Writing Again

I hoped to find myself and my writing voice by going to the retreat. Though writing is a solitary activity, where the writer crawls into their own skull to mine their thoughts and imagination to produce words, we are still social animals. Being around other writers can be rejuvenating. Did the retreat accomplish everything I hoped?


It reminded me that I have skills as a writer. The retreat generated fuel for my passion, but on its own, didn’t reignite the fire. However, it reminded me that after years of taking this seriously, I acquired tools and abilities to not only make my stories better, but to push through writing blocks. While I didn’t generate a lot of words, I managed to push my most recent short story forward a little bit, and I know how to get to the end.

I don’t remember if I talked much about my current story. A writer acquires a magic typewriter and begins writing the best story he’s ever written. When he’s not working on the story, he becomes more and more depressed. But he discovers that as soon as he finishes the story, he will die.

When I started the story, the writer sat in a coffee shop, staring at a blinking cursor. I intentionally started it from an autobiographical perspective, grounding the opening in my own lived in experience. I didn’t realize how of myself I was putting into the story, though. He pines over this story he’s written, the way someone might long for their soulmate. I didn’t know that part was autobiographical until later, when I found myself procrastinating writing this story by reading parts of Synthetic Dreams.

I still haven’t finished the first set of revisions for Synthetic Dreams, and it distracts me from all of my other writing. It’s my favorite story that I’ve ever written. I may have to finish the revisions for that story this month, so that my mind will be clear for the new novel next month.

The retreat helped me get in a better headspace for writing. It meant a lot being around other writers again, and socializing, and being a part of something bigger. There were moments during the retreat where I felt like I was paying back to the community, at least a little. I learned so much over the last decade or so, and every once in a while on the ship, I had opportunities to share.

I’m not sure I’m completely right in my heart and my mind, but I’m writing again. I committed to writing something here every day, and this post will make 5 for 5. If I make it ten days in a row, I’m confident I can make all 31. And if I can do that, maybe I’ll be able to write every day in November and get the next novel out of my heart and onto the page.

It feels good to write again.


Telling the Story of How I Met Melissa

“This is not the greatest song in the world, no. This is just a tribute.”

Tenacious D

One morning on the cruise, Melissa and I ate breakfast with several other writers in the Windjammer. The opportunity arose to tell the story of how Melissa and I met. It’s one of my favorite stories to tell because it involves a lot of build-up.

The thing about the story of how I met Melissa is that there are two stories. In the Windjammer, talking to Jamie, Shawn, and John, I was able to tell the first part without interruption.

Melissa and I were both in the Air Force, and we both lived on the same floor of the same dorm. After a long day, on my way to my room, I passed Melissa and her best friend Smith sitting on the hallway floor. I heard Melissa complaining about the hot chocolate they were drinking. Something about the drinks being “chalky.” As I entered my room, I remembered that I recently received a care package from my Mom. I heated up some water, cleaned a couple of cups, and brought out a hot apple cider and offered it to Melissa. She hadn’t had hot cider before, and loved it.

Not long after that, I was playing pool in the dayroom downstairs. Melissa sauntered in, leaned against the table, and asked, “Do you have a car?” I said that I did. Then she asked, “Do you want to take me into town to see a movie?” I agreed.

This is the nice half of the story, because everything is fresh and new, and you can imagine the two of us finding happiness with each other. I managed to tell this part of the story without interruption. But then things got interesting in The Windjammer.

When there is an alarm for the crew, an announcement is made over the loudspeaker in code. “Bravo Bravo Bravo” means there is a fire somewhere, for example. We heard “Alpha Alpha Alpha” which meant that someone needed medical attention. I paused the story so we could talk about the alarm and the implications, because I’m not a monster.

The thing is, the story of how Melissa and I met is best told without interruptions, because of the flow and the build-up. To resume, I had to reveal more details and draw it out a little more, to make sure the timing and emotional impact is just right.

If one were to consider going out to dinner and seeing a movie as a date, then Melissa and I had our first date in late 1994. Her friend Smith came with us, so maybe it wasn’t a date. Who can say? From a certain point of view, Melissa and I never really dated. We met, some stuff happened, and then we got married on July 29th, 1995.

