worlds apart

Hey, Where are the New Blogs?

Hi there.

This is just a quick note to say I haven’t died, found a job or otherwise passed into a state that renders this blog invalid in my life.

It’s been about a week since I’ve posted anything, but that doesn’t mean I’ve lost interest in this blog or that you’re not going to see how this current story of unemployment ends. I’ve just been so focused on the latest draft of Worlds Apart that I haven’t had brain space for anything else.

Soon, the draft will be completed and at that time I plan on blitzing this blog and (hopefully) post days at a rapid rate. I’m still making notes, still filing reports, I’m just not fleshing them out into fully formed blogs. For those of you that are still in this with me, that will change. Promise.

See you again soon.

-Brock

P.S. I did craft a guest blog recently and the blogger graciously allowed me to attach an extensive excerpt from Raised By a Dead Man to it. That should land any minute now and I’ll be sure and let you all know when it does. So, y’know, at least there’s that.

 

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Days 61 and 62 – Cami’s Halloween Surprise

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Wednesday and Thursday – October 29-30, 2014

Wednesday

We had our church Halloween Party tonight. Party was fun, kids were cute. Always great to see everyone out of their church clothes and in witch costumes and dressed up as characters from the LEGO Movie. A friend of mine, Nate, dressed up at Lord Business, complete with cape and giant hat. I had the great pleasure of informing him that from the back the character looks like a giant neck tie. I can’t remember where I heard that, but it’s true.

My favorite moment was hanging out with Cami during the Trunk or Treat portion of the party. Cami doesn’t go for large crowds, so by the time it got dark enough and the kids were going from car to car to collect their candy, Cami was done and wanted out and she was going to cry and whine and claw to get out of there all night if she had to. Instead, we opened the back hatch of the van, sat inside, and, on a whim, I asked Cami, decked out in her Wonder Woman costume, to hand out the candy. (I love candy. Too much. And candy corn is best of all. Although, if you eat too much of it, it gets disgusting. But if I’m a dog, that’s my vomit.)

Cami as Wonder Woman, with her sister Violet who went as Merida.

Cami as Wonder Woman, with her sister Violet who went as Merida.

Since she’s nonverbal, I had no idea if Cami even understood what I was asking, but sure enough as the first kid came in, Cami happily reached into the bowl and pulled out the candy and deposited it into the kid’s bag. She did it again and again that night, for each and every kid that came along. She moved a little slower than Iron Man and Princess Anna and Michaelangelo may have liked, but she did it all, and pretty much by herself.

We underestimate, constantly, what Cami is capable of. This was a fantastic surprise.

Thursday

Spent a lot of the day writing, which makes for poor blogging. I did, however, hit a real milestone as I began the last chapter of WORLDS APART. There is nothing quite like the torture of writing the last chapter of a book. I’m gripped with fear and inadequacy. The last chapter is a terrorist.

I feel a great sense of urgency to finish this book. Once I finally have a job again, my spare time to work on projects like this will be once again be drastically reduced. Can I finish the book before that time comes? It would be nice.

Of course, it would be a far nicer thing to just have the job already The book will get done one way or another. The job is a far bigger question mark.

Day 56 – What It Takes to Write a Book (or The Benefit of Failure)

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Friday – October 24, 2014

What is kid smiling about?

What is kid smiling about?

I’m kind of over the moon excited that I finished the penultimate chapter in my memoir, Worlds Aparttoday. The chapter, currently titled Family Junk*, deals with the limbo/hell that is engagement, and focuses particularly on all the religious and cultural strife we managed to layer on top of an already tense situation. I’ve posted a short excerpt from this chapter before. Anyone who’s been through an engagement can, I’m sure, relate.

*I hate chapters that are numbered. They tell you nothing and make it much more difficult to go back into the book and find particular passages. That said, especially during the first draft, chapter titles are always an in flux thing.

The chapter ends with the line “Somehow, this was all ending with a wedding.” Which is apt. The first half of the book makes that a more than improbable proposition.

The next–and last–chapter is entitled, naturally, The Wedding. Once it and a short epilogue are done, I will actually have a completed first draft. It’s taken three long years to get here but the point is it’s done. Er, almost done.

I’m close, is my point.

My literary agent has been incredibly patient with me through all of this. For me, there’s no shortcutting the process. Some can burn through a first draft no problem and that’s their favorite part, but the first draft is just pure torture for me. I edit as I go–a cardinal sin of writing–but I can’t generate ideas unless I’m feeling the language. And I can’t feel the language unless I make it “sound” at least somewhat decent. The upshot is this makes for quick subsequent drafts as the individual pieces of writing are more or less in good shape. It’s a very different kind of writing than the quick jots I do here in this blog.

