R & R Apparently Doesn’t Mean “Ranting & Raving”

I’ve been put on notice: it’s time to relax, ease off on the workload for awhile.

No argument.  The hours I was putting in, working for weeks on end without a break, shut away in my office, tapping and scribbling like a maniac, was incredibly stupid and detrimental to my health. I was definitely feeling the strain by the time I wrapped up rewrites on Of the Night.  Lots of shoulder and back pain but also a sense of being artistically and spiritually drained. The tank right on “E”.

The only problem is, what does an anal retentive obsessive compulsive workaholic do when he has time off?

Answer:  he doesn’t take time off.

Oh, I know it’s ridiculous, completely irresponsible but I can’t stop myself. I promised Sherron, swore high and low that I would start thinking of my health first.  I’m forty-five years old in October and my family has a long history of heart disease. Not a lot of 90-year olds on either side, if ya know what I mean.  It’s time to start devoting more thought to maintaining a healthier lifestyle, a better mindset.

Stress is a killer and I’ve got it bad.  Always trying so fucking hard to meet the high standards and expectations I place on myself, pushing myself to get better, improve as a craftsman and artist. I don’t want to write like everybody else, I want my own, unique take on reality, unfiltered and with the bark on.  No compromises, no pandering…no exceptions.

My promise to Sherron was honestly made but I think it will be hard to observe “in the breech”, as it were. Habit draws me to my office first thing every morning.  It’s directly across from our bedroom and as soon as I’m awake and mobile, I wander in, check out the state of my desk, shuffle papers about…or just stand in the middle of the room, revving up for the day.

I’ve tried to take it easy but over the last couple of weeks I’ve reorganized my office, caught up on paperwork, starting planning my next major project and spent long hours on-line, promoting this blog and flogging my novels So Dark the Night and Of the Night to whoever might be interested. I’ve sent notices to horror sites, science fiction sites, occult sites, paranormal romance sites—if I’ve missed anybody, I dunno who it might be.

And I’ve also somehow managed to find the time to write a twenty minute radio play, “The First Room”. Very intense and personal. Kelley Jo Burke, producer at CBC Radio, dubbed it “Portrait of the Artist as an Abused Young Man” and I think she’s bang on.

What’s wrong with me, why can’t I take a week, a solid week and do nothing more than lounge about in my bathrobe, watching old Bunuel movies and reading fat science fiction tomes?

Well…like Graham Green I am afflicted by boredom.  Bedevilled is more like it.  He claimed it sometimes reduced him to suicidal thoughts and I can empathize. My brain can’t stand being idle.  Even when I’m watching movies I keep a notepad close at hand so I can scribble down good lines or salient plot points, often writing up a short review of the film later on.  Why?  To what purpose?  Because I must analyze, dissect, critically assess. Same with books.  I’m on my third book journal, hundreds of reviews no one will ever read.  I take great pains with my critiques, have developed a strict rating system…again, why?

Because unlike Sherlock Holmes I don’t have a 7% solution of cocaine to ease me through fallow periods.  There’s only my work.  It is my purpose, the reason I was put here on earth; it is an essential, irreducible part of my identity:

“Most of us develop and mature primarily through interaction with others.  Our passage through life is defined by our roles relative to others; as child, adolescent, spouse, parent and grandparent. The artist or philosopher is able to mature primarily on his own. His passage through life is defined by the changing nature and increasing maturity of his work, rather than by his relations with others.”

-Anthony Storr

* * * * * * *

Thanks to one and all for reading and/or downloading my novels over the past few months. I’m encouraged by the number of people popping in, a steady growth in visits as word spreads throughout cyberspace.

And of course the occasional person still uses search terms like “Cliff Burns is an asshole” to get here but that’s all right too. As the Ramones say: “Hey, ho, let’s go!

This blog has been a godsend to yers truly and has finally granted me the direct connection to readers I’ve been seeking for ages. Back in 1990 I self-published my first book, Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination.  It was the product of desperation, a Hail Mary pass that somehow resulted in a game-winning score.  The print run sold out in less than five months and the book went on to garner good reviews and excellent word of mouth. Readers loved it and cling tenaciously to their copies—just try to find one available for sale anywhere.  It is well-nigh impossible to lay your hands on a copy (believe me, I’ve looked on behalf of friends and a treasured relative who lost hers in a house fire).