I had a trip coming up where I needed to drive to Albuquerque to pick up my friend Arison from the airport. It’s a 4 hour drive from Alamogordo, and I asked Melissa if she’d like to go with me, thinking she’d say no. To my surprise, she said yes.

In Albuquerque, I took her to Yesterdaves, a restaurant with a 50’s diner feel. Melissa was very impressed, but not nearly as impressed as when we went to the airport and Airson greeted her. Arison was tall and imposing, and he emerged the gate wearing garb, with a huge bag slung over his shoulder. He bowed and kissed Melissa’s hand, another first for her.

On the way back to Alamogordo, with Arison sleeping in the back of my car, Melissa and I held hands for the first time.

In the Windjammer, another alarm sounded, and we stopped to listen and interpret it. At this point, the interruptions themselves became a humorous part of the storytelling. I wondered if I was going to be able to tell the story at all. Since the timing was thrown off so much, I didn’t think it would land correctly. The emotional payoff wouldn’t be worth it.

The thing is, everything I just told you about how Melissa and I met… it wasn’t really our first meeting. We thought so at the time, but the actual first meeting was something much less romantic. I figured it out later, not long before we decided to get married.

To understand what our first meeting was really like, I have to tell you a little about what I did on base, and I have to talk about Building 1020.

As I relayed this information to the people at the table in the Windjammer, several of them started laughing. They provided their own interruptions. I laughed, too, but I worried that the story was already ruined.

I was attached to the 83rd Air Control Squadron, but I was on loan to the base, fixing computers for the Comm squadron. I’d get a list of trouble tickets to resolve, borrow one of the vans, and drive around the base with my bag, resolving both hardware and software problems. One morning, I needed to go to Building 1020.

What happens in Building 1020? To this day, I have no idea. I pulled up in my van, got out, and approached a fence. On the other side of a gate was about 20 yards of “killzone,” with a couple of guys guarding the space from an elevated position with M-16s. At the gate, a telephone hung, waiting for visitors. There are no buttons on this phone to dial. You pick it up, put it to your ear, and it automatically rings to someone at the front desk of Building 1020.

After they answered, I said, “This is Airman Buhl from the Comm squadron. I’m here to fix a computer.” The person at the front desk pushed a button and I heard a click from the gate. I opened it, walked across the killzone, and entered the building. Just inside, they took my bag and searched it while someone else patted me down. Once they were satisfied, they returned my bag, then reached under the desk and flipped a switch. Blue lights mounted to the ceiling throughout the building came on and started spinning. This was the signal to everyone in the building that a stranger was in the area, and they needed to take whatever they were working on and put it away until the stranger left.

This was my experience of visiting Building 1020. From the outside, it looked like it might have been 3 stories, but it could have had subterranean levels. Maybe they worked on fancy new weapons. Maybe they researched alien technology. I don’t know, and I will never know. It was a mystery that spawned rumors and fireside stories, and I kind of love it.

In the Windjammer, we heard 7 short blasts, followed by a long blast. We knew this as the signal for everyone to go to their muster station. Upon boarding the ship, everyone is taught this, so we all got up from the table and headed for the door. No one else in the Windjammer seemed to be acknowledging the alarm, though. At the door, we asked one of the crew why no one else appeared to be headed for muster.

“It’s a drill for the crew,” they said. “You don’t have to worry about it.”

We were relieved, and we laughed and went separate ways. I did not get to finish the story. I told them if the chance came up later, I’d give them the rest, but the opportunity did not arise, so they didn’t get the emotional payoff I hoped to deliver. As told, the story must have been somewhat unsatisfying. They heard me describe how Melissa and I met, and then I talked about some weird, high security building. What did one have to do with the other?

I didn’t get to finish for them, but since you’ve read this far, and you’ve been patient with all of these interruptions, I’ll give the rest to you now. You’ve been a good audience, and even though this post is about the telling of the story, I’ll deliver to you what I could not deliver to them.

