Category Archives: Personal Journal

How to keep on creating when no one knows you are there

So here’s the thing… Reaching 70 years old next month and thinking that after a lifetime of seeking some recognition for my work as an artist in many media, and finding somewhere between none and scant little, how can I keep on going?

But I already have the answer. You put yourself out there as if you had a hundred million followers or fans. You treat each new work as an act of raw creation, thrusting it into the world with every fiber of your being to make it real, to make it shine, to give it life.

Destruction of you soul lies down the path of adjusting the intensity of your output to the size of your expected audience. Don’t do art to gain an audience and don’t underplay your best effort even if your audience is absent.

Feel the power of projecting your vision into the ether, splash the biggest ripple you can into a pond, whether calm or beset with the ripples of others. Forget competition, ignore obscurity, eschew anonymnity, and split your heart open until your blazing light bursts forth to illuminate the room with fire, whether there’s anyone else there or not.

Art is made by the totality of your commitment to the work. Throw everything you have into everything you create no matter if anyone sees it or not. Because it was never about the effect you have on others, but the effect you have on yourself.

Only by totally embracing the process can you evolve as a spirit approaching ever closer to that unattainable state where your inner and outer realities merge and you transcend the dissonance of existence.

What’s Happening | January 19, 2023

What’s happening today…

Well, today was Teresa’s Big Adventure as a prospective juror at the Los Angeles County Courthouse. It became my adventure too. Check-in time was listed at 9:00, so after reaffirming the drive time was just a little over half an hour from here, we decided to leave an hour early to be sure. Turns out, because of the recent rains, whole freeway sections were closed due to mudslides, and that meant more traffic on our route. It should have been a straight through affair, but once we got to the area, the phone sent us on the shortcut that runs past Dodger Stadium, then onto the harbor freeway, then off into the boonies, and it wasn’t until L.A. was receding in the rear view mirror that we discovered we were going to the wrong courthouse! Tunrs out, there’s more than one Los Angeles county courthouses. There’s seven of them! You have to ask the phone for them by name. So, we found an offramp near USC, pulled over, and re-programmed the phone. Then began Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride as we twisted and turned through a dozen changes in direction every few hundred feet. Finally we got her there – pulled up into the red no-parking zone in front of the courthouse, she ran out and managed to get checked in before they started processing jurors. Well, made it home, filled up the tank, bought six tacos from Jack, went home, ate ’em, then Teresa called – she was free! So, we celebrated with her buying us both a take-out dinner from our favorite Mexican restaurant from the tax rebate stimulus Terersa just got from the state. Now we’re sprawled out and vegging on the couch, fat and sassy, and binge watching Maine Cabin Masters. Perfect.

What’s Happening – January 18, 2023

What’s happening today…

Working on my sci-fi novel series. Hadn’t really written on it since before Halloween, due to the holidays and Teresa’s surgery and recovery. It’s a very complicated story arc and will probably be thousands of pages long by the time it is done. I’m currently working on book 7 of a planned series of 24, with additional follow-up series after that, if I live that long.

Yesterday I received a laminated world map I purchased so I can follow the progress of the plot as it moves around the globe. Today I am the proud owner of 1/2000 of a million 3 x 5 index cards, and am putting them to good use. (That’s 500 cards).

I love index cards. Couldn’t write long form without them. Each book has several categories of cards for each of the major subplots, plus updates to previous subplots, as well as information about all the settings where the plot takes place.

I really want to get back to composing music on my new keyboard which I’ve had for month but not had the time to play with hardly at all. But, I need to make a little progress on the novel series first.

Right now, temperatures are almost down to freezing at night, which is rare for Burbank, but should continue for at least a week. We have this old floor heater that might barely keep the main house warm, but we’re sleeping in the attached patio that was never intended as a bedroom, and getting the heat back there is nearly impossible. We can hardly stay above 68 most nights, and by daybreak (when I usually get up) it is often down to 66 or a little less.

