I graduated from my Master of Fine Arts program from Florida International University at 25-years old, which seemed like an impressive feat at the time. When I finished my MFA, I moved from Miami to Los Angeles, and I thought I was a pretty hot-shit writer about to head to one of the most creative cities in the world. In fact, I thought I was moments away from turning my thesis into a best-selling book, and I wasn’t worried about finding writing motivation to finish countless drafts while working long days at many different jobs. Honestly, it felt like I had already arrived.
In fact, I look back on that version of myself, a totally delusional version of myself, and realize that it’s kind of embarrassing. I remember asking one of my professors how long it took her to publish her first book after graduation, and she said, four years. At the time, four years after graduate school felt like such a long time to publish a book.
Now, I just turned 35-years old, and it’s 10 years since I graduated from my MFA program, and I don’t have a book. I have published a decent amount of non fiction and some fiction, and I have a great career where I practice my craft every day, but I know I still have a long way to go to accomplish my life goal: Filling an entire shelf with books I have written, and those books have to be worth the trees that were sacrificed. I want people to actually read the books, not just let them sit there and collect dust.
And even though so much time has passed since I graduated, I know I need to dig deep to still make my dreams come true. It’s hard to stay motivated though, especially with all that is happening in the world.
That’s why I put together a list of ways to find writing motivation. When I was researching for this blog, I read a lot of the other posts about finding writing motivation, and I realized the advice was terrible. They give trite advice like “set deadlines” and “commit to writing.” It’s time to actually hear some real advice. Let me keep it real with you.
I took the months of May and June off from the blog to put the most energy into my novel, The Working Poet Radio Show, and, well, just finding some time to enjoy the family. To the progress of my novel, it’s been instrumental to add Scrivener and Aeon Timeline, which has helped me organize my writing, drafting, and timelines.
For the last two months, I tried to sketch the characters (pages and pages of learning), until they started to come alive a bit on the page, and flesh out the plot. I think I’m at the point where some of the characters have autonomy and the plot holds together, so I can start blogging again.
I’m still a while away from a completed draft, but I’m trying not to take on many new projects until it’s finished.
I heard something the other day (well, I actually read it the other day) in some essay on helping aspiring writers. I usually think these types of posts are complete bullshit, but I read this piece because I respected the writer. I can’t remember the author’s name, but the message was important…not the name. “Don’t start writing your next project until your current one is complete.” I’m not changing creative projects until this draft is finished. My shoulder is to the wheel.
But I’ll start blogging again this week and release a post on my recent trip to Kauai. Here is a sneak peek. Thanks for sticking around.
It had started out like any other night in North Park, San Diego. I had just finished a long day of work, and it was still dark outside. We were a couple of weeks away from daylight saving time, so the longer days of summer were still in the future. I was craving those longer days and the extra amount of light, and by looking so far into the future, I wasn’t thinking about how life can change on a dime.
I had just taken my dog Hendrix (read more about Hendrix’s epic life) on a walk around the neighborhood. He was panting a bit from the exercise. He’s in good shape, and he’s about 70 pounds of muscle. While he looks like he could rip out someone’s throat, he’s a sweetheart and wants to cuddle way more than fight, unless he feels that his family is unsafe. Then he can be a terror. He was a bit on edge when I approached the house. It was almost as if he could tell something strange was about to happen.
As I approached the house, I was wondering what to cook for dinner (my wife was at work function), and I was even thinking about just saying screw it and driving to Downtown North Park and grabbing some sushi. My thoughts were normal, and it’s funny how the moments that lead up to something important can feel so ordinary.
When I opened the screen door, I heard the creak of the wooden door, and I didn’t think much about it, until I could see Hendrix staring at something on the door. Sure enough, clinging to inside of the screen was the biggest lizard I had ever seen. I wasn’t sure what kind of lizard it was at first, but I just kept staring at it, because it was almost shockingly large. It wasn’t an iguana, and it wasn’t a snake either. I have only lived in San Diego for a few months, and my guess isn’t that good. But if I had to take a guess, I would say it was the San Diego Alligator Lizard.
I hate to disappoint you if you were expecting something more monstrous or even poisonous, but the San Diego Alligator Lizard isn’t as dangerous as the black widow, which I’ve seen in my home, or a rattlesnake. In fact, when this particular lizard wants to defend itself, it sometimes releases its tail, knowing that it will grow back, according to California Herps. They are known to bite, but I knew right away (despite the lizard’s size), it wasn’t going to be dangerous or threatening.
Hendrix was still scared, and because the lizard was on the inside of my screen door, I knew I had to get on the other side. I didn’t want the lizard crawling into bed with me at night. So I grabbed a Time magazine, rolled it up, and gently nudged the San Diego Alligator Lizard off the screen door and onto the front porch. When the lizard hit the ground, Hendrix freaked out as if he was Scooby Doo and just saw a ghost. He was backing away and barking. I’ve never seen Hendrix back away from anything before.
