This weekend, a carefully orchestrated plan came together and I emerged forever changed. It started with an innocent pancake breakfast and a walk on the beach at low tide. Then, I asked my girlfriend, Stephanie, to marry me.
I did it the old fashioned way, with a ring. People have given rings to symbolize their engagement since the time of the Roman Empire, exchanging bands bearing the image of two hands clasped together. In 1477, an archduke gave his beloved the first known diamond engagement ring, starting the modern love affair with shiny carbon stones.
Five hundred years later, I continued the tradition — saving my freelance writing money, kneeling down amid the pebbles and barnacles and holding out a shimmering diamond ring. A friend in a nearby kayak snapped photos. I asked a question. She said yes (and literally snatched the ring from my hand before hauling me to my feet).
As we walked around the bend, Stephanie’s family was cheering for us and popping the cork on a bottle of champagne. I breathed a sigh of relief, not because I was worried about her saying no, not because I was worried that some part of the plan would fail (What if she doesn’t want pancakes? What if she doesn’t want to walk on the beach? What if she recognizes the kayaker?), and not because I was worried about the future.
I sighed because I finally feel like I’m in the right place. It’s the same feeling I get while reading a great book when I know I’m close to the end of a chapter. I can feel this chapter drawing to a close and I’m ready to start the next one. For months now, I’ve felt like I’m at the end of this chapter, with all signs pointing toward the next page.
This weekend, I turned the page and dove into the next adventure in my — our — ongoing story.
— 30 —
Jonny Eberle is a newly engaged writer living in Tacoma, WA. When he isn’t basking in happiness, spending quality time with his fiancée or thinking about planning next summer’s festivities, you can generally find him among disreputable company on Twitter.
Some writers spend hundreds of dollars for a few days of seclusion in the wilderness. Far from Internet connections and cellphone reception, writers at retreats try to rekindle the spark of inspiration. Authors have always found isolation to be rejuvenating and beneficial to their work. Some checked into hotels in strange cities; others venture out to cabins in the woods. There is something about a writing retreat that has prompted generations of writers to put their lives on hold for a days or weeks in search of fresh creativity.
I, too, am in need of a retreat. I need a day to escape my daily routine and focus on my work. Lacking the funds to attend a planned retreat, I decided to hold my own.
For several hours yesterday afternoon, I shut myself in my apartment and focused on the work (or at least, made a very good effort to try).
The retreat went something like this:
Opening Ceremony:The Ritual Unplugging of the Wireless Router
Part I. Inspiration
I started off by reading a little bit about the craft of writing, from people who know the subject. I kicked it off by reading a chapter from Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird.I then did a warm-up exercise from Developing Story Ideas by Michael Rabinger. I set a half hour timer and tried to retell a fairy tale in a new way. I added the twist that I was only allowed to use my typewriter (no deleting). After a few awkward keystrokes, I actually found the words pouring out of me until, when the timer went off, I had two pages of a story about Little Red Riding Hood being a drug mule for a cartel.
Part II. Rewrites I got into the meat of the retreat with merciless revisions on a short story I’ve been working on, “The Cannibals of Kitsap.”
Part III. Goals I wanted my writing day to balance creativity with practicality, so I laid out a grid and decided which projects to focus on for the next few months and which to put on the back burner. I set myself specific milestones and deadlines, which will come in handy, since I’m prone to procrastination.
Part IV. Plotting I saved the most intensive creative work for last (which may or may not have been a good idea, since I was starting to get tired at this point). I tried to flesh out a working plot for two major projects I want to kick off for the second half of 2014, a novel tentatively titled “Arizona Burning” and another stage play set during the race riots of 1943 Los Angeles (with the thrilling title “Untitled Play”).
Conclusion. Recognition of Writerly Awesomeness and Ritual Plugging In of the Wireless Router. Finally, in the late evening, I took a step back to evaluate what I’d accomplished. I had two plot outlines, notes to improve a short story, a calendar of writing goals to carry me through October/November, and even a new story with some potential. Not too bad. I gave myself a pat on the back and rewarded myself with an hour of zoning out on Netflix before bed.
For my first retreat, I think it went well. I can see why a lot of my peers seek out this experience on a regular basis. I’ll definitely be doing it again. But next time, maybe I’ll seek out a partner to keep me accountable. There were some moments (particularly when I was supposed to be plotting) when my concentration wavered. Next time, I will also need to make two pots of tea. Overall, I’d say it was a success.
Have you ever been to a retreat? Have you ever organized your own? Let me know what worked and what didn’t in the comments.