After I left Building 1020, I had a number of other jobs to complete around the base. None of them were as intimidating as the experience at Building 1020. None of the jobs were particularly complicated or memorable, either. Not until I drove out to the 7th and 8th Fighter Squadron, which is where the F-117A stealth fighters were stationed.

As I understand it, the F-117A is a fighter in name only. It’s an air wing and it cannot fly without the computer on board constantly making adjustments, just to keep the plane flying straight. It can reach mach-1, qualifying it to be called a fighter, but it’s really a small bomber. It’s not meant for dogfights.

These planes were super expensive and high profile, so when I went to the front door of the administrative building, I was not surprised to see a phone hanging just outside. Earlier that day, I’d visited building 1020, so I knew the drill. I picked it up and called inside.

Someone answered and I said, “This is Airman Buhl from the Comm squadron. I’m here to fix a computer.”

“So?” the young woman on the other end said.

“Can you buzz me in?”

“Open it yourself. The door is open.”

When I saw the phone hanging next to the door, I didn’t bother trying to open it. After I hung up, I opened the door and made my way to the computer that I was supposed to fix. The young woman that answered the phone pointed and laughed at me, and kept laughing at me while I worked.

“What a bitch,” I thought.

And that is was the actual first time Melissa and I met. Weeks later, I met her again in the hall of the dorm, but neither one of us recognized each other. It wasn’t until later when I found out where she worked that I was able to put it together.


Still Adjusting to Leaving the House

A few weeks ago, I went and saw Shang-Chi in theaters. I really enjoyed it! But my experience being out of my house, surrounded by strangers, felt uncomfortable. I pulled myself into my seat, trying to be as small as I could be. I remained that way until the movie ended and I left the theater.

Next, Melissa and I traveled for our vacation. We flew Delta, going from Sacramento to Atlanta, then Atlanta to Houston. From there, we bused with our group to Galveston, boarded the Independence of the Seas, and had a really great time with the Writing Excuses Retreat 2021. Melissa and I remained on the ship the whole time. When the retreat finished, we again bused to Houston and flew the reverse of the course that brought us there.

Yesterday, I played with a swing band at a wedding, which took place in someone’s backyard. There were around 70 guests, and no one was wearing a mask. I wore my mask when not playing, and in general, I tried not to get too close to anyone that wasn’t in the band.

I’m describing all of this because these have been moments of tension. I’m aware of every person around me that isn’t wearing a mask, or that is wearing one improperly. There were plenty of chin-strappers at the airport on the way home from the retreat. My heart beats a little faster. It bothers me, and I don’t want to add myself to the list of people potentially spreading a deadly virus.

That’s the crux of it. While I’m a little bit worried about catching the virus and getting sick myself, I’m more worried about spreading it. Through action or inaction, I do not want to endanger another person’s life.

Yet there I was yesterday, playing my sax at stranger’s wedding, after I’d done all of this traveling.

I am vaccinated, and I’ve been doing a lot to make sure I don’t become a vector. I work from home. I wear a mask whenever I’m out. I wash my hands and I social distance. I can’t say I’ve done everything to be safe now, though, since I went out and played at that event. If I was an asymptomatic break-through case and spread Covid to that wedding, that’s entirely on me, and I’m going to regret it for the rest of my life.

I played the gig because it felt like the universe was telling me to do it. There’s a section in Acts I could quote to back up what I’m saying, but I’m not going to use The Bible to justify my actions. The timing made me believe this was something I was supposed to do, so I did it. Today, I’m reflecting and trying to see if there is something I can learn from this experience.

Maybe I’ve been too uptight about spreading Covid, and this experience is trying to teach me that I can continue to exercise caution while still going out and supporting people. Or, maybe I’m supposed to see that I’ve been living too much in fear, and I need to let that go and just follow my conscience.

If I find out that the wedding became a superspreader event and I’m part of the cause, I’ll learn a completely different lesson.

Looking at the numbers, it seems like there’s still a lot of time in front of all of us to learn some of these lessons.


So I Just Played at a Wedding…

I mentioned yesterday that I had a gig today. I played with the Swing Collective, which is basically the reboot of RC Swing. Most of the people I played with tonight were part of RC Swing. The music folder I used was the same one I turned in when I left the band. My handwriting is still on the sheet music.

