Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Getting It Into the Air

October 24, 2016


Once I had decided upon becoming a writer, I still had to make a living.  Just as the Zen Master must still chop wood and haul water, so I drove a Metro Bus part time.  One day, as I was passing through a Seattle suburb, I stopped outside a shopping center for this matronly lady to climb the stairs.  As she dug in her purse to locate her fare, she eyed me to say, “You look awfully tired.  You must work awfully hard.”

“Actually,” I said, “I work only three and half hours a day.”  (Beaming with pride.)

This flummoxed her.

‘Good work, Carl,’ I thought.  ‘You’ve stalled another conversation.’

And since I find enduring embarrassment very hard, I added:

“If I work more than three and a half hours a day, I get these terrible rashes!”  I rubbed my forearm sincerely.

“Oh!”  The woman exclaimed, visibly relieved.  “My aunt had that.”

I love pretense and flummery.  I love spin.  I love taking the day to day quotidian, the endless repertoire of repetitive detail and action which make up the “grit and slog” of our seemingly endless human condition and giving it wings.  Or, as my playwrighting teacher used to describe it: “getting this thing up into the air.”

Not so far up into the air as you lose all connection.  You don’t want to leave home.  No one does really.  You just want to get it far enough off the ground so as to realize some possibilities – to reveal a horizon.

As a writer, politician, actor, salesperson, to successfully practice your profession, you must have the knack for engaging your audience’s imagination.  Perhaps the impulse is native, or perhaps it comes from being raised in a situation so mired in the actual that a person can’t stop striving to ‘get some air’, even after they’ve broken free.  The urge remains.  Or, more probably, the urge is an amalgam of both.  But, in a writer, the urge can be so strong, that the actual effort of making something ‘practical’ happen gets in the way, takes too much time and attention, absorbs too much of one’s energy.  I’m reminded of the cartoonist, Scott Adam’s (Dilbert) testimony, that when he asked writers why they chose the profession they did, the majority answered by saying, “I’m lazy.”

I remember reading of it being said about Whitman, arguably America’s greatest poet, that Whitman was undoubtedly “the laziest person” the speaker had ever met.  Though no doubt, he labored over his masterpiece, Leaves of Grass, unceasingly, revising, adding, and then adding again, throughout his entire life – otherwise, he was as he describes himself.  “I loaf, and invite my soul.”

I have noticed, (and in case I haven’t, people close to me, like my son, have pointed this out), that I would appear to avoid work, shirk a laudable profession, and am otherwise devoid of much practical ambition.  From my point of view, it seems astonishing that they cannot see that I literally am working all of the time – all the while they are talking of vacations they are going to take, or just returning from, or of the fun they’ve had playing, with their boats, off-road toys, RVs, or camping, climbing, skiing, surfing, watching sports, drinking, having wild sex or travelling.  The diversions others participate in astonish me in their multiplicity, repetition, and time consumption.  Also, given that so many of them complain about their jobs all the while – gives it an air of lunacy.   Nevertheless, it appears they are right and I am wrong because like in so many areas, there are more of them than there are of me.  It’s a democracy!  The dictionary is a democracy.  Right and wrong are whatever it is said they are.  (Only the word roots remain.)

At any rate, I find myself working all of the time: listening, reading, chatting, taking notes, writing, trying to figure out why things are as they are and puzzling about how to take that story or poem a little higher, squeeze it a bit more.  Even sending stuff off is tedious.  Vacation spots bore me.  Adventuring makes me wonder, ‘What am I doing here, stuck on a cliffside?’  Give me a quite room.  Help me lift this stuff up into the air.  Some trouble free, uninterrupted time.  That’s what I like.  If I had a million dollars in the bank, that’s where I’d leave it.  That’s where it’s working for me just fine.  I’ll eat the same thing for breakfast as I had for dinner, thanks.  Very little variation in my outer world is best.  My inner world?  Now here is where I take flight, break free, imagine other people and worlds.  I don’t have time to watch endless football.  I’ve got it!  They try to possess the ball and move it to the goal line, and they wear different colored uniforms.

There you go again Carl.  You’ve stalled the conversation.

To see more of Carl’s work, visit:


From the Editor’s Perch…

April 11, 2014

Arabs Angel on John's Shoulder1 AntChrist

Blog Encounters

            Time passes in a library, at home as we read, even on the internet – though it might seem as if we’ve slipped into timelessness.

And the people we meet on the internet grow older, their lives change, or they wander away, or lose interest, or can die and are lost to us like a closed book.

