Living in the Ebbs and Flows of Creative Life

Some days, all I can think of are the things I want to write. Other days, I can’t believe I ever thought that those ideas were any good, that I’m any good as a writer, and that I even have the audacity to even attempt to show up in spaces with much more talented, legit writers and creatives inhabit.

Some days, I’m so pissed off that the poetry project isn’t out in the world yet, all because of my lack of better financial planning. I feel stuck, held back in the whole process because literally nothing has gone the way I had envisioned with this project.

Today, I’m feeling the weight of everything while I plot out a Science Fiction novel.

All of the tension and frustration is there, but so is the resolution to continue on. Although I am acknowledging the reality of being  financially and artistically stuck with the poetry project, I’m also somehow able to sit down and work on this next project. I think that this is what it means to keep moving forward as a creative when you aren’t done with one project, but you have others that need to get done, or at least started on.

It could and has been so easy for me to get frustrated with my current project. But guess what? it will get done. It will eventually be out there in the world. I’m still doing what I can to promote it, sure, but I’m saving my energy for when it’s finished and ready to be thrown out into the world, and just doing what I financially can to get the project done.

I’m trying to use my ebbs and flows to keep things going forward. I mean those times when I’m highly motivated to get shit done, but also those times when I’m not writing anything, but the ideas, the words and concepts are germinating for a story or poem.

It’s so easy to get bogged down and feel like you aren’t doing anything at all when you aren’t actively writing or creating.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I sometimes binge watch entire TV series because that show deals with a concept or an idea that I want to explore or write about. Sometimes I will take notes or create an outline while watching, other times, I just soak it all in. While it’s true that I genuinely enjoy watching quality TV (and sometimes I just need something mindless to decompress from the day) I don’t feel bad for not writing those days or nights, because during those times, I’m flowing with my creative process. Sometimes that’s absorption, sometimes that’s putting it down on paper. It all works out in the end, and it’s still something that I’m getting used to listening to and following.

There will always be work that needs to be done for any and all projects I create and release. Sometimes the things that need to get done I’ll be able to plan out and manage (which I greatly prefer) and other times, like right now, I’ll just do my best with what I have.

I hope that you are allowing yourself the time and space to work within your ebbs and flows today, and if you have no idea what I’m even talking about, that’s ok too. Of course there are things you just need to do and get done, this encouragement to follow your creative ebb and flow isn’t license to be lazy or to not get shit done. If you do it right, and as you get more used to your own process and timing, you will find a way to get the tasks done doing the periods of time that correspond to that being most productive and effective for you. I’m still working on this at both being a writer and case manager. Some days, I can create a to-do list, make a dozen phone calls and have most of the tasks done by lunch. Other days, I struggle to make a single call or respond to one email until 3pm. While I start each day with a plan for what needs to get done, I find that I’m most productive at some things first thing in the morning, and that I shouldn’t save some things for the end of the day, or they might not get done. Of course, I can make myself make those phone calls, return the emails and write those case notes at any given time, however sometimes I can do them MUCH better and effectively during particular parts of the day or even the week or month.

Ebb and flow. Germination and creation.


Dreaming big with little steps

It’s good to be able to dream big, but it’s also good (and helpful) to realize what reality as a writer will look like.

For example, my big, crazy dream is to be able to travel and write. I want to be able to write my own stuff, but I also want to be able to write about important things going on around me, be it political, social or cultural, and take some photos as well. A independent photojournalist or something of that sort. Or maybe I just want to be able to live in a shack in the woods and just write madly until the end of my days, it really changes daily.

I suppose I could buckle down and work really hard on studying what others are doing in these areas, which is totally possible in my spare time, and it would just take the patience and practice (and luck) of being a blogger and Instrgram poster who monetizes my content and has a big following of folks who appreciate my wit and candor regarding coffeeshops that I visit and like, or just my musings on a current event or political situation I find interesting.

