Real Life (Revisiting the Past)

Posted: June 22, 2015 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
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One of the good and bad things about being a writer is we often have an avenue to share things about our lives that some folks don’t.  Some of these things are great.  Others, not so much.  This was originally written on March 2, 2010.  Recent events bring this back to the forefront of my mind, and it is as true today as it was when I originally wrote it.  This appeared on my original blog, The Odd Ramblings of A.J. Brown.

***

I want to talk about real life for a minute, not this game we call writing, this world of make believe that many of us writers live in. I want to talk about real life. Can you bear with me for a few minutes and let me ramble about something that’s on my mind?

In his collection, Just After Sunset, Stephen King writes in the story, Rest Stop, these words (and I hope this is not copyright infringement since I am not selling this to a publication or making any money off of it.  I’m just making a point.):

“Had he thought there was no place for the Dog out in the big empty of the American heartland? That was narrow thinking wasn’t it? Because, under the right circumstances, anyone could end up anywhere, doing anything.”

This brings me to reality. I read that Friday evening, after leaving the courthouse where a married couple in their sixties was in a hearing to adopt one of their children’s children. Let me see if I can paint a picture for you.

The courtroom was small, with the viewing gallery just as you enter the wooden double doors. The gallery itself was made up of long benches, much like church pews but not as comfortable. The plaintiff’s and defendant’s tables sat up front, near the judge’s chair, or throne, as I like to call it. To the left was a table where the Guardian Ad Litem sat, a nice young woman, blond hair, cut short, dressed in one of those nice dress suits that women wear to such gatherings. The court reporter was an elderly woman, who moved a little faster than a turtle, but not much. To her, this was probably a mundane, everyday process, a ho-hum experience, if you will.

At the plaintiff’s table sat the grandparents of the children in question, he with the silver hair and worried eyes, she with the dyed brown hair with hints of gray peeking through. She wore nice slacks and a top, maybe a church outfit at one time, which she may not wear again because of the association with the event at hand. An attorney—an older gentleman, who I later found out is blind—sat to their immediate right. Behind those three were three other folks, a woman, who was the attorney’s wife and eternal right hand woman, and two other folks, younger, maybe even a couple. I have no idea the relationship between attorney and the couple but I’m gathering they were part of the same practice.

The defendants’ seats were empty. The parents weren’t there. There was no attorney. There was nobody at all in those seats. If there were ever a chance for tumbleweeds to roll by, this was it.

In the viewing gallery behind the six folks at the plaintiff’s table, sat a slew of folks, maybe twelve, maybe fifteen. Maybe less. I was smack dab in the middle of these folks of mostly older church goers, a family of God there to support and bear witness for the grandparents if need be.

The judge, a gray-haired gentleman with glasses hanging off the bridge of his nose, sat in his chair (remember, I like to call it his throne). He shuffled some papers and then began with the proceedings, going through the same old same old for him.  But every word he said was critical to the plaintiffs, to their case for adoption of their three grandchildren. His voice was easily a southern drawl, laced in monotone dryness. He seemed like he was in no hurry, and for all involved, I’m not sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. I guess it just depends on how you are looking at it. Me, I like to look at things with my eyes open. To the plaintiffs every word probably echoed in their ears, every ticking second probably like hours.

At one point the judge stated, maybe not so clearly at first, that the parents had signed away their parental rights to the children.

Stop there for a second.

As a person with two kids of my own, this struck me. Hard. My stomach sank. But me and my writer’s mind could picture the couple, the mom and dad of three children, sitting there, a shark of an attorney by their side, maybe a slick talker with a way with words and an ace up his sleeve. Ah, but again, that was just my writer’s imagination working.

At any rate, the parents had signed away their rights. Why? Does it matter, really? Maybe they didn’t want the kids any longer. Maybe they owed a ton of money in child support and would have been in a world of trouble if they didn’t. Maybe, one or both of the parents realized that the best thing for these three kids, all ten years of age and younger, would be to let someone have them that could take care of them, provide for them, love them. Maybe the father cared about his kids just enough to say, ‘this is what is best for them,’ and maybe he convinced the mother of the same thing and maybe . . . I’m hoping that last part is true. Even if it isn’t, it is my hope that it is.

With my stomach suddenly hanging around my thighs (if this were a story, my stomach would have been hanging around something else in the general vicinity), the judge continued on, asking if the plaintiffs were there. They each acknowledged and he acknowledged their attendance, for the record, I guess.

