NOW IS THE TIME

From a recent article in SUCCESS From Home by John C. Maxwell entitled “The Law of Intentionality“…

Five frogs are sitting on a log. Four decide to jump off. How many are left?

Answer: Five. There’s a difference between deciding and doing.

 

I love this. Thank you, Mr. Maxwell.

This year? JUST JUMP OFF!

THE IDES OF JANUARY

 

2012. Quite a year.

Published my second book.

Battled Writer’s Block, my weight, and encroaching old age.

Wrote a lot of content, did a lot of brand building for clients big and small – most notably as a long-term consultant and “creative director for hire” with Appliance Therapy Group.

Buried my BFF (Best Feline Friend) of 18 years – Mojo. Rescued my two new BFF’s – the orange/tortoiseshell, brother/sister team of Mozz and Hidee.

Missed my mom. Celebrated my 32nd year of marriage to the same patient, loving woman. Spent serious quality time with my daughter Caitlin, moved her from Santa Barbara to San Diego State and cheered her efforts in the Masters program there (one smart cookie, my girl). Re-connected with many old friends in person and via Facebook – not to mention my brothers in Sigma Chi (thanks to a long-overdue, still-treasured SB reunion).

Read “The Great Gatsby” for the 47th time. I like it.

Started the next two books, lost 40 pounds…and consequently triumphed over the ravages of time for at least one more year.

2013 is the year of my new book, CREEK SONGS (and Other Seductions). It’s a collection of poems, short stories and memories – deeply personal, yet easily accessible — and certainly evocative of growing pains we all have experienced along the way. Such was my intention in the writing and so I’ve been told by those kind enough and brave enough to give it a read of late.

CREEKSONGS was born from a need to first tell my story to myself…to remember, and appreciate, and listen – really listen — to the songs of my youth. The lessons of experience.

But no writer writes just for himself. Deny it all you want. Tell me how you’re different or people are different or situations demand that it be different. Writer’s want to be heard. The more I listened, the more I wanted to share. The more I came to the realization that my songs are your songs, our songs, everybody’s songs. We all heard them. We all danced to them (and continue to do so). Some of us stopped listening long ago. Some never stopped. Most fall somewhere in between. And there is wisdom, and truth, and resolution in the listening.

I wrote this book for all of us…and I’d love to hear what you think about it.

CREEK SONGS available here.

Please post your reactions on Facebook.

SPECIAL COLOR-PHOTO EDITION (SIGNED AND DATED) available upon request via scotsimmons@mac.com.

 

WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW? NO.

“Write what you know.” Common-sense common wisdom for writers. Headline advice…dispensed as many times as there are words in the dictionary.

What I have to say about that is certainly not news…nor is it in any way earth-shaking (or paradigm-shifting). Just an observation sparked by something I saw on PBS this week. I’ll get to that later, but the core of what I want to throw out there is this: writing effectively and evocatively is not a question of writing what you know. Good writing often rises from the still-warm ashes of memory and experience, yes, but it is empowered by passion and imagination and risk.

And “risk” is perhaps the most important element of all. Every time a writer sits down with a blank space to fill, he or she risks exposure, ridicule, and worse…indifference.

Einstein said “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Sportswriter Red Smith said “Writing’s easy. All you do is sit down and open a vein.”

Ray Bradbury said “Find the Metaphor.”

All have bearing on this discussion, but finding the metaphor that drives your writing doesn’t necessarily depend on what you have experienced directly. It depends on what shapes, directs, fires and inspires your thoughts. your feelings and your imagination.

Which brings me back to PBS. A State Parks special on PBS this week opened my eyes to a view that I enjoyed most of my young life, without ever knowing the truth behind that experience. Angel Island.