In reality, I’m going to be lucky if I can finally get this current book project funded and out into the world, and put out a poetry chapbook or even some novel-length work every couple of years. I’m a working hack who happens to like his job and be fairly good at it most days, and unless we become independently wealthy, I’m going to be slogging away until retirement and then some at some structured form of work.

Another thing I could and will likely do is work my ass off to promote and support other fellow writers and artists, and create some community spaces for folks to gather and congregate within here and there.

I suppose I could start some sort of business doing that, or even more likely a non-profit to be able to afford more time to do those things, but both of those will detract from my already limited time and mental capacity. This isn’t me writing those off as never-gonna-happens, but it’s me being realistic regarding my current capabilities and strengths. I’ve never ran a business or none-profit before, and after doing some initial research and inquiring, these routes don’t seem very viable or sustainable without an enormous amount of start-up capital and a hellva lotta grant applications.

So, where do my dreams and my current reality intersect? What do my strengths and capabilities allow for right now?

And knowing myself, I’m not going to be happy with my conclusion tomorrow, or two days from now, or next week. I’m gonna look at what I’ve assigned myself and think “dude, what the fuck? You can be doing so much more! You can just be working for yourself!” While these self-criticisms might hold some truth, I know myself well enough to know that if I let my dreams overtake the present-day, manageable stuff I can realistically do and maintain, I’m going to take on too much, spread myself too thin, and do a shitty job at everything.

If you’ve never overextended yourself to the point of a near mental and emotional breakdown, when everything is going wrong with your job, your marriage and you are desperately broke, and I highly recommend it. Ok, I actually don’t recommend it at all, but until you have more plates in the air then you can keep there, then you might think that I’m playing it too safe, not taking that big risk that you need to in order to really “live your dreams” or whatever. I’ve been there one too many times, and with my tendency to overcommit myself to all the things coupled with days when I’m to depressed or anxious/frustrated to barely do the bare minimum, I need to keep my dreams and what’s actually achievable for myself in check.

So, what’s achievable and realistic for me right now, you may ask?

Well, I’m still working on getting this book project printed, and am slowly making strides (I think) at revising the promo materials such has social media and websites regarding the project, as well as planning out and outlining the next several writing projects. I’m also working on creating that aforementioned community space by planning out a few monthly writing groups and meetups for busy folks who just want a few dedicated hours to focus on their stuff, but without the need to share it or feel pressured to present and preform in some kinda way. I’m also working on practical ways to support and promote my fellow writer and artist friends by helping them out a bit more with things that I already attend or would have helped them out with anyway.

No, it doesn’t sound as thrilling as quitting my day job and jetting off across the country and world, wowing people with my deep introspection on whatever it is that day, but it’s my speed, and just about right for what I can handle right now, at least for this year. So, I’m trying to dream big in little steps, and we will see where that takes me.

Self-Care and the Creative

So, I’ve been spending this weekend launching a Patreon page as well as launching the book project YouTube Channel, and also revising the business plan and creating the first draft of my Grad school essay and…

All of these things, I’ve needed to do for a while now, and it felt really good to finally check them off the list, but something I’d stumbled across several weeks ago keeps coming up for me…what am I doing so that I can sustain all of these projects and sites and pages and greater connectivity and all the things that I’m trying to establish to be able to finally afford to be able to not only launch this book project, but also successfully promote it and establish the foundation for my writing career beyond this book project?

Well, something you should know about me: I tend to thrive on chaos. By which I really mean, I tend to find myself trying to occupy my time and my mind as much as possible, because in reality, I don’t do well with boredom or idle time, and I’m much better as a person when I can be intentional about my downtime, and when I can plan my time.

So, while trying to get this book published and launched and then also trying to start a business so hopefully I can sustain and grow my connection and support of other artists and writers, there has been an endless supply of things to occupy myself with, which has been good and bad.

However, if I wish to continue at being a decent person, who can continue to maintain my day job and start grad school and still be a decent husband and father, then that means I’m gonna need to build in some safety nets and curated “me” time, time to just take a walk or take my boys to the park or just sit for five minutes without a laundry list of everything I SHOULD be doing right at that moment running on repeat through my head.

