Returning to Cold Rock

In 2011, I finished writing, and published, my first novel. Actually, it was my second novel-length manuscript; the first one, Night Terrors, has still yet to see any public light. That was way back in 1992 when I finished that one.

30 years ago!

As you can imagine, my writing style has evolved quite a bit, and to bring Night Terrors to any kind of publishable level, it would require a serious rewrite. I’ve tried to do that on several occasions, but failed each time because the original writing was so, well, flat.

Cold Rock, written and published 20 years later, is more on the early edges of where I am now as a writer. It’s got a good strong voice, and for the most part, it works.

Except the ending.

When I was deep in revision, I received feedback from two individuals, whom I both trusted, that could not have been further apart in how the end of the story might be revised. After considering both options, I went with the one that made the most sense to me at the time.

What I neglected to embrace, however, was a third choice: my own revision of the ending. Instead, I felt, for some reason, that it was either suggestion no. 1 or suggestion no. 2; there were no other options.

Now, 11 years later, I’m picking option no. 3 and finally writing the ending that I think is more perfectly aligned with two areas: 1, the main character’s journey arc; and 2, the intimations of the supernatural throughout. Yes, it’s a pretty scary book at times, and I’m going to run more with that and less with the creepy priest angle that still makes me uncomfortable.

All things considered, this is going to be a quick rewrite, and we’ll be publishing the revised edition under The JAR Writers’ Collective “Vault” collection, maybe as early as this summer.

Here’s the thing, though: since publishing Fossil Five and now Prisms in the last two years, it is absolute fun to rework an old book and make it better for all of you. I hope you like it. I’ll be sure to let you know when it releases.

Back to edits. See you all tomorrow.

Watershed moments

Sunday, 13 March 2022

I grew up on the shores and waters of the Loch Raven Reservoir watershed here in Towson. First, it was all about the picnics my family enjoyed in the wooded area just off of Dulaney Valley Road. The site closed when I was in my late teens because of fights and unruly behavior that kept breaking out in what was always a sanctuary for me. Now, it is a parking area for hunters and walkers.

When I got a little older, my father started taking me on long walks in the woods along narrow footpaths that would lead to obscure shores where the fish were supposed to be plentiful. Sometimes they were, especially the bluegills and the crappie. We even caught a bass or two if were were lucky. But that wasn’t what those long walks in the woods were all about; it was about spending time with my dad in those quiet moments, singing little songs to the fishies to jump on the bait so we could reel them in.

Soon, I graduated to being old enough to take a boat out on the water, and we fished some of the hidden fishing holes that were supposed to be secret. Here’s where we caught the odd fish: sometimes a carp, sometimes a northern pickerel, and always a good laugh cracking stupid jokes that no one would ever understand.

As I became more independent, I would often go to Loch Raven with friends to hike, or enjoy the sunset, or just to get away from the world for a few hours. It was still my sanctuary, and we savored those quiet moments together.

Now, as I return to the trails and shores as an older man, now that my children are all nearly grown, and now that I have endured the experiences of loss and hardship, this watershed brings its own watershed moments in my life.

Today, we stopped by to take some photos, and as I meandered through the mucky trails and brittle brambles, I realized that Loch Raven has been there for me in so many turning points of my life. And that’s true for so many others, too. As you walk along the shores, you can’t help but see memorials, or initials etched in trees, or sacred grounds where lives have been lost tragically.

Just a few years ago, I happened upon a car where somebody had died, and as they removed her body from the car, her white hand slipped from their grip, and it offered me – us- a final wave goodbye, a salute to all Loch Raven has provided, perhaps, or a reminder to cherish what we do have – what we have always had – in and around this watershed we drive through nearly every day of our lives.

A watershed, by definition, includes all of the surrounding area around a body of water that captures runoff and contributes to the overall ecosystem that reservoir, or river, or bay, creates.

I can’t help but think that we comprise a watershed area, too, in our friendships, our relationships, our neighbors, our everyone that matters in our lives. If we saw our connections being as vital to our own ecosystems as the watershed area is around Loch Raven, or Chesapeake Bay, or any other body of water, then maybe we would do a better job of taking care of each other.

