Stuff I Write for Pay

This one got declined and was too area specific to recycle, so I’m putting it on this site to give you an example of stuff that I write for pay.  Enjoy?

 

Have the winter months got you down?  Are you already beginning to experience cabin fever?  Do you really think there is nothing to do in the wintertime other than strap two pieces of wood onto your feet and fall down the side of a mountain?  What a lot of people might not know is there is a lot more to wintertime than snowmobiles, snowy mountains, and well…snow.  The Oregon coast offers so much more, especially if you are sick of the white stuff.  The Oregon Coast boast a wintertime average temperature of 52 degrees F, making for a very mild winter climate! Oregon does get its ample share of snow during the winter months, but a lot of the time there is a whole other world to explore.  Winters on the North Pacific Coast are often very mild, with precipitation being in the form of rain as much as it is snow.

Here is a list of 10 Winter Trips around Tillamook, OR that you will cherish for a lifetime:

Whale watching:  Winter is an excellent time of year to whale watch.  Due to warm water currents, an abundance of food, and migratory patterns, you are sure to see these majestic marine animals at play, breaching the waves of the sea along the Pacific Coast.  A large variety of charter companies will take you out to where the whales are.  Make sure your camera has lots of battery power! You are going to want to take as many pictures as you can!

Make it a fishing trip: For the angler, the Oregon coast features world class fishing any time of the year, but especially during the winter months, you can set your sights on Steelhead trout (especially along the Nehalem River from February to April), as well as salmon!  Discover peace of mind as well as a great way to get away from it all!

Watching the storms roll in: With hundreds of miles of coast, one unique experience that the Oregon Coast is known for is stormwatching.  The skies and sea meet to create some truly breathtaking spectacles.  Make a trip of this by heading up or down the Pacific Coast Highway and enjoying a meal at any number of seaside restaurants.

Beachcombing: Once the storms have passed, enjoy the serenity of the beach.  There you might be surprised at what you find!  From Japanese fishing buoys that have found their way across the Pacific to creatures from the murky depths of the bottom of the ocean, that have found their way to the surface after a storm, there is always something interesting to see.  Visit tidal pools to enjoy the sealife that has found a home there.  From Rockaway Beach to Cascade Head, there are so many miles to choose from.  There are no wrong answers.

Hiking at a State or National Park:  There are several State Parks to choose from.  If visiting a rain forest, beach, mountains, or anything in-between, the Tillamook area has you covered.  From the views and coastal experience of Ecola State Park to the lush forests and hills that Siuslaw National Forest offers, your appetite for outdoor recreation and refilling the tank of your soul is all within reach.

Beer tours and wine tasting:  If all of this walking around has you discouraged, why not take some time off your feet and enjoy some of what Oregon has to offer with local craft breweries and wineries.  Wine tasting and brewery tours are in no shortage around Tillamook.  Along with your beverage, enjoy what the sea has to offer with fresh from the sea seafood for your meal!  You could make an entire road trip out of the experience, just eating your way up the PCH!

Kayaking:  Sea kayaking in the wintertime is not for the faint of heart, but it is an experience you will never forget.  Paddling along the coast will give you a chance to come closer to nature, as well as truly meet yourself.  Abundant marine life will join you on all sides, from whales to sea lions and views like none other you have ever experienced.  When it comes to adventure sports, you have all the boxes checked when it comes to winter sea kayaking on the Oregon Coast.

Glassblowing: Oregon is known for its contribution to artistry and the eclectic.  Our local artisans are happy to share their talents with you.  Watch talented glassblowers create works of art before your very eyes, and don’t forget to stop by their showrooms later on to pick up a beautifully crafted piece for your own home on the way out.  Here are just a few of the places around Tillamook that will “blow” your mind!

  • Icefire Glassworks
  • Lincoln City Glass Center
  • Liquid Light Glassworks
  • Alder House Glassblowing

Yurt Camping: Is wintertime less than ideal when it comes to camping?  Then you might consider yurt camping!  Developed by the indigenous people of Mongolia, yurts are semi-permanent structures, much like reinforced tents, that provide shelter in even the harshest of conditions.  In the Oregon Coast, yurts are a wonderful way to escape and find yourself close to nature without sacrificing the comforts of home.  Cape Lookout and Nehalem Bay are but a few to offer these unique accommodations.  The price is nice too, which just might put yurt camping at the top of your to-do list every winter!