This will be hard for me, but it’s also what I NEED to be able to build into my system, my process and my life. I’ve learned the hard way, being someone in the social services field for all these years, that it’s not enough to just wish or hope for a reprieve from all the world’s demands, but to be intentional about that shit.

Also, what I am doing and sharing and attempting to get out there into the world is heavy shit, MY heavy shit. This creation of mine is all about the ups and downs of my life, and some of the darkest conjurings of of my mind and soul, and while writing and creating these pieces was liberating, it’s also a reopening of the wound each time I come into contact with them.

I imagine it’s probably like that for a lot of you out there as well. It could just be the dark and heavy matter that I’ve decided to delve into and explore within myself and then share with the whole wide world, but even my happier pieces are steeped in previous times or loves or more innocent parts of my life, which on any given day, could cut just as deeply as my heaviest stuff, if for no other reason, nostalgia and longing for that ‘first-love’ feeling again.

So, all this to say, I need to build in some parameters and leeway for myself while I’m building up and out.

I wish I could just say that I’m just going to start running again or eating healthier, but if I’m gonna try to build something that could potentially last for the rest of my life, be it 10 or 20 or 50 more years, that’s gonna require me trying a few things out, discovering what works and doesn’t work for me, and getting into a good routine, and then doing the whole search and discovery process all over again in 6-8 months, because I get bored easily and while I like being able to anticipate my day, I also don’t like being stuck doing the same things day after day after day.

So, while I am trying to figure out what self-care means as someone who writes or creates written content all the goddamn time, in both my professional and personal life, I encourage you to work on your own self-care needs and techniques as well. What are you doing currently to take care of yourself? what do you think you need to do to recharge and step away from it all for just a little while so what you are doing doesn’t become the bane of your existence?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas and suggestions.

Also, I was able to attack and whittle away at the massive to-do list thanks to my dear friend Anh for opening up her home to me for this weekend, which has allowed me the focus and time/space to finally buckle down and do all these things, and then some, like sleep without a child’s elbow or knee in my back all night.

See? one of the things I know I need more of is quick and simple weekend retreats so that I can focus and work and dream or just veg out. There, that’s a self-care thing that I will be keeping around going forward 🙂

Pigeon-holed or Just Right?

As I’ve been delving more into the guts of crafting a business plan (actually TWO: one for ‘Shadowland’ and one for being an author overall and the next several projects) I had to reconcile two different things that I honestly hadn’t taken into account before: Who is my audience, and who am I?

As I’ve been discovering throughout this process, there is what’s considered your natural audience, such as friends and family who will automatically support and likely purchase this book simply because of their connection to me, but there is also the greater audience: the folks who I would like to get this project in front of who might enjoy it and maybe even purchase it.

For some reason, who that greater audience is has been hard to answer, and I’m realizing that it’s because I haven’t quite figured out how to articulate who I am, as a creative and as a person, that would draw and inform the casual browser of who I am as an artist and why they should keep reading the description for more then two seconds.

Basically, I have to figure out my “Brand.” I know, I’m cringing right along with you.

The past several months, I’ve been trying to figure out how authors and writers have been getting the word out about their books and I, like many have become sucked down the inevitable rabbit hole of what I’ll term “business wizards.” These of course are those individuals that have popped up everywhere with their “five tricks to selling a million books” or some such other tagline to entice you into watching their slickly-produced, peppy videos regarding how the process or methods or programs they’ve developed will lead you to an endless stream of ways to expand the reach, grow your followers on social media, and consequently, your wealth.

Don’t get me wrong, there are legitimate folks out there that I’ve discovered who are genuinely excited about sharing with others what they’ve learned about the industry, and who aren’t trying to sell you everything and anything under the sun that they can monetize. They want you to actually get better at your craft and have a better handle on how to improve yourself as an author and as a business owner, if that’s in fact what you are aiming for.

