Balance

Maybe it’s a problem of perception. It feels like all I ever do anymore is work and work out (I’ve been working with a personal trainer for the past couple of months, a new experience for me). But is that true? Taking a step back, I have done other things–a spare couple of days fishing, a concert–so why does it feel like I need to find more balance?

I think a big part of it is that I haven’t written anything new in a long time. I continue to go to my writers groups, one of which is online, and my submissions have been new stories, but I wrote those stories back in June and have just been revising them in the months since. My hours at work have increased, but just to thirty, so it’s not even like I’m working full time. It must be a perception then that I’m too busy to write. It’s probably that I need to do a better job of making use of the time that I have and to establish a routine.

Of course, this problem of feeling like I need to work on my work/life balance is nothing new. People have been writing, thinking, and talking about that forever. My own feelings are probably magnified by the fact that I just spent the past two and a half years where I had much more time to write and do other things. Sure, I always had a job during grad school, but my jobs were always part time and my true reason for being in Montana was to write. Things have shifted now and I’m still adjusting.

And I do like my job. Two months in and I’m still enjoying it. The thing is, as much as I like it, there are other things I enjoy doing much more. Fishing, reading, and writing all come to mind. Yes, I know that this is true for almost anyone, but it does temper things. I need to find the time to do the things I enjoy when I’m not working, to keep them as a priority. I don’t think I’m there yet.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about a story idea and how to execute it, which at least feels like I’m doing something related to writing. I’ve also been playing around with an idea for a longer piece, maybe a novella, and have considered attempting NaNoWriMo using it as my idea. That might be asking a lot, though. Regardless, I have taken a day off in November and will be spending three nights down at Valley View Hot Springs. I’ve been meaning to write a post about my trip there back in July, but now I think I’ll wait until after this trip to write about it. It’s a pretty different, special place and I plan on getting some writing done down there. Here’s hoping it helps me find a little balance.

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(Re)Discovering Colorado: Red Rocks

One of things I wanted to do when I moved back to the Denver-area was to rediscover my home town and state. While I enjoyed exploring Montana (and still have so much to explore there), I wanted to get reacquainted with Colorado. I plan on writing some pieces about some of the trips and things I’ve done since moving back in February. Here’s the first.

It starts with a guitar riff. A simple, repeating groove that has become instantly recognizable. Then come the horns. You feel a lift in your chest, it’s like the song is opening to you. It builds and then it drops so as not to overwhelm the singer. When the words come, they’re sort of mumbled, garbled even by his rough-hewn voice. I always mis-hear one of the lyrics. “Modern love’s so strange/said you never know” instead of “Thoughts of love so strange.” I kind of like mine better and sing it like that, with apologies to Nathaniel Rateliff. He’s the singer and the song is “I Need Never Get Old.”

I’m not sure how it’s been throughout the country, but at least in the Denver-area, that song has inundated the radio. Certain Denver stations tend to do that with Colorado bands that make it nationally. I’ve started to hate some songs and even bands due to this repetition, but that hasn’t happened so far with Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats. In fact, they’re one of my favorite contemporary bands. So when a friend got tickets to their show at Red Rocks Amphitheater and asked if I wanted to go, I didn’t hesitate and forked over the $50. Besides, I hadn’t been to Red Rocks in years.

Certain songs are perfect for their time. Sometimes they explode nationally, becoming a “song of the summer,” but other times, it’s just something personal that makes a song resonate. The first time I heard Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, it was their song “SOB” on the radio in Missoula. I actually thought it was an old song I’d never heard before and was surprised to learn it was Nathaniel Rateliff, who I remembered as a local act in the Denver scene. I liked the song enough to buy their first album and it was then I heard “I Need Never Get Old.” What a perfect line for a millennial beset by anxieties about making a living, finding love, and basically just being an adult. I can remember listening to it on a friend’s phone, dancing down the streets of Missoula drunk after a night at the bars, and people cheering us on. It helps that the song is catchy.

