Oneonta, NY August 2011
It all begins at the bar some time in late June. I am sitting at my favorite corner barstool quietly drinking a whiskey when, all of a sudden, an older guy who I know a little but not a lot comes up to me and starts ranting and raving about the recession…the depression…the current economic malaise. He’s some kind of building contractor; his business has been really slow; he’s barely making enough to make ends meet and he’s very angry about it. He blames the Democrats and Barack Obama. He blames George Bush and the Republicans. He blames the bankers who are hoarding all the cash and he blames welfare cheats who are ripping off the system. Essentially, he blames the whole damn world and for some reason I don’t quite understand, he wants to tell me all about it. He rants and raves for a long time and then finally, he asks me about my opinion. “You,” he says, “you’re a stone mason right? Your business must be hurting? Who do you blame for the fucking economic mess this country’s in?”
Tough question don’t you think? Especially since all the good and logical answers have already been mentioned by the questioner. But alas, thankfully I do not restrict myself to logic and reason. And if there is one thing I am good at it in this universe it is coming up with snappy and original answers to important social and political questions that are posed at the bar. So I gulp down my whiskey and slam the empty glass down on the bar to indicate that I want another. And then I glare at the angry contractor and give him an answer, “I blame the gods!” I say.
“The gods?” he questions as a wave of confusion washes over his face.
The truth is, of course, that I don’t really blame anyone for the present economic problems. The US has a dysfunctional economic system that is founded upon a delusional metaphor. In the real world…in ah…paradise… there is a constant dynamic balance between growth and decay; activity and inactivity; life and death. Sane creatures appreciate and embrace the full spectrum of experience and only concern themselves with the basics of food and shelter. It is only the unrealistic metaphor of capitalism that requires continuous growth, continuous expansion, ever increasing consumption and a fundamental belief in perpetual increase. Once you let go of the metaphor, the recession ceases to be a problem. I do not doubt that the planet earth will provide me with a steady supply of food and shelter for the infinitely foreseeable future. Yeah sure, it would be nice to be busy like the old days with a full schedule of stonework before me and a pile of money rolling in. But I also recognize that there are significant advantages to the new economic reality. I may not have much money now, but I do have time. Time to do something I’ve been thinking about for a very long time…
“That’s right” I say out loud, “the gods. There’s a reason for everything in this universe and the reason the U.S. is now undergoing an economic recession is because the gods want humans to change their behavior…do something different.”
Of course the contractor does not accept my explanation and we proceed to have an extended alcohol enhanced discussion about the relative existence of the ancient mythological gods and the relative existence of modern political figures. Who really holds the power in this world? Those characters in Washington D.C. who are always appearing on television; or the primordial urges within us that only manifest in the form of dreams. The contractor and I never come to any solid conclusions but the conversation we have gives me a lot to think about in the following weeks as the seemingly infinite available stonework of years gone past disappears in a puff of smoke…. Isn’t it strange how bullshit sometimes becomes reality?
The truth is, for the most part, the recession or depression or whatever you want to call it, has not been exceptionally hard on me. I had a tough Autumn in 2008 when the big crash happened and several jobs cancelled but I still managed to save enough for a winter adventure in Africa. Then, 2009, I actually had a very good year; a few big projects and a steady flow of work from April to November. Last year was a bit problematic but really not too bad. The steady flow of work turned into a trickle but at least there was almost always something to do. I sort of got fucked over financially in a bad business deal, but despite everything I still managed to afford a pleasant winter wander in South America. This year, I expected more of the same; a slow season but hopefully starting to pick up again. Little did I realize that the gods had special plans for me.
Yeah, I know, you don’t believe in “the gods”. That’s okay. Neither do I really….only sort of. Let’s call it a metaphor. It’s weird though, the more you start to think about something, the more you start to believe it and the more it seems like it’s real. It was shortly after my conversation with the old contractor at the bar that the gods started playing tricks on me… Basically, they used the tool of the great American recession to smack me in the head. All of a sudden, my little trickle of stonework dried up completely. I still had a part time gardening gig that covered my basic bills. But gardening is not stonework. And so, for the first time in 15 years or so, I didn’t have a pile of stones to work with for the months of July and August.