It’s so easy to neglect that, as it is easy to neglect the land around Loch Raven. But it has been a lifetime sanctuary of memories and experiences to so many, as we have been to each other in our own communities.

Watershedding over watersheds. I appreciate the water a little more today, as I appreciate you a little more, too.

Writing Prompt #5: Unconventional Relationships

I share these prompts to encourage writers and creatives of all ages to journal uninhibitedly on a daily basis. No marketing, just prompts. 

Don’t feel compelled to spend days or even hours crafting the perfect response. Write, sketch, paint, or compose your response in words or colors, musical notes or dance interpretations, and then share it with the world, in all its raw beauty. 

If you do share your writing to the daily prompt, please feel free to leave a link in the comments or use the hashtag #RVWritingPrompts wherever you might be posting your response. 

Writing Prompt #5: Write, reflect, or create an original work on the most unconventional relationship you have ever experienced, past or present. You define what “unconventional relationship” means for your response, as this may be based on society’s rules, or yours. Regardless, to you: it is unconventional!

My Response: Prior to the world of global connectivity via the internet, my relationships were more about the environment in which I lived more than anything else. When I was growing up, it was all about our neighborhood – our street specifically. Schoolmates that were comparable in age but lived a few blocks away might as well have lived in another state. Neighborhoods were so territorial then, that when I dated a girl from “The Oaks” just about a quarter mile down Joppa Road, I was told by some bigger guy in that ‘hood that they were going to “introduce my face to my locker” in high school if I didn’t stop dating Donna.

Jets and Sharks kind of crazy stuff going on, even though I was not – nor was I ever – in a gang.

Later, when I began teaching and moved to Calvert County, my relationships were centered on Chesapeake Bay. I was so fortunate to teach several of Tom Clancy’s children, and so I spent time on the shores of Chesapeake and its tributaries talking about writing with the world’s bestselling writer at the time.

That connection would have never happened had I not been there, on the water, in that space.

Now, even though I am settled in Towson with my family and in Ellicott City with my students, some of my strongest relationships are with Jodi and Adam, two incredible human beings who just happen to live in Australia – a place I’ve never been, and two people I have never met “in real life.”

As much as I rail on the internet and technology (and if you don’t know that about me, give Fossil Five a good read and you’ll see where I stand on the digital world wiping away our human-to-human relationships), my relationship with Jodi and Adam is as close as any of the relationships I have known in Calvert County, Towson, or Ellicott City.

We connect through words, art, music in such a collaborative way that is stronger than any of the countless hours I spent on Chesapeake Bay sailing, or fishing the waters, or wading through low tide finding blue crabs shedding their shells for a good soft crab sandwich later that evening. What we have transcends all of that through mutual respect for each other as artists, individuals, and spiritual manifestations of something bigger that exists all around us.

Our 14- and sometimes 16-hour time differences are perfect for working on each other’s drafts, or mulling over ideas to be shared over our “even-morns.”

In this unconventional relationship, somebody is always awake, watching over our words, pondering art and life and the world that spins so wildly around us.

But it is one world, and we are held together by the unconventional bond we have created regardless if the world tilts off its axis every once in a while. Like the pull of the moon, we ebb and flow this journey together, having never met, and never having to.

Writing Prompt #4: Energy. 1.20.2022

I share these prompts to encourage writers and creatives of all ages to journal uninhibitedly on a daily basis. No marketing, just prompts. 

Don’t feel compelled to spend days or even hours crafting the perfect response. Write, sketch, paint, or compose your response in words or colors, musical notes or dance interpretations, and then share it with the world, in all its raw beauty. 

If you do share your writing to the daily prompt, please feel free to leave a link in the comments or use the hashtag #RVWritingPrompts wherever you might be posting your response. 

Writing Prompt #4: Write, reflect, or create an original work on the energy held in a seemingly inanimate object, such as a rock, a handwritten letter, a pressed flower.

