As luck would have it, I still have the 1980 edition, and as it is 36 years later, and the Chinese calendar runs in a 12-year cycle, I have occasion to refer to the daily quotes when I find myself in need of centering. Yes, I know, it doesn't actually work like that, but with the man long-dead, it's what I have, and as I have often pointed out here, wisdom is where you find it. Today's entry reads:
"If a man wanders around in swampy lowlands, his life is submerged in mud. Such a man loses all significance for mankind. He who throws himself away is no longer sought out by others. In the end no one troubles about him anymore.
I have become convinced that I can write a decent action/adventure short story with a straightforward plot that makes no attempt at subtlety or nuance. Comments from fans, critiques, and reviews have convinced me. I'm told that the Beyond the Rails stories are pretty good for what they are. But that next step has eluded me, largely because I've kept to my quiet little pasture and never tried to climb the fence and explore the great world beyond. I look at how Stephen King, JK Rowling, Dean Koontz, Scott Turow, Sue Grafton, and a host of others weave foreshadowing, parallel story lines, sub-plots, and richly nuanced characters and dialogue into a cohesive web that pulls you in and wraps you up, and I am very aware of how my east-African Wild-Westerns do none of that.
The thing that most amazes me is how the writers of Seinfeld, in every episode, would offer two or more plot points that couldn't be more different, and by the end of a half-hour show, had brought them together in an unexpected combination that reduced the audience to tears of laughter. My own favorite example: In one particular episode, Kramer has acquired a bucket of golf balls, and he wants the gang to go with him to the beach and hit them into the ocean; no one is interested. Meanwhile, George is meeting a woman he hasn't seen since high-school, and Jerry, in an attempt to pump him up, tells her he (George) is a marine biologist. True to form, he has taken her for a walk along the beach, and they come upon a stranded whale just as someone shouts, "Is there a marine biologist in the crowd?" Caught out, George climbs atop the whale, sees something in the blowhole, and pulls it out. This isn't shown on the screen, but as he tells the tale at the diner, he reaches into his jacket and pulls out a golf ball. The live audience roars with laughter for a full minute before Kramer can deliver his line: "Is it a Titlist?" George doesn't even try to speak, but merely nods with that snarky, sarcastic expression he was so good at.
I don't have any interest in writing comedy, but I feel like if I could weave story lines like that, I wouldn't need to be worried about my limitations. I tend to be humble anyway, and I was about to say that I can't do that. What I will say instead is that I haven't tried. But I am going to.
I haven't accomplished anything meaningful, as far as writing goes, since my stay in the hospital two years ago. I was going to present a dissertation on how my three weeks in a coma had changed me, and somehow made it so I couldn't write anymore. Perhaps it has, but I'm not going to write it down here and have it become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I am currently working on a full novel starring the people and settings of the Beyond the Rails stories. It may not succeed, but if it doesn't, it won't be because I gave up without trying. I have posted the first three chapters in the Sample tab above. Just look for Beyond the Rails III, and if you read it, I wouldn't object to hearing your opinion.
In the weeks and months ahead, I will start posting essays on my own techniques. I will be honored if they help anyone who is themselves trying to find their way in the writing game, even if they only become a cautionary tale of what not to do. That's for you to decide. See, if you say I'm a good writer, I'm thrilled, honored, and humbled; if I say it, I'm an arrogant blowhard, and there are very few things I would rather not be.
So, thanks, Khigh, my old friend, for reaching out over the decades and changing the course of my life yet again. You were active in the time before the internet, and never knew I existed, but as a Taoist, you honored me as if we were brothers. If you're out there somewhere smiling down on us, I hope my humble efforts bring you joy.
See what I mean? Wisdom truly is where you find it, so until I return to parcel out some more, read well, and write better!