When I was in my early twenties I started writing a book. I had this idea to set the novel, in its entirety, on a plane, and it would be a study into behavioral and psychological habits of people that, for one reason or another, all found themselves sitting together here on this plane, at the end of which almost no one would hold on to the connections that they may have made that day, at least consciously. The novel was tentatively titled, A Window Seat. I enjoyed writing it. I remember sitting in my office, or what I had decided would be my office, in my new apartment in Pocatello, Idaho. The building was renovated to resemble an old ritzy hotel: the lobby and hall carpets were all maroon, the wallpaper maroon and gold, the radiators were painted gold, and each room had a milk door that opened up into the kitchen. I love this apartment. It was essentially a studio with a single room that was separated by French Doors that led into a room that, on the remaining sides, were covered by windows, and this room would become my office. I sat one evening on a chair that was left in the apartment. That chair, a bookshelf, and my bed, which lay in the middle of the larger room, was the only furniture that I had after leaving Texas so I used a book as a desk, a hard surface to write on while sitting in the chair, in my new office. I was consumed entirely in writing this story, A Window Seat I remember, distinctly, seeing not the windows but beyond the windows surrounding me, or the room adjacent, my bed, etc., I instead remember seeing my airplane and the passengers in it, I remember the window seat, and the gentlemen sitting next to me, I remember all of this fiction that had enveloped me. It was in that moment that I decided that I would write for a living, I realized that day that I was a writer.
I was never able to finish that novel, A Window Seat, instead I chopped it up and rewrote it as a series of short stories and moved on from there. I struggled, a lot. I did find opportunities in various outlets like the Idaho Falls Magazine and a handful of literary journals, but I learned how to live small. There were times that I lived unimaginably small. I know how to comfortably sleep and to live out of a car, and I know where to-, and where not to sleep as a struggling, homeless, and starving artist in New York City. I’ve watched people that I know make the same efforts that I’ve made and rocket into stardom even without the security blanket of talent. I have sacrificed the prospects of a ‘normal’ life for the sake of persistence unrealized in order to develop a dream inspired by my passion for writing. And I’ve wondered a great deal what it is that I am missing that seems to have come so naturally to everyone else, that thing that allows them to succeed while I, you know, don’t—and still sometimes I wonder.
I know the value of determination and persistence, and when people say to “never give up,” I know that it is not just a sound bite, because the catalyst of success is in being noticed every day, consistently. The day after you give up is the day that you would have succeeded. It’s just the truth. And at the foundation of that truth is the willingness to have taken a risk in the first place. It’s no coincidence that a large number of great artists, writers, actors, and people are an example of what we have come to call “a success story.” If you spend your life risking failure, and failing, you will, inevitably, discover success. We will encounter hurdles that seem more impossible to chance than others. For me, honestly, it was—it is—the expectations of my parents that continues to challenge my drive, but I know, without a degree of uncertainty, that the day I give up, the following day is the day that I would have succeeded at least in the eyes of my parents, of course, as far as I am concerned, I already have succeeded, simply because I have never given up, and once you are willing to take that same risk to not only find the willingness to start something new, but to see it through you’ll know exactly what it is that I mean.
When you’re an artist, of any medium, and you have made the decision to pursue that craft professionally you will tend to look for any opportunity regardless of how small to make it work. I write blurbs for Crowd Content—I still do. It’s a small online marking firm that hires ghost writers (like myself) to write short advertisements for, almost, anybody that will take them, and they pay almost nothing. As an artist you have to train your brain to think differently, in a lot of ways, but most aptly for this blogs purposes, you have to rain your brain to think differently when it comes to the way that you make money. For anyone whom has worked a job whether it be shift work or a nine-to-five you are used to working a specified number of hours and receiving a check, in one weekly or bi-weekly or bi-monthly bulk transaction, and your organize your budget based on that income. As a—struggling—professional artist you’ll often receive multiple checks throughout even the course of a day ranging from $10 to $500 (or more; or less). It’s not the time you work that becomes valuable it’s what you’re doing with your time, which for obvious reasons, demands you to covet time, but for all intents and purposes bear with me on this point that I’m making. In my experience if you’re an artist, and have worked to develop your art and yourself, and developing a market of yourself, the only reason we struggle, really, is because it’s difficult to rewire our brains to think differently about the way we understand income, especially if you never stop to consider the possibility that the unconscious expectations that we develop throughout childhood are considerably more demanding on our behaviors, and our actions than most of us fully understand.
