Wild Cows of Boont

Writing Sucks


“If wanting money is crass, then wanting fame – or, at the very least, some kind of recognition – is worse. Because you’re not supposed to create with an audience in mind; that kind of thinking is for people who use words like “brand” and “content.” A true artist only ever makes things that are a perfect reflection of their most precious ideas, without ever wondering how other people will react. Who cares how people react? People are peasants, and if they don’t understand what you’re trying to communicate then the failure is theirs and theirs alone.

But, like, fuck that. Fuck all of that. Why are people allowed to want money for literally any other job besides creative work? I know writing is supposed to be a vocation or whatever, but that doesn’t mean you only ever do it without expecting payment. I’m not out here expecting free childcare because my son’s daycare teachers are performing a labour of love or whatever. And sure people should be making things that they’re passionate about, but that doesn’t mean they can’t ever possibly consider their potential audience. What is so filthy-dirty wrong about wanting success?” – The Belle Jar blog

Originally posted on The Belle Jar:

I am trying to write a novel and it sucks.

It sucks for all the reasons I’d expected: the weeks and weeks of writer’s block, the stilted clichés that sneak out the moment you’re not vigilant enough, the grinding frustration of trying unsnarl a set of words that for whatever reason just won’t do what you want them to do. I knew about all that stuff and, on some level, was prepared for it; after all, these are all things that I’ve experienced to some degree as a semi-professional freelance writer. What I wasn’t ready for was my inability to justify writing a book. Every time I open that goddamn Word document all I feel is this rush of ugly panic, and the cloud of oh my god what am I doing why am I doing this displaces every confident thought I’ve managed to muster up.

Here’s what I’ve realized: I am afraid of…

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Raise Your Eyebrow

Let’s agree to teach our kids that it’s bullshit. Being who you are is beautiful. Sure, acne may never be on the cover of Teen Vogue with a headline that says, “Whiteheads: So Hot Right Now!” but so what? Everything else will come full circle, and pimples go away eventually — or so I’m told.

So if your child is in the midst of waging the unwinnable battle that is puberty, or even if he or she is just making some questionable grooming choices along the windy, circuitous path to self-acceptance, try to resist the urge to step in with a save.

From HuffPo Parents today, I couldn’t resist the awkwardly cute photo and nod along with what author Una LaMarche had to say on the topic of everyone’s favorite developmental phase. Even if it’s painful. We’ve all been there, even the most conventionally beautiful among us to the homelier ends of the spectrum. Having our caretakers affirm that we are lovable and beautiful just the way we are can be powerful, in the present and later on. Except perhaps where it comes to being hygienic, conforming to ridiculous ever-mercurial beauty standards is an impossible chase and you will never, ever catch up. Three cheers to those who can role model this kind of ethos to their offspring.

Currently inspired by

Commencement speakers are always telling young people to follow their passions. Be true to yourself. This is a vision of life that begins with self and ends with self. But people on the road to inner light do not find their vocations by asking, what do I want from life? They ask, what is life asking of me? How can I match my intrinsic talent with one of the world’s deep needs?

You can read the rest of David Brooks’ excellent Op-Ed piece from the NYT here.

A thought provoking piece for any of us who are struggling with these dilemmas and finding our own ways to define success and finding meaning in daily life.

Navel gazing and wanderlust in harsh climates

I don’t understand this soul-searching, ‘find yourself’ thing that your generation does. When I was your age, I had to find a career path and a job quickly, to make money and to support my family. That was the choice. I just had to do it.

I recall with perfect clarity the inflection and words of Ben, my friend and co-worker, a retiree who ran field drops (also known as “Backup”) of water and supplies for the groups of kids and staff  at my job working for a wilderness therapy program in the high desert hinterlands of northeastern Utah. Before his time in this position, something he did more for the social contact than as any kind of necessary supplemental income, Ben had lived another life a world away, as a successful businessman living in foreign cities and distant lands. Prior to that, he had been in the military, doing much the same. At one point in the midst of all that, he lost his wife and his daughter in a tragic car accident. He never seemed bitter or marred by the experience, merely reflective, though possibly gentler and kinder, yet with a steely reserve and an undeniable, unflappable ethic. He always treated me with a fatherly kindness, tempered with gentle ribbing and sarcasm applied at the moments when I took myself too seriously or let the actions of others  too deeply under my skin. All of this was balanced by a decent amount of “now, listen here” tough love.

