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24 Feb

I sort of split 50-50 between thinking I’m a complete twat, and the other half thinks I’m fucking brilliant… — Gavin Clark

Gavin Clark died last week.  Sadly, until his death, I had no idea who he was.  I met him through Shane Meadows’ film, The Living Room.  Beginning like a goof between buddies, Shane visits Gavin’s home, catches him still waking up: messy kitchen, the familiar routine of trying to get organized after the kids are off to school.  With some prompting, Gavin begins to talk about the project they’re working on, a concert in his own living room, as a first step toward overcoming his fears as a performer.

Immediately endearing, it took me some time to realize that this sweet, struggling man is also brilliant, his singing surpassed only by his songwriting.  Messy kitchen, unpaid tax bill and all, his songs took me to places I have long neglected.  A gift from a stranger, a friend I had never met.

Later I found myself telling Heath, (who’s running for 6th grade student representative on a platform of extended electronics time, computer classes for the 6th grade, and an end to racial and sexual discrimination) that whenever he finds something exciting, something that sparks his imagination, he needs to hold on to it, because people will tell him it has no value, and that his focus needs to be on working hard and making money.  This will be a lie, I told him.  Those sparks are what we live for.  Those moments take us where we need to go.

That evening Hallie wrecked my desk. She was sly about it, waiting until I was outside shoveling snow, nothing but cuteness and good intentions when Amy came down to find her quietly drawing.  But once the coast was clear, she muscled the desk drawer off its runners and onto the bed, scattering notebooks, paper clips, pads, pens and highlighters everywhere.  When I found the mess she had made, Hallie was all innocence, and took my scolding with big brown eyes and a quivering lip.  “OK daddy,” she said, looking up at me with tear-stained cheeks, my noble, six-year-old, pony-tailed martyr.  And then she shuffled off down the hall, no doubt planning her next bit of destruction.

As I listened to her pad away, I gathered up the pens and paper, replaced the drawer, straightened my desk, and sat down for a few minutes.  I dug out the details for that new journal that was calling for submissions, ran through all the half-finished blog posts I’d been meaning to get to, and took another look at that short story that had started so well.  And I thought of my friend Mark, who drowned when we were six, and my best friend Randy, who I haven’t seen for forty years, and all the other people who were so important to me, and who I never see.  I wondered what they were doing, and if they ever thought of me.

And then I thought: I’m as adult as I want to be.

And I began to write.


A Lot of Things, Very Slowly

17 Apr

OK, a break of sorts.

I have been asked by my old friend Lindsay Porter, who I have known since we were little more than children, and whose blog Chimeragirl2010 ( is wonderful,  to take part in the #mywritingprocess blog tour by answering four questions about how I write.  Being someone for whom I feel a great fondness and admiration, and who will in my memory be forever young, stumbling down a Bucktown street in her cowboy boots and dress, blind to the world because her glasses would spoil the look, it is my honor and privilege to accept.

What are you working on?

A lot of things, very slowly.

A memoir of Arcola Drive, the street I lived on in suburban Detroit from 1968-1973.  It was a street where most everyone was in their late 2os, had a pack of kids, owned their own house, had a car and took a yearly vacation – all on one salary, somehow connected to the auto industry.  I want to find out what’s happened to those families over the last 40 years.

A novel called Limehouse, which follows a young American in London, as he stumbles into the world of Deakin, cranky storyteller, reluctant rogue, inhabitor of ancient pubs.  A man who ages only when he loves, and who, in this way, transcends time.

A comic novella called Lawrenceville, in which a fierce, but bedridden woman sends her hapless husband and son on a journey through the blizzard of the century in an attempt to beat her sister to a long-lost family treasure:  thousands of dollars in rolled quarters buried somewhere in her old home town.

The linchpin to all this, however, is my first short story, Skating the Lake.  It’s my step from memoir to fiction in a format where I can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I can already feel it effecting everything else I’m working on.

And, as always, I’m working on my two blogs, Extra Special Bitter and Playing in the City with Trains,  and the book which I think Playing should become.

How does your work differ from others in its genre?

Well, as you can see, I am all over the place genre wise.  And I don’t really think in terms of being different.  The goal is just to be honest.  That being said, I do have specific goals for each of these projects.

For the Detroit memoir, I’m starting from the memories of a 10 year old boy.  So, beyond the story of a changing world, it will also, by necessity, be a meditation on childhood, memory and community.  In this way it will differ from straight journalism or sociology, which, especially in terms of Detroit, have been done by others far more capable than I.

For Limehouse, the goal is to make it real, to strip away all the whiz-bang fantasy elements to the point where you begin to wonder, is this guy really six hundred years old? Did he really drink with Shakespeare? Or is he just an aging roadie with a wild imagination and a serious alcohol problem?  I like that tension.

Lawrenceville is close to the bone.  These people are family.  They make me laugh, and it’s easy to push that side of them.  But they’re not clowns.  I want them to be real.

Skating the Lake  is also very close.  I just want it to be clean.  No romance, no easy sentiment, no cliches.  Just a moment, polished until it shines.

I’m also big on hope, a quality sorely lacking in much of what I read.  If my work differs from others in its hopefulness, that would make me happy.

Why do you write what you do?

I don’t know.  I always wanted to write, and felt that I could do it, but I had nothing to say.  And then my daughter was born, she had Down Syndrome, and it just ripped me open.  Whatever crap I had spent my life jerry-rigging to keep my emotions tamped down just crumbled, and I could write.  I’ve been catching up with myself ever since.

How does your writing process work?

My challenge is time.  In a perfect world, I would type 1000 words a day first thing in the morning.  It’s absolutely my best time, and it’s usually so enjoyable that I easily exceed a 1000 words.  But between work and kids, this is a rare treat.

Barring that, boring temp jobs can be amazing, and are actually responsible for most of what I do.

Finally, although I’m a Luddite at heart and would love to be  one of those long-hand, pencil & legal pad writers, I’m shamed to admit how useful I find the computer.  The ability to edit in the moment is so satisfying.  I am lost without it.

And now I pass you on to the next leg of the tour.  Kindly take a moment to peek in on my generous fellow blogger and gifted photographer Stephanie Glennon, at Love in the Spaces, where she  live-blogs love lost and found, from blue angels in the backyard to penguins on the equator.

And, as always, thanks for stopping by.