RIP Chris Wicklund

Chris was one of those people for whom sitting still and keeping quiet was hard. Very hard. A mutual friend’s father who needed a bit of prodding to remember who he was famously said of him, “Oh, the mouthy one.”

In his defense, Chris was not unkind, cruel, or particularly foul-mouthed more than other people – he was just loud.

Sound, more than anything, defined his life. We were housemates in college in the late 80s, and again later in the late 1990s when he was between relationships and housing. He almost always had loud music playing, or was talking loudly, or was laughing loudly.

He laughed a lot. At full volume, his laugh was a barking snicker that would erupt out of him. In quieter moments it’d be a more gentle, “Heh.” Chris was a comedian, with an almost endless patter of one-liners, snark, wry observations, and pantomime, which often made other people laugh, too. Trained in and a student of the dramatic arts, he would put his whole body into it, with arms waving and torso thrusting; anything for a laugh or reaction.

Chris was also a musician, and when I met him he was playing bass and backup singing in a band called The Look. They played cover tunes at frat parties, schools, and the odd event, and I worked crew for the band for a spell. He played a black Steinberger, (for those not familiar, it’s a very blocky looking instrument, with the tuning keys at the base of the saddle,) and its New Wave look stood out for a rock and roll band.

Chris’ setup was always pretty easy. It was a microphone and stand, plus a monitor speaker. The crew, of course, always tormented the talent, so his microphone stand would almost always be set up for sound check just a little bit too low or a little bit too high. He’d bitch at us while adjusting the height and then tell the person running the soundboard to turn the bass up in the mix. Being good crew, the sound person had already been forewarned, so knobs would be twiddled that didn’t adjust the bass volume at all until he was satisfied with the mix. Sometimes we’d catch him at the board later and have to turn it back down.

The Look went on to record a CD in 1991, Big Fruity Wet Bongos, to showcase the talents and range of the band and hook a record contract. I was fortunate enough to attend and observe a few recording sessions, and it was inspiring to see Chris pursing his artistic dreams. But 1991 was the year of the grunge explosion, and The Look’s pop-rock with metal-inspired guitar didn’t stand a chance and The Look eventually disbanded.

But throughout his life, Chris was almost always in a band or getting a band together, and I remain impressed he was a gigging musician throughout his life. He moved from bass to lead singer, and years later he was forced to hang up the guitar for good after a semi-trailer rear-ended him and damaged his playing arm. He expressed his sadness and frustration after that at not being able to play anymore, but he also talked about how much he loved singing.

When he lived in my basement, I got to know the quieter side of Chris over a chessboard. It was one of the few activities where I would see him sit still and be quiet. We’d talk about everything and nothing, and it was a respite for both of us.

Chris moved around later in life and we drifted apart. But a few years back he texted me about chess, and we had some back and forth there and over the phone. We tried to make plans to get together but they never gelled. The last time I talked to him was in January this year while visiting mutual friends in Moses Lake. I hand’t heard from him in a while, so it was a pleasure to hear his voice and laugh.

It hurts to know that voice and laugh is now gone. I miss my friend.

Can you help a teenager out?

(tl;dr version: Jaiden needs money for medicine. Can you donate or help spread the word? http://gf.me/u/ugk3wr)

Being human can be hard work and it feels even harder when your body is conspiring against you. Everyone experiences body discomfort during their lifetimes from short-term or permanent disabilities, like the flu or not being able to walk, and we feel these discomforts physically and emotionally. Mixed with the hormone cocktail of puberty, discomforts adults or younger children will otherwise suffer through can feel excruciating with no hope of relief for adolescents.

Meet friends of my family, Jaiden and Ingrid.

Jaiden and Ingrid

Jaiden and Ingrid

Jaiden’s your typical teenager straddling childhood and adulthood. She likes kitties, her golden retriever, and wants to be an electrical engineer. But her body is fighting her, causing significant discomfort. The good news is that there’s medicine she can take so she can avoid painful and costly treatments when she’s an adult. The bad news is that her mom, Ingrid, is self-employed and her insurance company won’t pay for the medicine because they don’t cover transgender health care.

They’d rather have a kid suffer than provide puberty blockers to pause her puberty, giving her more time to make her decision about if she’ll take hormonal therapy when she’s older. Without the blockers, Jaiden will have further pubertal physical development, which will cause additional distress now and require more work to undo when she’s older if she decides to transition.

Can you help by chipping in a few dollars to Jaiden’s GoFundMe and helping to spread the word about it by sharing the link (http://gf.me/u/ugk3wr) around?

Thank you!

Writing is Not a Solitary Endeavor – Cascade Writers 2019 Writer’s Workshop Trip Report

I attended the 2019 Cascade Writers Workshop in Bremerton, WA this past July 19-21 out of a desire to jump-start my writing again and get a sense for the state of my craft. The workshop offered various panels on writing and the business of writing, and included optional, Milford-style workshops for pieces under development, which I signed up for. It was a fantastic experience with great people, and in addition to making some new friends, I learned that writing is not a solitary endeavor.

