HTTS Sitrep 4: The Strongest Chains We Forge Ourselves

Tags

, , ,

Arthur's Shelf     I have taken this lesson and done its critical exercises twice before, but in an effort to safeguard against familiarity and contempt, I took my time and made sure I paid even more attention to the details in a conscious effort to learn all it had to offer…or as much as I was capable of presently learning. The approach paid off in three solid Sentences, more on those later, but importantly it lead me to an important realization and discovery, one that was both alarming and liberating, frightening and affirming.
     I have elsewhere related in the Quill how my introduction to fantasy and heroic literature was made as a result of daily reading sessions at home. Under my mother’s watchful eye and guidance, I was allowed to choose the reading material and on the fateful day of our first session, I pulled Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur off the shelf, albeit an abridged juvenile version but Malory in its diction nonetheless. Added to the already fermenting solution of First American stories I’d acquired from the students my father worked with, it is no exaggeration to say that things were never the same afterward.
     Though Malory gets the nod for starting my love of epic fantasy literature, it was the Professor, however—J.R.R.Tolkien—who gets the prize for having the biggest impact. Having only had hints of such things in Malory, Tolkien revealed to me just what amazing things could be done with such legends and motifs.

     As an aside, I have to admit Scripture’s literary influence on me. As related earlier, I didn’t begin regular church attendance until sometime around the age of nine, but even before that, my grandmother’s Bible stories are among some of my earliest literary memories. As my reading acumen grew, I gravitated toward Old Testament stories of exotic cultures and adventure: the flight from Egypt; the building of the tabernacle and the construction of its furniture in the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy; King David’s Three Worthies and their commander in I Samuel; the bloody and gruesome triumph of Jael over Sisera, the Canaanite general of King Jabin in the book of Judges. Later, after Tolkien, I remember copying a list of the monarchs of Israel and Judah because they reminded me of the kings in Le Morte and the appendixes in The Return of the King.

     I was so struck by the fabricated mythology upon which the Professor built his deceptively simple and straight forward stories—the myths and histories, the languages and alphabets, the maps and drawings—I was inspired to attempt the same. In the early 70’s, despite nearly living at the local library a block away, I knew of no other author who had embroidered with such detail, though of course, this would rapidly change as the fantasy genre exploded, but that time had yet to come. As a result, I believed that to be a fantasy writer one had to create that same depth as Tolkien had in order to write convincingly. Thus I began a succession of note-books, essays, maps, myths, cultural descriptions, time-lines, and historic, scientific and literary exploration that has lasted to this day nearly 40 years later.
     What I did not understand, however, was the true nature of Tolkien’s creativity, that is, why he created his mythology as he did. While young I erroneously thought it was to publish stories, but this proves inaccurate. Though a thorough explanation of his motives is far beyond the scope of this missive or the meager skills of its author, as I understand it, Tolkien wrote his mythology as a backdrop for his conlangs. Though long before he became a linguist, the Professor was writing his mythology, it naturally became his conlangs’ vehicle. While he told his children many stories, e.g. The Hobbit and Father Christmas, the greater elvish mythology, The Silmarillion, in all its iterations, was in the final analysis, a labor of personal interest. Albeit a fascination beyond a simple “hobby”, still it was done for its own sake as a source of self-edification and in conjunction with his delight in language. It was not, as I then thought, written with the purpose of publication.
     Thus, as a youngster, I began world-building believing that when my world was finished, I would have the Tolkienian depth required upon which to build an amazing story. What no one could warn me of was how time consuming and addictive world-building could be or that it really had no end game. Each layer of development led to another, each refinement would demand further refinement, and so on and so on.
     While I played with language in an effort to imitate the Professor, my forte seemed to be in culture; it’s anthropology and philosophy. I loved creating unique religions and traditions, beliefs and customs. As I grew older and my understanding broadened, I built these in careful layers of evolution so that the end results were based on natural progression and made sense. Many a college course in history and science were taken not only to fulfill GE requirements but with my world-building needs in mind. While I had a great time, and gained an appreciation of this world through the building of my own which I would never have enjoyed otherwise, it was a voraciously time and energy consuming activity. Though I wrote my world’s myths, folk-tales and pseudo-histories, I never seemed to have time to compose full tales of the brave and tragic heroes and god-like sorcerers that lurked in the far background of my mind. I always seemed to have one more history to write, one more detail that needed fleshing out before I could treat my heroes with confidence, but even as I tried to tie off the loose ends, more seemed to rupture and need tending. Consequently my tales receded further and further into the murky distance.
     When I discovered table-top role-playing games, my desire to write something like the Professor had in The Lord of the Rings was nearly eclipsed by the type of obsessive world-building which reigns supreme in the hobby. I threw myself into the task with renewed abandon—no canned modules or published settings for me! It would be all original or nothing. I assuaged the accusatory voice inside my head by telling stories, after a fashion, through game-mastering and by assuring myself that all the world-building was for the story I would someday write. Though I cannot begin to describe the hours of enjoyment table-top role-playing afforded me, along with the other wonderful side explorations it inspired, in the end I cannot deny it was a drain on my creative energies that led me no closer to realizing my writing ambitions.
     Early in the HTTS course, Holly expressed four key precepts: Safe never starts; Perfect never finishes; Victim never acts and Feel never thinks. Called “…thinking barriers…”, they describe four common afflictions that hamper many writers from fulfilling their literary aspirations.
     I believe that as the lesson’s point concerning world-building on the publisher’s dime and only building when a story required it struck home. I came to realize that I was both trapped by my own world-building and ironically using it as “Safe never starts” and “Perfect never finishes” excuses.
     I realize now that as long as I choose to refrain from writing my stories until the world-building is finished, until everything is “perfect”, I will never write them. I see that my desire for this perfection is also a way of keeping my ego safe, safe from the possibility of failure and from facing the fact that I will never be able to replicate Tolkien’s feat nor his success, that my ambition to build a world as complex and as deep is indeed beyond my abilities or my years…or what is required to write my stories.
     It hard to admit this, but from Lesson 4’s perspective, I can see how my four decades of world-building have been a hindrance to my writing ambitions rather than an inspiration. While I am not prepared to call all my efforts in the area a waste, for many a good thing came of my world-building not the least being hours of creative enjoyment, I have to admit that as far as fiction is concerned, I have produced only a fraction in comparison. In retrospect, I believe my energies would have been better spent in reverse and primarily on writing fiction.
     This “revelation” was not the complete surprise I may have made it sound. I believe the realization had been working its way up from the depths of my subconscious for a long time and the Lesson simply gave it that last push to bring it to the surface. Lately I have found the RPG I game master burdensome. My world had grown so vast, that I have trouble keeping up with it in all its detail. I gave become more and more dissatisfied with gaming as a means of storytelling, and that frustration has communicated itself to my players. In short I was no longer having a good time and neither were they.
     It is interesting to note that later in life even Tolkien had begun to find his creation a burden as he struggled to finish the last and definitive version of The Silmarillion.
     In the 1996 documentary J.R.R.T.: A Film Portrait of J.R.R. Tolkien, his son Christopher spoke on how the pressure to “…write back…” an agreement between the LotR and The Silmarillion was becoming overwhelming in scope, particularly because even as he attempted to aligned the epic with his mythology and establish consistency, it inspired new stories and additions; indeed, the Professor had moved on from the major legends of the mythology—the sundering of the elves, Beren and Lúthien, Túrin Turambar—to entertain metaphysical questions concerning elvish immortality and what it meant to be an immortal incarnate and its implications on the mythology, a theme he wanted to explore in the final version of The Silmarillion. According to his son, however, “…the whole thing had…become too large, too complex…to impose so precise a metaphysical explanation on it; it was perhaps a task for a younger man. The flame began to die down and he hadn’t the energy left for such a huge transformation…” despite deeply wanting to “finish” the work. I sometimes feel that Bilbo’s lament over being too tired to finish compiling his memoirs in what would later become The Red Book of Westmarch, and that all he really wanted to do was write, “…poetry…” was a reflection of the Professor’s own feelings in this regard.
     I approached my third go-round of The Sentence exercise with all this in mind, and as hard as it was, I forced myself not to consider my world setting by default as I cast about for story seeds from my SSM. I determined that if an idea came that involved my world as a backdrop that would be fine, but I would be wide open to any suggestion that came regardless of genre, setting or character type. The results were telling. Of the three ideas that I eventually wrangled into The Sentence, only one was set in my fantasy world. The other two, though paranormal in theme, were set in this world in modern times.
     To say that I felt a sense of freedom as a result would be stretching things a bit, but it would not be wholly inaccurate. I did feel a release of pressure that I’d not realized I held within me, an anxiousness that somehow I wouldn’t be able to come up with any ideas sans my world. Developing two ideas independent of my fantasy world was both affirming and exciting especially since the idea which stands out as the one that might be a vehicle for the rest of the course is not the one set in my world.
     This lesson helped me understand that ultimately what I must do is write and to do that, I cannot confine myself to the limits of my world-building. And while there is nothing wrong with writing a fantasy set in that world, to hinge my definition of what a writing career should look like based on a single setting is to willfully cripple myself as a writer. I will forever admire the Professor and his work and owe him a great debt, but if I am to be successful in own goals, I must keep my options as broad as I can and that may mean breaking the confines of both this world and my own.

