Something Just Like This

This is something like a Superhero Origin Story.  But without Spiderman or Batman or insert any of your DC or Marvel favorites.  Like Chris Martin said, you won’t see Camden Swanson (the main character of my novel  Lost in the Fog) on that list.

The story I’m about to tell might be inspiring to some, or a cautionary tale of procrastination to others.  I guess it all depends on perspective, and I’ll let you be the judge. This is the long, strange journey of how I came to write my new novel Lost in the Fog.

Back in 2003, after six years of trying to sell my screenplays in Los Angeles, failure had gotten the best of me.  I was frayed, discouraged, and I needed a sabbatical from my life.  I had just published A Model Community, my first novel, which was both exciting (it was pure joy to hold my book in my hands) and disappointing (I wanted it to be my big break, but that never happened).

It wasn’t a fiscally responsible decision, but for my overall health I knew it had to be done.  I quit my job, took a crazy and circuitous 5,000 mile solo trip across the country (that’s a story for another time), and spent five months back in my hometown of Lynn with my family and friends.

I eventually returned to LA in November of 2003, but with a bank account several notches below barren.  I needed a job, and I was open to anything short of pornography or fast food.  But despite having a B.S. in Journalism and a Master’s in Film & Television, nobody would hire me.  Monster.com, headhunters, temp agencies, and sending applications all-around town yielded nothing.

Six weeks into the search I finally got a call back.

It was for the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena.  The Gallery Attendant position paid just slightly over minimum wage, and I would be required to wear a tacky blazer and a striped tie and stand for hours and hours at a time.  I happily accepted.

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At the Norton Simon Museum the workforce consisted mainly of retirees and art students, and I was neither.  We weren’t the official security of the place (there was an actual team of trained officers), and instead were called gallery attendants.  Our essential job function was to stand innocuously in a corner and make sure nobody touched the art or leaned on a wall.

After my first shift of standing in several corners throughout the building without talking to one person, I was ready to quit.  My back and shoulders ached, my mind was numb.  I’d been a bartender for years and had no problem being on my feet or enduring the physical requirements of the job, but it was the lack of movement and interaction with people that was daunting.

But I needed the paycheck, so I stayed.

After a few weeks I got used to being a gallery attendant, and it soon became my new normal.  I even began to enjoy my job.  After years of frantically running around behind a bar at warp speed, I saw great value in this meditative calm.

I also began my informal education of art history, and every day I made a point of learning about the various pieces in the museum.  At the end of our shifts they even let us take the audio guides when it was slow, and this was better than any class I took in college.  My stint at the Norton Simon put me on a path of dedicated fine art education that continues today.

Then there was my little black marble notebook.

Back then I used to carry around this 4 ½ by 3 ¼ inch journal, which I used to scribble down whatever crazy thought cascaded into my mind.  In 2004 there were lots of them.  At the bar or on the train or even at home when I couldn’t sleep, I would take it out and write.   I also kept the notebook in my pocket while I stood inert in the galleries at the Norton Simon, and used it whenever I found myself alone.

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On the first day when I wrote in the journal while on the clock, I figured (since there were cameras everywhere) I would be told to stop.  I’d only been working there a few weeks, and if confronted, I was planning to feign ignorance.  I had never been shown a rule that said you could not record your bizarre musings in a 4 ½ by 3 ¼ inch journal.  But none of the managers at the museum said anything, and with this tacit approval I wrote every shift in that small black book in empty galleries.

Sometimes it was about the Norton Simon paintings and sculptures, but often there were strange forces working inside my head that told me to scribble down nonsense poetry.  While I always believed in my ability to write journalism, fiction, and screenplays, I had never aspired to be the next Dylan Thomas, Langston Hughes, or Emily Dickinson.  But while standing there in my Buddha-like trance in an empty gallery surrounded by Botticelli’s, Reuben’s, Van Gough’s, and Matisse’s, I was compelled to write these insane poems.

Here is one from April 2004 that I wrote during a shift:

It’s all in the medulla oblongata, she claims

If you wanted radioactive jelly you should have asked/

Don’t cost nothing

These searing head plays/

Keep licking the toads

Cause she plays checkers for breakfast

No, I was not drinking or smoking anything funny or had suffered a head trauma that day.  These were the kind of bizarre thoughts that would pinball around my brain in an empty room full of priceless art treasures.  And yes, since I’m sure you’re asking, I did wonder if I was beginning to crack-up.

And then one day a thought arrived that wasn’t a kooky poem.  It was a fragment of a premise for a mystery novel, one involving an art heist. I quickly took out my tiny little black marble notebook.

The idea for Lost in the Fog came to me while standing post in the Renaissance Room while looking at a Botticelli.  It was a painting called “Madonna and Child with Adoring Angel”, and while I’d studied the picture many times before, something that day ignited a creative spark.   The museum was about to close and it was so quiet and calm.  The opposite of that would be yelling and violence, and my mind conjured up a group of thieves busting in and trying to steal this Botticelli.

