pt. 3: adios casa… & the long drive home…

So we’ve been back home in Golden now for a few days… We’re into May now. I’m still unpacking, slowly, as is my custom, trying to find places for everything we’ve brought back and we’re back into our routines here for which I’m grateful. On this short, whirlwind trip, most of Sunday and Monday has been kind of a slow, mad rush to get outta here, stress-filled to the point where Tuesday’s long drive home – just slightly under 15 hours this time – feels (almost) like a piece of cake. Easy, in comparison.

Erin and I will both miss the Tex-Mex food… and hanging out at Drip coffeehouse on Lovers Lane in the mornings which, with its wi-fi, has been kind of a lifeline in staying connected to the rest of the world. If you live in the Park Cities area in Dallas, be sure and stop in here instead of Starbuck’s. Steve’s got everything Starbuck’s has only much better, plus a better ambience, and he’s a local business.

We leave very early Tuesday morning, just after 5:00, and it’s a “Six Feet Under” finale moment – “You can’t take a picture of this. It’s already gone…” – Nate’s ghost to Claire. Just last night it had been raining heavily for a while and I was  concerned about what it would be like in the morning because we still had the paintings and a few other items to load into the truck, but it’s dry and we finish the load-out quickly. When we’re in the truck I see dad standing in the doorway in his white bathrobe; the lights in the cab of the truck are on so I wave to him and he waves back. And then we’re off. Once we’re past it I can’t see the house because the view is obstructed out the back and we only have side view mirrors. It kind of reminds me of the years I would visit at Christmas, living in Colorado, and mom would come to the small windows by the front door and I’d see her looking out as I drove away. This is the last time I’ll be leaving from here.

We turn right onto Hillcrest, another right onto Northwest Highway; I’ve got my extra-large coffee from 7-11 and when we come to the Dallas North Tollway I turn right, heading north, because I know it’s the only freeway I can count on not to have some kind of  construction going on (you know, the concrete barriers, no right shoulder) as we get out of the giant amoeba, surging ever northwards, that the Dallas metro area has become.

We pass through Denton on U.S. 380, University Blvd. through town, and yes, the Waffle House is still there but we don’t stop at it and by the time we’re within a few miles of Decatur, the Dallas city vibes have dissipated, been left behind, and we’re free.

Adios... vaya con Dios...
Adios… 6822 Northwood Rd. (1965-2015)  Vaya con Dios…

I can sum up the experience of Dallas, as it is now, in just two words, both this time and the last time Erin and I were here 2 1/2 years ago: Too. Big. As in too big for your britches. It may come as a surprise to those who have heard me bashing on this city since the mid-1990’s, but I really used to love this place when I was growing up here in the 1960’s and early 70’s. I really did. I loved Dallas and that was really the time to be here – it was a big city that didn’t feel overwhelming… like it does now.  So many memories that are still fresh in my mind and too many to list here. They should go in a book.

Maybe a lot of this feeling comes from having lived in a small mountain town of 420 people for four years (Empire, CO), but I can think back to the late 1970’s when I was in Lubbock and the city I’d come back to over Christmas break and for the summer really started to change. It started to change even more in the early 80’s when I was doing singing telegrams here, playing in a couple of bands, the pace of life here always ever accelerating, but back then it still seemed more-or-less manageable. I’d hang out in Lower Greenville or the Lakewood area (which we didn’t get over to on this trip) and those were the cool places to be… and then I moved away to Santa Fe.

Well, nothing about Dallas feels manageable anymore; it just appears to be go-go-go all the time, non-stop, and just try to keep up, even when visiting, and woe to the person who can’t or chooses not to.  This is not your place. Erin pointed out that the traffic lanes on the roads we were driving seemed more narrow than what we’re used to – claustrophobic, and the parking lots wherever we went were always full, the spaces hard to pull into because they’re narrow too. Try to squeeze in as many people as you can – gotta make that extra buck. That’s Dallas. I noticed the same thing too and it wasn’t just because I was driving dad’s Buick. Getting around anywhere just produces a lot of stress that doesn’t need to be there. And this is inside LBJ Freeway (635) – Dallas proper. I’m not talking about the suburbs and outlying areas here. Another odd thing is that all the traffic lights at intersections seem interminably long… which only adds to the stress and frustration when you’re trying to get somewhere/anywhere.

