Monthly Archives: September 2017

Quit Making Excuses

At least until you get six-figure advances, when you meet people and they ask what you do, beware of telling them you’re a writer. Too often they’ll think you make lots of money. If you’re honest, you’ll admit you don’t. And suddenly they won’t appear to find you as interesting as they did when they saw dollar signs.

Or they’ll tell you they too are going to become writers as soon as they can find the time.

Nobody I’ve ever met has ample time to write. We get the time by stealing it. We take jobs that give us long weekends, and/or find part-time jobs or husbands or wives who won’t expect much money out of us, and/or take our kids to day-care and hustle or pray for tuition money, and/or resign ourselves to five or six hours of sleep a night and/or pass up weekend softball leagues or vacations. When our family suggests a day trip to the beach, we often ask them to go without us and spend our first hour of freed writing time suffering flashbacks of their parting looks or comments.

One evening in Tae Kwon Do, when the time for my black belt test was nearing, I encountered Master Jeong in the locker room and explained why I wasn’t coming to class often enough and admitted I realized that to progress required at least three classes a week. I meant to come more often, I told him, once Little League season ended and released me from managing Cody’s baseball team.

Master Jeong listened to all that. Then, without a nod, a grimace or a word, he turned and walked off. I supposed he was preoccupied.

A week or so later, I found him in a congenial mood. We chatted about some mutual concerns before, once again, I explained my failure to attend more often.

Without expression or comment, he walked away.

After three or four such responses (I’m not always quick-witted), I recognized that people making excuses, reasonable or not, might as well be invisible, and inaudible.

Why we fail to perform doesn’t matter. Our reasons are of no consequence. Missing classes (or writing sessions) because of working the three jobs I need to send my daughter to college will affect my performance in the same way as if I missed them because of an addiction to Survivor.

To earn a black belt, I needed to change my habits. Simple.

A Time for Everything

I was considering writing about a feeling that has come over me, as though I think differently from everyone I know and consequently can hardly open my mouth without risking an argument.

While contemplating this predicament, and wondering if this year or era is especially argumentative, if all the warring factions that have either risen or come out of the closet have pushed our society to a new level of interpersonal alienation; if the constant reminders of our differences in gender, race, religion, generation, social class, education and all won’t allow us to consider anyone as simply as a person, meaning they are probably more like than unlike us.

When I was in college, as a literature major, we studied Camus, Sartre, Elliot, Duras and others who tackled the theme of alienation. But though I’m well aware that what I’m feeling is nothing unique or new, I suspect the separation between people has become a sort of disease.

As I reflected upon this gloomy vision, I got inspired to take a look at Ecclesiastes 3:1:

A Time for Everything

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

So, I came away thinking, we writers ought to ask and/or pray about, in this particular and mighty peculiar age, what time is it? What should we be doing, writing about, ranting about, keeping silent about, or going to metaphorical war over?

I suspect for each of us the answer will be different. Which is a very good thing. As my mom, a cliche master, asserted regularly, “It takes all kinds to make a world.”

For quite a few years, I wrote feature stories for the San Diego Reader. My editor, Judith Moore may well have been an angel. At least, she was one of the wisest counselors in creation. When a friend of my cousin Patti got accused of Satanic child abuse in the nursery of a large church and his arrest and trial became a local and national media sensation, Judith asked me to write about the controversy. What I learned infuriated me. I became livid about certain attorneys and therapists who either played the case for their own advantage or were astonishingly ignorant. And I wrote the draft of a feature story with that fury impelling me. But Judith, when she read the draft, simply said, “Ken, you don’t do angry.” And she was right, with a caveat: because I didn’t do angry then doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do angry now.

Maybe my time to write angry has come. I will pray about it.