Posts in Category: Intention

Goin’ Organic: It’s not just for veggies anymore

Mountain

I’ve been trying hard to let this writing thing I’m doing progress in the most organic of ways. But I get impatient sometimes…

It’s been a year and a half since I joined a weekly writers’ critique group. (Keep reading to the end for a sappy little tribute to this group and all the people in it!) This weekly deadline to produce something shareworthy has been a great motivator. So good, as a matter of fact, that if I go more than a week these days without writing something I feel the need to up the dosage on my antidepressant.

I read a quote somewhere that “It is by sitting down to write every morning that one becomes a writer.” Gerald Brenan wrote it. #goals

I don’t usually sit down to write first thing in the morning, but I do try to put pen to paper by eleven AM every day. It’s still morning, so I supposed I’m technically following Gerry’s instructions. This habit has grown my writing abilities in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Just writing every day. So simple.

Reading authors who write in similar ways as I do has been great, too. It’s helped me learn to take the ideas in my head and get them down on paper, but to do it in a way that my sentences are interesting and vary in length and structure. Reading well written stuff is like taking a creative writing class, if you pay attention to what you’re reading. It’s a lot cheaper, too. Plus, and maybe it’s just me or my penchant for letting things flow organically, but I’d rather learn by reading than have some hack, who happens to have some letters behind his/her name, corrupt my voice because I don’t follow the rules.

It’s breaking those rules that makes my writing interesting, sometimes. Like, the sometimes when I write a line with awkward syntax on purpose. Ew? You might think so, but there’s a reason I do it. Maybe I want you to think extra long on what the character is doing at that moment… 😉

So here I am, finally at a point where I feel like my writing is consistently good. Consistently heartfelt. Consistently has truth in it. Consistently gives voice to a character who wants to be heard. Yay me!

Now it’s time to get down with the business part of writing. I write because it satisfies my creative desires better than anything else does. Why write if nobody’s ever going to read it, though, right? Well, not really. I have pages and pages and files of stuff nobody will ever read. Stories and characters that I love, but aren’t prime time ready, so to speak. They were more practice stories than anything else.

Could I go back and edit to make them better? Change them so they might become worthy of publication? Sure. I could. But what if that changes those characters in some fundamental way? I might not want to do that. Besides, I think of it as similar to a baseball player practicing his swing. All those hours swinging, building that muscle memory so that he can bat a .300 season. That’s what those stories are for me. Precious because I fall in love with all of my characters, but more because it’s nice to look back and see how far I’ve come.

This business end, though. Yikes! It feels daunting. How do I build a following? How do I let readers know what I’ve written? How do I find readers who like to read the kind of stories I write? That’s where I am right now. This morning I found an article for how to grow my Twitter following. I’m about to hop over and read that right now.

Wish me luck in this new part of my writing endeavors. I’ve never been good at self-promotion, so along with the excitement I’m feeling, I’m also trying to make this feel like a normal thing to do: toot my own horn.

Now, about my writer’s group? AMAZING group of people. We encompass a huge variety of writing styles, genres, levels of creativity and experience, all in one back room at a pizza joint every Monday night. We have some amazing writers who I can’t wait to slap down a few bills to buy their books when they’re officially published. We also have some not so great, but trying really hard to get there, writers. I’m somewhere in the middle…

When I first started attending we were a weekly group of maybe ten, but sometimes as small as three, for a while. Now we’re consistently a group of over twenty writers meeting for pizza and reading, and sometimes yelling over what we’ve read. Always great advice, though. Always. I wouldn’t trade this group for any other. <3

Welp. You’ve made it all the way to the end! Maybe you’re interested in my most recent short story, Birthmarked. I wrote about it here. If so, drop a line in the comment section and I’ll send you a link!

His cheatin’ heart

Lies

I’ve only been cheated on by one man in my lifetime. Once was enough; I’m sure anyone would agree. But the thing is, that experience gave me fodder, today, to write a character’s emotional response to the same situation. So, Thanks? I guess.

