About Erik Dolson

Erik Dolson is a writer living in Oregon

Losers in a new world

There are always losers. That’s what the uncle of the two boys who set bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon called them: “losers.”

The uncle, also from Chechnya, also a Muslim, is a winner, and a man who loves the opportunity that America has given him and his family. His is ashamed of his nephews, what they have done to Americans, to Muslims, to Chechens.

The two boys were also very different. It is hard to understand how the younger one followed his older brother into terrorism. The last few months had been tough on him, too, but we don’t yet have a good idea of cause and effect, whether his implosion as a student and citizen was the cause or result of his taking the path to hell.

Their father, too, who returned to Chechnya, who says his boys didn’t do this, who says they were framed: How did that father contribute to the tragedy of lives lost, those of his own sons and of those they murdered and maimed? Or is he yet another victim?

This was not an act by Muslims, not an act by Chechens. This was an act by misguided young men like Timothy McVey, who blew up that building in Oklahoma. And there may be no cure for that in a free society, in any society. It may be biology, genes programmed to create cannon fodder; it may be chaos. But we should not rush to fix something that may have no fix, especially when the solution destroys what we are trying to protect.

Hopefully the man in the cowboy hat who saved the life of the young man who helped solve the crime will find meaning… the loss of his own two sons lessened by what his heroism accomplished. Nothing can bring peace, but perhaps his pain can be reduced for  a few minutes each day.

There is much to think about the amazing accomplishment for law enforcement, too, in a world that is changing faster than anyone could have imagined.

Wind

The wind started blowing hard at about 2:30 a.m. My sleep is off anyway but the wind makes the steel barn groan; mountain-facing windows flex and distort reflection like disappointment of the self-absorbed; juniper and pine lean and twist to resist what feels like a threatening.

Can’t write. Too little sleep, current project too dry for the energy I can bring to the task, wind breaks flow of thought. Pay bills, I suppose, get taxes in the mail before I motor over the hill. Stop halfway at Rosie’s to get an oatmeal raisin cookie and refill the coffee. Daughter Sabitri made me stop at Rosie’s for the lemon poppy seed scone, daughter K.C. likes their hot chocolate and the macandcheese.

Portland if I can get a deal on a hotel, it’s the end of razor clam season at the coast and I’ll find a meal of them someplace downtown, then meander down to Powell’s for a browse.

Port Townsend to hunker down for a few days, real popcorn and digital projection with great sound at the small movie theater, stay at the lovingly restored Palace Hotel, see if I can get a solid draft done on the new project.

Should check movie schedules and music venues before I go but I just want to go, I’ve denned up here for too long, growling at the door. The week after would work too but I want to go, wanted to for some time.

The proprietor of Phoenix Rising Book Store in Port Townsend, flashbacks from San Francisco of decades ago, is back from India. Her large poodle Sumadhur is recently gone and I could hear sadness tussle with acceptance in even her written words, something of each we can share.

She is New York direct, she owns a bookstore, had offered to read my manuscript and is about halfway through. She does not know me nor owe me so I want to sit there for a couple of hours and find out what she thinks about it.

Friend of a friend knows Somebody

Chalice may be sitting on the desk of a big-deal publisher’s Somebody. I’d sent a copy to a “friend of a friend who knows Somebody,” because friend’s friend did preliminary reading for Somebody and said she would look at it.

Like the other 10 hard copies I sent off for feedback (with about 10 in electronic form), the spiral binding was for reader convenience and it was printed two pages on each side of each sheet to save paper.

Yesterday my friend got a call from his friend that she had sent it on to Somebody who said the submission was not even formatted to standards available online, but Somebody would read the first ¼ and give it to one of her readers who would read the whole thing.

Chagrin mixed with appreciation mixed with a modicum of “…but if I had known…” tempered by “… should I have assumed…?” I guess work pushed even in the direction of traditional publishing channels should have been formatted to traditional standards.

As we were walking his dogs through the manzanita near the river talking mostly about his divorce, my friend asked how I will feel if Somebody says Chalice is crap. My answer was sloppy, involving art and ego and opinions and the market place. All true, but only pointing at the nexus.

