My Designated Cave Space

It was April or May of 2013. Les and I had just moved into a studio loft in downtown LA. It had enormous windows, outstanding stone floors, and plenty of open space—to build!

Paul & Les working on the lofted bed in the LA studio
Paul & Les at work on the lofted bed in the LA studio

One of my favorite qualities about Les is not just his propensity to dream, but his ability to execute. I have a box of napkins filled with Les’ handwriting. Most came while eating lunch somewhere and dreaming about bike tours, tiny houses, small businesses, faith, being a writer, pastor, and timeless friend. Les is famous for his rigid eye-contact while reaching cooly into his bag for a ballpoint Bic, and then reaching across the table for a napkin. Many of my wildest dreams have come out of me spitting ideas and him recording them on napkins.

When we’d finished unloading our belongings, I recall sitting cross-legged in the middle of the space, windows open, the area filling with LA wind and noise, and Les drawing out everything we wanted to do with our brand new home. We saw tiny rooms with rooftop lounges, cat-walks in between, suspended bookshelves, floating bookshelves, and my personal favorite, designated cave spaces.

I’m not sure if there’s a real term for rooms that one can retreat into while barely fitting. To us, though, the idea was that the space would be small, cozy, and wrought with the potential to help welcome creativity. Les and I were hung up on what to call it until he said, “well, it’s designated for creating,” and I said, “and it’s basically a cave.” Boom: Designated Cave Space.

Me looking inspired in the first stages of the Loft Designated Cave Space
Me looking inspired in the first stages of the LA Designated Cave Space

Maybe you’re the type who thrives at your work in big, open warehouses. Or maybe bustling, coffee-shop spaces are your jam. Or even unexciting, bordering-on-boring spaces, like one of my literary inspirations Annie Dillard prefers.

Not me. I need a cave. I need space to build shelves, lay a piece of wood for a desk, pile up the boxes, get a tiny pull-string light and pull up a compact chair. Without realizing it until recently, I look for ways to designate cave spaces in every apartment I’ve moved into. Having a cave space must be the pressure therapy my creativity needs to excel. Maybe I get too distracted with too much square feet to look at, or maybe my imagination can’t emerge until my senses are hampered from sensing.

Whichever it is, this is my newest Designated Cave Space. It’s a 9×7 office in the SE industrial district in Portland.

Carl in the Des Cave Space
Carl in the Designated Cave Space

For now, as you can see, I’m using it for storage and as a place for Carl and I to work. It was unfinished and dirty upon move in, but I didn’t mind. Everything minus the walls and floor are my addition. And there’s still plenty more cave space decor to come.

2016: Attention & Definition

photo by Stephanie Yu
Full disclosure: this picture of Jack is only here to draw people into reading this post. Photo by Stephanie Yu
The new year is here (and somehow we’re already nearly two weeks in) and I’m happy to report that with it I have resolutions I wish to share here on the blog. But first: creating resolutions (not to mention keeping them) has never really been my thing. This has likely been more out of laziness than some heroically intelligent critique upon the efficacy and/or relevancy of making New Year’s resolutions. The way I see it, the fact that I’ve taken the time to come up with these goals for 2016 is reason enough for mentioning them here. Here they are:

  1. blog weekly
  2. read 3-4 books a month
  3. limit myself to a maximum of 15 leisure minutes on my smartphone each day.

OK, maybe these seem ambitious. Or strange. The smartphone one is certainly strange. But I promise, they don’t come out of nowhere. How these goals came about stems from an activity that a group of friends and I have been participating in since 2012. The idea is to come to New Year’s eve having prayed, thought, and readied oneself to present two words to the group. The words are to be like signs or themes for the year to come. They ought to shape what one hopes the year will hold, and therefore lead the way into the new year.

Last year (2015), my words were Surrender and Peace. I’ll be sharing more about these words and how well they actually did shape my 2015 later. For this year, I shared that my words will be: Attention and Definition. And from these I’ve decided I’ll measure how well I’ve kept my words by assessing how well I’ve kept my goals.

So why Attention and Definition?

Attention. I have to admit, I’m very aware of how distracted I am by my phone. How’s that for irony? No other “thing” consumes more of my downtime than my phone. And to make it worse, my phone even consumes my uptime, like when I’m driving, when I’m shopping for food, or when I’m at lunch with friends. Gone are the days when standing in line means looking at pictures on the wall or (God forbid!) talking to the person next to me. I don’t even have to be bored anymore. Nor do I have to sit with my thoughts, or my emotions. Many of my waking moments, whether filled by activity or not, go accompanied by the blue glow of my phone.

I believe God put “Attention” on my mind when I asked for words for 2016. But I also believe my conscience and my desire to be more present among others did too.