That’s what I do, as a writer. I take personal experience and reform it into something a little different, then I write. If there are no other fringe benefits of writing, that one’s enough. Reframing is a wonderful thing.

To be honest, though, I’m feeling especially sad, right now, re-feeling all those feelings. Sure, it’s been a long time since it happened. I’m a changed person now. No more forgiving than I was, let me just put that out there, but I’m not the same woman I was back then. The whole experience doesn’t matter so much these days, mostly because I no longer think of that person as a man. No real man cheats.

No real person cheats, man or woman. It’s cruel and it’s immature. It’s damaging in the absolute unfairest of ways. But don’t get it twisted: I do have an understanding of how and why someone could cheat. Of course I do. No one makes it to 50 without that, do they? Life is hard. It’s complicated and frustrating and confusing. But those together don’t give anyone a free pass to behave in such a way.

Still, without having that experience, I couldn’t have so easily conjured the sick feeling in the pit of my character’s stomach. I couldn’t have known the feeling of what is wrong with me? Or how did this happen? That feeling of an invisible weight between my shoulder blades that simultaneously made me want to break things and sleep for days. I couldn’t have written the scene I wrote so convincingly. For some odd reason, the word grateful comes to mind just now.

Yes, grateful. No matter what I see and experience in my lifetime, I am grateful. I have the talent to take what I learn and make it speak. I know that my writing will be richer, have a depth that it would never have without my pain and struggles. So, it’s not a bad thing, after all. They’re going to be there anyway (the dark days), why not use them?

Now, before I end this, I feel the need to add these two thoughts:

  1. If you’re reading this and you’ve been cheated on before: I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve to be treated so poorly. You’re worth so much more than that.
  2. If you’re reading this and cheated: I think you’re a coward and a horrible person. Irredeemable? I don’t know. That’s up to you. It’s not my business.

Finally, if you’d like to read the short story I referred to in this post, please leave a comment. I’ll send you a link!

Our Fictional Romance

love

I figured, since I am a writer now, maybe I should write you a love story. You certainly deserve to have a story written about you, my Steve, after all that you’ve given me. But here’s the thing… because there’s always a thing, isn’t there? I don’t know how to write a love story that’s half as interesting as ours. Nor do I have it in me to write a character who is quite as much of a character as you. You’re a one of a kind. Our love is that way, too.

On the other hand, if I could write my character to be one that you’d deserve in this great fictional love story, she’d be a little bit like me, but a lot not. That idea is rather nice, come to think of it, to be able to fix a few of my non-fictional flaws. So, here goes:

Fictional me would tell you more often how much she appreciates you cleaning up the kitchen in the early mornings when she’s still sleeping. Like me, she doesn’t care to clean the kitchen. She also would never complain if the dishes weren’t quite as clean as she’d like them. Fictional me yells a lot less than real me does.

Fictional me would also try more often to wake up earlier and enjoy that first cup of coffee with you. Early mornings are special to you and fictional me would be better about getting out of bed just early enough so that she wouldn’t be annoying. Fictional me would be a better fake morning person than I am.

Fictional Becky would be less critical, more encouraging, and laugh more often at your jokes. She would also be able to eat like a horse and still be thin and sexy 24/7/365. She would be more daring on hikes, more daring in the passenger seat, and even in the sack. Oh, and my fictional me would be less argumentative, less opinionated, and less complicated in the emotional department because dammit sometimes it’s just not necessary.

Alas, I am non-fictional Becky. I can’t be my perfect, or your perfect, or anybody’s perfect version of who I should be. I can just BE and hope that today’s me is good enough and maybe tomorrow’s will be a little better. But here’s the other thing… because they work in pairs, ya know! I will spend today and every day loving you as good and as hard and as best as I can. You are my very real Steve and our love is very, very real. And we both deserve nothing less than our very best try.

I love you, Steve. Happy Valentines Day!

