Thursday, March 31, 2011


Sometimes you just miss. It can happen two times in a row. And even when its not your fault, the arrow or the bullet or the whatever metaphor you want to insert just doesn’t go where it is supposed to go. There isn’t a reason, it’s just that these things happen to people.

I have new stories that I can put into words and some that I sadly still cannot. Someone told me yesterday “Bad things come in threes, looks like you’re about over the hump.” Painful events seem to gravitate toward each other. Life can take hold of your throat and poke you in the eye, and while your cleaning that up come from behind, pull down your pants and wax the back of your legs, and not gently. I had a pity party for the first time yesterday in the girl’s car. It was the first time I exhaled and breathed the word ‘why’ (where do you put the period here…inside of out of the quotes? Am I even an adult?).

I wish like hell that there wasn’t a why. And there might not be, in all honesty. It’s that question that people wrestle with, a dead horse cliché worth nothing more than bullshit answers you get back. What makes you such a good person that nothing bad should ever happen to you? The pretense is mind-blowing.

I started writing a short story called Walter. I haven’t finished yet, but I figure I’ll post the first part. It is inspired by a cold Michigan spring and wool jackets that are worth a damn. It smells musty. This part reminds me of fourth grade when the teacher explains what setting is and then you have to make up your own. It is an incredibly simple and beautiful idea that we have forgotten everywhere except for writing. Setting, time and place, the when and the where of life. I think that Hemmingway’s greatest strength was access to these incredible, inspirational places in a time where they were just coming out of their own Wild West, when the alpha could really flex his muscle. The kind of settings he built in his fiction, especially the short stories, are truly what draws me in. I will post the rest next week or so. 


Walter straightened when he saw the scattered pile of ash collecting inches from his tattered legal pad. He was a two fisted writer. One clutched an unpainted pine pencil that had scratched a permanent callous between his left index and middle finger. The other delicately fingered a burning cigarette. He kept another behind his ear and when both were smoked he would roll two more from legal pad paper and Indiana tobacco that he kept an old Dominican cigar box. This particular ash was the first draft of a series of letters he had penned the year before. He quickly finished his smoke and brushed it onto the cedar floor.

The room was simple, sparsely decorated. Cedar plank floors unstained and largely untreated had bent and bowed through the many years, no two the same, uncoordinated. There was but one picture of his paternal grandmother on the adjacent left wall. She was rowing a Thompson oar boat, smiling, the year before it had floated away. Walter and his father had walked the perimeter of the lake two and a half times before finally conceding to their misfortune. He looked out from his desk at the old dock where the boat had once been tied, noting how its replacement lacked the old pioneer character of that old wooden boat. There was a small propane-burning stove and an even smaller oatmeal-colored icebox the opposite side of the room, next the door to his bedroom that housed a double-sized bed and the home’s original chest of drawers built when his grandfather was twenty.

He rolled two more cigarettes as he watched the world from his thatched seat. The windowpane rattled occasionally from blustery winds, the chop on the lake was quick and deliberate. When Walter stood back his straightened from his slight shoulder slump. His stoop was the result of his seventh grade growth spurt, a lank that he had not quite grown into despite the years that had passed. His body creaked as his arms and back arched to stretch.

He moved to the sliding glass doors and paused. He stood to remember for a moment. The dock remained steady through the springtime gusts of wind and wave. March was much like Walter, stretching and creaking like a cellar door after a long Michigan winter. The snow was now gone, but the leaves had yet to bud on the trees. There was no evidence of a harsh winter or new growth, seasonal purgatory.

Walter reached for his overcoat and slipped it on. He stepped through the open door and onto the wooden steps, putting he cigarettes in his coat pocket. He made his way down the brick path that lead to the dock. His father had laid the path when Walter was a child, the result of cosmetic improvements and the graceless aging of his grandmother. On cold October evenings she would be covered in quilt and wheeled to the foot of the dock to watch the lake in the waning hours of daylight.