The crowd responded at Red Rocks. The usual cheers and applause to a band’s hit song (which happened several times that night). Then the echo as voices sang along, slightly off. The song lifts again at the chorus, a rising of horns and keyboard as Nathaniel shouts over it, “I needed your love, I’m burning away” and the crowd sings, “I need never get old.” It’s the best of what a concert can be. The band plays your favorite song and for a moment you are united with a crowd of people, all loving it, all dancing, and all singing.

Others have written about Red Rocks as a special concert venue and there’s probably nothing new that I can add to that. I tend to agree with the people (mostly from Colorado) who claim it’s the best concert venue in the world. The natural surroundings are beautiful, with the namesake red sandstone rising in odd fins at the edge of the mountains. The amphitheater itself has a great view of Denver spread out on the plain below. Weather can be an issue at Red Rocks, but it’s just part of the experience. I can remember sitting in the rain before a Neil Young concert. The storm moved out and a full rainbow arched over the stage as the band came out and started to play.

The night of Nathaniel Rateliff, the weather was perfect. Seventy degrees and mostly clear skies. Despite a horrible opener and despite the horrible traffic jam trying to leave the venue, it was a nice return. I’m not sure I will be back this year, but I look forward to many more concerts and many more memories at Red Rocks.

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I’m no photographer, but here’s a shot of Red Rocks before the show.

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Back Home

Four years ago…

Four years ago, I thought I was moving to Germany. My friend helped me get set up with a paid internship at the company he was working for in Munich, I spoke to his boss, and everything seemed ready to go. I did research about the city, created an InterNations account (social media for expats), and started figuring out the logistics of moving to another country. Then HR decided not to approve the internship and there I was, still unemployed and without any job prospects.

Four years ago, this failure hurt. But it made me realize that I needed to take action to get out of the rut I was in and I started thinking about what I wanted to do in life, long term. I started playing around with the idea of getting a MFA in Creative Writing. I figured if I really wanted to be a writer, I should make a serious commitment to it and having the structure of grad school seemed like a good way to start.

Four years ago, I got another temp job at the corporation I had left vowing never to return because my plan was to apply for MFA programs, and I knew I’d need money if I somehow managed to get in. The job was not great, but it allowed me to save up and I worked with some great people. In the meantime, I worked hard on applications, eventually applying to fourteen programs. I knew that acceptance rates for MFA programs were low, among the lowest for all grad programs, but at least I felt like I was working toward something and that something would get me away from the corporate life I hated so much.

Four years ago, I last wrote a post on this blog.

I’m not sure why I decided to start writing on this blog again. Maybe it’s because I read an article that gave advice for writers and one of the tips was that every writer should have a blog. I’m not sure this is true, but it made me remember that I have a blog, albeit an inactive one. Maybe it’s because I want to write more and am not always in the mood/mode to write fiction. Maybe I’m just bored. Whatever the reason, this is the first post in four years and so much has changed in that time.

I was accepted to the MFA in Creative Writing program at the University of Montana in the spring of 2014. I moved to Missoula that August and spent the next two and a half years there, graduating in December 2016. It was an incredible experience that shaped me as a writer and a person. I will probably write more posts about that time, about the people, and about some of the things I learned. Last May, I actually made it to Munich, though it was to attend that friend’s wedding. I traveled for two weeks, visiting Berlin, Vienna, Salzburg, and the Austrian Alps. Before that, my family made a trip to Spain. Future posts may also recount these experiences.

The past four years have also had their share of grief. Two of my grandparents passed away, as did an aunt, and, a week ago, so did my family dog. While my time in Missoula overall was positive, it was not without it’s rough patches–life is not without it’s rough patches after all–and I will probably talk about some of those.

I moved back to Colorado in February, back to my parents’ home while I save up money. Grad school drained my finances despite the fact that I worked at a library the entire time. After applying for many jobs and only getting a few interviews, I finally got a job at my neighborhood library and started there last week. I am enjoying the job so far and am looking forward to it.