But, Teresa continues insulating and sealing in the walls with sheathing, so each day is a fraction of a degree warmer. But, she just checked with the court about her jury summons, and she has to show up in 13 hours in downtown Los Angeles to see if they want her on the case. So, there’ll be no wall work tomorrow.

She hasn’t driven since months before her surgery, but is well enough now, though way out of practice, so I may be asked to take her there. We’ll see how she wants to go with it.

Anyway, we’re doing okay, generally optimistic, but still have to hassle things like this from time to time. Ah – she just asked me to drive, so I guess it’s off to the races!

All for now, and until next time, may the Muse be with you!

What’s Happening…

January 17, 2023

I’m getting organized to continue writing the seventh book in my science fiction thriller series, The Event. I had to buy a world map from Amazon that arrived yesterday because the only free online map with longitude lines every fifteen degrees (hosted by National Geographic) has been replaced with a new one that’s impossible to use.

Why fifteen degrees longitude? In my story, an unknown event sweeps around the globe at the speed of the earth’s rotation, erasing everything that was made by the hand of man, throwing us into a world where nothing is constructed and no information compiled, save that within our own heads. It is estimated that only 1% of humanity will survive to the end of the first post-event month, and only 1% of those will live by the end of the first year.

This story was supposed to be a single book, but it has grown into a series that looks like it will be a few thousand pages long in total. I actually don’t think I’ll be around to finish it. So, I already wrote a first draft of the surprise ending so I won’t leave anyone disappointed. C.S. Forester, who wrote the Horatio Hornblower series, did the same thing, eventually writing the last book in Hornblower’s career, then going back and filling in the gaps in other books. Good thing too, because he didn’t last long enough to do the who job, so at least we got to see how it ended.

Today, 500 3×5 index cards arrive. I love index cards. When I’m writing a complex story, well, I don’t think I could do it without them because writing is hard work! Just watch the movie, The Man Who Invented Christmas, about how Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol and you’ll see for yourself. Or better yet, try it yourself – write even a short fiction and then imagine writing a whole book or a series of books. My brain hurts.

What else is going on this week? Well, we had some unfortunate flooding with the storm before last, so Teresa put up new gutters, but we still needed to install some tarps over both ends of the car port so the rain coming in sideways wouldn’t get past the lack of weather stripping. This LAST storm, we succeeded! No more carboard boxes holding precious family memories sopping with water! Fortunately, we had gotten to even the soppiest boxes before the water ruined anything inside, but is was close!

All three of us here are hooked up with medicare and now that Mary finally retired, we’re all living on social security, and what savings there are. Wouldn’t be nice if my book series was picked up as a streaming series on televion – Amazon or Netflix or something? Or, I could just win the lotto. Or, I could flap my arms and fly to the moon.

We’re sleeping in the enclosed patio for the past few years, never intended as more than a daytime gathering place, and it gets cold in the winter. Last night it was 38 degrees. Not as cold as when we lived in the mountains and it regularly dropped to 5 degrees, but since natural gas prices went up 315% this month in one big price boost, well, with fixe incomes, we’ve had the heat pretty low. No so good for old bones, but we’re working it. Teresa has been rebulding the walls back here to convert the place to a more typical frame construction with better insulation, and it’s helping every time she makes an improvement. But, its a long process and the chill ain’t waitin’.

Anyway, glad to be back writing again for the first time since Halloween, but now I’m chomping at the bit to start working with my musical compositions and my photography, and to get ready to do some hiking and road trips in the Spring. Not enough time in the day, once you retire.

Family Stories

For decades I’ve been plagued by the fear that when I’m gone, all the family stories that I know will be lost – all the little narratives that illuminate who people were and, more important, how they were.

I’ve ended up with all the material effects from five families, including my own, as I inherited the possessions of my mom and step dad, grandmother and grandfather, great aunt and uncle on my grandmother’s side, and great aunt and uncle on my grandmother’s side. These fill two to three dozen moving boxes, each with hundreds of papers, photos, collectables, souvenirs, mementos, awards, and memorabilia, and almost every one has a story behind it.

