When I was younger and had more free time I brewed beer. It was almost always tasty (or at least drinkable) and it was cheap. We would often have people come over and drink beer and watch the wort boil in the big pot on the stove. Sometimes we made mistakes, but usually the batch was maintained and in a month’s time we would have roughly fifty delicious beers.

One summer we decided to throw a party wherein we would offer four or five different home brews. Three of the batches turned out awful. We lost the recipe and threw in twice as much coriander as was needed in the belgian. Our imperial stout tasted like molasses and sugar with no carbonation. Our raspberry ale more closely resembled a jam than a beer.

We threw the party anyway.

Our friends came over and seemed to enjoyed the beer we knew was terrible. In fact, it was all gone the next day and a few people commented that our raspberry ale was the most delicious beer they’d had in some time. Either they were lying or we had very different tastes in ale.

I think about this party a lot, because shortly afterward life got too busy and the home brew equipment began to gather dust. It was a terrible final batch of beer.

I’ve been rewriting the first hundred or so pages of the novel in preparation for grad school, and yesterday, I deleted a chapter. It was the first chapter I’d ever written for the damn thing, and I loved it, but it needed to go.

I’ve learned that the greatest tool a writer has is his eraser.

It’s a difficult tool to master. As a young writer, I was very attached to everything I wrote. I haven’t lost that connection. I just have learned that some words are for my eyes only.  A weak sentence or character or chapter does a story an injustice. As writers, it is our job to give our characters the best platform to tell their story and often that means cutting out all of the murkiness. This can be tough because of the excruciating work that goes into putting words onto the page, but there is nothing that cannot be rewritten. In my six years of cutting, I have never regretted it. Not once.

I don’t regret serving that terrible beer at the party. It was a fun evening, and the alcohol still did its job, but I’ve learned my lesson. Sometimes it’s okay to throw something out.

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Ever since I saw Amy Tan’s TED lecture on creativity, I have been trying to consider the motivation behind my creativity. I wrote a story a couple of weeks ago wherein a character is unable to clear emotional hurdles in his life. I, myself, have been riding a roller coaster of emotions over the past month. An article query of mine was accepted in February which made for a great month. However, The accomplishment of receiving another publication quickly died down as a couple of disappointing rejection letters arrived in March.

Mostly, March has been a sad month, a bit of a Debbie Downer, March has made me want to cry.

Oh, there’s one more factor that must be included in this post: Oppression.

I think about oppression constantly, as in I am always aware of the privilege and oppression around me. I am a straight, white male so my privilege far outweighs my oppression. But I have been thinking a lot about one form in which society oppresses males.

We cannot cry.

I can be in a room full of friends and we could be laughing hysterically, we could be angry to the point of seeing red together, but heaven forbid, we have a good cry session. How can it be okay to allow the detrimental emotion of anger, even embrace it, but we cannot even cry in front of one another? I am convinced that it stems from some bullshit trait passed down through natural selection that aligns crying and sadness to weakness. These two things have nothing to do with each other. We all feel sad, so we should embrace it. I’ll be the first to say it.

I cry.

At many times in my life, I cry at least once a day. (Now being one of those times.) I cry in the shower when listening to NPR. I cry when I think about NPR losing its funding. I cry when I think about Libya. I cry when I read my own stories. I cry when I think about working at a restaurant for the rest of my life. I cry when I write blogposts about crying.

By accepting my tears and sadness, I feel more comfortable with myself. I can look back at my recent story about the man who can’t clear certain hurdles because of his unwillingness to cry as my old self, as a man who only cried in the shower or in the car when he was alone. In the end, I can see the month of March as a good thing, and not because we need sadness to appreciate happiness, but because sadness can be a good thing. Sadness is important. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t feel it so often.

You’ve probably noticed that my internet presence has diminished greatly in the last two months. Some of that is due to the intense process of applying to graduate programs. But a lot of it has to do with writing taking up all of my time. Actually, I could stand to add a few minutes to every day or take some away from the pizza shop.

I took some time off from fiction writing for the applications and thus my ideas stacked up. I’m still working on a story that I came up with in December. I stopped submitting because I simply did not have the time. Now, I’m spending my nights working. (I even worked over the weekend, a rarity.) I’m sneaking in magazine queries whenever I have a free moment.