The success of Sex convinced my that my future lay outside of corporate publishing and marketing and nothing I’ve experienced in the nearly two decades that have elapsed since has convinced me otherwise. Thanks to the internet, I now have the ability to get my work out there and anyone, regardless of their physical location, has access to it. I’ve got readers in the Philipines, India, Vietnam, Australia…

That still takes my breath away.

The indie musicians showed me the way.  I watched people like Ani Defranco seize control of their careers and message and I was inspired…if somewhat slow off the take.  Writers, as a rule, are a lot more conservative and stodgy than their colleagues in other disciplines.  I don’t know how many aspiring scribblers have responded to postings I’ve made on LibraryThing forums and elsewhere, pooh-poohing the notion of publishing their work on-line because they need the reassurance of an actual physical book, it gives them some kind of affirmation or some fucking thing. This past week we were in Saskatoon shopping for back-to-school stuff and we stopped by a gaming place my kids like to frequent.  Its shelves are overflowing with Forgotten Realms books and all kinds of novelizations based on Dungeons and Dragons and what have you.  The most dreadful, awful, amateurish tripe you can imagine. 

Those are real books:  does the fact that they exist as “dead tree editions” give those writers, as execrable as they are,  more credibility than me? Are hacks like Margaret Weis, T.H. Lain and D.J. Heinrich superior to me because TSR et all churn out their shite by the truckload to gamers with the reading skills and mental age of an elementary school child?

I dunno, what do you think…

* * * * * * *

And finally:

* We’re still working on the podcast of excerpts from So Dark the Night. Figuring out the technology has been a real learning experience for Sherron.  I won’t go near the stuff, I’d fly into a rage and boot the computer desk across the room. We’ve tried loading it on iTunes a couple of times but apparently we need an RSS feed and…aaaaaugghh!

* On a sad note, my son Liam lost his second (and last) hedgehog to an apparent stroke.  Nebbin was buried with full honours.  Weird little creature.

* This summer I have gone to a spa and endured a massage at the hands of someone other than my wife.  I know.  I’m having a hard time believing it myself.  What next?  Crystals?  Scientology? Membership in Opus Dei?

* No news re: the movie version of my novel “Kept”.  I’ve heard rumbles of a summer/fall, 2009 release but that’s only speculation.  Stay tuned.

* Lots of good music playing lately…until the much-beloved Yamaha stereo in my office conked out. I’ve been bopping through the latter part of summer with Bob Mould’s “Body of Song” album, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s “Baby 81”, Interpol’s “Antics”, Elbow’s “Leaders of the Free World”…as well as Trent Reznor’s double ambient album and a wonderful instrumental disk titled “The Last Drive-In” by Jo Gabriel. Fantastic to write to—thanks for sending it, Jo, and get well soon!


  1. Emily

    I used to have that problem — working all the time. I treated learning to relax as a new skill. Perhaps if you forced yourself to leave the house to read somewhere else for an hour a day? For me, running is the best form of time off.

  2. Sheri Boeyink

    I like that header, R&R—that’s funny.

    I think all writers are a bit of the workaholic nature, don’t you think? Health first, yes…but it sure gets difficult, doesn’t it?

    Hang in there, take care of yourself.

  3. Mike Cane

    Dayum, Cliff. You know, I would have been content to put up a few lines on my own blog and left it at that.

    But you, *you* come up with a freakin *essay* as well as minor footnote life updates!

    And I was there with you, including the Holmes reference.

    Don’t ask me how to relax. It’s a country I’ve never visited.

  4. Pingback: Writer Cliff Burns Has The Fever « Mike Cane 2008
  5. Rolli

    Too bad about the hedgehog. For how expensive they are, they never seem to live too long.

    I look forward to hearing “The First Room,” on CBC. I was overjoyed, earlier this year, to sell a few poems to Kelley Jo Burke, esp. when all any of the lit mag editors in the province had to say about the same batch was “these are too strange,” “the lines are too short – poetry can’t have short lines,” “poetry can’t have main characters in it,” “these are too odd,” and even “these are too imaginative,” (???). It’s enough to drive one nutty!