HTTS Sitrep 3: I Think, Therefore I Muse, Part II

Tags

, , ,

Sunwolfe     When I was young, I thought I had a spirit-helper named Dirus.
     I pictured him as a gray wolf of great size, wisdom and strength. Though both a lone-entity and a pack member, I don’t ever recall the pack being a big part of our exchanges save only once—but of that, I’ll speak another time. Whenever I had a problem or felt a deep yearning for love, understanding or beauty, I would call him to my waking-dreams and we would talk. He was as honest as his teeth were razor sharp. He bit hard and his jaws were strong.
     He could shape-change from a wolf to an aged and glyph covered shaman or a scarred and proud warrior in his prime. When he changed, however, his head always remained that of a wolf.
     I wrote down many of our conversations and more than a few of our adventures. He brooked no fools and did not hesitate to let me know when he thought I was acting one or was wasting his time. His voice was as vivid in my head as someone at my ear and we spoke together clear until I was in my early 30s.
     Though he was a powerful entity and stood tall in my dreams, I sensed that behind him was a fragile truth, a secret, that should it ever come to light would somehow change things forever. I suspected I knew what it was but as long as I never said anything about it, never articulated the words, he would always be on call.
     When an important relationship ended in a traumatic breakup, it left me an emotional wreck. At a low point in my recovery, I mentally acknowledged the secret: that Dirus was really a composite made up by my conscious and unconscious mind from my mental, physical and emotional experiences and yearnings, that he was not real in the sense of an independent entity; he was a fantasy and in truth nothing more than…me.
     From that moment on, I rarely conjured the Great Wolf and our conversations ceased—he was a figment of my imagination, something I, my right-brain and left-brain, had made up.
     I know this might be upsetting to some, and in someways it upset me too, but deep down I knew where Dirus had come from, knew he was but a construct that my mind had cobbled together—a patchwork character using my experiences as a source. For example, during the early to mid ’60s, my father and my grandmother worked as counselors at Philco-Ford’s Employment Training Center in Madera, California for Native Americans. The corporation, no longer in business, was under contract with the BIA to offer vocational training to Native Americans. On occasion both he and my grandmother took me to work and I was fortunate enough to get to know some of the students there. Native peoples have a deep affection for children and the students took a shine to my sister and I. I was able to do and see things as a child that adults could not such as participate in dancing and singing, impromptu language lessons, eating amazing tacos and playing with their children. I believe my love of all things native and aboriginal had its origin there. When I turned nine, the BIA took direct control of the facility and my father felt the mismanagement was such he had to resign. Not long afterwards, the Center closed its doors. Though I was sad that I would no longer be able to attend Friday night sings, hear the cool stories or eat unci’s fry-bread, I’m glad to say that the memories have remained with me. It is in the stories told by those vocational students that the seeds of what would become Dirus were sewn.
     By the time I was a freshman or sophomore in high school, I was already labeled a day-dreamer and accused of “living in a fantasy world” by my peers. At the time I was hurt by the derision in their voices, but deep down I was happy to be considered a mutant who sang bad imitations of native chants, recited Tolkien’s poetry, read Conan adventures, dreamed of Bruce Lee and wrote bad short-stories rather than be counted among my peers as one of the many with only a drug induced haze or a hangover to show for the weekend. I reveled in being different and, as ever, retreated into reading whenever the drama became too much. With the legends the native students told me still in my heart, I bought a book called The Legend of Wolf Song by George Stone, which I still have and treasure. It tells the story of how wolves learned to sing and is the first place where Dirus makes an appearance as the protagonist’s god and helper. I so wanted to be like the main character “Wolf” and have Dirus as my mentor.
     It didn’t take long for the Great Wolf to emerge as a subject of my poetry and the mental counter-voice my mind conjured whenever I wrestled with the tough issues of growing up and needed someone, or something, I trusted to talk to. My imagination more than answered the call in Dirus.

