What am I Supposed to Be Doing?

The Universe tends to sling the same message at me, over and over, from every possible angle, until I get it. Lately, the message has come in a professional context, about how to earn a living from meaningful and satisfying work, from folks like Chris Guillebeau:

The key is that you can’t be passionate about just anything; instead you need to be passionate about something that other people are willing to spend money on.

That makes perfect sense to me. But it only poses a question, really: What am I passionate about that people would be willing to spend money on?

I’ve heard this message so many times that it begins to piss me off. This is how my relationship with the Universe goes: it sends messages, I tell it yes but don’t do anything, so it sends them again, and I ignore them or put them off, so it re-sends with some pain or something, and I complain, then more pain, more complaining, and then the distraction with projects and various forms of “busy-ness.” Then the Universe makes all of those things fall apart because they are Wrong.

Or I medicate the pain, until that doesn’t work anymore. (Once I figure that out, the recovery process begins.)

Sooner or later, we hope, I ask myself, “What is it I need to figure out here, so this pain can stop?”
Right now, with my personal and professional lives — exhausted, broke, discouraged — I am at this “What do I need to do” phase. It sucks getting here, but I’m ready to do something different. And I know that “something” is, once again, figure out what’s my purpose in life (aka God’s will, if you like) and then f—-ing go for it. Identify my gift and start giving it. Let the guy out of the cage.

I just don’t know what the first step is. So I am going to ask you. Whoever you are. I’m asking everybody, starting now.

What do you think “my gift” is? What do I do, or care about, or know about, that you would be willing to spend money on?

I do have some ideas:

Who knows what else might be out there?

What do you think? I’m kind of torn up here.





The Glories of Authorship

A friend who might be getting a book deal asked me about “the numbers,” and here’s my response. This is to explain why, even with four books in print right now, I drive a 20-year-old car and live in a tiny studio, from which I work at two jobs.


Good to hear from you, and congrats on your upcoming book journey.

The numbers are somewhere between hard to figure and pretty standard, if that makes sense. In other words, there seems to be a typical range, and variations within that range are small to the world of publishing but seem big to writers and publishers.

In other words, between what I have gotten and heard about, advances on first editions may run from $3,000 to $6,000, if anything less, and royalties around 10-15% of the publisher’s net. And, if it’s not apparent, an advance is against those royalties. Also, if it’s not clear, the publisher’s net is roughly 50% of the cover price, so 10% of net is 5% of cover price. When they sell an $18 book, you make 90 cents.

So it kind of goes like this: you get $3,000 and feel rich. Then you work your ass off and create a book that means the world to you. It comes out, and you get to go over to Powells, buy a latte, and see your book on the shelf. This is really cool. Then, in the first year, your publisher sells maybe 2,000 copies at $15 per, “earning” you something like $1,500. You don’t see this, of course, because of the advance. The next year they sell another 1,000, and you’ve “made” $750. If you’re lucky, the book does well, you got a good rate and/or the advance was small, you might see another check two or three years after the book comes out, which is typically a year after you do all the work.

So, bottom line:

  1. You get paid
  2. You work like hell
  3. A year later, you see your book in print and feel groovy
  4. A few years later you (barely) get paid again

If you’re smart you will not treat this as a way to get wealthy, and you will never, ever consider what your hourly rate of pay is.

This is why am moving towards publishing my own books!

Peaceful Places Portland: Elk Rock Island

Here is something from my book, Peaceful Places: Portland — which you can get a signed copy of at the link.

Elk Rock Island



It can be easy, when living in Portland, to forget that the Willamette is a river.

I know that sounds odd, because what else would it be, but how often do you look at that body of water downtown and think about currents, and drainages, and riverbanks, and islands? It just seems kind of like some water to get across on the way to work, right?


Well, it’s a river, and if you want to get just a little glimpse of it in that form, head out to Elk Rock Island. First you have to find tiny Spring Park in Milwaukie. It’s a nice enough place, but follow the trail into the woods. Yes, you’re headed for the riverbank. And when you get there, if the water is low enough, you can walk right out there to the island-m-across a land bridge that  is thought to be 40 million years old.