But things are good. I knew what I was signing up for when I made writing my top priority. I’d rather be too busy than not busy enough, because that would mean I was out of work and out of ideas. I cannot wait for the moment when writing takes up all of my workday. Pizza has been good to me, but I am certainly ready for August to come so I can put the days of riding the bus, smelling of garlic and flour behind me.

For now, I am back. You can expect more blogs and more tweets. I promise I’ll stop talking about grad school. I might even make a joke or two.

You have probably not noticed that I haven’t been around. Maybe you missed me at first, but you surely didn’t lose any sleep over it. Summer is generally a less focused work time for me. I tend to stray from my writing, and often go days where I only write for my hour minimum and no more.

That was not this summer. I am getting ready to apply to MFA programs over the next couple of months and the process is showing itself to be rather grueling. It began with the GRE in May and has been spiraling out of control since. I was exhausted by the test and took a week off afterwards.

Then, I began collecting work for my writing sample. I am allowed twenty-five pages to prove that I am the next big thing. When some people hear that, they say, “Wow. That’s a lot.” Let me tell you that it is not enough. I have too many stories to choose from to pick just twenty-five pages. Then there is the problem of not choosing my strongest stories. Just because I like a story doesn’t make it my best. You, reader, see the dilemma.

I finally decided that I needed a writerly break. I needed something that could distract me from the stress of the application process while still being able to write. In July, I began writing short but sweet articles for PortlandBeer.org. As many of you readers know, I enjoy beer. It has been a joy to write for the website. The only problem being that it filled the void that this blog used to fill. But there are certain perks that come with writing for a beer website, perks I don’t get with writing a blog.

Now, I am stuck. I have been making great headway with the application process. I have the two stories that I am pretty sure will be my writing sample. My letters of recommendation are in order. I have a binder full of schools and deadlines. My research into faculty and programs has been extensive.

The only problem is the cover letter. It won’t get off the ground. I’ve started it probably twenty times and erased it just as many. I am told that the cover letter is the most stressful part of the process, especially for us writers who are so concerned with choosing the right words. I am also told that it matters but not nearly as much as the writing sample. So why is it so hard?

I can have confidence in my writing when it is my craft. But when it comes to talking about myself, I begin to falter. It has been humbling. In a strictly masochistic sense it has been fun. The process of putting down my reason for writing onto a page is a good exercise. I think we should do it more often. That being said, I want it to be over with. My reasons for writing sound either pretentious or amateur.

I write because I have to. (clichéd)

I write because I want to see social change. (Who do I think I am? Norman Mailer?)

I write because I want to present the world as I see it. (Is this high school creative writing?)

I write because I think the process is important. (Go on.)

I think that the process of putting thoughts onto paper is something that everyone should do. In the world today, we often speak without thinking, act without considering others. Writing forces one to slow down and consider all sides. (Hippy)

I cannot seem to win. It was nice to take a break from the most difficult 300 words of my career thus far, but now it seems that I have to get back to the grind. Maybe I’ll stop in and write for the blog more frequently. (Don’t hold your breath.) Wish me luck, and if you see me around town, feel free to buy me a drink. God knows I need one.

A weatherman would have described the weather during the day as “scattered showers.” I would have chosen “dreary.” That same weatherman would describe the weather in the evening as “mostly cloudy.” I would choose “fuzzy.”

I stand under the Morrison Bridge in nothing but my undies, a bottle of champagne in my hand. I have been told by people who had done the naked bike rides in the past that it was a good idea to get buzzed before the ride. That is my mission. I am surrounded by a half-dozen of my friends, all of us stripped down to our underwear. Drums thunder in the distance (or within close proximity, the bridge’s acoustics muffling the thumps).

I take a pull from the bottle of champagne, and somebody recognizes me from the pizza shop where I’m a cook. Champagne dribbles down my chin, and I confirm that he is correct. Around us are thousands of other riders, all in the buff. We finish off the bottle and decide that it’s time to get a move on it.