Finally, I can’t ignore the fact that there have been many changes in this country. I was political before, but the election of Donald Trump has motivated me to be more active and outspoken. To be clear, I am not a Nazi and condemn white supremacism in the strongest terms possible. Honestly, I did not think I would ever have to clarify this, but here we are. I do not intend this blog to be solely a political one, but some posts will be political in nature.

Again, I’m not sure where this blog will go. I’d like to promise that it will be more active, but I’ve done that before and failed to deliver. Maybe it will be nice to post musings about things, about my life. None of them will be particularly profound, but I wouldn’t be the first person to cast my voice into the Internet’s void.

Oh, and because I should probably promote my writing, I have published two stories with a third forthcoming. Here are the links:

Driftwood Press, Volume Three: Issue One

“Rhubarb Wine” by Read Trammel http://www.driftwoodpress.net/v3

Adelaide Literary Magazine, Year II, Number 8

“Sightseeing” by Read Trammel http://adelaidemagazine.org/f_readtrammel.html

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I’m gonna write a letter

Earlier today, I was texting with a friend and reading a book about Hemingway and cocktails. The book is called To Have and Have Another and it’s pretty interesting, especially if you like Hemingway or cocktails or both. The author writes about different drinks, provides a recipe, and then discusses how that drink relates to Hemingway and his writing. He draws from Hemingway’s fiction as well as his letters and things that were written about him.

The texted conversation with my friend was not that interesting—mostly describing what we both did for New Years—but it got me thinking. So many biographies and documentaries of the past rely on letters or diaries, what historians call primary resources, that I wonder what will be made of our age? These personal letters, correspondences, diary entries, provide a glimpse into what that person thought about their time. For famous people, they can create a more personal portrait. To Have and Have Another is full of humorous anecdotes and obscure recipes derived from letters. The book would probably be impossible to write without them.

I have written a few letters in my life, I think most people have, but not on the scale of people in the past. What documents will people from this time leave behind for the historians of the future? I’m not saying that future generations need to know every little detail of our lives. I’m sure Hemingway dashed off notes to friends that are of little use to anyone and it would probably be a waste of time to exhaustively analyze his grocery list, assuming he wrote one. But I do think that useful information can be gleamed from primary documents. There are times when I miss good, old-fashioned letter writing.

What is the modern equivalent of letters? I mentioned I was texting today. These bite-sized messages hardly seem the same as carefully thought out letters—not to mention the annoying abbreviations and emoticons. Besides, they lack letters’ permanence. The few text exchanges I have wished to save I have mostly lost because I’ve deleted them when I ran out of room or switched phones.

I think the best alternative probably comes from the Internet, though I’m not sure what it is. I thought about e-mail—e-mail does stand for electric mail after all—but this is problematic. If you believe what you read online, fewer people are e-mailing all the time. Besides, people delete a lot of e-mails to save space in their inboxes and the messages are protected by passwords. So what then? Blogs? Facebook? Twitter? The Internet caches things; maybe future historians can look there (you can probably tell I don’t know that much about how the Internet actually works)? Perhaps future biographers will be hackers, breaking into the long dead Facebook and e-mail accounts of their deceased subjects.

Thinking about all of this has made me realize how fragmented my interaction with other people has become. I’m not trying to suggest that my “communications” with other people are worth preserving or that I am the next Hemingway, but I think it’s safe to say that the way I communicate is fairly similar to the way a lot of people my age communicate. I worry that by making our interactions electronic, by making them instant, we have also made them less permanent or even temporary. And there is something sad in that.

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Incomplete Dreams

I’ve been lazy about writing. Attempt at an explanation for months without a post–not wholly true. I’ve written several new stories for my writers group, so I guess I haven’t been that lazy. But my novel languishes. No excuse.

It’s a Bob Dylan day. All eras. Mississippi. Restless Farewell. Blonde on Blonde makes me feel stoned. Mama You Been On My Mind has become one of my favorite songs. It captures such a true feeling of thinking about a girl from before, not really wanting to get back together, not caring who she might be with–just thinking about her. An unusual song. And early one morning the sun was shining… Not just because I bought tickets to see him with Mark Knopfler, my second Dylan show, but also because I’m feeling that strange sort of contemplation I get sometimes like I haven’t quite woken up from a dream.