Definition. The way this came to mind was less formal than “attention”. By that I mean, “definition” came to mind like coming up with an answer after pondering a question. After several minutes of mining my heart and mind, it was there. Truth be told, I’m not sure why it’s a word I came upon. Maybe it’ll mean defining my occupation more? Or defining my writing voice more? Or my faith? Or all of the above. Regardless, I know I can use it like a tool to help me craft my year, so I’m going to go with it.

Back to my goals (blogging, reading, & less phone): they’re not the holy grail. I’m not going to judge myself if I don’t follow through with them perfectly. But with many goals I’ve made in my life, I intend to fulfill them. Meaning I hope they happen, and I hope I can report the benefits that aiming for them has reaped this time next year.

And I look forward to more writing, reading, and engagement with what’s going on in the real world! I’m even planning to publish here about the books I read, the fiction and nonfiction I’m working on, the musings about faith I may be having, and ideas I think are worth sharing. This much you should expect.

So, here we go!

Years of Potential—free download

Hi friends, it’s been a little while, I know. Lately, I’ve been hard at work getting We Were Like Sons published, but in my down time I’ve been plugging away at my fiction. Years of Potential is my latest story. Please freely download and distribute to all who may enjoy (it’s eReader friendly). I’d love to hear what you think!

Years of Potential

Guatemalan coffee roasting, painting, orange juice, and father/son conflict.

This is Years of Potential.

To Make It Happen Now, Or To Make It Happen Well: Revising My Book and My Life, PART TWO

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This is the second part of two posts. I recommend you read the post I wrote just prior before moving on to this one.

Allowing a book, or any external event, to represent something as hefty as entering into a new chapter of life puts an extreme amount of pressure upon its success. Lately, I’ve begun to wonder: What if the book doesn’t fulfill my dreams and what if I still feel like my life is full of fear and wandering?  I wonder if I’ve allowed the publication of my writing to define me; I wonder: has WE WERE LIKE SONS become a little god? Continue reading “To Make It Happen Now, Or To Make It Happen Well: Revising My Book and My Life, PART TWO”

To Make It Happen Now, Or To Make It Happen Well: Revising My Book and My Life, PART ONE

AL6

This is the first part of two posts. The second part will be published shortly. Stay tuned!

Six summers ago I rode my bicycle across America with my friend Les. It was a life-changing adventure. I remember exactly where I was when I knew not just that I wanted to write a book about it, but that I needed to. Continue reading “To Make It Happen Now, Or To Make It Happen Well: Revising My Book and My Life, PART ONE”

Why Do You Do What You Love to Do?

Recently, I read a short article on how to write with style. In it, Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Keys to the Power of the Written Word were mentioned. It was a great read. Some points hit home, namely: Find a Subject You Care About. Vonnegut said:

Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.

I’ve always had a suspicion that it didn’t matter as much how I wrote but what I wrote about, and that an audience (albeit mine quite small) would see past my well-placed commas and thesaurus-mined words. That people are willing to sift through my 5th grade reading level prose and structure in order to be impacted by the elements of a great story proves that they get something. A beautiful sentence might cause one to reflect for a day, but a beautiful story could change their entire life.

But, it’s easy to shimmy around on a mediocre plot when you can flower up your dialogue with wit and tight grammar. Soon, though (and we’ve all been here), the reader grows tired and the inevitable realization that they’ve been staring at the same page for several minutes and don’t have an idea of what it’s said sets in (this is not always the writer’s fault—though sometimes it is).

Were someone to stop me on the street and ask me, “why do you write?” I am afraid I would hesitate a little longer than I would like to admit. Why? Because it’s one thing to care about something, but it’s another thing to get bogged down by how you want to convey it. In fumbling through my mind to answer the question I would wind up saying something idiotic like, “Oh, well, I like to try to write about bicycles. You know, because they’re good.” My problem would not be the subject of my response, but the thoughts that premeditate my speaking it. The thoughts that, of course, say, you better say this in a convincing way, or at least in a beautiful way, or they’re going to think you writing about bikes is ridiculous.

But that is ridiculous. We all know that. If we have the gall to stand up for what we’ve decided to give our lives to then few will be able to blame us. In this way, confidence, assurance, and die-hard belief leap further than physical strength, beauty, or well-punctuated paragraphs any day.

The reason for this is, again, because a beautiful story can change someone’s life. A painter who slaves at her canvas, day after day, fighting back thoughts about giving up and starting over, has a chance to impact thousands who might see it in a gallery; a business man who deals in medium-grade sod because he knows it will, at least, provide for his family might increase the opportunities his children have later in life; a data entry clerk who enters numbers into spreadsheets, but who chooses to do it meticulously, might be compiling statistical data that could eventually alter the way the world looks at injustice.