Here in my sixty ninth year, I have finally become so worried that these wonderful tales describing not just dates and places, but the nature of those who came before me, both those I’ve known and others even before that whom I have heard about from those that knew them, will cease to be. In a sense, I feel as if all these beloved and unique people will then cease to be as well, far more so then when they gave up the ghost.

And so, to assuage this nagging sadness, I have recently taken it upon myself to preserve those narratives – all the family stories I know from experience or had related to me.

To this end, I have begun opening each of the boxes, one by one, under the eye of a video camera pointed down into the memory treasures. In short sessions I pick up the first item, and share what I know about it and the people to whom it was connected, describing not only the object, but weaving in special memories I have of the people I have loved and lost, and even wonderful moments from those still with me when an item touches upon them as well.

I had tried before to put these stories in words, taking pictures of each material thing and speaking about it in essays and even collecting these in books. But who wants to read such material in a technological world such as this. And, it also lacks the immediacy of discovery, part way through my monologue, of some previously lost memory that puts passion in my voice as I rotate the object for the camera and reminisce.

I have done one session already, and I feel so relieved – that is the only appropriate word – that everything I shared on the video is now part of our family history, and those particular stories shall not be lost to time. I am eager to continue, knowing that each session brings those people alive again, as I knew them or heard about them, as if they were fictional characters that live on screen in a movie, for that is where the passion can be felt, and even those who never knew them nor even previously had heard of them can be enriched by their smiles, moved by their tears, thrilled by their triumphs, and saddened by their tragedies. But most of all, these magnificent spirits will live on in the hearts of those who live today, and of those not yet born who can say, “these are the people through whom I myself have come to be.”

Where no one will see me…

This is where I go to create things that no one will ever see. I have thousands of posts here on my blog and get maybe three or four page hits per day. So I know that if I post something here, it;s likely no one will ever see it.

But that’s okay. Lattely, at age 69, I’ve made a harrowing effort to get past the creative process to ask why I even create at all. In fact, my very last post was entitled, Why Bother To Create?

It took decades to shed the goals and perspectives of youth such as the desire for fame, fortune, and artistic recognition. I must admit that those desires did put my creativing into hyperdrive for more than half a cetury. I keep thinking that my current amazing project was the one that was going to breakthrough and get me all manner of wonderful things and fulfillments. Never happened.

I did come close a few times and actually made a minor name for myself in several different arenas over the years. But I never experienced the reward I was looking for. But now, I have come to realize I will always create because that is who I am; I’m just wired that way.

But the effort I’ve put into that prolific outpouring of material was amped up to that level because of those false goals. And now, having finally being able to separate them out from my underlyng drive to create, I can see that if I don’t care if anything I spill out makes a dime, or gets recognition, or even if anyone ever sees it al all, it doesn’t change my pleasure in creating.

And there’s one more thing. When I make something, I want to share it. I’m that kind of person that has a slice of the best cake I’ve ever tasted and I want to share a bite with everyone in the room rather than keep it for myself. You see, I would be so much happier watching their faces light up when they tasted it and saying, “Isn’t that the best cake you’ve ever had?” while they chew with glee, even if all I get is one bite myself. Always been that way. My mom raised me that way, but I think it was already in me and she just nurtured it.

So, I’m not really looking to hide, as per the title of this post. Rather, I’m making a statement that I like doing things my way with no interference and no restrictions. Can’t stand restrictions. And when I find or build something really cool, I want to share.

But because, even after decades trying to build a following on the internet and failing, I can’t give that cake away, I’ve decided, finally, just this week, to just put it out on the kitchen table in case somebody stops by who’d like some.

No more trying to buttonhole people and drag them to my free giveaway. I’ll make it because I take pleasure in that. And I won’t hide it or keep it to myself. I’ll just post it here and occassionaly publish on Kindle or YouTube and let folks find it or not.

