The Struggle is Real and Common

It has been awhile since I have written.  It isn’t for lack of words, but quite the opposite.  I have been immersed in a torrent of words that have flowed, swirled, and floated in and out of my mind.  At times they have crashed to the forefront only to dwindle and disappear much like a wave as it hits the shore; midway through a post.  At other times, my words have flowed like a mountain stream, but wisdom and conscience prevailed and I decided that pouring out my opinions onto a page was enough without sharing them.  Then there have been moments where I waited for my muse to appear only to discover that our schedules were simply not in sync.

It dawned on me that what I have experienced is something that many writers go through.  The ideas flow, crash, dissipate, rise again, or become nothing more than mirages in a desert of literary  granules.   It is a common struggle and one that is very real.  I often ponder how the multipublished seem to have an endless font of unique stories.  I ask myself, “where do their ideas come from?”  For every writer the source is different.  For some it is life experiences, for others it is life’s observations.  Sometimes success is born amidst failures like the phoenix rising from the ashes.  Characters from one story morph into a place or adventure they are better suited to.

When I first decided to write romance books, I thought I was destined to write Regency with an element of suspense.  I had the plot all worked out as well as the characters, and I even had sequels planned.  After all, I reasoned, I love history, and I had read countless Regency romance books to the point where I felt I could predict every potential plot.  I had grown familiar with all the locales of the period, the dress, the verbiage, and the customs.  I was wrong.  The elements were there, but not the voice.  I was echoing what I was familiar with, but my voice was missing.  Those stories are tucked away in a file which is exactly where they belong.

Recognizing what was missing is only half the battle.  The true crusade is finding your voice and putting it into your stories.  It is a lot like Don Quixote doing battle with windmills.  The effort is there, even if the antagonist is a bit unorthodox. I wasn’t even sure where to look or how I would recognize my voice when it passed through the words on a page.  Countless trees are grateful for the fact that there is a delete feature that erases the mistakes, misdirections, and the hapless accumulation of grammatical errors I am destined to make.  Yet, through the journey, I found my voice and the types of stories that my voice lends itself to.  Sweet Historical Western Romance, set in a mythical town where characters come to settle, come to  grips with their pasts, and find their happily ever after.

The inspiration for the first book in the series came at the most inopportune time.  I was sitting in my car at a light,  in my midst of wearing my parental taxi driver hat when it struck like a lightening bolt.  The names of my characters popped into my head and their conversation kept playing over and over as if they were on a loop.  Abigail and Jake. I could picture their interactions, their pasts, and their future.  Their story was written followed by book 2, William and Maggie’s story.  And, the plots for more have been mulling.  I, like my stories are a work in progress; subjected to much editing as I move onto the next phase of the writing journey.

The written word is as much an escape from reality as the words upon a page are for a reader.  They transport us to a world of our imagination; befriending our characters, and experiencing their emotional highs and lows. Their struggles and triumphs become ours as we strive toward an ending that is filled with joy and jubilance.  We become the crashing wave and the streaming river; filled with highs and lows, rushing currents and ripples that grow imperceptible and still.  We become the lifesource that is needed for our own survival and for the hope we can give to readers; taking them to our worlds and fulfilling needs we can never imagine.

I would be deceiving myself, and others, if I said “No, I don’t ever want to quit.” The idea of walking away has hit me often as I find myself treading to stay afloat; doubting my ability; and believing that no one would want to read my story.  Then I am reminded of the kind friends who have stepped into Hobart, Wyoming Territory with me and helped me to give Abigail and Jake eloquence and fascination. I am grateful for their inspiration and indebted to their faith in me.  They have enabled me to delve into the well and discover it is not dry, just deep. The struggle is not just one a new author faces, but even the seasoned ones.  There is no magic fix, but what I have discovered is that where there is dwindling, just dig deeper.  The words, the stories, and your voice are there waiting to bubble to the surface and immerse you.

 

 

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We Have a Responsibility Too

In the wake of the horrific event in Parkland, Florida, the nation is once again divided, pointing fingers, and laying blame. It is so much easier to do this than to admit that the responsibility is shared and we may also be to blame.

It all begins at home. We are our children’s first teachers. They look to us for protection and security, as examples for behavior, and yes, as disciplinarians.

Stop and consider for a moment. Where do you believe your child is safest? The answer, invariably will be, at home. Using this as the foundation of where the narrative begins let us look inward and ask ourselves, what can we do to ensure that our child is safe from himself/herself as well as others?  The most difficult thing we can do is acknowledge that we might be doing it wrong or need help. All too often we justify, rationalize, excuse, or blame someone else for what our child has done or said. Yet, we need to be honest with ourselves, ask the tough questions, and then take the steps to do better.