Trust and the art of Music Making

Roadmap

The first gig Charlie Dennis ever played on stage was with a Texas Bluesman called Johnny Clyde Copeland. Charlie was 12 years-old at the time and from the way he tells the story, he stood at the back of the stage, playing his guitar as timid as could be. Sometime during the set, Johnny Clyde came back there and grabbed that guitar right out of his hands and says, “Boy, that is not how you play the gi’tar. This here! This is how you play it.” And he commenced to pounding on the strings like he meant every stroke of it. When I asked Charlie what that felt like, playing with somebody like that, so young. Charlie said it was great, but it was so embarrassing to have his guitar pulled out of his hands like that. It was a lesson he’d never forget.

Charlie laughs when he tells the story. Pretty much the same as he laughs when he tells any story about his life in music. Like even a bad day playing is better than a good day not. Besides, is there any better baptism to playing blues guitar than that? Johnny Clyde taught him to trust his guitar. Taught him how to trust himself playing it. What better lessons to learn when you’re only 12 years old? And Johnny did it all without words.

I’m learning to trust me and my guitar a little bit, too, now that I’ve been playing and learning for a few weeks. I’m finally at a point where I don’t have to stare at the strings while I’m playing to make sure they’re where I expect them to be. It’s a damn good feeling, to realize that my fingers know right where to meet them (at least some of the time). It gives me a kind of confidence I never had until now.

Isn’t that the thing with trust? Every single time we learn a lesson about it – whether it’s a new way we trust ourselves, or an old friend we learn to trust in a new way – that feeling can’t help but add to who we are. It adds to the confidence we have in ourselves but also our confidence about where we fit in the world.

There’s something else about Johnny Clyde Copeland; I didn’t think to ask what he meant when he told Charlie, “This is how you play.” Maybe it’s just me, but I wonder if he meant to teach little Charlie Dennis that if you’re gonna do a thing, then DO it. Don’t mess around, just go on. Then once it’s done, so what if it wasn’t quite right? It’s already over, and you always have next to time to do it better.

Maybe those are just my imaginings after watching Johnny play this song called, Flying High. But I wished I’d had a chance to ask him – If you’re gonna do a thing, just go on about it, right Johnny?

Right.

Why Hillary is not the gal for me #stillnotforHill

honesty

UPDATE: I originally wrote the post below right after the Iowa caucuses. I still feel pretty much the same, only now instead of having great misgivings about voting Hillary Clinton in the primary season, I’m facing the thought of having her and only her as the Democratic candidate in the general election. I’m torn and confused. And pretty pissed about the whole mess. I honestly don’t want to have to choose the lesser of two evils again.

Jill Stein is the Green Party candidate. I don’t know much about her. (BTW, you can click on her name and go to her candidacy page to learn more) I should, though, shouldn’t I? She’s another female candidate in the race for the seat behind that desk in the Oval Office. Here’s where I wish more than anything that we had fairer election laws and a better process so that anyone wanting a shot at the White House had access to a microphone loud enough to reach all the people with their message. We don’t have that. Because of that, among a couple of other things if I’m honest, I’m feeling caught with my pants down.

I’m still a Bernie supporter. Yes, I’ve gotten the emails: Hey, Becky! Take the unity pledge! Say you’re with her. I can’t, not yet. Maybe not ever. My biggest fear, though, is that unless Bernie Sanders joins Jill Stein’s ticket as her VP – which I think would be a huge waste – then a vote for the Green Party is nothing but a vote against the Democratic ticket. And regardless of who is on that ticket, I just can’t say I feel comfortable voting that way, given the possible alternative.

So, here I am. Here WE are. It’s only June. We have just under five months to go before Election Day 2016. A lot can happen in five months. But for now, I’m not feeling hopeful. And I hate when that happens.

There are so many important social issues that are on the cusp of BIG change right now. If we don’t have good leadership to direct that change we’re likely going to miss the moment and have to wait another 50 years all while watching ourselves sink into the pit of filth and despair, which is the current direction people who like to call themselves “pure” capitalists are pointing us.

