Thoughts

The American West

I’m taken with the American West. So much so that my next novel takes place in Colorado of the Old West in 1865. It’s the story of a Confederate soldier who leaves his home in River Falls, Georgia for Colorado. He doesn’t know what awaits him, but he’s sure it’s better than what he left behind.

Places

I’ve lived in well over thirty homes. Most of those were houses, but a few were apartments or townhomes. When I was a kid I didn’t go to the same school for more than a year in a row until tenth grade. I learned to make friends quickly, and now that’s a skill that I take with me to each new place I go. People are mostly the same. In some places, like the South, people are more outgoing and openly friendly, and in the West they are more genuine than other places I’ve been, but at the core everyone wants people to love, a few good friends, and a comfortable and safe home. A smile is the one thing that connects in every language and every culture.

I think I’m settled in the West now. I may live a few months here and there, but I’ll keep my permanent home in the West. It’s tougher here. Life doesn’t come as easily as it does in other places. Life is fragile, and that creates alertness to everything I haven’t always known. The West is beautiful, but so is the East Coast, but the beauty is noticed here I think due to the fragileness of it all. I told a friend recently that Colorado is designed to kill you … but in a fun way.

Death doesn’t scare me because I expect a journey after my time here. There’s more. There’s always more, and I believe that a good smile should work on the next journey the same as here.

 

Rocky Mountains - AuthorScottThompson.com

Literature Instead of News

I have to watch the news with my finger on the channel button. Mute used to work, but my boys have long since learned to read the scrolling text at the bottom of the screen. Now I have to change the channel. Keeping up with the news was once an act of valor. Often it provided little more than conversation starters, while also a sign that you were communicating with the well-read. Now the news is a step above the rags that line grocery store shelves, and the line between the two is blurred. They love the sex and violence that sells commercials. I turn away from it more and more.

All the truths I need are in literature. Humans don’t change, even when the world around them does. We know more, and I think we try more – some of us anyway, but greed will always exist. So will the desire to subdue another for our own gain. It’s the animal in us, given intellect, which is skewed. The story seems to be the only place that makes sense of this. It’s where we learn that there is hope.

Hope. There’s always hope. We are here to learn, not to become perfect. Some of us figure it out sooner than others. I told my kid yesterday that the saying “only the good die young” will make more sense to him the longer he lives. It appears to be true too often.

The Woods

The woods behind my house were an escape from school, chores, or the burning of the summer. It was always called “woods” despite the size, much less than an acre of overgrowth. The junk trees grew fast among only slightly slower growing pines, sap sticky, but easy to cut. I removed the pines from the earth with my bow saw and built a fort, a thing to hide deeper among the green, and less for protection against real and imagined enemies.

It didn’t take long for more overgrowth to cover my fortress, hidden from all but ticks and snakes. One snake sat in the path to my door, ready to strike it seemed, but most likely bored from a life on its belly. Was it true that God cursed the snake? Was that in the Bible, or had I heard it from a preacher, two very different truths. I took the snake and placed it in the only container I could find: the mailbox. The mailman shook and cried when he confronted me.

I used my father’s best wood to build a tree house high in a hundred year oak. The tree wider than a car. Taller than any of our town’s buildings. I decorated the inside with leftover wallpaper. I had the only tree house with yellow flowered walls. I drove by that old house a few years ago. My thirty year old tree house was still in the hundred year oak, hardwood gripping the grayed boards like it wanted to protect the memory of the little boy who climbed its limbs years before.

Fishing Zen

Fishing with KidsA few years ago I took my oldest son trout fishing. I took out my fly rod, but soon found that I was spending most of the time untangling his Buzz Lightyear fishing pole. After a time he grew bored with waiting for the fish that were not coming, and wandered to a sandy area. He was five, and drawn to the simplicity of sand and rocks, to the rhythmic movement of the water.

While I cast into the water not far from him he watched the ripples like a protective parent. He threw sand into the water that created art that lasted less than a second. Occasionally he threw larger rocks into the water, ensuring that my casting that day was only practice.

When I fish I don’t go just to catch fish. I go to be in that place. Fishing is the perfect Zen experience, but without the effort of learning from a Zen master. It comes naturally in natural places. Walk one hundred feet, to a bend, and you disappear into a world that seems little changed from a thousand years before.

I’m not a great fisherman, but I’m great at getting lost on the water. This is a thing I won’t have to teach my son, but I will have to teach him how not to forget. We’ve created perfect worlds that destroy our ability to connect to the outdoors in the same way we destroy the outdoors itself. Children would never do what we have done.

Be Brave Enough to Be You

Like Kerouac I’m drawn to those brave enough to be themselves. Few have the courage to wear what they want, say what they want, be who they are. It’s easy to follow the crowd, and to do what others say and do, but do you have the self-confidence – the courage – the be an outlier?  I don’t mean mad of mind. No, intelligence usually comes with those I’m drawn to, the ability to see clear answers, and to know when the answers are not clear, but still find ways to make things work.

There was a manicured twenty-something sitting behind me on a plane recently. She used the word “like” every fourth or fifth word. She was physically appealing, but her empty brain and senseless words made her ugly. I leaned forward in my seat to get far away from her, to block out her pointless chirping. Despite her new and stylish clothes, and manicured hair, her empty words and stupid cadence made her repulsive.

If you looked at my closest friends it would be difficult to see what they have in common, but I think it might be intelligence, or creativity, that links them. I’ve never considered myself to be intelligent, but I’ve surrounded myself with people who are better than me, smarter than me, more creative, and that has made the difference. They have challenged me. I’ve passed the best of what I’ve learned from them to my children, who are also intelligent. My children never use the word “like” more than is needed.