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. I occasionally visited Angel Island on a cub scout hiking trip or family getaway picnic. What I learned just this week is that historically, Angel Island was considered to be the “Ellis Island of the West.” In the early part of the 20th Century, Chinese immigrants were taken from the point of their arrival in San Francisco harbor and detained at Angel Island “for investigation under the auspices of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882” for weeks, months, sometimes years before either being allowed to enter the city or being deported.

In 1974 the forgotten, dilapidated station house and barracks were scheduled for demolition – an act that would have effectively buried all signs that what happened there did, in fact, happen. Carvings were found on the walls of the barracks…Chinese characters carved into the soft pine planks…poetry left behind by those held against their will – “detained” on Angel Island.

Like the story of the Japanese internment camps, this story draws attention to one of our less-than-prouder moments as a state (and indeed as a nation), but it serves a different purpose for my discussion here. These marks reflect an experience – pain, hope, loss, determination. Just seeing the pictures speaks to the writer in all of us…the writer that eavesdrops on such everyday experiences as conversations at a lunch counter; or notices interaction in an elevator; or pays attention to the way people walk, or laugh or cry. That writer absorbs the story of Angel Island and begins to write a thousand stories in his or her head…stories that speak to the human condition, the American Dream, the inspiration and pathos and sobering reality of who and what we are.

Look around you. You don’t have to live it to love it. Risk.

Find the metaphor.

Found on the walls of the Angel Island Immigration Station and barracks:


Ox Poem

Instead of remaining a citizen of China, I willingly became an ox.
I intended to come to America to earn a living.
The western styled buildings are lofty; but I have not the luck to live in them.
How was anyone to know that my dwelling place would be a prison.

Revenge Poem

Leaving behind my writing brush and removing my sword, I came to America.
Who was to know two streams of tears would flow upon arriving here?
If there comes a day when I will have attained my ambition and become successful,

I will certainly behead the barbarians and spare not a single blade of grass.

LIFE SONGS: THE MUSH MAN

We were on patrol.

We were always on patrol.

We’d been walking for days. Drag-footing in the relentless monsoon rain, our hearts beating counterpoint to the chaos. Ears ringing, brains shut down from the soundtrack of pounding water. Numb fingers clutching grease-slicked M16’s.

Eyes alive. Wide and bone-white. And dry. Dry from fear. Staring into the torrential darkness, the high grass, the hissing jungle. Senses dulled and dreaming…but so afraid. No choice, no chance. We were looking for death…stalking it where it lived.

Cambodia. In country. The ‘Nam, ’67. End of the world.

We waded through bomb craters filled with still-warm, yellow-brown water and treacherous mud. Everything looking and smelling and oozing around us like mud. It was a scene from hell – steaming and bubbling and cloying — the air so thick it choked you – like a toad forcing its way down your gullet. Slipping, falling, crawling, staggering across the blasted killing ground…looking for death.

We found it.

The Cong body was sprawled across the middle of the trail – melting into the mud. It was all we could do just to walk around it. Not touch it. Notlook at it. Not look into the glazed eyes of the ballooning purple thing in pulled-tight, black pajamas. I thought of the Macy’s day parade and those floating balloon people on cables. Y’know…like Snoopy, and UnderDog.

UnderCong.

The heat and the rain and the thick monsoon air had sure been to work on it. Hillings nudged me on the shoulder with the muzzle of his gun and mumbled something about “the hrmpf mushy man shmphm gloshm.” That’s when I looked into the eyes of the thing in the mud.

Staring into those eyes – tiny opaque panes of frosted glass reflecting nothing. Revealing nothing. Closing out the world. Hiding secrets – just like the clouded glass on Patty Finkel’s bathroom window. Paulie and I would stand outside and listen to the shower hiss and bubble. Gaze up at the steam pouring from the ever-so-slightly cracked windowsill. Waiting. Oh how we dreamed of the secrets behind that window.