I lived in Dallas again during parts of the years from 2007-2011 but the energy here now just feels completely different even from that recently and even more alien. More scattered, frenetic… hyper is a good word to describe it, and oddly more generic (i.e., soulless). A lot of this can be seen in the McMansion monstrosities that are devouring the old, familiar neighborhoods in Preston Hollow, where my dad lives (for another month or so), and some, though less evident, in the Park Cities. Neighborhoods that once had character. Well, a lot of them still do, but what about Dallas screams ‘Tuscany’ that people and home builders feel compelled to put up Italian-style villas on these blocks, complete with palm trees?! Lose the freakin’ palm trees!! They’re not indigenous to North Texas! Ugh.

And it doesn’t have to be this way. As we drove around Preston Hollow, we saw plenty of ranch homes, the staple of this neighborhood for so many years, that had been updated along with mid-century modern homes that were beautiful with beautiful landscaping ’cause hey, you can grow anything here (reference the backyard picture from Pt. 1 of this series).

At one point Erin said that Dallas feels like Orange County, California. In other words, it’s all about appearances and keeping up with everybody else. Since I haven’t lived in the OC since late 1980 I’ll take her word on that.

The problem with all of what I’m seeing here is that people start to think (and get used to) all of this as being just “normal” and that the pace of life here is “normal”, and all it does is just produce nothing but stress from the competitiveness of it all, and really, there’s nothing “normal” about any of this. It’s just pathological.

That’s more of a rant than I’d intended, but it is sad to see as I have loved this city… and really, now it just pisses me off and I want to get outta here and get home.

Driving through West Texas, near Childress... The cloud cover has cleared off; nothing but blue skies ahead.
Driving through West Texas, near Childress… The cloud cover has cleared off; nothing but blue skies ahead.

The House Itself
With the house on the market now comes the realization that eventually and soon, it will sell, and when I pull up the address on Google Maps a year from now, most likely the house will be razed to the ground or there will already be a new house – another generic, McMansion monstrosity – in its place. I don’t have a problem with that so much because it’s inevitable given that the house now is a total tear-down, a scrape-off… but it will seem weird when I actually see it (via Google Maps).

Dad had it appraised recently and has listed the house at its appraised value and even I know you can’t do that with a tear-down. You’re only selling the land it sits on. He’s still under the illusion that someone will want to buy it, update it, and basically keep the house intact, but that’s just not going to happen given its current state. Why did he not update the house, cosmetically-speaking, over the years? Both inside and out. Why would you not do that when your home is arguably the most important investment, financially, you’ll ever make? The baby grand piano in its current state – needing the keys, hammers, and strings all to be restored – is a metaphor for the state of the house. Why, why, why did he not restore such a beautiful instrument like that? And him being a musician. I don’t get it, but this is where things stand.

A friend from high school who’s a realtor told me that he’s seen the house and the comps in the neighborhood, and thinks it should be listed for about $50k less than the price that dad is asking. I had been thinking the same thing – the current price is too high. After a month on the market, that’s why it’s not selling… but what can you say here? Some resistance to selling it going on perhaps?

As for the house itself… the wallpaper in the rooms where it’s been applied (from the early 1970’s) is peeling off and just looks supremely dated and tacky; most assuredly there is mold in them thar walls and nobody wants to deal with mitigation there, and the attic… after squirrels had made their way through the east side of the house to the attic, nobody ventured up there anymore. Total. Tear-down.