     I miss Dirus. I miss his strength, his authority, his aboriginal connection to the truth, his native assurance of belonging, but I clearly understand that Dirus was not some visitor from the spirit plane, not an independent muse sent by the gods. He was me—a combination of my right and left brains and my experiences as a child and teen come to life in the fertile fields of my imagination. His power and ability to change my attitude, alter my physical reality, offer both damnation and salvation and truly change my world were, and are, products of me.
     I suppose this is why I am so uncomfortable with the idea that “my Muse” is somehow independent of my self. When it is referred to as “…your Muse and your You…”, I find it sets my teeth on edge like nails on a chalk board. I am me and my right-brain is me, as is my left-brain. I am the toy maker.
     I remember a John Milius interview in which the director of the Schwarzenegger Conan the Barbarian described Robert E. Howard writing the first Conan story in a panic with the Cimmerian hovering over his shoulder an ax held aloft ready to slay the author if he did not finish by dawn. A little research shows this story to be apocryphal, but it is a great illustration of how the romantic stereotype of the writer at the mercy of the muse or character is loved, embroidered and perpetuated. I suppose if it works, it works, but what drives me absolutely crazy is the copious amount of advice such stories generate that is more akin to how to become one with the Force than how to access the creative self.
     Left-brained folk, who have rarely had to fire up their right-brain neurons, are blown away when right-brainers tell stories of characters running away with the plot or how their muse Calliope became angry and took an extended holiday.
     I understand that the subconscious is remote and difficult to navigate, or even to define and describe in concrete terms, but such romanticism leaves left-brain folk wondering why their characters aren’t offering them direction, advice or running away with things; indeed, having a character run off “…with my story” is in some writing groups and forums almost a rite of passage or a badge of honor.
     No, I’m sorry. My characters do not go rogue; I do. I am responsible. If a character seems to be running away with the plot, then it is my responsibility to step away from the key-board or put the pen down. If I do this, it’s amazing how said rogue character can no longer commit another word to paper. I go mow the lawn, wash dishes, take a nap or switch WIP until things have calmed down, then I return. I completely understand how addictive the voices-inside-the-head can be. I am blessed with a very active right-brain and my characters come through loud and clear. I am also a teacher, however, and my left-brain skills are strong, but I am not subject to either side’s demands because in the end, I know it is me who chooses to follow the promptings of my right or left-brains not my characters.
     It is akin to the anthropomorphisization many pet owners subject their dogs and cats to. Don’t get me wrong, I love my pets and it never ceased to amaze me how my animals seemed to know what I was feeling and what I meant. My last cat and my last dog were seriously boon companions in this regard. I miss them as much, if not more, than I do my late father. I miss how my cat Greystoke seemed to know I was on my way home and was there on the front porch waiting for me no matter when I drove up. I miss how he would “converse” with me in various pitched meows when I told him about my day, my newest story idea or character concept. I miss how Callista stayed close and laid her huge head in my lap whenever I was depressed or sick, avoided me when I was tense, and knew just what to do to make me laugh. I am under no illusions, however, as much as my right-brain may play with the idea, that they were employing human emotions and observations, that they felt sorry or sympathized with me. No, they were animals and, as mine, keen observers of my behaviors, which they had down so well, it seemed like they knew what I was thinking before I thought it myself. For example, Callista noticed pending migraine symptoms long before I did and would paw at me like a service-dog. If I picked up on it, I could take my meds and blunt the headache’s pain when it came. If not, within a day, bam!, it was migraine-city and then I’d remember her pawing at me. Doh!
     No matter how I might subject her to personification Callista was, in the final analysis, a dog. This came strongly home when her cancer first showed up, and we had to have her diseased leg amputated. In a 135 pound dog this was not something undertaken lightly, especially as it involved a front leg. Would she be able to navigate? How mobile would she be? Considering her weight, how would it hamper recovery? The vet and I discussed many such considerations before the operation. I remember asking him if she might not become depressed and could that effect her recovery? He smiled and said that although he believed animals could become depressed, especially those who had lost a mate or human companion, he assured me that animals “…don’t think like us.”
     “We lose an appendage” he said, “and we’re not only scarred physically but emotionally as well. We wrestle with the mental demons of inferiority, weakness and imperfection. A dog is more likely to act as if nothing happened. They make adjustments because that’s what the moment dictates. If all goes well, we’ll have to hold her back because as soon as she can stand, she’s going to want to go for a walk, legless, stitches, staples, and scars notwithstanding. It’s all about what’s for dinner and are you ready to walk?—that will be her response.” And so it was.
     In the end, after a long and amazing battle with her disease (nearly two and a half years!), she died in my arms (30 pounds lighter—we had walked a lot :-)) a valued member of my family who can never ever be replaced, but nonetheless as the beloved dog she was, happy at being caressed by her human until the moment her huge heart stopped beating.
     Any anthropomorphic characteristics I might have imbued her with were nothing but mental constructs reflective of my own human needs and desires. Believing otherwise doesn’t necessarily hurt, but it does create a set of false responses and parameters that could have caused greater problems in myself.
     Characters running a muck in the playground of my mind, muddying my story and stealing lines? All mine, baby, me: constructs of my imagination, my muse, my brain, my responsibility.

     Does speaking of the right-brain in such terms hurt? I mean, so what if I want to call it a “she” or a “her” and name it Calliope? No. I don’t believe so, but neither do I believe it is okay to blame her for running off with the story or for writer’s block. Doing so creates a false perception that someone or something else is in charge, not me, and therefore my lack of accomplishment is somehow not my personal responsibility. It shields me from owning the problem and learning how to deal with it because to try and do so is paramount to admitting I am responsible and forces me to give up my romantic notions of a muse such as John Milius described. Instead of doing something about it, I sit and wait for lightning to strike or for my character to get with the program.
     This is one of the many reasons why I appreciate Holly’s course so much. She offers methods by which to understand the wild character and tools with which to make lightening strike. Though she refers to the right-brain as her Muse and the left as her “You” and her descriptions can get a bit squishy, the exercises and tools she offers are sound for bringing the two in concert and if applied with wholehearted focus and open minded flexibility, they can produce amazing results without any hocus-pocus or blood sacrifice–well, maybe a little blood :).
     Do they involve hard work? Oh, yes, but also hard play. Can it be frustrating? Of course it can, but what is worth having that isn’t also worth a little frustration? Can the process be a bit…illusive? Sometimes but usually due to my own shortcomings and learning curve. A bit mystical? No, I don’t think so—but there is room to believe so if I wish. Uncontrollable? To this I offer a resounding no! It’s about learning mental skills and control and the rules (which always change) but also about play and spontaneity and right-brain access. Impossible? Absolutely NOT.
     I make no claims that the above is the ultimate truth, only that it is my truth. Dirus was a powerful construct and I sometimes mourn deflating him of his power by admitting he was nothing more than a product of my imagination. On the other hand, I appreciate knowing just how powerful my imagination can be and feel blessed that I can tap that power in the creation of my literary characters. I enjoy that I might interact with them in a similar fashion and, hopefully, render them on paper as convincingly, but if not, either because they refuse perform or because of poor writing, it isn’t their fault or the Muse’s fault…it’s mine.