Writing a book takes a scary amount of discipline, but thankfully there are some big deal things I’ve done in my life that required quite a bit of discipline. I spent a good chunk of my childhood and teen years teaching myself how to draw. Hours and hours over years and years of tracing and copying led to creations of my own and experimentations with different styles and mediums until, finally, I was able to make a living doing illustration and design. The hard work paid off.

At 19-years-old I volunteered to serve a two-year mission for my Church. I was assigned to teach the Hispanic peoples of Arizona, in their native language. I averaged a C- minus in Spanish in high school. I hated Spanish. I didn’t want to learn another language, but I did it anyway and it was the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life–harder, for me at that late age, than learning to draw. The fluency I achieved during my time in Arizona is one of the great (admittedly God-assisted) accomplishments of my life.

At 28-years-old, I decided to be a writer. Have you ever just thought you could do something–I mean really do it, successfully–without any real evidence to support your self-belief? It’s a feeling that comes out of nowhere and I didn’t feel terribly responsible for it. Writing is more like something that happened to me and not something I necessarily chose.

After writing blogs and short stories for a while, I figured, in all my hubris, that I’d try my hand at writing a book. Worse, a non-celebrity memoir (which may be the most ill-advised kind of memoir because: who cares?).

Again I had to call upon a kind of discipline I didn’t even know I had. Books don’t get written only when you feel like writing. They get written every day, little-by-little, until they’re done. If you’re like me and you’ve got family and work and church commitments, you write it really-little-by-really-little. My first book took me about two years. It was a strong enough piece of writing that it got me a literary agent and got read by some fairly important people. But it didn’t sell.

If my first book required discipline, approaching the second one after the failure of the first required ten times more and about a month of crying in my proverbial beer. However–and I’ve only recently become grateful for this–my life is riddled with failures that came only after getting as close to success as a person possibly can without actually achieving it. My failures are bitter affairs, the perpetual football taken away at the last second.

Not that I wouldn’t choose to reverse a failure or two if I could (selling an idea to DC Comics, signing a contract to produce the comic for a year, and then having the entire line cancelled before my team could even get started on our entry ranks up there), but holy crud has all this failure honed my discipline and made me more grateful for good fortune and blessings than I ever thought possible. I take nothing for granted. Not one thing.

I’ve gone far off point here, if I ever had one. What I’m trying to say is, if there’s two things I’ve learned in my life–and this is certainly true of my current unemployment situation as well–it’s that 1) nothing is achieved without hard work, and 2) sometimes you don’t get it even with hard work, and that doesn’t, in the grand scheme of things, matter.

I’m a better person because of my disappointments. I know 100% I’m a better, more empathetic person for going through this unemployment mess. In the end, the lessons or self-improvement or self-understanding or whatever you want to call it, are the only thing of real value in this world, period. Those are the things we take with us into the next. When I’m clear and thinking and seeing things as they really are, I understand all this perfectly.

Today, I understand perfectly. I am saddled with difficulty and burdened by bills I don’t know how I’ll soon pay, but I can see it all as part of the larger tapestry that is a life I don’t think I’ve been completely unsuccessful at and hope to live out well.

For now, soon I queue up another football. We’ll see if I kick it this time.

* * *

As for the actual day today…

We came back reluctantly–and too early in the morning–from Uncle John’s Cabin in Bass Lake. I guess it was good to see the kids again. I mean, I guess they’re pretty cool and they put smiles on our faces and their hugs are kinda great. But they do ask for food. Constantly. No one needs as many snacks as they ask for.

They stayed the night at their grandparents’ house and my mom dropped them off at school, so I didn’t see Cami until I picked her up later in the afternoon. She spotted me from far away, but her teacher didn’t. Cami pulled and pulled on her, but her teacher wouldn’t let her go because she was busy with her conversation. Cami started shrieking and did everything she could to get away as I came closer, but still her teacher wouldn’t turn around to see what Cami was reaching for.

Finally, Cami broke free and covered the now short distance between us to fall into my arms and bury her face in my shoulder with even more shrieks of joy. We’d only been apart for a day or so, but you’d have thought it was a month.

Day 35 – I Know Why Disney Princesses Get Married So Fast

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Thursday – October 2, 2014

Let’s be honest with each other: some days, unemployment is pretty boring. Erin and I probably spend more time waiting for things to happen than actually do. This has been a huge boon to my writing and this blog, but it does mean there are days, like today, where there simply isn’t much to report. I spent most of the day at Panera Bread writing. You don’t care about that.

Whatever the reason you come to this blog, I’m pretty sure it’s not “to hear about Brock’s boring day.” Of course, it wasn’t boring for me at all. Writing is a high and the time I spend doing it is thrilling, exciting work. It’s hard work, sometimes it’s even absolutely painful work, but it’s never boring.