I had intended to be a bit more mindful of my time in the house, knowing that this was going to be the last time I would ever be in there, but by Sunday afternoon I’m ready to get on the road and mindfulness goes out the window. I am glad we took an extra day on Monday when we picked up the truck (and it doesn’t suck… only 11,000 miles on it, everything in good working order), because it allows me time to walk through all the rooms one last time and had we tried to leave Monday it would have been too hectic. By Monday night I’ve made my peace, I’ve said my goodbyes. And then there’s the Christmas tree…

The Christmas tree in the den...
The Christmas tree in the den…

The legendary Christmas tree in the den is still there – yes, I know it’s April – where it has been since sometime in the mid-90’s and it has its own special story. I visited Dallas one time in March, maybe 1996, and my parents still had the Christmas tree up. I said something about it and mom said that dad would get around to taking it up to the attic. I mentioned that maybe if it was still up in March, they should just go ahead and leave it up all year round. So they did. I plug the Christmas tree lights in one last time before I go to bed Monday night to see if they’re working – obviously they’ve been changed out since the mid-90’s – and they all light up.

Now that we’ve been back for a few days and I’ve had some time to reflect on a few things, it seems that the strangest thing about last weekend: the incongruity between the fact that everything is about to change (radically) and that inside the house everything looks the same as it ever has, same as it ever was, even after we took out everything we did, and it’s just business as usual, and that it could go on that way forever.

You just never know what you're gonna see on the road... Here it appears a VW Beetle is giving birth to a fully-grown dairy cow in Amarillo. Whoa!
You just never know what you’re gonna see on the road… Here it appears a VW Beetle, with Minnesota plates, is giving birth to a fully-grown dairy cow in Amarillo. Whoa!

Shmoopy Takes the Wheel…
At Trinidad, just inside the Colorado state line. It’s 4:30 in the afternoon. The original plan had us arriving here at around 2:00 for lunch, but we had breakfast at IHOP in Wichita Falls and driving into a headwind we made Amarillo around 12:45 and ate lunch at McDonald’s. McDonald’s… we never eat at freakin’ McDonald’s. The Big Mac I order tastes good except there’s too much thousand island dressing on the two all-beef patties and it gets all over my hand. But the fries are great! Except for the stretch between Amarillo and Dumas, I’ve driven the whole way – the boring part of the drive. The prairie and farmlands. I have a high tolerance for boredom. Erin (Shmoopy) does not and coming into Trinidad she tells me that she just wants to get home and she’ll drive us the rest of the way. We’ve been in the truck for 12 hours at this point and I’m like, “Go for it.”

We’ve had various classic rock stations on the radio in the truck because the truck is old school with AM/FM radio – no CD player, no iPod connection. Not even a cassette deck. The most memorable of the radio stations has been The Big Dog FM, coming to you out of Altus, Oklahoma and we’ve been hearing a lot of Stones, ZZ Top, and Rush. It’s two-fer-Tuesday! We’ve crossed the Red River just above Estelline and there was actually water in it for the first time in ages… and the water was, appropriately, red, and I’m listening and a lyric from Rush’s “Freewill” gets lodged in my mind:

“You can choose a ready guide
In some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide
You still have made a choice.”

And now that it’s Sunday I’m still hearing this. After we watched “Whiplash” at home last night. Neil Peart, the drummer for Rush, wrote these lyrics and as we were driving through West Texas I thought about books that he’s written – I’ve read both “Ghost Rider” and “Traveling Music” and both are excellent. I highly recommend them; Neil is an excellent writer and I enjoyed these books immensely.

It also makes me think about the possibility that this could be the last time I drive this particular route between Dallas and the Denver area. Over the years, certain music has been designated for certain stretches of the trip – Alice Cooper’s Killer for the stretch between Childress and Memphis, Ziggy Marley’s two albums, Conscious Party and One Bright Day between Amarillo and Dalhart; The Cars’ 1st album between Walsenburg and Pueblo, Colorado.

By the time we get to Trinidad, Shmoopy notices I’m tired so she takes the wheel. We stop in at the liquor store on Santa Fe Trail and I pick up a few shot bottles of things that sound enticing, try a couple of them in the truck now that she’s driving and try to nod off in the passenger seat. Of course this is not going to work ’cause I can’t sleep in a moving vehicle and like looking out at the scenery too much, even if there isn’t any, but we’re back in Colorado now and that won’t be a problem. The Big Dog morphs into 107.9 FM out of Colorado Springs… more Stones… “Gimme Shelter”.