Which is that Chalice is not crap and knowing this gives me serenity. It is vastly improved from where it started and there is room for improvement still. I am doing my best and soon it will be done.

Chalice may not be for everybody, but it is not crap. And the opinion of one Somebody doesn’t change that, though of course I hope she likes it. 

Choosing our choices*

Sometimes we’re lucky and get to choose between two good alternatives. Sometimes we’re unlucky and have to choose the better of two bad ones. We can probably figure these out, given our values and enough time.

But there is a trap in this seeming simplicity: What if the values of our choices change as soon as we make them? Experiments have proven humans fear losing something about twice as much as we desire getting the same thing. We value what we might lose at $10, though we’d be willing to pay only $5 to acquire it. A great explanation is detailed in Thinking, Fast and Slow by Dr. Daniel Kahneman.

Baby arrived and Parent, a very successful Lawyer, took a year away from Firm to raise Baby. But Firm wants Lawyer back, or will find a replacement. So Parent faces a dilemma: Return to work and become Great Provider, or stay at home and be Great Parent? That’s a choice between two good alternatives, but we could also state it as the better of two bad ones: Losing Career or Losing Baby.

These are equal in fact but not to our emotions, where Losing Career costs twice the value of being a Great Provider, and Losing Baby costs twice the benefit of being Great Parent. And as soon as a decision is made, the path not taken becomes a loss.

Lawyer decides to be a Great Parent. As soon as that decision is made, the positive alternative of being a Great Provider is instantly viewed as Losing Career, and the cost doubles. What seemed to be the right decision seems very wrong. “I just wasted law school! I made a mistake!

“Okay, I haven’t told the Firm to flush my career. I will keep the job, buy the greatest nanny, and we’ll take great enriching vacations.” But the moment Parent makes that decision, not being Great Parent is suddenly seen as Losing Baby, with twice the cost. “Baby won’t bond! What if the Nanny is abusive!? I made a mistake!

“Okay, I haven’t hired the nanny. I will be a Great Parent.” But immediately the Good Provider alternative not chosen snaps into Losing Career. Cost doubles. “Wait! Where will the money come from for…?” And the dance goes on.

I imagine the doorway out of this maze is faith: we did the best we could, it will all work out, nothing is perfect, or for those so inclined, God will provide. But that kind of faith may be learned before language, and very hard to acquire.

And some will always find an interpretation, whatever the outcome of whatever choice, that validates their fear. Making it even worse next time trying to grapple with the uncertainty of doing the right thing or choosing the best of bad choices.

*(Thank you Shawn Coyne, writing at Steven Pressfield Online, for the inspiration).

Reader Feedback

Choosing the style “epistolary novel” for Chalice brings some interesting responses, some positive, some negative. They may break down by age and sex and whether a reader has done any online dating.

One reader, who I respect very much, said he kept trying to read the letters as if they were dialogue and wanted to say “people don’t talk like this.”

While on the phone as we discussed this, I pointed out that his original letter to me about the book was quite well crafted. “I spent a lot of time on that,” he said, and immediately conceded that I “had him.” (He then went on to make some excellent points, with examples, of language he would change.)

Another reader, also male and my age, very much likes the direct exposure to the characters granted by using their own words and delusions to describe who they are (and are not!).

Two different women have said the early and easy intimacy is much more common and believable in the current world of electronic dating, email, etc. and they like the structure if not the characters.

It may turn out that Chalice is not for everybody, obvious a long time ago. It may require a different type of attention. I do hope it has value for readers who don’t know the story.

In the mean time, it is fascinating and rewarding to watch the direction of the final draft drop into focus.

Giving You Good-bye


It is so perfect, this moving on.
He will give you now what I would not,
You could not, for all our same page, find in me,
What you needed, asked for, begged, pleaded, there to be.
All I can give you now is good-bye, and this, please don’t write,
Don’t phone, let me give you that, this ending for your new beginning,
All your love, your lips your smiles and fingertips and warm cashmere words,
Give all to him, hold nothing back for this memory, oh my god My Love, good-bye.

Interesting people

There has been an unexpected benefit to my decision of having a group of “readers” review the manuscript for Chalice.