Then he asked if the mother of the three children were there. He looked up, said ‘No,’ and proceeded to ask the same of the father. Again, he looked up, said, ‘No.” This time, my heart jumped into my throat, my stomach joining it in trying to occupy a place it didn’t belong. I bit my bottom lip and stared, not at the judge or the plaintiffs, but at the empty seats where Mom and Dad Defendant should have been, the parents of these three children. I admit now, this saddened me.

Maybe it was just me, but the judge seemed, I don’t know, disgusted, maybe. Maybe that’s not even the right word. Maybe, he felt disappointed. I know I did. Maybe, and this could be more true than I think it is, maybe the judge was a little disheartened by the lack of the parents being there to defend their actions, to fight for their children. But, then again, they had signed their parental rights away. So, why would they be there? Possibly, to be held accountable for their actions.

Onward.

I listened as the grandmother was called to answer questions on her behalf. The grandfather was next. The Guardian Ad Litem followed, standing from her seat, her words rehearsed, as if she had done this a thousand times. I venture to think she has.

I’m paraphrasing here, but I think you’ll get the gist of her statements:

“Your honor, I visited the home (I can’t recall the date at the moment, but that doesn’t matter for this) of Mr. and Mrs. Goodparent and what I found was a spacious home where each child had their own beds, plenty of child appropriate toys and child appropriate clothing. The house was clean and, most importantly, your Honor, I saw three happy children. In my opinion, it is in the best interest for these three children to be awarded custody to Mr. and Mrs. Goodparent.”

With that, she sat down, folded her hands one on top of the other.

The judge looked over several more pieces of paper. He spoke some words I didn’t catch, but the ones I did were simple and to the point. “I find it is in the best interest for this adoption to be granted.” He addressed the grandparents, his eyes noticeably softer than they had been for all of the ten minutes it took to hear the case and he said, “Now, go home and do what you’ve been doing and take care of those grandbabies.”

Court was adjourned, but everyone sat still, quiet, possibly not even sure of what had just happened. Was it finally over for them? Were the children, after several years of living with the grandparents, finally a permanent fixture of their home? Yes and yes.

Outside the courtroom, hugs were given, a tear or two shed, out of relief and sadness all the same.

The grandparents went on their way, going to do what the judge told them to do and go take care of them grandbabies. In their early sixties, the time of their life where it should be he and she and the open road to travel, dreams that were put on hold for years while they raised their own children realized, yet once again, they were parents to young children.

It was a bittersweet verdict. I sat at my desk that night, a long day having passed, my children in bed, my feet propped up by the keyboard, the thoughts of the day rumbling, bumbling, stumbling through my head. I had just finished up King’s story, Rest Stop, and that passage ran through my head over and over and over again.

“…under the right circumstances, anyone could end up anywhere, doing anything.”

My mind also kept coming back to the absentee parents at the courthouse. A quick note here and why this is so personal. I grew up with the father of the three children. He was a bright kid, intelligence beyond intelligence. Girls loved him. He rarely cracked a textbook, simply because he absorbed everything. He was the king of BS also. Someone whose charm could make you believe the most outlandish lie, even if you absolutely knew he wasn’t telling you the truth. He should have amounted to just a little more than what he did. I guess, knowing someone for so long, you never see this type of thing coming. And, if you do, you pretend it’s not real or you pretend that things will get better, though, deep down inside, you know they never will.

What can you do? Well, you can pray if you have faith in God. If you don’t, then you harbor those angered feelings until it becomes resentment and then hate and loathing. Not exactly good for you, if you know what I mean. Or, you just let it go.  Chalk it up to life getting the best of someone and move on. That’s just a little tougher to do.

If this were a work of fiction we would be nearing what some would consider to be a happy ending. I’ve left out a lot of this—it’s not necessary to dwell on the entirety of this story. Only the plight of the children matters and the resolution to the plot was the adoption by the grandparents. Thus, the story book ending would be the celebration in the courthouse, or maybe the kids running up to the grandparents, jumping in their arms, smiles on their youthful faces. Someone go ahead and stamp The End on the back page for me and close the book.  Leave a review, if you don’t mind.