If you love your profession as much as I do, you may understand what it’s like to be deprived of doing the thing that you do. I swear, not having stonework to do for those few months felt like a curse of the gods. It was weird enough to make me crazy. The stonework was out there too. I kept hearing about it. Several people told me about friends who needed work. I got a couple of calls; a couple of almosts. But everybody was having financial issues. They wanted to do something but they would decide to put it off for a year. What the hell is going on? Why can’t I get stonework? It’s not fair universe. What in the hell am I supposed to do?
Oddly enough, I knew the answer to the question. There was no burning bush, no ethereal cloud of smoke and no dude with wings or horns to explain it to me. But there didn’t have to be. For some reason I can’t quite explain, I knew the answer deep in my heart. The thought would run through my head as I bicycled over Franklin Mountain to my gardening job… There’s a reason for everything. You have no stonework because the gods want you to change your behavior. What do they want you to do? Publish your book Pat. Get it out there. Show your stories to the world…
The fact is, I’ve been writing and telling stories for as long as I can remember. But I’ve never made much of an effort to publish anything. Back in the early 90s when I finished my first novel, I sent it out to a few publishers and got a few rejection slips but I made no sustained effort. Because of my aversion to corporate capitalism, my real plan was always to self publish it but I never got around to it. I put the book away and moved on to the next project. The same pattern has repeated itself over and over and over. I write somewhat compulsively. I love to do it. I’ve completed a couple of novels, a screenplay, several books of poems, a couple of travel books and more than a hundred stories. And every time I complete something I make some sort of plan in my head to self publish it or otherwise make it available to the world. But I don’t. I get busy with stonework. I plan my next winter’s travel. I start the next writing project. The publishing plan gets put on the back burner; postponed and forgotten. Part of the problem is that I don’t really like computers and to go through with the publishing thing I am going to have to embrace the internet and the modern world. But part of the problem is some weird psychological hang up about exposing my soul to the general public.
But the gods give me no choice. They take away my stonework and leave me with nothing to do. My conversation with the contractor keeps replaying in my head. Recessions happen for a reason. The gods want me to do something different. What do the gods want me to do? They want me to start publishing my books… I don’t actually hear a voice echo forth from the clouds with a specific demand or anything. But as the stonework fails to materialize the directive from the primordial powers becomes more and more clear. So I’m riding my bicycle over Franklin Mountain in the rain one day and I finally accept the assigned task. “Okay,” I say out loud just as I reach the top, “I’ll do it. I’ll publish a book. Then will you give me some stonework to do?” I shake my fist at the raining sky for dramatic effect as I begin the descent down towards Oneonta… And then, believe it or not, as if to acknowledge my demand, a flash of lightening slithers across the sky and a loud crack of thunder booms through the atmosphere.
So a couple days later, in the first week of July, I get connected to the internet. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not a complete internet or computer novice…just close. I’ve been sending out e-mails since 1999 and I’ve even uploaded a few photo images. I had a website for years for my stonework business but that was handled by real professionals who did a great job. Actually, that’s how the whole travelogue style of writing started. It was an add-on to my stonework website. I’d send e-mails to my website manager during my winter travels and she would post them on the site. Even when I started though; I always imagined that the travel stories part would eventually become a thing in and of itself. But I also knew that could never really happen unless I acquired some better computer skills and set myself to the task. The problem was, of course, I didn’t want to do it. I love to do stonework. I love to write and tell stories. But I don’t like staring at computer screens and formatting and editing and downloading and uploading and arranging and staring at computer screens. The plan was clear in my head for a long time. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. For years and years and years, I refused to even get an internet connection. But then, I had that conversation with the gods when I rode over Franklin Mountain in the rain.
