start with a song

IMG_4337My writing journey goes back a long way.  I started writing when I was a kid, seven or eight years old.  My older brothers were playing around writing songs one day when I decided to write my own song.  I still remember my first verse:

“Screaming mad, close my eyes;

I feel like crying.

Screaming mad, close my eyes;

I feel like dying.

Screaming mad, screaming mad.”

I must have been feeling some angst at the time.  My older brother said I was angry with my mom.  I don’t remember.  But that’s not the point.

From that first song, I started writing lyrics regularly, until my family got involved in the cult.  At that point I had to work so often that I had no time to write songs, at least not on paper.  But I continued to write songs in my head.  That actually worked as a form of protective therapy against being indoctrinated, but that’s another story.

After I escaped the cult when I was 16, I started writing lyrics again.  In my 20s I learned to play the drums, the guitar, and the piano and began writing songs regularly.  Over the years I’ve written over 500 songs.  I still write songs.

Around the age 30 I started playing with other genres of writing.  I started keeping a journal.  This led to writing in a variety of styles, including narrative and poetry.  I went back to college and learned how to write proper essays and theses.  That was an essential part of my writing journey.  Around age 40 I started writing fiction.  This lead to learning monologue, dialogue, character development, and other fiction-based writing strategies.

So what’s my point here?

The point is that we have to start somewhere.  For me it started with a song; a silly song at that.  But I did it.  I wrote it down.  And although it might have been silly, it was also simple.  That simplicity kept me moving forward.  Simplicity and the willing to experiment with new forms over the years gave me the power to keep writing.

For you, it may not be a song, but the point is you need to start.  Start with something simple: a sentence, a paragraph, a page, a chapter.  Just start!

Question: How did you start writing?  How can you start your next project?

anniversary of an angel in bits and pieces of song

Originally posted on August 22, 2012, reposted on August 23, 2014:

2014-08-22 15.24.13

On August 22, 2001, Angel Hope Erickson was born still.  Earlier in that year my wife (at the time) and I had been given the news that she was pregnant.  About the same time I landed my first full-time community college teaching job in Parsons, Kansas.  We moved, excited to start our new family.  At a routine mid-term check up, it was discovered that there were severe problems with the baby, problems that could not be fixed.  One doctor, and then a second, said the baby would never make it to full term alive.  We accepted their findings and my wife went through with their recommended procedure of induced labor.  After  nearly 24 hours, Angel was stillborn.  We were able to hold her lifeless, yet precious little one-pound body for a few moments.  The nurses took a few pictures and then they took Angel Hope away.

A couple of days later there was a funeral.  I missed my first week of work at my new job and my new employers showed tremendous support, both financially and emotionally.  We saw little Angel once more just before the funeral.  Angel Hope was born and buried in Joplin, Missouri, a town that has since seen its share of heartache.  I make a point to return to Joplin every year.

So why am I posting this?  It comes back to writing and writing as therapy.  How do you deal with an unexpected event like the premature loss of your firstborn child?  I dealt with the loss through song.  I’ve written at least 20 songs that are either directly about Angel Hope or make reference to her.  Here are some bits and pieces, verses and choruses from some of those songs.  The lesson: writing can help with healing.

 

From the song “Baby” 2001

There’s a better place waiting for you, baby

There’s a better place waiting for you, baby

Where the storms of life won’t ever tear you apart

And this cold, cruel world will never break your precious heart

So go to sleep little baby

Rest in peace, my love

 

From “Hard, (Lament # 29) 2001

Sometimes life is hard, hard, hard

Things go wrong and it’s hard, hard, hard, hard, hard

Sometimes life is hard

 

From “Safety at the Crossing” 2001

Well, we all feel grief and sorrow

Over precious ones we’ve lost

But a mother’s love is stronger

For the child that Jesus calls

Though her life on Earth was bretahless

It will all be worth the cost

Cause you’ll meet again in heaven

By the mercy of God’s love

 

From “Some Fine Day” 2001

Some fine day I’ll be with you

I’ll be with you my love

Some fine day I’ll be with you

Yes, I’ll be there some fine day

 