What to do? I don’t know. I’m giving myself some time to think on it. I don’t think Hillary would be disastrous as a president. I also don’t think she’ll get much, if anything, done in the way of social changes we desperately need in America. Benghazi and all the crap with her email server? I honestly think it’s overblown the entire Republican Party hates the Clintons BS. Could both situations have been handled better? Of course. But I don’t believe for a second the mistakes were made with malice, shortsightedness, or bad judgment. I think they were honest mistakes made by a human being who is just as mistake-prone as the rest of us. Maybe new information will come out to change my mind about this, but I haven’t seen it yet. So, no. I don’t hate Hillary. I don’t think she’d be the worst thing that could happen to the US. I trust her intelligence and judgment better than I did George W. which is not saying a lot, but it’s something…

I could go on and on about this because my brain’s in a right jumble at the moment. I guess, for now, I’ll just say I will continue to hope for the best and leave it at that. Just for now, though. Probably, I’ll make another update to this post as Election Day draws nearer. Look for it in the coming months!

BEGIN ORIGINAL POST: Let me start by defending myself right off the bat: GAL? Isn’t it a little demeaning to call a 68 year-old woman gal? Yeah, no, I don’t think so. I think that’s the vibe she’s going for, honestly. But she can’t quite pull it off. She pulls off gal in 2016 as well as I used to pull off sista in the early 2000s, which is not at all.

And that’s the first reason I could never vote for Hillary in the primaries: she tries too damn hard to be something she’s not. She tries to work a room like Bill could, but she doesn’t come close. Put aside his politics (if you need to) and his philandering (ditto that), but that man can work a room like nobody’s business. He’s naturally charming. He’s naturally comfortable with people. Somehow those readers he wears now don’t look quite as frumpy on him as they do on everyone else. Hillary, though? She has none of that.

And maybe this sounds as dumb an argument as complaining about her hairstyle or her clothes, but I’m going out on a limb here to say, you’re wrong about that. If I want anything from my politicians the very first thing I want is for them to be genuine. George W. Bush was genuine. He was genuinely ineffective as president, but he was genuinely Dubya. I used to have a happy list of the idiotic things he said on my desk. He was definitely entertaining; I always gave him that much. But I don’t want to be entertained by my president.

I don’t get the same feeling of genuine from Hillary. She doesn’t feel that way, to me, at all. And here’s the thing, when I meet someone like that, someone who feels so fake? I am consumed with wondering what, exactly, is so bad it needs hiding. I don’t want that from my president, either.

Number two on my list: she calls herself a progressive. She said it in her Iowa caucus “victory” speech last night. But I believe it as much as I believed Ben Carson last night when he said any American who thinks there should be a separation of church and state in the US is schizophrenic.

Way back in the 90s, when Hillary Clinton was First Lady, she was tasked to head up the fight for Universal Healthcare. THAT was progressive. But that was also more than 20 years ago. That was before I had a cell phone, when recording a clever outgoing message on your answering machine was all the rage, and fax machines were the handiest way to transmit information (and they also used thermal paper). Yeah, that’s when Hillary was progressive. But let’s be for real. If she was like the average 68 year-old, we’d be giggling at her emails, right now, every time they arrived from her AOL account.

Here’s number three: She’s a feminist. This one I buy. She grew up knowing what it was like to be told “don’t worry your pretty little head about it.” She grew up in a time that even when her ideas where the smartest in the room, they were ignored because they came out of a carefully lipsticked mouth. That is absolutely true. But as far as my feminist ideals go, I can’t stand on that issue, and that issue alone, and vote for her. That would be the antithesis of an intelligent feminist’s decision.

It’s not that I don’t get how all these women out there are planning to vote exactly that way; just because of what she’s got, or rather hasn’t got, dangling between her legs. There was a cohort of black voters that voted for Barack Obama because he was black. I get it. If all things were equal, you’re damn right I’d be supporting Hillary Clinton in the primaries. But they’re not. So I won’t.

Onto number four: Hillary’s platform makes the claim that she’s fighting for the people. How can she make that claim, honestly, when she’s backed by big monied corporations? Or the .00001% of the population? Politics don’t play out that way.