If I could only write my dreams, if only that dream logic worked outside the dream…

I keep dreaming in crooked narratives and then dream that I wake up and decide they would make a good novel or a story or a movie–only to wake for real and discover some flaw or forget.

I dreamt my sister was dating an amalgamation of her past boyfriends and I stayed with him and he kept trying to get this girl he sort of lived with/cheated on my sister with to sleep with me. He kept us all on edge–a Dean Moriarty type character only unique–and the girl was a great character too, or so it seemed. And then I was awake only not awake and writing it as a movie, trying to catch the story before it slipped away as reality enclosed my mind. And then I was awake for real and cannot seem to recapture it–or her.

I dreamt I was in Copenhagen again. A dream I’ve had before and like before I was playing  the part of a returning traveller guiding someone, this time my Mom. We were buying train tickets. There was snow. The canals gray under an overcast sky and then lights in Christmas markets and the hot, mulled wine called glogg. And now I think of Europe and the four months I spent there and think about going back. Cannot go back now–money. So it will be like the Dylan song–it’s just on my mind.

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You are here

It is spring. Warm air comes through window open wide and the constant whir of a lawn mower fades into the ambiance. Sunlight on open blinds. Branches have become buds have become leaves and they rustle in the slightest breeze.

You are calm and feeling light for once. You are thinking of Cat Stevens and switching on summer like a slot machine. You had a dream of Vegas and winning big, but you don’t really want to go there to see if it’s prophetic.

There’s a freelance assignment without a firm deadline. There are no classes to go to, no office other than the new white desk and the keyboard. There is a kettle ready to boil so you can make ice tea. You are writing a novel. Usually it seems childish to say this despite the seriousness of the endeavor, but not today. You are writing a novel.

You are here.

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Writer’s Desk: Part 2

Hoarding forgotten memories. Paraphernalia of childhood. The old desk is cleaned and out of the room. Strange to sift through drawers and find things that have been kept for reasons I cannot recall. Other objects retain a significance, but in a detached way. I remember, but I forget.

There must have been a point at which I became detached from my past because I feel so different and the memories attached to photographs seem so distant that it is as if I had heard about them secondhand and not lived them. Maybe the three summers spent away in Montana, working, at the height of my teenage years were the severance point? Cleaning the neglected desk begins to seem like a crime, as if I were throwing away what belonged to a different person.

And yet it is hard to choose what to toss aside. The fact of ownership is clear, there is a connection. I can see myself thirteen years ago learning to fly fish, welcoming a new cousin now in high school. I can recognize the cheap metal treasure chest I filled with rocks and pictures and other “treasures,” marred by sap from the juniper bushes I concealed it in by a house I have not lived in for over fifteen years. I feel guilt looking at the stamp collecting kit my late grandfather gave me that I never used. School assignments, journals, notebooks, they are all written in my hand.

So what do I throw away and why haven’t I before? I see now that I have a vague tendency to hold on to things I probably don’t need to. There are slight feelings of guilt at throwing things away, but I think the main reason I cling to these objects and papers is because part of me feels that I might some day want or need them. It is clear, as I add to the growing pile of refuse, that this part of me is wrong. I have not thought about these things in years. Not every trinket from childhood has significance. Not every detail is important. But will I forget forever if I throw them away?

Now that the old desk is gone, I think about my own writing saved on my computer and how when I recently looked at some of it, I felt that same sort of disconnect, that same lack of ownership. And yet, I do own these things, I did write these poems and stories and school papers. I can vaguely remember the circumstance of doing most of it. I remember sitting in my small trailer in Montana writing poems about fishing and gun shots and that wide open night. But my style has changed now and as I read these old poems, I feel like I do when I read poems by other writers. Do I keep trying to get this work published when I no longer feel as attached to it? I wonder if other writers experience this growing detachment from their work. It worries me.

There is sense of hoarding writing too, which leads to the question: what can I throw away? Do I keep every old manuscript, every poem? It is now spring. Just how far should the cleaning go?

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