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ADVENTURES IN WRITING – THE ROAD OF TRIALS

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Work on Skyjack progressed over the evening, and the speed and exhilaration aren’t something I’m going to question until the editing phase. I sincerely hope that it’s the sign of things to come. I know myself though, and my writing comes in large gusts, disrupting everything before vanishing for days at a time.

As per usual, after the dust cleared, I felt I had shifted some mountains, albeit slightly. I was officially halfway done. It was a good day, and the stress of the week melted away as the sun came up, keeping pace with the last frail bits of ice in my glass.

Before being an #influencer or Youtube channel host became a viable career option, people had a general preconception that writers led somewhat glamourous lives. Or at least, I did. Blame it on an overconsumption of Hemingway and Bukowski, but I thought writing was basically a talent for observing the absurd diffused through a gratuitous amount of alcohol. It allowed for a measure of importance to be placed on one’s ideas while preserving enough anonymity to not hinder the indulgence of socially frowned upon behavior. It was the perfect creative pursuit.

The reality is somewhat less dynamic. The three-minute montage where the creative breaks through their barriers to create a masterpiece? Well, it’s slowed down considerably, the results are more humble, and the soundtrack is more fit for a dystopian future than anger-dancing through abandoned warehouses. Writing is a job and “writer” the title bestowed upon one that does the work. The demands are continuous and each deadline renews the cycle. Progress is frustratingly slow for me right now, made more exasperating each time J jauntily sprints past me as I inch.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed when in fact I should be grateful. In my previous life as a restaurant manager, it was not unusual to pull down 60-hour workweeks. I would return home exhausted after twelve hours on my feet. But while the physical strain of working in the hospitality profession is notorious, the mental exhaustion of that work is less apparent. Hours of being unfailingly upbeat with guests who are often dismissive, rude, or even antagonistic can leave one drained and a little less affectionate toward humanity. Even actors only need to keep up the facade for a few hours at a time.

A hard shift can leave one muttering incoherently, staring at a screen, or more likely, blowing off steam with a shot or three. After work, recuperation, and sleep, it’s hard to carve out time to write the great American novel. Making time to do laundry was a win.

Staying in Ecuador could allow us the opportunity to support ourselves on a fraction of the income, and thereby, a fraction of the time spent on procuring it. Fewer hours spent at a job would free up an ample span for our writing. It’s a luxury we couldn’t afford in the states. For now, we’re weighing our options. I just continue to push through my assignments. J assures me that I will get faster with time.

“A toxic figure from an equally toxic social circle I had foolishly maintained for years had managed to say all the wrong things. Two bullies for the price of one. Dummies being dummies on social media, the great issue of our age.”

The excesses of the previous evening were paid for in full, but plenty of time was given over to study, work and relaxation. We stepped out briefly for a trip to the panaderia, then it was once again pants-off o’clock. By late evening, some modest gains were made on the novel. Building a dystopia means building a failed utopia first, then catching the right pieces as it falls apart. Being over halfway done lifts a great weight and makes the entire venture seem that much more attainable.

Being able to give this project such a dedicated focus wouldn’t be possible at any other time of my life. Granted, I chose the sky under which to watch the stars, but it was under this sky that the stars aligned. Changing my mindset to viewing the process as the important part rather than the destination has helped keep me at the keyboard every day. In the midst of this joyful uphill battle, I started having issues with my sleep. Though my schedule may sometimes be irregular, I rarely have an actual issue with plunging into the undercurrent of REM sleep.

I’ve never seen the allure in teaching. The experience of helping someone learn a skill or better themselves is undeniably seductive, and I have enjoyed training people in my career. However, teaching always struck me as public speaking conducted way too early in the day for pitiable money. Plus, kids are sticky, and sometimes assholes.

I have no need to be seen as virtuous. I am even conflicted by the efforts to promote English in foreign countries. Why waste resources physically colonizing when we can just convince others that use of our language is necessary for success in the global economy? That said, I don’t find learning a language, or any skill, to be inherently wrong. Teaching English has become a popular way to fund extended travel while immersing oneself in a region’s culture, so when J recommended getting certified to teach in foreign countries, I agreed. In life, you make concessions.

Through the magic of social media, a nearly forgotten school bully attempted to make contact. I immediately shut the situation down, but was rattled. After venting a little, ironically seeking some solace in the long distance connections yielded by social media, the flashbacks of violence and harassment returned like whiplash. A toxic figure from an equally toxic social circle I had foolishly maintained for years had managed to say all the wrong things. Two bullies for the price of one. Dummies being dummies on social media, the great issue of our age.

The feelings and thoughts kicked around, and like a splinter, I knew I had to excise them somehow. I set to work on an essay, not knowing where I was heading, and pounded out through the morass. After a few days, I ended up with a deeply personal essay, and, more importantly, a lot of closure on issues my teenage self had socked away for the Endtimes. I was thrilled. Enthusiastically, I sent the essay off, knowing that it was bound to be published and change lives in short order.

