Sunday, August 31, 2008

My new book and some reflections on an old friend

At long last my new book, Places I Hide, has been completed and is now available for public consumption. If you don’t have one yet, rush to to order one. OK, now that I got the shameless plug out of the way, let me tell you what’s been going on. Umm, my new book is what’s been going on can’t you read?

Completing this book gave me a sense of satisfaction. It was a challenging year in many ways; between work (we had a massive fire) family (my father fell ill with a non-curable disease) and the pressure I put on myself to complete this book in a timely manner (only 6 weeks late). But alas, common sense won out over my creative demons and voila, it’s done

A trip to the Wisconsin cottage around Memorial Day gave me a couple days to rest, while another trip in mid June, (which turned into a power work session) enabled me to complete it in time for a summer release. I almost scrapped the whole thing and started over. I could have continued working on it, tightened up the writing, get more stimulating photographs or continue doing rewrites until I got sicker of myself than I already was. However, I have a goal of releasing one book a year and I did not want to fall too far behind. This was my first attempt at combining poetry and photographs; a hybrid I don’t see often, so I’m still unsure how it will play out with those who read it.

Riches I do not seek, nor critical acclaim, though acceptance is always nice. Creating a connection with the reader is my main goal with any of my writing or photography. I’ve had mixed reviews so far from those who absolutely love it to many varied responses. One person told me they cried when they opened it and began flipping through the pages. “Because it sucked so bad?” I asked? “No,” they replied, “It’s because the beauty just struck me in a profound way.”

Some thought it to be “really good,” or “better than they thought it would be,” while others were expecting a better quality product or only “whelmed” with the content. Some liked the poems but not the photos as much and vice-versa. I was a little perplexed, however, when someone close to me only commented with these words: “ Would recommend you get a "PLEASE DO NOT BEND" stamp, make some labels, etc. for shipping out single copies of your book.”

Duly noted; and I haven’t quit my day job.

The challenge now is to promote it in a meaningful and effective way. I’m exploring options including poetry readings; photo exhibitions and I’ve been invited to sell them a writer’s conference in Northern Michigan later this fall. I know I need to get moving on all accounts, but currently I find myself wrapped up in working on my next book, which I already have half shot though I’ve not begun writing it yet. It will be a combination of photos of rural and small town Wisconsin and include short essays. But more on that later, I’ve got a lot to do.

Places I Hide is dedicated to my best friend, Scott Mitchell. We met in high school and became closer in 4 years than most people can become in a lifetime. This is probably because he was as close to having a twin brother as humanly possible. Sadly, he was killed tragically in a car accident between his freshman and sophomore years of college after he had too much to drink. It was an event that affected and continues to affect my life in a deep way and something that even after 23 years I’ve never fully shaken. But I’ve been told that response is normal, however nothing in my life has ever been what I would consider “normal” since that day.

Scott and I were a lot alike. We were both drummers, pranksters, loved music, chased girls and spent endless hours talking about them. We were sensitive, which is probably why we connected so well. We also were on the swim team together as well as in the symphony and marching band. Often during concerts or swim meets our mothers who sat together could not physically tell us apart. We had the same sense of humor and same passion for life and family and friends. We were indeed soul mates. I often wonder if we would have drifted apart like so many close friends do after high school and it’s a concept that while on one hand I cannot fathom ever happening, recognize it was a remote possibility. But even in death we have not strayed.

I suppose nobody deals with death very well, except perhaps morticians and I’ve often wondered how they deal with it when it hits close to home. I’ve always maintained that 19-year-old boys were not supposed to die the way he did, which made it tragic and in being tragic left so many people with so many questions that were never answered. I remember all the details surrounding it like it were last week, though the same emotion I felt then has morphed into something else as I grew up but he did not. When he died a part of me died, but as I’ve lived, a part of him continues to live in me.

Scott had been to the cabin with me and visited many of the places you’ll find in the book. He also wrote and pondered a lot about life like I did. Though we were laugh a minute friends, before he died we talked a lot about life and death and God. His father had died of a brain tumor only 2 years before he did and though he was courageous as a 17-year-old kid could be, I knew of the pain that existed behind his eyes.

I also know too well how his death created a void in search of comfort that was never found for his mother as she’s courageously lived her life. I’m still close with her. In fact I walked her down the isle with his little brother Lee when she was remarried a couple years ago. It’s something I’ll never forget, largely because it’s something I know Scott would have done had he been alive. That day, though not walking in his footsteps, I was walking for him. And today, while remembering him, I am reminded how much I miss him.