Tag Archives: family

What is an Artspouse? I want an Artspouse!

I’ve never had a partner who reads my work, or has taken an active interest in my writing. This used to make me sad.

Then I discovered there are many writers whose partners actively discourage it, saying it’s a waste of time, it would never go anywhere, that they should be doing something “productive.” They can never work in an environment free from judgement and criticism.

I am so thankful, every day, that while I’m not always helped by my family (chosen or otherwise) they have never stood in my way.

As much as I am grateful, I find that my most favorite authors thank their partners or spouses first and foremost. Those partners work with their writer, around their writer, applying their shrewd minds, asking good questions, and pushing their writer to be the absolute best they can be. As a mushy example, the writer in Stephen King’s “Bag of Bones” had his wife type out the last line in every story. I’ve been giving it some thought, and come up with a word to describe this person:  Artspouse

This might be your husband or wife, this might be your best friend. This might be someone you absolutely cannot stand on a personal level; but when you come together to collaborate on a project, the results are absolute magic. This is the person who knows what you’re going through as an artist, as a creative, as a person trying to meet a bloody deadline — and knows when it’s time for chocolate and tissues; and when it’s time to kick the door in, turn the lights on, and yell at you to get your fucking act together.

Within this sphere of your life, on this particular path, they are your partner, your ally, your battle-buddy, your greatest nemesis, your soulmate, and anything in between. They are the constant measuring stick that says you can do better, and the little voice in your ear that helps you get there.

As a test request, here’s what I would look for in an artspouse. You may assume that these wishes are expressed with an intent of mutuality (I would provide the same support I ask for):

  • Interest in the same medium — a reader to my writer, an audience to my show, a hunter to my bladesmith.
  • Complementary strengths — if I’m good at structure, you’re good at emotional resonance. If I’m good at sculpting, you’re good at interior design. If I’m a lighting guy, you’re a sound guy.
  • Matching goals — whether it’s a quest for excellence, or commercial success, or attaining a certain level of mastery.
  • Seriousness of intent — less blah blah, more pew pew. We’re always aiming for the next level.
  • Commitment to your own work — different goals on the same path. It makes sense to run together for a while.
  • Enjoyment of each other’s work — I’d buy your stuff because it’s good, not just because I know you.
  • Fearlessness —  we can argue, we can risk, we can fail, we can get up and try again.
  • No man left behind — I’m speaking at this con, and so are you. I’m getting published, you’re putting on your show. I’m climbing this fucking mountain, and you’re coming with me. And in that vein…
  • On the level — we’re about the same skill level, or same stage of our artistic  careers. Maybe one of us is slightly ahead, but will be outpaced in a moment. They might piss you off a little because they’re so talented, and you have to hustle to catch up. There’s always something to learn, always something to offer.
  • Aw, buddy — we maybe, just possibly, actually like each other. It’s 2am. Let’s get tacos and talk about that weird dream you had the other day.

What do you want in an artspouse?
Do you already have an artspouse?


How To Recycle Bottom-Drawer Stories

Thanksgiving was pretty amazing. It’s difficult to gather three generations in one house; but we managed it. The bourbon flowed freely, there was much wrestling, discussion of childhoods and future burials, and the revising of wills.

I had been editing a story on the flight there, and it was on my mind while I cleared out half of my belongings that my parents saved for me. Among these was a massive collection of trophies, medals and plaques. Of the three five-foot karate state championship trophies I tossed, I only regret the loss of one. It marked one moment of three big achievements for me: my first black belt competition, my first adult competition, and my first 1st place out of eleven, rather than four others. For weapons forms, no less… my true love.

Those items were a record of my achievements in music, in martial arts, and even (I had forgotten about this) science.

I once knew a brilliant sci-fi author who told me that if he doesn’t like his work, or fails to sell it, he deletes it.

Entire manuscripts — gone!

I couldn’t do that. I’m sure you can relate. Lots of writers have stories gathering dust in the depths of their desks and hard-drives. These are a mix of things we never finished, or failed to sell, or were too precious and fragile for anyone else’s eyes. I can give up trophies. The achievement matters more than the marble; but a story…?

Those physical and digital archives remind me of the stuff that piles up in warehouses and garages. You could chuck it to make room, certainly, but by eschewing materialism there’s also a great loss of one’s own history and context. The important thing is how we relate to that history and context, and how it informs who we become.