Several people I asked to read the book said “You should ask so-and-so, they read all the time. They know books and would give you really good feed back.” So I did.

And what these “strangers” have had to say has been difficult to hear and encouraging — in other words, exactly what I wanted.

Enjoying the language but people don’t talk like that; I love the fact that it is so well-thought out; I can’t get past thinking of it as dialogue; great job presenting conflicting values; maybe there should be a more dramatic event in the first 30 pages that allows them to open up to each other more quickly; I really dislike one of the main characters by page 7… ”

Informative perspective and often page specific. Immensely valuable.

Even better, these “strangers” are interesting, funny, thoughtful, direct and engaged in what is important to them: Music. Cars. Books. Wonderful people I would not have “met” if not for this process.

Is AAD “Real?”

Today I was asked if Adult Attachment Disorder was “real.” When asked what was meant, they responded by asking if AAD had a definition within The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association.

Yes and no.

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) was first defined in the DSM-3, according to a review for the DSM-5 (an update due for release in May, 2013) written by Charles H. Zeanah, M.D., and Mary Margaret Gleason, M.D. for the American Psychiatric Association.

RAD is the name given to attachment disorders as they appear in children. The review by Dr.s Zeanah and Gleason will update the definition of RAD in a number of ways that reflect current research.

So the DSM does not have a definition of “Adult Attachment Disorder” per se. However, there is a substantial body of work relating RAD to adult behaviors (see: A Brief Overview of Adult Attachment Theory and Research by Dr. R. Chris Fraley).

The assumption is that behaviors around attachment developed in childhood impact relationships one is capable of forming as an adult, and possibly result from biological survival mechanisms.

Walking away

From hereRan into somebody who had read the short verse I wrote in January about a relationship that had just ended with a wonderful woman because our paths were not converging. That’s a hazard of falling in love later in life. I had forgotten I posted those personal emotions but was grateful this person enjoyed the “poem” and was moved by it. Had even read it.

Sometimes it is too easy in moods of “terminal uniqueness” to forget we share so many of these emotions and experiences. A friend, also a writer, talks of the universal nature of what brings us joy and heartbreak. That is part of the value in art, that ability to share experience. And to feel not quite so alone.

It took me a while to understand that, plus words from a friend going through a tough time who has recognized that “letting go,” while exquisitely painful, is sometimes the only path toward fulfillment if not self preservation.

That is one of the themes in Chalice and something I am trying to convey in It’s Nobody’s Fault. Sometimes one has to walk, or let our love walk. Because after enough break-ups and make-ups we know the pattern if not the causes, and we have to make a cold calculation that it is what it is.

That’s not to say there isn’t hope, only that change sometimes requires that … we make a change.


On Ice
holding only in my heart whom I’ve held in my arms,
distance great, time short, this is life’ sorting,
souls skate near to brush fingertips to lips,
momentum’s past push/pulls us apart,
your cashmere warmth my memory.

 

 

“Writing?”

On the couch this morning with a fresh cup of coffee looking out over an absolutely brilliant day. And thinking about … promoting, marketing, publicizing?

Which means, I am not writing. Ugh.

It is absolutely astounding to me how wrong I could have been about what being a “writer” entails. I can create something that will interest somebody somewhere. But how to reach those readers?

There are tools, and plenty of people who sell information, books, seminars, face paint, helicopters etc. to reach an audience. And people who offer to do some of the work for you. But in the end, it is the author who must shoulder the load.

Reclusive, sensitive, tongue-tied introverts who would rather live in fictional worlds than talk to anyone much of the time.

On the couch this morning, I was whining about this to myself when my Muse leaned in real close and said, “You will do it because it has to be done.” It was so plain and clear it startled me because I live alone here in my loft on the hill top. Then it made me smile, because of her certainty.

I would rather write than take seminars or make accounting decisions or filter good advice from the gimme of charlatans. But I don’t have a choice. With 8 million and counting titles on Amazon, with the outlets for physical books declining, with readers having nearly an infinite choice among a cacophony of writers clamoring for their attention, that is just the way it is, now, regardless of how great or lousy a writer’s books may actually be.

I will do it because it has to be done: create relationships with readers who share my interests. To get my words into their hands. Your hands.