However, this is no book, but real life. And in real life, there isn’t always a happy ending to the story. No, in real life, there are still struggles and pain and the all too real prospect of time slipping by; slipping through the fingers. The reality of this is simple: In ten, maybe fifteen years when the parents of these three kids are alone, they will want their children to come and see them. Come see your Ma, why don’t yah? Come and pay a visit to your old man, please. Do you know what I believe will happen? Do you even want to know? Probably not, but I’m going to tell you anyway. After all, I’m the one telling this story, aren’t I?

Harry Chapin once sang about Cats and Cradles and Silver Spoons in a song some years ago about a man too busy to spend time with his son. It’s about how the child came into the world and lived his life while the father was away. Each part of the song, one many of you no doubt have heard, is about how the boy grows up while the father is busy tending to his own affairs. In the end, the boy is a man with his own family and he has no time to visit the father who was never around when the boy was a child.

When you comin’ home dad? I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, son You know we’ll have a good time then –Harry Chapin Cats and the Cradle.

Yeah, that’s what’s going to happen. When you think about real life, that is exactly what’s going to happen. This has stayed with me since that day, sitting in the courtroom, a witness for the plaintiffs, if needed. My heart sinks, even to this minute, knowing that on down the line—because in real life, there is always an on down the line—the parents are going to be alone, sad and wishing their children wanted to spend time with them, something they weren’t willing to do for their children.

They say reality is often stranger than fiction. Reality is often times quite a bit sadder than fiction also. And, here we have come to the end of my story, which is not really a story at all, but real life, a reality check, if you will. But I don’t want to end this on a downer. I truly don’t, so I’ll end it with another tidbit from another song.

The Beatles sang some years ago about the sun coming, little darling. I tend to think, to hope that part of those lyrics can hold true to even this story of great sadness.

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,

and I say it’s all right

 Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter

Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun

and I say it’s all right

 Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces

Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun

and I say it’s all right

 Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting

Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been clear

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,

and I say it’s all right

 It’s all right.

 

There is a scene in the movie The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey, where Gandalf finds a small sword in a cave.  He leaves the cave and gives it to Bilbo Baggins.  If you’ve seen the movie, you probably know what happened next.  If you haven’t, it’s okay.  You don’t need to have seen it to get what Gandalf tells Bilbo a few seconds later.  You don’t even have to know what the movie is about to understand the context of what Gandalf says.

To preface the statement, Bilbo tells Gandalf he had never used a sword in his life, and Gandalf tells him he hopes he never has to and (here’s the statement):

“True courage is about knowing, not when to take a life, but when to spare one.”

I’m not going to tell you what happens, but if you’ve never seen the movie, that particular line comes into play later.

That leads me to my topic today.  I want to talk about courage and compassion for a minute.

True courage.  It takes courage to be a soldier in any military, especially during times of war, which seem to be never ending.  It takes courage to be a firefighter, especially when you have to run into a burning building to save someone.  It takes courage to face something you are afraid of.  Afraid of heights?  Get on a rollercoaster or look over the edge of a high rise building or a mountain.  It takes courage to step outside your comfort zone and do something you’ve never done.  It takes courage to ask that pretty little girl out to the prom knowing she might say no.

It takes courage to be who you are.

The next few lines of what I am about to write may or may not offend some folks, but I’m going to say them anyway.  If you will, just stick with me through the next few lines, and do it with an open mind.

In today’s world it takes courage to be different.  Think I’m wrong?  How many people have come out as gay or lesbian and immediately been scorned by their family or friends or co-workers or local religious group?

How many people have had a differing opinion than those around them and immediately been threatened with hateful words or deeds?  You want an example?  Okay, here you go:

Bruce Jenner, a.k.a. Caitlyn Jenner.  I’m going to be honest with you here.  I have no clue what’s going through his/her mind.  I don’t understand what made him choose to go from being a man to being a woman.  I don’t know.  And here is where I will get completely honest with you:  I don’t care.  What he/she has done is really none of my business.  It doesn’t have a direct effect on my life or my children’s lives.  What he chose to do is between himself, his psyche and his God.  It has nothing to do with me. Do you know what that means?  My opinion on the matter, well, it doesn’t matter.  And it shouldn’t.  As I said up a few sentences, I don’t care what he does.  It is his life and the only person/people this really effects is him and his family.  End of story.

You wanted an example.  I gave you one.

Here’s what I do know:  people are quick to criticize others.  They are quick to point out everything they have done (or are doing) wrong.  They are quick to try and change those they feel are doing all these wrong things.  They are quick to judge.  Do you know how many times I’ve heard otherwise good people make comments like ‘that person’s going to hell’ or ‘this country’s going to hell in a handbasket’?  Maybe it is, but does it do any good for someone to criticize others for things they have done that do not affect the person doing the criticizing?  I don’t think so.