And Erin becomes a “woman on a mission”… We get home before 8:00 and before it gets dark. And then we start unloading the truck…

Despite the challenges and the frustrations, this was a good, memorable trip for all the right reasons, even if it was born from necessity. We had to go, but it was the right time.

Moving forward: the house will sell, certainly within the next couple of months, and had I known about it beforehand, that he was going to do this, dad could have come up here to live with us. We could’ve moved into a bigger house, in the mountains, Evergreen probably, and the baby grand could have been saved, but the invitation is always open. I don’t know right now where we’re going to be spending Christmas this year, whether he’ll fly up here and join us at our house or if Erin and I will be flying down there, in which case we’ll be getting a hotel room and a rental car. I suspect it will be the latter. I do know this: the Christmas tree in the house on Northwood will finally come down after a successful 19-year run or thereabouts. This year.

"Perspective," the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.
“Perspective,” the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.

Perspective” and all previous albums  from Nights on Venus are available as MP3 digital downloads on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon MP3, and the NoV website.

Nights on Venus, "Santos"... to be released June, 2015...
Nights on Venus, “Santos”… to be released June, 2015…

The new 4-song EP, “Santos“, will be coming in June, June 25th to be exact.

Follow Craig and Nights on Venus on Twitter (@xlntsky), Facebook, and Instagram.


weekend in dallas, pt. 2: the reunion and packing up…

Saturday… we get an early start and the paintings start coming down off the walls. I put plastic sheeting over them and staple it to the wood stretcher frames so they’ll be ready for traveling. There are 18 paintings coming back with us, the largest measuring 6 feet x 6 feet, 9 inches (183 cm x 206 cm). I remember mom used to ask, “why do you paint so large?”, and I told her it was easier than painting small and minute; you get to use bigger brushes. It is – the materials just cost more.

Soon, the walls are completely bare in three rooms of the house; I can’t remember ever seeing them completely bare like this, except maybe when we moved in. I was 8 years old then and I really don’t remember that.

Standing in front of the tree I used to climb as a kid in the front yard... which has now grown into a "sequoia".
Standing in front of the tree I used to climb as a kid in the front yard… which has now grown into a giant “Sequoia”. I will not be attempting a climb this morning as it would now take a 20-foot ladder to reach the first branch.

The house might look more empty… if it weren’t for all the clutter everywhere else. Just overwhelming clutter still. After a few hours, we’ve hardly put a dent in any of this and I know we’re not taking that much furniture back with us. Dad said he’d had some friends help him and that they cleaned up quite a bit before we came down. Well… we’re here now and there’s very little evidence of that.

Books stacked up on top of each other horizontally, on top of low bookcases about 3 feet high, the spines turned sideways so you have no idea what the titles are. I go through a few of them… the Time Almanac from 1994, World Almanac from 2001, how many books on “natural folk remedies” do you have here?… and give up.

Dad says to take any of these that I want, also any CDs, DVDs (Erin grabs a handful in passing – Goldfinger… score!)…and, oh look, VHS tapes! There’s nothing here and not a whole lot of time. I guess the plan is to let the estate sale people deal with whatever’s left and there will be a lot to deal with. Erin and I start boxing up all my stuff; by mid-afternoon we’ve hit it hard and go out for a break and an Internet connection.

It’s while we’re sitting in Cantina Laredo on Royal Lane for a late lunch… we see the news on the 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Nepal. Just unbelievable devastation in Kathmandu. We have a friend from Colorado who’s there to climb Mt. Everest, again, and knew he had just arrived at Everest Basecamp earlier in the week; we quickly wonder if he’s OK and see that he is. You can read his first-hand account of the earthquake and the events of the last few days at the link below. It’s a very compelling read…

Seeing the first images of the destruction left behind by the earthquake online puts everything back in perspective. Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone in Nepal.