Though I remember his words as though I heard them yesterday, instead of eight years ago (nearly to the day), the statement doesn’t stick with me for its sting, but rather for its unadulterated honesty. It wasn’t steeped and stewed in overly judgmental tones or sanctimony, but one of vague bewilderment.  Yes, in some ways it had a hint of that tone of the generation that comes before, which inevitably finds its moment to shake a gnarled finger at the next and scold them for how good they have it, if they only knew, kids these days. In my gut, I also knew there was truth to what he said, even if it wouldn’t adequately brush aside my hunger for a change of scenery. At that juncture, I was practically squirming out of my skin to be far, far away from what had become routine and now seemed utterly dolorous. If I could just get myself far enough away, everything could be different. At least, this is the believable lie I often tell myself and tend to hold onto like the world’s greatest truth.

I was finishing up my last shift in the field before a trip to India, which in its own right was indeed both life-altering, only gently harrowing, and incredible. At the time, I was 26 years old and restless as ever, eager to leave behind the insidious red desert dust, finger numbing winter, and long tiring days trudging through the wilds of BLM back country lands, alongside a scrappy-looking pack of troubled teens and staff alike. My inner vagabond still felt unsatisfied, even though I was in near-constant motion. Something still just didn’t seem right, I couldn’t quite articulate just what that was. Working backup with Ben was a pleasant break from a daily slog through the dirt, and provided respite from the minor political dramas that tend to arise in any work situation, and invariably balloon out of proportion in one’s mind, but are more or less interchangeable from one scene to the next. The setting may alter, and the players too, but put humans together in close quarters on a near-daily basis, and you will produce similar enough results: allegiances and conflicts, squabbles and disagreements, things that matter a lot and others that matter very little, or not at all.

I can look back with piercing clarity to see that then, just as now, I was trying to shake things up, to brush off the dust – both metaphoric and physical – in hopes of glimpsing the bigger picture and holding it in my sight for just a moment before it slipped from my vision once again. What is it like to really feel alive, to truly be awake? I was certain the answer to this question lay in some mysterious Elsewhere and that only by testing myself could I really extract the answer. Echoing against the recesses of my consciousness, I asked myself this question over and over again, to try to jump-start motivation and enthusiasm for something, anything: the engine rattles and sputters, but doesn’t turn over. “Find your True North,” as some of the staff used to say, but I spent most of the time seeing the compass spinning and spinning without a landing point, as they say a compass will do at the poles. Running in place furiously, without realizing you’re not actually moving in a meaningful direction, only leads to exhaustion from pointless, self-defeating overexertion.

And yes, it does seem at a certain point both undeniably self-indulgent and completely selfish, which is part of what Ben’s statement pointed to, and which made me wince. It’s a luxury of singularity, of rebellious irresponsibility. The polar opposite of course is not the only alternative, but its the only one I wanted far in my rear view mirror: stultifying domesticity, the ebb and flow of the 9 to 5 rhythm, a life of duty, routine, and boring, mind-numbing obligation. In a word, much of what comprises adulthood, but isn’t always the death knell one might think.

So here I sit, in the midst of a similar conundrum, but closing in on a decade away from that other moment. Once again, feeling like I teeter on the brink of adulthood, but still sitting firmly on the fence, only dipping my toes in, on  one side and then on to the other. Oh so briefly, before I resume my perch.

Time out of mind

“For almost three years, I didn’t touch my brushes once. I thought that I was done painting.

But as I studied what I love, I began to need art again. So I returned to my paintings. Now my life has become a rhythm of wilderness wanderlust and long hours spent painting afterwards. I stumbled into a life that feels well lived and it all started with, “What do you want to see out the window every morning?

I wanted to see the woods…”

See more of the beautiful nature-inspired art of Janie Stapleton here.