From “Angel of Hope” 2003

Red-purple skin, pure, soft, like cotton

Grey-eyes closed to all this worldly pain

Now you’re dancing with the little dog in heaven

And falling all around me with the rain

 

From “Childless Lovers” 2003

Childless mothers

Don’t seem to have much to live for

Their dreams have been shattered

Their hearts have been torn

Childless fathers

Don’t seem to have much to live for

Their worlds seem empty

And they feel so sad and alone

 

From “Hey, God (Why’d You Break My Heart) 2003

Hey, God, look at me

I’m in a state of misery

You gave us life then stole the seed

And that just don’t seem fair

At night I look up to Your sky

Shake my fist and ask You why

But lately I get no reply

And I wonder if you’re there

Hey, God, hey, God

 

From “Santa Fe” 2003

Tuck all our memories in a purple box

Load it up in a turquoise truck

An angel dangles from the rearview mirror

She looks ahead to where the skies are clearer

 

From “Cold August Day” 2004

You’re not here and breathing

And I’m still walking in the shadows

I hear your heartbeat pounding deep in mine

Trapped beneath these Midwest skies

Seeking, yet not finding heaven

Strumming my guitar to pass the time

 

From “Joplin, MO” 2004

The hospital sits on the side of the hill

The old cemetery is higher up still

Where my love is carved in stone

In a quiet back corner under a tree

Decorated in flowers and going on three

In my mind I’m watching her grow

 

On the other side of Joplin, Missouri 

She laughs and she runs and she sings

La de da de da

On the other side of Joplin, Missouri

My love flies away on golden wings

 

From “Lifeboat” 2004

I listened to your heartbeat

I kissed your bare feet

I stroked your soft, silky skin

A vision of sweetness

Sleeping in your green dress

Won’t  you come back to me again?

 

There’s just no getting over you

There’s just no getting over you

Now, I’m a lost soul

I need a lifeboat

 

From “Looking for a Girl” 2004

Wandering these streets

I watch the children play

Got blisters on my feet

Cause I’ve been walking all day

I hear the wind whispering her name

 

From “Beautiful Pain” 2005

It’s a beautiful kind of pain

When I think about you

Like a butterfly dancing in a flame

I can see you, but I can’t touch you

Still I can hold you in my dreams

My beautiful pain

 

From “Eyes Wide Open” 2005

I still remember the day

It was raining in August as we went our separate ways, love

Since I left you up on that hill

I keep on searching and I guess that I always will, love

And if I should die tonight

Then I’ll die with my eyes wide open

So I won’t miss you should I pass your way

And I’ll find tender words unspoken

So I’ll win your heart should I pass your way… again

 

From “Midwestern Girl” 2005

She’s my Midwestern girl

And I’m so far away

How I long to be near her

But I just can’t leave here today

These old responsibilities

Weigh me down like a stone

So my Midwestern girl

Spends another night alone

 

From “Newton County” 2005

It’s two hours from Tulsa

Up two lanes of 44

Back to Newton County

Let it rain a little more

It’s two miles to Missouri

I’m trembling to the core

I can feel your presence

Let it rain, let it pour

 

From “the Hurtin’ Side” 2005

There’s a brand new photograph

Hanging on the wall

Of two, happy, smiling people

A sleeping baby in their arms

And everything looks so perfect

From within that picture frame

But if you close your eyes

And look a little closer

 

You’ll see the wings of an angel

With tears running down her face

For the empty space where she’s supposed to be

You’ll see the shape of a halo

And the years of heartache

You’ll see the hurtin’ side of a happy family

 

From “Two Sisters” 2005

Two sisters

Fill our hearts with twice the love

Two sisters

One is flying up above

 

From “Artificial Flowers” 2006

I miss the thunder

I miss the sound

That reminds me of my love

My love underground

My love underground

And time keeps on ticking

As the colors start to fade away

 

Artificial flowers

Last a thousand years

Artificial flowers

Bring on real tears

 

From “The Prairie” 2006

Some folks love the mountains

Some folks love the sea

My love is somewhere on the prairie

Look in all directions

My heart was born to see

The wings of an angel on the prairie

I wish I were a train

Driving into Tulsa tonight

 