I immediately knew this could make a good story.

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I still find it hard to believe it all began back in 2004.

That year and the next (when I left LA and moved to San Francisco) I wrote about 150 pages of Lost in the Fog.  But I soon got very busy with my new career (human resources for a large hotel in Union Square), and abandoned the novel.  It was four years later in 2008 I picked it up again, and I set a goal of writing five hours every Saturday and Sunday.  I stuck to this and had a first draft completed by Labor Day.

After reading through the manuscript upon completion, I knew, like Hemingway said of first drafts, it was shit.   But I loved Camden and Veronica (the main characters), and I believed had something special with the story.  The plan, back in 2008, was to let it sit for a few months and then come back with fresh eyes and rewrite it.

In January of 2009 I started working for a new company, and next thing I knew it was September (a whole year after I finished the first draft).   I had done absolutely nothing with Lost in the Fog.  And then it was 2010, and I got a promotion and then another in a short amount of time.

Lost in the Fog never left my mind, and being a professional writer was still my dream, but with my new successful career at the hotel I abandoned it.  I just could not muster the energy after work or even on the weekends to begin the massive rewrite the novel needed.  As much as I loved my job and the people I worked with, my creativity began to fade in proportion to my success in the hospitality industry.

Flash forward to 2012 and I ask my company for a quasi-sabbatical to rewrite Lost in the Fog.  They gratefully grant this request.  I begin doing contract work for them at various hotels around the country, but in-between my assignments I’m allowed weeks of free time to work on my novel.  This makes me very happy.  That year I revised Lost in the Fog half a dozen times, and in October I had a draft to send off to agents and publishers.

Then in November 2012, my company sent me to Honolulu, Hawaii.

My temporary assignment was to spend a month to help transition our new 839 room hotel in Waikiki.  I figured I would go and do my job, enjoy the island in my free time, and return to San Francisco to devote myself to getting Lost in the Fog published.  It seemed like a great idea.

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Woody Allen once said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans”.

The temp gig at the hotel became permanent, and while it was not part of my plans, I am extremely grateful I stayed here.  Hawaii could be the best place I’ve ever lived, and the people I work with are all amazing.  I feel so lucky to have a job that I enjoy doing, and to be at a place where I feel like I can make a positive impact on people’s lives.

But I was never been able to forgive myself for abandoning Lost in the Fog.

Whenever I thought of my novel, which was often, it caused deep feelings of regret.  While I had certainly been consumed with work, there was no excuse I had done nothing with Lost in the Fog after settling in Honolulu.  No excuse at all.

The calendar flipped to 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016, and I still had done zilch to sell the book I had started in 2003.   Through the years I had probably sent out a total of 10 query letters to agents, where the advice is to do hundreds if you want a chance to garner any interest from agents or publishers.  Out of the only 10 I sent, not surprisingly, I received a perfect percentage of thanks, but no thanks.

Rejection stings, whether it’s in your career ambitions, someone you want to be your significant other, or your art.   It was all I ever got with my screenplays in Los Angeles.  Any psychiatrist will tell you I didn’t put Lost in the Fog out into the world because I feared it would receive the same fate.  I self-diagnosed this phobia many years ago, but I could still do nothing to fix it.

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And then three months ago my great friend Todd told me about the publishing house called Inkshares.

A middle ground between self and traditional publishing, they seemed a perfect place for me to publish Lost in the Fog.  And the fact that Inkshares has a collaboration with United Talent Agency (UTA), one of the top agencies in LA, made it even more intriguing.  All I needed was to get 250 pre-orders of my novel.

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Thanks to all of you, I have accomplished that goal.  But as amazing as that is, I still have a bigger goal to attain.  250 pre-orders will get you published and your book is available to purchase online, but with no marketing/promotion and just basic editing by Inkshares.  But if I can get 750 pre-orders or be one of the winners of their annual Launch Pad Contest, I will receive full publishing/marketing/promotion and Lost in the Fog would be sold in bookstores.

The Top 3 in unique pre-sales are automatic winners, and I’m currently in second place in the annual Inkshares Launchpad Contest.

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The contest goes until November, so there’s still a long way to go.  I would be so thrilled to be one of the winners, and for Lost in the Fog to be sold in bookstores around the country.  It has been my ultimate dream for as long as I can remember.

For those who have already pre-ordered Lost in the Fog, I have immense gratitude for you.  For those who are thinking about getting a copy, I would be so grateful if you did.  It’s only $10 for a Kindle/Nook/Apple copy, and only $20 for a printed one. You can pre-order Lost in the Fog here:

https://www.inkshares.com/books/lost-in-the-fog

While the road to publish Lost in the Fog has been a meandering thirteen year trip, it’s one I’m glad I was able to take.  You can view my story as something that compels you to accomplish your goals as soon as possible, or else a comforting one that rewards patience and perseverance.