Thought for Food

And so, in this way, I grew up and grew out. I slipped from skinny 7-year-old to angsty 12, with my wispy angel wing bangs hiding behind a book at the dinner table. I ate when I was hungry, I read books when I was starving for something I couldn’t find. Little girls change into women slowly on the outside, but on the inside it’s much more sudden. One day, you look at the world through a small binocular view-your house, your mother and father, your walk to the bus stop. Those are enough for you to see. And the next day your eyes are searching and hungry for all the sights of the world at large. Considering and calculating, waiting for something bright and delicious to appear.”

Read the rest here. 

Movin’ Right Along (Or, indolence)


I’ve been in an on off-the-grid induced writing hiatus for a while now, at least, in the digital, self-publishing sense. Analog-style, I’ve been burning up the pages, as ever. A bunch of crap, mostly, but when I’m dizzy with too many thoughts, I find it’s better to scribble it haphazardly than to let it rankle in my head. What to do, what to be, how to do it? Where to go, where to be, where to live? Writing is therapy, not just self-indulgence (although, sometimes…). Most nights as I try to fall asleep, my thoughts play racket ball, and bounce about with ideas of Things to Blog About. There’s too much to think about. I can’t sleep. How can I sleep?



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Somewhere above the noise

This morning, over coffee and the sounds of the vineyard harvest humming away in the background, accompanied by bird song (lovely) and the occasional disruptive rumble of a logging truck, the Tall Man and I mulled over the realities of “living away from it all,” which by most accounts, we do. How, for a short stint of our lives so far, we are able to live without all of the usual static and noise: not just of perpetual highway traffic and the hum and hustle of teeming humanity, but of billboards, television, internet, and the undeniable presence these entities assert in modern life. Although there are myriad annoyances that inevitably sprout up from time to time, in relation to the bare-bones reality that is living so remotely, it also somehow feels just right much of the time; although there are elements of it that are completely at odds with who I am, or who I’ve been conditioned to believe I should be.

Even if I feel restless and claustrophobic at times – island fever, though it’s not technically an island – and crave the interactions with peers which are so few and far between here, there is also something about it that sits exactly where it oughta. Even when I know in my heart that the place isn’t quite what I had in mind, and that I won’t stay here for the rest of my life, (because, believe me, there are things I desperately would trade for in a heartbeat) there is some quiet voice inside of me that says Why are you in such a hurry to run away all the time? There’s value in silence and solitude, and when you think about sprinting away again, it’s because you’re just too afraid to look. Even when that “silence and solitude” usually seem to wear the guise of isolation and loneliness with a hint of alienation and the impression that indeed, life IS happening elsewhere. Of course it is. It always is.

We talked about the sigh of relief we exhale slowly, but surely, often unconsciously, as we turn and dip, around the bend on the 128 that signals the dividing line between Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. We talked about how so much laziness and apathy are bred by convenience. And how there is so much we’ve been told that is vital and crucial and important that is really just a fat waste of time and adds no human value to our existence, but actually does so much more of the opposite: to distract us, to destroy us, to take away the short, precious moments we have on this beautiful planet which is summarily being decimated by all this so-called “progress” and “success” we’re taught to strive for.

This quiet, quirky, remote place, although it drives me to the brink of my own sanity at times, as it turns out, is actually something to be treasured and preserved. Not that I’m advocating holing one’s self up like a hermit or a misanthrope and trying to wall yourself off from the rest of humanity’s ceaseless onslaught. I know my fair share of curmudgeons here who espouse exactly that and I think most of them are hiding behind delusion and/or a deeply scarred facade. But for my own part, I am lately finding the moments where I am able to more fully appreciate what it is to find one’s self so-called “above the noise.”