The reunion that night is definitely the highlight of this trip and a necessary respite from the work we’re doing at the house and from some frustrations that are starting to mount, chief among them being the communication connection issues (and no, Mercury is not retrograde). It’s great to see all my classmates from those years at St. Mark’s, most of whom I haven’t seen in 43 years. You try to place the faces in the present with how you remember the way they used to look when everyone was 14, 15 years old. We trade stories…

Brett, who was one of my best friends all through high school, reminds me of a truly awful trip we made to Lubbock to check out Texas Tech University during our senior year and how we spent most of a Saturday afternoon in a muffler shop waiting room with our host who was getting work done on his car. Yes, I remember that too. Brett ended up going to University of Texas in Austin.

Paul and I talk about the French class we took in 8th grade from a teacher who I remember – now that a long-forgotten memory has kicked in – looked a bit like Jeanne Tripplehorn with glasses and everyone apparently remembers as being “nice”. He also reminds me that I came up with a cartoon character for the middle school paper and that has been long-forgotten, now unearthed as well.

We talk to just about everyone there and find out what’s going on in their world and I’m surprised to learn that there’s a good-sized contingent of the class who now lives in Colorado so I hope we will stay in touch. The one thing we don’t see, and it’s not until we’re leaving that Erin points it out: no one there is checking, looking down at, or is otherwise glued to their cell phones. In fact, no one is even taking pictures or selfies with them. The cell phones are nowhere to be seen.

Special thanks to Marc and Wendy for hosting the reunion at their beautiful home. It was a very memorable evening.


Once Erin and I get back to the house for the night and I have a chance to see all the work we’ve done, I’m glad we worked as hard as we did during the day. I can already feel an energy shift as the focus moves toward finishing up the packing and leaving early Tuesday morning. It feels like we’ve been kind of jogging along since we arrived Friday, at a faster pace then we’re used to at home in Colorado as Dallas in no way could be described as laid-back, but by the time we get home from dinner with our friends Jeff and Pat tomorrow night, it’ll be an all-out sprint to get everything done and get on the road and we’re both already more than a little stressed.

"Perspective," the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.
“Perspective,” the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.

Perspective” and all previous albums  from Nights on Venus are available as MP3 digital downloads on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon MP3, and the NoV website.

Nights on Venus, "Santos"... to be released June, 2015...
Nights on Venus, “Santos”… to be released June, 2015…

The new 4-song EP, “Santos“, will be coming in a couple of months, mid-to-late June.

Follow Craig and Nights on Venus on Twitter (@xlntsky), Facebook, and Instagram.

weekend in dallas, pt. 1: the storm…

Friday… We land at Dallas Love Field a little after 11:00, Erin and I; it’s been raining and is expected to rain more today, possibly some severe thunderstorms with a chance of… tornadoes! I’m glad we’re on the ground. I had been following the weather forecast for the last week or so and saw rain for Friday here and there had also been thunderstorms during the week. I hadn’t been on a plane for almost fifteen years (yes, really).

So we’re on the ground safely – Erin minus her little ‘girly’ Swiss army knife on her keychain which has remained at Denver International Airport courtesy of the TSA (and I tease her about being such a troublemaker) – and we’re here for the weekend. Originally we booked this flight back in January for the 40th Reunion Weekend of the St. Mark’s Class of 1975, a group of classmates I didn’t graduate with but went to school with from 7th through 9th grade. My dad had his 86th birthday in March but we weren’t able to make it that month; the reunion weekend in April seemed like a good idea. In between came the news that he’d put the house up for sale so now the weekend has taken on a different tone altogether. It’s also moving weekend!

I’d only been bugging him to sell the house for the last 8 years or so; we moved into the house on Northwood in July, 1965. For 50 years this has been the family house – I grew up here and over the years it had become kind of a repository for much of my artwork and a few other things from my various moves, especially since 2007 when I closed down the gallery in Empire (CO). Now, all of that has to come back to Colorado with us. Half a century! It seems like this must be some kind of record but I’m sure it isn’t. In fact, I’m sure it’s pretty common… but 50 years! So this is kind of a big deal and it’s kind of been freaking me out a little.

From a logistical standpoint it means that the original plan of driving a rental car back to Golden has been scrapped in favor of having to rent a truck. Budget turned out to be the cheapest so we went with them. I hope their truck… doesn’t suck.