In this universe, in any case, the essay remains unpublished, and my stack of rejection letters has climbed a few sheets higher as I’ve struggled to shoehorn my catharsis into a home. Over a decade ago, when I initially stabbed at the white whale of a career in freelance writing, every rejection was a body blow. I’ve been in a scrap or seven, and I’m built for punishment. This fresh rejection was a direct kick in the teeth. After all, I was older, I was better, I was smarter. It was my time! My reaction to that rejection letter, years after my first, will stand as one of the more embarrassing moments of my life. It’s incredibly difficult to rage-submit a freshly rejected work of writing from a logistical perspective, but damned if I didn’t manage to do it.

That editor rejected me too.

The stone streets of Cuenca's Centro Histórico
The stone streets of Cuenca’s Centro Histórico

Ecuador continues to charm us, the city of Cuenca in particular, which made today’s discovery all the more defeating. Teachers are undervalued and underpaid throughout the world, but our initial search for institutions in Cuenca yielded promising results. The pay was modest, but enough to cover our monthly expenses, a few indulgences, and our airfare. The school would also help us with obtaining our visas and a bank account.

A closer look at the application forms uncovered a glaring oversight. We had misunderstood the pay structure entirely. The institute’s literature explained that it paid wages monthly through direct deposit. It also charted the wages earned dependent on the number of classes being taught. However, we had confused that sum with the amount that would be deposited. Those wages were for the entire semester – ten weeks of classes with two weeks of unpaid vacation time after. Twenty hours of classes, five different sections of students, would earn us about $100 a week each, or 25 cents less an hour than Ecuador’s minimum wage laws required them to pay a citizen.

The rejection we will face in life will be a constant, so long as we strive to improve ourselves. Our modes of dealing (or not dealing) with rejection is up to us. I did, however, have an ace in the hole I didn’t have in my early twenties. I had a partner who was patiently waiting for me to come back to reality after my hissy-fit.

While I had been rejected in the past and will continue to be rejected, this was the first time I had stepped away from any sort of veil protecting my precious ego. Writing reviews or articles is easy. Poetry can be easy. Fiction is more about the story and less about the author. There’s distance in that sort of writing. With this, I had paraded my ass around naked, with no subject beyond my own experience, and it was a difficult lens to find focus in. It’s painfully close.

The reception for it was about as cold as a pre-dawn swim and at least as diminishing.
But I had a partner with a warm towel at the ready. We still had a journey to attend to, that had little to do with the rest-stops of accomplishment and failure. Months later, I’m still proud of that piece, but I know I’ve written better since. I’ll write better still. I also know that in my tunnel-vision, I had almost completely ignored the process of creating the piece, the active choice to heal.

Three (thousand) deep, cleansing breaths later, I took stock and realized I had written a handful of essays and continued to chip away at Skyjack in the meantime, as defiant as John Henry. The identity of the Ship of Theseus is largely inconsequential if the intent behind the journey remains the same. Without repairs, it’s a journey that will stop short.

El Batán neighborhood of Cuenca, Ecuador at sunset
The rooftops of El Batán, Cuenca, Ecuador

I hadn’t realized how tightly I had held onto the idea of living in Cuenca. A budget using the corrected payscale revealed we would be paying out of pocket for our airfare and visas. We could forget about exploratory day trips and eating out entirely. After a few nomadic months on the road, I had been enticed by the prospect of submerging myself more fully into Cuencano life. Extending our stay now seemed unlikely. I had just had my first dream in Spanish.

J was far less affected by the consequences of this development. After an appropriate outpouring of expletives, he was ready to figure out a new course of action. He reasoned we could go anywhere. He was right.

You rarely have as much time as you would like to do anything in this life, and there are so many places we want to see. Not having a clear plan can cause some logistical issues for building our careers as writers, but that’s where being new to the game is my strength.

For a novice, failure is the assumption in any endeavor. The rejections sting less when they’re reframed as fuel. Whether you see each mistake as an opportunity or a roadblock determines how far you’ll get. I have never had any expectations for what my success will look like or how long it should take. Sometimes crafting an elegant turn of phrase is enough.

Skyjack is perched around 32,000 words. There’s a lot of minor mistakes and plenty of empty rooms to populate with scenery, but I’m delighted with the results thus far. Another week and all it will be wanting is hours and hours and hours of revision and editing.

We continue to look for work. Changing careers is not for the light of heart, those lacking in conviction and confidence. Our life would not be possible if we had not made the calculated move to Ecuador, where we can afford to make this work. We’d be moving at a quarter the speed if we were in the states, and there would be traps all around. Just grinding, or figuring out how to grind. Reinventing wheels.

When I look at Skyjack, I can see it, the finale, the final moments. I’m excited to get all of it out of me and then flesh out everything from the beginning. Things ahead are certainly going to be hard and rough, but rewarding. It certainly beats what we were doing a year ago, which did next to nothing to get us any closer to our dreams. I’ll take a little adversity over a velvet slump any day.

The sun setting over Cuenca, Ecuador
The sun setting over Cuenca, Ecuador

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