1.  Do I know who my child’s friends are?

2.  Do I know who my child speaks to in social media?

3. When my child is on his/her computer, do I know what sites they are visiting, who they are engaging with, what they are watching, doing, or listening to?

4.  What music is my child listening to and what are the lyrics? Do I talk to them about this so I understand what message they are receiving from this music or why they enjoy it? And, what books are they reading?

5.  What video games, if any, is my child playing? Is it violent? What is it awarding points for? And, what is my child learning or what message is he/she receiving from playing these games?

6.  Do I engage with my child, spend time with my child, go places, share in their hobbies and interests?

7.  Do I engage with my child’s school and teachers to ask them what is my child doing during the school day; are they socially engaged; involved in class or extra-curricular activities?  Am I listening when the school says something is wrong and accepting that my child needs help instead of excusing or justifying the behavior?

8.   When was the last time I spoke with my child’s friends or their parents?

9.  Do I know my child’s passwords so I can see for myself what they are doing?

10.  Do I listen when my child speaks or read their posts? What are they saying, is it a cry for help or warning that something is amiss?

11. What are my child’s interests? Are they healthy, and safe?

12.  How is my child spending their time in and out of the house?

13. Am I letting my child fail so they know how to cope with disappointment in a healthy, constructive way when they grow up?

14. Does my child need help and where can I get it?

15.  Do I need help in handling/raising my child?

These aren’t easy questions to ask or answer. Parenting itself isn’t easy. Our children don’t come with manuals or guidebooks. They don’t fit a pattern and no two are alike.  We are human. We will make mistakes, but we can do better by being more involved, engaging more, listening, and being less afraid to be parents setting limits, saying no, and following our own moral compass regardless of what any other parent is doing with their child.  The conversation must begin somewhere. Let it begin at home and maybe, just maybe, we will be the ones to begin to make the changes we desire that will keep our children safe.

 

Two Voices, One Body

Every writer faces the same dilemma. How do I express my words, thoughts and ideas? How do I give life to these characters dancing about in my head and yearning to have their story be told? We separate ourselves from the reality of our circumstances and delve into the pages transporting us to new times and new places.  We immerse ourselves in the lives of our characters, experiencing their emotions and sharing in their journey.  In many respects we are no different than our readers, except we have control over how the story will end.

When we assume the persona of author, we have one voice that is focused on telling the story.  Yet, there is another voice we live with. It is the voice we use every day to speak with our family and friends, our colleagues at work, our neighbors. It is the voice we use to express our personal ideas, beliefs and thoughts. Try as we might, these two voices can conflict.

As a reader there are expectations and preconceived notions of who the author is and what they are about. Books are a form of escapism from reality and while we may struggle to disassociate our personal selves from our author selves, readers are less inclined to understand that there can be two separate voices.

These days the conflict among these voices is palpable.  Politics seems to have permeated and saturated every nuance of existence.  Even when we fight to suppress our political thoughts it is nearly impossible to do. Although readers, and others, may not understand, both voices are an inextricable part of who we are.  We can no more stifle the voice of our passions, beliefs and ideologies, than we can keep our characters hidden away and silenced.

Unfortunately, for many, the balance between the voices has shifted.  Whether consciously or sub-consciously, the personal voice has gained a stronghold against the professional voice.  Subliminal lines are being drawn where colleagues and peers are aware that if they are not in agreement they are viewed in a new light. The feeling of inclusion has been supplanted by a feeling of being less welcome.  There is still an overt effort in person to separate politics and professionalism, however, the veiled protection of the computer screen or mobile, is just that, veiled.

Just as it is impossible for the voices to be disassociated from the speakers, it is similarly impossible for the listener  to disassociate the voices. It is a strain to credit sincerity and genuine heartfelt welcome when posts and messages have been flooded with name-calling, and terms like “us” and “them.” When day after day you see someone write how members of one political party or ideology must be of a certain mindset, ilk, or attributed to believing in things or behaving in a way not necessarily true, it is difficult to ignore. Opinions change. Relationships are altered.

Two voices, one body. How do we distinguish them? Perhaps it is with introspection and objectivity, with candor and with honesty.  Perhaps it necessitates stepping back to strike the balance again between the voices. Perhaps it is by being less judgmental and accusatory in a generalized sense and more specific. Perhaps it is simply by using both voices simultaneously to communicate better or, perhaps it is simply by listening more.

 

 

If I Knew …

 

image     This past week a five-year old boy passed away in the arms of Santa Claus.  The last words he heard were Santa telling him he would now be “chief elf.”   Turn the page of the news and it is fraught with political angst and turmoil, fights and discord.  Social media continues to be plagued with negativity notwithstanding that this is a season of peace.