HTTS Sitrep 3: I Think, Therefore I Muse, Part I

Tags

, ,

Nine Muses 225     Squishy and crunchy; right and left; designer and draftsman; creator and crafter; it’s all me.
     The hardest part of Lesson 3’s exercise was trying to do nothing that involved reading or heavy word-lifting while the right-brain was working. I did laundry, showered, played “Four-in-a-Row”, napped, meditated, listened to atmospheric lyric-less music, sketched, washed dishes, but of all the word neutral activities I tried, going for a walk or taking a driving were the most productive. Twice I used my Iphone’s “Voice Memos” app with good effect to record right-brain offerings and touch points—I plan to explore this option further. Twice I got lucky enough to find myself alone in the house and left to my own devices. I was able to think aloud without interruption or audience. These times proved the best for right-brain/left-brain communications and productivity.
     I noted a creative equilibrium that had to be maintained as I patiently tried to give my right-brain self time to graze the Sweet-Spot Map, chew thoughtfully on what it gathered there and then deliver an idea, yet at the same time keep my left-brain under control but not completely muzzled so as to allow it to accept or deny said ideas, and then gradually afford it more lead as further definition was required and let slip the leash completely when synthesis began to occur. This balance, for me, was critical to successfully calling down lightning.
     The point where the left-brain gradually turns from simply accepting or rejecting to requesting more defining information was a subtle one. Sometimes it happened without my noticing it. One moment my left-brain was giving ideas thumbs-up or thumbs-down and in the next asking “How can that work?” or “Where is this going?” and going even further as my right-brain self suddenly began offering more detailed answers.
     Though note-taking was discouraged, I must confess that my absolute best sessions occurred with a red pen in one hand, a blue pen in the other (metaphorically speaking of course, though I am somewhat ambidextrous) and a sheet of quadraliniar paper between them. Right-brain laid down its questions in red and left-brain responded in blue:yea-ing, nay-ing or maybe-ing. I found that this helped keep the left-brain in check as it enthusiastically tried to run with the possibilities right-brain offered up without allowing them to percolate. More than once I had to remind my eager left-brain self to calm down, speak softly, slowly, simply and allow my right-brain self the wiggle room it needed.
     Though I suffer from PERFECT, I am blessed that my left-brain self does not act so much the “inner-critic” (for which I am extremely thankful), as it does the experienced elder sibling ever ready to dispense advice and put everyone’s life in order. My left-brain was eager to start drafting plans even before my right-brain designer was finished conceptualizing the idea.
     Synthesis was more easily achieved than it was identified. One idea took nearly a whole week to bring to the surface, but once the Creator and the Crafter started slamming down details together and working in more or less sync, it was pretty obvious and entertaining.
     One thing I had to remind myself to do, and I don’t know if this was right or wrong, was to let go and stop worrying/refining an idea after synthesis: “…don’t expect [ideas] to be perfect or easily usable…” (bracket added by author for emphasis). I had to tell myself more than once that the exercise was not meant to produce a full-blown plot line complete with scene cards and denouement but simply a good idea with potential.
     I noted that the process had sped up by the time I landed my third idea. It took a quarter of the time my first idea required. Of course this could be dependent on a great many things from the need for sleep, to an unnoticed detail on the SSM, to finally uncovering a truly writer-self appealing idea. I suspect however, that my left and right-brains were learning how better to cooperate with each other. I wonder if trying to crank out three ideas a week wouldn’t be great training to take on for a month or so as good writing exercise.

HTTP Sitrep 2: Such a Waste

Tags

, , , , ,

Hater     It appears I am a hater and a holder of grudges even, I am ashamed to admit, against the dead.

     In my second go-round of the Sweet Spot Map (SSM) exercise, the “I hate…” portion populated itself all too quickly. Some of the items were good things to have an aversion for: injustice, religious intolerance, and mental, physical and emotional abuse, etc. I discovered other things against which I had set my anger and hate, however, less worthy things that left me alarmed and disturbed.
     As I allowed my right brain to express itself, the actions of five former high school teachers quickly added themselves to the “I hate…” page. I was mildly surprised at how fast the memories and emotions surfaced. I say “mildly” because I was no stranger to the memories having long ago wrestled with them while formulating my own teaching philosophy. What startled me was their visceral and evocative nature. 35 years notwithstanding, in a flash of memory and adrenaline, I was suddenly back in those classrooms, back in those embarrassing situations experiencing the frustration and impotent rage all over again.

     Some background is in order before I proceed. While we were not a regular church going family, whenever my mother, sister and I visited my grandparents, we attended with them. Doing anything with my grandma was always fun and I was in such hero-worshiping-awe of my grandfather that going anywhere with him was a treat. After years of witnessing their quiet conviction and genuine concern for others, their example has ever been the definition of what “living” one’s faith and true commitment means to me.
     When I was nine, my mother, who had dropped out of the Seventh-day Adventist faith when young, decided to start attending church again. She was soon re-baptized and my sister and I were enrolled in the local Adventist school. While I had some positive experiences and good times, I did not remain an Adventist but ceased regular attendance about a dozen years after my high school graduation and eventually withdrew completely. My disillusion with the Adventist religious system has many roots, but the tap root is firmly anchored in my high school experience and in the actions of the those five teachers.
     There was one teacher in particular whose name I had a hard time recalling. I could only remembered his surname’s initial probably because he was not one of my classroom teachers. I clearly remember the incident associated with him though.
     Students in the Adventist school system during the last half of the 70’s had to handle a ton of prohibitions. According to the powers that be, the devil was behind anything that was not directly connected to the religious system. Dancing, hand-holding, movies, non-christian books, competition sports, and bacon were high on the “no fly” list. Considering the era, and from a more experienced man’s viewpoint, I understand how such conservationism could have evolved. Kent State’s echo could still be heard; Watergate was a fairly recent memory and as a result, America had lost some of its confidence and deeply distrusted its leaders; indeed, it was during my freshman year that Saigon finally fell to the North Vietnamese. The legacy of the drug culture and free-love movement had left its mark in the dark rumor of AIDS gathering on the horizon. It’s no exaggeration to say that the country still feels reverberations of that time. As a consequence, leaders of many religious systems yearned for a simpler time when that “…old-time religion was good enough for…” all and the Adventists were no exception.

     But no where were these prohibitions more stringent than in reference to rock-music. One day toward the end of the year, a guitar-playing friend of mine and I, a drummer, decided to noodle with some tunes like Smokin’ on the Water and O’Black Water during lunch period while the faculty was up in the lounge eating lunch. My father, a non-Adventist, was an RV salesman by day and a bass playing musician by night. Though I wanted to play bagpipes (we’re Scottish on my mother’s side) my family couldn’t afford them, but I was indulged with a used set of drums as my second musical love. Now, we knew that playing at school would be frowned upon by the establishment but figured we’d be done by the time lunch was over. We’d play for 20 minutes or so, then load up the kits in our friend’s car with none the wiser. Being kids and rather naive, we didn’t take the rumor-mill into consideration and by the time we were setting up, a sizable crowd filled the gym eager for some music and when fully half the kids on a 175 student-campus disappear (closed campus), the faculty notices.
     Sure enough, about halfway through our second tune, the school band teacher appeared on stage—we were playing on the gym-floor. Like some bloody prophet making a pronouncement, he raised his hands and boomed out in a deep baritone,
     “If I were you, I’d stop right now. This is all I’m going to say: I would stop if I were you. You have been warned!”
     Typical teens, we stared at him like deer caught in the headlights and when he stepped back behind the curtain and we heard the door close, we, of course, promptly resumed playing. About five minutes later, Elder ‘C’, the principal, showed up with a face looking like thunder and shut us down by first running off the audience with threats of suspension and then threatening to dismantle my drum set himself if I didn’t do it first. As my friend stepped up to shut off the amplifier, he nervously—and unconsciously!–fingered a riff. The Elder came down like a hammer,
     “I said, turn that off! If you don’t want to be suspended, don’t defy me! Turn it off now!”
     The kid apologized and tried to explain it was just a nervous tick, but the Elder ignored him and acted like he’d been insulted.
     Under his stormy brows we grudgingly but quickly closed down our instruments and packed them out to the parking lot.
     I suppose we got off lightly because I don’t remember a phone call home and he probably could have confiscated our instruments for our parents to pick up later.