People are critical because they don’t understand a person’s motives or a situation.  They don’t know what’s going through someone’s head when they decide to do something.

Okay, I guess it’s time to anger some folks.  Criticizing something or someone because you don’t understand it or them is weak and narrow-minded.

If you haven’t clicked off the page, yet, I appreciate it.

The human mind is a very defensive thing.  When it doesn’t understand something, it makes excuses for not trying to understand it.  It allows the fear mechanism to kick in.  I’ve stated it here before, but F.E.A.R. stands for False Evidence Appearing Real.  I learned that a few years ago at work.  (It’s a long story I won’t go into now.  If you want to know about it, drop me a line and I’ll explain to you where I got it from.)  When our defenses kick in we are quick to judge, to react, and to criticize.  Sometimes that leads us to talking bad about people.  Other times the defenses are so strong that we would rather break someone down, cuss at them, lie about them, beat them or bend the truth to fit out needs.  We’ve seen it happen a lot over the last few years.

Fear makes people do stupid things.  We’ve seen all the horror movies and the display of stupidity that takes place in most of them.  Funny thing about real life, sometimes the movies aren’t too far off.  Fear is a critical part of our psyche.  If we fear something we will get away from it and avoid it as much as we possibly can.  I am absolutely terrified of snakes, so I stay away from them.  If I see one in the woods, I back away slowly while keeping it in sight.

A buddy of mine used to have a couple of snakes and he went to take one of them out of its cage and asked me if I wanted to hold it.

‘If you want that thing to stay alive, you might want to put it back in its cage.’

I was not kidding.  It would have been very bad for me, the snake and my friend if he wouldn’t have put it back in its cage.

On the other hand, if we don’t run from the thing that scares us, we attack it, which I mentioned several ways how above.  Criticism and hatred are two of the biggest ways to attack someone you don’t like or understand.

What is the opposite of Fear?  I believe it is Courage.

Courage.  It’s what the cowardly lion wanted in The Wizard of Oz.  It’s what we all want.

It takes courage to be different.  Even more so, it takes courage to defend someone different than you, even if everyone else disagrees with you.  It takes courage to show compassion to someone who wouldn’t show you the same compassion.  It takes courage to do the right thing.  In this day and age, in the world we live in, very few people want to do the right thing.  They want to do their thing.  If it can benefit them, even if it’s not necessarily right or fair, then there’s a chance people will do it.  Like I said, it takes courage to do the right thing.  None of us are always courageous in our decision making.  None.  Of.  Us.

Let’s go back to that quote from The Hobbit and let’s change it up a little.

“Courage is knowing, not when to criticize others, but when to show compassion to them.”

Compassion is concern for others.  It’s helping someone shorter than you reach something on the top shelf.  It’s helping someone struggling to carry something heavy by taking part of the load.  It’s seeing a need and trying to address it, but without stipulations.  None of the ‘I’ll do this, but you have to do this’ nonsense.  No, that’s not compassion.  Compassion comes with no strings attached.  It’s a genuine feeling of concern for someone to the point that you want to help them without expecting anything else in return.  It’s a woman giving a young couple 20 bucks so they can buy a kiddie pool for their young son because they couldn’t afford to do it themselves.

Compassion.  There’s not enough of it in this world.  There needs to be more.  Much, much more.  Courage.  The cowardly lion wanted it, but it wasn’t given to him.  He developed it when he did the right thing and tried to save Dorothy and his friends from the wicked witch.  It takes courage these days to show compassion and understanding, even in the face of things we may not understand.  But it takes neither courage, nor compassion to criticize and break people down because they think differently or choose differently or believe differently or look differently than we do or if they make decisions for their lives that hurts no one that we don’t agree with.

Everyone is different.  Everyone has their own idea of how things should be.  Why should it matter to someone if someone else doesn’t have those same beliefs?  It shouldn’t, but for some reason, it does.  I’ll never understand it.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another…

It Takes Teamwork

Posted: June 8, 2015 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
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Almost every job I’ve ever had has ended in some sort of leadership role.  The role may not be a managerial type, but there is always some sort of leadership responsibility taken on.  This happens whether I want it to or not.  Most of the time this happens without much discussion.  It just happens.