From “Funeral for an Angel” 2007

At a funeral for an angel

It’s the saddest day they’ve ever known

A funeral for an angel

She spread her wings and now she’s gone

 

From “Landmark” 2007

And every single word

Is carved into my heart

It’s really all I’ve got

As a landmark

And when I’m lost and lonely

Stumbling through the dark

She’s my landmark

 

From “Silhouette” 2011

The hurt goes on forever when a child dies

It’s been ten years and I’m still in the rain

When I look to you my friends, my heart cries

I know there’s nothing I can do to ease your pain

But this is still our town

And we’re never gonna let it go

We’re gonna hold on to the life

 

I’m just a silhouette of the man I used to be

I lost everything, but I still believe

I’ve learned to forgive, but I won’t forget

I’m just a silhouette, even through the darkest of nights

I’m just a silhuotte

I am bathed in light


key to success: live with less

I’m not as much of a minimalist as I’d like to be.  Sometimes I look at monks and think, “They’ve got it right.”  I’m not sure I’d ever take it that far, but to live with less is an important key to success.

As a single dad with a nine-year-old daughter, I need to provide the basic necessities and a few comforts for my Annie.  That’s right, I spoil may daughter from time to time and give her occasional special treatment.  After being the child victim of a cult as a kid, I want to offer her a much better upbringing than I had.  But I still try to live without too much extravagance.  Here’s why:

1. Too much of anything will backfire on you.  I’ve found that most Americans buy more stuff than they’ll ever need.  I’m no exception, but I do make a conscious effort to limit my purchases to the basics.  I’ve discovered having less than the average American actually provides a sense of space and peace in life that cannot be found in material things.  If you don’t believe me check out blogs like The Minimalists and Zen Habits.

2. Big houses and big cars add up fast.  I’ve lived in 2000-square-foot-homes.  I know, that’s not large by today’s standards.  And I’ve lived in 400-square-foot studio apartments.  I’d take the smaller space hands down.  It’s less expensive and easier to care for.  Utility costs are next to nothing and a full-house cleaning is only an hour project.  As for cars, it’s the same.  Big cars get poor gas mileage and are harder to maneuver.  Small cars cost half as much in fuel and can squeeze through small spaces.  Seems like a no-brainer to me.

3. The clothes make the man or the woman.  I discovered a long time ago that it’s better to spend more money on fewer well-made garments than buy the cheap shit that most the large retail stores are peddling.  I bought a Filson wool jacket about ten years ago for $250.  It’s still got at least ten more years of wear left.  That’s less than $20 per season for a high quality, stylish jacket that’s kept me warm for many winters.

4. Too much technology leads to nothing but a twisted knot.  And it will steal your time quicker than anything.  I own one laptop, one tablet, and one smartphone.  And somedays I wish I’d never have bought the tablet because it gets little use.  I don’t use cable, Netflix, satellite radio, or any other extras.  Right now I’m even going without an Internet connection at home for the summer.  It saves me money and frees me up to do other things with my time.

So you get the idea here.  When you live with less, it’s very cost efficient and it frees up your time.  But how is that a key to success?

Living a minimalist life is a key to success because it opens up the doors to creativity and productivity.  When our lives are crowded with all the crap we’ve been told we must have in order to live the American dream, a lie by the way, we are so busy playing the part of the consumer that we have no time to be productive.  When we wind up up to our ears in consumer debt because we followed the norm and tried to keep up with the Joneses, we wind up working overtime to pay our bills.  We become worriers and worrying will kill creativity quicker than anything else.

It’s the same with blogging and trying to gain traffic.  I was told early on as a blogger that there were strategies for driving traffic to my blog.  I attempted to use those strategies.  All they did was consume my time and kill my productivity and creativity.  No thanks.  I’ll take my own path and keep doing what I love: creating and producing poems, songs, and books.

I think it all goes back to how we define success.  If you define success by what you have, by the money you make, or by the numbers you generate, you will likely be dissatisfied with everything about your life.  You’ll be fighting a never-ending battle to try to achieve more.  I call bullshit on that definition of success.  But when we define success by who we truly are when we strip all the other stuff away, we begin to see that we are much more valuable than money or material things.