      So many things about this upset my teenage sense of fairness—things that have stuck with me to my adult present.
     More than anything, it was the hypocrisy of it all that made me feel as if my mouth had been filled with dust. Every week these same teachers in a mandatory-chapel touted how they were there to help us, to guide us, to become the people we dreamed of being because they loved and valued who we were. In reality, however, most of them were too busy trying to assert their authority and ignored the A-Number One Rule Of Working With Teens: as long as you’re genuine, you’ve got an in, but at the first scent of hypocrisy, you’ll be shut out forever. Both the band teacher and the Elder had claimed such sensitivities, but when it came down to it, they chose blind authority rather than the teachable moment.
     From my teenage point-of-view, the school administration had failed even earlier.
     A year before the above incident, the administration had officially endorsed a performance band in which I played drums. One of the interns had agreed to advise the band. We were heavily regulated with plenty of prohibitions on what we could or couldn’t play, but we were excited and worked hard practicing everyday and learning tunes.
     We were given permission to play at one banquet—the Adventist equivalent of a public school dance or prom wherein attendees dressed up, ate a parent catered meal then usually watched a sanctioned Disney flick (but only one deemed “devil-free” because even Walt had some questionable material like “Black Beard’s Ghost” and “Darby O’Gill and the Little People”!)–and absolutely no dancing involved. This time, instead of a film, we would perform. We played the mellowest of Bread, John Denver, Elton John and Barry Manilow. Our peers loved it and we all had a good time. Some of the Elders were less than enthusiastic, of course, but the fact that no one danced, sprouted horns or got pregnant during the whole time we played was indisputable.
     After the banquet, we were riding high on our success and looked forward to playing again, but…nothing came of it. Our adviser wouldn’t organize our next practice and kept putting us off. Without him we couldn’t use the gym or school facilities; indeed, he didn’t seem to want to talk to us about it at all. We went to the principal and asked for help, but were told that our adviser was tired and needed a rest, that we should stop pestering him and that the band had never been a long term proposition anyway. We were devastated. We felt we’d had our hopes lifted only to have them dashed. We had finally played music in a band…not a school band but a real band and now, we were old news and too much of a bother.
     Now, months later, here we were in the gym once again being brushed off and, this time quite literally, hustled out the door. I just didn’t understand how they could endorse playing music with one hand and then take it away with the other, especially considering we were not even remotely playing Ozzy, Black Sabbath or KISS tunes (“Knights In Satan’s Service” according to the Elders—what a crock) but here we were, nonetheless, being threatened with suspension anyway; indeed, if one looks at the Christian Rock scene of today, what we were trying to play was pablum by comparison and about as spiritually toxic as a wet-cracker. If the band teacher in question had only been willing to take a small risk and offered to show us some musical alternatives, we probably would have jumped at it because in the final analysis all we wanted to do was play and make music. Instead we were given proscription and admonition. So much for teachable moments.
     By the time the next year rolled around, I had ceased playing drums altogether and my friend did not return for his senior year. He talked his parents into letting him attend a public school were his love of music was encouraged rather than curtailed.
     The final “head-shaker” came about half a dozen years later when my old yearbook adviser, teacher and mentor (one of the very few instructors at that travesty of a school to warrant the appellation “teacher”) asked me to return to do some artwork for his book. I was blown away when I saw photos of kids holding hands, wearing fashions that would have violated a dozen earlier dress-code policies, and participating in competition sports with other christian schools. I was later told that the school band was now covering tunes in their present line up that had been banned only a few years earlier. Seeing the “what-the-hell-?” look on my face, my former adviser knew exactly what I was thinking and rattled off in his best Bob Dylan, “…the times they are a changin’…”. But not the hypocrisy I guess.

     What disturbed me most during the SSM exercise, however, wasn’t so much what happened or how it was so different from what I’d do as a teacher but how quickly the experience came to the surface as something “I hate…”. That and the realization that though I thought I had dealt with it and put it to rest, it had been lurking beneath the stagnant surface along with its fellows drawing who knows how much energy, emotion, and creativity down to muddy and fruitless death.
     As if to underscore the point, when I couldn’t recall the name of the band teacher, I phoned my sister. She promptly gave me his name. What brought me up short was when she mentioned that he had died in a car accident the same year I had returned to work on the yearbook.
     I hung up in stunned silence. He couldn’t have been more than 35 or 40. I remembered he had had a family, a wife and children. I suddenly felt a deep since of shame and embarrassment at having carried that anger and petty hate around for so long. From 1978 to 2015, for nearly 37 years, a corner of my creative mind had been devoted to my anger for this man, a man, who like myself, made human mistakes, but unlike me, would never have the luxury to unmake them. I saw my anger for the rapacious parasite that it was—a useless program running in the background, consuming life-force and sapping creative energy. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are things we must “…hate…” as suggested above, but this…this was nothing more than a leech-like petty indulgence that had brought about nothing good. What a travesty; what a waste! How much will never be done in my life because I have slavishly chained myself to this millstone? How many other chains have I, like Ebeneezer, forged for myself attached to the memories of the living and the dead?

     Holly’s method is initially big on self-examination and identifying problem areas which form roadblocks to a would be-writer’s career. Some of the exercises, like the SSM, are innocuous at first glance but pack a hidden punch when done honestly and with focus. I plan to use it for more than character motivations, details and story lines, but as a dark window to the soul. Through it, I hope I can identify and avoid those hidden and dreadful creatures that threaten my hopes and dreams.
     I want to apologize to any readers for being a bit vague about Holly’s course or methods. Considering that her course is how she makes her living, I want to respect that by not going detailing the wherefore’s of her lessons. Readers unfamiliar but interested should go to Holly’s site and research the course. Though the How to Think Sideways class is only offered annually, Holly has other excellent courses of writer-interest on everything from writing a novel series to editing that next draft to developing a ConLang for a particular setting.