Visit the Oregon Coast Aquarium:  Have you often wondered what lives beneath that beautiful sea?  Well, now you can “sea” for yourself! The Oregon Coast Aquarium reveals all with a peerless collection of pacific coast marine animals.  Walk beneath manta rays and sharks, while experiencing the wonders the ocean has to offer through a completely interactive experience.

And an added bonus:

Peter Iredale Shipwreck:  In 1906, the four-masted steel barque ship called Peter Iredale ran aground ner the Tillamook lighthouse.  Today, this shipwreck still remains, ready for you to visit and explore.  How many times in your lifetime could you say you have seen an actual shipwreck?  Now is your chance!

A place for just about everyone!

So whether it is windswept dunes, or tidal pools teeming with life; a great nightlife filled with culture or the solitude of a rain coastal rain forest, the Tillamook, Oregon area has so much to offer during the winter months.  Test your skill at fishing, or kick back and try any number of craft brews or wines.  Oregon is a lot more than Portland and you will find out for yourself soon enough that it is probably harder to be bored in a place like this.

Your adventure awaits!  The only real problem you will have is deciding where to go first.  For spending time alone or with friends and family, the Tillamook area covers everything across the spectrum when it comes to getting out more and having the time of your life.  Be sure to bring your camera, your notebook, and your imagination.  You are sure to find inspiration as well as a beautiful part of the country filled with culture and friendly people.

Don’t let winter stop you cold!  Visit the Oregon coast and open up your mind, as well as your heart to new experiences.  You might just find the dream vacation you never even knew existed!

 

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A couple different reasons why

Sometimes my blogs and my writings have been said to be too personal.  I learned a long time ago that no matter how personal something seems to be, as a writer, that still isn’t the core of you.  It’s just another layer you have chosen to show others.  It might actually be a layer or three you have put between yourself and the audience.  They may look at it and see absolutely nothing that is you.

Today, I want to share a story about achievement.  How to measure it.  What it means.

Four years ago, I started a new journey in my life.  It might sound cliched, but I had decided to take the necessary steps to end what could be simplified into an “unhealthy relationship.”  I had tried for fifteen years of marriage to make things work.  I had compromised nearly everything I was, sacrificed my friends and extended family, and endured what I would consider a hell on earth.  I was lucky enough to get out of it with the help of my family and very supportive friends.

After leaving, it took a year for the divorce to be finalized.  We had nothing except exactly what we had during the marriage, which was constant conflict and chaos. Only now it was sublimated into a new battlefield: the courtroom.  When the divorce was done, I decided to set my course to a new horizon.

As an employee of my day job, I can take up to 9 credit hours per year of Graduate level courses; I just have to pay for the books.  So I applied for and was accepted to the English MA program.  I started my first course.  It is hard for me to admit what happened next.  In many ways, it resonates with a lot of my regrets, but in other ways, I have gained from it as well.

As a kid, school came easily for me.  I was always on the Honor Roll, and struggled briefly in High School, but mostly because of hormones, depression, and some teenaged angst and rebellion. I excelled at academics, such as band and knowledge bowl, but quit track.  I didn’t play sports.  My friends and I were outcasts who used to fight with swords in the park in the middle of the night.  We were often considered “at risk.” I graduated 3rd in my class and got almost no scholarship money.

I did about the same in college, never really having a hand on the tiller of my own life.  I picked the college I went to because it was close to a girl I was dating, and just far enough from my parents to not warrant visits from them every weekend.  The tuition was also affordable–unlike the California colleges that offered me the moon and the stars for a liberal arts program.  I picked English as a major because it required the fewest credit hours for graduation.  I didn’t really know what else to do. At the time, all that mattered was getting a BA and the rest of the world was open to you, or so I thought. I went through my classes, did fairly well, A’s and B’s. I discovered beer during my senior year and was out at least three nights a week.  I nearly failed two of my courses because I never bothered to show up.  I was burning out. I no longer cared about college or grades. I had broken up with the girl I had been seeing.  My friends had all shifted to other social circles, and I found myself living alone and depressed.  My goal of being a self-taught artist had shifted to being a self-taught author.  Mostly because the only art class I took during my college experience told me how much I sucked.

But writing…writing was something I was good at.  Or at the very least, something I loved working at being better at.  (Yes, I did just end two sentences with prepositions).

Fast forward to a newly divorced single dad 17 years later.