  6. (S)wine

    You can never really leave or take some time off. Stuff comes at you whenever it pleases. Always on guard, you! Always on the lookout.

    Ani rocks, by the way. Viva!

  7. Kim Justesen

    I love Joyce Carol Oates, so I’d be curious to know if one might purchase your radio play at some future point – say through audible.com or such??

    By-the-by, you might be interested in a book called “The Midnight Disease” by Alice Flaherty. It speaks at length to this compulsion we writers are often subject to. I have learned to set strict limits to my “productive” time, or I would eat, sleep, and possibly bathe by my computer.

    Many good wishes on your recent successes!

    Kim Williams-Justesen

  8. Anindita

    I have the same problem, which I’m beginning to now believe is because of deep-seated insecurity. The worst part is sometimes I take on too many things and start hating all of them. Except the writing I do on my own, which I love but don’t have enough energy for. My ambition in life at the moment is to get out of the extra commitments I’ve taken on and go to a spa for the first time in my life. I’m thinking ashrams and beach-bumming may be next logical steps though as opposed to scientology and opus dei. Maybe I’ll just become a coconut seller on some beach in Goa. Sorry for the mini rant — your post just burst a dam, I think. 🙂

  9. goblinmarket

    Hey Cliff, thanks very much for the words of encouragement. I really appreciate it and in the mean time, have stumbled quite happily across your blog, so it’s great vibrations all around!

    I think I may have found a kindred spirit in your boredom fearing, work-aholic minded, pen scribbling. Cheers to us!

  10. litlove

    I know what you mean about working too hard and running on empty. You’re looking at a decade of chronic fatigue over here. But the one thing I’ve found is that I am much more creative, and produce far better work, when I’m rested and have slowed the brain waves down to a reasonable speed. Things are much better that way. And whilst I agree wholeheartedly that it’s hard work, it CAN be done and is worth doing on so many levels. You have to ask yourself: what is it that being frantic stops me from having to contemplate? How would life be different if I weren’t in a mad whirl? What kind of time management would work well in my life?

    Good luck, and remember that for your long term creativity as well as your health, it’s worth doing.

  11. Derek Catermole

    Hey all y’all crazies. I know: you could relieve your boredom by getting jobs. Who are all you aristocrats with endless time on your hands and, apparently, enough money coming in to pay for your DSL or whatever? You should get up in the morning, pull on your breaches one leg at a time, and go teach creative writing in our great universities. Really, you clearly know so much about writing and so much about what’s wrong with writing that gets published, you should spread your wisdom.

  12. åka

    You want to relax, but cannot stand doing nothing? What about this: start taking long walks. At least one hour, every day. Maybe (at lest sometimes) together with someone. It’s a good way to spend some time with people you like, to think or to talk, and to relax your body. It’s exercise, but not like a workout which is work in itself.

    That’s my recipe against stress (also good in cases of light depression).

  13. Marsha

    Hi Cliff. I thought I’d have withdrawal when I left my computer for 2 weeks to walk 100km of the Larapinta Trail in the heart of the Australian Outback. But I soon found myself in sync with the nomadic cay– walking, finding scant shade mid-day for lunch, more walking, and a night where sleep mixed in with watching the shooting stars in the blackest sky I’d seen in years. The experience helped me realise the importance of finding time away from the computer screen. I can’t seem to make this separation on a day-to-day basis but having a longer period away was great–and no withdrawal symptoms. Marsha

  14. Christina Hatcher

    This post is in reality the most poignant on this valuable topic. I absolutely feel the same way with your conclusions and will eagerly look forward to your coming updates. Just saying thanks will not just be enough, for the extraordinary clarity in your writing. I will right away grab your rss feed to stay informed of any updates. Good work and best of luck in your blogging endeavors!

  15. Cliff Burns

    Thanks for the praise, Christina (can a person ever get enough praise? not in my book). I hope you always find something here that inspires, amuses or, yup, annoys you. I don’t always offer easy truths or kind words and some folks have been known to take offense. But there’s plenty of room aboard this particular madly painted bus and you’re more than welcome to come along for the ride…

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