When we learn live with less we learn to look inward and an amazing journey of self-discovery begins.  That’s the journey I decided to take several years ago.  I found myself slipping off track a bit as a blogger, but it didn’t take me long to see the light again.

The key to success, my friends, begins not with gaining more, but with letting go of the extra garbage we’ve been told we need.

Question: What things could you let go of to allow more space in your life for creativity and productivity?

softly whispered wisdom

When I was a younger man

I heard voices.

They lied.  Constantly.

Filling me with hate and fear,

they sent me running,

nearly off the highest precipice,

to meet an early death.

But that was not my fate.

I have been chosen

for something

more.

The voices were replaced

by one:

A soft, gentle voice that

whispers higher secrets

when I’m in need.

She came around at midnight

to say incandescent

not too long ago.

And last night,

as I lay down to rest,

she calmed my heart

with clarification

as she softly whispered

wisdom

twice.

 

 

the now factor of blogging

Blogging is a strange art form.  As I write my summer series with its subtle theme of becoming more mindful about being a minimalist in all areas of life, I’ve realized that blogging, in some ways, directly opposes minimalism.

Although I am blogging less this summer, the less-is-more mentality is not the golden standard for bloggers.  Nearly every piece of advice I’ve read about blogging suggests that we post at least several times a week.  The advice also suggests that we guest post for others and comment on a variety of blogs on a regular basis.  We’re also supposed to keep up with the latest trends in mailing lists and plugins.  Keeping a blog is a time-consuming thing, nothing minimalist about that.  The amount of words one writes over long durations of time become anything but minimalist.

But there is one aspect of blogging that might have a minimalist, zen-like quality.  Blogging tends to take place in the here and now.  That might sound like a good thing, but there are some problems, too.  Some of our best posts may be from our early days of blogging, back when we only had a few readers.  But now they are buried in the archives to be seldom seen.  Our books and ebooks generate a little buzz when they first come out only to decrease in notability and sales.

Sure, there are ways to revive and keep our best posts and books in the spotlight, but the amount of time it takes to do so can steal your life right out from under you.  You’ll no longer have time to write books because you’re constantly trying to promote the work you’ve already done.  It’s a dilemma.  But here’s my answer:

If blogging tends to be a writing process or an art form that is constantly in the here and now, then flow with it.  You may have noticed that I put less emphasis on my published books.  One can only learn about them if they seek them out in my store or in the archives.  I only occasionally write a post geared toward reminding my audience of my books.  This might seem like a poor and foolish marketing plan to some, but I disagree.  I say it’s the way blogging works.  It’s a constantly changing art form.  So there is no sense in fighting the natural rhythm of the art.

I don’t want to bore my readers with the same things over and over.  I don’t want to be another blogger that blatantly self-promotes his own her work in every other post.  God knows there are enough of those type out there.  I want to live on the edge of discovery, in the here and now.  I want my blog to be something that grows, something that changes, something that is a living work of art, something that follows my life’s journey.

And this is why every post is important.  You’ve all heard the advice that content is king.  I agree.  Although, I disagree in what many recommend our content be.  Content is not just another regurgitated post.  It seems to me that if I read one post, I’ve read nearly all posts on many subjects in the blogosphere.  Most bloggers are just regurgitating their own or others’ ideas.  Screw that!  I want originality.  I want art.  I want poetry.  I want good stories.  I want solid advice, but I don’t want to read it over and over until my eyes start bleeding.  I want my blog to be a reflection of my life, my art, my creativity, my thoughts in the here and now.

Your blog should reflect you, your life, your creativity.  It should not look like a cardboard cutout and sound like a robotic recording.  That’s why I’m going to be leaning more toward posting more creative works such as poetry, songs, and stories, and less “how-to” based pieces beginning this fall.  You can find how-to advice anywhere.  You can’t get another Dan Erickson poem, song, or story anywhere.  I’ll also continue to post pieces like this: my thoughts and comments on my place within this world of writing and blogging.  I’ll be keeping the now factor in mind.

dan

 

either way

I wrote a new song yesterday and I recorded it today.  It’s a song about accepting life’s relationships no matter what direction they take.  It’s called “Either Way.”  Although I had no artists in mind when I wrote it, I hear echoes of John Lennon in the final demo recording.