I didn’t want him to kill the lizard, so I brought him closer and told him the lizard didn’t want any trouble. I told him to relax and stroked his back. Calm down, Hendrix. Calm down. The lizard and Hendrix just kind of sat there looking at each other, wondering what they hell they were. I let Hendrix go inside, left the lizard alone, and cooked dinner.
The next morning I wasn’t thinking about the lizard at all. I was thinking about the same routines that I think about every day. Did I feed Hendrix? Do I have time to shower? Should I cook fried eggs again for breakfast or try that new yogurt my wife is always raving about?
Without thinking, I grabbed Hendrix’s leash, roped the leash around his neck, and opened the door to witness the sun shining so bright I had to cover my eyes from the rays. I went to shut the door behind me, but it was stuck for some reason. We have a heavy wooden door, and sometimes the welcome mat gets stuck underneath. So I moved the mat aside and tried to shut the door again. Still no luck. I slammed it perhaps four more times without the door shutting. I was confused and frustrated.
That’s when I looked into the corner of the door, and to my great horror, I saw the San Diego Alligator Lizard. It’s hard for me to say (you might think I’m crazy to give this much thought to a lizard), but when I saw the lizard in the crevice of the door, I felt like a brick had just fallen down my throat and decided to push up against the lining of my stomach. It was an awful site. Just the head of the lizard was stuck in the corner of the door, and as I was slamming the door to try to make sure it was shut, I had literally flattened the head of the San Diego Alligator Lizard.
I’m not sure how this is possible with a completely flattened skull, but the lizard was still moving. It was almost walking. I thought about trying to save it, but when you unintentionally bash the head of a 12-inch lizard, you don’t really know what course of action to take. I quickly realized there was no coming back for this reptile, and I had to bury the body. I took a rock and finished the job.
In our front yard, we have this area where there is mulch and some sculptures. We share it with our upstairs neighbor, but I wasn’t sure if he ever messed with the area that had mulch. It seemed untouched, and I figured no one would ever think twice to look there. So I took the lizard’s body, picked it up by the tail, and began to bury it under mulch and rocks.
Yes, I had just buried a body, and I felt awful. I wasn’t sure if anyone else would feel that pain. In fact, I thought that anyone else would probably poke fun at my sensitivity, but I hated the fact that I had unintentionally killed something. I told my brother-in-law when I arrived at work, and then I told my wife later. But I still felt shitty about it.
Over the next couple weeks, I would look and see if the lizard was still there. Sure enough, the lizard was still there. I probably could have buried him better, but I went about my routines, and the San Diego Alligator Lizard eventually left my thoughts.
Honestly, I didn’t think again about the lizard until a few weeks later. I was out with my neighbors, and we were talking about gardening. I started to tell the story of how I killed the lizard, and then they looked at me and started to laugh. “That explains it,” my neighbor said. “It was you.” Yes, I was caught. They finally found me. It turned out the lizard’s body had started to smell, and they uncovered the lizard under the mulch. They thought some kid had killed the thing in some cruel example of torture and wanted to hide the evidence, but in reality, it was only a grown man who felt terrible about squashing its head in a door.
I know this blog post is super dramatic (perhaps misleading), but at the same time, I actually did feel guilty for killing this creature. Would you? So I’ll put a poll question out there: Would you feel bad for killing the lizard? Answer below:
This weekend I drove down to San Diego to start looking for a place to live, and I thought about how every city I’ve ever moved to has its own renting culture. Los Angeles apartments usually don’t come with a refrigerator; Boston you sometimes have to pay an extra moth of rent to the realtor; South Beach you can move into a place the day you start looking; and Long Beach you better not have a Pit Bull. Each city has its own way of navigating the renting process, so when we drove down to San Diego, I expected there to be a learning curve. I also didn’t expect to find a place on the first day. I remember when I moved to Long Beach my wife and I were looking for a month, and we were driving up and down the streets, trying to locate “For Rent” signs in front yards, and it felt like we would never find a place. I understood the struggle of finding the right place, and I expected to have to haggle with landlords. I expected to be forced to choose between our budget and what we wanted. And I expected to have enough tension and controversy to write an interesting blog post. But after looking at four places, Heron and I found a place we loved. We told the landlord how much we wanted to live there, sent over the credit check, paid the deposit, and we now have a rental. King of killed my blog idea. It was incredibly easy, this time, to find a place to live, and we’re actually thrilled with the results. So this started me thinking about all the times that I’ve moved across the country, and I thought about what it’s been like to look for a home, for a place to belong. I thought about all that I’ve learned by just looking for places to live. Here are five lessons I’ve learned over the years.
