The lesson of the Jetstream pen

Another pen retrieved from the cache at 6:45 a.m. Sunday, May 31, 2015.

I have been writing with these pens for quite some years now, ever since I first found them. Gel ink so you don’t have to press too hard, a sleek design that sits comfortably in my smallish (for my size) hands. A bit of cushion where my fingers clutch the pen for comfort’s sake.

I felt I never needed to buy another model of pen again – the Uni Jetstream was the be-all and end-all. And then of course they discontinued the model. I was heartbroken and emptied the clearance rack at Office Max.

That wasn’t enough – that’s how much these pens meant to me. I went on eBay and purchased a case, and so I have gone nowhere without one of these pens ever since. At some point the case will run out, of course. I will have to find a way to get refills, replenish the supply, or find another pen.

Common things do attract loyalty when they fit the customer’s needs. Consider that when you sit down to create. And as for my dilemma, no one at Uni knows they built me the perfect pen. I never told them, so how would they know?

Lesson learned: Tell people when they do something you appreciate, or else they may never do it again.


W.B.’s Book Report: Dandelion Wine

Two of my favorites

For the last couple of weeks or so, I have been slowing savoring a book I first discovered as a teenager, and I found I am still under its spell.

It is a gift, to know with some degree of certainty that should anyone ever wish to know me – “Who are you, really, in your heart of hearts?” – that I can laugh and hand them a copy of Dandelion Wine and say, “Here, read this and know me, for this is my favorite book. Who am I, really, in my heart of hearts? Read Dandelion Wine and know what touches my heart. I am not any of the specific characters, I was not really a boy like Douglas Spaulding or any of his friends, but Ray Bradbury in describing his boyhood summer of 1928 weaves words that charm me like no other book, that recreate sights and sounds and aromas that he felt as an 8-year-old, and with words he plants those experiences into your own soul, woven with the summers you yourself have known in a way that helps you appreciate your own summers while assimilating his summer of ’28.

For Bradbury – or at least for his fictionalized Douglas Spaulding – it was a season of realizing the miracle of being alive – and a season of suddenly and slowly realizing that life comes to an end – and such adventures in between.

Who am I, in my heart of hearts? I am someone who loves books, and this is my favorite book. I am someone who loves, like an old friend or favorite uncle or even a cherished lover, this book. These stories. These turns of phrase. These memories.

It’s all there, the summer of 1928 as experienced by a boy in Green Town, Illinois, captured in glass bottles of yellow wine and transformed into succulent words.

Oh, there must be better books. In my lifetime I will read a fraction of all the books that have ever been written. All I know for certain is this book that delighted me as a teenager charmed and thrilled me again in my early 60s, like no other book each time.

This time I read it in bursts, a little at a time, over more than two weeks, although it is a short novel as novels go these days – 184 paperback pages. I remember picking it up once in between, a few years back, and starting to read but not being touched the way I was the first time. I wonder if it was winter then. I wonder if this book needs the soundtrack of the birds calling outside the window, the warmth of spring and music in the air, to come alive. It certainly enchanted me again this past half-month as it did more than 40 years ago, when I devoured it in a rush.

And so I declare it my favorite book – perhaps not the greatest literary triumph, although perhaps it is, because what it literature if not an attempt to capture the human experience in words? No matter. I am grateful Ray Bradbury lived, that he set the summer of 1928 to music, and that I encountered this masterwork at two of the moments in my life that I was most receptive to its beauty.

A little writing about writing and art

Ray Bradbury is among the greatest writers of the 20th century, and on a more personal note he is my favorite writer most days. Bradbury (1920-2012) wrote an essay called “Zen in the Art of Writing” in which he boiled the craft of writing down to four words: “Work. Relaxation. Don’t think.”

Specifically he said that while you write, don’t think about the possibility of making money with your words – even if you’re a full-time writer whose livelihood depends on it – and don’t think about the process of writing. Just let the words flow.

It’s a tricky balancing act, but every writer at least occasionally enters a “zone” where good stuff just flows from your fingers. Time enough to edit later. For the moments of creation, it’s enough to get the thoughts out and worry later about whether the words are in the proper order.

Bradbury broke into the business of writing by making a commitment to write at least one short story every week. He didn’t worry about whether they were any good or “saleable,” he just wanted to establish a habit. At the end of the first year, he had 52 short stories. Almost none of them sold, but some of them did, and his career was underway.

Writer and filmmaker Joss Whedon is doing interviews this month in advance of his next blockbuster (”Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron”), and one statement jumped off the page at me: “I have a contract with my audience – that I will do better, that I will give them a reason to come in again that is more than the reason we gave them last time.”

What a powerful motivation for an artist! Whedon is the creator of several popular, well-known works from TV series to movies and even comic books, and his audience is passionate about him because they sense that commitment – that he considers his contract with them more important than any financial contract. Bradbury would likely say Whedon “gets it” – care first about the writing, and the rest will take care of itself.

There’s a brilliant little movie that Preston Sturges made in 1941, “Sullivan’s Travels,” about a filmmaker of popular comedies who decides he’d rather try to do something “important.” Instead of another silly feature, he aims to adapt a pretentious literary work called “O Brother Where Are Thou” (and yes, that’s where the 2000 film got its name).

He embarks on an undercover journey to feel what the characters in the novel experienced. Long story short, in the end he finds himself in an audience of prisoners watching a Disney Pluto cartoon.

He laughs at the antics on the screen, then looks around and sees the roomful of inmates also laughing – released from their miserable circumstances for a few minutes of something resembling joy – and he realizes that his silly comedies also meet a basic human need and he has already done something “important” with his genius for entertaining people.

We live for the act of creation – and each of us creates something in everything we do every day. There is an art to driving a busload of kids to school, there is an art to serving a great cup of coffee, there is an art to collecting garbage.

In our art we make the world a better place for others, whether we serve an audience of one or a million, whether we write a poem for our sweetheart or a blockbuster summer movie for mass consumption.

Think about your “audience” – the people you serve – and make a contract to do your best and make today’s best even better than yesterday, and you’ll achieve that better world.

Just get started

Time management only works if you make a concerted effort to manage your time. Reading about time management does not make you a time manager.

Knowing what to do and doing it: The first is easy. Everyone knows what to do. 
Doing it? It must be hard. It must be difficult. Because so few do what needs to be done. 
Lose weight/lay off the sugar? You know it’s good for you. Exercise? Meet deadline? Discipline your life? You know what to do. Just do it. Just get started.
What’s keeping you? Just you: Overcome inertia. Overcome inertia and live. Live before you have no life left to live. Never say die until you’re dead. 
Not hard. Not hard. Why act as if it’s impossible?

So what’s next?

Where to?

The most important thing for a writer-type person is to be writing. When a big project is finished, the first big question is what to write next.

So where do I go from here, now that the Myke Phoenix: Year of the Dinosaur dodecology is completed? Oh, I know generally where the Myke Phoenix story goes from here, but should I keep writing about Myke and his friends or take a break?

I’m looking over two of my earlier books, Refuse to be Afraid and The Imaginary Revolution, to see if they can be revised and expanded in new editions.

But what direction should my next new work go?

More superhero adventures?

More efforts to inspire people to stop worrying and follow their dreams?

More space opera? Short stories?

Should I write more in the vein of “The definition of a peacable revolution,” far and away the most-read blog post I’ve ever written?

Or something altogether new?

This is a fun moment in the writer’s life – the pause to reflect and move on.

What do you think? What should I be writing? Leave me a comment with your thoughts, please!