So, let’s talk

So, let’s talk

Earlier today, I had a little sit-down with myself to figure a few things out. You see, my inner critic has been working overtime in the past month or two, absolutely convincing me that the following were completely, and without question, true:

  • My words were no longer meaningful, and they no longer mattered with the masses;
  • Blogs were dead, stupid, antiquated, washed up, and no longer read (hey! just like me);
  • Your audience is sick of you;
  • You are pathetic to think otherwise; and
  • Hell, you are pathetic.

These thoughts stopped me from writing anything. I did not even write in my daybook. It was a ridiculous, self-piteous period of wallowing in negativity and doubt.

So, as I said, I had that little sit-down convo with me-truly, and I’m not going to lie, I let the expletives fly, as Seinfeld’s Kramer says.

It felt good. It really did. I needed to hear myself fight back against all that fake news that I have been self-spewing. I made the commitment to blog tonight, but with a purpose:

To not teach, preach, or inspire.

Gasp!

So, not only did I throw myself back into the fire, I threw away the crutches and dove in head first without a safety net.

Which brings me to what I’ll be doing here at The Baltimore Writer for the foreseeable future. Many years ago, I started writing “Rus Uncut” entries, and they were well received because they were so raw. I’ve tried a few times to get back to that, but I kept falling back into the teach-and-preach model.

Pathetic, right?

So here we are tonight, willing (desperately) to give it another shot.

What does that mean? Probably some really boring blogs, some out-there thinking, and maybe some pretty pictures to keep you coming back to see something shiny.

It means all of this, maybe none of it, maybe some Franken-mix of a bunch of different things. And I’ve opened comments for you to join in with the uncut-ness of the whole thing.

But what I can promise you is that it will be raw, uncut, and authentic. All Rus.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. I need to do this for me, though, so there. You are welcome to follow along, share your thoughts, or unsubscribe entirely and vote to have The Baltimore Writer completely scrubbed from the interwebs.

We’ll see how this goes. Thanks for whatever choice you make (except for the web scrubbing. That would suck for sure).

Yours, sans teaching and preaching,

Rus

Paralyzing Times for Creatives

Paralyzing Times for Creatives

Raw Thoughts of a Creative: November 2017 Edition

At the beginning of the year, I set some very realistic goals of submitting six unique pieces in competitions or for publication in new markets, an average of about one every other month. I thought this was setting the bar a little low, to be honest with you. I had just come off a phenomenal end to 2016, hitting the Amazon best-seller list with my Christmas anthology of fiction, essays, and assorted ponderings.

So here we are just days away from December 2017, and a quick check at the submission checklist leaves little room for interpretation of how this year has gone:

Submissions: 7. Rejections: 7.

As if that isn’t bad enough, my journaling has dried up to a wandering banter of nothingness, stale air of words that, when pushed together on the page, signify nothing.

Depressing, to say the least.

I’m wondering if other creatives are feeling the same way, experiencing the same funk, and questioning the quantity of quality work still in the creative well.

I’m certainly not short of assumptions why this might be. The situation in our country has polarized most of us, and nothing is shocking us anymore. Terrorists are killing Americans on our own soil by the dozens per incident, and we are tired of lifting thoughts and prayers, angry that our efforts in action are not enough, furious of the partisan politics that comes into the double-standard ways of American Life here in 2017.

There have been paralyzing challenges within my own family and friend circle, and that’s enough to strangle the creative quill from budging across the page.

It seems like everything I want to write about I can’t, or won’t, because I don’t want to deal with the politicization of it.

These are indeed paralyzing times for creatives.

So what do we do? I feel like I just need to keep writing, push through it. But the truth is that I don’t even have a passion anymore for what’s on the other side of the product. I’m not interested in marketing my work, making a point, even changing a life.

I’m just so angry and fed up with where we all are. It seems like the older I get, the more I see so transparently how exhaustive the battle is just to keep things at status quo.

I want to make a difference, but I wonder if that’s possible anymore.

I’ll end this post with an encouraging (I hope) thought:

We all get tired from time to time, worn and beaten down by the frustration, the attacks against us, the bewilderment over how we can get to where we are as a society. I think all creatives, for centuries, go through this. We end up lying on the mat, bloodied, tired, near resignation. We’ve been here so many times. Is it really worth it to get up one more time?