I got lost in those cloudy, milk-fogged eyes. Glass Wax on a light-limned Christmas window. I thought about Patty and her window. And the sizzling rain became Patty’s shower. Patty was there, and I was with her, touching her, discovering her, opening her up. No more secrets. No more secrets…………

And then I was falling, reaching, twisting, jerking — trying to fly, groaning with the realization that the purple man, the pajama man, the Mush Man was there, right there. I had slipped in the grasping mud and I was his. Falling into him, my hands pushing through the bloated, apple-pie softness.

The rotting body exhaled with a pop. The smell. God the smell. And then the maggots and putrefaction, bubbling over my arms up to the elbows. I looked at my hand…at the squirming horror and the gore and the bright yellow syrup that covered my wedding ring, trying to get inside me. I heard someone screaming. Someone.

Like a cheerleader in Hell.

(Don’t let it in, Keep it out. Keep it out. Waaaaaay outoutoutoutoutoutoutout)

It was me… Satan’s Song Girl. And I didn’t stop singing until long after Hillings and Stuko and Epstein pulled me out and away from that horror.

They said I was babbling for hours…about the Mush Man…

It was that face…the face that changed and changed and changed again. That ghoulish dead kabuki face became the face of the dead man’s wife, his children, father, mother. Sad, defeated, tired of waiting.Tired of living. Tired of fighting. Tired. Then Patty’s apple-cheeked high school yearbook face…and then Paulie. Paulie Baker’s face. That screwed up, pain-etched, don’t-hit-me-again little monkey face that I remembered from the past.

It wasn’t Paulie. The thing behind those eyes was not Paulie. Something else. Something deep and evil…and ageless. Broken mouth mumbling obscenely, then laughing, then just the clicking and scratching and grinding of diseased teeth — and the Cheshire-cat wheezing noise of a starving predator. Waiting. Waiting.

And I kept falling. Swallowed inside the Mush Man. I closed my eyes, trying to shut out the darkness that rushed up at me.

When I opened them I was looking up at mud-grey skies and into hot, pounding rain. For a split second, I was the Mush Man – sightless eyes cast upward, mouth wide open and screaming inside. And then I was back. The screaming pulled me back into the world. Such as it was.

In the days that followed, I carried that scream into the depths of the steaming jungle, into the napalm ravaged slaughterhouse of battle. I killed and killed and killed and killed. And all the while I screamed bloody, bloody murder.

Stuko didn’t make it – taken out by a sniper. Last I saw of Hillings, his shattered bloodsoaked leg was hanging out the belly of a chopper as it rose above the flattened grass of the evac zone. Epstein went AWOL. Just ran into the jungle one night and never came back. Me? Three weeks later I was sprawled on the side of a cane road with a bungi stick in my leg, bleeding and muttering and begging not to die.

I didn’t.

I was shipped out soon after, my time in hell finally over. My body intact, but for the dull ache in my leg and the deeper one in my fragmented soul. I was back from the dead. And I brought something with me.

A feeling that no matter what happened from now on, no matter where I went or what I became, nothing in my life would ever be the same again. I had seen the other side…I had tasted blood. Not just my own.

Some of the time, God forgive me, I liked it.

But there was something else. I brought the Mush Man back with me, too. Back from that wet-shadow place of pain and torment and loss.

And I never dreamed of Patty Finkel again.

R.I.P. Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury is dead. I knew him. I revered him for what he brought to his readers…and writing…and the world. If you ever heard him speak about writing and life and the human experience you know exactly what I mean. If not, you really missed something. Ray Bradbury was able to entrance you with his words; enthrall you with his optimism and positivity; win your heart and mind with his sense of wonder and his belief in the beauty and power of imagination. He was a shining light in this world and I deeply mourn his passing.

Like all young devotees of science fiction, fantasy and comics, I had read much of Ray’s work in high school…seen his stories brought to life on The Twilight Zone. It was cool. I was a fan. I appreciated the beauty and simple sense-stirring of his short fiction, the chilling magic of Something Wicked This Way Comes and the thought-provoking power, tragedy and hopefulness of Fahrenheit 451. But after I heard him speak at UCSB’s Campbell Hall in 1972, I truly and unashamedly loved the man. I left the venue full, inspired, transformed. Earth-shattered. Life-affirmed. Promise incarnate.