The differences among these stories is palpable.  I found myself asking a question.  What if I knew how many minutes, hours, days, weeks,, months, or years I had left to live? How would I want to spend my time?  What would I do?

I don’t know the answer.  In point and fact, I don’t want to know the answer.  Yet, the mere thought is jarring because it leads to the better questions. Am I using my time, my talents, my gifts, to the best of my ability? Am I seeking out the positive the world has to offer or focused on noticing the negative? Do I worry more about what isn’t done rather than feel a sense of accomplishment for what is? Do I complain too much that life is unfair or accept that my world is what I make of it? Do I appreciate what I have or dwell on what I don’t? Do I strive to see the glass as half full or do I fret that the worst is yet to come?  Do I think of others and their needs or am I selfish?

Life isn’t filled with guarantees.  There are disappointments, failures, setbacks, and heartache.  In an ideal world everything would be perfect, rosy, and we would always get our way. We would never know the pain that comes from things not working out the way we wanted or hoped.  However, life is also filled with joy, love, success, accomplishment, laughter, and contentment.  It is all a matter of perspective.

Do you cry because the stars fade away or celebrate because the sun has risen? And, when the sun sets do you, in turn, marvel at the brilliance of the stars twinkling above? Do you see that each provides a form of light?

That little boy passed away looking into the face of Santa. It was where he chose to be.  There he saw hope for children everywhere. There he found joy and happiness.  With his last breath he looked forward with an eye to a better future, a future as the chief elf.  It was a beginning not an end.

There is so much I can learn from that moment because sometimes children have the ability to teach us with a wisdom born of innocence. Children don’t know to hate. They are taught to hate. Children don’t know to give up. They learn to deal with failure, and disappointment by the way we teach them. Children are far more resilient than adults. Instinctively they let go, move on, and start each day anew.

If I knew what tomorrow will bring I know now what I would not do.  I would not waste a single minute painting a picture of doom and gloom.  Rather, I would open my eyes so I can look into the face of Santa Claus.

 

 

We’ve Got to be Carefully Taught

Have you ever seen the musical South Pacific? There is much to be learned from this World War II story.  In particular, Rodgers and Hammerstein included a song titled, “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught,” which reminds us that fear and hate, especially of those who are different, is not something we do naturally.  These are things that are taught.

Whether we are cognizant of it or not, our words, our actions, our habits, our practices, our off-the-cuff comments teach our children.  They are what we learned from our own parents and, with the choice of free-will, we opted to include or exclude from the way we live and interact with others.  These things have influenced our religious and political beliefs, our morals and values, our feelings and thoughts, just as our own experiences have.

Understanding that we are products of our upbringings and experiences, as well as the potential influence we have on not only the lives of our children, but on generations to follow, it is time to stop and reassess what it is we are teaching.  Self-introspection is not easy.  It means facing and accepting that at times we may have been wrong.  When we speak in generalizations we are particularly vulnerable to error because we may be saying or doing something against those whom we never intended to offend, insult, critique, or oppose.

What a different world we would live in if we consciously taught tolerance and acceptance of differences, if we promoted inclusion,  if we spent more time exercising empathy and less time seeking to put down, isolate, and segregate.  What if we challenged ourselves and our children to sit with someone new at lunch and engage in conversation to discover that we are more alike than different.

Every one has a story.  Every one has a cross they bear that you know nothing about. We are all guilty of judging too quickly and projecting our own ideas and beliefs into situations without considering how unfair we are being.

Do you know why  she may seem to sit more often than stand? Do you know why the one over he is standing alone or quiet? Do you know why she is crying? Do you know why he was absent?  The scenarios of why are endless and the answers just as plentiful. Perhaps she is suffering from a pain or illness they never speak of as they quietly fight to overcome and endure, rather than complain.  Perhaps, he is grieving, worried, upset, or simply forgotten because no one took the time to make him feel included.  As for the one crying, it could be anything, pain, fear, grief, worry, loss, loneliness, etc.

We cannot assume to take on the burdens of the world as those are far too great, but we can lighten them by teaching kindness, offering help, inviting  and including, welcoming and understanding, discovering similarities rather than focusing on differences.

In a recent Facebook post I wrote, “we are all threads in life, but it is only when we are woven together that we create a beautiful tapestry.”

Don’t teach fear or hatred. Don’t teach our children to see the differences.  Teach them they are wonderful, but they are no better nor worse than anyone else.  Teach them to value their uniqueness and make it a gift to add beauty to another’s life.