Recently I was brought up short by a death notice on a blog I have visited from time to time: The Baggage Handler.   His blog was an account of his life as an informant for the DEA; how he’d become involved; how he’d been flipped; plus the back story of his life.  Abandoning Miami and his family in an effort to free himself from the habits of his past, he apparently died at a fairly young age of pneumonia in Minnesota.

Some bloggers, I think, are swallowed up by the despair of their situation – such as those ensnared in their own chronic pain or mental illness – and disappear.  Or others, I think, eventually despair for their subject.  For example, The Chronicle of Artistic Failure in America, I found compelling reading, until it seemed the author stopped publishing.  His interviews of failed artists living alone, in their dingy basement/studio/living quarters, failed marriages, or in deteriorating lofts stuffed with years of artistic toil and inventions, dust devils and mounds of old dried tubes of paint, and living left to suppurate in their health problems, in debt and/or swirling down the drain of their ingrown mental constructions: crotchety, suspicious, bewildered or embittered by a vanished audience.  It was like reading Of Human Bondage over and over again – and just the good parts.

A science teacher living in Peking, who wrote lovely scientific and mathematical  examinations of emerging notions – spawned a lot of the ‘emerging notions’ in my own serial fiction,  The Cognitive Web.  However, the Chinese government and the smog – (he remained indoors, kept his doors and windows closed, and still his thinking was getting ‘hazy’) – finally got too much to bear.  The last of that blog had him hop scotching to Germany to get some air, and his life back.

Bloggers pass by my blog, and when they leave a ‘like’ or a note, I visit them.  Kind of like a hobo scratching an ‘X’ on the gatepost where a sandwich will be offered.

I regularly  visit a fashion column, I Love Green Inspiration,  by an Italian woman just to oogle beauty: the clothes, fantastic settings and women.  It’s a quick lick of a lollipop.

A Brazilian blogger, The Talking Violin, with a deep sonorous voice, regularly posts a minute sound bite, along with an interesting photo, of what’s making the news in this former portion of the Portuguese Empire.

And a fellow from Bangkok (Thailand Footprint), regularly follows the local culture and expat ‘crime noir’.   I’d read a little too much of that, I think, as I anticipated our upcoming re-visit there with our adopted Thai son.

A current favorite of mine is The Culture Monk.  The blogger, Kenneth Justice, is on a “One Hundred Coffee Shops” stop of America.  He flies, drives, takes a train, or walks, I suppose, to major cities around our country and blogs – of wherever he can herd his jittery fingers.   It’s a morning’s cup of philosophy, religion, and culture via chance encounters.  He takes the American pulse, with vague stabs at the Great Questions.  But he’s liberal, like most of the people’s blogs I visit; like everybody, it would seem, out there.  So we argue.

Then, of course, we all have to visit our friend’s blogs, to see what they’ve written.  Scot Bastian’s  “Do Ya Think?” is devoted to skepticism.  (Those damned people have to be so sure of everything.  We argue all of the time.)  And Dan Green’s “Dangblog” is a very well written perusal of current Ballard /Seattle existence.  But as he recently voted for a Socialist, (which I think is like voting for a Tapeworm – why would you do that?), here again we argue.

And now I’ve just thought of another blogger I follow who is currently dying of pancreatic cancer!   He writes a very good blog about art called, Robert Genn’s Twice Weekly Letter – and currently from bed, so that his daughter is partly carrying on the letter in his stead.

But we don’t argue!  (Yet.)   J


Photos by Carl Nelson and Google

Murders in Progress…

October 22, 2012

Merlin the Veterinarian

(Episode 9)


Leland thought he’d better give himself a while before he called Ramey.  So he called Burt Campbell, the Kimmel County High’s science teacher.  After that, he tromped around taking photos.  And after that, he phoned Ruth, told her what was up, and by that time Merlin Travers, the Veterinarian had showed.  Big animal, small animal, human; Merlin didn’t discriminate.  But Leland always put Merlin’s charge into the Sheriff’s Canine Unit accounts column, because not having a dog was easier to explain away than not having a horse.

“What’s up, Leland?”  Merlin said.  He had parked his Range Rover immediately behind the parked Mercedes.  Leland handed Merlin some latex gloves and shoe booties.  And while Merlin put them on Leland explained.

“Woman here, by the name of Nancy Loomis it appears, parks her new Mercedes by the side of the road after its headlights have been shot out.  Then she gets led off into the woods by two guys, it appears.”  He motioned.  “Try not to step on any of the footprints or to tromp on any of the evidence, of course.”  He rolled his hand.  “They have a bit of a walk, and then she’s murdered about 30 yards in.”

Merlin whistled.

“I want you to have a look at her.  Tell me what you think?”

“Okay.”  Merlin nodded.  “Where’s Pete, our Kimmel County Coroner?”

“Sister City Convention business,” Leland replied, with a shake of his head.

