Yesterday I was sitting in a restaurant, waiting for my brother, when I saw a man come in and make his way toward the cashier. When he was a few feet away one of the employees said, “Excuse me, sir, do you have a mask?” The man sighed and nodded as he reached into his pocket. After he had the mask on the man said, “I’ll be a sheep.” Then, he kind of turned to look around and I caught his eye and said to him, “It’s funny, but you don’t look like a sheep. You look like a good man.”
I really regret not keeping up with progress reports on Cottonwood over the time I’ve been working on it. The funny thing is that I until I checked I couldn’t even remember how long I’ve been working on the book. Now that I have checked I see it’s been a good long time since my first novel, John J. McDermott & the 1971 U.S. Open came out in April of 2019.
Cottonwood is a sequel of sorts. No, I guess it’s just a plain old sequel. It takes the lives of the two main characters from the early 1970s in Pennsylvania all the way to the desert of California and the late 1970s. I didn’t really have another book with the same characters, or at least some of them, in mind when I was putting the finishing touches on JJM. But suddenly, when I was totally done with it, I realized that I wasn’t totally done with it.
I imagined the book continuing into the future, the future being nearly a decade later. I saw the book continuing into my own time and closer to some of my own places. So much of the first book was an educated guess. Oh sure, I’d been to Pennsylvania when I was a kid but I didn’t have any real memories of it, other than staying with my mom’s cousin in an ancient row house in Reading, Pennsylvania one summer when I was about 12. Worse, I’d never been to Wales or anywhere in Europe for that matter (still haven’t, in fact). That was a huge problem. I spent hours looking at maps, imagining how the sun rose and set in various parts of the country. I read about how much it cost to take a ship from New York to Wales and how long the voyage took. I came to know some of that stuff, as we know facts that are printed on the page, but I couldn’t know them as experiences.
They say to write what you know. It makes a kind of intuitive sense but the need to know breaks down quickly when you start to write. The important thing for me has been to know and understand my characters. From there, my book is only a measure of how well I can bring my imagination and my relationship with my characters together. I think that Cottonwood will be a better book than JJM, or at least I hope it will be. It’s certainly a longer one and it’s not quite done yet. I wanted Cottonwood to have a more leisurely quality than JJM but life over the last two and a half years got in the way, both for me and the main characters. Life up and took away some of the meandering feel that I had hoped for the book and replaced it with something more intense, and I guess that’s Ok. We all write, partly, to make a character come to life. I hope that Cottonwood will do more than keep the characters from JJM alive. I hope it will show them as they change and meet challenges in the world they exist in much as I try to do in my own.
Anyway, it’s been a long effort and I happy to have made as much progress as I have. I can see the end of Cottonwood coming and also the beginning that will follow it close behind.
The truth is that I don’t know very many hard truths about drinking and writing, or even exactly why writers tend to drink. That said, I will say that many of the learned explanations I’ve read don’t show much understanding, let alone truths either.
No less an authority than Psychology Today included gems like:
the drive for success of every kind
the hunger for prestige, fame, and money
Naw, that ain’t it…
Anyway, I do have some ideas (better ideas than those, anyway).
Crafting the Buzz
You’re a wordsmith, that’s great. And, if you drink when you write you also have to be a buzzsmith (yes, I did just invent that word) because too much alcohol, and this is news to no one, blunts perception, true sensitivity and the ability to articulate ideas.
But, what about just enough alcohol? Well, that’s a different story. I contend that, for me, just enough alcohol, just as it facilitates some conversations, facilitates access to ideas and word combinations that may well be elusive in a state of total sobriety.
The general accepted idea is that judgment is the first faculty to be affected by alcohol. But, think about what judgment can mean when applied to writing. It’s easy for judgment to become self-judgment, and self-judgment is very effective in closing down new and novel ways to think about things. Since when has that helped the writing process? There’s a chance that just enough alcohol can open the very doors that need to be open for the ideas to flow their best.
But there’s something else, too.
A Foil Against Writing-Induced Loneliness
I cannot tell you how many times people have asked me how I can spend so much time alone and writing, owing to my basically chatty nature. It’s not only difficult but it runs against some of my most basic instincts to be around other people and talking. When my office is quiet, and it’s dark outside, my first impulse is to call someone on the phone. But, if there’s something I want to write I need to replace that temptation for a while. I start with a snack and follow it with a drink. If I make good progress, I may have another drink, but that’s it.