I decided to take advantage of the Master’s program. (Btw, going back to grad school is another divorce cliche).  At the pace I could afford, I could finish my degree in about 4 years.  The first course taught me a lot about myself.  It was “Literary Theory and Criticism.” Though the other students in the class seemed to think my answers were brilliant and thought-provoking, my professor usually just eyed me with contempt or would flat out tell me I was wrong.

Taking this class had two effects.  First, I was reminded of all the bullshit, Marxist inculcation that I had slogged through during my undergrad years, which usually lost the coin toss to closing down the Smiling Moose on a weeknight.  And second, I realized that maybe the time had passed me by to go through a program like this.  I am a father of three, I had worked in the private sector, and then academia, and I had just finished the most grueling and stressful challenge of my entire life.  I was befuddled by the assignments and even the way to post my work on “Blackboard.”  There was so much reading.  Then the hours of lecture each week.  After half a semester, I decided this wasn’t for me.

You know those dreams you used to have of being late for class in High School, or you don’t have any pants, or maybe it’s a college dream where you forgot to attend for an entire semester and OOPS!  it’s now the final exam and you need to take it?  Those dreams come back when you are a non-traditional student in an Master’s program.

The only thing that kept me hanging on was the words of a dear friend, who said, “An education is something no one can ever take away from you.”  This is true. I felt like I had let them down.  Let myself down.

Years later, that sentiment was slammed home by a psychologist, who said to me, “You have a high IQ, you are a smart man.  Why is it you aren’t doing better than being a guy with a BA who works as an administrative assistant?”

To this day, those words hit me in the chest.  Considering what I have lived through, and how far I have come, those words are an unfair value judgement on my life.  Summed up nice and neat for someone who didn’t really know me.  They weren’t a wake up call.  They weighed down on me like cinder-blocks tied around my ankles just before I was tossed into a lake.  I was in my 40s and compared to where I should be, I wasn’t up to snuff.  I was a failure.  My ex-wife was right all along. I was a loser! Maybe I should have stayed in the Master’s program.  I wasn’t capable of following through with anything, just like my high school track coach warned.  “You’re a quitter, Harris!”

Feeling like that, wondering why I couldn’t continue through a program most twenty-year-olds sleepwalk through, it hurt and it was frustrating.  Something had blocked me to where I would have done almost anything other than sitting through another minute of that class.  But my value as a person who lives in their head and works with words, was assaulted by this.

Worst yet, the dark corner of my mind told me, “You are a fraud.”

***

Grad school isn’t for everyone.  I am at peace with that notion.  I am at peace with knowing too that my day job doesn’t define me as a man.  It’s something I do to pay the rent.  It doesn’t make me any less of a person, or less of an intellectual to realize my own limits.  It wasn’t for me.  I learned that.  Some people go through an entire PhD. program before they come to that realization.  I figured it out five weeks in.

When I write, whether it is paid blogs, journal entries, chapters in my books, poems, etc. I feel a sense of fulfillment that graduating from college never gave me.  Constructing plots and filling worlds of my own creation with characters beats anything I could have written about the criticism of Altrusser or Barth or Marx.  What I did get from college was the practice of typing.  A few profs helped me with critical thinking as well, but that is either something your brain eats like candy or it doesn’t.  Mostly it was just the typing.

Two out of four years of my degree could have been accomplished by reading “Elements of Style” by Strunk and White.

I don’t know exactly why I didn’t want to continue on with grad school.  Sometimes I wonder how things would have been had I stuck it out.  But to find peace in this, I needed to come to terms with the fact that I had made a decision.  I hadn’t just gone along with what I was supposed to do, as I had nearly my entire life.  I was protagging.  I was calling the shots and making my own decisions.

That also had value.

Maybe if I had stayed, I would have been a bigger fraud.  Just like with my BA, I would have just been going through the motions and feeling disappointment when my degree didn’t open doors for me automatically. Like many of us foolishly believe (myself included).

At the end of the day, you can feel depressed even if your life is perfect on all accounts.  I recently watched a video that inspired this post.  It showed me that you can be doing what you are supposed to do and on the outside it can look like you have the world on a string.  If it doesn’t bring you joy, for some of us, those demons of depression can gnaw away at us.

I know now that getting an MA wasn’t going to solve my problems.  It wasn’t going to give me joy.  Following my dreams will.