UntitledThere is one thing I wrote today I think I can share with you. It’s a nice, standalone little paragraph that comes very near the end of my almost, almost, ALMOST completed memoir that I’ve mentioned once or seven times, Worlds Apart, in which I explain one of the great mysteries of fiction–why Disney Princesses get married so fast:

The Disney fantasy of a Prince and his Princess meeting and then marrying the very next day after only the briefest of courtships (which was mostly spent fighting a dragon anyway) could only have been concocted by a man who, having gone through the engagement process and all its discussions of the color of the wedding flowers and whether the cake cutting knife should have a pearl handle or a glass one (this may or not be an actual thing, I honestly don’t know or care), decided to indoctrinate the rising generation of young girls with an attractive, quick alternative to the traditional engagement for the sake of his, I’m sure, sons. This plan went terribly awry of course, and instead Disney ended up on the wrong side of feminism for years. But they did try.

Basically, engagements are hell.

Sometimes, you write something and you think, “Yeah, that was good.” That was this passage for me today. I wrote more than this, but when I got the above just write I did a little internal cheer.

Of course, it often happens that the passages I’m excited about in the moment I write them turn out to be all that great when I go back and read them later. So, the above may be complete garbage. I can never tell these things until at least a week has passed.

* * *

Before I forget, a bit of good news today: Erin got a lead on another opportunity here in Fresno. The salary looke potentially like just what we would need to sustain ourselves. Erin keeps getting these out of the blue leads and I gotta think one them is gonna take. I hope so. We’ll make work what we need to make work, but at the same time we’re also willing to reject what we need to reject (like the idea that we might have anything further to do with this guy). That’s always our prayer anyway: to do what we need to do and to go where we are wanted to go.

And it really is a prayer. I say it every night.

Day 32 – Why It’s Important to Write Like No One Cares

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Monday – September 29, 2014

Wait... am I writing the blog you're reading right now?? But how--how is that even POSSIBLE??????

Wait… am I writing the blog you’re reading right now??

Today is the one month anniversary of my unemployment, and none of you got me a gift. I’m hurt, but I’ll try not to take it personally.

One month into this and I don’t have a job. Today, anyway, I’m surprisingly okay with that. I still have great faith the right thing will come along. A day like today helps me keep that faith.

I woke up late to discover Erin had already taken the kids to school. That was a gift. I average about 4-5 hours of sleep each night and I do okay with that, but when I get to sleep in it’s like a life-altering experience. I was well-rested for our morning walk and then I was able to settle in for a long morning of writing while Erin and Violet went to a meeting. Also a gift.

Heard back from the company up North about my interview. Apparently, I didn’t botch it bad enough that they ran away screaming. I will be doing a second interview, though not for another two weeks. Their hiring process is a little involved, but that’s good. We’ll both know if I’m the right fit or not by the end of it and if there’s one thing I don’t want it’s getting into a situation that isn’t right for me. That will just make everyone miserable, including my eventual employer. Money is important, but personal happiness and fulfillment is far more crucial and those things don’t cost a thing.

* * *

Okay, that was the update. The rest of this blog is going to be a bit of a rant about writing. Feel free to get off the train now and I’ll see you again at the station tomorrow.

* * *

Got chewed out on Facebook (goodnaturedly) for not posting a blog today. Occasionally, for a variety of reasons, there are blogs I write in this unemployment series that I choose not to make public. Some people are not okay with this, and that is fantastic.

If I’m going to ever be any kind of writer or author (obviously a goal), I need people to want to see what I’m coming up with. That may seem obvious, but I’m often amazed at how many blogs I read where it feels like the writer is just talking to themselves. What I mean is, if you want to be a writer–and I’m going to define writer as someone who writes things they want others to read–then you’ve got to, in some way, write to an audience. Even when writing deeply personal things, which is what I tend to do, you have to make your written word appealing in some way, i.e. of benefit to the reader. Either to entertain or to inform or both.

Basically, you have to write as though no one cares. And then make sure they do.

I’m not going to pretend I’m always successful at this. But I do try, and that’s the point. If you’re not trying to write for the benefit of others and are writing simply so you can get something off your chest or in the hopes that people will find you accidentally brilliant* and stroke your ego, then you’re doing it wrong. Why are you even hitting ‘Publish’ on your posts? You’re putting your thoughts to the wind, and the wind doesn’t care. The wind will treat your writing badly (as it perhaps deserves), tossing it to the gutters.

*And let’s face it, every amateur at anything hopes they can be accidentally brilliant. They hope that they’re an untapped talent that will be amazing at whatever it is they’ve chosen to do straight off, without putting in any of the time and learning necessary. Basically, we all want to know kung fu.