What we choose to teach is critical. It holds the power to help, heal, and unite. A drop of kindness may go on forever. Yes, we’ve got to be carefully taught.

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Be Kind. Simple words, but can you live by them?

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There is not one of us that hasn’t been told at some point in our lives, “remember to be kind.”  It seems like such a simple thing to do.  Yet, kindness seems to have waned in modern times. Globally, terrorism seems to have permeated the hearts and souls of nations paralyzingly many with fear, others with indignation. Nationally, we are divided, torn apart by race, by civilians versus law enforcement, by gender, by political party affiliations, by sexual orientation. Amidst the volume of negativity, small voices rise up and periodically plead with the masses, be kind. Sadly, the small inroads in promoting positivity and fellowship are drowned out by deafening shouts of individuals who are determined to promote their agenda no matter who they may hurt or alienate in the process.

Kindness takes courage.  It means doing something alone and regardless of whether or not anyone else is willing to stand beside you.  It means kneeling down to help another up, defending those who are weaker, intervening to stop the bully even at the risk of the the bully’s wrath, forgiving those who would do you harm, and letting go of past hurts.  It takes understanding and overcoming your own fears to reach out to the rejected.  It takes strength to stand by what you believe in even if everyone around you disagrees, yet doing so without demeaning yourself with false accusations, engaging in name-calling, or assuming an air of superiority. You truly don’t stand taller when you step on another.  It costs nothing to be kind, but the rewards of kindness are priceless. Kindness has the potential to uplift your own spirits and that of another.

The dwindling of kindness isn’t because we don’t know how to be kind. It seems it is simply more expedient to throw the caustic comment, find reasons to criticize, and justify anger rather than seek forgiveness, admit wrong-doing, or seek to atone for our words or actions.  Passionate opinions take control.  Frustration in encountering those with a differing opinion shatters the ability to exercise restraint and self-control.  Words simply flow out without thought or consideration as to who may be collateral damage to the tirade.    We forget to be kind because expressing our thoughts and opinions is far more important in the heat of the moment.  In hindsight, pride doesn’t allow us to back down and admit, maybe our words shouldn’t have been so broadly applied.

Nowadays it appears that social media is the forerunner in promoting the unkind. While a handful will seek to remind friends and followers to be kind, it seems that more and more seemingly rationale and intelligent individuals will toss out comments, rant and rave, or post purported stories authored from less than reliable sources for a myriad of reasons. For some, it is with the hope of being noticed in their otherwise lonely and unfulfilled lives. They thrive on stirring up controversy. For others, it is the need to persuade. They cannot conceive that any opinions other than their own could be correct. They contend their opinions are the only ones that are supportable, founded, valid or rationale.  And still for others, they read or hear something and feel compelled to react.

Sadly, the majority of these posts concern the current presidential election as individuals choose up sides  If only they could exert as much fervor in promoting positive thoughts, kind words, encouragement, compassion, understanding, and happiness.  If only, they could be kind.

It is shocking the sources that people will reach out to, regurgitate and cling to as gospel truth.  They pick up the proverbial brush and paint a wide swath across the page accusing and judging.  People readily post words, comments and stories peppered with unfounded statements and claim them as fact.  These are words they would never have the courage to say to another’s face.  They forget to be kind.

Kindness begins with respect.  Respect for self. Respect for others.  It means allowing others their opinions even if you don’t agree with them.  It isn’t about shouting them down, belittling them, or engaging in name-calling.  It means stopping and asking yourself: “would I say these words to my best friend’s face if I knew that they had a different opinion than me or were supporting the ‘other candidate’?” It means understanding that the thoughts, beliefs and values of individuals must be considered first because even when the same candidate is being supported the reasons for lending support may be entirely different.

“All” is only three letters, but it is  a very big word.  It is one of the most misused and misapplied words in the English language.  It is rarely applicable, especially when it comes to politics or religion, race or countless other circumstances.  One can agree with core principles without agreeing with the totality of policies or practices.  The biggest mistake that people seem to make is to assume that “all” does, in fact, apply or that stereotypical descriptions are universal. When you think of the stereotypes, do your friends and family members truly fit each and every one of the generalized list? If not, then stop saying all and be kinder and more judicious in your choice of words.

There are so many ways to show kindness. Every time we interact with another human being, whether family, friends, or strangers we are afforded the opportunity to be kind.  It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. Even a smile or a nod of the head acknowledging the other person may be sufficient to send a message that tells that stranger, acquaintance, co-worker,  or friend they have worth.