My Response

For just about 33 years now, I’ve cherished a book of spiritual essays by Joni Eareckson Tada called Secret Strength. A student gifted it to me in the days following my father’s death in 1989, and I leaned on the lessons Joni shared in my toughest hours.

Joni (pronounced “Johnny”) grew up in Baltimore and lived a very active life until a catastrophic diving accident in Chesapeake Bay in 1967 caused damage to her spine, and she became a quadriplegic as a result. After battling anger and depression, she devoted her life to lifting others, and she is still doing it today.

That book, an inanimate object itself, carried great energy from the words she wrote. Just holding it in my hands – even decades later – brings me strength.

Even more powerful than the book, though, is what my student wrote on the inside cover, and the flower she pressed there to remind me of how everlasting beauty and hope can be.

Now, 33 years later, that flower (and those words) are filled with the same energy that they possessed on the first day I opened the book to find such a timeless gift.

What does that tell me? What does that remind all of us?

That it is possible to capture the energy of a single moment, bottle it in some inanimate object that miraculously cues the heart to beat a little stronger, to pulse the emotional moments we experienced so long ago as if we were there once more.

A book, a flower, and words pressed into the inside cover hold for me the energy of hope, of kindness, and of timeless compassion in a time when I was hurting greatly. Today, I still open that well-worn, gently loved book to return to a time where I was given a touch of secret strength that I would get through.

And I did.

And I do.  

Writing Prompt #3: Silence. 1.19.2022

I share these prompts to encourage writers and creatives of all ages to journal uninhibitedly on a daily basis. No marketing, just prompts. 

Don’t feel compelled to spend days or even hours crafting the perfect response. Write, sketch, paint, or compose your response in words or colors, musical notes or dance interpretations, and then share it with the world, in all its raw beauty. 

If you do share your writing to the daily prompt, please feel free to leave a link in the comments or use the hashtag #RVWritingPrompts wherever you might be posting your response. 

Writing Prompt #3: Write, reflect, or create an original work about a time when the sound of silence was deafening.

My Response

My first thought is, most immediately, the late afternoon hours on September 11, 2001, when no planes filled the air and the roads were empty – a world stunned into silence as we all collectively held our breaths.

That was a deafening silence that we all felt, though. Anybody who was old enough on that day to hear the sorrowful sounds of silence will never forget it.

Personally, however, all I can think about right now is a sound that my generation is hearing all too often: the deafening silence that follows the news of the passing of a loved one.

The news is shared, but the words begin to drop off, as if falling from a cliff, word by word, into some void where they are enveloped – smothered – in a dark and heavy fog. And in those seconds that follow, when the final words fall into that abyss, we all feel the deafening silence of sorrow that weighs so heavily on our hearts. We don’t know what to say, even if we really could or remembered how to. Are there any words that could ever fill that space?

The sound of the weight, like some kind of jet engine on overdrive, courses through your veins, inflating them with fear, dread, grief.

Deafening.

Invariably, though, despite the heavy silence that lingers longer than we can comprehend, it is what rises from that deep, heavy fog:

Shared memories, laughter, that last smile or embrace that held there in the light, a lingering moment treasured for reasons we could not yet understand.

But now we do. Now we hold tightly to that lingering moment.

Yes. We are beginning to know that deafening silence too, too much. But we also find new comfort in these memories that fill the silence with sounds that imprint our hearts forever with what we will remember, hold dearly close, until our own last hours on this earth.

Writing Prompt #2: Weather. 1.18.2022

I share these prompts to encourage writers and creatives of all ages to journal uninhibitedly on a daily basis. No marketing, just prompts. 

Don’t feel compelled to spend days or even hours crafting the perfect response. Write, sketch, paint, or compose your response wildly in words or colors, musical notes or dance interpretations, and then share it with the world, in all its raw beauty. 

If you do share your writing to the daily prompt, please feel free to leave a link in the comments or use the hashtag #RVWritingPrompts wherever you might be posting your response. 

Writing Prompt #2: Write, reflect, or create an original work based on a time when the weather changed your life.