Sometimes these roles require a bit of a ra ra ra mentality, and sometimes a bit of tough love, though I’m not sure it’s love being doled out.  Sometimes it requires a kid gloves type of mentality, where you just have to be gentle with someone (like it or not).  It’s easy to say, but it’s difficult to do.

Most of the times these leadership roles take on a form of team building, whether it’s actually finding the right people for the team, or building the people up that are already on it.  It’s this team building that I want to focus on today.

I have had some great teams, but one in particular makes me proud.  There were four members on this team, including myself.  Two of them were easy to train and easy to get on board when we came together.  The third one was a bit of work.  He had come into the team later than the others, but he came in with experience, having done this particular job for eight years somewhere else.  Minimal training was needed, or so I was told.

Before we go on, let’s give this team member a name.  I will call him Z from here on.

Z didn’t buy into our philosophy of teamwork and stepping up when other team members needed help.  He didn’t buy into our communications system.  He rarely asked for help.

Still, he was productive and did his job.  Minimal training, remember?

The first few months went well.  Then things began happening that Z didn’t tell me about.  Then I started hearing whispers from our customer base.  I investigated into this and found a few things I didn’t like.  But before I could say anything about what I had found out, the bosses called me in for a meeting.

‘We have a problem.’

This is not what you want to hear to start a meeting.

Turned out Z had some issues, and a few of them could have cost him his job.  I set out to keep that from happening and worked with Z, retraining him on things I thought he already knew and understood.  Minimal training?  There is no such thing.

Fortunately, Z kept his job and became a very reliable team member who learned to ask questions and ask for help when he didn’t understand something.

Writing is kind of the same.

Yeah, I knew I would get a few crinkled noses and confused expressions on that one.  Let me see if I can explain this the way I see it in my head.

Writing is all about world building, character building, plot and resolution.  There are so many ingredients that go into telling a good, readable story, that if one ingredient is off, then so is the entire story.  It’s kind of like one team member not doing his/her job.  Yeah, the whole team suffers.

To be a successful team at anything, you need all of the team members on board with the game plan.  If you have four team members and one of them isn’t on the same page as the other three, then it will be harder for the team as a whole to succeed.  For example:  In football if the quarterback and receiver aren’t on the same page as far as the play they are going to run, then the quarterback could end up throwing the ball to a spot the receiver isn’t at.  This could lead to an incompletion (not so bad) or an interception of the pass (very bad).  That means they didn’t communicate well enough to be on the same page, to know the same play and get the outcome they wanted.

Got that?

Good.  Now, let me relate this back to writing.

In order to be a good writer, you have to know, first of all, how to put a sentence together.  Let’s call that Sentence Structure.  Then you need to also have a sense of Grammar.  You need to know a lot of words.  We’ll call this Vocabulary.  These are three key team members to the act of writing.  If you don’t know these three things, writing a story that is readable is pretty much impossible.  These three team members have to work together to tell the story.  If one of them is off, then so is the story.

But, wait.  Vocabulary has its own team of members.  Synonyms, Pronouns, Nouns, Verbs, Adverbs, Adjectives, Antonyms, Conjunctions and so many others.  They are all members of the Vocabulary Team, and they don’t always get along.  Especially when choosing what type of word to use, such as Passive as opposed to Active words.  The use of the wrong team member when putting together a sentence will make the entire sentence (or team) weaker.

There’s other members you need on your team:

Descriptions

Dialogue

Character

Plot

Resolution

Emotions

Punctuation

Point of View

Tense

Conflict

Logic

Consistency

And a bunch of others.

You don’t need just any of these members.  You need the right ones for the right stories.  If you don’t have the right ones, then the story will suffer.  You see?  The wrong words at the wrong time is like running the wrong play and having the quarterback throw an interception.

This is where the writer has to do a little training.

I used to suck at dialogue.  I didn’t quite grasp the concept that dialogue needed to further a story along, not just be there.  Dialogue that is just ‘there’ is like a loiterer just standing around.  Neither one of them do much at all, and they are both kind of a hindrance.  Bad dialogue is the couch potato of writing.  It just sits there and eats up precious words and space while ruining the story it appears in.

One day someone told something quite profound, and I have held tight to it ever since.  I was told that dialogue is the oxygen of a story.  Without oxygen, you will die.  Bad dialogue is like carbon monoxide–it’s a killer.  However, good dialogue breathes life into the lungs of a story, allowing it to live and to have a purpose; to further along the story.

