhere else.  She talked about the outlining process, and how when a Discovery Writer finishes their first draft, THAT’s their outline.  Both had compelling arguments that resonated with me.

And of course, in Stephen King’s book On Writing, he talks about plot like it’s a clumsy tool.  He talks about the story like it’s a fossil buried in the ground.  The Discovery Writer works at the excavation, carefully revealing the finer details.  The Plotter, on the other hand, goes into the same excavation site with a bulldozer.

As someone that is still trying to perfect his writing methods, I think about these perspectives on writing all the time.

It’s clear to me that each writer is different, and that the methods of one may not be appropriate as the techniques of another.

For myself, I’m starting to think that I need different techniques for different stories.  For example, when I started The Repossessed Ghost, I already had a character with a strong voice in my mind.  I’d dabbled with him in a few short stories years before.  I’d played him in a roleplaying game.  I liked Mel, and I thought he deserved to be in his own story.  But I wasn’t entirely sure what that story would be.

I started with a scenario.  He’s a repo-man, and he finds a ghost in a car.  What happens next?  I thought that he’d become a suspect in her murder.  So I went that direction.  One thing led to another, and the ideas started to fall into place very organically.  I wasn’t sure how the story would end, and I didn’t really know what the main conflict would be.  Somewhere in the middle of the first draft, I started to think the book was a strange love story.  I even tried to end it as a love story.  That turned out to be a bad idea.

The first draft of that story involved a lot of Discovery Writing.  I wound up editing it for about 3 years, and maybe it’s still not really done.  I certainly don’t want to work on it anymore, right now.

That approach worked for that story, but it isn’t going to work for Synthetic Dreams.  That story is too complicated.  I’m coming into this story with strong ideas about the world and the themes I want to explore.  I didn’t know who the characters were until I was about to start writing.  I really like the main characters now, and I want to see what happens to them.  But they weren’t the ones that drove this story into existence.  This story isn’t going to go anywhere unless I chart a course.  So for Synthetic Dreams, I’m doing a lot of outlining.

In November, I’m starting an entirely different story.  Like The Repossessed Ghost, I have a strong sense of the main character.  But like Synthetic Dreams, the story is big.  There are mysteries involved, and I have to know in advance what crimes my main character will be solving.  I need to know the bigger picture so that I can make the smaller pieces fit together into a coherent whole.  In preparation for NaNoWriMo, and to make sure that this new story makes sense, I’ve done some outlining.

There is no magical one-size-fits-all solution.  If there was, we’d all be doing it.  Instead, we fumble around, experimenting until we find something that works for us.  And sometimes what works once doesn’t work the next time.

I think I like it like that.  When I talked about playing music, I mentioned how I like to go into situations that scare me a little bit.  Well, every story is a little bit scary.

10/10/17

RC Swing!

I just got home from practice, and I’m unwinding with some bourbon and Pringles.  Those two things don’t really go that well together, but I wanted salt, and I wanted a drink.  So here we are.

Last night, I wrote about the concert band.  I talked a little about my history, and how I feel about it now.  Tonight, I’ll do the same with the swing band.  Though I’ve had enough to drink that I probably won’t be quite as eloquent.

I’ve been asked a couple of times what “RC” stands for in RC Swing.  Honestly?  It doesn’t stand for anything.  I think the strategy was to imply that it stands for Rancho Cordova, but it’s never been decided.  It could be “Royal Crown” or “Remote Control.” Maybe “Really Clever.”

I think it was October, 2014 when I was invited to sit in with RC Swing.  I was hesitant to commit, because November was coming, and I wanted to have another successful NaNoWriMo.  I said I could come for a little while, and now it’s 2017, and I’m still playing with the band.

The music we play in RC Swing is more fun than the music we play in the concert band.  There’s no denying that.  I always enjoyed Jazz Band more than Concert Band in school, and it’s still true today.  There’s more freedom of expression in the swing band.

When I first started with RC Swing, I didn’t have any real expectations.  I thought it was temporary, and I figured I was just another player in the band.  I was playing first alto, but that didn’t mean anything to me.  I enjoyed the music, and I was willing to do whatever needed doing.

I discovered that lead alto in a swing band usually has more responsibilities than I was used to.  I didn’t mind.  There were things for me to get used to, and I was being challenged in ways I hadn’t been challenged before, but that’s the kind of environment where I excel.  It’s like something I alluded to last night.  I like the pressure.  I like being just a little bit scared, and forced out of my comfort zone.  At least when it comes to performing.

For a period of time, I became more and more involved with RC Swing.  I did announcing.  I helped with a few set lists.  I was invited to leadership meetings.  I felt like I was one of the leaders.  I don’t know how much of that was me insinuating myself.  But I was definitely more involved.

Things have changed over time.  Perhaps I butted heads with the manager of the band one too many times.  These days, my role is much, much less.  That, in turn, has had an impact on my feelings about the band.

I still love the music.  I still do my best in performances.  But I don’t feel as connected as I used to.  When I first started, I really looked forward to the Tuesday practices.  Most of the time these days, I go into them with apprehension, and I often feel downright terrible at the end of the night.

