“What one thing, if you did it well, and did it consistently, would dramatically improve the quality of your life?”
You know the answer, My Fine-Feathered Friends. We all do. Greatest paradox of modern human existence. How so few of us, despite the overpowering knowledge of our own purpose, pursue that purpose.
Blake here. With my better half, Ollie Ogre, the Oligodendroglioma, lounging in my left frontal lobe as we come to you over the transom from the Crown WeHo, on a hot and humid day.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this opportunity the universe has presented me. What it means to me.
I have always felt that the juxtaposition between what I know I’m here on Earth to do (write fiction for an audience of real live human people) …
and what I’ve been doing for the past 25 years to distract myself from rolling that rock uphill until I reach the summit …
has gradually but steadily fucked up my head. Literally.
On the other hand, it has built in my brain a way to avoid those distractions from now on–the best possible excuse for changing my life.
In other words, I wonder whether Ollie was born of some organic, internal, soul-level necessity. My brain, my heart, my spirit shouting, “It’s time! It’s now or never! What are you waiting for?”
I strongly believe in karma-based manifestation. I write many of my short stories around this theme, some of which you’ll see because at least one of the 12 books I’m going to write this year, probably two, will be short story collections.
Golems and so on. And I love Golem-type books and movies, starting, of course, with a little 201-year-old story by a little girl, 17, towering fucking figure named Mary Shelly. One of the most intense and beautiful, meaningful books ever written in English. And proof that there’s no excuse, ever, for not attempting to jump nude and screaming into the fray. Regardless of whatever perceived “obstacles” (e.g. age, experience, etc.).
The first novel I’m writing for A Million Words is about a mute boy who entifies on a Revolutionary War battle field. Never speaks.
A person — or the universe — can manifest nearly anything (or anybody) through powerful emotion or passion, or prolonged, intense thought. That’s the kind of galvanic action I’m talking about. I’m not talking about Weird Science. And it’s not exactly the more kooky side of “The Secret,” either. Just somewhere in between.
I just believe that, at least as of now, human consciousness alone in the universe, besides whatever flying mango monster kicked all this off in the first place, is the sole engine on earth capable of realizing stuff. Making real. Immaterial becomes material. Right?
I say for now, because with the advent of AI, that’s all about to change in the next century.
The astonishing power of human consciousness is the sole engine of realization.
I don’t mean only “You-Bring-Yourself-Your-Life” though of course you do.
I mean we make stuff. We manifest it.
I believe I did just that. I’m at risk of losing some of you here, but I sensed something emerging, then slowly mounting, in my brain since the day I accepted a job out of college coordinating volunteers for a US Senatorial campaign–instead of pursuing the business-side of publishing. Instead of realizing my dream, my mission, my purpose, my calling.
And not just because of the terrible headaches-as-red-flags, warnings. Danger, Will Robinson!
I mean I knew that building a certain kind of life, I was actively walling-off the real life I was supposed to have, the one I was destined for, if you’ll allow me some ostensible hokeyness.
Since winning “honorable mention” in a writing contest when I was in the second grade — occasioning the threat of a lawsuit, because I used my brother’s name without permission — I won’t make that mistake again, LANCE!
… all I’ve ever wanted to do was write and publish. I’m certain a force beyond myself has tried to shake me by the shoulders to tell me to focus on this calling, manifesting Ollie.
As he grew, I still didn’t listen to him. I took a job in admissions at my alma mater. I took a job as a real estate appraiser. As a stringer for a newspaper. As a History and English teacher for various yeshivas.
Finally, I took a job 20 years ago as a professor of English, Literature, and Journalism.
I then fell into ghostwriting when a couple of doctors who saved my life asked if I can help them spread the word, get their little operation off a hill in OK and to the masses. Done and done.
I have always striven to put my whole heart and soul into every job I’ve ever done, so of course, those jobs took up a lot of time, energy, and brain space. I especially devoted myself to my students, as some of you know, even “fostering” and “adopting” many over the years.
As they succeeded and moved on, I felt as proud as any parent, and when they struggled or left us, it stomped on my heart. I don’t regret any of it. And more about a few of those kids in future editions.
Meantime I’ve written my own stuff reliably throughout. I decided at the desk of my black and red bedroom with the AC/DC blacklight posters and vaguely homoerotic art 30 years ago that nothing would stand in the way of my writing, and I’ve kept that oath, staying up all night hundreds of times (and missing many appointments and social functions).