The first thing I notice as we’re driving through the Park Cities from the airport: everything looks very green and very soggy. Dallas in April.

Within 20 minutes, Erin looks like she just stepped out of a 1970’s disco with big wavy, disco hair.

And of course the first thing we have to do is get lunch… at El Fenix. If you live in Dallas and have people visiting from out of town, you are going to go to El Fenix for some Tex-Mex at some point during their stay. It’s tradition and obligatory. I order my fave, the Puebla Plate, and two Inca Gold margaritas (hey, I hadn’t flown for almost 15 years and it’s humid as hell). They are refreshing.

At the house, we step back into 1976… just the way I remember it when we were last here 2 ½ years ago. I look out into the backyard; it’s a freakin’ jungle out there. Erin asks me if my dad has a gardener. I reply, “Does it look like he has a gardener?” For his part, dad says that it’s been raining a lot, and I’m like, “Ya think?”

Costa Rica? No, just the backyard at dad's house...
Costa Rica? No, just the backyard at dad’s house.

By 6:30 the weather is on TV, ongoing coverage, and we have a severe thunderstorm warning in effect. A line of thunderstorms is moving east through Fort Worth and Arlington at 60 mph and projected ETA’s are given for the Dallas metro area, 7:05 for where we are. Heavy rains and wind gusts of up to 65 mph, possibly up to 75 mph. I hook up my laptop to the Ethernet cable from the old computer (it’s still there) to get a connection ‘cause I know we don’t have wireless here… and get nothing. Dad tells me there’s no Internet (and not because of the storm). OK, we will have to go out to connect to the world.

The thunderstorm brings only the heavy rain, no high winds. We both feel grungy from traveling and the humidity. Welcome home!

I keep thinking of Steely Dan’s last album, “Everything Must Go”… There will be an estate sale in a couple of weeks. If you want a 1919 Steinway baby grand that needs the keys, hammers, strings, and probably a few other parts restored (but the soundboard is good), it can be yours at a reasonable price. Send me a message. I would’ve loved to keep  the piano, could certainly have used it, but just don’t have the room for it in our current digs, not to mention the cost of moving and restoring it. Which is ironic… we don’t have the room for it in our house?…. The baby grand piano was the reason my family moved to the house on Northwood 50 years ago in the first place.

"Perspective," the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.
“Perspective,” the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.

Perspective” and all previous albums  from Nights on Venus are available as MP3 digital downloads on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon MP3, and the NoV website.

Follow Craig and Nights on Venus on Twitter (@xlntsky), Facebook, and Instagram.







what to do when the words won’t come… a reading list

I’m back… to the blog, after over a month of being “missing in action,” at least as far as writing goes. Which has been a bit unusual because, as friends know and if you’ve stopped by here a few times, I tend to be a bit verbose occasionally. Well, maybe most of the time, but for various reasons I’ve found myself unable to write much of anything these first couple of months into the new year. First, the energies of events on the planet have been extremely intense over the last 4 months or so and most of us could probably use a breather to just kind of absorb everything that’s been happening; secondly, my own energies have been poured into finishing up the 3rd album for release by the first week of June.

Or it could be something as simple and mundane as I’ve had absolutely nothing interesting to say or add to the general collective blogosphere these last 2 months (a distinct possibility). So, blog writer’s block. It happens.

About the time you notice it and start paying attention to the fact that you’re not writing anything, it’s taken on a life of its own, so, in an effort to pry open the “floodgates of verbosity” (a good prog-rock song title if ever I’ve heard one, along the lines of Yes’ “Gates of Delirium”), I’ve compiled a short list of books I’ve found helpful over the years and maybe you might find them useful too. Though most of them tend to be about writing, they work equally well for anything you’re trying to do creatively (if you need a jumpstart).

Starting with the ‘big guns’ first, the heavy-hitters:

writers_blockOn Writer’s Block: A New Approach to CreativityVictoria Nelson
An excellent book – at only 170 pages, it throws out more gems of wisdom per page than any other book on the subject. Author Victoria Nelson argues that the “mysterious creative silences” every artist dreads are not to be feared, but should be viewed as a positive element in an artist’s growth – “the unconscious mind’s signal to readjust the approach to a work in progress.”