“Aaahhh.”  Merlin said.  “Love the government.  Work hard.  Always short-handed.”

“Shut yer yap and just think about who’s paying you,” Leland retorted.

“Yessir.”  Merlin smirked.


Merlin kept his promise.  He just whistled lowly when he saw the mess that was left.

The first thing Merlin did, after standing and studying the scene silently, was to set the rectal thermometer.  Then he began to examine the wounds.  “He broke her hand for some reason.  Maybe she had a gun?  Maybe some of this blood is theirs?”

Leland nodded.  He’d checked the Mercedes while waiting for the Vet, and sure enough, there was an empty holding clip right behind the ignition.   He silently thanked his good fortune that Pete was on that Sister Cities tour this week.  Merlin was the much better deal.

“Sideswiped her.”  Merlin pointed to the grotesquely bent knee.  “Probably in order to incapacitate her.  “Hands tied with a plastic tie.”  He probed around with his pencil.  “Coat pocket ripped, burnt pencil-sized holes.”  He laughed.  “Maybe that’s where she carried her gun?”  Leland nodded.  Then Merlin began to examine the wounds.  Finally, he stood.

“I had a schizophrenic who did his dog something like this, years ago,” Merlin rubbed his face hard, as if to rub away the vision.  “He thought the dog must have had some kind of a transmitter or walkie talkie hidden somewhere on it – because he said he could “hear the dog talking to him”.  So he went looking.  “Like this guy, he pushed his hands into the skull cavity and let the brains squeeze through his fingers as if they were clay, looking for it.”  Merlin pantomimed it.  ”Apparently the dog had been bringing up some sore points and just wouldn’t let it drop.”  Merlin glanced at Leland.  “Could piss anyone off.”

“Yeah.”  Leland scowled.

“The guy started taking his meds again, washed his hands, bought another dog, and everything was fine.”  Merlin removed the rectal thermometer.

“So you’re saying I should just hang this guy up by his balls and beat him with a stick until he promises to start taking his meds again,” Leland growled.

“No.  You need to shoot him.  There’s obviously two of them.  Which means the guy’s not off his meds.  Or there is something else going on.  Something much more long-standing, I’d say.  Because he’s able to recruit help.  And I’m guessing he pays them with a little ‘whoopee!’”  Merlin nodded at the spread knees and the shredded clothing.  “You really need to have the body examined though, and do the whole rape work up.”

Leland nodded.

“Is that it?”

“You think I have another couple murders around here for you to look into?”

Merlin’s eyebrows rose.  He took a look at thermometer, then wiped it clean and put it away.  “I figured she must have died about 12 hours ago.”  He sighed.  “Can I go, then?  There’s a dog who’s breeching, and she’s about 20 miles away.”

“Sure.  Get lost,” Leland said.

“Will do.”  Merlin waved and walked off through the undergrowth.

Leland stayed to gaze around the scene and think some more.  Then he trudged back out to the roadway to welcome the ‘kids’.

Photo by Carl Nelson

From the Editor’s Perch

July 29, 2010

"The Next Good Idea You Have May Be Irrational"

“Many large corporations, with hundreds of workers, who have their headquarters in Seattle, wall themselves off from salespeople by offering only one generic phone number, no mention on their website of who works there and a receptionist who, when you call, sends you directly to a ‘vendor’s voice mail’ before you can recall  hearing a “Hello!” 

So what do you do?  Especially, if you’re a salesperson and know that this company needs your product and/or pricing?

One of the things you can do is to call one of their out-of-state offices.  Then you ask whoever answers if they would direct you to the person who handles the purchasing and leasing of the product you offer.  They will usually tell you, (with such sadness in their voice!)  that this is ALL handled by their headquarters in Seattle.  So, you ask them (with a sigh) for the person who would handle it “there” – and they often will toss you a bone.  If they don’t, then you call another out-of-state office.  And “by the way,”  you also ask,  “Do they have a direct phone number?”  Often times they will give you that also.

A playwright’s mind is often like a large corporation.  It is often beset with a very large problem and does not want to be bothered.  And so it often walls itself off from considering just those ideas that it needs to perform its mission, by blocking all the ports of entry and interruption.  This can help to get you really stuck.

At readings, common feedback often reinforces these inclinations.  Listeners often recommend that the playwright cut this and/or that scene and/or authorial interruption from the script as they bear ‘no rational relationship to the narrative line’.  This is a great way to never find the story.  I support following up on those blips which seem out of context, or wholly divergent from where the story seems to be heading.  This is the authorial equivalent of calling Miami.  And it has a good rate of success.  ”

                                                                    – Carl Nelson

%d bloggers like this: