At the Intersection of Memory and Emotion

Sense and Memory

Borne on the wind, a familiar scent teases up a memory, and your heart spikes involuntarily to emotions you welcome—or not. A sound you haven’t heard for a while (or just haven’t noticed), resonates through your auditory pathways, awakening feelings usually buried in the daily avalanche we call life in the 21st Century. Or maybe it’s a sight, familiar or not, that reminds you of something from a significant “then,” and for just an instant, you’re achingly aware of the next breath you draw.

If only for an instant, you are “back there,” willingly or inspite of yourself, reliving some sliver of the life journey that brought you here. Pleasant or painful, you’re neck-deep in one of your yesterdays—for better or worse. As Ms. Streisand sings in the theme vocal to The Way We Were,”

 “Memories, can be beautiful and yet, what’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget,

“But it’s the laughter, we will remember, whenever we remember, the way we were”

From the Title Track of Columbia Picture’s “The Way We Were,” sung by the incomparable Barbara Streisand.

Sometimes, it isn't obvious why you remember, but remember you do... Photo from the author's yesterday.

Memory: Spoiler of Tomorrow?

In West of Tomorrow, you are immersed in a contemporary second-chance romance woven into a tale of corporate intrigue and betrayal and misplaced love. In Chapter 25, entitled The Last High Tide, Clay Conover finds himself at a crossroads. After a difficult night, scent and sound borne on the early morning breezes conjure his past.

Clay awakened the second time with a stiff neck, still in his recliner in the living room, his heart thundering to yet another dream he hadn’t wanted to have. Our past finds us no matter where we go, he thought.

Raging thirst drove him to his refrigerator, where he squinted against the interior light to remove a bottle of water. He cracked the seal on his way to the balcony outside his living room and opened the slider. The sparsely-clothed trees around his condo danced in the light of a quarter moon to strong offshore winds. Each time the wind subsided, he heard the distant percussion of surf.

As he listened, yesterdays awash with memory tied his stomach in knots—the scent of sage and wild licorice in autumn carried by hot, dry Santana’s—the dusty drive to Trestles to surf the evening glass-off.

“And I thought I heard the sea as I used to,” he whispered, “each time as the first time; far off, new.” The unselfconscious joy of youth surged through him, only to swirl like fallen leaves spinning out of sight down the river of his life. The subdued thunder of distant surf pulled him back to his present. There’s nothing to stop you now, it seemed to say.

Clay Conover, exiting the zen zone... Photo courtesy of Jeremy Bishop and Unsplash.com.

Still numb from the events of the really bad last 24 hours, Clay seeks to avoid, just for today, the decisions he must make and the profound sense of loss and disconnection he feels. When going gets tough, the tough go surfing.

It’s not all bad, of course. The overpowering sense of freedom and oneness with something larger than self is as life-affirming as it always was. But Clay’s past doesn’t give up so easily. It triggers memory and a bittersweet recognition that another door is closing. 

Back at his car, Clay shrugged out of his wet suit and pulled on his sweat pants and t-shirt. After locking his board in the car, he walked back to the beach to watch.     

They’re better than I was at their age, he admitted. And as he watched, the off shores subsided, reversed, and conditions deteriorated quickly.

Thirty years ago, he’d spent many weekends here—first alone, later with his wife, and later still with his daughter. Jayna had learned to surf half a mile down the beach at Old Man’s and Dog Patch. Mesmerized, he watched the outrunning tide expose more of the red algae-coated rocks.

Clay lingered, reluctant to leave—sensing that when he left this time, he might never return. The incoming afternoon tide would erase his footprints and all memory of him. He’d become just one more of countless others who surfed here, once. What does it matter? he wondered. He had no answer—but it did matter.

Are we more than footprints in the sand?

On the horizon, a hazy bank of silver-gray clouds heralded an impending change in the weather. It would rain tomorrow, or the next day, as the low that had spawned the waves moved south. The sea breeze stirred up an eddy of sand around his feet as he turned, heading for his car, his silent home and whatever might be left of his life.

At the Junction of Past, Present and Possible

In common with most of us, Clay’s past feels a lot like who he is. “Everywhere I go, there I am,” he notes. But is his past a life sentence? Or is it all more nuanced, more susceptible to some mystical balance of who we were, and are and who we might become?

For most of us, we eventually realize that our past is both a spoiler and a hopeful whisper of potential. Clay’s past has hung on, as it does for many of us. It affects our feelings about ourselves now and (like it or not), our possibilities. Can Clay move beyond his disappointments and his failures and find if not happiness, at least contentment? The answer, for Clay…and for all of us…lies half an hour west of tomorrow.

Staring into possible. Photo courtesy of Oliver Roos and Unsplash.com

Dirk is a retired Marine officer, turned corporate trainer/manager, turned author. West of Tomorrow is his second book. He is also the author of Best Case Scenario, a coming of age story and the first in the Nyra Westensee journey and Through the Windshield, Drive-by Lives, a collection of evocative short stories that stand alone and also introduce readers to Dirk’s longer works. All three volumes are available in paperback and Kindle formats.

Dirk is also working on three additional full length novels in various stages of completion. Tier Zero, Volume I of the Knolan Cycle is a science fiction epic of first contact is do out in the latter months of 2019. To stay up to date on Dirk’s work, subscribe to Dirk’s Updates, below.

Through the Windshield: Drive-by Lives (A Collage of Change)

Theme and the Power of Story

Storytelling is among the oldest and (most important) forms of communication. From their crude beginnings as a series of sounds and gestures, they graduated to speech, then (perhaps) cave paintings. These likely evolved to petroglyphs before the first system of written foms of communication.

The truths shared in stories are foundational to life. (Photo Courtesy of Siddarth Singh and Unsplash)

Common to all those forms is purpose or intent. A theme. We communicate to connect with each other at our most basic human level. The unconscious heirs of our inventive ancestors, we connect and communicate with each other  through stories to enrich our lives and ensure our collective survival.