The next day, I started writing in earnest and living in color. I committed myself to the belief that there was nothing more important in this world than imagination. Nothing more sacred than dreaming. Nothing more fulfilling than living every day as if it were an adventure. I have strayed from the path since then, of course, but I have always returned. With every Bradbury book signing and every appearance and every new story or novel, I renewed myself.

I remember Ray’s command “Find the metaphor!” to get myself on track when blocked. I often return to a favorite story when my creative optimism is challenged. And I will always carry the experience of meeting him, talking with him, laughing with him in my heart.

I’m going to read “There Will Come Soft Rains” and “The Small Assassin” and “Fever Dream” tonight and meditate on the gift of Ray Bradbury. You out there, do yourself a soul-soaring mitzvah and read your favorite Bradbury story…or any Bradbury story…and remember.

Here’s to you, Ray. We’ll not see your like again.

LIFE SONGS: AUSTIN HEALEY

My dad came to pick me up in a baby blue Austin Healey sports car.

As I watched my mom part the curtains and look out at the street, I remembered how quiet it was when he first left us. Seven months ago. Before the Austin Healey.

It had been a perfect creek day – hot enough to dry wet sneakers on the walk back home. But I didn’t go that day. Mom said to stay home and help her around the house. It was so quiet. I remember hearing the eucalyptus nuts falling on Krista’s mom’s station wagon across the street. I used to love the sound the brittle nut caps made when the car pulled away from the curb. Crunchy pop. Crunchy pop.

My dad had already packed. He was in the backyard sitting on the steps of the shed and smoking one cigarette after another. My mom was washing dishes that she’d already washed before and staring out the kitchen window at nothing. I was playing dinosaurs.

Nobody was mad. Nobody was making a big deal about it. It was quiet.

Granddad broke the silence. I heard the sound of empty paint cans and rebar and half empty slip buckets clanging off the sides of the bed of his white ’56 Chevy truck before I even saw the cloud of concrete dust, flying into the air like pesticide from a crop duster. Before I saw his sunburned face and torn-to-hell John Deere cap poking out from the airborne grime and grit.

Before he leaned over the wheel and looked out the half-opened cab window, forced a smile and pushed himself out of the driver-side door.

He came to the door, pants and t-shirt sloughing dust as his work boots hit the pavement with each step. Then he just stood there, waiting behind the screen. When mom opened it, I shot out and grabbed him around the legs and he chuckled and ruffed my hair and then backed down to the bottom of the stairs. My dad kind of pushed past my mom with his suitcase and an armful of sweaters, walked right past my Grandad and me and got into the pickup, the sprung door making a cracking sound as he closed it. Grandad kind of grunted, said he’d see me soon, and then turned to follow my dad.

He walked around to the other side of the cab, got in, and as he oofed up into the torn vinyl seat, my dad looked once at my mom then turned…and stared ahead out over the bay and beyond. Grandad, his head down, ground up the motor, then lifted his head and the pickup rattled and smoked down to the end of San Diego Street, turned in a half circle and came back down. Granddad kinda waved at me as the truck passed by. My mother turned and walked into the house, catching the screen door so it wouldn’t slam, went into the bedroom and closed the door quietly behind her.

We hadn’t talked about my Dad very much since then. But here he was. On another perfect creek day. My mom sighed and turned and looked at me and smiled and said “Your dad’s here.” Then she walked into her room and closed the door. I knew she was sad. But at the age of almost 6, I was happy to see my dad, happy to have a dad, and excited about riding in a baby blue Austin Healey convertible top roadster sports car.

I was years away remembering my father as promises never kept, embarrassments never apologized for and drinks never turned down.

