Old Stomping Grounds and New Crossroads

How does the song by Dylan go?

You can go back, but you can’t go back all the way.

Last weekend I was able to attend a writers conference in my home state of Wyoming. I graduated from the University of Wyoming many moons ago. Long enough for them to completely move my Anthropology Department home into a brand-spanking new building and rearrange so many other departments that my morning run through campus was surreal.

Things change.

The world keeps spinning around us, and the evidence of it is magnified when we’ve been away.

The conference goers came from all corners of the state, Colorado, and even Florida. It was a small group but friendly and supportive. I enjoyed meeting everyone and getting a chance to speak about publishing options to a crowd of over thirty (I managed not to vomit, so let’s all take a moment in recognition of that).

I couldn’t help but notice, however, that during some of the talks about trying to bring more diversity into the state and the writing group, dissent from a few gentlemen at my table.

Eye rolls and curses, crossed arms and head shakes.

Psh…Diversity. Libtard Bullshit.

Some things don’t change.

And the evidence of it is magnified when we’ve grown into more decent humans, while our past stays stagnant.

Sometimes you move on while the world you once knew stands still. The world that raised you and built you; the world you want to be proud of coming from, remains encapsulated in a time and space that relies on fear and old beliefs to such a degree that you almost want to slink away and change your own story.

My sister and I have discussed this. She said she could never move back, that the minds were too small. And I agree. There are some pretty petty, tiny minds there.

But this weekend I also saw a lot of open and gracious minds. I met “typical” rancher types who wrote magnificently about the importance of land stewardship and the quintessential diversity and equality of hearts. I met people who shared poetry and thought even though it was hard for them, who took outsiders into their arms and world and accepted them. I saw the stirrings of change.

So I can’t agree with her.

The potential for something better is like a river being stopped up by a long-left beaver dam. If we refuse to take out the dam and just leave the stagnant pools lie, then we leave entire worlds and cultures isolated enough to breed their own hate and misconception. The more people start moving the wood, start letting the fresh water in, start encouraging the current, the faster and cleaner that river will flow. The more good and open hearts we put into a place, the more good and open it will become.

I’ve come to many cross roads in my life, I’ve had challenges both self created and imposed upon me, and it’s taken years of experience to know that growth comes with great discomfort. And choosing a road doesn’t always mean you’ll stay on it. And quite often we’re lost in the boonies…but it doesn’t mean we should stay stagnant, or allow others to stay stagnant when their potential is for something much greater.

Challenge yourself this week writer. Step forward into paths that scare you, take chances with your writing and your ideas. Join that critique group, invite an outsider in, always work on the side of fairness, equality, and love. IF we all choose that road, this life will be a much more beautiful place to travel in for all of us.

 

“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

Inaugural Tuesday Blog: “Doing Better”

Okay, that title makes it sound way more important than it is. It’s really just a normal weekly blog post, but I thought I would make it sound more official. It’s “Inaugural”…makes it sound like a need a fancy dress and an invitation… neither of which I have.

From now on, my weekly blog will be posted on Tuesdays. I wanted to spread The Beautiful Stuff out a bit more and appreciate your continuing to follow me.

Let’s get into stuff.

You all know I love this lady…and this is one of my favorite quotes from her:

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” —Maya Angelou.

I never expect perfection from myself or others. True beauty lies in the quirks of our imperfections, after all. That being said, our larger-than-comfortable-for-birth brains have no excuse for not changing behavior that is damaging. We have this funny little thing called foresight and allows us to think ahead, from the point in time we’re at to where our decisions can lead.

Learning is one of the greatest gifts we were given. Learning from others, from books, from experiences; our mistakes, our pain. We learn most from struggle and strife…and hopefully use that knowledge to do better the next time around.

Think of the amazing things that have come from this process!

As a species we’ve made great advances in society with science and medicine, saved species, and ended disease. Now…that doesn’t mean we don’t fall in equal and terrible measures and sometimes fall back into dark areas of ignorance and inflexibility.

We’re still losing species, spreading old diseases that used to be nearly eradicated. Some of us are falling off of the edge of a misconstrued flat world, it’s true. Idiocy is a hard condition to fight and I don’t have enough words to do it today, so let’s just focus on the theme.

Do your best. Until you know better. Then do better.

Our survival depends on the constant improvement…the evolution, if you will, of our knowledge.

When you become aware, when you wake to a cultural fallacy or the inconsistency of a prescribed “truth” don’t stay stagnant. Don’t support the norm out of fear, or worse, laziness. Ask the questions, the hard ones, and when you see the dark lying beneath, use what you know to bring it to light, and fix it.

This is a large scale hypothetical and it feels overwhelming to the small human. So, I urge you to think about it in terms of your own life. It doesn’t have to be vast, sweeping, cultural change to make a difference. Sometimes changing ourselves, piece at a time, can be the spark that starts the big fires. So start with you. What can you do today to “do better”?

Standing up for the fallen? Extending a hand to the broken? A kind word? A donation of time or money? A voice against injustice?

It doesn’t even have to be something so altruistic. What about an acceptance of your own happiness? Saying no to what you don’t want, or to that which makes you heart or soul sick? Letting go of the habits and addictions of your past to do better for you?

Taking a goddamn nap when you want one, eating that piece of chocolate cake, saying no to that glass of wine, or yes to that bourbon. I’m not going to tell you what you can do to “do better”, but I will tell you this;

Sometimes “doing better” is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. Because better is often a rocky path, a steeper hill. It’s so much easier to falter, to roll down that hill, to let yourself go…and we’re all going to stumble. That’s ok. Remember? Imperfections are beautiful.