We know darn well that, in every situation, if you get a favor (money) you owe one back. And the favor (legislation or a big contract, maybe) you owe is payable upon request. Period. In politics you can’t be beholden to big money contributors and the little people at the same time. They’re too often, like almost always, on the opposite sides of the table. Hillary’s smart enough to know that. And I honestly find it a little disgusting that she’s banking on her constituents to not be.

After all that, here’s my conundrum: what happens if my worst case scenario comes about, and Hillary is the Democratic nominee? Will I eat my words?

To tell you the real, honest truth? I don’t want to think about that now. I’m 50 and I’ve already cast too many votes in my lifetime for the lesser of two evils. Please, I don’t want to have to do that this year.

Get your caucus here!

11705238_10205506481636053_1965115608713194476_nI figured today would be a good day to post political, with the kick-off of Primary Season, and all.

Funny, isn’t it, that we celebrate the beginnings of sport seasons – Week One of the NFL season is always a big day in my house – but we don’t get as excited about political seasons. I’m wondering: why is that?

Sports are meant to entertain us. The games are usually pretty exciting, but their outcomes have no real impact on our daily lives. I’m just gonna step over all a y’all Steelers fans, here, because you’re crazy 24/7/365. But honestly, what is most important, the thing we should really pay Super Bowl or World Cup level attention to, if not our political system; who runs it, and what the hell they’re doing with our money?

Say you pay $200 or $600 for a ticket to see your favorite team play, or watch your favorite band in concert. You expect them to put on a damn good show. You expect quality for that money. You expect to feel like, even if your team didn’t win, it was a damn good game. Those are reasonable expectations. Why don’t we have those same expectations in politics?

Nobody’s going to lose their job as a result of a poorly executed tennis serve, but a few tens of thousands might as a result of a poorly executed debate. Why is it so much less important to us? Why are there twelve ESPN stations and CSpan has, like, three? And they’re way up in the high numbers where nobody accidentally scrolls (FYI, I checked my cable provider’s website for the exact channel numbers for CSPAN and found a 1/3 page ad for ESPN’s streaming service on the homepage… I already feel a little vindicated.)

So how are we going to change this? I say WE because I assume, if you’ve read this far you do care about this stuff. So, how?

  1. Register to vote.Voter turnout numbers in the US are pitiful. We’re a republic, which means we elect our political officials to be our hearts and voices in our political system. With voter turnouts as low as 27.8% (I’m looking at you Indiana) and only as high as 58.1% (Go Maine!) we’re not represented evenly, fairly, or honestly. For once I’m not blaming our elected officials for it, either. That’s totally on us. On a side note: Don’t spend your time complaining about how our country’s going to a flaming, broiling hell, then tell me you never vote because what’s the point? That’s just stupid.
  1. Educate yourself about the issues.This is getting tougher and tougher, thanks to the ad nauseous number of links Google lists after you click the search button. As a test, I googled the term “two party system.” I got back 245,000,000 results in about a 1/2 a second. That’s overwhelming; it would take me more than THREE BILLION MINUTES to read just the summary of each of those pages.

What to do? First off, let me say, DO NOT rely on some political meme you found on Facebook, no matter how funny or real it looks. That’s also stupid. What you should do is learn from lots of different sources. Read them, and then find out something about the organization that published the material.

Everyone has an agenda. This, in itself, is not a bad thing. But you should know what their agenda is before you go embracing their data, conclusions, and politics. Mom and Dad used to tell us to wait a half hour after lunch to go back in the water at the beach. Their agenda probably had more to do with them wanting just a half hour of relaxation than it did cramps. Here’s Politico’s About Us page. I found it by scrolling down to the bottom of their homepage. I also like Snopes to debunk stories that sound either too good or too bad to be true (see political memes above). Some sites, like FactCheck.Org even publish how they’re funded. FactCheck, is a resource I like, but it is commonly cited as having a liberal bias. Finally, don’t forget to check the politicians’ websites. Fingers crossed they list clear information about where your politicians stand on the issues and what they’re doing in your name.