After hearing this I stopped writing stories for a while.  Instead, I wrote scenes using only dialogue.  I wanted to see if someone could tell what was going on by reading dialogue alone.  At first, I couldn’t even tell what was going on in the scenes I wrote.  Then, slowly, I began to see an improvement.  I began understanding that if a piece of dialogue doesn’t make sense to me, the writer, then it’s not going to make sense to you, the reader.

I taught myself how to write better dialogue by listening to people talk.  I essentially trained my Dialogue to be good.  I trained that particular team member to do his job, and do it well.  It was a lot of work, but it paid off.  Now, I write dialogue well.  Do I do it great every single time?  No.  Nobody does.  But when I go back and read what I’ve written, I can spot the bad Dialogue and fix it.

There are areas of writing I still struggle with.  Some words still throw me off and I have to stop and think about which word I really want to use.  Sometimes I struggle with a description or being too wordy or not wordy enough (yes, it is possible).  But when that happens, I stop and create a ‘lesson’ for myself.  I will write something in several different ways to see how each one sounds.  Sometimes that requires rewriting entire passages just to change one sentence.  It is often not easy, but when a breakthrough happens and I realize what I am doing wrong, it is always worth the extra time spent.

Writing is not always easy.  Many times it can kick your butt.  However, if you are writing and learning, then you are going to get better.  If you struggle with an area of writing, then don’t just brush it off.  It will affect every other area of writing that you may or may not be good at.  It’s like a slack team mate.  Address it, work on it, learn from it, and then move on to the next issue.

I’m currently working on an area of my writing that I have loathed ever since trying to make a name for myself in this business:  marketing.  Yes, marketing is an area of writing that we must deal with.  It may not have anything to do with the actual writing, but it has everything to do with people buying the work.  I hate doing it, and I am not good at it.  But I’m working on it.  I have been for the last year.  I’ve developed a little bit of a following, but I have a long way to go.  I’m still trying to get people interested in my writing.  This, probably more so than anything else, will probably take me the longest to learn and to incorporate into my team.  Right now Marketing is not such a good team mate, and it isn’t doing its job all that well.  But hopefully, I can train it (and myself) to do better, to think of all the other team mates who put in the time and energy to do their parts right, and it will hop on the bandwagon.

I know this blog is a little odd, but I hope you see the similarities I tried to make for you (and me).

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another…

Love. Care. Shine.

Posted: May 30, 2015 by ajbrown in Uncategorized

Cate and I worked our second festival today.  It was the Kaleidoscope Cultural Arts Festival in Kannapolis, North Carolina.  Though we didn’t sell a lot, we still enjoyed it.  We met a lot of folks, and had some very good conversations.  One of those conversations led to two thoughts that go hand in hand.  I would like to share them with you now.

The first of these, I think, should go without saying, but I’ve found more and more that people don’t do this as much as they should.  That thing? Care about your art. It’s quite simple.  Care about what you are doing.  I used the term ‘art’ because, truthfully, writing is art, whether good or bad is up to the writer.

It’s like coloring within the lines when you were a kid.  Think about it for a second.  When I was a kid I was told over and over to try and stay within the lines while coloring pictures.  I got to where I worked really hard at it because, well, first I got tired of hearing that I was doing it wrong (even if in my eyes I was doing it right), and second I wanted so bad to finally succeed at keeping all the colors within the picture with no blob over the line.  I grew to care about coloring the way my teachers said to.

This is the way writing is.  Though I would never say you need to write between the lines and follow all the rules, you should still care about the stories you tell, the characters you create, the settings you put them in, the details you give their lives, the situations they deal with, the solutions to those situations and which way their lives go or end.  Those are important items that shouldn’t be neglected.  By caring about the story, you pay attention to those details, and in doing so, you stay between the lines.  [[For the record, I believe some rules no longer apply to writing done in this day and age.  However, know them, because, though they can be broken, break them at the right times.]]

Here’s a truth:  readers can usually tell when an author doesn’t care about the story they’ve told.  And if you don’t care about your stories, why should they?

Point two:  If you care about your craft, the person you are will shine through in your work.  I’m not talking about the person you want the world to see.  I’m talking about the real person on the inside.  That person will shine through.  It will shine through in your style.  It will shine through in your voice.  It will shine through in the words you choose or do not choose.  It’s.  Just.  That.  Simple.