I don’t mean this to say that I’ve moved beyond it, or that I think I’m better than it, or that I have no use for it, and I’m going to live completely on the hinterland fringes of it forever. Surely not. I currently make my living via social media. I’m participating in it right now. I don’t intend to stop. I am talking about taking time out of the panting, shoving, pushing, sad race where you are merely barreling forward without even finding that moment to stop what you’re doing; to take that pause, and languish in that fleeting second it takes to inhale deeply and then slowly exhale. That is, to try to step outside of yourself and your impressions and your beliefs (most of them are wrong. Some of them are right but really… Most of what we think is probably wrong. Or, I’ll speak for myself here: Most of what I think most of the time is probably completely, unutterably false) where your mind can be still – for even just a brief moment – where you can allow those thoughts to recede and allow beauty and silence to overtake you. To perhaps let your eyes and your brain be soothed by the dramatic spectacle in the sky, that we can gaze upon at the start and end to each day, or appreciate some tiny thing that brings you joy or peace or gives you pause. If I can quiet my mind, even for just a moment, sometimes those false impressions and mental static slip away, at least for the time being.

Up from down below

IMG_2181These lovely grasses grow and shimmer in the wind in front of the gardens by my work parking lot. Each of the individual little grass seeds is a gorgeous, complex work of nature. Offset by a startlingly blue afternoon sky, it caught my eye as I was leaving work. But, they’re also pernicious little buggers called “foxtails,” which can burrow (painfully) into your dog’s skin, into their ears. It’s expensive for me and an excruciating problem for my animals. But oh, they’re so pretty, too. I can’t help but think, perhaps rather tritely, that most everything in this world harbors some paradox. For now, I find this image peaceful and meditative.

Loss, hope, and kindness

When someone beloved dies, we gather our memories and we tell our stories, as if in this remembrance, we can feebly muster the weight of all our hopes to catch the meteor as it speeds across the heavens, to clutch the light in our hands for just one last beautiful moment before it burns up and flickers out of reach and out of sight.

This world lost a brilliant, shining light of a human being this week to the darkest depths of depression’s abyss. My heart is heavier than I can ever recall in reaction to the untimely death of someone who I did not even know. I feel a sense of grief and loss of something that is both familiar and yet, it is connected to someone who I never encountered in person, never actually met or knew in the intimate ways of friendship or family. And yet, Robin Williams life touched so many so deeply, that it does, as many have said, feel like losing a beloved uncle. I grew up watching his movies and his standup, and many of the movies, I recall somehow as having marked significant stages and moments of my growing up. He was a performer who could connect to his audience on multiple levels, regardless of age, swinging on the pendulum through seriousness, absurdity, and hilarity, standing life on its head and shaking out the contents of its pockets, with a puckish look and sometimes manic grin. 

As many have been saying, it is in part because he was so raw and real in the range of human emotions that he showed in his performances, how could you not but find something to relate to? His mad genius humor was so fast-paced and free-associative, with gut-shaking hilarity, and yet you could see the gentle vulnerability and a hint of some hidden pain that shone through his eyes when his face relaxed. 

The night before he died, or perhaps it was even the morning before I learned the awful, sad news, he inexplicably crossed my mind. I can’t even say now what sparked the thought. It may have been connected to some conversation I’d been having the day before, about authenticity and integrity. I thought about his part as a therapist in Good Will Hunting and how he brought such life and humanity to a role that is often crammed into a two dimensional space and becomes an odious trope. He seemed like someone I might actually want to talk to and confide in. Someone real, and a good example of how to be, as true empathy is not something easily faked, and it is often rooted in one’s own experiences with loss and suffering. 

There are always glimmers of hope that shine through in sad, dark moments, if we know where to look or how. But of course, depression acts like a veil and everything appears dim. If something positive can come of such inexplicable pain, my hope is that more people feel able to admit their struggles and to seek help; to discover that the love that surrounds them is also buried somewhere within themselves, too. The depths of despair place us in a room that appears to have no way out, the windows are thickly coated in soot, and if there are doors, they appear only to lead deeper into a maze. But that is truly just the mind, convinced and convincing: the so aptly named “terrible master.” 

So many who knew him mention that he was generous, gentle, and kind. And of course, yes, that he was funny. But kindness is the golden glow that lingers long after the light of words and conversations fade: the truth that people won’t necessarily remember what you said, but always how you made them feel. Sometimes I think kindness is the only thing worth striving for in this world that can often seem harsh, lonely, and unforgiving. Be kind to yourself, be kind to others: the simplest aphorism and the most basic tenet of any religion or philosophy worth its salt. 


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