  1. Pick a side. What issues matter most? Obviously, that depends on who you are and where you’re from. My top three are equality, health care, and education. The environment and foreign policy are a close #4 and 5, but we have to prioritize, right? Pick what matters to you, personally. It’s a good place to start. What gets you all riled up? Government waste? Poverty? Land use and conservation? If you’re homeless, regulations that have been popping up all over the country, that ultimately ban the homeless from living outdoors, will have a huge impact on your living situation. As a woman, abortion regulations have a direct impact on what can and cannot happen inside of my own uterus. That matters to me on a very personal level.

Spend a little time considering what you really care about, then research what’s happening in your community (local, state, and national). Then research your candidates so you can pick one who most matches your concerns.

You can take it slow. And maybe you should; it’s not easy. I like what Rand Paul has to say about staying out of foreign conflicts, but I would never vote for a man who said if you believe that every American has the right to quality health care “You’re basically saying you believe in slavery.” Things get messy in politics, but that doesn’t mean we should opt out.

  1. Put your money where your mouth is. Contribute to the campaign of the politician(s) who support your ideologies. This I can’t emphasize enough. (Here I’m stepping up on my soapbox.) We need campaign finance reform. It’s not right, fair, or responsible to allow individuals and corporations – NO, I do not consider a corporation to be an individual – to hide who they support and how much they’ve contributed. And contribution $$$ matter because if you only have $2,000 to run a campaign you’re obviously not playing in the same sandbox with the guys and gals who have $2,000,000. Do it. Contribute. I never throw a lot of money at my candidates of choice, but I throw enough to make me feel like I’ve done something. Whatever that number is for you, that’s what you should contribute. (…And now I’ll step off.)
  1. Put your time where your mouth is. Support your local food bank. Or your local school by volunteering for career day. Or write an opinion piece for publication. Or go clean up your local state park. My dad helped count the horseshoe crabs on a local Delaware beach. The long and short of this part is: it’s not up to our politicians to make our communities into what we envision them to be. That’s our job.

Did you notice in any of the above where I told you what you should think and why? You didn’t. Well. Maybe the part about campaign finance reform, but okay. That’s not my point. Of course I care if my candidates win or lose, but I care more that we become involved. This is my country. It is your country. If you’re not willing to stand up and be FOR us, work FOR us, then you shouldn’t call yourself an American. Not being involved has resulted in one current presidential candidate leading in the popular polls. That he can spout his filthy rhetoric and retain his popularity is beyond me. I find it frightening, but I also believe he is a direct result of our disinvolvement in the political system.

Hell yes, I want America to be a great country. But I’m more interested in watching a good game in the elections. A fair one. One that involves the best of the best political players. Any other scenario, in my mind anyway, is pointless.

Fame and Fortune and Everything That Goes With It

questions

On the one hand, I’d like to know who Neil deGrasse Tyson plans to support in the presidential elections. But on the other? I hope he never answers that question publicly. Why? Because politics is outside of his realm of expertise. I mean, sure, there are plenty of scientific and environmental issues looming large on the political stage these days: Flint; 2015 as the warmest year in the history of recording such a thing; fracking and the increased incidence of earthquakes… But these are all single issues, though, which should be discussed and discovered separately, just like every other issue that is important to the voting populace.

Something’s been bothering me for a long time… relative to how we come to our opinions about the world. It’s been a growing irksome thing, to me, for decades. It started back when Princess Diana began visiting one impoverished area then another. Her intent was heartfelt — the way she highlighted our failings as a species was quite effective. And we all adored her using her position for the good. But in the intervening 30-odd years, that scheme has turned grossly self-serving. I never cared when Angelina Jolie went to Africa (and wherever else) to lend her celebrity to the plight of the impoverished. I always figured it was a ploy to put herself in the public eye and make a bigger name for herself. Maybe she does have a good heart, but how do I know? I don’t know the woman.