When taking a risk whether it’s quitting your job to write a book, or to start your own bookstore (business), or you’re going to paint, or be a full time photographer, it’s important to be aware that success comes only from changing the way you perceive the market, and the way that we make money, and the way that we spend money. I’ve worked many jobs while trying to make my life work as an author--and then, again as a business owner. Some of those jobs have been too demanding for me to even consider creating my own life, and so I just simply left them for the sake of my passions, and if things got bleak again, I would find another job, and in the meantime I learned to train my brain to think in terms of a, I don’t know, micro-income generator, and how to accept money regardless of whether it was in the form of a ten dollar bill or a few thousand dollar check. You make a lot of promises, and acquire new and interesting kinds of debts, your write a lot of thank you letters, or texts, or Instagram’s or whatever, and you never give up, and just like Jim Carey walking around with a ten million dollar check in his wallet made out to himself until he was able to cash it (he carried around for years, and was able to cash it in 95’), you will find success.
Do you ever find yourself trying to relate your life to a book? I often find myself doing just that. Sometimes a short sentence will pop into my head, and suddenly I’ve escaped somewhere in story, and attempt to remind myself that I need to write that down. Don’t forget this James, until you get the opportunity to write that down. And, of course, I always end up forgetting it. When I do remember I remember only that I did not want to forget something, but, for the life of me I cannot remember what that something was. My favorite slam poet, Buddy Wakefield, has a great line in his poem Information Man: “There are times when you will lay your head to rest and have a moment of brilliance that will grow into a perfect order of words, but you will fall asleep instead of painting it down on paper. When you wake up, you will have forgotten the idea completely, and miss it like a front tooth. But, at least you know how to recognize moments of brilliance.”
I will be sitting on my couch, listening to music, and working—probably marketing, because geeze driving people to my site is insanely difficult—and I will look out the window, and escape once again. I am transported beyond the tree just outside my window, the leaves lightly fluttering in the wind, and then I am who knows where. Just gone. Inasmuch as I could be browsing Facebook, just lying in bed scrolling through the countless useless posts the nature of which inspire anxiety, and frustration, and sometimes inspiration.
A hermit surrounded with books lives out his ‘endless numbered days’ in hiding only from Facebook, his cats pawing at the windows and the door desperately seeking something more than the pacing, the reading, the writing, and the one record, bent and dusty, circling beneath the needle again, and again, and again.
Every story I escape to is a reflection of myself in a different time looking back on me today, and acknowledging the process, the conversations that I might have that help me to make sense of Trump, of Gun Regulation, of our Minimum Wage and Inflation, of Healthcare, and Education, and the staggering degree of Indifference, of how Desensitized we are, and how much Worse it’s getting, and how with the development each new iPhone we see only a Devolution in our ability, and our Willingness to Interact with one another, and how Differently each Generation of Humanity is being Affected, and therefore Conditioned to Behave, to React, and to Ignore. The Glass Figurine on my bookshelf and in my Television Screen, and how Complacently we do Nothing.
I could write that story, but we are already desensitized to it. The character development is trite, the conflict is familiar, and the end is only as ingredient to the means. We hear time and again to write what we know, or if we have something to say to figure out the best way to say it, and then to bellow it throughout the hills, “to sound [our] barbaric YAWP!”
And then, of course, there are some stories that I will escape to that have me immersed, and taken, and welcomed some stories that I will bleed to never return from. These stories our born off the same seeds and foundation as any other story I might pen. These stories are equal to my fears in every way except for the manner in which we express empathy, and offer acceptance. I am sitting in the same couch, looking through the same window, and beyond the same tree, and yet the world beyond that tree is one that I view through an open window, an unlocked door, while my cats are lounging on the front porch.
I do sometimes consider creating fantastic worlds with heroic ideals and acts of altruism, and I will even sit down and stare at my computer, and begin typing, I will have written pages upon pages, but then I look at the window, and I find myself instead writing a short blog that touches on the challenges of marketing, the experiences of creating, the dream of writing, and the indifference of politics while my cat, standing on a windowsill of books, stares out at the leaves of the tree fluttering in the wind just outside my window.
Any writer you might talk to in regards to the art of writing, and when asked “How do I know if I’m a writer?” Or a question along the lines of-, within their response, somewhere, and usually as upfront as possible, they’ll admit that, “If you cannot get through a day without writing, and if not does the act of writing linger above you like the alcoholics cloud of desperate clarity?—if you feel it, as a haze behind your eyes: when you lack concentration, and the appetite to live—if writing intrigues your senses to the point of definition, then you are a writer. And if this is not the case, don’t worry, you are not.” The fact is that writers have the unique recognition of their life’s calling, it’s unmistakable. And, in that way, a writer is fortunate to never be within the constant agonizing uncertainty of destiny, however a writer it equally as unfortunate to always be inquiring, and to never be completely contented. A writer remains apart from the search for understanding (destiny) and the fulfillment of fate.