I even pulled out the Telecaster for this one.  Take a few moments to take a listen:

 Either Way

Sometimes words come too cheap

People making promises they don’t intend to keep

I’d rather say I love you in my sleep

Than to leave you broken

Deeper than a Gram Parsons’ song

The melody is lonesome, but the feeling is so strong

Walking through the desert the road is long

Words go unspoken

Continue reading

save money by minimizing what goes out

Back in the early 2000s, I eliminated all of my debt but for student loans.  Since then, I’m sorry to report, I, like many Americans have found myself even deeper in debt.  But I have learned a few tricks along the way.  I’m no expert on finances, but I understand one simple concept: we need to reduce the amount of money going out and increase the amount of money coming in, or at least make a point to save or invest a portion of the money that’s coming in, right?

Back in 2002/03 I came up with a maxim for this philosophy: “kill the bills and fill the jugs.”  At that time my sole desire was to pay off all my consumer debt and save money for a move back West.  But since then I’ve discovered that this philosophy works in other ways.  Here’s how I’ve been applying it to my life more recently:

First: Kill the bills.  Sure, this means paying off consumer debt.  Dave Ramsey gives solid advice here when he recommends starting with your smallest balance and paying it off and then working through to your largest balance.  But I’ve learned to kill the unnecessary monthly bills, too.  Here are a few things I’ve cut out over the years that have saved me hundreds of dollars a month:

1. Cable or dish television:  You can save anywhere from $30 to $100 per month by getting rid of cable.  You’ll also have less distractions in your life and find yourself more productive.

2. Landline telephone:  Okay it just makes more sense to have one phone these days.  And having one that can offer you the freedom to use it whenever and wherever you need it is a no brainer.  But study your cell plans carefully.

3. Storage units:  I’ve had to rent storage units from time to time, during moves or while living in a small apartment.  But I learned that if it has to be stored you may not really need it.  So consider selling or giving away the things you don’t use and can the storage unit.

4. Big trucks and cars:  I saved more than $200 a month by downsizing my car.  I didn’t by a cheap used car either.  I bought a brand new car, but I was able to get a smaller monthly payment and now I spend half as much at the pump.

5. Entertaining technological garbage: Okay, I know some of you might disagree here, but who needs three computers and two tablets.  Who needs TIVO and Netflix and Satellite Radio?  Who needs dozens of video games?  Not me!  Those things only keep me from being creative by distracting me.  I’ve saved a lot of money by minimizing my technology and entertainment choices.

6. Eat out less: Even eating cheap fast food adds up quick if you do it on a regular basis. I can buy a canister of oatmeal for $3.00 and get 20 meals out of it.  If I went to McDonalds for breakfast twenty times I’d spend closer to $100.  Plus, I’m eating healthier foods.

I’m sure you can think of more ways to minimize your expenses.  Please tell me about your ideas in the comment section.  

Next: Fill the jugs.  After you minimize monthly expenses, you need to find ways to save some of the money that’s coming in.  Fifteen years ago I was literally filling jugs.  I still do.  I rarely spend my change.  I bring it home and put it in a jar.  Every few months I’ll cash it in and save that money.  I’ve saved hundreds of dollars this way.

But now, as college instructor and a homeowner, I’ve discovered other ways to fill the jugs.  I put the maximum amount I can into my retirement through the college I work at.  I try to pay an extra $50 to $100 a month on my mortgage.  I have $100 per month automatically put into a CD.  These strategies will put me in a better financial position in the future.

So, I might still have some consumer debt.  College and divorce are expensive.  But I always pay a bit more than the monthly minimums and I’m slowly killing the bills.  I also find ways to cut out monthly expense.  And I save a little extra in places where it counts.

Question: Do you have any helpful strategies for minimizing debt or investing money?

windswept love

I tried to hold her down.

A hammer and one, two

three, four, five, six nails

could not keep her secured.