The law of diminishing returns sets in after two drinks.
Is a Rum & Coke So Different From a Xanax?
When I get home from a long day and a hundred miles or more of driving and I need to write, I’m also going to want a drink. That’s the just the truth without a proclamation of pride or shame. I admit it’s an ongoing balancing act. I admit that I have also written effectively when sober as a proverbial judge. And, sadly very close friends of mine have had their lives ended by the ravages of alcoholism.
So Where Does that Leave Writers and Alcohol?
Writing, like living, is an art. There’s simply no rule book that governs the creative process. I can only say that I seek balance. I want to write. I want to see people and enjoy their company. I want to have a couple drinks and enjoy people and writing sometimes even more when I do without.
All of that said, I want to do all of this safely, in a way that protects me and everyone else. That can be the hard part but it’s also the most important part of all.
Enjoy & create, but take good care of yourself while you’re doing it.
I’ve not been around lately because I am trying to make hay while the sunshines on my second book. It’s coming along nicely, thanks for asking. I have an outside chance of finishing the narrative by my self-imposed deadline of December 31 of this year.
It’ll be close but I might just make it.
Anyway, I was having lunch with a preternaturally nervous and stressed friend yesterday. Does he deserve to be as wound up as he is? I don’t think so but it’s pretty much his natural state. He’s a little better some days and worse others.
We were parked at the bar of the local CPK and he asked why I wasn’t having a beer. I told him CPK had a lousy tap list. They used to make mixed drinks with Pepsi, for heaven’s sake.
He said, “I wonder why some of the local brewers don’t just get a keg in here. It would be easy.”
“Easy?” I said incredulously.
“Wouldn’t it be?” he said naively.
Before I not-so-gently corrected him I reminded myself who he was and how he thought. For him, everything is always simple and easy as long as someone else is doing it. I try to remind him that pretty much anything worth doing is located on the Hard Scale somewhere between difficult and impossible but he’s quite resistant to the reality of all things worthwhile.
Writing a book? Easy until you try.
Brewing a decent red ale? Easy until you try.
Learning a new language? Easy until you try.
Admitting something’s hard shouldn’t scare us away from doing it. We only have to care enough to take the steps that need taking, day after day.
Just remember that simple isn’t easy.
Here is the final part of my 2014 golf short story, Kingdom of Dreams.
Thanks for listening. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.
My novel is done. No, you can’t go buy it yet.
I’m preparing it for submission to a handful of publishers and it turns out they don’t fancy looking at books that are already in the throes of a self-publishing campaign.
I’m quite certain that’s where my book will end up and that’s OK by me. I’m glad I wrote it. It took a lot longer than I had hoped but I learned so much about the kind of long-form writing thought that a novel requires that I now regard the span of time as something of a necessity. That’s another way of saying I’m a slow learner.
I had written a great deal over a very long period of time before I decided to write a novel. Now that I’ve done it, I want to do another and to do a better job of it. I can look back on my book and can see it clearly for its good and bad. Something about writing it broke away a kind of resistance that had set in to that kind of writing ambition. Suddenly, writing a book seemed like something I could do and do with meaningful results.
I think often of Steve Earle’s dark years in Amsterdam when he was addicted to heroin. When he had finally clawed his way back into the light, he had a creative boom of sorts, making records and writing books and plays with a speed and intensity he never showed before. He attributed the burst of work to his release from smack.
Even though I wrote for both pay and fun I avoided the idea of writing a book until I hit my 50s. Rather than being addicted to heroin I had instead succumbed to the belief that I didn’t have anything to offer; that I wasn’t that kind of writer. It turns out that I am…
So, I’m grateful that I simply had the idea to write my book. Obviously and as always, it is the idea that made everything possible.
Now I have another idea and it’s led me start writing my second next novel.
Here’s hoping it moves along faster than the first one.
Sage Park survived…
The Woolsey Fire is now all but out. The evacuation area got as close as a mile from my home. I got out toward the end of last week and saw some of the devastation along the north-bound 101.
Most of the oak trees I have photographed on many of the trails I hike have burned. They stand now like charred skeletons on the fire-darkened slopes. Compared to many of who live not very far from where I do, I was very lucky.