Let me share a third point, and yes, I’m improvising here. If you love what you are doing you are going to care about it. If you are just doing it to make a buck, well, you might make some money, but you won’t tell great stories, things that stick with people years after they read it.  You can write all you want, but caring about your stories will make more than a little difference in whether the readers care about your stories or not.

Quick recap:

  1. Care about your craft.
  2. If you care, the person in you will shine through.
  3. Love what you are doing.

They are all connected.  If you love, if you care, you will shine through.  And if you love and if you care, the readers will know and they will love and care, as well.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

Today I want to talk about paying it forward. Okay, I heard the collective groans out there, but stick with me. Don’t I always take you on a little journey that sometimes goes around my hand to get to my thumb just to make a point?

We’ve all heard the term ‘paying it forward.’ You hear about it happening a lot at Starbucks. I’m not sure why it happens so often there, maybe it’s because Starbucks is a coffee-type place, and for some reason, folks need their coffee in order to keep from killing people. I don’t know, but that is a possibility. Before I continue, let me clarify: Starbucks is not a coffee shop. You see, coffee shops sell, well, coffee. I don’t know what that stuff is that Starbucks sells, and just because they use coffee in a lot of it does not make the items they sell actual coffee. My blog. My two cents.

At any rate, you often hear that people will pay for the frappe-crappo-cino-latte-vanillo-grande-caramello-drink-o for the car behind them. Then the next person does the same and so on and so on until someone finally says, ‘Cool, I get a free frappe-crappo-cino-latte-vanillo-grande-caramello-drink-o.’ Most people don’t want to be the one who breaks that chain, but there are those who will. I’m not sure if that’s a good for you or a shame on you.

Paying it forward is simply you do something nice for someone without wanting anything in return, and hopefully, that person will do the same for someone else, and so on and so on. In the end, paying it forward is kind of like rumors—they come back around, and usually not in the same manner as when it started. In the case of rumors, that sucks. In the case of paying it forward, well, it’s often a good thing.

So often in today’s society, paying it forward or just being kind to one another, isn’t such a popular concept. It’s all about me, me, me, me, and giving someone money or buying something for a total stranger is considered crazy and somewhat stupid by many folks.

Not one person, at least.

Let me tell you a story real quickly:

I was perusing Facebook this morning. Yeah, that great worldwide killer of time. I wasn’t feeling all that well and was debating on going back to bed. After all, it wasn’t even seven a.m. at this point and I really didn’t need to get up earlier than eight. I was about to click off when I saw a post from an author friend of mine. The post was about his wife, Linda.

Let’s break this up or we’re going to have one really long paragraph here.

Linda had been at the Wally World (Wal-Mart, for those who don’t know that term) and she overheard a young couple talking about wanting to buy their son a kiddie pool. It wasn’t one of those ginormous fifteen foot in circumference, four feet deep ones. No, it was your standard plastic kiddie pool with little fish designs on it.

The pool was eighteen dollars and the young couple couldn’t afford it. Having been a young couple at one time with my wife, Cate, and wanting to buy something for my children and not being able to, it’s a bad feeling. As the parent, you feel guilty and sad and like a bad parent who needs to be put in the corner or spanked (no, not that type of spanking). It sucks.

So what did Linda do? She walked off, ignoring them.

No. No. I’m just kidding.

Linda pulled out a twenty dollar bill and gave it to them and told the young couple, and I quote, “Get the pool for your son.”

Wait, it gets better. You see, their son was with them, and the mother was holding another child. So, the son saw this act of kindness. They thanked her profusely and Linda watched as they went and paid for the pool.

She cried as she told her husband this story.

Okay, did you picture any of that? Can you see the young couple? They wanted to do something for their son, but they couldn’t. I can see the kid—probably somewhere between the ages of two and five, maybe six, his eyes turned down and sad. I can almost hear his thoughts. Summer’s coming, Ma, and all we got is an old radio flyer wagon for a pool. Or something like that.

I can hear the man’s voice as he says, ‘We can’t afford it.’

I can almost hear the collective of three hearts breaking after that statement. I can almost feel the boy’s tears, and probably the momma’s, too.

But then, out of nowhere, like a knight in shiny armor on a white steed, a woman walked up holding the magical green paper that makes everyone happy. Okay, that was a little too much, but you get the picture. Linda walked up. Let’s just assume Linda is like any other woman, doing her shopping, minding her own business when she overheard this conversation. Instead of walking off, she showed compassion to the young couple, and more importantly, for the young boy. She gave them the money to buy the pool. No, she didn’t give them eighteen dollars, but a full twenty, which would cover the taxes as well.