Bottom line – I so much wanted to share the best of what I had that I essentially chased people down the street. And, like the Dr. Seuss book, they’d pretty much run away yelling, “I do not want it, Sam-I-Am1” Truth is, on the rare times I did catch them and forced them to try it, unlike the Seuss book, the really, honestly, didn’t like it. All I’d done is pester them to distraction with something I thought was a diamond (perhaps in the rought) and they saw it as just a lump of coal.

And I would sit there amazed, pondering how they couldn’t see how wonderful this thing I’d shared actually was. How could they not see that? And so I figure, it’s me or them, or both of us, but regardless, I’m tired of the drill. And so, I’ll post everything I make here, having created it for my own pleasure with no remaining expectations anyone will find in it any value at all. Still, it is like buying a lottery ticket. If you don’t buy one you can’t win. If you do buy one, the odds are really stacked against you, but at least you are in the game.

But rather than putting all kinds of energy into promotion (far mor than I ever put into creating the thing in the first place), I now realize that would be like buying ten or a hundred lotto tickets – it doesn’t substantially increase your odds.

And so, I don’t expected to get much fulfillment from sharing my specials, but at least there’s always a chance, and I known the joy in making it in the first place will always keep me making new stuff regardless.

Good place to end. But I should mention that I got one review on Amazon for my new novel that I am serializing on Kindle. Paraphrsing, it said: “What a concept! I can’t wait for the next installment!” Yeah, that felt pretty good.

Why Bother To Create?

I’ve reached a crossroads. One path leads me to continue creating new ideas, writings, music, photographs, and such just as prolifically as I always have (literally thousands of creative works over half-century career of sorts. The other path leads me to create far less – to have just as many wonderful ideas and inspiratons, but not to develop them or document them, or post them.

On the surface, it would seem I should take the path of prolific creativity. But that is no so obvious when I look into why I create at all. What do I hope to get from having created? What drives me to make.

In the past, in my youth, I wanted to invent new thoughts and experiences and from that to garner my fortune, fame, and validating artistic recognition. I’m thinking there’s nothing inately wrong with that, but fifty later, I’ve achieved none of that. And at some point you need to ask yourself, what if I knew in advance, from this point forward, that I would never achieve any of those things? Would I still create? In other words, how much of what motivates me to do the work of developing and distributing an idea is the expectation of achieving fame, fortune and artistica validation (recognition)?

Turns out, none of those things have motivate me for a long, long time. At some point I realized I really didn’t want to be rich in material wealth, but rich in my relationships and experiences. And I didn’t desire fame as I was far more interested in having people appreciate the art than the artist. And as for artistic validation, turns out I only needed that from myself as I have come to see that some folks like chocolate and some vanilla, and if I like Brown Butter Bourbon Truffle (which I do), well that’s just fine. I should never create what I think people will like, just what I myself would like to create.

That being said, what, then, has been motivating me to continue to produce like a fire hose for all these most recent years, if fame, fortune, and recognition are no longer drivers?

This was a hard answer to find. But I did discover what has driven me of late: sharing. Simply put, I love to give Christmas and birthday presents. I love to show my eclectic collections of all kinds of things to everyone I can buttonhole, not because I want to show off or show what I own, but because I want to share. I want them to feel the wonder or the joy I do from that oddly shaped branch on my shelf, or the strange little ceramic man I found at a yard sale.

In short, I empathize greatly, and my greatest joy is when I can give a gift or a smile or an idea someone’s never thought of before that makes them say, “Well, that’s interesting…” and off they go a-pondering, and all because I was able to give them that gift. And the joy runs through me like an electric current that they and I are resonating together and that I accomplished something really special – I made their mind expand or their emotions dance.

It is the expectation that what I am creating will have that effect on others – that something that I created that excites me will excite them as well, and we can share the moment together – THAT is what truly drives me. Always have, though I never saw it until my later years, hidden as it were behind making a name for myself.

Just a moment ago I threw some peanuts out the door next to my desk – out into the backyard where our daily visitors, the squirrels and crows, come to feast. The feeling I get from providing them with sustinence is the exact same feeling I get from publishing something new, and is also the same feeling I enjoy when I recently gave a special cake to a family member for her birthday.