The answer: Yes. It is always worth it. Push your bloody knuckles into the sweat-covered mat and push yourself up. Grab hold of the rope and lift yourself to stare all that fights you squarely in the face, and carry on, whether it is with a pen, a brush, or a guitar pick. We are still alive, and we are still here. We are still commanded to do our work and capture this time as only we can.

So reject me another seven times. I don’t really care. And another seven. And maybe even another seven. Go right ahead. Because one of these times, I’m going to break through, and you are going to know what this relentless Creative is all about.

No. I will not go gently. And to all the other creatives out there struggling: Hang in there. I believe in you as I know you believe in me. Together, we cannot be silenced.

Taking A Walk In The Woods

I’m sharing this on the trail here in Gunpowder Falls State Park, where I’ve decided to take a little walk in the woods to reconnect with the Earth. This is my first mobile post here at The Baltimore Writer, an experiment to bring you my experiences more immediately, perhaps a little raw and incomplete. 

It’s authentic, though, and that’s what I’m going for. An authentic presentation of my life as I am living it.

It’s cold out here, just above 30 degrees. I’m in the middle of an abandoned archery range. It’s like visiting a ghost-town zoo, where the remnants of the animals’ souls remain, a reminder of their once-abundant presence.


I feel like we came here, pushed our way through, cleared out the wildlife, and then left-moved on to the next space to conquer.

And all in a state park.

I know it’s not this way. I’m sure that this archery range has brought delight to a lot of people, young and old. But I know this isn’t the case in other natural parts of the county (and elsewhere).

I’d rather walk in the wild and take my chances than step on these state-park scrubbed paths, these sanitized stones void of the very life forms that it once provided for, these thriving creatures small and large, now nothing more than bullseye props for us to play the role of the man-in-the-wild.

Oh, irony, how you are too close, too often, these days.

Share More, Think Less

TBW writing spaceI spend a lot of time in my head, thinking and thinking and thinking about what to write about. Even though I keep a little Piccadilly notebook with me at all times, capturing little snippets of life that I find interesting, I don’t do enough with them.

In those moments, I am happy that I jotted them down. Good to make that thought concrete, I think to myself. And it is good. I believe there’s a lot of life that passes us by that is fascinating, especially the small things that we see between the bigger events.

Sitting at a table with a group of high school friends, listening to one tell a fascinating story of saving her small business, I glance across the crab cakes and buttered vegetables to see another friend pick up her napkin, dab the corner of her eye, and try to push a smile to support the success of her friend. Try to fit in. Try to not let the world see that she is elsewhere, caught in her own memory. I meant to mention something to her after the dinner, but by then she was — or seemed — totally fine. She moved on, and so did I.

Later, I remember and I jot these observations down in my little notebook, then go about my busy life. Months later I page through the old notes, and there it is:

Kelly’s tear when Tracy was sharing her business story. What memory composed that tear?

My notebook is filled with notes like this one, and many of them are left unexplored. While that little journal is capturing the immediate observations, I just don’t do enough to follow through with the deeper stories, whether they might be real or eventually fictional, as “Gretchie’s Gift” turned out to be.

There’s a reason for that. Simply put, I need to think less and share more.

I’ve always enjoyed coming here to the Baltimore Writer and sharing my ideas and observations with you, but I just haven’t done it enough this year.

In fact, when I take a quick glance at the stats, I’m pretty ashamed of what I see. The last five years have been ridiculously light, posting 40 or fewer pieces each year, with just 11 posted thus far in 2016:

published-posts

Now, these stats don’t mean that I haven’t been writing. When it comes to constructed fiction for the purpose of publishing with a larger audience (beyond this blog) in the 11 years since I started blogging regularly, I’ve written nearly 500,000 words. And my larger daybooks are filled with hundreds of thousands of more raw words that have never been shared with others.

But what I am sharing with all of you here at the Baltimore Writer… That needs to improve — not because I don’t think that I am writing enough. It’s because I don’t think I am sharing and publishing enough. What good are the thoughts if they never reach the hearts and the minds of my readers, both today and tomorrow?

