“Living is Easy With Eyes Closed”

John Lennon’s quote is the basis for my Tuesday soapbox.

Listen, I do write about writing. I do want to inspire your creativity and help you along with your craft. It’s integral to my purpose in life.

But part of inspiring creativity means reminding you of the massive computer sitting atop your shoulders and why we should never forget to use it.

This week I’ve been researching statistics, studies, and references for an article (probably a book one day) on the staggering racial disparity present in our privatized prison systems, in particular, how it affects young black men in our communities and the short and long-term damage it causes to their families as well as to our society as a whole.

So you know… a real fluff piece.

The problem with scrubbing off a bit of dirt from the surface of something like this is that you expose a teeming cesspool of disease and horror beneath. And once you look into that darkness, falling ever-deeper into that rabbit hole of associated cultural setbacks, systemic traps, and loopholes for those in power, you CAN NEVER NOT KNOW.

You’ve opened your eyes.

You swallowed the red pill.

You know the truth and life becomes difficult.

(Well, if you’re a human being with a heart and a decent-sized sense of empathy, and compassion, life becomes difficult.)

Suddenly, with your eyes open, you see it everywhere.

You see it in the unarmed black woman body-slammed by an officer twice her size, when she wasn’t even fighting back. You see it in the teenagers of color who are convicted of crimes while their white counterparts go free. You see it in the wary HOA’s that lodge baseless complaints against a family because the color of their skin makes the neighbors ‘nervous’, and cause entire families to lose their homes.

I’m not talking about 1955 Alabama here… I’m talking today, here. In our city. In our community.

And I’m ashamed of us, and I’m shaky, and I’m pissed off.

I feel like if I were the mother of dragons…I might pull a Season 8 Episode 5 and burn it all down to rebuild from the ashes.

sack-of-astapor-s3e4
What bells? I didn’t hear any bells…

 

The problem is too big.

That’s what we’re told right?

You can’t fight the system! It’s so much bigger than us. We don’t have the power. The government controls it. The rich control it. The churches, the states, the universities, the public schools, the whole of American culture…

But if you will remember…

The computer on top of your shoulders. The big 10 pounder. The one that processes thoughts and emotions, chemicals and body regulation, the one that creates poetry, writes novels, formulates complex plot and character design.

That’s not nothing.

That’s a powerful weapon in the hands of an informed public. And the way I see it, once we open our eyes, it’s our duty to shake as many egg pods as possible, peel back some eyelids and make the world pay attention.

Two open eyes becomes four. Becomes eight. Becomes sixteen. Becomes hundreds…

The Beautiful Stuff has everything to do with facilitating the best version of humanity we can muster. The most compassionate, fair, and just human we can be. And when we are faced with a hard and ugly cesspool, teeming beneath a society built on the death and destruction of so many lives, we can no longer live easy.

So neither should the powers that be.

 

pawns and king
Never underestimate the power of a well-informed populace with like-minded goals.

My eyes are open and I will do my damndest to keep those that benefit from the broken and ugly system from covering them up.

We may not have the money. We may not have the loopholes and congressmen in our pockets. We may not have law degrees, or time, or the power of influence on large groups of people.

But we have our words. We have our minds. We have our actions and, I hope, enough anger to bypass our fear. Pay attention and acknowledge that this is a problem. Shine a fucking light on it so the rest of the world can’t ignore it anymore.

Find that spark in your chest. That pinprick of light that knows every human deserves to be safe, to be heard, to be healthy and fed, and treated with respect. Find a way to make it grow. Let it lead you to do what you can to change the inequality of the world around you.

You can always do something. Little. Big. It doesn’t matter the size of the action but the heart you put into it.

One water droplet may not have much impact, but a rainstorm can change the landscape.

Go out there. Be bold. Be heard. Stand up for each other.

grayscale photo of man woman and child
Photo by Kristin De Soto on Pexels.com

Minding Our Manners

 

In the karate school where I volunteer the word of the month is courtesy. It’s not a new concept in martial arts. Courtesy and respect are two of the most fundamental principles of the art. Respect for each other, respect for the rules, respect for the art and for the generations that came before us. Courtesy to our sparring partners, our instructors, and people in general.

The basics of courtesy often start with the ‘magical words’:

Please

Thank you

You’re welcome

I’m sorry

I forgive you

 

These words are like leaves and branches of language that convey the deeper roots of courtesy and respect. Simple polite words that are just the beginning of a much bigger lesson wherein we acknowledge the validity of other humans as equal and important by showing them kindness, compassion, and empathy; the cornerstones of living a beautiful life.