From the very beginning, stories have always had themes. Someone, somewhere is reading this and muttering to themselves, “Oh crap. I’m back in sophomore English class.” Nope. You’re safe. But it’s true. Every story worth reading has a theme, even those whose purpose is principally to entertain. Communicating a theme (or themes) is the motive force behind storytelling. I think this is especially true of writers. As one author once wrote:

“It is only when you open your veins and bleed a little onto the page that you connect with your reader…”

As melodramatic as that may sound, most authors will vouch for the (sometimes) excruciating pain of baring their souls for their readers to see. This is true because meaningful truth comes wrapped in authenticity and (often) powerful emotion. Soaring, joy or overwhelming despair, in all good writing there is an inseparable tie between theme, (or purpose) and emotion. That emotion may be the quiet satisfaction of reading a story well told or the soul-shaking flash of satori, but either way, the reader knows when they have read good writing.

Anthologies and Theme.

If by definition, all good stories have a theme, then a collection of them will have them, as well. But do anthologies have a unifying theme? Maybe. Anthologies aren’t necessarily a collection of stories written around a theme. Often, they are a collection of stories unified by genre, as in a collection of coming of age stories, or science fiction yarns.

In the case of Through the Windshield, the stories contained in the anthology are unified by theme rather than genre. In broad terms, Through the Windshield spans several genre from contemporary fiction, to coming of age to science fiction. But what all the stories in this collection have in common is the protagonists, each for different reasons, find themselves balanced on the precipice of life-altering change.

Books are among today's premier storytellers.

The Leitmotif of our Age.

No season typifies change like autumn (Photo courtesy of Eberhard Grosgasteiger & Unsplash)

It’s a commonplace bordering on cliché to observe that life is change. It is implicit in the rhythm of the seasons, in our own growth and that of our siblings. This has always been true. A case could even be made that all literature is dependent upon if not about, change. It is not only the human condition, but the story of all life.

But in the second decade of the 21st Century, change as we know and experience it, is accelerating—and doing so exponentially. It is driven in part by the fusion of instantaneous and non-stop communications and exacerbated by high-end data collection and analysis tools. As a result, our experience of both time and change feels increasingly compressed and for many of us, stressful.

Thematically, all of the stories in Through the Windshield call the readers’ attention to both the promise and the threat of the runaway change and shifting paradigms. It is the leitmotif of our Age and for most of us, at once exhilerating and frightening. It’s hard to be true to ourselves, when there is so much uncertainty about who we are and what our place is or will be.

Art and Change.

In the short run, there’s not much we can do about the inevitable discomfort associated with shifting paradigms, beyond recognizing that they are shifting and recognizing some of the forces driving those shifts. But over the long pull, we need a way to place that change in perspective and to feed our souls as well as our bellies. Existence is not life. We must find time to manage change in ways that work for us, and paradoxically, this is never more difficult or more necessary than when time is at a premium.

We cannot control the world around us, but we own, lock, stock and barrel, our reaction to it. Balance, understanding and to a surprising extent, peace itself is not what is happening around us, it is what we allow ourselves to feel in the face of what the maelstrom that is 21st Century life.

Earlier in this post, I observed that storytelling is one of the earliest ways by which humans connect with each other at the most fundamental level. Stories have survived and will continue to do so as a means of connecting, because we are at our best when we are relating to each other.

Dirk Sayers is the author of three books. West of Tomorrow, Best Case Scenario. Through the Windshield, Drive-by Lives is his third release, a thoughtful anthology of short stories whose principal theme is change.

Finding Your Voice in the Digital Age

What the hell is "Voice," anyway?

So who asked me? Sometimes I just can’t help myself, but in this case, I actually waited for someone more “qualified” to answer, but no one did.

It was on a forum I follow there are several threads deal with the arts and one deals specifically with literary art. Out of the blue, the following question popped up: “How do you find your voice as a writer in the digital age?”

I had my own opinions, but kept my mouth shut for quite a while, knowing there were a number of narrow gauge authors on this forum better qualified to answer the question than I, but after a couple days of the sound of crickets, I eventually popped off, unable to contain myself any longer.

Yeah, I know…Say it isn’t so…Dirk has an opinion? He does, and that opinion follows.

When you use the term voice, may I assume that you mean what you’ll often hear critics & acquisitions agents refer to when they use the term? I’m going to go out on a limb and guess your answer is yes, and respond accordingly, with the following caveat emptor. What follows is my opinion, as an independently published author of modest success with several books currently in print.

Let me lead with my answer, & follow up with an explanation. You “find” your voice by writing. I think that has always been true and don’t see the digital age as changing that. The times in which we live surely color that experience, but they don’t change the process.

You will often read or hear literary and acquisitions agents refer to finding someone with a “unique” voice. When you break that down, what they really seem to mean is someone with a marketable difference from what is currently available in (you fill in the blank) genre. I don’t say this to be cynical. There are both artistic and practical reasons for their emphasis. There really is such a thing, and it does matter, but at its best, it seems to me that it’s so elusive, so almost indefinable that focusing on it almost defeats the purpose.

Finding your "Voice..."

Here’s the good news. If we’re writers, we all have a “voice.” It’s not now and never has been lost, so we don’t need to find it. What we need to do is develop it and refine it. Voice is a little like sedimentary rock. It’s built up, layer by layer. An incomplete list of things that go into voice are:

  1. How what we read influences the way we write. What we read informs not only our attitudes, but how we are inclined to express ourselves. This is true even when we’re making no conscious effort to develop our own writing style. Without conscious effort, we pick up turns of phrase and literary artistry that we encounter as we read and adapt them to our own writing.
  2. How our world view influences our choice of themes. In the same way that what we read influences our attitudes, those attitudes then emerge in the form of themes that are woven into the stories we write. If we are growing as authors, both our writing and the themes implicit in them become more nuanced over time as we what we’ve learned from others influences our own thinking.
  3. How your point of view character(s) reveals the author’s views. The characters in our writing often act as mouthpieces or guides in the stories we write. As a consequence, who we choose as characters, how they speak, act and what they value emerges and evolves as we grow artistically and (hopefully) intellectually.
  4. What you choose to write. All of the foregoing then gets folded into the stories we tell if we’re writing fiction, or if non-fiction, the topics we choose to address head-on.
  5. The technical elements of your writing. (word choice, cadence, description, etc). Every author experiences this. The more we write, the better we become at it. Our word choice becomes more precise and over time, our language often becomes more economical as the natural outgrowth of that precision. Sentence structure becomes more varied and our use of cadence and pace becomes consistently more suited to expressing the mood of whatever passage we’re writing.