I didn’t grow the peanuts, I didn’t bake the cake. And on Facebook I have often filled my feed with ten or twenty reshares of other people’s ideas, memes, musical performances, or artistic work for the same reason – to share, to bring the smile or the surprise moment of new knowledge.

Honestly, I don’t have to create at all to get that feeling, but as creative individual by nature, new original thoughts and artistic expressions come to me all day long, enjoyed, but unbidden. And once I have them in my possession, I want to share them, just as I might get a really good burrito and offer half of it to a friend because having them experience the same thing that brings me joy is better to me than having all of it for myself. It just is. Just the way I’m wired.

So if I am to truly be happy, I must share. But here’s the rub… What If I threw those peanuts into the yard each day and nobody came to eat them? What if the squirrels didn’t stop by, the crows just flew one, and the nuts I tossed out just lay there until they rotted into the earth. Where would my joy be then?

In such a scenario, not only would I not have the peanuts for myself, but I wouldn’t have any emotional reward for putting them out there – no sharing, no seeing them joyously consume the sustinence of life. Nothing.

And that is what has happened, in general, in my career. Of all the thousands of things I post (just like this note), not one single person looks at it, much less clicks on it. And I never realized until recently just how empty that leaves me.

At first, many years ago, I tried to drum up an audience so that I could share these wonderful things with them. I spent countless hours building websites, publishing books on Amazon, tending Facebook pages, blogs, and newsletters, all so that I could lure people in so I could give them my gifts and then enjoy my resonance with their positive feelings.

Today, I find myself standing on a street corner with a sign that says, “Free Diamonds” and not only does no one stop long enough to look them over and take one, not even do they not grab one on their way by, but they don’t even look over to see the sign.

For a time I thought that the best solution is not to look for immediate return, but to put it out there so that someday the valuable thing might be found and shared by others to others. But that is a false motivation. It is based on a fantasy. And it misdirects my desire to participate in the immediate sharing so that I am only indirectly interacting by imagining a pretend future in which one of my creations is discovered by one person and shared with another, and as I imagine their joy in sharing, I try to become motivated to continue to produce based on that vicarious experience that is by no means certain, and is actually belied by the lack of interest now.

As that was not a satisfactory solution as to how to motivate myself, I considered the message in a bottle approach whereby I could imagine that each thing I created would drift on the cyber sea until it found its way to just the right person who needed to receive it, or at least to someone whose life would be enhanced in mind or passion.

But again, that is all make-believe, daydreaming, and trying to force myself to accept those things as tangible and certain so that I continue to produce at the high volume that has defined my efforts in the past.

Still, there is one other alternative: don’t publish at all. That’s pretty severe, but it is an option. What if I create my music and books and photographs and never share them with anyone, powered only by my own internal Muse and not by an expectation of ever enjoying sharing with others.

That’s pretty much what’s driving me in writing this article. I truly feel that many artists might find something in these words of enough insight and value into their own audience-related issues that it would be worth their time to read the post.

Yet it is my expectation that no one will ever see it – just another drop in the black hole, just another peanut rotting on the ground, just another diamond nobody takes. Strangely, that is not a bad thing. I am motivated to write this, therefore, not because I think anyone will read it, but because I want to document these thoughts while they are fresh and full of passion.

So why am I posting this, rather than simply saving them as a document on my computer? Simple. If you don’t buy a lottery ticket, you can’t win. If you buy one ticket, at least you’re in the game. Meaning, that if I don’t publish at all, this valuable gift will likely be lost forever. But if I publish only here on my blog, at least it is preserved.

I am not being motivated by sharing, because I don’t expect anyone will ready this. I am not being falsely motivated by imagaining someone will someday find the post and see it as valuable. I am motivated solely by my desired to build this gift, and then to preserve it so it won’t rot.

Nonetheless, all preservation is eventually corruptible. Once I have passed, this blog will likely not long remain, and all that it contains will vanish when my estate stops paying the web hosting fees.

And yet, even Facebook may someday delete non-active pages, and my books on Kindle might be removed when my bank account is closed after my death and Amazon has no way to send me any royalty payments.