I ran to the car and climbed over the passenger door into the seat covered with a ragged old bedspread. Everything smelled of oil and dirt and rubber and rust. I smiled at my dad and he smiled back at me and we zoomed off into the blue of the western sky like Sky King…for about 20 minutes. The car only actually zoomed a little. Most of the time it chugged and chuffed and jerked and made gunshot sounds that made people on the street turn and look and frown. I didn’t care. I was with my dad. He took me up into the Kensington Hills and we looked at the view of the bay and San Francisco and the Golden Gate.

Then dad told me he had a “meeting” to go to and he zoomed me back home, screeched into the driveway and lifted me up and onto the pavement. I think he watched me trot up the stairs to the front porch. I turned to wave goodbye. He was already gone. I walked across the street to see if Paulie or Krista wanted to go to the creek.

That was the day I pushed Paulie into the creek. I made him cry…just because he was wearing a baby blue T-shirt.

###

HEROES

WHAT FULFILLS YOU? Is it far fetched or presumptuous of me to believe that each one of us wants to be the hero of our own life? Perhaps you’ve never examined your life journey in such context, but if not, WHY NOT? Perhaps you think seeing yourself as a “hero” is the ultimate indulgence…the height of self- absorption…the pit of hubris. But avoid outrage for just a moment to consider this: what is fulfillment if not the awareness of oneself as a hero, at least in some sense?

What does fulfillment mean to you when measured in the context of your own existence?

My mother would have put it something like “Scot needs to be adored.”
Perhaps that is all that needs to be said.

My wife said she had never seen me more alive, more involved, more purposeful, more fulfilled than when I was coaching swimming and water polo…and that’s a key part of it too. Because she’s right.

My daughter? Well, she thinks that it is simply the completion of things (any projects, etc.) that fulfills me, regardless of nature, subject or audience.

Coaching. Teaching. The imparting of knowledge. The sharing of skill, the reward of seeing my suggestions/instructions/lessons reach fruition. That’s very much a part of what fulfills me…and although swimming has essentially passed me by, it goes without saying that I have incorporated coaching into everything I do professionally. As a consultant, creative director, group leader and blogger.

Those convinced that people don’t change throughout the course of their life would point to the previous statements and maintain that I was where I should have been when I chose Teaching as a career. They would be right to a very real extent, but the core question here is one of scope.

My first career simply wasn’t enough.

I wanted more. I continue to want more. I want to impact lives on more than just one level.

Leaving a mark. Working with a team as part of a team (most often as the leader) to create something lasting and profound and meaningful… something of value. The coaching function feeds this need to make a difference, to be looked upon with respect and even reverence for what I know and what I provide.

My earliest literary favorites were illustrative of teamwork and groups of heroes (often of the unlikely sort) thrown together and winning against overwhelming odds – most notably OZ books; Tolkien; Greek, Roman and Norse Mythology; E.R.Burroughs, et.al; and, of course, comics. I still read comic books today – a testament to how important these concepts remain in my life.

To this day, my favorite movies are A Thousand Clowns and The Magnificent Seven — one espousing the importance of maintaining self respect and not following the crowd, the other the nobility of team play and sacrifice in the interest of achieving something bigger than oneself. At once complimentary and contradictive, but telling nonetheless.

In a very real and obvious sense, my greatest fulfillment comes from being a hero…from winning (or contributing in an important way to a winning effort). And in being recognized (adored?) for it.

Don’t we all want to be a hero?

Leading. Conducting. Masterminding a plan and managing resources and overseeing contributors to the plan’s completion. Shaping awareness and consciousness to a cause. When people listen, I am fulfilled.

As a writer I often create something from nothing. Meaning and metaphor from commonly unnoticed, underappreciated or everyday things. As a fiction writer, I champion the importance of memory and connection and feelings. In advertising I seek to communicate at least the semblance of truth. I open people’s eyes to value and significance and essential truths. And when the something I create has the effect of changing the way people think or feel or act or react, then I am a hero. I have spoken an ideal that is worth reaching toward – at least in some small way.