 

So how do you find your "Voice?"

You get out in the world and watch people, experience things and are shaped by those experiences. You do things that fire your soul, learn things that absorb your full attention and you ask yourself why, and why not and then when you stir all of that together in a story reflecting that passion.

You populate that story with nuanced, flawed characters in interesting situations. Characters who grow or shrink before the readers’ eyes and (hopefully) teach readers some fundamental truth(s) that leave them breathless or reflecting thoughtfully for days, or minimally, entertain them.

Then you promote and market the hell out of your first book while you write the next story and the next and the one after that. You learn just how hard it is to do both and not burn out. And each time, your voice refines itself through the painful effort of opening your veins and bleeding truth as you see it, agonizing over each turn of phrase, each image, and each scene.

At some point, you will recognize you will never find your voice, because it’s like the rabbit at the greyhound track. It will always be faster than you are. The good news is, it will develop without you making a conscious project of it. Do your best work and your voice will evolve as you do.

Dirk Sayers is a retired Marine officer, retired corporate trainer/executive and the author of West of Tomorrow, Best Case Scenario and Through the Windshield, all currently available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. Tier Zero, the pilot volume of his upcoming science fiction series of first contact will be out toward the end of 2019

At the Intersection of Art and Life

The Author's Journey...

The author (left) reading at Lit-Up, Orange County

Starting out...

When I first seriously considered how to go about realizing my life-long ambition of being a published author, I did what most would-be authors do & started writing while concurrently  researching how to get published traditionally. Almost the first thing I ran across in my research was the need to establish a “platform.” In one reputable publication for writers, I learned that a platform was, my visibility as an author, some components of which were:

  1. Who I am
  2. My personal and professional “connections.”
  3. Any media outlets I could utilize to sell books.
  4. Who my likely readers are/where I can find them
  5. What interests them

I can’t speak for other authors, but I found this definition (or more accurately description) something of a buzz-kill. There is clearly a business side to being an author, unless you’re independently wealthy and can afford to publish indefinitely, without a return on the investment of your time and/or the cost of publishing.

But building a “platform” is hard and time-consuming work. Don’t believe me? Try it. I’ll even give you a few of the steps, if you like. Start by developing an editorial calendar. Yeah, I do have one an no, I don’t always stick to it, even though I know I should. (Not sticking to your editorial calendar is one of the things sure to makesbuilding a platform hard, btw).

Once you have that calendar in place, try coming up with something interesting to say, on a regular basis…something at once thoughtful, thought-provoking. Now publish it on several platforms, tailoring it to what you think is the likely audience there also (hopefully) interested in what’s likely to be in your next book. Oh…you don’t know who might read your books? Go back and revisit items 4 & 5, above. (And don’t skip it, next time).

Every day is a winding road...

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash and Peter Danka

By now, I’m sure you getting the message. It’s a tortuous and painful road, fraught with distractions, pitfalls, relative poverty and oceans of angst, when it doesn’t pan out. And it won’t. Over and over again it won’t pan out and you’ll not only question the worthwhile nature of your dream but your ability to realize it and your own worth in consequence. 

And you’ll confront another uncomfortable truth. There are people out there who simply don’t like to read. Or they don’t like to read what you write, or what you write makes them think & deep down, they really don’t want to do that, after working all day. And if you’re serious about promoting yourself, you’re going to be talking about what you do, even when you’d rather not. 

Some people will perk up, at first, when you tell them you’re an author. It isn’t the common answer, so they want to know more. But as soon as you tell them that:

  1. You’re still working on it and aren’t sure when it will be out, or
  2. They’ve never read what you’ve written and won’t.

Some will look at you like you need your skull candled and change the subject. Others won’t say it, but they think “loser who thinks they’re a writer and don’t know any better.” You’re just another failure, who isn’t very good at what they and dismiss you without another thought, even if you’re a “friend.” At first, it hurts. Don’t think it doesn’t. But in the end, it doesn’t matter.

No one starts out with a lot of total strangers (or even close friends or family) believing in you. Get used to it. It will happen almost daily.What does  matter is that you believe in yourself and that’s true whether you’re striving to be an author, a painter or sculptor or poet. You must learn to believe in yourself and this is never more true than when you’re the only one left who does.

That’s not easy. No, that’s not entirely accurate. It’s almost impossibly difficult, after a few years.

Trust me, on this one. Unless you’re one of the almost unbelievably rare individuals who hits the first time, you will at some point, lose faith in yourself and doubt your ability to make whatever it is you’re pursuing stick. And if you happen to hit it the first time, you will forever live in terror that you’ll be a one-hit wonder…that your next work will flop.

Life's what happens while you're making other plans...

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash and Hans Peter Gauster

Meanwhile, the distractions of life and the imperatives of each day will distract you. If you’re an artist, those distractions will be that much stronger. That’s because deep down, most people consume art in any form casually. When they have time. And that, in it’s turn, is because art moves them only rarely or not at all. Few stories or paintings make our hearts souls soar, or put a lump in their throat.

But that is the mission of the artist. To put that empathy, love, insight or epiphany back in the mundane. It’s always been hard, but in our matter of fact, fast-paced world, it has arguably become an almost insurmountable task. Please not the choice of “almost.” That it is hard is precisely the reason we must keep striving for that which fires other souls.

Artists, whether authors, painters, sculptors or dancers strive (or should) to create those rare moments in which life and art intersect. For it is in those moments that we are most profoundly human and most profoundly ourselves. At our best, we are the catalysts of the heart and the birthers of truth. As painful as that may be, it is the life we chose. It is our task to be true to the call.