Think of the myriad of adages you have often heard,  the sum total of which send an inspiring message to be kind. “If you have nothing kind to say, say nothing at all”; “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”; “to have a friend, you must be a friend”; “think before you speak”; “the bell, once rung, can’t be unrung.”  There are so many more, but the gist is similar. They are constant reminders, overt and subtle, that we all have a choice in what we do, what we think and what we say.

We possess the option of being kind, or risking the consequences that arise from being unkind. Words are very powerful. They may hurt, divide,  destroy relationships, or even result in a loss of respect, admiration, or trust. Words also have the ability to heal, encourage, uplift, strengthen, and promote goodwill and happiness.

Before writing words, saying words, repeating words, or sharing words stop and ask yourself, am I being kind? Kindness is always preferable to being right. As Mark Twain so eloquently stated, “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”

 

 

 

Valuable Lessons

 

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Sometimes the most valuable lessons come to us at unexpected times and in the most  unexpected places.  They can be in the form of something we witness or something we hear.  They may come in the form of things we do or things we say.  We don’t always appreciate the value of the moment until we sit back and reflect upon our day.

Yesterday I learned valuable lessons.  It goes to show that you truly are never too old to learn.  I didn’t even realize that I was learning at the time, but the action I witnessed and words later said taught me something.

This past weekend I attended my very first Eagle Scout Court of Honor. It was for a young man who is the oldest of three sons and the first Eagle Scout from our troop.  In fact, he is one of the founding scouts.  On his heels there is another scout who will also soon be lauded with similar accolades marking his achievement. And, in the wings are a group of scouts waiting and working towards earning this rank.

On Sunday, the troop gathered for its weekly meeting.  Our first Eagle arrived for the meeting a little late; not unexpected after such a big night. As he entered the room, a thunderous round of spontaneous applause broke out among scouts, leaders and parents.  It wasn’t that they had failed to clap the night before.  Quite the contrary.  The night had been filled with applause for this young man, his family, leaders, speech givers, and celebrants.  The applause was in recognition of a young man who had reached a summit of success achieved by a very small percentage in scouting and who, in turn, recognized and acknolwedged that the pinnacle of his accomplishment was not the end of a journey, but the beginning.  For all he had accomplished, he understood and had stated, he had more to do, more to learn, and more to share.  He was an inspiration to many.

My first lesson came in that moment. Each of us has the potential for success.  We may even revel in and be lauded for our accomplishments, but we must never rest on our laurels.  Achievements open doors to opportunities.  They are chances to use what we have done to make a difference in the lives of others and they are reminders that there is more to be done.  Our successes are merely stepping stones.  They are not the culmination of all we can accomplish, but enable us to see that there is more we can strive for.  Individually we are all constantly works in progress.

The second lesson yesterday came a little later when I was speaking with that young man’s father.  He proudly beamed, as parents do, of how impressed he was by the confidence his son showed in the speech he gave and in the quotes he found.  The father’s next words summed up something about Scouting that I had never appreciated.  He said, “Scouting teaches young men to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations.”

His words rang true.  It is something we all need to learn to do.  We need to find ways to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations.  Writers are a prime example.  Many are introverts, content to sit behind the computer screen creating brilliant works, but far less comfortable in stepping into the public spotlight.

When I think back upon my own life, there are many times I can recall feeling awkward, uncomfortable and out of place  My tongue felt tied even as I was expected to speak.  I mentally rehearsed what I would say, but when the moment arrived, suddenly the words were forgotten.

Life is filled with uncomfortable situations.  As adults we are expected to handle them with aplomb.   It is so easy to forget that even as adults we get nervous anxious, and apprehensive. We must face the unknown, deal with people we’d rather avoid, confront our fears, and exude confidence even when internally we are quaking.

My son faces challenges every day.  With Auditory Processing Disorder, the words don’t always come smoothly.  It isn’t always easy to recall things and repeat them. He is quiet and reserved, yet when he let’s his guard down he allows the world to see that he has a quick, dry sense of humor and a brilliant smile.  He is funny and smart, creative, and talented.

So with those brilliant words said so eloquently by that father, I seized the moment to share with my son that just because I am grown doesn’t mean I don’t get nervous or dislike uncomfortable, novel situations.  I told him I get shy and I find it difficult to speak around strangers.  I don’t want to be judged as wanting and I fret over that first impression.  I reminded him, he isn’t alone. I also reminded him that he has a huge advantage.  Scouting was teaching him to deal with the situations so he could appear confident even if inside he didn’t feel confident. I reminded him that his leaders saw a great potential in him and so did I.  I reminded him to believe in himself and to trust in God because he was never alone.  He should cling to his faith and draw strength and courage from it.  After all, a scout is reverent.

Then it dawned on me, scouting is teaching me too.