By this time in your lives you have probably all been taught about the “Magical Words”. Magical because they can open doors, springboard friendships, heal broken ties, and encourage smiles.

The typical phrases your parents and grandparents tried to instill  greased the wheels of everyday interactions but also taught you something much more.

By saying “Please” we are acknowledging that we need help, and that we aren’t afraid to ask for it.

By saying “Thank you” we acknowledging that the action of giving requires another’s time and effort and we understand the amount (small or large) of sacrifice involved and are grateful for it.

By saying “You’re Welcome” we acknowledge that the favor was done willingly and we are happy to help where we can. This can leave a lasting warmth between people that perpetuates reciprocity and trust.

By saying “I’m sorry” we acknowledge that our actions or words have harmed someone else. That we have done damage, either intentionally or not, and now regret the pain we’ve caused. Showing regret shows that we are empathetic to what the other person has gone through on our account.

 

I’m saving the hardest one for last.

 

By saying “I forgive you”, I acknowledge that you hurt me and I am choosing to let it go.

 

Forgiveness goes beyond common courtesy. Forgiveness is next level stuff, and it’s the hardest thing we’ll ever have to learn when it comes to compassion and empathy.

Pain serves as a powerful teacher. It reminds us to not make some mistakes over and over again. And when we are hurt we want to hang on to it, for the stupid reason that we don’t want it happening again.

But that’s the thing. We hang on to it.

And by remembering we relive, and by reliving, we stay hurt, we stay angry, and the pain is done to us over and over again, not by the original perpetrator but by our own insistence to keep it close to our hearts. That’s how we build walls against compassion and empathy to others.

 

So here’s what I offer instead:

 

By saying I forgive you, we are also showing courtesy and respect to ourselves. We are choosing to acknowledge the “I’m sorry” (even if there isn’t one) by letting go of the harm so we can keep our hearts open for something better than pain to fill it with.

And to those who are truly sorry, who offer up their apology from a place of genuine desire to make right a wrong, we give a gift that is priceless with our forgiveness. We acknowledge to them that we are human too.

All of these phrases can be used without thinking. They are often just little idioms of our nature; thrown around without realizing we do it.

But this week I’m challenging you to think about them, consciously. Understand them before you say them and mean them when you do. It will make a difference. It may only be a difference in your own mind, but that’s where the power of those words really comes from anyway.

So, please…do something kind and courteous to yourself and others today. You’re welcome for the reminder. Thank you for reading this blog; it means the world to me that you do. I’m sorry if I tend to wander in thought and subject from time to time. But I forgive myself and the creative process that demands a little haphazard chaos in the order of life.

 

Be polite today. Be kind.

 

Mind your manners.

Soul Food

 

Sometimes opportunity knocks on the door…sometimes it knocks the door down.

 

Gentle readers, this week I’ve been filling my life up with a few new opportunities though time is sparse and energy is waning.

 

Times like these often make me question my ever-lovin’ sanity.

 

I know that we’re all busy. I know that we’re all overworked, and underpaid, and hanging on to the ledge by our fingernails. But sometimes…

 

Sometimes a light breaks out of the storm clouds above you and shines on a seemingly small and inconsequential moment. Everything else around it falls away… And you just know that this is something worth exploring.

 

This, a diamond in the rough.

 

When that kind of light shines in your life, the reason you tend to drop everything else is that what you’re looking at isn’t just an opportunity; it’s something more.

It’s food for your soul. In a world where we’ve been starving our spirit for lack of genuine sustenance, these moments and opportunities strike a stark contrast.

And we have to re-learn what we so often forget; that the soul will not be dissuaded.

Despite that fact, sometimes we fight the idea. We shy away. It’s too brilliant, it’s too bright; it could burn us or illuminate all of our own shortcomings. It will be too much work and presents a slippery a slope.

It could be our downfall.

It’s the sun and we, Icarus.

T’was ambition that killed Caesar… and all that jazz.

 

 

But what if this light is something so much bigger than you and your human fears of failure? And what if it’s not just an opportunity for you but for a better world, a small piece at a time? What if it’s a hand to someone who’s been too long forgotten. What if this dangerous journey, hard-pressed and gritty, means more than just your own happiness?

What if it’s a chance to use your voice to change the world?

 

Well then, you chase that light. You open that goddamn door.