5. Watch Out for Desperation
When we were looking for places to live over the weekend, we came across a home close to North Park, San Diego. It was a single family home, but another tenant was living in the basement. The front yard had mulch instead of grass. There would have been plenty of room for my dog, but as soon as I knocked on the door and met the people living there, I was instantly suspicious. In turned out the current tenants were looking for someone to take over their lease. They had their three dogs locked in cages, and the dogs looked like they were trying to be on their best behavior, but if someone had opened their cages, then I would have regretted stepping foot in that home. The current tenants told us that they were moving out because they wanted to live closer to the beach. They had just moved from Kansas city. Four months were left on the lease. Now I couldn’t figure out why they would be in such a rush to get out of their apartment if they had four months left on their lease, and I could understand this idea if they were buying a home instead of renting — perhaps they landed a great deal — but breaking a lease or trying to sublet an apartment to live near the water, which is only ten minutes, sounded suspicious. I could smell the desperation to find a way out of a situation, and I didn’t want to be stuck in someone else’s trap. When I’m looking at places to live, I realize I’m being sold on a product, on a life, on a home, and like Odysseus on his way back to his wife, there are many detours and islands along the journey that are illusory when trying to find the place you belong, but you have to learn to separate false homes, false journeys, from the authentic ones. Continue reading “How to Find a Home: 5 Lessons from Finding a Place to Live”→
Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer. And when I first started thinking about this idea, “writer,” in correlation with my life, I really didn’t quite have a grasp of the image of what made a person a writer — or how the hell I could become one. The one thing I thought I knew from reading my heroes (Hemingway, Twain, and Kerouac) was that I had to live my life, in some shape or form, as if I was living in a book.
Now, when I was younger, to try and fulfill this prophesy, I would travel and move as much as possible. In fact, I thought that if I didn’t travel widely, I wasn’t really actually traveling like a writer. Destination is death! I was hungry for experience to write about, searching for it in Guatemala, Prague, Detroit — places that have become as much a part of my identity as my childhood. And while that idea has changed — experiences come in all forms — the aspect that I still hold true about living my life like a book is the idea of structure. For example, like the old cliché goes, there are chapters to one’s life, closing a book, beginning a new, a personal renaissance — all that bullshit. Each year, each period, each section of my life plays a larger part in the whole, and I have begun to expect the dramatic changes — almost yearn for them. Because in a certain sense, saying goodbye is the ultimate freedom.
What I’m trying to say is that a chapter has ended; I am no longer a full-time freelance writer.
I’ve been looking back over this blog, and it’s been six months since I wrote my first real post about quitting my job, pursuing my career as a freelance writer, stopping the soul-sucking commute, and beginning to write, write, write. And I did. I wrote for some great publications — Salon, LA Weekly, OC Weekly, The Village Voice — and I told some great stories. I wrote about the ports, the closing of a fish market, Jack Kerouac, truckers, books, poets/actors. I even wrote a cover story. And it’s been wonderful. I worked with some great people who helped me out along the way down in the LBC and Orange County. (Sarah Bennett, Gustavo Arellano, Nate Jackson are incredible people!)
But in the end, I just felt that I couldn’t make enough of a living. My student loans, my rent, and my medical insurance bills were always speaking to me — “Hey, you know you’ve got to pay me, right?” — and I found that I wasn’t happy waking up and hustling for pieces that paid very little — though some paid much better than the others. And writing for me isn’t initially about the money, unless that’s your income — then, yes, it’s about the money. I do like security. I do like a steady paycheck, but I also love writing. If an opportunity comes up to be a full-time writer, of course, I’m going to consider it.
And I’m going to still freelance on the side and pitch the stories I want to pitch. Meantime, an opportunity came up that I couldn’t refuse. As of last week, I have started a job as a Writer and Social Media Specialist at a public relations firm in Westwood. From my window, I can see the Pacific Ocean, The Getty, and Westwood. I moved to West L.A., and I’ll be working 2 miles from where Heron will be working in July. It’s an opportunity that I feel lucky to have.
But there’s something else I’ve had to confront about working full-time as a freelance writer — besides the struggle to afford basic living requirements — is that I haven’t had enough time to work on my memoir.
I don’t know if you remember, dear reader, but a few months back, I wrote a post about revising my novel. Six months ago, an agent at an amazing literary agency asked for some revisions. The biggest revision: turning my novel into a memoir. Well, because I have been so focused on writing to make money to survive, well, I haven’t really worked on the memoir. I have pieces. But I don’t have a manuscript. And out of all the writing I’ve done, this is the most important to me, because it’s my story, my town’s story, my family’s story — the story I must tell before I can really write any other stories that I have in the back of my mind. And in order to write this book, I need some consistency in my life. I need to be able to come home from work and work.
So, I begin again a new but the same journey. So from now on when you read my blog, you’ll still see me sharing stories I’ve written for some magazines, but you’ll be following the longer journey of me trying to publish my book — plus, just what it’s like to live in L.A. And I’m no longer chasing being a writer, because, well, I am one. Nothing can take that away anymore.
I will share everything along the way. I hope you’ll stay around to see how this story develops. Really appreciate you being a part of this.
So let’s see what happens in the next chapter — Into the City.