My Response: Specific weather events have changed all of our lives. Here in the Mid-Atlantic, hurricanes and nor’easters are common life-changers for most of us. But for me, it was never a named storm that changed my life (agreed, though, that Super Storm Sandy in 2012 was pretty bad); instead, it was the weather that blew off the Susquehanna River – a trib of Chesapeake Bay – and found its way to our small cabin in River Hills, Pennsylvania when I was a child.

And, just as powerful as the storms might have been that moved in, keeping us tucked in on the long screened-in porch as the rain moved through the heavy leaves like a steady chorus of soft, melodic rain sticks, the memories we made as a family were what really changed me.

Everything was different at the cabin. It was my father’s haven away from the world of work, the mundane grind of suburban living. In that small plot of land between a bass-stocked pond and acres of corn fields, the rains that kept us inside did not matter to me at all.

The cabin’s interior was one large, “great room” divided thinly by a half-wall that separated the living and sleeping spaces. In the front, facing the woods that filled the sloping hill that led to the large pond, was the porch; in the back was a small dining table and kitchenette that looked out over the fields harvested annually by local farmers. It was a simple space, but rainy days brought us closer together playing cards, building fires in the fireplace, and just listening to the storms roll in and roll out in a seamless peace that could not be found at home in Baltimore.

[Quick Reflection: I’ve never written about this before and will definitely expand on this later in a stronger draft. I never realized that the storms that forced us inside actually created an opportunity for us to be a stronger family in a way that never really seemed possible in our home in Baltimore. More to come for this one, for sure.]

Writing Prompt #1: Courage. 1.17.2022

Today, I begin sharing daily writing prompts to encourage writers of all ages to journal on a daily basis. No marketing, just prompts. If you wish to share your writing to the daily prompt, please feel free to leave a link in the comments or use the hashtag #RVWritingPrompts wherever you might be posting your response.

Don’t feel compelled to spend days or even hours crafting the perfect response. A few weeks ago, I subbed for one of the art teachers at my school. In that group, one student emerged and shared with me that she paints a new picture every day. When the bell rang and I moved along to my own classroom, she tracked me down and gave me her daily painting: a beautiful lobster that she painted in about 40 minutes. Paint your response in words or colors, musical notes or dance interpretations, and then share it with the world, in all its raw beauty.

Writing Prompt #1: Reflect on a time when you displayed great courage when the world was not watching. 

My Response: One of my colleagues was quick to post a comment earlier today when I shared this prompt. She alluded to the profession of teaching, and having the courage to show up every day and do the unthinkable, the inexplainable, in teaching in such challenging times when most of the world does not understand what we are doing to teach effectively, to push away all of the noise that is around us, and – most especially – the doubters and naysayers that question our profession on a daily basis.

That part – the questioning of our profession – is something that I have endured in these 35 years of being in a classroom with my students. In fact, I was fighting for the prestige of the profession when I was still 21 and in college, arguing passionately against fellow education majors who were in it until they figured out what they really wanted to do.

Like it was some kind of job that held a space until something better came along.

So to Frances, I say yes. The world has its opinion of what we do, but the courage you and my colleagues display on a daily basis, mostly when the world is not watching, is appreciated and recognized.

For me, it comes down to those small chats with students at the end of class, or in that brief period of time between the last bell and when the buses pull out for the day. Talk about courage. So many of these students have been holding that fear of talking with an adult, or gathering the courage to share a concern, for the entire day. That’s somewhere around 16 bells shuffling them off to other classes or to lunch as they grapple with a dizzying shift in content in those 7 hours.

They display great courage every day, and nobody really knows it except for themselves and the teachers and counselors and coaches and administrators and SROs they talk to.

As the recipient of those chats, I am incredibly grateful that I am with colleagues who continue to show up, continue to listen, continue to hold space for our courageous students who need us to be there for them.

But for me? Courage? When the world is not watching? Well, it is in my art, my writing that takes place in the space beyond the public eye as I sort through the ideas, the philosophies, the wishes, the hopes that I might be able to bring to all of you one day in a form that is best received, best served for a world wandering, reaching, hoping for many of the same things as me, and you, despite what we may be, or share openly, with the world.