Everyone is so naked that the mind is desensitized. When I ride out from under the bridge, accompanied by all of my nude friends, it is shock to see spectators fully dressed. There are a lot of people watching. Some take pictures. For no reason at all, I am okay with a man who has a Nikon fully decked out with zoom lens and flash, but I am unsettled by the guy with a camera phone.

It’s the ancient old art versus pornography debate.

I shrug it off. Police block every intersection for us. I wonder how all of the drivers feel knowing that they’ll be stopped at that corner for nearly forty-five minutes in order for thousands of naked people to cycle past. The police line the streets, because technically, we are protesting the use of fossil fuels. Although, I hear more shouts of “show me your tits” than I do “no blood for oil.”

We ride down MLK Blvd. and up and over the Burnside Bridge. The air is crisp over the river. I look around and see my friends smiling. It is a good feeling to know that we are all having such a good time. When we get downtown, there are spectators everywhere. Many reach out, either searching for a high-five or hoping to cop a feel.

Their actions bother me. Clearly they knew about the ride, but either out of insecurities or unwillingness to face the chilly evening, they chose not to participate. Instead, they thought they would enjoy the show, free of charge. I shake it off. It is nothing I hadn’t expected. I had read that the previous year’s ride had been full of this frat boy mentality.

Soon, we are on the Broadway Bridge. It is stop and go, but mostly stop. I run into a couple of coworkers, and no one seems bothered by our nudity.

When we are cycling down Broadway, a truck sneaks past the barricade and is riding among the thousands of riders. I stand up directly in front of him, baring my ass tattoo and flashing him the finger.

We ride down 28th Ave. and naked skateboarders buzz by me, hitching a ride by grabbing on to fellow cyclist’s seat. By now, the champagne is working its magic, and I’m yelling with everyone else. Next, it’s Cesar Chavez Ave (formerly 39th) and I can’t believe that I am naked on one of Portland’s busy byways.

Hawthorne is our final stretch. Everyone else will be returning to the river for festivities, but we have agreed to turn off at 34th, where our friend lives. It is strange to be the only naked ones on the street. But it only feels strange when I think about it.

We get off of our bikes and carry them to the porch. Instantly, we are bubbling about the ride. Several people proclaim it as the most fun they have ever had in Portland. I have to agree. I use my friend’s bathroom and come back to find that I am the only one not wearing clothes. For the first time all evening, I feel awkward.

I get dressed. We continue drinking for the rest of the evening, the conversation moving between subjects, but the bike ride continues to come up. It hovers over our thoughts.

It has been weeks since the Naked Bike Ride, and I still think about it daily. It was certainly the most fun I have had in Portland, at least as far as I can remember.

There are few problems that I have with living in the beer rich city of Portland. The biggest problem (if you can call it that) is that I often drink so many tasty brews that I forget what a bad ale tastes like, and reversely, it takes a real kick-ass beer to catch my attention. The same could be said for my reading list. I rarely read a bad book.

A while back, I experienced both a beer and a book that got me excited.

I came home from work and found a present waiting for me in my fridge. A bottle of Full Sail’s Top Sail Bourbon Imperial Porter. As any pizza cook knows, nothing invites a tall glass of beer like a full day of pizza slinging. It had been one of those days.

I sat down on my couch, popped open the bottle of porter, and pulled out Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold. I have been a lifelong reader of Marquez. I love the way that he can steer the reader in certain directions with great ease.

I watched the porter climb up the pint glass. The scent of chocolate, fig, and a well-aged bourbon wafted towards me. Somehow, these flavors were all detectable, but not a single one was overpowering. I lingered at this stage, simply smelling the beer. Finally, I tasted it. It tasted smooth. I like the idea of bourbon barreled aged ales, but they can be overbearing, often tasting so strong that the flavor of ale is lost. This was not the case with Full Sail’s Top Sail. The bourbon barrels added a smoky aftertaste to the ale, but I could still taste the original porter.

Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold is a book that is up front with the story. It is a tale of a man, Santiago Nasar, who is murdered when it is discovered that he has dishonored Angela Vicario by sleeping with her before her wedding day. The man Angela marries, Bayardo San Roman, simply returns her, but her twin brothers go on a mission to return honor to the family name.