HTTS Sitrep 1: The War Has Begun

Tags

, , ,

Battering Ram     Despite having done this lesson before, it was an up hill battle all the way.
     Since deciding to re-attempt Holly’s course, I have been beset by potential roadblock after roadblock. Friday the 13th , was appropriately the last day of 3rd quarter—only 48 more school days left, two months! Friday was also the cut off date for seniors to submit the paperwork portion of their senior-portfolios including letters of recommendation and some idiot teacher agreed to do more than his self-imposed limit of ten letters then promptly forgot about it. It came home to roost last week. Not only was I trying to administer final homework and projects—and correct them—but I was writing letters at top spead. I don’t use form-letters. I write real ones each taking about a ½ an hour or more. I inadvertently made an already busy after school even busier. Luckily, I had done half of them previously.
     On Monday there had been a mandatory after-school meeting with representatives of the District Office for those who had been “selected” to burn a week of vacation this year at the Model School’s Conference in Atlanta, GA.
     “A sign of your commitment to this effort will be the purchase of your own airline tickets—do this quickly before prices become too unreasonable. Reimbursement will soon follow…” What makes these guys think I’ve got a spare $600.00 for plane tickets regardless of reimbursement—I mean, hell, they know how much I make. They pay me!
     On Wednesday an all day visit by the county department of school’s ACCESS scholarship committee needed a teacher panel to interview. Guess who got “asked” to be on the panel? Yeppers….they called out the dinosaur. Suddenly I had to prep sub-plans for an extended block period. I do NOT simply say, “read pages 22-35 and answer the questions on page 37”. Any fool can do that. I’m a teacher, not a baby-sitter.
     Teaching seniors has its hazards and the helicopter parents were filling my email with confirmation and counseling requests because Jr. was not getting the grade mom and dad wanted for him—nor was he showing the minimum responsibility I’d like him too.
     Then there were the Tri-annual Review of progress and Present Levels of Performance forms that Resource required to be filled out…”ASAP…” complete with a review of strategies used in the classroom for those students in question. One even required me to connect my accommodations (those based on their recommendations) to State Standards—nothing like having your professional judgment questioned. If these are so damn important, how about a heads up: “…in three weeks Student X is up for his Tri-annual…”?
     And then there was the soft-lock down wherein students had to be moved to a cordoned-off section of the campus while a medical emergency was tended to.
     Oh, yes…did I mention Prom Committee, Student Council and Staff Collaboration meetings, tutoring the needy and a constitution writing consult with the officer of a new pan-high school club? One might wonder where preparing, delivering and cleaning-up after lessons comes in—you know, the thing I was hired to do? So do I, so do I :-(
     Sometimes I’d swear that site and D.O. administration conspire to come up with adjunct duties during quarter’s end and scramble to get grade books settled just to see how much more they can squeeze from us. I suppose I should be thankful that after 24+ years, I’m still light enough on my feet to do the dance, but as a result, I put in a week’s worth of (with the commute) 14 hour days.
     In my next life, I’m coming back as an art teacher—and that’s not a dig at the art department. Those crazy people work hard too, but their grading seems to go a lot quicker than it does for English teachers. I know that the amount of paper comes with the territory, but I must see a stack at least three feet tall every other week!
     What ever possessed me to choose Language Arts? Ah, yes, that must have been that love of literature and writing, which finally brings me around to the point: I did get the first lesson of HTTS done.

     Between work and dinner and sleep, a bagpipe lesson, minimal practice, a chapter or two of my latest read, loving but demanding relatives and a (now three week bout of Bronchitis that leaves my ribs sore and chest rattling) that keeps threatening to become something more sinister, I did it. It took me longer to do the lesson than I’d have hoped…about 10 days rather than a week, but I got it done!
     It might be worth noting how I approach the material. I know it’s too much effort for some, but it is a solid study for myself.
     First I d/l it all—and movies included—and then survey it all noting headings and parts after which I write up a table of contents and goals-and-objectives sheet. I then print lesson materials and place in their own labeled binder. When all is ready, I then read and annotate the lesson, with a highlighter in hand making notes and observations. After this I re-read the lesson while taking reading-notes in my note-book, recording the main points and then responding in note form. Finally I attempt the homework.
     I did not tackle the Quick Fix, the Walkthrough or the Hotseat portions of the lesson, all of which I have dealt with before on my first go round and will revisit in the future. One thing about Holly’s lessons is that they are packed with a serious amount of good solid material but considering the above, I think following Holly’s advice and concentrating on the main lesson is the best strategy for now.
     I did not get to the HTTS forum “First Writing Discussion” though I really wanted to so as to I feel part of the class. I may attempt to do so later on (the day of composition) if I can find time, but a stack of 150+ essays calls to me like a siren that won’t be denied and I’ll have to give them their due. Alas, that is the price paid for concentrating on Holly’s lesson: a Sunday spent grading papers rather than doing personals, convalescing or prepping Wednesdays blog-post.

     What do I want to accomplish with these blogged How To Think Sideways Sitreps? Not to be overly dramatic, but in a very real way, the hosts of Mordor surround the city and Grond is knocking at the gates. I believe, with all my heart, that I’m fighting a battle as grim as any described in the fantasy literature I love. It is a battle against time, my own weaknesses and the demands of a world I’ve created and must somehow recreate. Failure is not an option because I’m not sure I’d have the strength to rally once again. While the aim of the course is to help writers to a career in writing, that goal is so huge, it is too bright for me to contemplate right now. I cannot look into the sun. If I can simply and successfully complete each lesson, then I will consider it victory. What comes after will come.
     These Sitreps are then a battle report, a call to empty space to bear witness, a measure and method of self-accountability that I hope will fortify me to keep my grip and not let go as I have in the past. I will not blame circumstances any more: death in family, sickness, the demands of those without a clue. I am the captain of my fate. I am in charge. In the words of one of my literary characters,
     “The twin edged sword of responsibility means both that I can cut a path through the enemy as well as cut myself, but no matter which, it is I who wield the blade.”
     Sounds grim, doesn’t it…maybe overly dramatic? I know…but that’s because this is just about the most desperate and serious thing I have ever been moved to attempt and so much depends on it.

Lunch the vessel…one…last…time

Launch the vessel...one...more...time’’I write stories I love.
I connect with the readers who love my work.
I joyfully trade my time and creative ability for payment from those who love what I create.
I take steps each day to live my dream and make it real.
I am a writer.’’

     I have mixed emotions about starting HTTS again as this will be my third attempt since May of ‘12. I don’t know what it is, but I always seem to get stuck or distracted somewhere along the line.
     I am a mythmaker, a world builder and an admirer of Joseph Campbell. I enjoy mythology and am fascinated with the process by which cultures evolve fables and legends. I am a journaleer from way back and enjoy filling quadrangle notebooks with internal dialogue, descriptions, observations, experiences, secrets, snippets of ConLang and the occasional verse. None of which, I’m told, is good fodder for publication. Fair enough, but as a result, I have treated mythologizing, journaling and poetry as guilty pleasures, things that I did in private while under the pressure of…acceptability?…, I attempted to compose more marketable fiction—a strategy that has proven rather fruitless.
     As a high school English teacher for the last 25 years, I’ve described, dissected and digested some of the world greatest literature. I’ve done my best to instill a love of reading and an appreciation for good writing in my students. I’ve read widely. I enjoy ancient history and the classics, but I do love a good yarn and, in light of the above, unabashedly count Tolkien, Howard, Burroughs, Akers, Cornwall, Sutcliff and McCullough amongst my armchair favorites.
     Though apprehensive, I am excited to re-try HTTS along side a stalwart crew of fellow writers—the class of 2015, as Holly puts it. I’m hoping that a group-dynamic might better inspire me to sail-on when the writing-seas get rough or the doldrums set in and encourage me write that epic sword-and-sorcery myth I’ve always wanted to. I hope I can offer a helping hand or a word of encouragement to shipmates in need as well.
     I have a few “…under the bed…” manuscripts in various states of completion. I’ve successfully participated in a few NoWriMo’s, but I have published nothing, indie or otherwise. I have yet to decide on a WIP; I’m not sure whether I’ll try to resuscitate one of those earlier attempts or begin completely anew. Regardless, from this time forward, I will make no more apologies for writing what I love to write. I’m going to take the HTTS Creed above to heart and, along with my classmates, attempt to make a good go of it.
     Time is a commodity I’ll not waste another moment of.