It’s all up to you.

Fear & Loathing on Election Eve

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It’s after five a.m. on the East coast and the polls on the mainland will be opening soon.  Here in Hawaii we’ll be the last state to cast our votes in this historic Presidential Election.  While we’ll be making history in that we’re either going to elect our first female president or our most completely unqualified one, unfortunately those narratives are engulfed by another larger one.

This presidential election will go down as the nadir of American politics, where you felt thoroughly sullied just being a spectator of it all.

I’m not very political, and I’ve voted for both democrats and republicans in my lifetime.  I am very happy to say I am the antithesis of being partisan, and I respect differences of opinion.  When it comes to important decisions, I will learn as much as I can about it and make the most informed choice.

That being said, the fact that America is “this close” to electing a person who unequivocally would go down as the worst human being to ever lead our country, depresses the shit out of me.    And I’m not talking about political party affiliation or platforms or anything associated with policy.  Donald Trump is just clearly everything any decent person should be against.  He’s a nefarious bully who preaches fear and hate and who has no interest in listening or being rational.  He’s shown no kindness, and certainly has not exhibited an ounce of Aloha, a core value of the state where I now live.

I remember laughing a few times at the beginning of the Trump campaign, thinking it was so outlandish that such a buffoon was running for the highest office in America.  This was primary season, where any nutter with enough money can get on the ballot.  I remember thinking that it was funny, and I was certain the voters would be diligent enough in the vetting process to eliminate someone so unqualified.

But as we sit here on the eve of the election and ABC says it’s 47% to 43% Hilary, I am not in any way laughing now.

Although I still believe Trump has no chance on winning.  The polls you see on TV and online and all the doomsayers who predict a Republican victory only exist to increase ratings and garner more clicks and likes.  If you dig deeper into the analytics of the state-by-state Electoral College make-up, Clinton is going to be our next President.

By tomorrow afternoon Hawaii Time, the Donald will be preparing his concession speech.  And it will be the most hate-filled, hyperbolic, and most insulting to our democracy concession speech in the history of presidential politics.  And it will hurt your ears and eyes to listen and watch.  You will cringe and feel embarrassed for him.

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I can only hope this election will serve as a wake-up call to our country.  And I think it will at least from a political standpoint for both parties.  But if Donald Trump receives anything close to 40% of the popular vote, that speaks to an uglier fission that a “wake-up call” cannot fix. It’s already clear we’re a divided nation of politics, geography, education, income, and just about any other demographic you can create.  But if such a hate-filled candidate can garner that much support, we’re in deeper trouble than I ever imagined.

Which makes me appreciate my adopted state of Hawaii even more than I already do.  Where I live, there is such a welcoming culture and community.   While there are differences in politics, at the end of the day you’ll never be judged by the affiliation of a party but what kind of person you are. There are core values to the people who live in Hawaii, and because of that I could never see this state voting for a candidate of hate . . .  for one that has no Aloha.

And that is the only thing about this election that makes me smile.

 

 

The Next Adventure

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Key West … a great place to live in your 20s.  

When I was in high school I had a large map of the United States tacked to the wall over my bed.  At that point in my life I’d only been to places on the East Coast (New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, and Florida).  I loved the traveling I’d done with my family, and it surely fueled my desire to want to see more.  I vowed to get to as many cities on that map as possible.

My first chance to Go West occurred in college (Wisconsin & Illinois), and then shortly after graduation I took the trip that truly changed my life.  Colorado was the destination, and an Amtrak Train over the course of three days was my mode of transportation.  I was hoping to live in Breckenridge for a year, but it ended up being (for various reasons) slightly less than two months.  But that experience was the catalyst that drove me to move to Key West after turning 23, and certainly helped me when California became my new home at 28-years-old.

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When I was 22 I took the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago, and then the California Zephyr to Denver.  That trip is worthy of its own blog.   

I’ve made traveling, either vacations or relocations, a top priority of my life.  Hawaii is the 4th state where I’ve held a license to drive, and I’ve also had the opportunity to step foot in many of the cities and countries on my lifelong “to do” list.  On a World Traveler’s Scorecard my adventures might not rate that high, but to me I feel so lucky for every passport stamp or check mark I’ve made on a map.

I love where I live now, and I am very fortunate to be here.  Hawaii is such a special place, not only the sheer beauty of the islands but the people and feeling of the aloha spirit.  The three and a half years I’ve spent here have been amazing.

But I still can’t help myself from looking forward to my next adventure.