Marquez’s novella takes its time telling the story of the man who goes back to uncover as many details about the murder as he can. What he unravels but never reveals is that the town knew the murder was to happen. Many in the town are too busy (the bishop is riding through that same day) to deal with it themselves, and others are prevented from stopping it by mere coincidence. As the story continues, we begin to see a society that may have been more proactive had Nasar not been a Turk. By revealing the murderers at the start of the book, Marquez is able to dig into the townsfolk’s whereabouts, eventually revealing an entire town as accomplices in Nasar’s murder.

I enjoy porters, but I am rarely in the mood for them. They can be too heavy. It is only when the rain is pelting the window panes that I can start to feel my appetite for a dark beer growing. However, I am always in the mood for a good beer. Top Sail is such a great beer that it is a shame that it is only available for limited release. Sadly, I have not been able to find another bottle.

I often enjoy sad books, but I have a hard time getting through the really heavy ones. (I have yet to finish a Hubert Selby Jr. novel.) Chronicle of a Death Foretold is not necessarily a sad book. It brings sorrow in the way that the society has failed to stop a murder, but Marquez magically keeps the mood light. In the way that only he can, Marquez weaves the tale of murder with ghosts and wild drunken wedding parties. Perhaps the saddest moment of the book comes in the last paragraph:

“They’ve killed me, Wene child,” he said.
He stumbled on the last step, but he got up at once. “He even took care to brush off the dirt that was stuck to his guts,” my Aunt Wene told me. Then he went into his house through the back door that had been open since six and fell on his face in the kitchen (120).

The murder was what I, the reader, have been waiting to see. I spent the entire book in anticipation, allowing the actual scene to be riveting but not heartbreaking.

I closed the book and took the final sip of my beer. At an ABV of 9.85%, the porter left me feeling pretty fuzzy, but I still had the wits to wonder how a town could have let such a seemingly innocuous man die. I closed my eyes and thought of the two pieces of art that had made for such a wonderful close to a busy day. The beer that allowed for me to be entirely engrossed in a book that was worthy of all my attention. Truly, a wonderful experience.

Top Sail Bourbon Imperial Porter:
Member of Full Sail’s Brewmaster Reserve Line
Very limited availability in 22 oz. bottles and draught
ABV 9.85%
IBU 65

Chronicle of a Death Foretold
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Translated by Gregory Rabassa

There is a risk that all artists take. This is obvious. We take a risk the second we send out a submission email, the moment we hand a story over to a friend, the day the book reaches the bookstores.

The risk is unimaginable. You don’t understand it until you have experienced it. The amount of work that goes into a single story, song, painting is often mind-blowing. The moment after you have released your work and are waiting for the impact or lack thereof to be known is agonizing.

As I have discussed before, writing is not easy.

And neither is cycling. There is a large amount of risk that commuting cyclists take on a daily basis. To expose yourself, in many of the same ways as an artist, to remove any sort of protective casing, and to rely on the sheer cooperation of traffic around you is astonishing.

Yet, accidents happen.

The brain firing millions of electrical currents a second, all in the name of breathing, steering, remembering to turn off the stove, reflecting on the movie from the night before, it is no wonder that we often find ourselves distracted. We forget turn signals or to check our blind spots.

Opening an email to find another editor who is going to have to pass on a story is never easy, no matter how many times it has occurred. Similarly, I was hit by a car early last week. The man who hit me recognized his fault and drove me to the hospital. It was nothing serious. I spent four hours in the ER only to leave with stitches in my chin and elbow.

The hospital room smelled the way that only hospitals can. As I lay on the exam table, the doctor suturing up my chin, I had the type of reflections that often come with visits to the ER. I wondered why I didn’t simply ride the bus. Why didn’t I become a pharmaceutical salesman? Why did I seem to go out of my way to take such risks?

I came to understand that I write and ride because the payoff is worth it. The feeling I have had everyday for the past six years of cycling in Portland well outweighs the single visit to the hospital. And the hundred or so rejection letters are outweighed by the feeling I get when I see something I worked so hard on finally make it to print.

In fact, the risks I take don’t even seem like risks when I consider the outcome of my work. I may be more conscious of my actions and the risks that I am taking, but my behavior won’t be changed. I must still write like there are no risks.