I had one simple goal: I wanted to watch the U.S.-Ghana match in the first round of the 2014 World Cup. I also had one giant, glaring, fifteen-story problem: I couldn’t watch the game until 3 hours after it was over. Somehow, I would have to avoid learning anything about the game for an entire afternoon.
The first step was relatively easy. I just had to get off of my social networks. Some of my Facebook friends and Twitter tweeps were bound to post play-by-play breakdowns that I didn’t want to see. So, I closed those tabs on my work computer. I thought that would be it, but then I remembered that I was carrying a spoiler machine in my pocket. Pulling out my phone, I disabled notifications from the official FIFA app, The New York Times, The News Tribune, Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus. But information was still all around me. I shut my office door until the end of the day and hummed to myself to drown out any conversation on my way out. At the final whistle, I was at the train station. I put in headphones and blasted my music so I couldn’t overhear any of my fellow passengers talking about the outcome. Back in Tacoma, I shunned NPR for my drive home and only listened to safe music stations. As soon as a DJ came on the air, I immediately switched, just in case they were about to reveal the score.
In our always-connected world, it’s easy to learn anything at the push of a button. With constantly updated news websites and up-to-the-minute apps, everything happens in real time around the globe. Where once, we used to have to wait for the next day’s newspaper to bring us word of major events, we now known instantaneously. Information is effortless. Now, it takes a huge effort to not know something. To insulate yourself from spoilers, you have to cut off the entire outside world. And it feels strange, once you’re used to being plugged in, to unplug. To wait. To be ignorant.
I used to be much more patient. The Internet, for all the good it’s done, has shortened my ability to wait. I spent much of the afternoon antsy. I wanted to know if we’d won or lost. I wanted to know if I was missing a nail-biter or a shut-out. It was actually a little disturbing how bad I was at delaying gratification. Somehow, in spite of the world and my own impulses, I made it home without finding out anything about the match. My girlfriend wasn’t so lucky. We were both going to watch it together, unspoiled, but a passing coworker revealed the stunning opening play and a notification on her phone later ruined the outcome. But she was a good sport and kept the secret.
[Warning: Spoilers ahead if you live under a rock and haven’t seen/heard about the USA-Ghana World Cup match.]
When the game was over (for me), I switched on my digital streams and was bombarded by messages that would’ve given away every crucial moment of the match. Status updates and blog posts about who was injured, who scored and who was carded flooded over me. This is how we experience live events in the 21st century — with a second screen repeating the action like an echo. It’s how I’ve become used to absorbing major sporting events, awards ceremonies and breaking news. I don’t mind the running commentary, but every so often, it’s nice to dodge the spoilers. It’s nice to not know. And it makes the victory that much sweeter.
— 30 —
Jonny Eberle is a writer, soccer (football) fan and live tweeter in Tacoma, WA. You can follow him on Twitter, where he will most assuredly ruin any games you might want to watch later. Thanks for reading!
When most of us set out to write freelance, we don’t anticipate the work required to actually run the business side of things. Jumping into freelance work comes with a veritable mountain of practical considerations — Where will I work? How will I find clients? How will I be able to pay my utility bills? — that command immediate attention. Building a client base takes work and persistence, but at the end of the day, you’re running a business and that means you’ll eventually have to pay your debt to society.
As the saying goes, the only things you can’t escape are death and taxes. This year, in addition to striking out into the world of freelance writing, I learned a few things about appeasing Uncle Sam. A disclaimer first: I am not an accountant or a tax preparer. Everyone’s situation is different, so consult with a professional before acting on my advice. But from one newbie freelancer to another, here are a few things I’ve discovered:
Yes, you have to pay taxes as a freelancer. I know, it isn’t fun, but remember that taxes pay for all sorts of good things, like national parks and schools. When you do contract work, your taxes aren’t automatically deducted like they are with a regular payroll, so you have to figure out your tax liability at the end of each year. Being a freelancer means you’re self-employed in the eyes of the federal government, so you’ll pay a different rate (usually higher) than you would if you were someone else’s employee.
You’re gonna need a 1099-MISC. Most jobs issue you a W2 that breaks down your income for the IRS. For contract and freelance work, you need to get a 1099-MISC from each client who paid you $600 or more. You should get those by January 31.
You might be able to claim deductions. Emphasis on might. Since your freelance work is a business, you can sometimes claim businesses expenses on your tax return. Traveling for work that you don’t get reimbursed for, buying printer ink and having a dedicated home office can make you eligible for a small tax break. To take advantage of these deductions, you’d better have your receipts handy, as well as a form called a Schedule C. If you choose to go this route, it’s a good idea to shell out a little to get professional help. I don’t even pretend to understand it.