Belief precedes product every time.

So why do I write? What subjects do I genuinely care about?

I write because I believe in honesty. It propels people. After fame, strength, knowledge, etc., fade and fall, honesty always remains. People don’t say, “oh, well he was that strong all of his life,” or, “she was always able to out think us when it came to quantum-physics.” But they do say, “she was always an honest girl,” or “he couldn’t tell a lie to save his life.” I have seen people dramatically open their lives to others because they were inspired by another’s honesty, and likewise, I’ve seen people’s lives utterly destroyed because of dishonesty. There is a keen power in honesty then. It doesn’t come with prestige or flashiness, but it does outlive most everything else.

I also write because I’m on a journey. I know that sounds cliche, just bear with me. I can’t say I’ve always known which journey I’m on, or that the journey has always looked the same (because it hasn’t), but I do know that I have had chances to experience sights, smells, people, beliefs, colors and tastes that others haven’t. I see this as an opportunity for others: some of my most profound realizations have come by reading other’s words about their experiences. Mingled with my knack for writing (and really my enjoyment of it), I want to tell the kinds of stories that change people. Not for me, but for them, and for the God who (for whatever reason) gives me the chances to do it (and believe me, I’ve squandered plenty of them).

That’s why I write and, genuinely, keeps me at it. What about you and your passions? What keeps you at it?

On Meeting Bill Kulchin

August, 2013

Medium height. Thin. Jeans, a white collar, a navy blazer. He had old red hair that was recently cut. He stood in front of my display holding his chin like he was looking at Rembrandt.

“I love it,” he said, walking over.
“Thanks.”
“Are you the designer?”
“No. Just wholesale and office work.”
“Gotta start somewhere, right?”
“I’m Bill,” he said, handing me his card. “I do apparel insurance.”
I’d never heart heard of such a thing. I turned his card over. It read: KULCHIN ROSS INSURANCE SERVICES.
“Are you out of L.A.?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Downtown near the fashion district.”
“Gladys avenue,” he says. “I know the area.” He’d picked up a card of mine from a stack on the stand in front me. They were next to another stack of half-sheet informational cards, and a stack of line sheets that still smelled like ink and wood, hours off the press.
“Oh yeah, are you local to downtown?”
“My office is there.” He studied my card. “A writer.”
“Ha. Yeah.”
He pointed at the card and read aloud: “Writer and operations.” He paused. “What does that mean?”
“Oh you know, I do office management and oversee wholesale. And I write.”
“Is that what you’d want to do?”
“What. Writing?”
He nodded.
“Oh man, I’d write day and night if I could.”
He seemed to watch me, crunching the edges of my card between his finger tips. “Oh,” he said.
I shifted my weight.
“Well that’s what you gotta do then.”

Take Two

Portland, OR

In three and a half weeks I am going on an adventure: I am moving back to Portland.

If you didn’t already know that, now you do. About a month ago, I was accepted to Portland State University as a post-baccalaureate student with the intent of transferring into the M.A. in Writing the following year. I will begin taking my first classes this fall. Honestly, I’m pumped (more on those specifics another time).

On May 1st, I will be picking up a rental car, swamping it with my stuff, and swinging through LA to pick up Les before heading north. As it always has, we expect the road to teach us lessons and tell us stories. With a rental car with unlimited miles, the table seems pretty well set.

If you’ve ever driven toward Northern CA, Oregon, or Washington, then you know there are at least three main routes: US-101/1, I-5, and US-395. Allow me to indulge you for a moment:

IMG_4002 101/1 is Steinbeck land, followed by wine-country and the forest where George Lucas filmed the chase scene of Endor in Return of the Jedi. It is like looking at a picture for 15 hours, and it is no wonder it is known as one of America’s best road trips (or bike rides) in the world. It is Redwoods for days. It is marked by length, winding roads, mist and rain, and absolute beauty.

I-5 passes through cities you’ve probably never heard of (Los Banos, Maxwell, or Yreka ring a bell? I didn’t think so), and if you have then it was because your gas tank was below E or you had a hankering for a three-day old convenience store hot dog. On the bright side, if you’ve ever needed to get somewhere fast in California, then you’ve likely taken I-5. Straight as an arrow with plenty of farmland, the color brown, and cow pie stench to go around.

US-395 is by far the road less traveled, in fact I’ve never heard of anyone taking this route further than Tahoe. I’m guessing it is because it seems longer and less inhabited, which perhaps the latter is true, but in terms of distance it is only 40 miles longer than I-5. From Santa Clarita, two roads diverge: one is I-5, and the other leads NE toward Lancaster and eventually highway 395. Unique to this route is that from the foothills of the Sequoia’s until you reach Klamath Falls, Oregon (approximately 800 miles), you spend most of the time a couple thousand feet above sea level.