That’s why I created the Baltimore Writer. I wanted to reach all of you more with my daily thoughts, even the mundane ones, about what life is like through these eyes. It would be easy for me to make this a goal for 2017, but I don’t want to wait until the new year begins to do that.

So, it is my intent to resume publishing posts here as daily as possible about writing, about living here in Baltimore, about being a dad, about being spiritual, about being a human being just trying to manage a complicated life that needs to be simplified.

I expect the entries will be a little less polished, but you will hear a genuine voice, uncensored, about life as observed through these eyes. What my readers wish to do with it… well, that is up to you. My hope is that it will leave you thinking a little about what you are observing (and maybe eventually writing and sharing). But even that’s pushing it. In truth, I am just throwing these thoughts into the Universe; may they be used as necessary, now and tomorrow.

I appreciate that so many of my friends do this via social media platforms. Those posts, stories, and pictures capture what I believe is becoming a more genuine reflection of their lives. I’m seeing less of the cherry-picked moments of joy and perfection and more of the authentic experiences, both good and challenging.

That’s all I want to do here: give you the good and the challenging, and more often.

I look forward to sharing them with you in the days, months, and — God willing — years to come.

—-
You can read more on my professional site, The LifeStory Lighthouse, where you can also download my latest collection of Christmas stories, essays, and reflections (featuring “Gretchie’s Gifts).

It’s Time For Us To Get (Really) Acquainted

It’s Time For Us To Get (Really) Acquainted

cropped-rvw-autumn-road.jpgHi.

I read a piece this weekend by a former student of mine and now fellow writer/author. Amanda, like a few others I know, is really digging deep and writing authentically (here’s the piece I’m talking about).

She made me turn the mirror on myself and see if I practice what I preach in my writing, or if I am one of those e-Posers, creating a false image of who I really am.

After thinking about it for the last 24 hours, I’ve come to this conclusion: I’m walking the thin fence, and I wobble a little to the left, a little to the right, a little too often.

What does that mean exactly? Well, to be honest…

What I Am Noticing

I believe everything that I write, everything that I preach, everything that I share. My mantras on love, kindness, wellness, and spirituality are all sincere — not just for you, but for me as well. All of that stuff is true.

The wobbles come in when we start talking about what I will call “selective posting.” Like Amanda writes, we’re all at least a little guilty of it, in some way. Right? We hold back the negatives that might cast a harsh light on our otherwise stellar lives. We keep in the backs of our minds our jobs, our family, our friends, our relationships. We are careful to walk that smooth line atop that fence, keeping our opinions in check, making sure that what we say, or write, or do does not become a misconstrued piece of evidence to jeopardize any aspect of our lives as we have crafted them.

In effect, though, we are becoming a mirrored image of the not-so-transparent people that we pose to be in our online worlds.

Do you get that? Do you see what is happening? In our effort to use social media to build ourselves up, we are actually using it to build nothing more than a superficial prototype of ourselves.

This is not who we are! And yet, the more we put in to that image, the less we can access that core of who we really are.

There’s another thing that happens, too: We spend a lot of time doing two things: logging in and logging out of the virtual world, and spending a lot of energy trying to get back to a place that we are losing touch with.

Thoreaus_quote_near_his_cabin_site,_Walden_PondThoreau called it the masses leading lives of quiet desperation. I think that, in this 21st century, Thoreau’s editor would change that to “…masses leading desperate lives of quiet superficiality.”

It’s sad, but it’s true. All it takes is a little mindfulness to slow it down long enough to step off the train and get reacquainted with who you really are.

Then hold on to that knowledge and never, ever surrender it.

What I Am Changing

Well, for starters, I’m going to use this space to be a bit more… uncut. My friend Steve has always liked these kinds of posts. He says that they are raw, real; something he can relate to. That’s what I want to share with you: more of the real side of me that isn’t always shown in a polished piece of writing. That begins now.

I’m also changing the frequency with which I write in this space. A good friend of mine, Jackie, writes a blog called the BaltimoreBlackWoman, and I find her words to be so encouraging and sincere as she embarks on this journey of online writing and publishing. Last month, she PM’d me and asked if everything was okay, as I had not been publishing much here at the Baltimore Writer. I assured her everything was fine, but it made me realize that I wasn’t seizing an opportunity to write more, share more, be authentic…more.