Dirk is the author of West of Tomorrow, a contemporary tale of corporate intrigue, romance and the phoenix living in all of us. Best Case Scenario is the first volume in a New Adult/coming of Age series, following the growth of Nyra Westensee, millennial college graduate in search of personal and professional identity, and Through the Windshield, a collection of short fiction some previously published, others in print for the first timeAll are currently available on Amazon.

West of Tomorrow Interview

West of Tomorrow Interview

Blake Martin: Okay. So let’s start with the title, West of Tomorrow. It sounds symbolic?

Dirk Sayers:    Very much so. There are several fully developed characters in the story and each in their own way is on the cusp of life-changing decisions, ethical, personal or spiritual. Insofar as the sun “rises” in the east, bringing with it  new choices, as we face those choices from somewhere west of the sunrise, they approach us from east to west. We can see them coming, on a clear day, but most of us resist making hard decisions until we must. So it is with the principle characters in West of Tomorrow.

BM: So readers should expect a thought-provoking, spiritual read?

DS: Yes. This is a story with a fair amount of layered symbolism. The unfolding story follows Clay Conover through his own deeply personal decisions and most perceptive readers find themselves reflecting on their own decisions and the collective decisions facing all of us with regard to our society and our place in it.

BM: So what’s the story about?

DS: West of Tomorrow is a contemporary tale of corporate intrigue, betrayal, misplaced love and the phoenix that lives in all of us. It follows six pivotal months in the life of Clay Conover, a re-careered Marine officer turned corporate trainer as he confronts personal and professional issues in a multi-faceted crisis of identity and direction.

BM: Sounds like a comeback tale.

DS: On multiple levels. Clay has unresolved issues from his past and while he’s pretty much figured out where he wants to go from where he is, he has an unexpected distraction that gets in his way that will affect his life at all levels.

BM: Distraction in the form of?

DS: A younger and hyper-ambitious Sheera Prasad, who has been hired by the COO at corporate as another trainer. Clay is tasked with bringing her up to speed, pushing them together in close contact. They hit it off almost immediately, but unfortunately, Sheera has a hidden agenda antithetical to Clay’s own ambitions. And unlike Clay, Sheera has sponsorship in the corporate office and the advantage of surprise.

BM: So it doesn’t go well for Clay?

DS: At first it actually goes quite well, despite leading in an inappropriate relationship between Sheera and Clay.

BM: That misplaced love you referred to earlier?

DS: Yes. A steamy affair grows out their intense mutual attraction, leading inevitably to a growing attachment on both sides. The reader gets a glimpse of both characters’ thoughts, so you’re really not sure how this is going to play out until both Clay and Sheera are cornered by the decisions they’ve been putting off.

BM: With a crisis to follow?

DS: Very much so. And the decisions they make prove fateful for both.

BM: Not an action story, then.

DS: Not in the traditional sense, no. If you’re in the mood for a tale of high adventure, this isn’t your story, at least not now. There are several chapters that are kinetic in that Clay is an accomplished surfer and skier, but most of what’s going on in this story happens at the philosophical and spiritual levels.

BM: Why did you write West of Tomorrow?

DS: It was certainly part self-expression. It’s a Boomer’s story, taking the reader through our times and the ethical, personal and professional dilemmas of our time. It’s almost a cliché today, to suggest that change is the lei motif of our Age, but I think it’s nature is lost on most of us. The Industrial Revolution, for example, was period of similarly great change, but stretched out over a longer period of time. In the second decade of the 21st Century, the rate of change is so compressed, it feels to many of us like it is increasing exponentially. Furthermore, it is distributed unequally. It’s happening faster in some places than others, which has resulted at least in part in the split in perceptions that we see geographically. A perception gap, if you will.

BM: The left and right coasts versus the heartland, you mean?

DS: Well that’s the most stark difference, but it’s present almost everywhere, depending on your access to and interest in advancing technology and scientific discovery. If you’re keeping up with it on a meaningful level, it affects your perception of what you consider moral and what you consider necessary. If you’re not plugged into it, you’re still seeing things in fundamentally different ways. Morally, politically socially, you’re seeing the world more through the lens of binary choices, whereas if you’re plugged in and sensitive to change, nuance is less likely to be lost on you, affecting how you see most everything. From a social perspective, I see this as one of our greatest challenges, going forward.

BM: Even before I read the book, I noticed a decided similarity between the protagonist and the author. Is this a veiled autobiography?

DS: No. The similarities between Clay Conover and Dirk Sayers aren’t accidental, insofar as a lot of the lessons of life I’ve learned are an outgrowth of my experiences. But Clay has had experiences I haven’t and I’ve had experiences Clay hasn’t.

BM: So the reader should not be thinking author’s opinions when they’re in Clay’s head?

DS: Not in all cases. I use several characters as platforms for my thought. West of Tomorrow seeks to angle toward empathy across the board. No one in the book is perfect or even “best,” whatever that means. So the reader gets the benefit of several points of view over the course of the story.

BM:I noticed. Do you have a favorite character?

DS: Aanya Steward, without question. She is a delicious blend of spirituality, sensuality, self-awareness and perceptive kindness that it’s really hard not to fall in love with. She would literally take over the story if she was in it throughout, I think.

BM: Second favorite?

DS: Clay, of course. He is the one who speaks most consistently for me and he’s at the core of the story. West of Tomorrow is definitely Clay’s journey.

BM: Is there a takeaway theme?

DS: Finding your own way in an Age of runaway change. Whether we like it or not, we’re in the midst of changes that are sweeping away most of the comfortable, pat answers we had to the age old problems of our place in society and the universe.

BM: The ending is very satisfying and hopeful. Is this a stand-alone novel or a should we expect something to follow?

DS: I think there’s room for a follow-up. I would definitely like to work with Sheera, some more. She’s not the most admirable character in the story, but she was among the most fun to write and I’d like to develop her a bit more.

BM: But no plans for a follow-on at this point?

DS: No. I have a couple of other series I’m working on.