 

You don’t hesitate, you don’t reconsider. You fling it open and feed your soul.

 

Times in this country are pretty fucking dark. I’m not even kidding, ya’ll.

We’re spiraling down the bowl of a very large toilet. Hate, hurt, injustice, anger, suicide, depression, gloom…it’s all a shadowy mass, constantly pressing in.

I’m asking…nay, tell you—chase the light. Find a way to be of some use…not for the perpetuation of hate and hurt but for the healing of our country, our world, and our place in history.

How do you want your grandchildren…your great grandchildren to remember your actions in this time? Will they remember your hatred? Will they look back to see disgusting and disrespectful behavior towards your fellow human beings?

 

If that’s your idea of legacy, you can go kick rocks, kid…I don’t want your kind in my playground.

 

It is no longer enough to sit idly by and just do no harm. It is time to actively participate in doing good. In lifting the downtrodden, and striking out against those who keep us all underfoot.

 

So go out there, find your brilliant light, your opportunity to make a difference, and throw yourself into the fire of it. Feed your soul.

Giving Thanks

I’d created some pretty flashy, quiet-inspired, philosophical posts last weekend on retreat. They’re beautiful but I’m leaving them in the bank because today I want to repost something that I’d blogged about years ago that is timely and still rings true.

Have a safe and happy holiday. Be with the ones you love. And if you can’t; love the ones you’re with.

 

 

Making Do and Giving Thanks

 

One of my earliest memories was of waiting in a dark and crowded hall while my mother picked out ‘groceries’ from piles of white and black generic boxes. I didn’t understand at the time that the blocks of Velveeta-like cheese, powdered milk, and bags of rice were part of assistance programs that kept us from going hungry when the insecurity of the uranium mine had left us teetering on the edge of destitution.

 

My father is, and always has been, a hard worker. He took whatever job he could to support us, but in the unstable energy economy of 1980’s Wyoming there was always a fear behind my parent’s eyes. My mom was a teacher on and off and she stayed home with her three wild and creative kids. Anyone who’s a mother knows that each child is a full time job just in themselves, with no hazard pay given and no time off.  She was a genius at making ends meet, and squeezing out the most of everything we had, including our time together.

 

Their amazing resilience still brings tears to my eyes, especially as a parent myself. Because, back then, I never knew we lacked for anything.

 

We were always fed. We were always clothed. We had a roof over our heads and wild game in the freezer. We made do. When lay offs hit, they squeezed the most out of what we had and made do. When dad went back to college for a second degree in teaching, we lived in a small house in Laramie and made do. When Christmas came around and three kids rushed to the living room, there was always something there to be thankful for.

 

I didn’t have cable as a kid; I had books. I didn’t have a TV in my room; I had the library less than two blocks away. It didn’t matter that we couldn’t afford vacations to far off places because I could go there in my mind. Pages were like my wings, rocketing me towards new and fantastic horizons. My parents couldn’t give me designer clothes or name brand shoes. They gave me Jean M. Auel, Jack London, L.M. Montgomery, Louis L’Amour, Piers Anthony, and Jane Austen. They gave me hours and days of uninterrupted reading time. I still remember mom peeking in on me, sprawled out in bed, pouring over a book, completely lost to the world around me, asking if I needed anything.

 

Looking back now, and knowing what I do about how much it costs to raise a child (nonetheless three), I really couldn’t have asked for more.

 

We made more than just meals from small staples. We made worlds out of our love and support of one another. My parents gave us the belief in where our minds could take us. And we made do.

 

The best part of Thanksgiving, is the giving. If you find that you have an abundance, I urge you to consider donating to some of the fine folks listed below.

Remember; Money is like manure, it doesn’t do a lick of good until you spread it around and encourage things to grow.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Red Cross

Larimer County Food Bank

CASA Fort Collins

Larimer County Humane Society

Meals on Wheels

Wounded Warrior Project

Giving Light

It’s a whirlwind of lies and vitriol out there right now, am I right? Social media sites spreading memes about the other party, the dangers of our world, the arrogance and wrongness of the side ‘opposite us’.

There’s something about fighting with someone online that can whip us up into an adrenaline laced mania. Maybe it’s the anonymity. Maybe it’s the conviction we have in our own righteousness, the hard line we draw against any challenge to our perceptions.