The wind was cold and wet and he tightened his shoulders against it. It was not crisp, but heavy. The dreariness was a source of comfort, a synergy of emotions that relieved the lonliness that Walter had felt for most of his life. He lit a match and puffed out a pillow of smoke. He walked up to the dock quietly, surveying the lake with his hands in this coat pockets. Nail by nail he had pounded the panels together, his young hands blistered and cramped. That was 1949. That was the same year that his mother had passed, each stroke of the hammer was an expression of their silence, their sadness. Her love his Father’s guiding light, and when it was gone, he was lost to purpose. They went to South Haven that summer, just the two of them to fish from the pier. There was hardly a word between them, a stoic expression of the hurt that loss brings.

His grandmother’s health quickly deteriorated in the coming months. The sadness of Walter’s father was too much for her to overcome. Walter lit a cigarette as he remembered sitting in silence with her the weeks before she passed. He would wheel her down the brick path to the edge of the lake. The smell of pine and the northern air brought a pleasant smile to her face, the stillness of the water gave her peace. She used to listen as the crickets bade good evening to the forest, and as hoot owl called the day done. 

Monday, July 26, 2010


I have been writing of sorts, but without a story. I supposed I haven’t even been outside much this summer due to disaster. The gulf oil spill ruined good plans for salt-water fishing, and the flood in Nashville ruined the good fishing here until recently, and I haven’t been out much since it has returned. I haven’t written anything because I feel like there is nothing to say. Vegetables are beautiful this year, especially the Tomatoes. I feel as though they are little miracles, and the longer we wait on that deep red, the more satisfying they are. I don’t have that romantic sense about gardening like the other natural pursuits, but nonetheless I am still impressed.

Nostalgia can be a battle, especially when accompanied by a sense of being uprooted and ungrounded. I heard this ass on NPR equating a sense of nostalgia to dissatisfaction with the present. I’m not saying that he’s wrong, but perhaps just heartless and incapable of compassion. I think he’s operating on some faulty assumptions about progress, and also think that he had a shitty childhood, or maybe he was born a thirty three year old. I mostly just dislike him.

I grew up in Michigan, and ever since I left have always been drawn back. My family still has a place on a lake there, and I feel as though I’ve discovered it again.  It’s a place that I always have held close, even when I lived right there. I think that I like it so much because my mother does, and I feel like it is the way in which I most understand and know her. She has so many memories of her mother there, and times with her brother and father, and with my dad. It’s such a large part of her identity. I have my own memories and regrets tied to that water, and its something that I have had to come to grips with over the years of being away. 

And therein lies the truth about nostalgia. It’s a living and breathing part of your identity, not some bullshit nod to the way you think the world use to be (or even how great you think it is now). The lady’s family has the same connection to their piece of land in Holmes County, Mississippi. Its fun to watch because I know how they feel, how much they want to protect it because it is such an important way to tangibly understand what they share as a family.

But what I have learned most about the sentimental is that it can develop into something new. It is dynamic. I have been having so much fun researching how to duck hunt our lake and the adjoining river system this summer, because I love to hunt and because our house is in a flyway and because we have never done it. My relationship to that place is about to change, especially if it works. I suppose it means that I will have a different, more developed relationship with the place and with the collective identity of our experiences there. It feels like that part of my history is bending the rules a little bit to accommodate me. Which, quite frankly, rules. The river that leads into the lake is also a killer steelhead fishery, and there is a native brook trout stream about a half-mile down the road. These are all added bonuses that I never even knew I cared about until I began to appreciate the harvest.

So, the point is that nostalgia and sentimentality are important, especially if it is such a large part of your identity, and its also pretty neat to see those things change and develop with you.

Happy Hunting.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

micah ling.

I just purchased Three Islands by Micah Ling. Its a pretty intersting amalgamation of poetry and exploration of juxtaposed historical characters. I once had an English course with Micah as professor. Hers’ was one of my most memorable courses at University. It felt strangely non-academic, but somehow facilitated some fantastic writing from a handful of the students. I think that the most important take-away was about having something to say. If there is something worth conveying, then the writing just sort of happens. I can’t remember if I came to the realization on my own during the course or if she made a point of it, but craft always follows perspective. It’s the reason for Faulkner’s genius and the existence of high school English teachers.