At different points of my life I have written differently: where I would write, how I would write, the routine—which is important, for different reasons, depending—changed, a little. Once I realized I wouldn’t complete my first novel and that I would, essentially, be writing endlessly to no end, and that I would need to, instead, chop it up into pieces of itself, rewriting and recreating it, and eventually selling it as a series of short stories I could only write at night, after the sun had gone, and the world around me felt still. I was living in Salt Lake City then, and would look out over the valley where the city rest, and the world seemed peaceful.
A couple of years later, in New York City, I wrote on park benches, in parks: Washington Square Park, Central Park, Madison Square Park et al, and in a notebook: pen-on-paper. I could not write otherwise. The notebook would always be with me, in my back left jean pocket, the only item I would carry on my person, and not in my bag, just in case. I would put pieces of stories together later on my laptop, however my creativity was stirred only when I felt the pressure of the notebook pressing back against my pen. The notebook always felt so resolute, unyielding and as the ink bled on the paper I was in awe by the act of creation. As the notebook began to give life, a life that would flow through me, from elsewhere, and demand entrance into the perceivable while sitting on benches in the Deep Woods northwards in Central Park.
In Santa Fe I would always have to be around people, writing in café’s, and it was usually in one of the following: Iconik Coffee, Aztec café, or Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Café. I was never able to write anywhere else, I would try, of course, say at Station Café next to the train depot for example, and yet I would sit, only and stare at a table, or through the window as the Rail Runner slowly skated to a stop. I remember even still sitting outside of Station staring at a small pile of cement, chipped pieces scattered, and a small crater the pieces had once filled on the front patio. At Iconic I used to look forward to getting lost in the developing fantasy behind my eyes, I wouldn’t be looking over a notebook or my laptop, but instead into my imagination as if replaying a memory projected for me by will alone. Aztec itself was inspiration, the place stimulating my delusions like walking through your childhood home so much later in life that you were certain all recognition was lost, but realizing, almost instantly that a part of you is still there. At Annapurna’s I could see the snowcapped mountains in June as the world itself would envelop me like a children curious of a wayfarer. I would sit sometimes at Marble Brewery overlooking the plaza and I would write, but it wasn’t the same.
My first year back in Boerne, after opening Wardrobe Books, every morning after visiting the bookstore, I would go to Starbucks, order a drink, and sit in one of two chairs, if I wasn’t sitting in either chair I wasn’t able to focus. And that might be perhaps because I was too focused on whomever was in either chair standing up to leave, and me taking their place. I was there every day, and while there I tried to order something different to drink every day, often coming up with strange combinations of flavors, or whatever I could fathom. I would sit, and for hours I wrote. I both started and finished my first novel sitting at the Starbucks in Boerne, Texas. I remember finishing it. There was a girl sitting across the room from me, I knew her, she worked there, and on that particular day she was there studying or something, I don’t know, I just looked up and she was there. It’s been more than two years since that day but I can still picture her exactly as she was, her pale blue eyes were so piercing. I’ll never forget. The thought of her eyes lingered in my mind as I finished writing the last sentence, of the last paragraph of the first novel that I would write.
Since that day, after finishing my novel, Between Transitions, I have developed a more practical approach to writing, at least, for someone living an actual life, with friends and family and responsibilities and expectations: my laptop is open all day, and every day to a WORD document, whatever it is that I might be currently working on, and I sit down periodically to write. Every time I sit down, I have to write for at least five minutes. Of course, I find that every time I sit down I write for considerably longer than five minutes, and yet not allowing myself to get up before then has become a contract with myself that feels, to me, like I have graduated from a place of desperation, and fearful artistry. It’s the difference, to me, between a starving artist and a seasoned one. One thing that I have learned is that the circumstance for our creativity changes over time, and with experience and the only constant is that you are writing, whether you’re writing from a place of intention and emotion and feeling or you’re simply writing for the sake of writing. We write because we have to, not to feel accomplished or to accomplish, and not to be proven or to prove, we write because of what we are from a place deeper than most of us are willing to look.
The process is challenging. Attempting to do anything online with the purpose of attracting people to your site or blog is draining, and with the exception of a very, very small percentage of people—the select few who find themselves on the fortunate side of happenstance—the process is continuous, it never ends. You build clientele and exposure but it is as gradual as watching children grow, you’ll notice only if you blink for long enough to miss a few steps. A large number of people give up, and I don’t think it’s because they don’t have the patience for the struggle, I think it’s more likely that they feel, and wrongly so, that there is no real progression, that whatever they’re striving for is fruitless.