From the first chapter: “True creative discipline – and productivity – blossoms in conditions of gentleness and respect.”

art_fearArt & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of ArtmakingDavid Bayles and Ted Orland
Another excellent (and short) book that should be in every creative person’s library whether a visual artist, musician, or writer. The authors pose a lot of questions about the way art gets made, the reasons why often it doesn’t get made, and the pitfalls of why so many give up along the way (making very clear the distinction between reaching a “stopping point” and quitting altogether).

“In a general way, fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work, while fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work.”

walking_on_alligatorsWalking on Alligators: A Book of Meditations for WritersSusan Shaughnessy
A great, uplifting book of inspirational quotes, mostly from (you guessed it) writers and meditations/affirmations right there when you need ’em.

“A writer should value his blockages. That means he’s starting to scale down, to get close.” – Robert Pirsig, author, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

leaping-alligator“It isn’t a question of doing more work. It’s more of your own internal critic that goes, ‘You could do better than that. Take the higher road, not the easy route.'” – Robin Williams

writers_idea_bookThe next three are more geared specifically to writing, particularly Jack Heffron’sThe Writer’s Idea Book which is chock-full of writing exercises, prompts (about 400 of ’em actually), and a few creative techniques (brainstorming, clustering, automatic writing, and cutting and pasting, etc.) to get the pen going again. If you subscribe to The Daily Post from WordPress, then you’re already familiar with prompts for writing.

writing-down-the-bonesWriting Down the Bones and Wild Mind, both by Natalie Goldberg, are books filled with suggestions for writing and specific exercises and both showed me that writing in coffee houses, restaurants, auto repair shops, and yeah, even courtrooms, wasn’t something weird after all (oh no!… not another hipster!), especially when more people started doing it (pre-laptop era).

artistswayWhich brings us to the mother of all books on creativity, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron, a 12-week program to unlock, discover, and/or reclaim your artistic/creative, and perhaps spiritual, territory. Dog-eared, profusely underlined, and just this side of falling apart, I’ve had this book for 20 years and go back to it for reference or when I just have a powerful hankerin’ for doing some “morning pages.” Mmm, with my morning coffee. If you own this book, you know what I mean.

All of these are highly recommended… all the best to you in your creative endeavors.

Until next time…

“In 4 the Evening” is the second and current album from Nights on Venus and is available as a digital download on CDBabyiTunesAmazon.mp3Bandcamp and other fine online retailers. On CD through the NoV website. The 3rd album, “Another Day in Paradox,” is scheduled for release on June 1, 2013.

Craig and friend
Craig and friend

Follow Craig and NoV on Twitter (@xlntsky) and Facebook.

new song: “stranded in san jon”…. and an excerpt from the long lost novel…

This week, a new song posted – “Stranded in San Jon” [New Mexico – the ‘J’ is pronounced as ‘H ‘- along old route 66]…  and a blast from the past: an excerpt from my almost-forgotten (unpublished) novel, “Autumn,” completed in 1998 (such a long time ago!). Set in 1984, the novel is kind of Larry McMurtry’s “The Last Picture Show” meets Prince’s “Purple Rain” – an age-old tale of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy uproots life to keep them together, does, but ultimately loses girl (i.e., “Crazy Stupid Love,” which is a great flick, btw). Well… you do things like this in your 20’s. It’s as much a tale of two cities – Dallas and Santa Fe – and a cultural document of the times, much of which takes place in part of the great American outback of eastern New Mexico, southern Colorado, and west Texas.

Although I didn’t think so at the time, mercifully (and thankfully) the novel, which topped out at 460 pages, was not published back in 1998. In their rejection letters, literary agents would tell me that they just wouldn’t know how to market it for a mass – read ‘mainstream’ – audience, not unlike Miles’ predicament in the film “Sideways” (another great movie). Perhaps the story shouldn’t have been told in the first person – too personal, too much like a journal – but told in the third person, it would lose much of its immediacy (only the names have been changed to ward off potential lawsuits – it is a litigious society we live in). It’s been said that “first novels are like first pancakes – you have to throw ’em out,” but maybe I revisit this, then again, maybe not – do a major rewrite in the age of author E-book self-publishing for Kindle, et al. – but it probably won’t be happening anytime soon.