And when you try to disengage you are still frowned upon. If you don’t stand up for what you believe, you’re in danger of being part of the problem. That is true to some extent. But there’s something to be said for the deep-breath pause that begs us to consider if the argument we’re forming is going to change any minds or just throw gasoline on the fire.

All of this made me think of the world, and what we contribute. What we give to it.

So often we give our opinion, we give our hatred, we give our disapproval and judgments. We give our anger and our raised voices. So we give. But we give things that hurt our humanity, often, without making worthwhile differences.

I’m not judging. It feels good to vent.

It also feels good to do heroin, I’m told. Doesn’t mean it’s a good thing for us to do.

See what I’m getting at?

How about, just for today, you and I think about what we can give to the world that will lighten the dark?

Can you give your time?

Can you give an open mind and a willing ear?

Can you give forgiveness that you’ve been holding back?

Give to your charity. Give full un-technology distracted attention to your children. Give your boss a break. Give your smile, even when you haven’t been able to in a while.

Sometimes, I think we feel if we give these things (our love, compassion, forgiveness, time, etc.) then we will have none left for ourselves.

But just like the worry that comes with a second child, (how could we possibly love another as much, when we love the first so ardently?) we quickly learn that love doesn’t subtract or divide.

It multiplies.

The more you forgive…the more forgiveness you will want to give (you’ll find the lightening of your heart is such sweet reward).

The more you love…the more you want to love.

The more you listen…the more you learn…the more you learn, the more compassion you give…and the more you feel it in and for yourself.

And you spread light, you lighten sadness, and lightening of sadness drives away the haze of hatred that’s settled over us all.

You may not get it back 100% of the time, that’s ok…because that’s not the reason we give.

We give because we can.

We share our light to push the darkness back from one other.

If it comes back, it fills our cup to do it again.

And again.

And again.

So this isn’t a rocket-science, grand-idea blog today.

This is a remember blog.

Remember, human. You are a force to be reckoned with with both great and terrible results. You’ve a light inside. And you can guard it with closed arms and gnashing teeth, suffocating its power inside for yourself alone. Or you can open your arms to the dark, and let your light spill across the vastness.

The night is dark and full of terrors. But we’re pretty terrifying too. Beautifully terrifying.

And the darkness won’t ever leave if we do not light it up.

So light it up.

Free Stuff

Not everything free is worth the taking and there’s much truth to the adage that nothing is ever, truly free. But occasionally, in life, we land a jackpot. Its all about in our perspective.

I bring up this subject for selfish reasons that will be discussed later on, but for now, I want to talk about appreciation of free stuff.

What kind of free stuff?

The samples at Costco? The swag bags at your local 5K races? The couch sitting on your neighbor’s lawn for four days with a sad cardboard sign begging someone with a large truck and a strong back to take it home? (Sorry, by the way, Harvest neighbors…you’ll be happy to know the large brown beast is gone).

Sure those things are “free”. Somewhat.

I mean, you pay for your Costco membership, you pay for your race fee. You pay with a minor rotator cuff tear from hoisting a giant sectional onto the roof of an Elantra. In some way, we always pay.

We pay with our time. We pay with resources or trades of our services. We do favors and scratch backs. But what’s really free? It deserves a moment to slow down and think about it.

Take a deep, slow breath.

Notice that? The air. Free of charge, yet something we take for granted. Take a moment to notice the summer finery around you. Hear the birdsong, allow yourself to be mesmerized by the sunrise lifting over clouds. The laughter of babies, the hug from your child, the cuddle of a furry friend. (I hesitate to expunge on the ‘free’ affection between adults as, sadly, a price is sometimes attached.) A smile from a stranger passing on the street. Someone opening a door for you. Even better–you helping someone else with no expectation for reciprocation.

Here’s the main point I’m making…Free doesn’t always mean cheap. Free doesn’t always mean worthless. We can give freely our hearts, our compassion, our empathy, our decency and respect for our fellow humans.

Kindness doesn’t cost a thing.

So today, think about what you have in your life, the little and big, that you get for free. The 86,400 seconds in every day you are gifted with, your dog’s love (minus the cost of a beggin strip or six), the beauty of the natural world, daydreams, sunshine, and most importantly, your human capacity to love others.

With all this talk of free stuff, here’s the shameless plug:

Today only, my novels will be available, FREE, for download from Amazon. If you’re looking for something to enjoy in your summer hours, please check them out and let others know.

Fixing Destiny Book One

Finding Destiny Book Two

Fighting Destiny Book Three

Enjoy your day, and breathe a little free into everything you do.