I have achieved many goals in my life. I have been many things to many people as a result of my numerous career and life choices. If I refuse to see at least some of my accomplishments and choices and experiences as heroic, then I am truly minimizing myself as a result.

I would postulate that we are all the heroes of our own life…and rightfully so. If nothing else, just believing it is a fulfillment of sorts.

Believe.

AQUAMAN: THE RETURN

Last Saturday I joined an actual Master’s Swim Team. Honestly thought I would never see the day. True, I did swim Open Water Masters for many years in my forties and fifties, but I never thought I would go back to watching the long black line, and counting laps, and saying “How many seconds rest, Coach?” and sharing a lane with 7 other people (actually BIGGER people than the last time I did it).

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CHALLENGING THE UNKNOWN

The following piece from my new collection “CREEK SONGS (and Other Seductions), is certainly one of my personal favorites. One of the first comic books I bought as a kid was Jack Kirby’s Challengers of the Unknown. Over time, it has emerged as my all time favorite – quite a distinction when you consider that we’re talking about a kid who started collecting comics in 1962…and still does.

 

No regrets. No shame. I still LOVE the expensive little piles of paper.

 

But that’s a topic for another time. I still love the Challengers, because I was able to join them.

 

I challenge the unknown. All writers do. We stare into the abyss of a blank page and pull something from the nothingness. Entrepreneurs (of which I am also a proud member) challenge the unknown every damn day. They take that first step, and the next one, and however many more it takes to build a business from what began as an idea, a dream, a passion.

 

That is what I love about both writing and entrepreneurship. Dreaming. Questioning. Thinking. Creating. They keep me near that edge that Vonnegut talked about…and I still really like what I see. Every damn day.

========================

THE CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN

If I was a super hero, I wouldn’t be one. I’d be

The Challengers of the Unknown!

 

They’re not super – even though they hang out in purple jumpsuits with white gloves.

White Gloves. What’s up with that? Not very practical. Probably had to wash them every damn day, for crying out loud.

 

They’re not super. We’re not talking Superman or Spiderman or Jonn Jonzz, The Manhunter from Mars.

 

We’re talking guys like you. Guys like me. Well, close anyway. They get dirty saving the world. I guess that’s actually why the white gloves bother me. They get dirty. And even apart from the dirt factor, I don’t think I’d ever wear white gloves for anything.

 

Too formal.

 

Ace (the decorated pilot). Rocky (the world-champion wrestler). Red (the mountaineer/daredevil). Prof (the scientific genius/skin diver) These guys are like every thing a kid ever wanted to be. Except maybe a cowboy.

 

                                              But that wouldn’t work.

 

See they’re on this plane. Don’t know each other, never met. The plane crashes. They survive. They cheat death (big skeleton guy with a wicked sickle standing menacingly above the wreckage of the plane as my boys emerge, you know, “unscathed”).

 

Now they’re…

 

Living On Borrowed Time.

 

They are The Challengers of the Unknown.

 

They get it done because they don’t. fear. death. Not because they can leap tall buildings or telepathically command all the creatures of the deep. Not because they have a magic lasso that bends men to their will.

 

They can’t fly to get away from danger. They can’t burst into flame to melt bullets. They can’t teleport. Or run faster than the speed of light.

 

They’re just…

 

Living On Borrowed Time.

 

They’re not afraid. Not of the dark or what’s in it. That kinda makes them super.

 

Super-er, actually.

 

They fight the fear, the chill, the I-can’t-do-its. They take on Multi-Man; defeat the insidious Gargoyle; discover alien artifacts and solve ancient mysteries.

 

They challenge the unknown. And they win.

 

Wow. I always wanted to do that.

 

 

FROM CREEK SONGS (and Other Seductions)

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