Tinker, Tailor, Oyster Pirate, Writer

JackLondonCredo500_theartofmanliness

In a recent blog I wrote about my visit to author Jack London’s Napa, CA home, now a state park. I’ve been a JL fan since I was a kid, when I read White Fang in grade school as required reading. He quickly became one of my favorite storytellers with that book. I think it’s because he lived what he wrote, which made his stories all that much richer.

Sci-fi novels are experiencing a resurgence, along with romance novels. I can’t help but wonder: how much of these stories were lived by the authors? My guess? Few to none. We live in a world where fantasy is favored over real life, where digital relationships (texting, sexting, selfies, vlogging, etc.) and its inevitable voyeurism have replaced the human experience. The richness, depth, and complexity of our existence are slowly disappearing as machines distract us from our lives and connections.

Jack had been a sailor, a fish and game warden, an oyster pirate, a gold prospector, a war correspondent, a rancher, and a farmer (the first in America to utilize terraced farming that he learned of in Asia), just to name a few. He was a busy man, experiencing life in the deepest possible way – by living it, then writing about it. How many writers can claim that today? And does writing solely from imagination make one a good writer? Is it possible to become a superior storyteller without living any part of the story? I’ve blogged about how bad decisions make good stories (sometimes the best ones) so I guess I’m old school in the idea that at least some part of the story should come from personal experience.

Maybe that’s what happens as we shape the characters in our stories; we pepper in a bit of ourselves, friends, family members, coworkers. The unusual color of the protagonist’s eyes, the wry smile of your antagonist belonged to a previous lover, the righteous anger of a scorned relative showing up in a minor character. Your pool of character quirks and physical/mental traits can be endless. Dig from your life to build your stories; no one has experienced your life but you, so no one else enrich your readers the way you can.

Here’s a short list of some of the jobs/experiences I’ve had that flavor my writing:

  • Waitress/bartender (upscale restaurants, nightclubs, etc.) – met many interesting characters 
  • Private investigator – some good cases where I found antagonists 
  • Tennis player/state champion
  • Lecturer/public speaker
  • Behavioral/psychiatric technician
  • Doctor/clinician (including time on a cruise ship in the Caribbean)
  • Drug/alcohol counselor
  • Criminal justice system – lots of characters here!
  • Homelessness (personal experience that I did write about)
  • 4 cross country trips –  where I met some great & some odd personalities, and experienced multiple landscapes

Wanna write? Get your ass off the couch. Seek out adventures. Make some bad decisions. Then make a similar list. They’ll make your stories feel more real, even if they aren’t.

The Story of Three Needles

This is a true story – because it’s my story, told in my first book, A Bump in the Road (Chapter 5, now retired). I just wanted to share something uplifting today, considering the election results.

Dr. Aaron Chen was a small-built man in his forties with boyish features, short jet black hair, and wore eyeglasses reminiscent of John Lennon. His smile was genuine and wide as he extended his hand to me. I liked him immediately. I felt renewed just being in his presence. A positive connection like that is vital to the patient’s healing process, I quickly realized.

He led me from the reception area to a room decorated with antique Asian décor; the scent of sandalwood swirled about the room. In the far right corner sat two camelback chairs upholstered in a bold, China red silk fabric embossed with gold Chinese characters. A simple wooden table placed between them held little clutter: a metallic miniature desk lamp, a small red statue of Buddha, and a jade green Chinese tea cup containing several pens. On the opposite wall stood a handsomely carved mahogany bookcase crammed with textbooks and other academic works. Some of the books were at least three inches thick and I wondered if he’d read their contents. Most likely. Okay, I’m impressed, I thought. The area rug covering the polished wood floor was noticeably Persian; its earthy tones complemented the bolder colors of the furniture. Placed on top of that striking rug, in the center, was the treatment table. Light in the room glowed softly from a torchier lamp in the corner behind one of the chairs.

Dr. Chen invited me to sit in one of the gorgeous silk chairs, he sat in the other. In his hands was a file folder, presumably mine, and he pulled out a form on which he began writing my personal information – name, age, main complaint, etc. He questioned me for almost forty-five minutes. Some of the questions seemed a bit odd to me: describe the color, consistency, and frequency of my urine and stools, for example. I’d answered his questions as best I could and hoped he would be able to make sense of the information I’d provided. He checked my pulses and asked me to stick out my tongue, then wrote again on the form. He was a kind and caring man; I knew that from the start. Having explained my financial situation on the phone earlier, he had agreed to charge me a reduced fee – he was more concerned with treating my urgent health issues. Then Dr. Chen requested I change into the dressing gown on the table and he departed the room, allowing me privacy.

I suffered from bouts of vertigo, nausea and vomiting in addition to the hand pains and heart palpitations. When Dr. Chen returned, he asked if I was able to lie on my back. I said I was not. We compromised and I slowly reclined on to my left side. He delayed beginning the treatment until the dizzy spell had passed. Once settled, he began the process of inserting the acupuncture needles; he made it clear that I should not move at all once the needles were inserted. I nodded in acknowledgement.

Here’s the really amazing part: because I couldn’t lie on my back for a full treatment, he used only THREE needles to address my symptoms. That’s right, three needles. With the needles in, he began acupressure on other areas of my body to help reduce my overall anxiety – it was calming, to say the least. Twenty-five minutes later the needles were removed and I sat up slowly, fearful the dizziness would rise up, make the room spin and knock me off balance. It didn’t happen. As a matter of fact, the vertigo was gone. So was the nausea (and therefore, the vomiting). I was dumbfounded. Walking into walls and vomiting in the car disappeared like they had never existed. Now I could focus on getting rid of the insomnia, those damned palpitations, and the hand pains. I was thrilled that I’d made the right choice.

I hopped down the stairs of Dr. Chen’s office with a spring in my step I hadn’t had in…well, it had been so long I couldn’t remember when…carrying an appointment card confirming my next visit. I drove home with all the windows down, letting in the fresh breeze of a summer’s day and letting out all my cares, eager for my next visit with Dr. Chen. I wondered what other miracles he might accomplish.

Copyright 2007. All rights reserved.