“Do Not Expect More From Your Friends Than They Can Deliver”

Tags

,

Jedi's and shit How many times have I said this to my family, my students and myself? Hundreds. It is one of the themes I teach my students, one of the maxims I gave my children, a point my wife and I discuss and a truthful paradox I laugh about often.
     The indictment is not one condemning friendship or relationships. Nor is it one that exclusively places blame for such disappointments. It’s more of a “buyer beware” maxim that calls into question both the seller and the buyer, a warning label that should be heeded but is usually ignored.
     If I have a good friend, but one whom I know has a problem keeping a shared secret, it behooves me to keep said secrets to myself. If I know my friend cannot keep a secret, sharing one with them and expecting them to keep it is foolish. If despite this, I share anyway, hoping they will display different behavior, the responsibility for the consequences falls on me.
     Does this mean they cannot be my friend? Some might say so. If a person has an ultimate mental canon of perfect friendship in their minds and holds all friends up to, those who fail to measure up might not be considered friends. I think this is flawed thinking, however. Ultimate friendship profiles are usually inspired by media: fiction, music, movies, television, etc; and mirror but darkly a faux reality shadowed by entertainment and profit. Holding real human beings up to such an ideal die is to do friends a disservice and to set oneself up for disappointment. Life is much more fragile and complicated than any friendships or relationships portrayed in the media. Ultimate and unrealistic criteria can leave one quite lonely.
     Thus again, does this mean that those who cannot measure up to expectations cannot be friends? I believe they can, but only as long as I embrace their limitations or inabilities and do not expect more from them than they can deliver—and am willing to forgive them when I forget, and they can’t. If I do not expect friend “X” to keep my secrets and do not share my secrets with them, then I do not set both myself and them up for failure, disappointment and drama. We can still go out to pizza or a movie, party on a Friday night, laugh over past experiences or talk about religion, politics and best recipes, but if I need to share a secret, bare my heart or my deepest fears, I know they are not the friends to go to. We’ll both be happier and have more satisfaction from our relationship if I don’t.
     This raises the issue of how does one know if a friend is one with whom secrets can be shared? This is the painful part of relationships and life; it’s all about experience, trial and error. Share a secret and find out. If they disclose the secret, it may hurt, but now I know their colors and can adjust my expectations accordingly. I may find myself at a painful crossroads. Was it a slip or a character flaw? If the relationship is one which I hope has depth, I might take a second chance. If my secret is once again shared, my path is then clear.
      “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me; fool me thrice and I’m just a fool.”

     I have friends who say and do careless and hurtful things. Despite having such pointed out to them, they just do not understand the discomfort they cause. They are simply incapable of such recognition. Their characters will not allow for it. It would constitute an admission too hard and uncomfortable to acknowledge; one that would beg an adjustment too difficult and (to them) unnecessary to make. Do I discard them as friends? No…not necessarily. Unless what they are doing is harmful in some concrete way toward my reputation, myself, friends or family, I try to adjust my expectations, ignore their foolishness for what it is, and do my best to carry on. I find that nature takes care of the rest as we gradually go our separate ways.
     The term “secret” is but a metaphor. Substitutions include: loan of clothes, money or lawn tools; promises or favors; baby, pet or house sitting; kindnesses or considerations; tutoring or lending a hand; moving help or answering calls of distress; sympathy or empathy; truth or honesty—friendships can flounder on many points. Some are more competitions of one-upmanship than anything else…feeling better at the expense of others (others, by the way, who are probably hoping we’ll rise above it and should clear us from their agendas when we don’t!).
     Friendships are squishy things. Each has its own shape and tradition. Each must be judged on its own merit. Figuring them out is a skill that demands a different application each time and is something most folk work on all their lives. Half a century later, I’m still honing my skills, still hoping for the best, still being both disappointed and pleasantly surprised.
     Along with this maxim, I also teach my students “never [to] place [their] total happiness on the hands of another…unless [they] are prepared to face the consequences.” Flawed we all are, mistakes we all make, but there is such a thing as foolishly placing the heart in harm’s way. This speaks more of personal desires and problems than it does the shortcomings of others.
     I love my friends, but I try to keep in mind that my disappointments in our relationships do not necessarily originate with them, but ultimately in my own flawed needs and poor judgment. I cannot control my friends, but I can control myself and attempt to rein in unreasonable expectations and assumptions. It may not mean that all my relationships are carefree or as organic as I might wish, but it truly makes me thankful for those that are and makes me less stressful for that don’t.

The Eight-Pointed Star

Symbol_of_Chaos.svg      Forces in my life are at a nexus; the results of the feelings and thoughts and experiences and situations which have been developing within and without for sometime.
     On January 16, Callista crossed over the bridge and now awaits me on the other side. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. So very hard, but not as hard, I found afterward, as living without her. I can hardly even think on it. I do not expect anyone to understand how much she meant to me, what an anchor she was. Understand or not, I feel what I feel. Her battle with canine osteosarcoma began in August of 2012 and lasted an amazing two years and four months. Everyday with her was a gift, a treasure I hold in my heart-of-hearts. I hope that when I am stronger, I can do her a fitting tribute and somehow tap with words—and by doing so fully heal—what she truly meant to me. As it is, the grief process has yet to allow for it, though she has come to me in my dreams…
     I believe her death, though a long anticipated eventuality, was an unexpected catalyst of some sort, for my own health has taken a turn. I find myself faced with mortal realities I had never seriously considered before. So many dreams unrealized. So many goals undone. So many desires unfulfilled. Each a call with its own powerful voice. I realize now, with sobering finality, even as the dark-shadow grows within me, that the chances of answering some of those calls are gone. People age. Opportunities evaporate without notice. I can never be young again and those things appropriate and possible at 20 or 30 or 40 no longer are. This is not said with angst or bitterness. Decisions were made. Roads were taken. Songs were sung that cannot be unsung. I accept this, but it is both amazing and sobering to be made aware of it.
     The Voices are strong and they sing with great power, even in my dreams. They have always been there, of course, but I did not listen with mortal ears. I heard with immortal ears.
     “Fool of a Took!”
     Now, they sing in a cacophony of sound that is overwhelming and jarring. So many worries. So many disappointments. So many unforeseen circumstances. As a result I have been paralyzed, unable to answer any of them. I have not been able to write fiction, for example, afraid as I am of making a misstep and sacrificing what time remains only to do exactly that with my indecision. The things I am moved to write…journals, secondary world myths, private prayers…are worthless in the greater scheme of my ambitions, earning the condemnation of writing “authorities”, whose validity though I acknowledge (after all, they are published), frustrates me nonetheless.
     Chaos, the eight pointed star. I feel I am at its center surrounded by avenues, but cannot seem to choose which to take. All that still remain are open, but I understand now I no longer have time enough to take them all. I believe I must swiftly evaluate those voices, make my peace with those that can no longer be and take those that remain and move on for as far I can.
     It is also sobering to realize that when it comes down to its dagger-like point, I am alone in this; no one understands those voices or fully comprehends their demands but me. As a consequence, I must face them alone. No one can choose them for me. No one can navigate them for me. No one can explain them—they are in a language known only to me. If I keep waiting for encouragement, waiting for a response, waiting for “someone” to finally offer a sense of understanding I have no hope or right to expect, then I am simply sacrificing what time I have let on a false altar of self-pity.
     “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us”
     Gandalf’s admonition to Frodo resonates more strongly with me now than it did when I first read it at 10. This then could be the final battle I must face—to choose which voices to answer and travel their paths alone. For in the end, I alone am accountable. And if I have done all I can with what time I have left, then maybe I can be satisfied I did not waste it all and go to my God with a lighter heart than the one I bear at present.
     The time of decision is now. I must find the bravery and integrity within to acknowledge my present reality, focus on the paths still available and walk them without regret or remorse.