And these days it’s come to the level of downright ridiculousness. Who in their right mind would rely on someone like Jenny McCarthy to instruct their opinion about vaccinations? That’s not smart. Of course it’s not! Who would take as scientific truth that the earth is flat because some rapper is claiming it? Come on! Are we even for real? And don’t get me started about celebrity endorsements of political leaders. I could care less who some backwoods, longbearded, famous-assed redneck thinks will make a good president. And I’ll add just one more item to this list: I’m sure as hell not gonna listen to some dude (any dude) tell me what can or cannot happen inside of my uterus. Let’s just get that straight right now.

My point is, I think it’s important we respect public individuals for their personal skills, not their opinions. Good actors are famous because of their acting skills. Good business people are known for their business acumen (c’mon Zuck, you’re no baby-raising guru). Physicists know the hell out of physics, and a skilled horsewoman will train the heck out of your horse if you ask real nice. Of course, if you happen to know a person well enough to have gained respect for them. Maybe then you respect their opinions. But I mean,  you know them, like IRL know them. Not reality TV know them. Or Twitter feed know them. Or you watch their vlog every day and feel like you know them, know them. None of those things are real.

Hell, I’ve known some people for years. I love them. I respect them. But we 100% disagree about almost every social and political issue coming down the pike. So you see? Right there! Even knowing a person very, very well doesn’t mean that we have to agree with their opinions. Or their opinions are worth a pound of salt. I suppose I just wish we weren’t so lazy headed when it comes to important stuff. Because that’s how Hitlers are made, isn’t it?

Here are the rules

IMG_0845Be your best and Try your hardest.

When I was growing up we had very few rules in our house. I’m not sure why that was. My parents were young – my mom was 22 when she had me and I was her third child. That might account for some of it. I think young parents parent differently because there are fewer things to worry about when you’re young. Sure, you understand, intellectually, that every time someone walks out the door you may never see them again. Or that the loss of a job could be devastating. Or pain and injury, starvation and war could be lurking around every next corner. You understand those things as a young parent, but you don’t have much sense of the gravity of them. Not like when you get older.

Or maybe it wasn’t so much that they were young as they weren’t super consistent with rules. Here’s an example: some random Saturday morning, we kids would wake up to suddenly find a chores list on the refrigerator door. It was probably at the beginning of summer. Our list featured the good old standards: clean the bathroom, wash the dishes, dust the living room… You can picture it, right? But the thing is, with my parents, that sort of thing usually lasted a couple of weeks. Then it would be forgotten. We kids never complained about it…

Of course, maybe our list of rules was so short because both of my parents liked to keep things simple. Why complicate life if you don’t have to. Fewer rules are easier to keep track of. So we really only had those two. Be your best. Try your hardest. That pretty much covers all the bases.

Be your best means, “don’t hit your sister” and “be polite” and those kinds of things. Be your best is about who you are. And who do we want our children to be (not to mention our friends and spouses and bosses, etc.)? Their best. It doesn’t matter what else after that.

What about Try your hardest? Yes, that’s just as easy; it’s about what you do in the world. Try your hardest means whatever you do: DO. IT. With every ounce of your being. With every pound of your muscle or brain, and with the immeasurable totality of your soul. Do it.

That sounds about right to me, but here’s something else. Actually a couple of somethings else. FYI: They’re things my parents never told me, but probably because I was meant to learn them for myself. This is the first — When you bring your kids up with these two rules, they learn that every single thing they do is a direct result of their choices, and only theirs. If they choose not to be their best, then whatever the consequences? Honey, it’s on you. If they don’t try their hardest? Too bad… It’s called learning accountability. That word is everybody’s favorite buzzword these days, but let me say I hate buzzwords. They are so overused they become meaningless. So let me say it this way, too. By being raised with these two simple rules, I learned to be my own worst critic. A lot of days that sucks because I am really good at being hard on myself. But I wouldn’t change that about me for the world.

The other something is this: Some days your best is simply amazing, and some days it’s not. Some days trying your hardest leaves you sweaty and frustrated and only inches further on your path, or worse maybe despite all that work you moved backwards. But it’s okay because you’re going to try your hardest again tomorrow.