Just keep on, doing your best, until you know better…then do better.

Let me know what ‘better’ you’ll shoot for today? What about for the week? Year? Longer? I want to hear it all, throw some inspiration my way.

Let me know humans have it in them to do better.

Letting Go of Illusion

“How often, you wonder, has the direction of your life been shaped by such misunderstandings? How many opportunities have you been denied–or, for that matter, awarded–because someone failed to see you properly? How many friends have you lost, how many have you gained, because they glimpsed some element of your personality that shone through for only an instant, and in circumstances you could never reproduce? An illusion of water shimmering at the far bend of a highway.” 
― Kevin Brockmeier

As a fiction writer, especially of the romantic persuasion, it’s often easy for me to get caught up in my own imagination. My writerly brain has been trained to play out scenarios and let them run wild. It’s part of the creative process and the free reign I give these thoughts allows me to write the scenes and stories that cause heart palpitations and fingers to eagerly turn to the next page.

woman reading a book
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

But sometimes, the delicate barrier between the two halves of my brain is a bit too porous. Sometimes the barrier is permeated. Sometimes, the imagination bleeds over. And it begins to skew my reality. What is actually before me can be muddled with the over-active nature of my creative process. Instead of observing at a safe distance, I scoot in closer and start to ask…”and then what if…”

It’s taken me to some interesting and inspiring side roads, but it has also led me  this to some pretty dark and hurtful places. Places like paranoia, obsession, depression, and a loosening of the bonds of my reality. It can cause a false sense of what is real and, from that place, I have made poorly founded decisions.

I have been in situations where I lived in an heightened-aware but still fuzzier, reality. Lines get blurred and harmless words and actions became life altering. Sideways glances were sure signs of betrayal. Meaningless banter, the grounds for turning my back on people I loved. I’ve spent a lot of time hurting, in tears, wondering why the path I saw ahead felt so wrong to what my brain was telling me. I was at sea. Lost and drifting with no anchor to keep me grounded.

What’s the cure? What’s the fix? What can any of us do when our brains run away from us and our behaviors follow suit?

Sometimes the consequences of those misguided actions we take, in our obsessive/paranoia state, are severe enough to shake us back into reality. That may be the only way, when we are in too deep, to regain proper perspective.

But it is also the most damaging.

Occasionally it takes someone who can see your reality outside of yourself. Who cares enough about you to point out the cloud surrounding you and who can start asking the right questions. Like snapping spiritual fingers in front of your eyes, breaking through the rosy hue of illusion.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s easy. It’s often a long fall and a hard landing when you come down from your illusion. It’s painful. Reality isn’t usually a fun place to live in. But walking around, shrouded in falsehood, does nothing to better our humanity and the way we interact truthfully with one another.

Take a good look at your life. Be aware of the way you react to situations, be introspective with the perspective you use and step outside yourself to see what’s really going on. Because the further you go down the rabbit hole of the world you want to live in, the worse the consequence, the higher the risk, and the deeper the damage in the world you actually live in.

Sometimes I have to remind myself to keep my mouth shut and calm the creative-brain response, until I’m sure my words and actions are justified and are coming from a place that is true. It requires that I remove myself from being the central character in a story and take a moment to look at the setting, the other characters, their perspectives, the actual thread of what is going on.

Being a good human is hard. But if we truly love, when all illusions have been stripped away, then we owe it to our fellow humans to try to live the most honest, real life we can.

“Meanwhile, the trees were just as green as before; the birds sang and the sun shone as clearly now as ever. The familiar surroundings had not darkened because of her grief, nor sickened because of her pain.

She might have seen that what had bowed her head so profoundly -the thought of the world’s concern at her situation- was found on an illusion. She was not an existence, an experience, a passion, a structure of sensations, to anybody but herself.” 
― Thomas Hardy

VerseDay 9-20-18

I don’t know about this one.  It’s a little rough. I think it needs something. Severely lacking in hope and warm fuzzies, to be sure, but something else. What do you think?

 

Time

 

Time is moonlight through the branches

of a tree that once sat lower in the window

It’s the gray hair in the washbasin you notice while brushing your teeth.

The teenage screams of “I hate you” and the slamming of doors,

Doors that once could not be shut for fear of being too far from you.

Time is the ache that once whispered,

And now holds you hostage.

 

Time is the moon and gray hair

A change of pace,

The wobble of temperament,

And the cruel device flashing revelations in pops and crackles of bone and joint.

 

Time is the tired vacancy of your parents’ eyes and the sudden realization

That you will be an orphan in less time than you’ve already lived.

It is the knowledge that they will be gone…

And so will you…

And that howling teenager, once so sweet a baby,

 

her too.

 

And we think it so unfair…so sad.

But our thoughts and laments do nothing to change it.

Nothing we do will ever stop it…

Because Time is an uncaring bastard,

who marches by and leaves you along the side of the street,

waving your tired little human flag.

 

And nothing matters really.

 

We humans are so infantile, never growing in our short span of century.

Cry babies for truth and justice,

Never grasping that we lack the ability to really understand there is no truth…

Justice nothing more than a construct of simple neurons needing to find order.

We are not ready for truth, we are not big enough for justice.

 

Nice try, pea brain.

You can barely remember where you parked your car.