Anyway, all of that to say that, I’m generally turned off and irritated by the whole “Branding” and marketing thing in general.

Why should I have to try to trick or dazzle you with piffy catchphrases and slick photos to entice you to read my book? I’m an Iraq War Veteran who’s chronicled his metempsychosis from a placid, idealistic Christian to a disillusioned, bitter and often cantankerous Antiwar Humanist, with some love-sick vignettes for a little pick-me-up to break up the acrimony and heaviness! I’m the shit, man, just ask my neighbor Gary.

And that’s when I realized: this is why I need to figure out my “Brand”: my poetry isn’t meant for everyone, this project isn’t meant for everyone, and how unfortunate would it be if someone stumbled across it who was ready or prepared for it?

While writing this post, I’ve just realized that this was perhaps the first time I actually wrote down what I somehow assumed that others would just know about me. This is why I need handlers.

So, I think some big takeaways from this post should be that, yes, as some point you need to figure out who is and isn’t your audience for your book or art, and perhaps like me you will also discover what your “Brand” is as well in the process, because it’s very important to find the way you are going to present yourself to your potential audience and the to the world. Will my “Brand” likely shift and expand if I’m hoping to write something that doesn’t necessarily fit into the niche that I’m currently writing within? It sure as shit will, and hopefully my “Brand” will be something that works for me across the entire spectrum of artwork I intend to create, from poetry to children’s picture books.

Also, when you start searching around for ways to build your business and write that business plan, stay away from the smarmy, slick business men and women out there who insist that they can make you a bestseller over night or some such bullshit. Find some good people who, even if they have a subscription program or something that’s not too outrageous are doing it for the right reasons and are providing what you actually need as far as advice, resources and community goes, not a bunch of bullshit that a little extra googling for free could have gotten you to. It takes time and patience to avoid the pitfalls out there, and time and experience will tell I’m actually learning the right way to go about this whole process, but at least I’m trying and sharing what I’m learning along the way FOR FREE.

Poem: Letter to The War Presidents

I wrote this back in 2012, but I’ve decided to not update the introduction to it. Perhaps I will someday of this ever gets published somewhere, we shell see.

Given that it’s President’s Day today here in the States, I felt that it was fitting to share this, especially under our current political climate, where there are not only currently wars waged on foreign lands and the potential for further wars each and every day now, but also wars waged against naturalized citizens, the undocumented and the refugee, people’s of different faiths, colors and creeds, the poor, the LGBTQA community, and basically everyone who isn’t a White, rich Male in America right now.

Since my generation was born, nearly every U.S. President oversaw some major military operation in a foreign country, and to date, only two presidents during my generation didn’t serve within the military. This is a letter to every U.S. President that has overseen a war, yet had never seen war firsthand.

would you shed one drop of blood

for the gallons that we’ve given,

would you last one day in the conditions

we’ve spent years in?

would you be able to sign on the dotted line,

and follow the directives sent down from on high

when they went against your convictions of wrong and right?

would you be able to look your family in the face,

and tell them it was worth it,

when you can’t forgive yourself,

for the carnage you partook in?

You have not engaged your enemy at close range,

seen the sweat and fear upon his face,

before you forever erased him away.

My generation has done this and more,

some of us while questioning,

others while adoring,


we are the children who you will bury,

without ever knowing what our level of sacrifice feels like.

would you give just one drop of bravery,

for the oceans we’ve turned red with everything in our veins

to bring an end to the bitter fruits not even your precious offspring will ever be allowed to taste?

Poem: Tonight, A City Alight

I wrote this poem during the North Minneapolis 4th Precinct occupation of November-December of 2015. I had gone out there a few times to drop off water, hand-warmers and other simple things to provide some comfort and warmth to those who had established a encampment there. I attended several presentations and scheduled gatherings there as well, and sometimes just went there to share in the collective sense of loss, or anger, of communal outrage and determination.

I tried writing more poems about that period of time, however nothing seems to come out right, and this was the most succinct thing that I could create so far regarding that period of time.