I had this story on my mind, remember. The reason it wasn’t working was because it was a literary meditation. Genre fiction hinges on stakes, conflict, and dynamic adventures. When I showed the draft to some other writers I know, I got lots of great thoughts on how to revise. Thing is, they’d all change the direction and crux of the story. It would lose its history and context. In essence, I’d be throwing it away. Or deleting it.

The other option is to pursue all options.

If you don’t want to throw anything away, then use the pieces at hand to build something new.

Think about an old story you have that isn’t working. Then see if you can find the notes and suggestions you got from others. Write all of those stories. Change the names. Change the climate. Before you throw something away, give it a good hard look. Don’t waste a chance to recycle.


“Don’t loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club, and if you don’t get it you will nonetheless get something that looks remarkably like it.”
— Jack London


“Look on every exit being an entrance somewhere else.”
— Tom Stoppard



The orange one.


An Open Letter to My Little Brother (with lots of profanity)


I’m really glad you called me. It means a lot that we’re still connecting after all this time. A lot of families split apart and never realize what they could have had. You and me, we had a choice. I think we did pretty good. We’ve always done pretty good, even through the shit, you know? We have the same context, so we never had to justify ourselves. We don’t have to apologize for our language, our thoughts, or our feelings.

So, I’ll give it to you straight.

The reason you feel like you’re dying is because you are dying.

You, me, and everyone else on the planet is dying a little more with every passing second. Scared yet? Good. Because I’m scared, too.

We were brought up to believe that we have a say in our fate. We were constantly tested and expected to step up when our bodies wanted to give out. There were always eyes on us. We had someone to impress — and someone, therefore, we risked disappointing. A lot of times, for me, that was you. I pushed harder because I wanted to be there when you needed me. I got better because I knew you were watching. I knew you believed in me; and I learned to rally after fucking up because you helped me get up again, and said something stupid to make me laugh. Because of that, you are part of my identity, forever.

You and I learned to fight. We fought each other, we fought our friends, and we learned to fight our own weaknesses. We’re at our best when we push and struggle in dynamic conflict. We’re interested in learning new things and broadening our understanding. We want to get better — whatever it takes — to become stronger, bigger, faster, smarter and wiser. If we stop struggling, we die.

We die slowly at first… putting off stuff we know we’re supposed to do. Hanging out instead of finishing our projects. In time, it gets harder to catch up. The gap gets bigger and bigger. We give up what nourishes our souls for the sake of the daily grind — for the sake of what we’re told we ‘need.’ Before you know it, you don’t know who you are anymore. You don’t know what you’re after so you care more about the packaging than the prize. I know you love to fight; but there’s a difference between the pain of growing, and the pain of injury.

Giving up that thing we love — that thing that makes us happy — is self-injury. The only difference between that and a knife is that a knife will drain your blood; but giving up drains your soul. That’s what I mean when I say yes, you’re dying. I know you feel it, because I feel it too when I’m not getting my shit done.

You can’t stop. You have to keep going. The obstacles in your way are in your head. Everything you described that’s worrying you — your mom, your girlfriend, your job, your collection of books — face them. Ask your mom what you wanted to ask her. Ask your girlfriend what her path is, and let her tell you if it’s the same path as yours. None of this has to stay as it is — in fact, all of it will change. You can construct your life, and pick the people you want to keep in it. There is no reason to waste your time at work, at home, or in love with people who don’t help you become your ultimate self.

There are billions of goddamn people on the planet. We can pick who we give our time to. Again, all of it will change… you can choose, or time will choose for you.

Of course, you don’t have to make any major decisions tonight. Sit on it. Look at it. The only thing holding you back is fear. We were taught how important it is to conduct ourselves with dignity and honor, so anything less feels like we’re degrading ourselves. We’re not. I promise we’re not. Our successes and our fuck-ups are all ours; and we grow using both of them.The only reason I suggest starting now is because you’ll be so glad of it, you’ll wish you started sooner. It takes guts to grow, to walk your true path — and, oh man, it fucking hurts sometimes — but it’s always worth it. Always always always.

Just roll around a bit. You’ll be a’aight.

I love you.


What you know is only the beginning

When I achieved my teenage dream of training in a kung-fu monastery, I had no idea what to do next. I felt aimless.  Goal-less.  With six months to graduate, I had planned to move to a new city until I could dream up a new dream.

As I was getting my plans together, I got into a huge argument with my brother.  I said that once I graduated, I wanted to work in a cushy, air-conditioned office where I was making just enough that I wasn’t worried about money. He responded by saying that when he graduates, after medical school, he expected to make around 125 times what I would be making, that I was aiming for the gutter, and that maybe he had an inaccurate view of my potential. 