I’d only ever attended one other workshop and it was about four years ago. It was a one-day Milford hosted by Clarion West in Seattle, and the teacher, a published author, encouraged me to submit the story I’d brought with only a few word tweaks. I still haven’t sold it.

My Cascade Writers workshop group of eight was led by a literary agent, Jennifer (Jennie) Goloboy of the Donald Maass Literary Agency, and I felt very fortunate to be in her group. Her job is to evaluate writing and work with authors to get their submissions into shape before trying to sell them to publishers.

I wrote a new story just for the workshop to reflect the current state of my writing. Most of the other writers in the group were part of author’s critique groups, so the critique process was familiar to them. They provided me with such wonderful feedback, I was gobsmacked. Jennie echoed much of my cohort’s feedback and helped contextualize it with regards to things that would inhibit a sale. I’ve been mentally working on revisions since.

My personal breakthrough was when Jennie helped me crystalize something that is now obvious to me in retrospect, but wasn’t beforehand. Her (paraphrased) advice was, “You don’t workshop to show off how much of a genius writer you are, but to get constructive feedback on how to make your work better.’

My mental model for writing had been: write, edit, and submit alone, and use rejections as impetus to improve and push on. That model shattered when I realized my fellow writers used critique groups/workshopping for continual improvement. It was quite a realization to discover that what’s been missing from my writing is critical feedback from other writers.

This was ironic, given my background as a product manager who used customer feedback data to help craft better products and internal reviews before launch to catch errors. I’ve been shipping my product without any review or testing. 😮

All of us in Jennie’s group agreed to stay in touch and to support each other, and I was touched and energized when I was asked to join/form a couple of local critique groups. I can’t wait!

If you’re a writer who’s been toiling alone, I encourage you to get out and go to a workshop like Cascade Writers to find your writing community.

R.M. Minus R. Star – E1

Because I try to practice what I preach, I’m leveraging my core competencies and exploiting synergies by executing the business plan while maximizing shareholder value. Normally I’d just shoot you a calendar request to review these assets but I thought it would just be easier to ping you. Let me know when we could sync up; I want to get this in the go-to-market pipeline ASAP.

Fulcrums of Decision

[Content warning: suicide]

I believe that just as risk is relative, so is life and death, and the rewards of each at any given time are weighed upon scales we fabricate in the moment, often without thought. Conscious and unconscious biases place the fulcrum, weight the scales, and a judgement is rendered. Then the cause happens, which leads to an effect.

Each of my and others’ effects adds to scale weights I carry, created throughout my life like sandstone. Layers upon layers of decision sediments have fallen like unceasing snowstorms and hardened to stones, guided by internal eddies and gusts of sentiment.

And then there’s suicide.

All the positive weight in the world doesn’t matter when the lever is long and the fulcrum is placed. Anthony Bourdain’s suicide, like Kate Spade’s, like Chris Cornell’s, like Robin Williams’, like Kurt Cobain’s, like the others who weren’t rich and famous who I’ve known of who have killed themselves, is another grain on my, ‘But you’re a survivor,’ weight.

I’ve had two abyssal moments in the past decade, both precipitated by staying stuck while trying to choose a path forward when I knew all paths would pass through excruciating emotional pain. In both instances, I reeled in panic, seeking to escape seemingly hopeless fates, until resignation restored me to a manageable despondent depression. It was only then that I recognized the life-ending placement of my decision fulcrum and was able to edge back from oblivion.

I’m better now, much better. Those two days are now like nightmares where the details continue to fade.

I’m also better and faster at spotting and redirecting the creeping suicidal thoughts, which plagued me in early adulthood and expressed themselves as driving way too fast, drinking way too much, taking stupid physical risks, and sometimes doing all in combination. Today I get out my survivor weight and it’s enough to help me decide to make better choices in my life.

Bourdain’s suicide hit me hard, even though I haven’t seen or read much of his work because it’s painfully clear he was also a survivor, and now he’s not. All the weight of everything good in his life to live for wasn’t enough to convince him in his moment of decision. His death hasn’t made me feel suicidal, but it has depressed me by way of realizing I’ve been in a form of stasis and avoiding risk for the past year.

For me, risk reminds me I’m alive. It’s the adrenaline exhilaration of hugging the boundary layer between life and death where it twines together in its infinite fractal beauty. It’s led me alone and with others up mountains and down into the sea, into boardrooms and bars, provided riches and poverty, and revealed to me the beauty and grotesqueness of the world and humanity while I gave and received love and hate, pleasure and pain, and creation and destruction.

Saying I almost killed myself twice feels like a risk. I think I risk being treated differently because of it but my reward is feeling more alive, and that feels like a good decision.