I suppose I’ve always been that way.  I cherished the time I spent living in Key West, but I was ready to leave after one year.  I look back on LA as some of the best years of my life, but six of them in Southern California was more than enough.   I was extremely happy in San Francisco, my last city of residence, and I still consider it one of the greatest places to live in the world.  But after eight years I knew I needed a new destination to discover.

Hell, I couldn’t even stay at one college for four years.  I loved Bridgewater State and made so many friends there, but I left after two-years for Boston University.  The prospect of “what’s next” is always very thrilling.

When my company offered me a job in Honolulu in 2012, I knew I had to take it.  I have no plans to leave Hawaii, and I’m beyond happy being here.  Exhibit A: On my walk home tonight through Kapiolani Park just as dusk turned to night, the first twinkling of the stars appeared while I breathed in the soft tropical breeze.  Just minutes earlier I had strolled past Waikiki Beach, and the sky had just a hint of pink visible in the dark purples and grays.  When the traffic waned you could hear the surf lapping against the sand.  If I stay here another three and a half years I would consider myself lucky.

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Dusk in Honolulu

But as my 40s keep on keeping on, I know there are more places not only to explore as a visitor, but to experience as a resident.

I would love to live in Europe for one year.  With the visa requirements I’d have to keep moving and get out of Schengen Area every three months, but that is a work-around that would be fun to do.  My money would go a lot further in Costa Rica or Belize (which I visited in 2012), and those countries are very tempting destinations.  The idea of taking a year off from work to travel and write is one that Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Ellen Page would have no problem incepting in me.

But I’ll put those thoughts on hold for the time being, and enjoy the opportunities for shorter trips.  J’Nell and I just had a wonderful neighbor island visit to Kauai, and in two weeks I’ll be in Los Angeles and Las Vegas for vacation.  The next longer adventure awaits.   It will begin as a dream, then become an obsession, and at some point in the future will become a reality.

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Great quote from “Inception”.

Minimalism Game Days 26-28: Wardrobe Malfunction Part Deux

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Eighty-one and done

As I hunted through my closet for more things to purge, I felt a big goofy grin spreading across my face.  No, I had not been doing shots of whiskey (it’s still twenty-eight days and counting without any alcohol).  So why was there such a pleasant buzz going through my body?

The joy of fifty or so pounds of unneeded possessions soon to be leaving my life, and the relief there’s only 72 hours left to the Minimalism Game.

With days 26-28, I successfully completed the Great Clothing Catharsis of 2016.  Sayonara, ties.  Adios, suits.  Dress shirts and pants that have been collecting dust in my closet since I moved . . . so long, suckers.  Shoes with holes or worn soles, I’ll see you in hell (no, just kidding, shoes, I meant the trash barrel).  I also got rid of a pair of underwear, a pair of long johns, one sock, two bags, eight hats, 24 more t-shirts, and a batting glove.  Eighty-one items in all.

I’d say the things I was happiest to see go were my suits and ties.  Since moving to Hawaii, they have darkened my closet with their sneering attitude.  You need to keep us, Ostrowski.  You can’t stay in Honolulu forever, and when you go back to the mainland they’ll laugh at you if you wear aloha shirts to work.   Grays, charcoals, and dark colors.  You need us!

I don’t need you.

As Hunter S. Thompson once said, “all energy flows according to the whims of the great magnet”.  I’m not sure how long this Hawaii adventure will last, or what the future holds for me.  But I’m confident I don’t need a neck tie to get there.

Was there anything I hesitated over parting with?   Yes, and it actually did not end up in the pile even though it probably should have.  My Chicago Cubs fishing hat from 1991.

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The hat that would not leave . . .and my toes.  

It’s dirty, it’s threadbare, and I’ll never wear it again.  But I couldn’t give it up because of the memories.  I got it the summer I turned twenty-one on a trip to Chicago, as a giveaway on the Fourth of July at Wrigley Field.  I’d seen the ballpark on TV so many times, but I wasn’t prepared for how green and vivid it was on first glance as we walked up the concourse ramp to our seats.

There were the houses hanging over the bleachers!  The Ivy!  And we could see Harry Caray up in the broadcast booth!  Simply put, you will never forget your first trip to Wrigley Field.

You also didn’t have to leave your seat to get beer, and we took full advantage of that convenience to keep cool that muggy afternoon.  We also got treated to extra innings, and Mark Grace sent the fans home happy with an 11th Inning walk-off homerun.  We left Wrigley for Grant Park, where we got to sample great food at the Taste of Chicago and then watch fireworks later in evening.

I can remember that day better than most that happened last month.  While I didn’t need that hat to conjure up those memories, it made me smile just holding it and feeling the stitching of the Cubs logo.  It might be going back in the closet to collect dust, but it stays.

Looking ahead, these final three days are going to be a challenge.  Ninety more things must go.  Come April Fools’ Day, we’ll see if I succeeded.