I had been trying to post everything as many places as I could so that there was a greater chance to share this fine things. Time, however, has shown me that I am no promoter and no marketer. I am a maker of thoughts and experiences, and that is my skillset.

Does this mean I will no longer publish to YouTube and Facebok and Kindle? Probably it doesn’t. There may come a time in which I want to stand on that street corner once again. But for now, I have been burned by the lack of fulfillment that comes from so deeply desiring to share the best of what I have to offer and not only having no takers, but no one even stops by my stand to see what I have prepared.

For now, this is it. Someday I may again gather the best of what I have and bundle it into videos on YouTube and booklets on Kindle. I’m probably done with Facebook for good. And I do hope to eventually find a way to more permanently document my work so that these wonderful things aren’t lost forever.

In the meantime, here I have purchased a single lottery ticket.

Melanie Anne Phillips

In the next thrilling episode…

Woo Hoo!

Made the decision yesterday to publish my novel-in-progress episodically on Amazon’s new “Vella” platform.

Basically, Vella is an app that allows folks to read espisodes sequentially of a story and pay just a few cents for each episode as they go, kind of like a television or streaming series.

So, with about 1/3 of the book written, the expectation it will take another 18 months to two years to complete, and roughly fifty episode’s worth of material already written, I’m going to give this popular new publishing platform a shot, to get new material out there as soon as it is written and end this agonizing frustration of not being able to share the cool story I’m writing until the whole thing is completed.

Personal Journal | March 22, 2022

I’m using the writing of my novel as an opportunity for personal growth, as I do with most everything – a chance to learn more about what truly motivates me, what I want out of life, and to better define my feelings about relating with others, rather than relating just to my artistic work.

I’ve never written a novel before, though I’ve written several screenplays, hundreds of poems and lyrics to my songs, a few short fictional pieces, and thousands of non-fictional pages on topics ranging from narrative to psychology to philosophy, physics, and political theory. But never a novel.

Mostly I’ve not written a novel because no idea I’ve ever had, no matter how intriguing it might have been, excited me to sit down and tell the tale so that others might enjoy it.
But this time it’s different. I really love this story, and I’m so excited to share it with others that it is a major frustration not to do so until it is finished because I also think it is the one big idea that has the greatest chance of fulfilling my dreams of a big paycheck and some recogition for my work.

That’s why I’m holding back until it is done. But I can’t let those reasons become part of my motivation for writing it or the pure joy of savoring the idea and also anticipating the fun others will have in reading it will be tainted by monetary and ego-driven concerns.
And so I have set about a process whereby I fequently query myself to weed out any motivations driven by money or the desire of recognition, though that may, in fact, double or triple the time it takes to finished the book – perhaps making it take another year and a half or so to complete (which just adds to my frustration).

Still, if I can suffer frustration every damn day, and even the fear that I’ll croak before I complete it or not live to enjoy seeing others enjoy it, perhaps I will have a better balance in my creative life.

I was thinking, then, that:

1. I must not allow myself to be driven by the hope for money

2. I must not allow myself to be driven by recognition

3. I must not allow myself to be driven by needing to complete it.

4. I must not be driven by expectation of others enjoying reading it.

So, in the end, I would like to be able to answer the question, “Why are you writing this novel?” with “Because I want to.” And the follow-up question, “Yes, but what’s your purpose?” I hope to (eventually) honestly reply, “I have none.”

Not there yet. And, honestly, it that even a worthy goal? Or should I just throw myself into it as I have with every other big project I’ve ever taken on, movtivated by all of those things so I can get it done as quickly as possible, but at the expense of having any other kind of a life and being wholly tunnel visioned into completion?

Ah, if I could live forever, I’d have no problem, would I?

One thing is certain. I have vowed that once this project is finished I will never again take on a big project that can’t be released piecemeal as I go. No more waiting months or years to be done with the whole thing before I share what I’m creating, as I’m creating it.

That’s what I’ve vowed. Now to see what actually happens…