So I tied her to a stake.  I wrapped

and knotted the rope seven times.

Still, she was uprooted, blown away.

I piled rocks eight-feet high

on top of her, burying myself

in my own determination to hold

onto something that was never mine.

But again, she broke free.

My windswept love cannot be held,

I know that now.  But with this knowledge

comes power.  For when I let her

fly among the seagulls free,

she will always be right here,

true to the ninth degree.

the track to redemption: first draft complete

The first draft of the third book of The Cult Trilogy is complete.

I’ve completed the first draft of The Track to Redemption.  I have also filed the entire Cult Trilogy for copyright with The Library of Congress.  The Track to Redemption continues the saga of Andy Burden and his search for truth and justice in the aftermath of his rough childhood.  Andy was the victim of a cult.

This book also offers a unique perspective from cult leader Peter Smith.  The book is written from two first-person perspectives: that of Andy Burden and that of Peter Smith.  I’ll be working on the second draft over the next several months.  I hope to have the book edited this winter and released in 2015.  Look for the book description soon.

Make sure to order and read the first two books of The Cult Trilogy: A Train Called Forgiveness and At the Crossing of Justice and Mercy.  Check them out at my store.

less online time = more real life

2013-07-24 20.23.56Over the past six to eight months I’ve been cutting back on the amount of time I spend online.  It’s been a journey well worth taking.  It all started when I realized I was online for at least two or three hours a day, somedays much more.  It was adding up to twenty or more hours a week.  That’s a lot.

I’m a single dad with a full-time teaching job.  It’s impossible for me to spend twenty hours a week online and still work at my best as a dad and a teacher.  I was getting stressed out and not spending enough quality time with my daughter, Annie.  Something had to give.  So I started evaluating how I was spending my online time at home.  Here’s what I discovered:

Online time at home:

1. Blogging: 40%

2. Social Networking: 30%

3. Email: 15%

4. Google Analytics: 5%

5. Other stuff: 10%

Blogging has clearly taken the biggest chunk of time.  So I began looking for ways to minimize the time I spend blogging.  Here’s what I’ve done.  I’ve simplified my blog and I started posting less often.  I visit and comment on other blogs less often.  I cut back on how many times I share posts on social networks.  I was concerned that these tactics might kill my traffic.  I’m not going to lie.  My traffic is down, but nowhere near as much as I expected.  Traffic has decreased by about 10% over the past few months.

The next thing I did was study my Google Analytics page.  I wanted to know where the majority of my referrals were coming from.  I discovered that Facebook and Twitter were the only two social networks that brought significant amounts of visitors.  So I stopped using all the other networks.  I also stopped visiting most blogs that did not bring traffic or engagement in conversation my way.  Again, I was worried about my numbers.  Again, there was very little change.

Next, I deleted all my extra email accounts other than my three main Gmail accounts: one for my blog, one for personal business, and one for professional business.

 

Finally, I temporarily let go of my Internet service.  That’s right.  I’m working from Starbucks right now.  I wanted to change Internet providers and I decided to go without a provider for a few months.

So here’s what spending less time on the Internet has done for me:

1. I spend more time with my daughter.

2. I spend more time outdoors working in my yard, walking, running, hiking, and biking.

3. I spend more time writing poetry, songs, and working on book projects

4. I spend more time socializing in face-to-face mode.

5. I find that I feel healthier and less stressed out.

As a blogger and a writer, the Internet is a great tool for getting my work seen and heard.  But I discovered that the amount of time it takes to grow a blog quickly and exponentially is overwhelming.  Without time and money, growing a blog to reach large numbers of people in a short time is a pipe dream.  I’ve decided that my time and my sanity are more important than numbers.

I’m not going to give up blogging.  I believe in my writing.  I’m an artist.  If nothing else I will always use my blog as my pallet, a place to post stories, poems, and songs.  This fall when I reconnect with Internet at home I hope to make a few minor updates to the blog.  Until then I’ll be enjoying my time in the mountains, on the lakes, and in my back yard.

Question: How much time do you spend online?  Could you be more productive spending some of that time elsewhere?