You’re in the big leagues — don’t freak out. Paying taxes comes with the territory. It can be frustrating and takes significantly longer than just filing W2s (even more so if, like me, you have a combination of W2s and 1099s). If you keep accurate records, file your receipts, keep copies of your invoices and follow all of the steps, you’ll be able to tackle your freelance taxes like a pro. With practice, you’ll learn to navigate the rough waters of tax season and get back to what you truly love — writing — before you know it.
I’d never heard of Monkeyshine before that day. I don’t even think I knew that it was the Lunar New Year. But a text message from my girlfriend’s father got me interested. “Look up Monkeyshine Tacoma,” he said. Within 15 minutes I was out the door; on a modern-day hunt for buried treasure.
Monkeyshines is a wonderful and peculiar event in Tacoma. It started in 2003 and is organized by the mysterious Miss Monkey. One day a year, after months of behind-the-scenes work, thousands of hand-blown glass floats and medallions are strategically hidden throughout the city on the eve of the Lunar New Year for residents to find. Each unique piece is stamped with an emblem displaying the Zodiac animal symbol of the coming year. People hit the streets as early as 4 a.m. to comb through trees, bushes, and local landmarks in search of elusive Monkeyshine – because if you’re lucky enough to find one, you get to keep it.
The game was afoot.
As a newbie Shiner, the odds were stacked against me. I started five hours later than the hardcore scavengers, but I was determined. Online buzz suggested that the Proctor District, University of Puget Sound, and the median strip along the center of Union Avenue were all emptied of glass prizes.
I needed a win. I was frustrated at work and felt a cold coming on. It was the tail end of a terrible week and part of me wanted to give up and go back to bed. But something else had stirred deep within me — a hunter’s instinct, a shot of raw adrenaline. It seemed that the whole dismal week could be redeemed by a few ounces of glass.
So, I headed away from the popular areas. Instead, I struck out north, to nondescript Jane Clark Park in Tacoma’s North End. I was not alone. Another Monkeyshiner was prowling the perimeter. After a few tense seconds, she headed in one direction and I took the other, splitting the park in twain. My canvas shoes were quickly soaked in the dew that clung to the grass. I came up empty-handed.
I headed east, making for Puget Park as a light drizzle began to fall. Families were gathered around the playground nestled between a bridge and a wooded trail leading into a deep, mossy ravine. If there was any Monkeyshine hidden there, it was long gone. At that point, I had been at it for a couple of hours and I was starting to think I was too late, that all the glass art was found. A small team of fellow seekers arrived soon after me, armed with walkie-talkies, a detailed search plan, and military precision.
I retreated to the nearby business district — little more than a barbershop, a dive bar and a garden supply store. The sidewalks were lined with planters. If I couldn’t find something shiny there, I was ready to call it quits and head home. I had articles to write and bills to pay.
Again, I came up empty.
I headed back to my car, defeated, when a glint of light caught my eye. Something gleamed in the shadow of leaves under a potted shrub. I pushed back a branch and there it was, a beautiful glass medallion four inches across, embedded with swirling tendrils of vibrant orange and red. A running horse was stamped on its face.
For the first time all week, I felt alive. I’d found a one-of-a-kind piece of local art and it was mine to keep. It was incredible. I couldn’t have been happier if I’d stumbled across the Holy Grail itself. In that moment of discovery and joy, I felt connected to the artist and to the city of Tacoma in a real, tangible way. All the stress of the week dissolved away as I safely tucked my prize into the pocket of my damp pea coat.
That’s the power of art. It binds us together and serves as a lens through which we can see the world in a radically new way. Next year, I’ll be out early, flashlight in hand, searching for another treasure. Once you’ve found a piece of Monkeyshine, you’re addicted. As long as there are artists to make and hide these beautiful keepsakes, I’ll be hunting for them.
— 30 —
Jonny Eberle is a first-time Monkeyshiner, newly-minted Tacoman and writer of many words. Special thanks to Exit133, Post Defiance and Roxanne Cooke for providing background on the event. You can follow my quest for meaning and shiny things on Twitter. Thanks for reading!
If you liked this post, please consider joining my mailing list for monthly writing, curated book recommendations, and news delivered straight to your inbox!
I have always been drawn to the theatre. From my earliest performance as Robert E. Lee in a kindergarten production of “What’s More American Than Cornflakes?” to playing the protagonist in George Bernard Shaw’s “Arms and the Man” to my college years performing with Theatrikos Theatre Company (often in silent roles), I have loved being on stage. Frequent readers of this blog will know that I also love to write. So, it will come as no surprise that I’ve always flirted with the idea of being a playwright.