It’s only the commercial side of things I’ve neglected. Have I been afraid of failure? Success? What deep-seeded fucked-up pathology’s at work here? How does a guy hit 50 without having pursued his whole raison d’etre?
This is esp. paradoxical (and annoying as shit) because I have put my big boy pants on to play with the big men and women of publishing–on the other side of the firewall. On the nonfiction side.
When I always, always, always wanted nothing more than to be over there, where the grass was … more verdant.
In 1997, I got my first cancer diagnosis–a rare, also slow-growing tumor in my thryroglossal duct. Only 600 cases of that kind of cancer were in the world’s medical records, and my surgery made the textbooks. Several operations later, and without my thyroid, jugular chain of lymph nodes, hyoid bone, salivary gland, and a quarter pound of adipose tissue, I eventually surfaced stronger than ever.
That same year, I underwent a micro-lumbar diskectomy because my spine is degenerating. I was the “one in a thousand” patients who contracted a serious infection from that surgery, which required six months of IV antibiotics. The pain was indescribable. For a time, I couldn’t walk.
They installed a spinal stimulator, which caused me to walk like Frankenstein’s monster. Then, in 2002, I got Lyme disease, and suffered a hallucinating fever.
Soon after, my pancreas shat the bed, and I got my Type 1 diabetes diagnosis. After a year of sickness and adjustment, I once again conquered the complications (thanks to my Adventist friends in Oklahoma). I co-wrote my first book based on that treatment. To prove I was back better than ever, I climbed Mt.Kilimanjaro, in the winter, without oxygen. My insulin pump froze–it was 20 below. That was probably the toughest six days of my life. But I made it, and it was glorious.
All this time — since I was four — I have endured incapacitating migraines, which have not abated since my surgery. I joke that I still haven’t contracted beriberi or scurvy.
Every time my body told me something is amiss, I didn’t listen. I didn’t really realize that my time here is finite. I’ve always been good at “seizing the day,” and I’ve lived every day so I could say it was a “good day to die,” as I learned from the Lakota when I lived with them for a short time in South Dakota after college.
In 2009, I trained to become a firefighter, and failed on the final day of “evolutions” (the practicals), when I broke my thumb and lost control. I was crushed. Months of intense training, overcoming physical and mental limitations and fears, I felt as though I’d let down the people in my department, not to mention myself. Was I too old? Enfeebled?
With the help of my fellow firefighters, I went through the training a second time, passed with flying colors, and that same year, my district awarded me the Firefighter of the Year. Crawling into overturned cars and “putting the wet stuff on the hot stuff” satisfies the soul in an ineffable way. Every time that radio signaled a call, I couldn’t wait to get into the shit.
But the chasm between what I was doing, and what I felt in the marrow of my bones and the tiny bones of my ears I should be doing, expanded like a sinkhole.
This could have gone on forever.
Probably would have.
So now I have no excuse.
I’m still happy to finish up the ghost projects I’ve got, as they excite me. I’m not giving that up. It’s been a special honor to work with all the authors who have trusted me to write their books, or to write their books with them, or edit them afterward.
Some have become excellent friends. There’s a novel intimacy in getting into someone’s head, writing from their POV.
Others I’ve wrecked myself for, and they fucked me.
In any case, I look forward to long and fruitful partnerships with many.
But now this friendly ghost has no reason — no excuse — not to remove his sheet for the first time.
To pursue his fiction career with a whole heart, and a still mostly intact brain.
I intend to succeed at this endeavor before either the tumor or the chemo or the radiation when it becomes necessary makes that impossible, and I eventually die of this disease.
I thank Ollie sincerely for giving me this chance. Take a bow, Ollie.
Owww. Don’t bow. Stand still.
Watch this space if you want to be a part of this adventure, for my “proof of life.”
But let this be a reminder to all of you that you ought not wait for such a dramatic “realization” in order to pursue what you know you must do.
I’m blessed I know the answer to this, and I’ve found a way to fulfill it.
As a professor, I asked all my first year students to answer that imperative question in a paper:
What one thing, if you did it well, and did it consistently, would dramatically improve the quality of your life?
And then I’d ask them why the fuck they weren’t doing it.
I ask you that now.
You know what it is. You know.
Go do it.
With Love and Optimism Abounding
Ollie Ogre and The Blake