The Shooting Gallery

Spinning-chain-Benreoch-Willie-RitchieAsk a million kids what they want to be when they grow up and you’ll hear any number of answers. Fireman, doctor, policeman, rocket scientist, roughneck … Um, no parent has ever heard the last one. Today, they’d be more likely to hear jihadist first. The poor kid who dared to utter roughneck would find himself in therapy, taking a daily dose of don’t-be-dumb pills, and lose his Xbox until he came of age. Most adults don’t know what we do for a living, including those in our government who regulate our business, (a good subject for another day,) so I doubt any kid would.

I didn’t aspire to be a roughneck. I was hungry. Not long married, two young kids, and a pack of money-hungry wolves sniffing around my malnourished piggybank, I was looking for a job, any job. A drilling rig chose me. After 35 years, I still haven’t decided if I like it or not.

When I began roughnecking in west Texas, the job was like working in a shooting gallery … as the duck. My driller only had one tidbit of advice for me that cold, rainy morning. “Try not to lose a finger today.”

Lord, have mercy! He wasn’t kidding. What didn’t cut ‘em off left ‘em mangled and broken. Drill pipe tongs and spinning-chains and catlines, all the things that are all but legislated out of existence today, were the tools of our trade.

Feelings were harder than rig iron. “If you’re not a bull don’t beller!” “Can’t is used twice out here. Can’t get it, can’t stay!” Sympathy meant they’d help you tie your pant legs tight around your ankles to keep the sugar ants from crawling up to your candy-rear.MVC-447F

Well, the times are a-changing. We get all kinds on the rigs these days, and they’re from all over the country. Years ago, most roughneck types, drilling hands I call them, hailed from Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Now we’re getting them from Maine, Illinois, Indiana and Rhode Island. That’s like hot salsa from New York City. I accuse them of falling off a watermelon truck on the way through.

The other day I asked a young man if his mama knew he was out here. He was 30. My goodness. Seems like yesterday when an old toolpusher told me he had 35 years of experience. I thought That’s forty-four-forevers. How did you do that? Now I know.

I know, too, the job fits me like a glove, a sock, to a tee, all the clichés. I believe I was hungry for a reason, and God placed me right where I needed to be.

Accidental Author

MVC-434FThe thought of writing anything, period, never crossed my mind the first 42 years of my life. Looking back, I don’t remember what possessed me to start. It was the summer of 98, and I was living and working in Saudi Arabia, deep in the desert, so maybe I suffered from a mild case of heat exhaustion or had an allergic reaction to a swig of curdled camel’s milk. Some who know me might think I tripped over a lamp, dusted it off and “POOF” received 3 wishes.

I don’t remember my first story either. The piece wasn’t long because I typed it into the body of an email. I do recall receiving rave reviews … from my mother. Instead of “Oh, honey, that was so good,” she should have said, “Boy, you really did waste 12 years of schooling, didn’t you?”

If writing is as natural to you as walking, I’m jealous. I wish I had the gift. Yes, education or the lack of aside, I believe it is a gift from God, just like a singer’s voice, a musician’s ear and a surgeon’s hands, to name only a few. I pray you haven’t wasted the talent.

If you’re like I am and your God-given abilities don’t include perfect prose, engaging dialogue, nail-biting tension and page-turning hooks, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn to write and write well. I have some advice I learned the hard way, if you’re inclined to pick up a pen for the first time and wonder about your skills.

  1. Write! No child ever walked without taking a first step. There’s no time like the present to pen the first paragraph.
  2. Join a critique group. (Your mom is supposed to like your writing.) Their advice is invaluable. Remember not everyone accepts criticism well and not everyone knows how to give it gracefully. Put your feelings in the desk drawer before reading their comments. Consider all advice, but in the end it’s your story, written in your voice. It’s your decision.
  3. The dictionary is full of words. Don’t fall in love with a handful and get bogged down. Throw them out and go find some more.grizzled-prospector
  4. Acquire “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk. The English language is complicated. This text makes sentence construction easier.
  5. Show. Don’t tell.
  6. This one is my opinion. I think there’s a reason for bedroom doors and mirrors. Leave the sex scenes behind the former and you’ll be more able to meet the eyes staring back at you in the latter.

To me, writing was a rare discovery–a gem, a gold nugget, a true love–and totally unexpected. Get your muse on. Then, when someone tells you how much they enjoyed your story, you’ll have another reason to meet the reflection in the mirror with your head up.