It was a bit like stepping back in time, and it was exactly what I needed.

To fully appreciate what this meant to me, I have to tell you about one of the evenings on the cruise. Deck 5 is the promenade, and I was walking across it with a group of other writers. Above the promenade, a small band played some swing music. A tenor, trumpet, trombone, drums, and bass player. They sounded great, and it made my heart hurt a little. I wanted to be up there with them, playing and making music. I hadn’t felt that kind of longing to play my sax in years, and it hit hard in the middle of my vacation.

The next morning, I had an email from one of the people I used to play with in RC Swing. He needed someone to sub in on Alto, and he wanted to know if I was interested.

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. We were flying home on Monday night. Practice on Tuesday. Muddle through the rest of the week, then play the gig Saturday evening. I said yes, and it was great!

I was afraid I wouldn’t play very well. I haven’t touched my instrument in a long time, and I was afraid I’d be too rusty to perform. While I could have done better, I think I played pretty well. It made me very happy to play again.

So why did I quit in the first place? Does this mean I’m going to try to play again?

I quit because I wanted to prioritize my writing. From 2013 to 2017, I didn’t finish any major stories. Those were the years I was participating in two bands, plus administration, plus work. I spread myself too thin, and my writing suffered. I left RC Swing in late 2017, and just after that, I finished Spin City. The next year, I finished the first half of Synthetic Dreams. The next year after that, I managed to get my first short story published.

Taking a break from band directly lead to me finishing writing projects and advancing that part of my life. I made the right decision, even though I’ve really missed playing music.

Maybe I can just stay on the sub list. It’s a lot less responsibility and a lower time commitment. I get to keep playing when the opportunity arises.

They asked if I could sub again this month on the 22nd. I’d need to be at practice again this Tuesday. I told them I needed to check with Melissa first and make sure I didn’t accidentally double book. I also wanted to get her opinion on whether or not I should keep doing this, because I have a history of not thinking clearly when it comes to making commitments to band.

The Surrey International Writers Conference is that weekend, so I think I’m going to have to turn this one down. It’s only one night, but… this is why I quit band in the first place. To prioritize my writing over my music.

I’ll think about it. I had a lot of fun tonight, and it fed a part of my soul that had been starving.


Blog-Tober 2021!

It’s that time of year again! A full month of writing to prepare me for a full month of writing!

Thirty-one posts in as many days. It’s harder than it sounds.

Previous years, I went into this month with a plan, which really helped. I figured out a theme and topics in advance, set myself a schedule, and then checked off the list each day. Sometimes I’d change up the plan a little bit. I was often surprised by how well some topics worked, and some I’d been looking forward to failed to work.

This month, I don’t have much of a plan yet. I asked on Twitter what topics people would like me to include, and I received two responses: 1) Things that make me happy and 2) Music I like to play while I’m writing.

I’m not sure I can make much of a post out of the second one, since I don’t write very well while music is playing. At least, not music with lyrics. I’ll see if I can come up with some music themed posts, though.

As for what makes me happy… wow. That question always catches me off guard.

Since I’m freshly back from a vacation, the question of what makes me happy isn’t sending me into an existential crisis. At this moment, it just hits me as a curiosity. What makes me happy? Writing? Music? Games?

This month, I’ll try to come up with as many posts as I can relating to topics that make me happy. I’m not sure how many posts that will wind up being. More than 3, but probably less than 10.

At some point, I’ll probably write about the novel I’m going to start next month. Maybe I’ll also talk about the short story I’ve been working on, and the revisions for Synthetic Dreams.

I’ll give Blog-Tober a solid attempt, but I’m not going to stress over it. And, if I fall short of my goal, I’ll probably reconsider whether or not I have enough fuel in the tank to do NaNoWriMo.

However it goes, I’m going to relax into it.

On a completely different topic, I have a gig tomorrow. I get to play with most of the people I played with in RC Swing. Mostly the same music, too. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’ll probably dedicate a topic to the performance, and maybe reflect on the decision I made to leave band a few years ago. In hindsight, was it the right decision? Come by later in the month and I’ll tell you all about it.