And there’s always a chance that tomorrow will be better. (I learned that part from my parents, too.)

(On) The importance of being earnest

IMG_8982No, no. Not the play, silly. I’m talking about us. As people. Earnestness in how we carry ourselves. How we put ourselves out there in the world. Being earnest is important. It means you have some depth to you, and you are sincere in your words and your deeds. Without earnestness, all you got left is half-assed. And pardon me if that’s not good enough.

I’m proud to be a part of this crowd: We who run around being earnest. Even when we get called silly names, like “bleeding heart” or people say we’re too serious about this, too involved with that. Yeah, I don’t buy that, not anymore I don’t. Now what irks me is when someone, anyone, is not earnest. I don’t have time for people who don’t live their convictions. I don’t have patience for hidden agendas or the disingenuous. Everyone’s got an angle? Everyone’s got a shtick? I don’t, except to live my life in tune with my conscience. Go stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

Is this (another) one of my political rantings? No. Not really. I mean, sure, it plays out that way, but that’s not my intent. If I have any intention with putting these words out there it’s this: Live how your soul tells you. Speak your truth and let your actions affirm your life’s purpose.

And maybe that’s what I like about earnestness in the first place. It’s simple. It makes life a lot simpler. And just like Oscar Wilde said a long time ago. That shit’s important 😉

Because he dared

IMG_5279

I was reading a story by my favorite short story author, Alice Munro, today, called “Pride.” There was a line in the story that made me stop what I was doing to write this piece. It reads, “Good use can be made of everything, if you are willing.”

The reason it stopped me in my tracks, so, was because it made me think of Barack Obama. It brought to mind all that he’s faced in the seven years he’s been president. I admire this man, for a lot of reasons, but if I’m honest? It’s his blackness that I admire the most. That sounds silly, I know, so let me explain:

It’s not that I admire President Obama for the color of his skin. Rather, I admire what he’s done with it. He’s allowed himself to be a flash point for racism. He became the President of the United States of America because he dared to be.

President Obama doesn’t make the color of his skin an issue. He doesn’t pander to anyone by using his blackness as a weapon, or a calling card, or as a social divider. No. He asks us to look beyond his appearance and see that he is an intelligent man who considers an issue fully, and thoughtfully, and then takes a stand. He demands that we remember the substance of a man is in his heart, not in his DNA.

But dared? Yes, I used that word, purposely. It’s an interesting word to use, right? Here’s why: There are millions of Americans who use it in the context of how dare he? As though some little colored kid should never dare to dream so high. He dared like, he thinks he’s so high and mighty. He dared to think he’s better than me? Not around these parts. Not in this house. Not on my watch. Did that make you cringe? I’m not sorry. It was intentional. Those ideas (and worse) are voiced in America — land of the free, home of the brave — all day every day.

Yes, he did dare. He dared to willingly make himself a target. He dared to run for the presidency of the United States in spite of our latent but rampant racism. I don’t know, maybe part of why he dared was because of it. Not out of spite, but because somebody had to shine a light on it some day, why not him?

And my, oh my, it sure is shining big and bright now, isn’t it? But how does this tie back to that quote from Alice Munro? “Good use can be made of everything…”

I believe that President Obama has made good use of the way racism silently infiltrated America. I believe that his brown face and kinky hair alone allowed all the closet racists to crawl out and let their racist flags fly. I believe, ultimately, that that’s a good thing.

I am sick of hearing the phrase “I’m not a racist, some of my best friends…” Because we all know how that story ends. We know it’s just a bunch of words people use to excuse their deeper beliefs and behaviors, and to dodge the more serious conversations. Our president made good use of America’s racism because, and I’m being my typical hopeful self here, what I hope is that we will begin again to have honest conversations about race and poverty and all the inequalities in our country. It’s the only way to finally move, as a nation, away from those things, and toward what is greater. Because, let’s be honest, we are not a great country, unless we all have a fair shot at greatness ourselves.

But we must be willing…