You can make an argument that I judge people based on the wrong elements of them. This may be true, but I can counter that the girl with the perfect hair and clothes was elevated by her friends based on that, and little else. I’d rather join myself to those who are rich of mind, instead of those who appear rich of wallet due to poor spending habits.

I almost scraped this, because it sounded mean when I reread it. But then I opened this again, because, through my anger with the annoying girl on the plane, I was trying to say to be you. If you’re reading this, instead of watching reality TV, I know there’s something worth seeing. We like you as you are. Bury the pretension. Find yourself, and be that person. Let’s hang out, and let’s be who we are. There’s good there. You know it, and I want to see it. Be brave.

Flying

Flying
From My Window Seat

I still love to travel, but I don’t enjoy going through airports these days. It’s a curmudgeon problem I suppose, or maybe I hate being squeezed into ever shrinking seats, and dealing with the constant delays that seem too common with airlines these days. A few minutes ago I went through the TSA security line. The TSA guy got a bit too handsy, but it is Valentine’s Day, and maybe he figured I looked lonely.

I consider driving more and more, but my eyes are not what they used to be. They’re not bad. They still work, but I don’t have the sharpness of vision, and the ability to measure distance like I used to, which makes me hit the brakes too often when I think a car is closer than it really is. My wife doesn’t care for this, and she always informs me that the car is actually a hundred yards ahead. I understand autonomous cars are on the way … just in time for my old age. Things seem to work out.

Of all airports I’ve traveled through, the Atlanta-Hartsfield-Latoya-Jackson Airport is the airport I’ve been to the most. I don’t really care for the Atlanta-Hartsfield-Latoya-Jackson Airport, but everything seems to route through this inflated maze of weariness. They say you have to transfer planes at the Atlanta-Hartsfield-Latoya-Jackson Airport on your way to Hell. I plan on going up when I die, so maybe I’ll never see this airport again after I take my last breath.

I do still enjoy small airports, like the ones we flew out of when I was young, and my dad loved to fly, and many of my friend’s parents were pilots. I’ve flown out of dirt airfields in Alaska, and from short runways in the islands. I’ve flown patterns that circled small mountains. Small airports are fun. Animals might run out on the runway while you’re taking off. The runway might flood. Like I said, fun stuff.

Sleep

I didn’t sleep well in the hotel. It was quiet, clean, had big soft pillows, but I didn’t sleep well. When I was awake at midnight I considered that I was getting too old to sleep in strange places, but then I remembered that I never slept well the first night or two in a new hotel.

I love camping, but I usually don’t sleep well on the ground the first night back in a tent. It’s usually too hot, too cold, or I find that I’m sleeping with my head downhill. The extra blood should be good for a brain, but it doesn’t help one sleep better. Small pebbles become boulders if positioned in the wrong place under one’s back.

My dog can sleep anywhere, and he can sleep all day while I work, always near my feet. I keep a heater going in my office during the winter. No point in heating the entire house when it’s just me and the animals. It’s cozy near the heater, and dogs know how to take advantage of cozy places to sleep. Humans are not as good at this. I can’t take naps during the day. There’s always something important to do.

Secret to Writing

There’s no real secret to writing. There’s no trick that will make it easier, or that will make you a famous writer. I get asked about the secrets and tricks often, and when I respond that the only real secret I know is hard work the requester becomes silent and wanders off to the next writer.

Discipline is the most important “trick” I know. It’s the thing that has allowed me to produce two books, and to have written several more, as well as several short stories and magazine articles. But I know new writers want to know what works and what doesn’t work, so below are a few “tricks” or “secrets” to writing:

  1. Discipline – Finish what you start. Write as often as you can. Don’t give up. Don’t stop.
  2. Read – You’ll hear this one over and over. Very few writers become good writers if they don’t read. Read books that are out of your genre. Read books by people from different cultures, races, from another sex. You can’t write about people if you don’t understand them. Read books on writing too. They don’t have any secrets, but if you get something useful from each book on writing you read, soon you’ll have a mental library of tools.
  3. Keep a notebook – Sometimes I email myself ideas when I don’t have a notebook nearby, but I always have a notebook for every project. I come up with the best ideas when I’m away from the keyboard.
  4. Be Tough – Those who produce little are the ones who love to trash those of us who do. You’ll have to have a strong backbone to endure criticism. Find a way to ignore criticism from those who simply are jealous, and learn to listen to criticism that will help you as a writer. You’ll never be perfect. No writer was ever perfect. Find the best authors in history and you’ll see that at least 10% of reviewers trash them on Amazon.
  5. Write – I mentioned this under discipline, but it’s important enough to mention again. Write something every day. Even something like this blog post.

Now that I’ve shared a few tips, I suggest going out and learning what works for you.

Learning

I know more now than I did before. I suppose that’s true for all of us, at least the ones who are trying. Maybe you learn even if you’re not trying. Life has a way of pushing lessons on us, even when we don’t want them. It seems like the powerful and wealthy don’t learn, another reason to stop electing the powerful and wealthy. We really are smarter than them.

I inherited a bit of common sense from my father and my uncles, all were graduates from Ivy League universities of hard knocks. They were ready for life by 18 – maybe 13 – while it took me much longer. The generation now is still struggling at 30. Life is easy for most these days, and, like the wealthy, easy lives flame a lack of learning.

I can’t generalize much more than that. I was still figuring it out well into my twenties. I spent my thirties apologizing for my twenties. There’s value to wasted years. It’s a learning tool. As I said before, life has a way of pushing lessons on us, even if we’re trying to avoid those lessons.

I’ll keep learning, and I suspect I’ll disagree with some – maybe all – of the words I write today. I have a theory that the moment we figure it all out we die, so there’s a reason for holding onto bits of ignorance.