It’s amazing what you can do with an internet connection. Within a week of the connection, I had set myself up with this blog on wordpress. It really is not that difficult at all. No doubt, I am still an amateur so my site lacks professional pizzaz. Slowly but surely though, I’m learning how it works; Loading stories, loading photos, loading comments; establishing links and tags and widgets. It’s only a matter of time before I figure it all out. You just wait, before long, this will be the best travel stories site on the whole darn world wide web. But the website is only the beginning. The website is the anchor for the whole publishing project. The real plan is to produce printed books that people will read. At least, that’s what I promised the gods. So that’s what I have to do. Once I got the blog going, I started researching all the various online publishing options for the full length books. It took me a little over month to have the first e-book formatted and ready to go. By the first week of August, I had the e-book version of The Way To… Timbuktu listed for sale on Smashwords. Not bad huh, in a little over a month I went from completely unknown author to a completely unknown author with an electronic book available.
But this, of course, was not good enough for the gods; still no stonework; still just the long bike ride over the mountain to work on the garden. Where’s the stonework dammnit? Yeah, I know; I don’t need a burning bush or a dude with horns to tell me. The electronic book is not good enough. The electronic book is just the beginning. It doesn’t work. The gods say; get back to work. No fun stonework for you. You can’t go out and play. Sit at the computer, stare at the computer, format the document, online research, download programs, upload material. Why does this seem so much like work? Why does it seem like the gods are standing behind me with a whip forcing me to do this? I feel like Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill? Why do I have to stay inside at a computer? Why can’t I just have a big stone wall to work on? Why do I have to publish this book? I don’t know. But for some reason… I do.
And so, on August 23rd of this year, shortly after noon on the East Coast, I finished the publishing process for the paperback version of The Way To… Timbuktu. Several drafts have been edited. It has been formatted and re-formatted. The first proof was sent to me with a few fundamental flaws. The final changes were made. I upload the final complete version and then I press the release button. Ms. B. is there with me at the time helping out with the book cover. I say to her somewhat triumphantly, “it is done! My first paperback book is now available to the public. I am officially a published author.” She gives me a high five to acknowledge the accomplishment. And then….
The Earth Quakes! That’s right, at the moment I release my very first published book to the outside world…. The east coast where it is officially released is struck with an earthquake. Coincidence? You think so? Ha. If you live on the East Coast you probably remember exactly where you were at the moment it happened. Did you feel it? The ground beneath your feet became unsteady. It wasn’t just an earthquake, it was a deep earthquake. The epicenter was far beneath the surface. Yet the effects were felt thousands of miles away. Did you wonder what was happening? Did you recognize this event as a sign of some kind of profound transformation? It almost seemed as if the gods themselves were making an announcement. Less than an hour later, my phone rings and it’s a customer who wants to hire me to build a stone wall. Thank you oh thank you oh gracious gods, I can hardly wait to get my hands on some stones again. And then well, just to complete the picture, the hurricanes and floods come shortly thereafter. Indeed, the second hurricane comes passing through Oneonta on the very day that the first nine paperback copies are delivered to my door. In my universe at least, major climatic events like hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, tornados and forest fires are manifestations of the gods celebrating. Humans are sometimes injured and killed in the midst of the celebrations but it is certainly not any sort of intentional punishment. How much have the gods been celebrating lately? And what do you suppose they are celebrating?
Yeah, I know, you probably don’t believe that there is any logical connection between the publishing of my book and the earthquake that struck the east coast. And you probably don’t believe that the hurricane and floods which followed shortly thereafter were any kind of celebration of the gods for the release of my book either. Indeed, you probably don’t even believe that the gods took away my stonework in order to force me to publish the book. Or even that the gods gave us a recession to force Americans in general to fundamentally change their economic behavior. Nevertheless, don’t you think you should buy and read the book to find out what all the fuss is about? You can buy the paperback right now by clicking on this link:
Or, if you have one of those electronic book reading devices you can buy the more economical electronic version of the book by clicking on this link:
And I promise, next week there will be a real travel story.