Marketing for an independently built, and run online bookstore is both exceptionally easy and exceptionally difficult. With some time you learn to understand your market—with the help of analytics programs like Google and Facebook. You can develop a marketing strategy based on that free information. Personally, I find that there are two real challenges that I face every day: the first is establishing a marketing budget, especially for a business like an online bookstore. The greatest challenge, however, again, is time. If you put in your dues, remain active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, and even Reddit—if you can find your niche—and you post, at least once a day, on most, if not all, of these social media outlets your clientele will inevitably build.
Time, for me, is a struggle though. It’s not that I don’t have any time. I don’t work a 9 to 5 job, and I don’t do shift work. I work for myself, where time management is tricky. And, for years, when I was only writing, time management was easy. Well, it became easy. Of course, it didn’t start out that way. If you have nothing but time it’s easy to want to do with your time whatever you want to do, which, at the beginning, leaves very little time for actual work. Once you discover your niche it’s easy to become a workaholic, which I did become. I love working. I love writing. And I love building this bookstore.
When I started working on the bookstore however the habits that I spent a decade creating, and maintaining melted away like camembert cheese in the hot Catalonian sun. I felt like I was in my early twenties again, but in the childish whatthehell am I doing with my life, kind of way, and I found myself mentally coveting all my time, and, with all these ideas and goals floating around in my head, I didn’t know where to begin. I had notes and books piling up, projects wasting away, and I’d sit in front of my computer ready to work, and I would accomplish nothing.
Then I would focus myself on a single large project and feel accomplished, for a while, until I finished, and there I was again, staring into a computer screen with too much, and yet nothing to do. My house is filled with projects, half-read books, ideas taped to my desk, and I tell myself, “If I could just do that one thing, it’ll make everything else easier to do, or, simply, fall into place. I just need that one thing to happen for me.” And, yes, I do have a one thing that is almost constantly on my mind. I am almost always working towards it. And if I’m not, I am thinking about it: praying, shaking my fist, drinking wine, sacrificing scorpions to the sun god (Ra), and self-help books (half-read). Where does a life go? People sometimes wonder. I’m sure I know the answer, or an answer, to the question. We spend our adult lives trying to make the rest of our lives happen the way that we were told they would during our formidable life.
We have to make a living. We don’t barter. And, I’m not happy about a few situations in my life. The website: communiteabooks.com is doing well. I’m proud of it. I want it to be better. I know it can be better. I have ideas, and visions of possibilities, things that would require a more specified knowledge of html, of coding, of actively building a website from the ground up. Unfortunately unlike building a table, or writing a novel, or painting a picture I cannot even fathom where to begin. Everything I know about building a website I taught myself while building my website. People, remember, I have an online BOOKSTORE I’m not selling ideas, like, Bitcoin. I’m still impressed by television. Nevertheless I have the ambition to create, and I believe that Communitea Books is worth the process and the time. Even when I find myself overwhelmed with all the things that I want to do, and not having the means to do them, or at least believing that I don’t have the means.
Sometimes it seems to me that everybody is content with routine: living a life structured by work: getting up, going to work, doing a very specific job, and going home. I’m not even capable of it; seriously, I’ve tried. A lot. It’s interesting to me that the people we always see talking about failure and effort and struggle are the people that don’t seem to fail or effort or struggle. But, as humans, we construct our own stories, and reasons for the situations of others. People exist only as we perceive them to exist, and in the way, only, that they were, or are based entirely on our own perceptions, as they came into our lives. We never hear about failure and effort and struggle from the people who are actively failing and putting the effort in day in-, and day out, and struggling. Or, at least, we don’t pay attention to those people.
I’m an artist, damn it. I’m also thirty-three years old. Which of the two comes first? I still wake up every day determined to develop this website, to accomplish that one thing, to eventually walk into my storefront and order a tea, slide a book of the shelf, find a place in front of the fireplace, and watch people browsing the shelves, engaged in conversation, watching TED Talks on the TV’s above in-between chapters. In the meantime it’s the process that I focus on, day-in and day-out. I will continue to wake up some days overwhelmed, and wanting to accomplish more, and wanting to work on that novel, and wanting to paint that picture, and wanting to pay off the rest of that debt, and wanting to look out a different window, and knowing that if only that one thing would happen for me, it would all be possible.
I am a freelance author, writer, critic, artist, and entrepreneur living in the Heart of the Texas Hill Country.