I’ve dabbled in playwriting before. I wrote my first play in high school. It was a heavily allegorical one-act script in the vein of Samuel Beckett and Sophocles. In college, I co-wrote three scripts that were produced by the campus ministry center as a small, traveling musical. But I’ve never written anything for a mainstream theatre-going audience. Until now.
Fresh off of writing a novella, I’ve spent the last several weeks laboring on a play that I hope will someday be performed. That’s the real beauty of the theatre. A play literally leaps off the page and briefly inhabits the real world. More than any other form of literature, it is a living story; the themes of which lay hidden in the subtext of each character’s dialogue. A great play can be performed a hundred different ways.
While writing, I’ve also been reading Barefoot in the Park, a masterpiece of comedy by a giant of American drama, Neil Simon. Reading his words has inspired me and seeing how he has unraveled the elements of his plot in the claustrophobic setting of a New York apartment — not unlike my play’s setting — has given me fresh ideas about how to tell my own story of life and death, guilt and revenge, expectation and reality.
In a lot of ways, it’s exciting to write a play. There is something thrilling about seeing the reactions of your audience; something a novelist can never experience. But there is also something terrifying about it. I’m asking a theater company to stake their time and talents upon my words. What if it’s not good enough? What if the reviews are bad and the audience throws rotten tomatoes?
I’m no Shakespeare. I’m not even going to aim that high. But when I’m finished, when it’s gone through a few table readings and polishings, I hope my characters get to stand in the spotlight. I hope people see their own foibles and laugh at my distorted reflection of modern life. Even if it doesn’t rise to the heights of Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, I think I’ll be content to stand in the wings and listen to the applause.
— 30 —
Jonny Eberle is a budding playwright and an actor specializing in playing mute apple thieves. All the world’s a stage, the saying goes, and that includes the world of Twitter, where you can follow Jonny at @jonnyeberle. Curtain.
I don’t like New Year’s Resolutions. They’re so mainstream. Years ago, I decided to make birthday resolutions instead. Last year, my list of birthday resolutions was one of my highest viewed blog posts. A tradition was born.
The Hubble Telescope, the Republic of Namibia, Jennifer Lawrence, Seinfeld, Dances With Wolves, Jurassic Park (the book, not the movie), “Ice Ice Baby,” Windows 3.0 and yours truly all turn 24 this year. Some of us are aging better than others. I’m looking at you, Hubble. As I approach the new year, here’s what I hope to accomplish in 2014.
1) Get My Fiction Published
This last year, I broke into freelance writing. It felt great to find an outlet for my nerdy love of foreign policy and politics, but it was all strictly news writing. This year, I want to bulk up my publishing credits in the area of fiction. I tried to sell my first story to a literary journal in 2012. Two years of chasing the dream of seeing my work in print have taught me a lot. I have a good feeling that my hard work will pay off this year. All it takes is determination.
2) Communicate More Good
I moved across the country last year. As difficult as it has been to establish myself in a new community, it’s been even harder to maintain regular communication with old friends back home. My friends are like my family. I don’t want to lose them because I let them drift away. This year, I’m making a concerted effort to stay connected with the people who matter most to me.
3) Invest In My Passions
In the year-and-a-half since graduating from college, I’ve labored under the belief that my dream career path and a successful career path were two different things. But I’ve come to understand that success can’t be measured in dollars. You can’t make your working life be your only reason to get up in the morning. I don’t know about you, but I need to be engaged in things that make me feel alive. Freelancing in topics that interest me are a part of that. Carving out time to be with the people I love is another. I know there’s nothing revolutionary about this idea, but this year, I want to refocus on the people and activities that bring me joy.
Here’s to a new year, new adventures and the beginning of the countdown until I can legally rent a car. Carpe annum.
— 30 —
Jonny Eberle is a writer in Tacoma, WA. You can wish him a happy birthday by following him on Twitter or share your own resolutions below. Thanks for reading!
On January 1, 2014, thousands of works of art, literature, music, photography, and film were supposed to enter the public domain — to be used and modified by anyone for any purpose. Classic books like The Cat in the Hat, From Russia With Love, and On the Road; and landmark films like The Bridge on the River Kwai and 12 Angry Men were all set to have their copyright protections expire, but it didn’t happen. In fact, nothing has entered the public domain in over a decade and nothing will until 2019 at the very earliest.
It all started with a mouse. Walt Disney created the character Mickey Mouse in 1928, when he had his debut in the cartoon short Steamboat Willie. Under the U.S. Copyright Law of 1976, the character was supposed to have copyright protection for 50 years after the death of his creator. But in 1998, five years before the expiration of their copyright, the Walt Disney Company, worried about losing control of a brand worth an estimated $3 billion a year, successfully lobbied Congress to extend all U.S. copyrights for an additional 20 years. This act of Congress shut off the flow of works into the public domain for the next two decades and ushered in some of the strictest copyright terms in the world.