Tonight, A City Alight

A city burns,

A city burns tonight.


The whole world watches,

while my city goes alight.


They’ve cordoned off the precinct,

might as well have been a fucking warzone checkpoint.


But none of that matters, for we will still gather, mourn, and march.

What is stirring here,

both bold consciousness and weary fright…


More piercing then the gunshots is that cry,

“Not my child, not mine!”.


Digging deeper into the business side of things

I was able to get out of town the past few days, and with a reprieve from the daily grind, came some space and clarity to finally get back into some much needed planning and big-picture perspective of what it means to getting a book published and essentially starting my own business.

I’ve been working on a business plan for a while now, but with everything going so fast; either the daily grind of life or things that have needed to be done right away to keep the book getting printed in a timely manner, some of the bigger stuff has fallen to the wayside.

Luckily, I’m out here with my older brother, who’s well versed in businesses and what’s needed to get them started and how to keep them afloat.

This was always the stuff I understood the importance of, but have never really liked to have to do. While my publisher is amazing and is dealing with some of the heavy lifting, at the end of the day, it’s still up to me to acquire the financial backing, to make important partnerships with bookstores and gift shops, and to make sure that adequate promotion and distribution of this book has been thought through.

It’s not my strong suite, that’s for sure, but I’ll be damned if I don’t do my best at trying to figure all this out as the process goes along.

Things that I had only simply thought about before need to be really hammered out, and it’s not where my natural talents and inclination lies.

But this is the important stuff, the hard stuff that I needed to be pushed and challenged on, so it is what it is.

So, drafting out the different phases of the crowdfunding campaign promotion and advertising routes as well as starting an LLC to conduct business under for the book have been what I’ve been chipping away at the last few days, as well as trying to plan out what should happen once the book is actually in print and we have an official launch.

I’m not alone in this venture, but I do feel like I’ve got the most at stake from a financial and career perspective in regards to the success or failure of this effort. My family can’t afford another financial black hole for us, and I’m not sure how I could consider attempting to get anything else published if this doesn’t go well.

What does that mean exactly, for this thing to go well? That’s a good question.

For me, I will have succeeded if I can sell my initial print run and break even on this, and get this project into the hands of people who I think would gain some encouragement and inspiration from it. That’s basically it. Anything else above and beyond that would be awesome.

I’d also love for this project to be an avenue for bigger and better things artistically for myself and my collaborators Amber and Alicia.

None of us are doing this to become rich, but because we can’t help but to write or paint or draw.

So, I’m hoping to be able to present more of a coherent, solid project and plan going forward, which will hopefully result in better social media promotion and overall higher engagement with the crowdfunding campaign and garner more interest in the book project itself.

Poem: Do You Know?

This past year, I’ve had to really delve into new places where artists gathered and came together to create and inspire and share with each other.

It’s sad to admit that I haven’t really delved too deeply into spaces exclusively for People of Color, and one of the main reasons is that it was never a natural place for me. I’m a mixed guy who happens to look more Black then anything, and for most of my life, I’ve been able to make my way through the mostly white world with occasional people of color as good friends here and there, but never really in a group or cohort specifically for people of color.

The last few years have forced me to reconcile some things about myself and my racial heritage, and the reality that I am, in fact a Person of Color, and that I too belong in spaces, actually need, spaces where other black and brown bodies come together, where we can share our experiences, and gain insight and strength from each other, and just BE. Simply exist without all the societal issues and code-switching and shoulder-looking that comes with moving through this day and age as someone with darker complexion of skin.

This poem was created in response to a writing prompt during a session of Black Lines Matter, an amazing project that’s hosted by Black Table Arts, every other Saturday at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.

Do you Know?

Do you know how much sound is in this sentence…

It took me so goddamn long

To love myself?

Do you know how much focus it takes…

To open up to the world

Yet keep my shield close and at the ready each and every day?

Do you know how much patience it takes…

To remind myself

What others see when I simply drive down the street

Or walk into a room?

Too goddamn much, it what I would say.