The fire started to the south and west of Sage Park. For days, I wondered if the prevailing winds would allow the dried grasses and oaks of the park survive the inferno and they did.
There’s always something to be thankful for and today I’m thankful for all of the oaks and all of the wildlife and all of the rare open space of Southern California that came through the Woolsey Fire unscathed.
I can’t remember if it was 2008 or 2009 when I first met Tony Manzoni. I know I was in the desert on a golf junket and that I had picked up a local desert golf magazine that had an article on Tony that alluded to his swing theory. The article was pretty sparse, and didn’t really get to the essence of what Tony was saying, but there was just enough there to pique my interest.
Soon thereafter we met but it was years, many years, in fact, before our book, The Lost Fundamental, saw the light of day. Those many years have now flipped by as the days and weeks and months and years of the calendar are destined to and now my friend, Tony Manzoni, has moved on.
Tony battled cancer over the last few years. He fought the good fight and fought it with optimism and good humor but in the end cancer or the fates or God in heaven ended the game and now we are all left to face the world, and especially the world of golf, without him.
Yes, he had played alongside of the greats of our game.
Yes, he taught golf to movie stars.
Yes, Frank Sinatra was godfather to his daughter.
Each of these are undisputed facts but what they don’t convey is what truly matters about Tony Manzoni. In the end, as great a teacher as Tony was, as fine a player as he was, his real calling in life, his real gift, was as a lifelong student of golf.
Of course, Tony was an amazing player in his own right.
Of course, Tony coached his College of the Desert team to no fewer than five state championships.
I had the good fortune of working with Tony on his concepts many times over the last decade and each and every time I met with him in person, or when I spoke to him by phone, his mind was always on the game.
Once, I met with him in his office during a time when we were feverishly editing one of the final drafts of our book. I was reading the book, out loud, to him while Tony silently read his copy of the draft.
I was watching his hands as he read but I couldn’t figure out why he was moving them as he was..
Then I realized what was happening. Before we had gotten into the edits I had mentioned the premise of an article I had read concerning the action of the wrists during the golf swing. The writer said that only the left wrist truly hinged while the right wrist merely shifted right to accommodate that hinging action. What I was seeing was Tony working his hands to see if this was true or not.
After a while, Tony looked up and me and said, “You know, Paul…that’s absolutely right.”
Perhaps this is the final and best lesson of a true master of golf. Learning never ends. Part of being an expert is having an open mind to different ways of experiencing golf and also to explaining it. Tony had this gift. A part of it gave him the ability to relate to his young students at College of the Desert though he was many years their senior. It was easy for him because Tony was always learning, just like his players.
Tony has only been gone for a few days now but I already miss him dearly. My own golf game will surely suffer for his absence but my life will always be enriched by the echo of Tony’s ongoing presence and his passion for golf and learning.
I am proud to count Tony Manzoni as a friend and I was honored to work with him on the mission of bringing his knowledge to more and more of those who love our game.
If you would like to read more about Tony’s storied career you can read his obituary in the Desert Sun here.
I’m having a marginal golf season so I decided I needed to some find some talismans to help my game. OK, I know they’re placebos, but I am huge believer in placebos.
By the way, if you haven’t heard this podcast listen to it now and come back and look the photo and read this later: Akimbo: Don’t fear placebos
Anyway, I decided to buy some coins from the year of my birth. The quarter was a coin from my dad, so even though I carry it in my golf bag I don’t use it to mark putts since I’m always afraid of losing it.
So, this is the collection so far. None of them cost more than a dollar and I think they make a nice looking group. Now when I loan someone a coin as a ball mark and they forget to give it back I can say, “I’ll bet you have a 1961 coin in your pocket…hand it over.”
By the way, the two divot repair tools are made from real carbon fiber. Back in the day I knew a guy who made them and they are very cool. The are exceptionally light and show very little wear even though I use them all the time.
Sadly, the guy lost his access to carbon fiber and the business never took off.
Hey, I’m just glad I’ve got mine!
Southern California has now played the very same trick on me for over a half century. Each spring I revel in the tall green grasses that grow on our local hills & fields.
But, just when I get used to their verdancy, they dry up and die.
It’s true these kinds of grasses have very short life spans but in an area that’s so short on green it’s always hard to see the surrender of the fleeting green of spring.
I know summer is on the way.