Under current law, the artistic commons of our society withers while trusts and corporations get rich off the work of people who have been dead for nearly a hundred years. Without works regularly passing into the public domain, we are losing a valuable wellspring of inspiration.
Public domain works can be digitized by libraries; are available for free use in education and research; and can be adapted, translated, reused, or incorporated into new creative works. Under current law, a musical like West Side Story, which is based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, could never exist (at least not without bankrupting the author with exorbitant usage fees).
Copyright law in the United States is enshrined in the Constitution, which directs Congress to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” In 1790, copyright protections lasted just 14 years, with an option to apply for a 14-year extension. It was never intended as a way to permanently grant artists, inventors, and their heirs exclusive use of their creations. Over time, copyright terms were extended. By the mid-19th century, U.S. copyright was 28 years. Those terms remained largely unchanged until 1976, when a major overhaul of copyright law changed the protections to the lifetime of the author plus 50 years. Those terms were then stretched to the author’s lifetime plus 70 years with the passage of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act in 1998.
That’s when publishers, trusts, and estates got involved, and keeping a work under copyright protection through lobbying and legal action became big business. Now, I’m not opposed to an author having sole rights over their endeavors — creative professionals should absolutely be able to make a living off their work — but is it really necessary for corporate interests to retain control of a book, play, or musical composition seven decades after the author is dead? At that point is it really about protecting artists from intellectual theft and promoting progress in science and art as the framers of the Constitution intended? Or is it just about money?
If copyright terms keep getting extended, there may come a day when the public domain simply ceases to exist in this country. If I publish a novel and go on to live into my 90s, the rights to my book will be owned by someone until sometime around the year 2150 — long after I’m no longer around to collect royalties. Generations of talented artists would be missing out on the opportunity to build upon the legacy of their forebears. And we are missing out on their creative leaps of imagination.
It’s time to reclaim our stories. It’s time to roll back copyright terms to a reasonable length that still protects authors but prevents corporations from profiting off of them in death. It’s time for the Grinch, James Bond, and Dean Moriarty to join the ranks of Tom Sawyer, Hester Prynne, and Count Dracula in the public domain.
Because these characters and these stories don’t belong to publishers, they belong to all of us.
— 30 —
Jonny Eberle is a public domain fanatic, writer, podcaster, and filmmaker in Tacoma, WA. If you liked this post, please subscribe to my monthly email newsletter. Thanks for reading!
Update: Since the publication of this article, new works have entered the public domain every year since 2019. As of 2022, thousands of artistic works first published in the 1920s have had their copyright protections expire, including cultural icons like A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, and the majority of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.
Barring another extension of U.S. copyright terms, which seems unlikely in our current era of congressional gridlock, the original incarnation of Mickey Mouse (not the wide-eyed, white-gloved, happy-go-lucky character we know today), who first appeared in Steamboat Willie in 1928, is due to enter the public domain on New Year’s Day 2024.
When I eventually retell the story of my life, I think that I’ll say that 2013 was the year that everything changed. The funny thing about stories is how the details vary with the telling. The exact words are misquoted, the specifics are glossed over, timelines are stretched or squeezed and the wrinkles in the narrative arc are smoothed out. The truth is, many of our stories end up being a hybrid of fiction and reality.
The past is always changing. Histories are built upon fragile memories. That idea might scare some, but I think it gives each one of us power over our lives. We can take a painful experience and turn it into a moral fable. We can take liberties with the specifics of our stories; we can make ourselves quicker on our feet, faster with a clever quip, more daring. The past is written by those of us in the present.
So, when I look back on the passing of another year, I can choose to see it as a mishmash of disparate experiences or I can see it as the year I moved across the country for love. This was the year two sets of my good friends found out they were having their first child (and one baby arrived before the end of the year). It was the year I visited both the Canadian and Mexican borders. This was the year I wrote a novella, the first year I got a paying writing gig outside of college and the year I left a place I loved for a new adventure. I never could have imagined being here a year ago.
Soon, 2013 will only be a memory. In ten or twenty years, the story may not reflect the reality of what I see, feel and believe today, but that’s okay. My present is only the first draft of the future’s story, to be shaped by the course of my life. And when I tell the story of 2013, I’ll be sure to mention that it was one of the best years yet.
— 30 —
I’ll be back here in 2014 with more stories that may or may not have happened. In the meantime, you can find me counting down the hours until 2014 on Twitter. Thanks for reading and I wish you a joyful new year.