We’ll drive one of the above routes. Or at least it’ll start out that way. I’ve ridden my bike and driven in cars up and down Highway 1 before, and I’d do it again without hesitation. An indescribable serenity exists in its wild, wet tree-canopy forests. I’d live there someday even. I-5 sounds akin to being dragged by my ankles out the back of a car all the way to Portland. So that’s out (okay, it’s not so bad after Redding, which is two-thirds of the trip). That leaves US-395, or at least pointing the car in that direction and seeing what happens. There’s ample time to stop and smell the flowers, and when I think about it, that’s what I want this three-day adventure to be about: just kind of seeing what happens.

I’m turning a new page, trying out new opportunities, dipping my legs into fresh water. I’ve been to Portland before, but it makes sense this time to travel along a new route. It’ll parallel the other routes, and in this scenario all roads lead to Portland, but not all that’s worth gleaning comes with arrival. This journey is not about the destination. Nor will the next three years be.

If I learned anything from the last time I lived in Portland, any shred of wisdom, it was that I put far too much pressure upon a city to meet my needs. Sure, it was a great time, and I did plenty of new things. But it should be no surprise that after four months and several thousand dollars I was right back in Orange County spinning my wheels again. That, I think, is what happens when you grant authority of your heart to a destination. Places never come through; none are better, only different. I don’t expect this next move to blow me away, though I do hold my hand open to it. I just kind of want to see what happens.

When I get to Portland I’m going to write about Les and my road trip. I’ll recall some of our topics of conversation, sights of mountain peaks and desert planes, smells, tastes, etc. Then I’m going to post it. It’ll be pretty raw and unedited, because a friend mentioned that my writing is more interesting when it’s raw (or at least how I understood it). I hope you’ll join me in reading.

In The Beginning We Are Never The Same

A line of around one-hundred students stand shoulder to shoulder at the edge of a lawn, each holding a piece of paper. 

A teacher walks out in front.

“You should all have a number on your paper ranging from fourteen to negative twenty,” she says. “Right now, you’re all on the same line, but what we’re going to do next will teach you about social stratification.

The students shift their weight and shade their eyes from the sun. Some whisper to each other. Some look down the line to see how far it reaches. 

“First,” the teacher says, “who thinks they have the highest number.”

A boy on the left, toward the beginning of the line, raises his hand.

“What number?”

“Fourteen.”

“Okay, fourteen, you come here. Does anyone else have a number close to fourteen?”

A thirteen follows the fourteen out. Then: two twelves, two elevens, and four tens. 

The teacher has number fourteen stand at the front and groups each descending number in their own rows facing his back. 

Eight nines form a row behind the tens. Seven eights. Eight sevens. Nine sixes. Five fives. Seven fours. Four threes. Four twos. Ten ones. Six zeros. Four negative ones. Three negative twos. Three negative threes. Five negative fours. Four negative sevens. One negative ten. Two negative elevens. One negative nineteen. 

What once stood a line like the beginning of a footrace is a clump of uneven lines like a bell-curve standing on top of a mirror. 

“What do you notice?” The teacher says.

Two students speak at once. Then one student says, “we’re not on the same line anymore.” 

Some students snicker at this.

“Exactly,” the teacher says. “Now,” she says turning around and walking eighty or ninety feet in front of them. “If I were to tell you to race to me,” she shouts, “what would happen?”

The group is mostly silent.

The teacher walks back. 

“Is it possible that the fastest person could lose the race?”

“Yes,” some students say aloud.

“Why?”

“Because not everybody gets to start in the same place.”

“Did you hear that?” She calls to the crowd, her voice bouncing off the walls of neighboring buildings. “We don’t all get to start in an equal place. Now, let’s go back inside and talk about it.”

The crowd disperses.

I Don’t Post…But I Know I Probably Should

It has been well over a month since I have done anything on this blog, and believe me, I’m aware. I think about it everyday. I think, “wow, I was so gung-ho about this when I first started. What happened?”

Yeah. Really. What happened?

In a lot of ways, life happened. I got a dog, said goodbye to a roommate, got handed new tasks to start doing at work, etc.

But I also know that any “writer” who is going to call him/herself as such must make the time to write. The truth is that life will never stop getting in the way of what I want to do, which means at some point I will seriously need to evaluate how badly I want to write.

Trust me, though. I want it. Recently, signed up for a short, rather inexpensive course on self-publishing, marketing, and other general writerly things at storycartel.com . I still don’t know if I am in, but if I do get in, I see this as a good kick in the right direction. I will be paying to do it, and because I’m cheap, I know that fact alone will motivate me to write more.

I’ll try to post all of my exercises and findings here on the blog too. I think thats a great place to re-start.