So that’s a big thing: Walking the walk while talking the talk. I want you to get to know me as a writer who freaks out about synthetics sucking all of the negative ions (and creativity) out of his soul, who charts methodically — obsessively — about every character’s nuances and every twist and turn of the story’s plot.

I want to share my more personal thoughts that are behind the polished pieces I write.

In essence, I want you to get to know me 3-dimensionally, where the struggles and challenges of living are made apparent in such a way that you can identify. That we can say we’re going through this thing called life together, holding hands, and taking our steps forward with courage and determination.

That we can say we knew each other more deeply than what was printed on the page, the screen, the tablet.

That we can say we appreciated the genuineness of our words, of our friendship, of our ideals.

That we can remember that we are not alone, that we are deeper than our social media avatar, that we are more loving, more gentle, more kind than we might have let on.

That we love, that we need to be loved, that we need to deliver love.

Those last few grafs sure sounded pretty plastic, I know. They sounded like the stuff I always publish, and maybe that’s the part of me that’s transparent. I believe in those things; I really do.

But what I believe in, just as much, is authenticity, through and through.

So there’s this:

I’m a writer runner, skipping over projects sometimes two at a time to get to the safer piece, usually without the deadlines, so that I can continue to feel productive. I am immensely deadline-driven, and I lose myself whenever possible in the non-structured wilderness of brainstorming, generating, and molding of ideas.

But for me to be successful, I have to stay close to the core of who I am. That’s a daily struggle as a writer. I have enough freelance gigs now that I can hop from story to story without feeling too guilty. Hey– I’m writing all the time; isn’t that what this life is all about?

Yes and, well, no.

The stuff I’m writing isn’t deep enough. I have to stay closer to the core, and more often, to really capture the words to express what I am thinking, feeling.

It’s not about hopping from deadline to deadline; in fact, it’s the complete opposite. It’s about crafting pieces deeply and then finding homes for them afterward.

It’s also about being genuine with myself, more often.

And that’s what you will be hearing from me, more often, here at The Baltimore Writer.

 

 

34th Street: Missed The Miracle

34th Street: Missed The Miracle

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“Missed it by that much.” -Secret Agent Maxwell Smart

We decided that tonight would be a great night to take our annual trip to 34th Street in Hamden to check out the lights and lawns as only Baltimore can do. We left a little before 7 p.m., stopped at Starbucks to get a few holiday drinks (thanks, Wonderful Student, for the gift card), and headed down Roland Avenue, across Hamden’s famed 36th Street, and stopped abruptly. The line of cars started two blocks north of 34th Street, even before you made the left turn to travel the additional 3 blocks to get to the Big Show.

What the heck, we thought. Our drinks are full, the Christmas music was flowing freely on 101.9 FM, and we had nowhere to be. So, we decided to stay in line and begin the inch-by-inch crawl to the famed Baltimore block (not THAT block!) of lights and holiday magic.

It took about 75 minutes for us to make it to the intersection where the mystical show on 34th Street began. As we waited to cross the road and begin our oohing and aahing, a police officer, with full lights running, pulled up in front of us and got out of his car.

He proceeded to disappear in the masses of holiday walkers, and we were all stopped at a complete standstill. After a few minutes deliberating with two other officers who arrived at the scene, the first officer who blocked us stopped all traffic, set up traffic cones blocking the entrance to 34th Street, and gave us the big whistle and hand jive:

“You!” he pointed in my general direction. I looked a little to the left and to the right, then finally returned to his stare.

“Me?”

He nodded rather confidently and pointed away from the pretty Baltimore lights and directed me to fight with the angry traffic making its own way to– well, now to absolutely nothing.

We had waited nearly 75 minutes to be turned away. As Maxwell Smart would say, “We missed it by that much.” And that we did.

My wife, Amy, and I laughed, and I even think our son was a little relieved just to head home. All that time to get a sneak peek at some lines strung up and a few off-street attractions. Denied!

We made our way back along Roland, up to Cold Spring, then over to Charles, where we picked up Gittings and found THIS:

Gittings LightsThis photo does NOT do it justice at all. The house was covered — literally — in lights, and it brought back a smile to all of our faces. Our 2-hour trek had led us here, and as a result, we all benefited greatly (praise the Lord) from the beautiful display of lights.