BM: Oh? What?

DS: I’m currently working on the second volume of the Nyra Westensee series. The first volume is Best Case Scenario, a tale of a millennial woman just out of college working through personal and professional identity issues.

BM: Is Best Case Scenario out?

DS: It is and currently available on Amazon like West of Tomorrow in both Kindle and paperback.

BM: You said you have a couple series you’re working on. What’s the other?

DS: I recently got Tier Zero, Volume I of the Knolan Cycle back from the editor and am in  the process of applying my editor’s suggestions.

BM: Tier Zero. Has kind of science fiction sound to it.

DS: You would be right about that. Tier Zero is a tale of first contact between Knola and Earth. The twist, if you will, is that first contact actually happened about 30 years ago and no one other than the Knolans are aware of it. Now their Seed are waking up and the secret will soon be out, with monumental consequences for all.

BM: Are the Knolans good guys or bad guys?

DS: Not quite that simple.

 

BM: How soon do you expect it out?

DS: I expect to publish it toward the end of this year. If your listeners are curious, they can get the first three chapters in my anthology of short fiction entitled Through the Windshield, Drive-by Lives. It contains stories previously published elsewhere, as well as teases from both West of Tomorrow and Best Case Scenario. It’s really a good way to get an idea of how you’ll like what I write, for anyone on the fence.

BM: All available on Amazon?

DS: All available on Amazon, in paperback and Kindle formats.

BM: Great! Thanks, Dirk. Any other news?

DS: For anyone interested in keeping up to date on writings and readings, they can subscribe to my “Updates” on dirksayers.com.

BM: dirksayers.com. Thanks again, Dirk.

DS: Thank you!

 

Interview with Nyra Westensee

Candid Interview with Nyra Westensee

Tina Lavereau: It’s my pleasure to welcome Nyra Westensee, the heroine of Best Case Scenario to our proverbial hot seat. Welcome, Nyra.

Nyra: Thanks for inviting me.

Tina: How did Dirk wind up telling your story?

Nyra: I met him in a coffee shop one afternoon, while he was working on a short story he subsequently got published. It was really crowded so I sat across from him in the only empty chair in the whole place and we wound up BSing. He started asking questions. About an hour in, he asked me if he could write a series based on me and my experiences.

Tina: When he told you he wanted to write your story, what was your first reaction?

Nyra: (Laughs) I don’t remember exactly, but as I recall, I looked at him and said something incredibly profound like “Really?” That’s when he locked me up with those gunsight eyes of his and I realized he was serious. That’s when I started getting queasy.

Tina: But you went ahead with it, ultimately.

Nyra: (Rolls her eyes and smiles) Yeah, I did.

 Tina: Why?

Nyra: Uh…have you met Dirk?

Tina: Briefly.

Nyra: Then maybe you’ll just have to take my word for it this one, but let’s just say Dirk can be…persuasive.

Tina: (laughs). Are you happy with the outcome?

Nyra: Totally. We made a deal. I’d tell the story, he’d write it, adding any artistic and thematic twists he thought my story suggested. Then he agreed to run it by me before he published it. We had a few…animated…discussions, but I was pleasantly surprised at how sympathetically he told my story. He’s an incredible listener and way more empathetic than I expected for a retired Marine. He’s also scary perceptive. But I’m glad I did it.

Tina: So you’d do it again?

Nyra: I’ve already promised to do it again.

Tina: Will the sequel becoming out soon?

Nyra: It may be a while. You’d have to ask Dirk.

Tina: On the surface of things, you seem to have a great relationship with your mother and brother. But as one reads the story, it feels like there’s a lot going on below the surface?

Nyra: Not much that isn’t going on above the surface.

Tina: Come on, Nyra!

Nyra: Okay, look. I know where you’re going with this, and it’s true, Mom and I in particular have had our moments. But she’s still Mom to me, and maybe the strongest woman I know. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have achieved as much as I have, this early. I just love her to pieces and I owe her so much.

Tina: How did she react to the book?

Nyra: (Blushes) Oh my god! When I started reading the galleys, I had this out-of-control panic attack over how she would take some of it. It’s so intensely personal, in places, and I almost told Dirk he was going to have to use a pseudonym for me or I wouldn’t let him publish it.

Tina: What changed your mind?

Nra: (Smiles conspiratorially) You remember me saying earlier Dirk could be really persuasive? That man could sell suspenders to snake! He gave me one of his looks and told me to think of it as a declaration of independence.

 Tina: And that worked?

Nyra: Sort of. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t still walking on eggshells when Mom started reading it.

Tina: What about Kip? How’d he take it?

Nyra: (Smiles fondly.) Kip’s so mellow. I can say anything to him and know we’ll always be tight. He’d chase the devil into hell to drag me back to safety. As long as we can stop for a beer on the way back.

Tina: Quite an endorsement!

Nyra: Look, we’re human and we have our human moments. We don’t have to be perfect…we just have to be there when it matters for each other. Kip always is.

Tina: Can I get personal, for a minute?

Nyra: Depends. How personal?

Tina: Cringingly personal?

Nyra: Oh God! (Giggles) What the hell. Can’t be any more cringy that those sessions with Dirk. Go for it!

Tina: Apart from your search for yourself professionally and family issues, Best Case Scenario takes a fairly deep dive into your sexuality. What’s it like to hang the details out there?

Nyra: (Frown dissolves into a smile). It probably won’t surprise you that those details were at the heart of my panic attack. And I’d be lying if I didn’t cop to it being a little…okay, a lot…awkward sharing all those really intimate, personal details…which he embellished. And when I read the galleys, I felt so…exposed. But to be honest, it’s also been freeing. I mean, once it’s out there, it’s out there and all the people closest to me have been so down with it. And the truth is, it becomes old news really fast, even for the obsessively curious. I’ve been pleasantly surprised. The biggest changes has been my personal understanding of who I am and what that means. On balance, all very positive things.

Tina: So, what have you been up to lately? Anything new going on in your life?

Nyra: Well, I’ve been trying some new things to expand my horizons personally. One of the things I did was take up surfing and I can’t believe what a rush it is!