As usual when I post something here, this is not the final mastered version of the song; hopefully it conveys something of the “experience.” Moving further into new territory…

In the meantime, without further yada yada, here are both. Enjoy!

© 2012 Nights on Venus/Craig C. Thomas. All rights reserved.)
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“I stood at the top of the stairs to the entrance of the motel, looking in both directions down the main street of San Jon, population: 381. There wasn’t much to it and I doubted whether that many really did live here, so clean and empty was the street. I was looking at a few storefronts – mostly abandoned ones – a water tower, a number of houses with lonely-looking trees clustered around them, and a couple of churches. Bleak was the word that came to mind. A dead town dying; not even a Dairy Queen, after all, this wasn’t west Texas where every town, no matter how small, had one. Beyond the buildings – a sea of grasslands so immense it threatened to swallow the town whole, rendering it nonexistent. To the south, the caprock, another mesa of the Llano Estacado; to the north of town, I-40, with its trucks and cars moving on toward bustling life in either Amarillo to the east or Albuquerque to the west. Hell, even Tucumcari would do right now.

Eastern New Mexico, northwest of Tucumcari, 1984…

It was late afternoon; all day long I’d been driving through towns like this one coming down from Springer – Roy, Mosquero, Logan – towns that had all seen better days if they’d ever seen them at all. The day in pictures: diverging roads that led to empty spaces between mesas; an abandoned white adobe motel with a badly-painted mural of Spanish conquistadors on a side wall in Logan; gutted stone houses with only the blue sky for a roof near Conchas Lake; a pair of white crosses along the side of the highway; sunflowers growing through the cracks of a cement foundation where a house once stood; a woman and child exiting a bar through a screen door in Roy. Of all places, the Scirocco had chosen this one to break down on my way to Clovis… and had now been, for lack of a better word, impounded for the last fifteen minutes back at the gas station when the maxed-out credit card didn’t go through. The repair work was already complete when the mechanic told me they had to call in for approval on anything over $200; the work had exceeded that times two.

I took a walk – not so much out of curiosity as just to think about the situation. It was hot in the sun, stifling, with no breeze – unusual for a town on the high plains. A block east I found Ricardo’s Bar. It was open; about half-a-dozen people were inside sitting at the bar and a couple of tables. Everyone turned to look at me when I walked in and studied me for a long second. Obviously I was not a local. Two TVs hung diagonally at the ends of the bar and the Summer Olympics were on, track and field stuff. Someone had just won the pole vault competition with a jump of over nineteen feet. The place had a couple of video games, a pool table in back, and a jukebox. I quickly checked to see what was on it and found Hank Williams’ name – yes, that Hank Williams – no comma or ‘Jr.’ following it. Hmm… no DEVO or “Mexican Radio.” I popped in 50 cents and played a trio of Johnny Cash songs.  Ricardo’s smelled of dust and stale smoke and for a moment I thought of lighting up one of the clove cigarettes I had on me, then figured these people were unfamiliar with the smell and it would probably freak them out. Everyone here smoked Marlboros.

1984 “me”….

Autumn would soon be waiting for me in Clovis and I’d call her when I got back to the motel. One beer turned into three, but I was high and dry. High lonesome. The patron saint in charge of traveling money for foolish lovers wasn’t bailing me out…”

So there you have it… 28 years ago this month. The crazy summer and fall of 1984 – a time when Prince, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Bruce ruled the airwaves.

Thanks for reading… and listening. Until next time…

“In 4 the Evening,” the new album (no. 2)…

In 4 the Evening” is the second album from Nights on Venus and is available as a digital download on CDBaby, iTunes, Amazon.mp3, Bandcamp, and other fine online retailers. Available on CD through the NoV website

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