Crowdfunding, gah

So, I have a confession to make.

When I started with my publisher, I had the goal and vision of being totally self-financed when it came to the cost of working with them and getting this book project published.

For a while, I was able to do just that; I paid my freelance editor promptly after she completed reviewing and revising the poems I was going to submit, and I was able to pay my visual artists as they turned artwork in or right afterwards.

Granted, some of this was school loan money, but still, I was able to essentially pay my way as the process went along, and I had a credit card that I barely ever used that was going to carry me through the bulk of the costs for publication.

Then, I was done with law school prematurely because of my poor grades, so there went those extra funds.

Then, my wife’s business started tanking while I was looking for fulltime work, and yep, there went all that expendable credit that I had sitting in that credit card, and then some cashed-in IRA retirement accounts, because the transition to the wife’s new company was taking longer then anticipated, and I was still looking for fulltime work, while working at a Starbucks at MSP and doing odd jobs for friends and family who needed projects done around their house or yards. It was a tough, long year, 2017.

And yet, the whole time, I continued to push forward with the book. My publisher was sending me editing and revision suggestions, which I would work on feverishly in any spare time I had, which was precious little. My artists continued to send me completed art pieces, which I would then get scanned or edited for sending to the publisher.

I was still holding out hope that, at some point, I would get the fulltime job and my wife would launch that new business, and by the time it came to move forward with the layout and final revisions and getting a cover image, I would have somehow paid the credit card down enough, or would have the additional income that I would need when it came time to start paying my amazing publisher.

But that didn’t happen. Turns out, the interest rates on my credit cards are a monster, and that my fulltime job that I eventually got 5 months ago, while amazing and generous, only covered the bare essentials financially. The wife’s business is still getting off the ground, and I’m amazed by that woman, that she still has the passion and drive to start a new venture AGAIN, while keeping our two boys alive and the house cleaned.

So, I’m writing this out on my phone at my second job, telling you all about the glamorous, exciting life of being a poet, and getting a publisher, and having this grand dream of a collaborative book project, and my confession is that, doing a crowdfunding campaign for the funding of this book was the last thing in the world I wanted to do.

I don’t know why really, because it’s perfectly normal for writers and musicians and creatives of all kinds to do crowdfunding campaigns for their projects, so it’s not like it’s unusual or discouraged or anything, and it’s a perfectly fine way of getting a project funded. Hell, I give whatever I can whenever a friend or community member I know raises money for anything, so I’ve seen them work and be wildly successful.

The thing is, this book project has been the only thing that’s kept me going through all the bullshit and heartache that was 2017. The first thing I realized after the reality of not being able to continue with law school was, “well, at least I’ll have more time to focus on the book project.” When me and the wife were having painful conversations about our money situation and things were an utter mess, and separation and fear and everything came out in bitter, tearful confrontations, I knew that I still had the book project.

The book project has been my anchor, my one constant through a year or turmoil and uncertainty. Even when we weren’t able to get all of the pieces submitted in time to meet our initial deadline and weren’t able to get the thing published and launched when we first thought we would, it was still there, still something that was going to happen.

And now, now it’s closer then ever to actually getting to print, and the money needs to start being paid in earnest, and I’m gonna be holding a crowdfunding launch on the 26th.

While I wasn’t hoping to do a crowdfunding campaign, I have to say that I am looking forward to this upcoming night. Some of my friends have really stepped up and have been amazing, and it’s a humbling thing to see amazing and busy people in my life step up and give of their time and talents to making this the best goddamn crowdfunding launch that it can possibly be.

So, yet another lesson learned on this wild and crazy road to getting published: Keep going, even when it gets hard, and when you feel like you can’t do it all by yourself, reach out to those around you, because you will be pleasantly surprised by who comes through for you.

Back in October, I had the privilege to be interviewed by my good friend Caleb for his Podcast, and it was awesome/terrifying/encouraging to be able to shed some light into my life and journey regarding mental health, Iraq, alcoholism and sobriety, and of course the book project.