The issue of writing what is relevant to the reader is one I wrestle with constantly as a memoir writer. An interesting story is only half the challenge. The second half is how to present that story in such a way that it reaches people where they are. It has to be meaningful to them in some way, even if it’s deeply personal to me. This goes to theme and zeitgeist and a bunch of other things that I don’t want to get into in a blog that’s supposed to be about unemployment, but suffice it to say that there’s a real challenge to try to write something (memoir) in such a way that people will pay for what they can get a million times over on the internet for free (personal blogs).

My hope is that what I can do in a book length project is far more accomplished and thematically complex and interesting and entertaining and satisfying than what I can do in a blog. This blog traffics in the disposable, as do all blogs with posts ever getting archived and pushed down the list. A book should be a cherished thing, I think, and greater than the sum of its never separated parts. That can only happen when you’re thinking outside of yourself even as you may obsess over yourself (in memoir) or the story (memoir and everything else–don’t get so deep into your story you forget to bother with whether anyone else can understand it).

To bring it all back around again: instead of a blog, today I posted a short excerpt from my new book, Worlds Apart. I’ve been working on this book for a few years now and I’m so close to the end I can smell the ink on the pages. Posting this excerpt isn’t the case of a writer sharing what he intends to do (never share too early), this is something I’ve mostly already done and I want to share a piece of it with you. I think it’s a pretty good piece.

Did I do it? Do you read that and think, “Yeah, that’s interesting to me” or “I can identify. I want to see how it turns out?” If so, then I’ve done my job with you in the teaser. If not, then maybe it wasn’t your thing or I’m still finding my way towards the thing that will make my story special to anyone who isn’t me. Time will tell.

Thanks for indulging me.

Day 21 – Rewards for a (No) Job Well Done

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Thursday – September 18, 2014

What is this an award for? What is this guy even doing?

What is this an award for? What is this guy even doing?

Since I was feeling pretty good about my job search efforts of late, I took a day to reward myself and mostly do cool stuff. Stuff I might feel guilty doing otherwise since it would be time away from finding a job. So, in the interest of balance, my rewards to myself:

1. I did a fair amount of writing in the morning on my second book. As of recently, it is no longer called Untitled Romance Memoir and is instead titled Worlds Apart. None of you should have been waiting for that news as I’ve never discussed this book publicly. Been working on it for a while though. Allllmost done. I can actually see the finish line at the end of the first draft and it is glorious.*

2. Went out to lunch with my visiting-from-out-of-town brother Tyler and his wife, Karen. We used a Groupon, of course. If you’re looking for the very best sandwich in Clovis, Ca and you don’t get a Hot Pastrami from the Corner Cafe then you’ve wasted your time and your money. Don’t be stupid like that.

3. One thing I always regretted I didn’t get to do more of when I had a job was go to Elora’s sporting events. Today, I got to go to her Cross Country Meet AND be the hero who brought all the drinks. All I had were cheap, tiny water bottles, so I made a quick stop at Walgreens to pick up a trio of Mio Fits, which add flavor and electrolytes to water. The kids went nuts for ’em, pouring as much of the stuff in as needed to make the water taste like Kool-Aid. Huge smiles on everyone’s faces. They probably threw up later.

My favorite part of being at the Meet was driving Elora home afterward. Seems like she’s always gone these days, tied up in school commitments. We got a chance to really talk and I’m so impressed by the fascinating, dedicated and exceptionally, intelligently verbose young woman she’s becoming. She is such her own person at this point that Erin and I can take very little credit for her. (However, if you know us in real life, you may continue to call Elora awesome and heap praise on us because, let’s face it, that never gets old.)

4. Played Mario Kart 8. Because I’m not gonna not do that on a ‘me’ day.

Erin told me I’m lucky to have this time, to be able to do these things, despite whatever else is going on. She’s right. Life was easy today, and perfect–it was exactly the way I wish it could always be. It’s logical that it’s not this way, but at the same time it seems a great injustice that no one will pay for me to be a dad engaged with his daughter and work on cool projects and have good, cheap lunches. I admit, even with this unemployment monkey ripping up my back, I enjoy defining my days as I see fit–not in a slothful way, but in a way that allows me to use my day up on the things that matter the most to me personally.

* * *

*I’ve done my research and there aren’t a whole lot of memoirs largely about romance. Either that means there’s some untapped potential there or it’s just a terrible idea to write one in the first place. I don’t actually care at this point. Writing, when done correctly, is done because it has to be done. I’d rather write for an audience of no one than write something crafted cynically for the millions of people waiting for the next vampire romance book.

Since you didn’t ask, the basic pitch of Worlds Apart is this: a modern day Romeo and Juliet story between a Mormon and a Protestant in which they don’t die at the end but get married instead. Scariest thing I’ve ever written. I hope you all get to read it one day. It is utterly lacking in vampires.