Tina: Surfing?

Nyra: I know, right? I started out on a longboard…riding the teeny-weenies at Old Man’s…it’s a mellow reef break just north of the old San Onofre nuclear power plant. Stood up the first day. I’ve been dropping down in length ever since and my new favorite board is my five-five Channel Islands twin fin, but I’m still hanging on to my Donald Takayama nose rider. And I’m saving up for a trip to Hawai’i next year and thinking about have a custom board shaped. I’m going to have a world-traveler quiver, at the rate I’m going.

Tina: Really into it, are you?

Nyra: Way! Sometimes I have to fend off all the surf dogs trying to pick me up while I’m trying to surf, but…(Shrugs) It’s manageable and to be honest, it has some upside. It’s really good for the ego. But now that Tai and I are a thing, they leave me alone.

Tina: Wait a minute. Tai? Your current boyfriend? I didn’t know…is it serious?”

Nyra: Who knows? You’d have to ask Tai…

Tina: How do we get in touch with him?

Nyra: You don’t!

Tina: But you said…

Nyra: Forget what I said! At least for now.

Q: Oh, all right. Everything good at work?

Nyra: Yeah, it’s going well. I’m going to get a crack at being an APM for a new project we’re taking on at Symondson. Denise has paired me up with an experienced Project Manager who’s going to mentor me. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity.

Tina: So on balance, life is good?

Nyra: It really is. (Nyra looks thoughtful). I’m guessing there will still be bumps. Just about the time things get comfortable, shit happens. (Grins) I’ll just have to deal with it when it comes. But I’ll worry about that when it happens!

Tina: Thanks for making time for us, Nyra.

Nyra: You got it!

Nyra Westensee

Act II of Nyra’s Journey is due out in late 2019 or early 2020. 

Time and Tides

Change and Conflict...

Is there anything quite as disorienting as change we can neither predict nor fully understand? Maybe…perhaps even probably. But for most of us, it’s right up there. In West of Tomorrow, change, both personal and professional is a pervasive theme for the principal characters in the story.

There are several themes at work in West of Tomorrow, but ultimately, all of them either have their origins in change or are in the need for profound change to “fix” what’s wrong. When we catch up with Clay Conover, the first character we meet in the novel, we learn he’s a Vietnam era re-careered Marine officer turned corporate trainer.

With a distinguished record as an officer and self-evident competence in his new career, everything seems to be on track for Clay. He has his ghosts, personal and professional, but who doesn’t? And on balance, he’s got it all handled and hardly anyone he meets sees him anything but balanced, thoughtful and pretty together.

His successful navigation, from senior leadership in the military to responsible mentor in the private sector demonstrate both his adaptability and and admirable innate competence. But in common with many of us, Clay has unfinished business lurking beneath the surface.

What happens when several unsettling events come together all at once to cast a shadow on Clay’s prospects for tomorrow? Will the awakened ghosts from his past short circuit his future? The triggers of memory, we are reminded, have the power to inflict pain or bestow peace…and paradoxically, sometimes both at once.

The Last High Tide

In a chapter entitled The Last High Tide, we find Clay in the throes of an intensely personal transition, forced to confront not simply his own fallibility, but issues he’s spent his life avoiding. Tectonic changes , personal and professional have left him with little to hang onto. How does he reinvent himself at this late stage of his life? Exhausted from thinking about it, Clay awakens from a dream he doesn’t want to have. A raging thirst drives him to his refrigerator for a bottle of water, when he notices the shadows of leaves, dancing across his balcony, in the moonlight.

Walking out on his balcony, Clay hears the distant thunder of surf, even above the offshore winds through the trees and a snippet of a poem he wrote years ago wafts into his mind.

                                  And I thought I heard the sea, as I used to, 

                                 Each time as the first time, far-off, new…

There’s nothing to stop him now. He has nowhere he must be, today. And sometimes, he tells himself, when the going gets tough, the tough go surfing. Deep down, the reader suspects Clay is unconsciously avoiding or at least postponing the work he dreads doing. But is this something he needs to do, or is this a character flaw springing up?

After all, it isn’t a foregone conclusion that Clay will get through this. Neither his successes in combat, nor his subsequent accomplishments in peace are at best imperfect predictors of his ultimate fate. Not unlike the turning of the tide, Clay is painfully aware of all of this. While he’s out there surfing, it’s clear that it claims his full attention.

Clay Conover Exits the Zen Zone (Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Bishop & Unsplash).

But like all postponements, it’s only temporary. On the beach, Clay pauses after a nostalgic session in the waves to reflect on an activity that has been part of his life, identity and sanity—and senses it may be over.

Clay time-warped thirty years. The waves felt the same, and the men sharing them could have been the guys he’d surfed with in the seventies. Even the longer hair was back. He thought of his trips to Mexico, of the trips he and Natalie had taken to the Islands and the kinetic oneness with self and life that seemed to animate every surfer he’d ever known.

It had been Clay’s one bastion of rebellion—his defiance of a “system” his service helped support, while he tried not to see it’s dark side. Surfing had helped keep him young, he guessed—a partial antidote for the gnawing misgivings about the life he’d chosen. But in the end, it had called attention to the contradiction between what he did and who he was. Clay’s laughed, inwardly. Really? he thought. And who the hell are you? That most personal of all Koans, again—never quite solved. Is self-awareness a curse or a blessing?

Back at his car, Clay shrugged out of his wet suit and pulled on his sweat pants and t-shirt. After locking his board in the car, he walked back to the beach to watch.

They’re better than I was at their age, he thought. While he watched, the offshores subsided, reversed, and conditions deteriorated quickly.

Thirty years ago, he’d spent many weekends here—first alone, later with his wife, and later still with his daughter. Jayna had learned to surf half a mile down the beach at Old Man’s and Dog Patch. As he watched, the outrunning tide exposed more of the red algae-coated rocks.

What twists the gut like endings? (Photo courtesy of Jamie Davies & Unsplash).