See, we’re not just “in town” anymore, are we?

This little island had many owners before 1910 (one of them even built a dance hall on it) before its last private owner, a Scottish grain exporter named Peter Kerr donated it to the city with one stipulation: “Preserve it as a pretty place for all to enjoy.” Mission accomplished.

Here, within sight of homes and docks and industry, is a patch of woodlands, a small beach, a rocky bench, a cliff face, and a hidden laggon. Here are hiking trails and picnic spots, some peace and quiet, and — in winter, anyway — a waterfall across the way!


And here, rolling along as it always has, is a river, with a gentle current and birds bobbing and swooping, and, yes, an island in the middle of it.

Elk Rock Island: Essentials

Where: SE 19th Avenue & SE Sparrow Street,Milwaukie

When: Sunrise to sunset, but generally not accessible due to high water in winter and spring

Web: Official site

Read more about Peaceful Places in Portland. Or just buy the book.

I also write about hiking, travel and spirituality,

and I offer great talks and trips.

Mini Sledgehammer Writing Contest

The other night I tried something new: I went to a writing contest. It’s called Mini Sledgehammer, and the idea is you meet at a wine bar and you get 36 minutes and four writing prompts, then you write a story. (There is a regular Sledgehammer with 36 hours to write.)

Normally, we would then read our stories to each other, and the organizer would pick a winner. I was terrified at the thought of this. I haven’t written a word of fiction since college. I mean, I’ve lied plenty of times, totally made shit up, but never tried to organize any of it. So to have barely half an hour to come up with something, then have people hear it … well, a wine bar wasn’t the safest place for this old alcoholic to be under the circumstances.

Fortunately, a deus ex machina entered, in the form of about 50 people who streamed into the place on some kind of wine tour, completely swamping any notion of reading anything. Yay! Of course, we still wrote, which was kind of fun — in part because I love writing in the middle of chaos, and in part because it was funny watching all these fun-loving wine people try to figure out why several of us were hunched over computers and notepads in the middle of their party.

Anyway, since nobody got to hear it, I figured I’d share it here. I, of course, think it’s an embarrassment to the English language. But what the hell. It was 36 minutes of writing, and there were a lot of crazy wine people around, asking what the hell we were doing. And if you didn’t figure it out, this is based on a true story.

Okay. Oh, and the writing prompts that we had to include were a writer, moving in, a vet’s office, and the phrase “Out of nowhere came …” And I don’t know why, whenever I set something up to be in italics on my website, it comes out read instead.

Okay again.



The only thing Dublin McLain wanted when he got to Denver was a shot of whiskey.

He wasn’t normally a whiskey guy, but the drive down out of the mountains, in blinding snow and snarled traffic, had turned him nearly catatonic, and frozen his neck and shoulders in anxiety, and now it was in his head that the only thing to loosen him up would be a shot of whiskey. Maybe some ice, definitely no water, and he intended to slap his fists on the bar and yell for it.

He let the image settle into his head, and he started to feel kind of manly about it. I came through the mountains, he would tell them, and it was a mighty hard journey. So it’s whiskey for me, and none of the cheap stuff.

It really had been a crappy drive. He came out of the tunnel at Vail Pass, 11,000 above sea level, and all he could see was the tail lights of the car right in front of him. He decided to just follow that car, but it was going too slow, and when he hit his brakes he started skidding in the snow – towards the swirly blackness in which he could just make out the tops of trees. He tried to change lanes, even though there were no lanes, and from out of nowhere came another car, also going sideways and starting to spin towards him. And behind that was an 18-wheeler going faster than everybody. “If that guy hits his brakes,” Dublin thought, “we are all gonna die.”

It was three hours of that to cover 35 miles into Denver, and now that he was in town, it was whiskey time. And maybe then some writing, because the whole experience was at least going to make a great story some day. Down from the mountain the hero came, into town and straight for the saloon.