I remember she never corrected my punctuation, which made me feel pretty good. She did hate the passive voice, I remember, and I’m still pretty lazy about correcting it. To be truthful, I still have to look back at my old grammar handbook that I was forced to purchase five years ago to even realize the difference.

If you want to find someone passionate about what they do, seek out an adjunct professor. I remember one of the greatest feelings I had at school was receiving a paper back from her with no markings until the last page, which just had an A circled in red ink. I am not sure if she was just busy or rushed and didn’t have time to go through the whole thing, but that can make a kid feel pretty stupendous. It was validation for a guy that really wasn’t all that confident yet. I remember that I spent hours and hours pouring over ever sentence and every paragraph the two nights leading up to turning it in, and it wasn’t because I was fascinated with the research or really wanted to learn, but rather, for the first time, I had something to say. Something important, that seemed urgent at the time, the sort of work that made writing feel more like uncovering an artifact that had always been there but no one had ever taken the time to be seen. I entered that essay into the campus literary journal in 2009, and it ended up being my first published work.

I think now of what I want my life to look like in five and ten years. I’ve wondered for a while what book I would choose to write if the opportunity came. I have always wanted to be John Gierach, because I think essays and short stories are so crafty and convey such skill. I guess the novel would be great, but I am not sure that I have the stones for fiction and I’m really not much of a story-teller. More importantly, the question is and should be, what book is your life writing? What do you have to actually say? And I think that I’m ok with ‘I don’t know’ for now.

A review of Three Islands to follow.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

birdnests and circle hooks.

I used the word ‘fleshy’ to describe a fish last night. The Spanish Mackeral flaked off of the smoker and the smells permeated across the yard. It’s a combination of dill weed and salt water that almost brings the ocean home. April offshore trips are perfect. The mornings are cold and it makes you feel more seasoned than you are. The tourists have left, and they will return with the better weather, but for now it feels like the only people here are the ones in on the secret.

The Macks take well and keep you occupied. They are for the smoker, a sort of consolation from the ocean that keeps you fed and relieves the monotony. Beer is God’s consolation for slow fishing. Knots amaze me, as does someone who knows a thing or two about finding and catching the invisible monsters from Earth’s last real wilderness. 

The Pilar was once the world’s most successful offshore sport fishing boat. Hemingway was a successful writer because he was successful at everything else. He didn’t need an imagination; he had already lived it all. He described writing short stories like they had already existed, that all they needed were some words on paper so that others could imagine what he had already accomplished. He didn’t ‘write’ stories, he ‘knew’ stories. I think about what it must have been like on that boat. Imagine the pressure of fishing with a man who believed that the whole world could never really keep up with him. It took a plane crash, a bush fire, and a lifetime long booze binge for the world to finally catch back up.

Captains have an enviable sense of self-reliance. Persistence, accuracy, and faith supplement a concrete belief in systems and cycles. It is Cobia season, and the shit of it is the same as the success: it’s just staring. Staring hard, for hours, looking to find that one brown shark of a fish just close enough for casting. He watches the water, we watch him, like following a guide who has no map. We’re not quite sure what we’re looking for, but this guy seems to think that he does so we might as well shut up and not get left behind.

And it comes together like lightning, and the friends are radioed while the enemy boats are scoffed at. We’ll never know what they caught, but to hell with ‘em while we bask in the ‘fish on.’ You reel in, I’ll keep you fueled with beer and we’ll all meet at the propane fryer to drink too much and fall asleep.

Happy Hunting,


Monday, April 12, 2010

the two in the bush.

We’re lucky to have one of the best urban fly shops in the country here in Tennessee. I find myself just hanging around more often; it’s the one part of the city that doesn’t incubate my nasty little habits. There aren’t any sitting chairs really, but that’s not a terrible thing. I think it is suppose to remind the urban folk to get off of their asses. Urban folks do a lot of running, and its mostly just in a circle, which makes me chuckle a bit, and probably because I’m a means to an end sort of guy. I think that is one reason that a fly shop in the middle of a city is both appropriate and necessary, to remind people like me that there is always something on the end of the line that needs to be stripped in. I don’t think it was designed with that in mind, but nonetheless it holds.