Clay lingered, reluctant to leave—sensing that when he left this time, he might never return. The incoming afternoon tide would erase his footprints and all memory of him. He’d become just one more of countless others who surfed here, once. What does it matter? he wondered. He had no answer—but it did matter.

On the horizon, a hazy bank of silver-gray clouds heralded an impending change in the weather. It would rain tomorrow, or the next day, as the low that had spawned the waves moved in.

The sea breeze stirred up an eddy of sand around his feet as he turned, heading for his car, his silent home and whatever might be left of his life.

In this moment, Clay senses he’s at a crossroads. Whether he will ever return to the ocean as a surfer and commune with it, Clay’s life has been changed in ways that will be profound and permanent. Change in itself isn’t bad and most of us recognize this. But when it’s laced with uncertainty and the fears that often go along with it, the uncertainties can be unnerving or even paralyzing and we are defined by our responses both to those fears and the paralysis that may accompany it.

Intuitively, Clay recognizes this, and nothing drives this lesson home like the memories prowling his condo, reminding him of his past. Confronted with what’s left of what was once a life of promise, he finds no escape from the necessary steps of self-examination, acknowledgement of his human failures.Will he grow and overcome them, or be overwhelmed by them?

Readers who have confronted the sneaky realities of fallibility, mortality and bittersweet angst of aging can relate, especially in our age of runaway change and shifting paradigms. Where exactly are we, when we’re half an hour West of Tomorrow? A tentative answer lies on the pages of this evocative tale of corporate intrigue, betrayal, misplaced love and the phoenix living all of us.

West of Tomorrow is available from Amazon, in paperback and Kindle formats.

The “Fine Art” of Ghosting

The Woes of Full Employment...

Recently, I ran across a post on Linked In, noting an uptick in candidates for employment and already employed workers ghosting their employers or would-be employers. Bernie Reifkind, the author of the article is a recruiting executive in the greater Los Angeles area. It was a short post, comparatively,  decried the inherent discourtesy and lack of professionalism in bailing on a scheduled interview, or simply bailing on work without warning after employed. A Washington Post article recently appeared, noting the same phenomenon. 

The Urban Dictionary defines ghosting as “cutting off all communications with friends, or a date with no warning.” (I’ve paraphrased for brevity) Let me get my position out up-front. No, I don’t approve, not that my opinion matters. 

As Dr. Jennifer Vilhauer points out in her Psychology Today article, “The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference.”

We could debate whether Dr. Vilhauer’s observation is true for all values, not to mention whether we think employees should love their employers, but for now, let’s just acknowledge whether it’s an individual or an organization, there’s an inherent wrong in “ghosting.”

The Vanished...

And at an intuitive level, I think most of us would agree with Dr. Vilhauer, at least as it relates to personal matters. What’s worse than our cries of joy/elation or tears of disappointment/sorrow being greeted with stony silence? Zap! You don’t exist.

In the Linked In post to which I referred, earlier Bernie ended with the question; “Am I missing something?” I was moved to respond because it folds into one of the themes in West of Tomorrow. There are character limitations on Linked In, so I was obliged to edit it down. My extended response follows here.

The Fading Phenomenon

No, Bernie you’re not missing something, we all have. This is a collective phenomenon in the creation of which virtually all of us have participated. From a business perspective, ghosting is the logical result of decades of misuse of the men and women to whom in large measure companies owe their success. Most everyone with a Linked In profile has been a corporate drone, at some point in their career or another…or has cynically used corporate drones for their own professional purposes.

I don’t make this observation pejoratively. It’s what we were taught by the “higher-ups” in our organization, themselves cowtowing to the money/power junkies cynically running a game they patiently rigged to their advantage over decades. Merciless rounds of down-sizing, right-sizing, re-engineering, reorganizing all in the name of wringing another fractional percentage out of margins while executive salaries spiraled through the overhead. At some point, most people got the non-verbal message we were sending collectively. YOU DON’T MATTER. What you do for us matters.

What’s artfully camouflaged in both Mr. Reifkind’s post and many of the responses to it is the role organizations have played in legitimizing ghosting. To be clear, ghosting isn’t new and it isn’t an organizational phenomenon. Most of us have had people drop out of our lives without warning. But the ghosting of organizations is relatively new. In my opinion, part of employees’ (and prospective employees’) comfort with the practice is the logical result of long-term, organizational power plays at employees’ expense. Organizations have reaped what they’ve sown.

In West of Tomorrow, one of the book’s recurring themes is the fusion of the sweeping paradigm shifts of our age greed, both personal and organizational. Repeatedly, we see examples of men and women taking opportunistic advantage of situations proximal to those changes, cynically and in ways that are hard to justify, ethically. In one passage, the protagonist, (Clay Conover) discusses with an old friend and former professor, Dr. Mastrovik.

 

In the conversation above, Clay confronts his own, unconscious role in perpetuating a system in which the little guy’s role is downplayed and the (hypothetically) more important powers that be remain the litmus test of both contribution & legitimacy. But wherever we are in the organizational ladder, if we’re honest with ourselves,  most of us recognize we ride to victory on the collective efforts of our brothers and sisters working toward the same goals. The rewards systems do not reward us equally, and perhaps that’s okay.

But from time to time, we should be asking ourselves if it’s (at least) equitable. If it isn’t we should not be surprised when our treatment of our employees come back haunt us. What do you think and what has been your role in promoting a sustainable, reward system within your own organization?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one…

Stop me if you’ve heard this one, before. In the midst of a discussion with someone you thought you knew really well, it suddenly goes sideways. You learn they have a “blind spot” where their logic or education should be.

Because you’re invested in them, you want to set them straight, so you start making your case. They push back. Their resistance to logic &/or legitimate evidence is nothing short of breathtaking and nothing you say gets through. They counter with something you know isn’t true, but the more you try to set them straight, the more inclined they are to drop anchor. Been there, done that? We all have, I suspect.

For the same reason we as a species argue endlessly over (for example) the ontological mysteries of the universe or where to go for dinner tonight, we’re going to differ over virtually everything on which two or more strong opinions are possible. (In other words, pretty much everything).