We’ve got a gig this Saturday, then nothing scheduled for a long while.  I’ve told the band manager that I’m taking November off so that I can make sure I have a successful NaNoWriMo.  If we don’t have anything else going on this month, I might just start my break after this Saturday’s gig.  I obviously need a break from the band, at least for a little while.  Sometimes you need distance to appreciate what you have, and I’m hoping that after a good long break from RC Swing, I’ll miss it and want to come back.  Right now, I’m really looking forward to the taking the time off and focusing on writing.

This is starting to sound kind of negative, and I don’t mean it to.  There are some very talented musicians in the group.  I just need a break.

If you’re in the area this Saturday, you should come to: 6414 Brace Rd, Loomis, CA.  We start playing at 7PM, and there’s a small fee at the door.  But it’s going to be a great concert.

10/9/17

The Rancho Cordova River City Concert Band

I play alto sax with The Rancho Cordova River City Concert Band.  I’ve been playing with the band for several years.  We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit charity, dedicated to providing music to the local community as well as promoting the arts.  I’m the current president.  Those are the basic facts, but I want to talk about some of the history, and how I feel about the band.

For starters, I wasn’t the first Buhl to join the band.  My daughter joined about a year before I did.  Melissa dropped her off every Monday night for a while.  When Melissa got tired of that, she made me start dropping Bryanna off.  I dropped her off exactly once, then started bringing my sax and playing with the band.

Those first couple of years, I had mixed feelings about the band.  I didn’t feel like I was being used to my fullest potential.  I felt frustrated and disconnected.  I didn’t really know anyone other than Bryanna.  I didn’t feel fully engaged.  After Bryanna quit, I nearly quit, too.

Then in 2014, we hosted a convention in Rancho Cordova, and for the first time, I felt like a part of the band.  I felt like I mattered.  I volunteered my time, helped with stage crew, and when my competence was appreciated, I felt like I belonged.

That convention was an interesting experience.  I got to spend some time with my old High School teacher, Larry Hudson.  The band had worked really hard on the set list, and we played better than we’ve ever played.  I played with the convention band.  It was an amazing week.

But that convention came with a cost.

The president of the band at that time, Gary, had a gambling problem.  Worse, he was in positions of authority and responsibility, not only in the River City Concert Band, but also the Sacramento Valley Symphonic Band Association (SVSBA).  He was president and acting treasurer of both organizations.  And he’d been cooking the books and stealing money from both organizations for awhile.

He’d talked of big game, about how we had sponsors and donations.  About how the fundraising we’d done had been enough to pay for the convention.  But shortly after the convention, Gary got sick, and the people that the band owed money started calling people other than Gary.

That’s when we found out how screwed we were.  Almost $20,000 debt.  And we had nothing.

The SVSBA had been hurt bad, too, and maybe I’ll talk about that organization in another post.  A lot of people were hurt by Gary’s actions.

Before all that had gone down, I’d looked up to Gary.  I wanted his approval.  He had a grandfatherly way about him, and he seemed generous and kind.  He commanded respect.  He had clout.  And then we all found out the hard way that for as much as we loved him, he had stolen from us to feed his own addiction.

Several of us regrouped.  We worked out a deal with the city of Rancho Cordova.  Part of that deal was formally changing our name to Rancho Cordova Rivery City Concert Band.  There were other parts of that deal which didn’t sit that well with me.  It was my first brush with local politics.  We made compromises, did all of the proper paperwork, and now we’re a 501(c)(3) and our organization is much stronger.  We’re close to paying off our debt.  We may have been knocked for a loop by the actions of someone we trusted, but we got back up and kept playing music.

How do I feel about the band now?

I believe in the organization.  The board is full of people that volunteer and follow through.  We’re a good team.  The band is full of good musicians, and most everyone steps up and does what needs to be done.

I don’t think we are playing as well as when we played for the convention.  For the convention, we had a goal in mind, and we had a lot of really good pressure to force us to excel.  We haven’t had that kind of pressure for a long time.  We don’t have anything pushing us to reach beyond our comfort zone.  I would like us to take on something that scares us a little, because I think that’s the fire that forges us and shapes us into something beautiful.

We’ve purchased some new percussion, but we don’t have a way to practice with it very easily.  We don’t have very many percussionists right now, either.  Logistics for moving equipment is still a concern.

One of my long term goals for the band is to find a permanent practice location.  Some place that we can call our own, and where we can keep and use our equipment.

The challenge there is that for us to achieve that goal, I have to overcome one of my weaknesses: reaching out to people and asking them for stuff.  That is not easy for me to do.  I stress out about it.  A lot of times, I can push these types of tasks off to other board members.  But this particular one has been challenging.  We’ll get there.  It’s just taking longer than I like, and it’s my fault.

Those are my thoughts about the band, for better or worse.  Like any family, it has its share of problems.  But it is a good band, and I’m glad I’m still a part of it.