 

Youth is Well-spent on the Young

Just a couple thoughts I’m going to throw out there for the day.  Hold on.

There are times when our social media feeds overwhelm us.  It’s a skimming of the best (or in some cases, the worst) of people’s lives.  As someone who grew up in the 80s and 90s, unlike the kids of today, not every moment of my life has been documented with photographic evidence.  In thinking of my first car today, I don’t think a picture of it exists anymore.  Certainly not with me in it, since I doubt I ever had a picture of myself with it.  Back in my day, we didn’t have cameras attached to our bodies all day.

This is why Bigfoot was plausible when I was growing up.  There might be days you saw a baby coyote out in the wilderness and wouldn’t you know it, you didn’t have a camera.  Even if you did, it would have scampered off by the time you dug it out of your pack, took off the lens-cap–gone.  Imagine trying to do that when confronted with an 8ft tall cryptid ape-person!

Today, not only would the kids of today have the picture, but they would be doing a  duck lips selfie with Bigfoot and probably have some kind of dog ears or doe-eyed filter going on as well.

I just don’t think our pictures were all that important to us.  We were left with the feeling of having fun.  We didn’t have the luxury of digital shots either, where we could take a bunch of pictures and choose the best from the lot.  Our snapshots were usually a snap and find-out-later proposition.  When the one-hour-photo returned our pictures, we sorted through them and left them in the big envelope to be lost to history.  We didn’t have a semi-public archive of our lives, accessible from anywhere in the world.

I’ve seen all sorts of cute pictures of people on Facebook, Instagram, etc.  Whether its groups of friends, or the perfect couple pictures, there is a documented phenomenon that researchers have found causes depression.  People compare their imperfect lives with the perfect ones they see online.

But let’s look at it anyone way.  Nobody is causing depression.  It is how a person is responding to that information.  They might just see that happiness or success, that sense of belonging in contrast to an already growing and all-consuming depression.

The perfect pic is something a lot of people try to broadcast.  But there is no such thing as the perfect pic.  There are times when I have seen pictures of myself and nobody would have guessed that at that moment my heart was breaking.  We simply don’t know what is going on based on a picture.

But I do know that I have had plenty of goofy, crazy times, moments of sheer happiness, moments when my true smile comes out.  Not the grin I save for the camera.  Not the smirk I wear when I need to be charming.  Those moments aren’t recorded on film, and if they were, they are long gone now.  But I swear to you they happen. All the time!

But sometimes when the chips are down, it would be nice to see back into a time when those moments were preserved for posterity. For me, though, I’m lucky.  I have my words.  I can go deeper than a photograph and evoke the feeling of the moment in ways that a photograph cannot.  My contrast is doubled when I read something I wrote a long time ago and laugh at how naive I was–or wince at how angry.

When I was in high school, I hated journals.  I used to just write enough filler to get by and get the grade.  Today it is a little more useful.  I got hooked on it when I wrote on LiveJournal.  There was a whole community of writers who shared personal experiences.  It was a good exercise in not holding back when you wrote a story.

Photographer Robert Capa used to say, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”  Granted, he died in the early years of the Vietnam war when he stepped on a land mine while on patrol with a group of soldiers.  There are dangers of getting too close.

My process of writing involves a lot of memory.  Converting those snapshots in my brain, the emotions that cling to them, into something viable for a story.  The bad stuff is easy to write about. But the good…that’s a lot harder, because it’s so close to me.  So personal.  So incongruous to any experience all but a few can relate to.

From moments of blindfolded moose, a round shadow on a lake and cows that look like ants, the view from behind a waterfall, kids that can’t keep their shirts on when the sprinklers come on; all the way back to tracking coyotes on a glacier and getting the worst sunburn of my life, jean jackets and dice hats, the Lion King, first cappuccinos, (and the revelation years later that espresso gives me bad breath).

Somewhere in the middle of all that is a powder blue Ford that could go anywhere and do anything.  Like the Road Warrior, it exists now, only in my memories.

For me, all of these memories are like photos found in a shoebox, but when I write about them, I am there again.  Events pulled from my mind which is always young.  Youth isn’t wasted on the young.  It is invested in the young and paid back in dividends later on we cannot put a value on.  Those goofy snapshots, real or recollected, still make us smile when we need it.

So, I leave you with a link that may or may not expire.  This song has followed me for 20 years.  Thanks, Chrissie Hynde.  And to all of you, may you stay Forever Young.