I am no more courageous than you.

And that, my friends, brings me strength and energy to carry on, to show up, to share authenticity with the world, or even in classroom 203 on a weekday afternoon at 2:15pm.

Our Authentic Show Must Go On

This weekend, I was enthralled by a blog post shared by Mark Willen (“Sexual Assault: When Real Life and Fiction Collide”), who was pondering how his published works hold up in the #MeToo era. As a result of Mark’s post, which was weighing heavily on my mind today, I decided to ask a few writers/teachers about what they thought influences authors to share certain works with their intended audiences.

Now, that’s a lot packed into that last sentence, so let me unpack it.

What influences authors.

As English teachers, we often analyze an author’s writing by what the topic of the essay/story is about, and what was happening during that time in history or, more specifically, what was happening in that author’s personal life, either directly or indirectly. Our focus is finding that cause-and-effect relationship, that One Big Thing that led her to craft that piece. We love doing that. It’s what we live for.

To share certain works.

As well, we know that writers often choose which pieces they take to publication. This is what they offer the masses; this is what they have selected as their representative piece.

With their intended audiences.

Not only does the author select the intended piece, he selects the intended audience. Sometimes, that’s a decision based on money and quantity. What can I write that will reach the most number of people, and fill my pockets with the most amount of money? Or, conversely, he might choose a very selective audience to share a more cultivated piece, aimed at entertaining or conversing with a smaller group.

So what?

What all these things have in common is that we are making gross assumptions that the cause-and-effect relationship even exists. As we know in this era of all things, it is nearly the opposite. Some of us are in great distress, and our creativity is stifled in ways we could never fathom. We put our pens to paper and the parchment remains unblemished.

Where do we begin? How do we tell the truth? How do we write about something that is so polarizing?

So we choose to write about other things, and in other genres. Published or not, none of it is representative of where many of us are. There is no authenticity in a large body of what is being published. Truth lies in that unwritten, Barbaric YAWP that plagues us, weighs us down, suppresses our voice in ways that historians might overlook entirely.

In other words, the literature written centuries ago, which we have been analyzing so comfortably based on the stories crafted in history books, may be as much of a lie in absencia of the truth that could never be written.

Maybe a little like what we’re going through now.

I just got rejected from yet another publication (Let the great streak from 2017 continue!). It was a horror short story that I thought was pretty good. It wasn’t, according to the judges (again this year), and I’ve allowed myself a 12-hour pity party that ended, oh, a few minutes ago.

But I find this okay. I’m not a horror writer anymore. I thought that I should be able to spin a good tale no matter the genre, but that’s probably not true. I’ve got so much bunched up in me of what I am not writing about, that it makes full sense to me that anything I try to pass off as authentic is anything but.

So I’m turning this figurative page somehow, and I will return to authenticity. I will spill words here that are raw, genuine, politically incorrect, and my truth. I will lose followers and, perhaps, close friends and family members. It sounds so harsh to say this, but I can no longer let that stop me.

I don’t want to be cautious, gentle, patient, worldly, or even compromising. The time has come to share that authenticity with all of you.

I have no idea where this will take me, but at least I’ve opened the door for it to happen and to find out. We have to demonstrate courage in our writing and our art in the present; we must let our work be an authentic reflection of who we are, where we are, how we are reacting to it, and why all of this matters.

Thanks for listening (er– reading). I’ll be back soon, sharing words that need to be said, and by me.

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

Offering The Creative Collective To Artists, Writers, and Creatives

the-creative-collective-coverYesterday, out of a strong desire to create a “safe space” for creatives to share ideas, prompts, strategies, and inspirations, I created a new Facebook group called The Creative Collective.

Here, writers, artists, and all creatives now have the opportunity to share and be inspired to rediscover and strengthen their creativity. Nothing is being sold or pitched here; this is purely for imagination stimulation.

If you would like to join us on Facebook (it’s free and open to the public), go HERE.