Actually, he found a stripmall, with all the same wasteland civilization he’d left behind in Boise: a Thai restaurant, a vet’s office, a taqueria, a tanning bed place, and a sports bar. Fine, he said to himself. Sports bar it is.

Down from the mountain the hero came, and he boldly strode into the, uh, Backstop Inn. It was kind of a baseball-themed place bragging of the “biggest screens on the west side of Denver.” He surveyed the scene: two guys with baseball caps staring at a screen above the bar, three more at a corner table arguing about something, and a skinny young girl behind the bar.

He settled on a stool and Miss Chirpy – that’s what he would come to call her, Miss Chirpy – came over and asked what he wanted. Our hero said, “Uh, whiskey … of some sort.”

“You mean like scotch? Bourbon? What?”

He noticed that the two guys at the bar were listening in, and he tried to turn to look at them, but his siezed-up neck sent pain ricocheting through his system. He winced, and something in their look changed, as well.

“Uh,” our hero said, and he looked around at all the bottles. “Jack Daniels”?

“Sure!” she chirped, and whirled around. She came back with the bottle and said, “Ice?”

Our hero really wanted to say no, but the idea of pure whiskey was actually daunting. So he went with ice, and Miss Chirpy poured him a shot.

“Any game you want on,” Miss Chirpy asked.

“No,” he said, “just in for a drink. Had a crappy drive to get here.” Indeed, he thought, ‘twas a most perilous journey.

“Where’d ya come from?” she said. She was being mighty chirpy. Dublin tried to bring the glass to his mouth, and another rocket of pain went through his shoulders. He also smelled the whiskey, and it was awful.

“I, uh,” he paused, looked at the whiskey, and forced down a sip. It tasted like burning. The guys at the bar were definitely watching him now. “Boise,” he said, but it seemed like his voice didn’t sound right.

“Come in for some skiing?” That would be the fun, chirpy thing, of course.

“No, I’m moving here. I’m supposed to be moving into my apartment in a few days.”

“My boyfriend just got a new apartment,” Miss Chirpy said.

Dublin looked at her and wondered how the boyfriend had gotten into the conversation. He sipped more whiskey. It tasted worse. The hero should have gotten a beer.

Miss Chirpy whirled off to do who knows what, and Dublin looked around. His arrival in Denver was complete, he had conquered the snowy mountains, he had gotten his whiskey, and Miss Chirpy has a boyfriend. Our hero noticed there was a baseball game on the big screen.


On Resolutions and Retreats

I’m out at the coast the last few nights, on a working retreat.

In theory, this meant putting my head down and writing a big chunk of the Peaceful Places book. But do these things ever go like we plan? I spent three nights here, and maybe four hours on that book. So one of the passengers on my internal bus is yelling that this whole thing has been a failure. He’s also bitching that I haven’t taken a proper walk on the beach.

But watch how that internal game goes: set up a “right” way to do things, then don’t do them, then call it (and yourself) a failure. What the hell is that?

How about “My friends Betsy and Mike, who own a super cool motel, invited me out for a few days, in exchange for some work, and it’s nice to get away for a while?” I got a lot of stuff done, including some on the book, and now I’m headed back.

How about “Thank you, Universe, for this opportunity”?

And how about “I don’t know what the ‘right’ way to do this is, so I’m just trying to be true to myself and do what feels right”?

Some of the stuff I got done, like financial planning and asking for help where it’s needed, was very helpful. And the book  will get written. And I have this new website. And it’s too damned windy and cold to walk on the beach.

But mainly I had a nice little retreat, got some things done, saw my friend Betsy and her two lovely daughters, and got to help them out, too.

So thank you, Universe!

Check out:


Dig the New Site?

Please let me know what you think. I probably tried to put too much on, but for now I’m just pushing buttons in WordPress and seeing what they do.

The goal is ultimately to create one site where all my doings are gathered. My kingdom in a page, in other words.