He went on to say that I would find no writing inspiration in a cubicle, and that I would only have things to write about if I talked to felons with eight fingers, or farmers with seven kids who speak only in biblical German.  “That’ll give you some stories,” he said.

It’s always difficult to navigate that part of a conversation.

Needless to say, it made me furious.  It made me screaming, crying, wall-punching mad. How dare my own blood say I’m aiming for the gutter by wanting to be comfortable. I deserved a break, god-dammit. What right did he have; the child who partied all through high school, then spent five years as an MP in Germany because HE didn’t have a plan? How can he speak? He, who ended up a veteran of two wars before he decided to calm down enough to have a semblance of a relationship with our family– 

–and other scathing, self-centered, self-righteous sentiments.

All of this happened, as far as I can tell, because he had no plan.  I haven’t been through what he’s been through. There are some schools of thought that say I’ll be a shitty writer as a result. Maybe I should stop. Maybe I’ll have nothing to write about unless I divorce my family and lead a dangerous, sluttish existence peppered with drug-infused club scenes and war-zones.

We’re told to write what we know because only an authentic voice will resonate with people that have lived what we’ve written. My brother has lived through experiences and stories I could never dream. There’s also a strong chance he’ll hate everything I write. So far, my family has been supportive of my being a writer, but I don’t think they like my work all that much. That’s ok, though. Not my audience. 

At first I was sad, thinking that if I where better at this, my brother and people like him might become my audience. It doesn’t work that way.

The scenes that do land well are the ones in which I could translate my own life experience into something the characters would go through.  I haven’t spoken to felons, used magic, or visited rural German communities; but I’ve been angry. I can write angry.

Stick to what you know, but don’t stop your imagination from telling its tale.  What you know is your foundation — build up from there.

“Write what you know.” 
— Mark Twain

“Imagination is more important than knowledge; for knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
— Albert Einstein

“I mean when you look at ‘Midnight Express’ the film, you don’t see any good Turks at all.  It creates this overall impression that Turkey is this horrific place. Well, that’s not fair to Turkey. I love Istanbul.  I actually spent quite a bit of time in Istanbul before I was arrested.”
— Billy Hayes

Poem for Winter Solstice

Candles in the window
And a chill beyond the wall
My kin are far, the minutes slow
And silent in my hall

I stay awake for Longest Night
The world a wash of grey
Remembering my fam’ly’s light
That each year summoned day

Decades passed and every year
Our dear friends packed together
Laughing, singing, drawing near
Regardless of the weather

My family is scattered now
My voice is weak and drawn
No snow alights on any bough
But I still sing for dawn


 Happy Winter to the Northern Hemisphere

Happy Summer to the Southern Hemisphere

Personality Indicators

I flew away to visit my sister for Thanksgiving. We took the kids ice skating. I had a few minutes to myself where I skated alone — weaving through groups of strangers with no one’s hand to hold and no conversation to pay attention to. I had stripped off my jacket. The air was cold but the sun was warm. I thought, I love having a body. There’s so much I can do with it.

Babies are just starting to figure this out. I’m not used to babies. It took me a while to warm up to my new niece as a small person, rather than a fragile irreplaceable treasure that may shriek, shatter or cover me in vomit at any moment. She’s six months old and pretty chill. She smiles a lot. She’s interested in textures, and can tell when you’re nervous. She has a personality, opinions, problem-solving style and other reactions that came prepackaged. The only limitation she has on these responses is that she’s not quite used to driving her body yet.

Upon discussing the matter with my sister, we noticed the same about her son (six years). She was nine when I was born, and a lot of how I interact with the world hasn’t changed since then. We talked about how some people have a narrow range of passion, and some have a huge range (and will smash things, even if they’re overjoyed!) Some of these traits are prepackaged and clear from day one.

Her son sang songs about Minecraft for most of the weekend. He sings when he’s happy, my sister told me. The two times he came near tantrum were to do with too much advice crashing against his pride, and from wanting to participate but being exhausted. I felt for him. I’ve been there. So have a lot of adults I know. It reminded me of something brilliant my riding instructor once said, that’s helped a lot when working with personalities that get frustrated easily.

One of the first conversations I had with my now-verbal nephew went like this.