We’re more of a trial by failure pair of anglers, Sam and I. And it’s a process, but little victories keep it moving. The first fish on a new rod is special, a sort of ‘at least the damn thing works’ occurrence. Sam got a new four weight last season, beautiful rod, and he missed six strikes in a row on the Elk the first day he brought it out. I picked it up and switched to a smaller wooly, then landed a respectable ten-inch rainbow in the first five casts. It felt like kissing your best friends sister and then having to tell him that you liked it. At least the damn thing works.

I got my own four-weight this season, and with respect to my own sister, didn’t share it until there was a fish in hand. I suppose I owe him one. Angling is a win some, lose some proposition, and just like hunting, the odds are better when there is someone else around to pick up the slack. When we were trolling for mackerels last summer, I was doubled over barfing up the morning while he made sure we didn’t come home fools. Tiny victories, and maybe we’re even after all.

As for the season, I don’t know that it could improve much more. Life is good. Mean streaks come and go, and the more questions you ask the more you miss the ride. It’s better just to enjoy it. It seems like everyone in my little network of hunting friends is having an amazingswell of spring success. At the Lady’s farm we killed three birds over the Easter holiday. I am not sure how I can tell the story, except to say that two in the hand beats the hell out of one, and that something sure clicked with Alex and the slate call.

It really is beautiful to hunt the wild turkey. I think that Ben Franklin described them as noble, which is hard to argue against. More than any other game animal, the turkey requires a delicate hand and a subtle respect for silence and form. It is a nimble art.  Calling a turkey feels like walking a tight rope, a ‘just enough’ understanding of the razor-thin line between sensuality and violence. And when everything comes together, the early morning taste of tobacco, the whisper of fan feathers dragging across an oak bottom and the smell of gunpowder from a smoking barrel, life if perfect.

photos c/o alex wilson


Friday, March 12, 2010

the inbetween.

It is once again that time of the year that the discussions begin. These are the early nights at the bar spent comparing schedules and making breakable plans for the coming weeks, discussing the whens and the hows and the whos of the upcoming fishing season. Generally, I like to focus on the local rivers and ponds, fishing Tennessee stockers, bass, and bream. This year I want to catch a mess of early season Bream on topwater flies for the freezer. The plan is a season long fish fry, without the ordeal and the mess. Just clean and tender bream fillets in the freezer to indulge at either my leisure or necessity. I got the idea from John Gierach (who figured out most of this stuff in the seventies) and got the beer batter recipe from Langdon Cook. Things are looking up.

I also like to plan a trip or two to the gulf. Usually I can go fish with Sam or Clay in the salt, and Clay and I really want to experience some night fishing with cork and shrimp for speckled trout. Hopefully his brother will show us the ropes (and the lines, and the bait, and the fish…). 

Sam and I went out on what we thought was a great adventure last summer on July fifth. We woke up in a hazy stupor thinking that it was a great day to go trolling about a mile off the beach. The idea was to bag some mackerels by breakfast, but after two hours we were skunked and would have stayed that way had it not been for some very unexpected and creative chumming. Our rods doubled over and we ended up with two great king mackeral, and as soon as mine hit the deck I immediately doubled over with sea-sickness. Trip over.

The in-between season is always refreshing, and mostly because anticipation is sometimes more fun than the real thing. Its when the planners come out, and people like me actually believe that this is the year that they will finally kill that long-beard or get on the water twenty five days. Speaking of water, there’s not nearly enough of it, and what we have is never quite close enough. We are blessed with probably the best tailwater in the southeast, and we never make good enough use of it. I bought a map of the Caney for the first time and it cost me 16 dollars, which says that it might be a little too good. But nonetheless, catching fish is better than not catching fish, even if it means making a few friends that you would rather not have.

Found a great blog today, sparse and to the point. That can only mean that the person responsible spends way more time hunting than writing, which is how it is supposed to be, sort of like a functional woodstove, if you get my dead-drift.