Samhain Reflections

Autumn Setting     As I measure my year from Samhain to Samhain, my version of “New Years” approaches. I have often written a reflective entry in my journal around this time or during the Thanksgiving holidays. There have been seasons, however, when I have avoided doing so because it was simply too uncomfortable to honestly reflect, especially when the past was extreme.
     It is no exaggeration when I say that life has been challenging this season. As my closest friends and selected family understand, I have always tried to be “…the captain…” of my fate while at the same time struggling to avoid a tendency towards melancholia. As a result this uncontrollable year has been exceptionally hard on my spirit.
     Some of the challenges have been external and include the gradual and seemingly unpreventable de-volvement of a marital partnership due physiological changes; the emotional and financial strain of a treasured pet’s cancer and care; the psychologically jarring experience of shattered home-owner dreams, subsequent short-sale and moving into a lackluster rental; the long distance move of one daughter and the natural and growing emotional distance of another; the chemical dependency of a son who moved “back home”; the financial, mental and spiritual stresses of hosting said son and family in far too small a space; the steadily retreating horizon of retirement due to said finances and the career demands of an unsympathetic and misguided school district administration and board.
     Some of my hardest challenges, however, have come from within: a loss of health due to age and poor choices: weight gain and sleep-apnea; an automobile accident (brought on, I feel, by poor health) that, though it did not involve serious injuries or deaths, was my fault and ended in totaled cars (my own included) and higher insurance rates; the emotional and financial strain of purchasing a new car; the gradual deterioration of ambition in areas of emotional expression—bagpiping, writing and gaming—due to above; a growing anxiety stemming from a lack of privacy resulting in a short-temper, growing unhappiness and an ebb in emotional fortitude; and a growing inability to focus on complex tasks and the discipline to see them through.
     I am not trying to suggest that there have been no bright moments or positive memories made during the year because there absolutely have, but in the balance, their fire, though warm at the time of burning, has been unable to hold at bay the hounds of winter.

     I suppose I want to measure my year in accomplishments as I believe accomplishing things, though they may not in and of themselves alleviate my sense of anxiety, go a long way to assuaging perceived stagnation. Indeed, it may not necessarily be a sense of accomplishment I desire so much as a sense of positive forward momentum. And though I understand momentum occurs regardless if it is felt or not, if the landmarks I lay in time’s wake are lackluster and unsatisfactory or simply the results of breathing air, is it any wonder I feel as I do under the pressure of the external and internal storms I described above?

     At this point, it is the accepted tradition to make a list of resolutions and resolve to accomplish them. Alas, such a strategy has never worked for me. Under the pressures mentioned above, which have no innately predictable resolutions associated with them, I cannot resolve to do anything. Plans are unable to stand up to them.
     I think it would be better if I turned what energies I have to the development of stronger personal focus and discipline. Qui Gon’s “…your focus determines your reality…” resonates strongly under present conditions. I would add to this that “…discipline creates it”. I am under no illusions that stronger focus and discipline could in any way change the reality of my dog’s cancer or my son’s addiction, but they could help change my anxiety at a perceived lack of momentum or progress. I must somehow “…navigate the river…” and cease to allow the river to navigate me. I cannot alter the river’s currents, flow or changing conditions, time is time after all, but how I navigate it, how I perceive the challenges of its rapids and snags or take on the shallows or sandbars, that might be more reasonable and in my power to effect.

     Even as I write the above, it seems “…fracted and corroborate..”. I feel unsure if I’m speaking the truth or simply lying to myself—something humans all too easily do. There may only be comfort in the “…doing of the thing…” and let focus and discipline take care of themselves. I just don’t know.

I Am Stone

I Am Stone     My life is so far from where I want it to be. Indeed, I am so far off course that I feel utterly and fully lost. Despite goals and resolutions, do-overs and re-starts, I cannot seem to find the path—I will not say “the path back” because I fully doubt that I was ever on it to begin with. I realize that I must be careful here. For what we offer ‘honestly’ is not necessarily ‘truth’.

     I feel like stone. Wind and lichen, frost and sun, ice and moon light. My world is blue. My use is not forgotten, for it has never been discovered.
     I feel like stone. I was raised with purpose. Can it be that I have missed it in watching the path of the sun? Winter is here, yet still I cannot find the way.
     I feel like stone. Could my use have been so brief that I lived the moment without realizing it? I understand so much better now how one can tire of life, tire of trying not to wait and yet being forced to because there was no where to go.
     I feel like stone, but then I take a breath and my fingers hum. I am enveloped in the sound. An envelope…no! A gate. I move carefully about the room. I must not lose my balance. I must not wonder if I have found the way or I will stumble back to stone.
      “Here stone. Now, right now. I have brought you a gift.” My lady of sorrows, my bronagh bean-uasal, she has opened a door to the place between. The rift hums and vibrates. Through my buzzing fingers. Through the breath. The truth comes out.
     She does not heal me. She does not offer comfort, a soft word or an answer. She simply allows me to hear my pain, completely, utterly, accurately, honestly, truthfully in a way that these…these broken stones, these words never will! No confusion, no hesitation…or a time I am lost in its purity.

     The vibration ceases, the portal closes, the vacuum hammers my ears and I crumble bursting into a thousand pebbles. 53 and my heart weeps like a child. I am in the Library. The gate is closed. Silent silver and black. I never left. Yet I walked a thousand years.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 51 other followers