Decision time…fight it out or let it go. If you’re like me, you’re not entirely happy with this binary choice, thinking we can have a “discussion.” But if you’re dealing with, say, motivated cognition, we could be at it a very long (and probably inconclusive) discussion.

Whether it’s the precise nature of “God,” however we choose to define it or what actually happened at the CIA compound in Benghazi, our beliefs have everything to do with how we see ourselves, our relationship with the Universe, truth and each other. Most of us have reasons for believing what we believe and…again, for most of us…those reasons are often hidden, nuanced and multi-sourced.

During the course of that discussion we were talking about earlier, did you feel that hot rush in your gut, or that self-righteous anger over (you fill in the blank)? That’s your emotion and your motivated cognition kicking in. You’re about to make a fool of yourself. I know…I do it all the time.

In the wake of  the 2018 elections, I’ve come to remember what I once knew, in my previous professional incarnation as a Marine officer. Opinions are not the measure of our worth. Behaviors are. We were not perfect when we took our first breath, and chances are we won’t be when we take our last.

But we can each day and every day, work to be the best versions of ourselves. Like it or not, we are defined by our actions. While opinions and facts matter, what we do with them is what matters most. Including knowing when to look someone in the eye and end a conversation with “We’ll have to agree to disagree.”  Civility and the recognition of our own imperfections is the beginning of wisdom. Arguing long after you’ve both stopped listening is…well, you decide.

Thank you for your service…

The last full measure of devotion...

With Veteran’s Day coming up, I’m bracing for the inevitable “thank you for your service” I get every year. It’s always an awkward moment, for me. I usually respond with something like: “It was my honor to serve…” (it was, btw. And I’d do it again).

But this year, I have an idea how you can honor all those who served and still serve, as well as do your civic duty in a more general way. VOTE! It has never been more important. On the ballot, this November are a host of issues that should matter to every human of good faith. An incomplete list of those issues follows.

  1. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Senator McConnell has opined these should be on the block, in the next session because of the balooning deficit the Republican tax cuts largely favoring the wealthy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are largely responsible for. In response to which, they’re coming after your grandmother’s Medicare and Social Security and Medicaid which in part funds opioid addiction interventions? Oh and just for the record. Those veterans you’re going to thank this Veterans’ Day? Most of them get part of their healthcare from Medicare, when they retire.
  2. Immigration and Border Security. All BS aside, most reasonable U.S. citizens believe in border security and some kind of controls on immigration. Mr. Trump’s yammering notwithstanding, Democrats are no exception. But what human with the sense to avoid falling over backwards in the toilet thinks a wall is the answer?
  3. Voter Suppression. Georgia, Kansas and North Dakota come to mind. In all cases, it’s clearly intended to disenfranchise people of color, but perhaps most egregious in my mind is the North Dakota case. If any ethnic group has a right to expect they would not be disenfranchised it must be Native Americans. But recent voter ID laws clearly calculated to target them and suppress their voice.
  4. Foreign Policy. It’s a dirty little secret most U.S. citizens would prefer to ignore, but U.S. policy regarding Saudi Arabia’s fratricidal war in Yemen is tacitly permitting a humanitarian crisis even more acute than the one in Syria. Quite apart from being a fairly transparent accomplice in genocide, no thoughtful expert in the area of international geopolitics of whom I’m aware thinks much of his policies. As a retired Marine officer who spent the last half of his career involved in strategic and operational planning, I feel comfortable giving Mr. Trump the prize for strategic ignorance. George the Second was a close second, but he listened (sometimes to his sorrow) to others with more experience.
  5. Income inequality. The tax cuts failed miserably and if you see who arrays on each side of raising the minimum wage, it’s pretty clear that his protestations to the contrary, Mr. Trump and his Republican enablers are on the side of big business, not the average man, woman or child on the street. (Examples).
  6. Corruption. To date, Tom Price Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Scott Pruitt, Secretary of the Environmental Protection Agency both resigned due under scandals involving documented malfeasance. Additionally, Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior have been embroiled in similar scandals. In the latter case, Mr. Zinke is under seventeen (yes, 17) separate investigations, including at least one referred to the DOJ for possible indictment. And this does not include Mike Flynn (NSA Advisor), Paul Manafort (Campaign Manager) and Rick Gates all of whom have pleaded guilty to a host of charges associated with fraud, etc.
  7. Decency. There is nothing in the Constitution stating the president must be a “good” man, whatever that means. And it is possible to imagine someone who is not a good man (or woman) who could still be effective as president. But among the arguments for Mr. Trump as president was the notion that he would Make America Great Again. The whole notion of American Exceptionalism (whether you buy it or not) pivots on leadership. If we are to view the election of Mr. Trump as a referendum on that notion, then perhaps you’re okay with him being a demonstrable liar, serial sexual assaulter and (when all is said and done) an abysmally deficient mind for someone hypothetically leading the greatest nation on Earth and Commander in Chief of the most powerful military the world has ever seen.

Now is it fair to tar all of Mr. Trump’s shortcomings on Republicans running for office? Logically and in a word, no. The president of the United States is part of the Executive Branch, separate and distinct from Legislative and Judicial Branches. Every sophomore knows this (or should) from their Civics/Government classes. As they should also know, however, it was the intention of the framers of the Constitution that the Legislative and Judicial Branches should act as a check on the Executive and vice versa.

They are not by law bound to oppose, simply because they are different branches. Rather they are expected to form independent judgments and act accordingly. At virtually every step, the Republicans in both houses of Congress have acquiesced when they have not actually abetted the president in his intentions and (frankly) routine departures from the truth. If we watch what they do, rather than listen to what they say, it’s pretty clear there’s not much daylight between the president and the Republicans in Congress. Following their conscience, that is their right as duly elected members of Congress.

Just as it is our right to jerk a knot in the butt of someone when we don’t like what they (or the president) are doing. Mr. Trump has suggested we should vote as though he was on the ballot.

I couldn’t agree more. We should take him at his word and remind him he answers to someone.