Off to the best sandwich in the city. It’s the best we can do sometimes.

Happy Hunting.



Wednesday, March 10, 2010

naked and pure.

Writing, as a profession, is the by far the most disrespected and enviable. The ideal type begins like this: poor middle-aged bastard who chain-smokes and hates people like Anglicans love whiskey, suddenly strikes it rich with a stroke of brilliance that comes from seemingly nowhere but that has, in fact, been there the entire time. I think that writing as a profession attracts the most confused sorts of folks. It’s that everyone wants to be heard, but no one actually likes to write. I don’t believe that I speak to many who say that they love to write. But they all want to be writers. That famous quote, ‘the hardest part about writing is starting and not stopping.’ I’ve always thought that there is one major similarity between real writers and lawyers. Both have an immeasurable capacity to do boring stuff.

There are a ton of issues. That’s both the beauty and the shit of it all. The good news is that there will always be a market, there will always be something to write about, something to interpret or make sense of, and people with perspective and a creative way of conveying that perspective turn into writers. There are things that will never go away, even if the form changes or mediums disappear. People will always listen to music and people will always read. That’s just the plain and simple truth. 

And its patience too. I think a lot of problems that need to be solved have to do with patience. We want right now what took our parents and grandparents 25 years to build. It is the problem of wanting something for nothing, of being an adult. It’s about taking punches and not quitting. About being told no and choosing not to pout and walking back into the fire to make a day of it. And it comes back to how people look at money, like more if it will solve your problems, like money isn’t the problem in itself. Something for nothing.

Because when life is standing before you, naked and pure, take a mental picture. Have  something to wake up for every morning, that one thing, and the world seems to make a little more sense. Try everything, especially when you are young, because youth is (or should be) urgent. But don’t be like Andrew and Jodee’s dog Boston, because he tried the turd in the bushes and got both a mouth and an ear-full. Some things are best indulged while no one is looking.

Just so you know (perhaps you don’t care, and if that is the case, then now is a good time to bounce off of this page to one that more specifically engages your fancy, or you can read a book, someone will appreciate that), I am making changes. I am finding some help to rework the page, and I want to make the content less about me, because I’m the first to admit that no one gives a damn about memoirs and they just come across as pretentious and untrue. Unless you are Nelson Mandella or someone who actually knows something, odds are we don’t care about your life*. A bummer about being born in 1986 is that I don’t know very many people who both survived the depression and fought in a war. Those are the people who know a thing or two about stark-naked life. I would probably read memoirs written by people who fit these criteria.  I will also be posting more often, perhaps even imbedding some extra doo-hickey gadgets that don’t really matter so that I can get more people engaged in reading what I have to say.

Because here is the plan. I want to write, I really like it (in a therapeutic problem solving way, not that I usually enjoy it because that would be contradictory to paragraph 1). Writing is only two things, perspective and craft, and I figure that I have a lifetime to perfect the craft. I figure that if I get an essay collection by the time I’m 70 I’ll be a real-life Norman McLean, and I’ll die content and with the most rods. I can’t help it.

I don’t know if you can tell, but I can’t focus today. I think this is mostly penitence for failing a lot in the past three days, perhaps a shot of self-pity and a questioning of how the hell I got here. Its four eighteen and in thirty minutes I will be either at the bar or finishing a John Gierach essay. On the one hand, craft brew really makes me feel better about myself in a ‘memoir’ sort of way. But the John essay is good, and I have some tobacco that actually tastes like it should, so option two is also a feasible outcome. This has become the question of the day, a day that has produced nothing except tiny victories and mounting defeats.

And the answer to the question is to go fishing.


*I publish this paragraph at the risk of sounding oft-putting, rude, and generally like an asshole. Before you write me off, just know that I'm talking about print memoirs, like augusten burroughs and other worthless work like that. Its just a rant. I'm not writing about LC or NorCal or other who pour their hearts and lives into their online medium, because these are real people with real lives who tell the truth and love to write. That is the best part of an online outdoor community, sharing stories. So please, accept this little post-script and take my writing for what its worth (which is exactly what you paid for it). Thanks.