“I remember the first time I met you, you were only a little bigger than your sister. We were at a restaurant. You grabbed my elbow and tried to eat it. I couldn’t believe how strong you were! I had to pull and yank my arm away from you!” I said.

“Wanna try it again?” he grinned, as though to lunge at me.

My sister explained to him that I rough-house for real, and to be careful. Then she asked me to take it easy, and do my best to not wake up swinging when I get jumped the next morning.

8am rolled around, and I opened one eye when I heard little feet coming down the stairs. Rather than pouncing on me, as he does with all the other relatives, he leaned over the edge of my bed and said in a quiet voice, “would you like to see my basic Minecraft set up, or the full version?” After a short negotiation, we settled on the full version, once I’d fixed coffee and he’d fixed toast ‘n jam.

A personality is a tool like a flexible body is a tool. Having the tool is one thing, but perception and awareness of choices — is it more important to huff, or actually solve the problem — determine how we wield the tool.

This muddies the concepts of fate and destiny a great deal.

There are a number of arbitrary systems that have explained to me me my place in the world and how I should interact with others.

  • There’s Greek astrology, which tells me I should be a home-body.
  • Chinese Astrology, which tells me I am hard-working and persistent.
  • Phrenology, which tells me how strong my brain is and in what areas.
  • Physiognomy, which tells me I have an aggressive, dominating nature.
  • Palmistry, which tells me that my heart will split in two, and that I’ll have four children.
  • Mood rings, which tell me that when I’m cold I’m unhappy and when I’m warm I’m happy.

In addition to baby-meeting, Thanksgiving feasting, ice-skating and late-night catching up, we also pulled out our instruments and noodled our way through everything from carols and reels to Tori Amos and Rammstein (“Sonne for flute and two violins” didn’t go all that well). Personality traits again came to mind while trying to reconcile jamming between those who have lots of music theory and technical knowledge with those who can figure out any song they know after a try or two. Matching pitch was on my mind.

On the plane from St. Louis back to San Francisco, I thought of another arbitrary system. Imagine for a moment that your personality, disposition, and place in the universe could be determined by one precise and intimate occurrence:

The precise pitch,watcher

Of the buzzing in your head,

When you listen to silence.

Children are still people — willful small people with a full range of perception and a lack of experience.
– Anon

I’m basically here to entertain you while you figure it out for yourself.
Garyn Heidemann, my riding instructor.

Night Ride Through Time and Into Death

I just got a truck. Part of getting a truck in California is that you have to make sure it passes the emissions test. My truck has been very stubborn about this, so every time I get it fixed I have to put three days of driving on it to get the computer to run all the checks.

On this particular full-mooned evening, I drove around with my dojo-sister, J, and wound up at the beach.

As we walked along the shoreline, J found this:


Corked and sealed with wax. We wondered who it could be from, and how long it had been there.

“We gotta open it!” I said.

“Maybe it’s from a Nigerian prince,” said J, “offering up his fortune to whoever finds this note.”

“Great, so our message in a bottle is spam?” I said. We laughed.

We bring the bottle back to the parking lot where there’s some light. We’re beside ourselves with excitement over this mysterious midnight adventure. We try and guess what the note inside says with increasing absurdity and silliness.

“It’s probably in Chinese,” I say, opening it. I take out the plastic baggie and unfold the note.

“Is it in Chinese?” she asks.

I smile and shake my head. “Yup.”

It is definitely in Chinese.


I only recognize a few words, so I put it up on Facebook and a translation came back pretty quickly.


J felt a little sad that we opened the girl’s bottle, as though doing so had undone the prayer.

I think her grandfather heard the message the moment she left it there on the beach.

It made me think about my own (only) grandmother. When I spoke to her on the phone today, she seemed worn down. She told me she has degenerative arthritis. She has a birthday coming up, and she said that each year she wonders why. She’s ready to go. I asked her if she had a time-frame — if I should come out to visit her. She said no… that she’d rather I remember her as she was. This is a woman who, last year, wanted to take me out to jazz clubs with her boyfriend and teach me how to order drinks. When younger men asked her to dance, she’d refuse them with “thanks, cupcake.” My brother and I have her pegged at perpetually forty-five. She’s in her eighties, now. She said that she’d had a good life, and one of the things she’s especially proud of are her grandkids.

“Don’t waste opportunities to be awesome,” my brother said. “There’s a little under five hours today to get it done.”

We have less time than we think.


Life is for the living.
Death is for the dead.
Let life be like music.
And death a note unsaid.”
― Langston Hughes