We headed home, listening to more Christmas music, and planning out a different strategy in 2015. Until then, I think that we are happy in knowing we tried, and that there are plenty of other ways we can prepare for next year so that we can enjoy The Miracle on 34th Street — or any miracle, really… as long as it doesn’t involve so much traffic!

If I Ran The Holiday – Adapted from Dr. Seuss in Honor of Black Friday

If I Ran The Holiday

By Rus VanWestervelt

Adapted from Dr. Seuss’ “If I Ran The Zoo”

 

It’s a pretty good day,
Said Billy Big Box Store.
And the reason it’s around,
Is loaded with good ‘lore.

But if I ran the holiday,
Said Billy Big Box Dee,
I’d make a few changes,
All for the better – You’ll see.

The cranberries and stuffings and that kind of stuff,
Are all nice and tasty, but that’s no longer enough.
You have family time online in chat rooms galore.
That’s plenty of WE time; now I’ve got something more!

See, I’d open each store and unlock every gate,
Let the flyers fly out and warn “Don’t Be Late!”
They’d announce their big sales many weeks in advance,
And invite the hungry customers to the Black Friday Dance.

Only this dance begins Thursday – no Wednesday at least!
With TVs and Dollies and the latest electronic beast!
You’ve got money? We’ve got THE sale!
Now forget all those families and go check your email!

We sent you hundreds of coupons and incentives since last month,
For tablets and cameras and other great stuff.
It’s everything you need for that great family time,
That you can spend together later when sales aren’t so prime.

You say you got everything? You are staying away?
What a mistake! What a crime! When all the others will be at play!
Shopping breeds happiness, surely you know,
What are you waiting for? The stores are all open – It’s time for you to go!

What you’ll find are the really good once-in-a-lifetime deals,
Things you can’t live without, things that are real steals.
Like five sizes of tablets for your every single need.
You’ll even find our ad embedded in each newsfeed!

Pop-up Ads! They will be here and they will be there.
Buy our devices and stay connected everywhere!
We’ll bring you our sales wherever you go,
Don’t you worry! Not one little bit! Wherever you are, we’ll always know!

And we’ve made it fun for the whole glamorous Fam.
Look! We’ve got buying lists for kiddies, for teens, and even for old Grams!
You don’t need to think, not now or ever again!
Trust us—we know! That Holiday At-Home Hullaboo is nothing but a has-been!

So what’s it going to be when you walk through our doors?
We’ve put little arrows on all of our floors!
We’ll tell you where to go, what to buy,
We’ll even give you some turkey and stuffing, and most certainly some pie!

It’s because we care, said Billy Box Dee,
And we know what you need.
Don’t hesitate or wait to download our app
We know what’s best for you, enough of this family crap!

We’ll see you at midnight- no! Make that at eight!
Tell all the workers this is gonna be great!
We’ll give them the breaks that they believe they should get,
Just as long as the shelves and the aisles remain set.

When the doors finally open we’ll all be together,
As we push and we shove and we trample each other.
The guards at the gate will have no control,
While owners will smile in their warm estate homes—“That stuffing, right there! Pass me that bowl!”

Think of all the bonding, the family time spent in our stores,
As we work and we shop side-by-side—this is like never before!
We will rush to find bargains and be first on the floor.
Give me that! Give me that! We will fight in Aisle three—A true tug of war!

Yes, if I ran the holiday, the traditions would be strong,
For families to bond while shopping—I see nothing wrong.
It’s time to cherish the true meaning of Thanksgiving this year,
And drop the turkey legs, the green beans, and even the seasonal beer.

So join us, one and all!
What? You’re not already here? Why the delay? Why the stall?
If you wait till Black Friday all the good deals will be gone!
And you’ll be that Big Loser in a month on Christmas morn!

Don’t be that loser! Don’t be behind!
It’s Thanksgiving after all; Think of your retailers and try to be kind!
We’re here for YOU! It’s True! We’ve got all that you need!
Don’t listen to those naysayers who say its all about greed!

Text all your friends and we’ll see you today,
This is the new Holiday tradition, and I tell you—It’s here to stay!