This woman—Linda—gave money to total strangers so they could do something for their kid. Here’s something to think about: Obviously, the young couple were overjoyed at the sudden act of kindness. They were probably overwhelmed a little. The boy was probably excited—he was going to get his pool and not have to play in a rusty old radio flyer wagon. Okay, sorry—flashback, 1978. There’s no rusty radio flyer wagon.

Now, as much as Linda touched the lives of three—possibly four—members of a family, she also touched her own life. What? How? Simple: she cried when she told the story. Her own compassion moved her in such a way it made her cry. Why? She was probably happier than the parents and the child combined. Seeing their joy probably lifted her heart more than her giving that money to them lifted theirs.

I’ve learned that by doing things like what Linda did it can have a positive impact on others, but it also can have a positive impact on you. It can be uplifting for the person doing the giving. It can change how you feel about life and people and money and things that we take for granted, like how mindlessly we blow twenty bucks. We don’t think about it, we just do it. I don’t have a lot of money. I barely get from paycheck to paycheck, but guess what? I’ve blown more than twenty bucks at a time without thinking about it. I’m sure many of you have, as well. There’s nothing wrong with that. You earned the money, you get to spend it, right? Absolutely.

Linda paid it forward. Do you think she will ever get that money back? I don’t. And I don’t think she cares if she does, either. What she received in return was the joy of seeing how much happiness her compassionate deed brought to that young family. And there is nothing like that feeling. Having done something similar, I can honestly say the joy of seeing someone’s face light up and hope surface in a set of eyes, it’s a better rush than any drug and it last longer because it hits you right in the heart—and that’s where it matters.

Here’s the clincher: Linda wasn’t going to tell anyone else. She was going to let her good deed be known to her husband and no one else. Not only was she compassionate, she was humble. She didn’t shout to the world, ‘hey, look what I’ve done.’ No, she whispered it to her husband and she cried while doing so.

Pay it forward. It isn’t all that hard.

I’m not going to give the name of the writer. I don’t think that is necessary. But, he and I chatted on Facebook briefly about this today and he was gracious enough to let me use this story for this particular piece. I learned a lot about him and his wife in that brief conversation, and in the post that he shared with the world. They’re my type of people.

I mentioned he is an author, didn’t I? Yup, right there and there and, yup, there, as well. I like to get to know writers before I purchase anything from them. I like to get to know if they are cool or jerks just out for a buck. I don’t want to support writers who are jerks. It’s just that simple. But this dude and his wife are not jerks. So, now…now I want to purchase one of his books to see if I like his style. He has several books to choose from, so when I head over to Amazon I will have to choose carefully. No, I’m not paying it forward by doing so. I’m doing what I always do: buy books from someone I would hang out with if we knew each other in person, from someone who would do the right thing when the right thing needs to be done. My type of people.

Before I go, I want to say one more thing: Thank you, Linda, for being a light in that family’s life, and an inspiration to others.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

 

 

I love Ellen Degeneres.  There I said it.  I’m a guy and I love Ellen Degeneres.  My wife loves her, too.  So does The Boy and The Girl.  I’m willing to wager that the Hell Spawn (better known as Mia, the cat) and The Dog like her as well.  I don’t have proof of this, but I’m going to say they do.

I know her show is geared toward women.  Most talk-type shows are.  But hers is different.  First of all, she’s funny.  That gives her a leg up on all daytime shows.  Second, and this is more important than being funny, she is compassionate.

I’m just going to stop here for a moment.  Compassion is defined as:  sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.

I don’t particularly care much for the term ‘pity’ in there, but I firmly believe compassion is, indeed, concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.  If there were ever a celebrity who has concerns for the sufferings and misfortunes of others, it is Ellen.  If you think I am wrong, watch her show for a few days and you will see, not only humor and other celebrities, but you will see compassion.  You will see a person who truly believes in helping others and who uses her star power for the betterment of people.

Cate watches Ellen every day.  It is set to record every morning, and in the evening, usually around supper time, she sits on the couch and flips on Ellen.  Sometimes when I am not in there with her, I hear Cate laughing and I can’t help but smile.  Laughter makes the heart lighter, even on bad days.  I’m good at making jokes and wisecracks and saying things to make people laugh, but Ellen is different.  Her humor makes herself laugh, and why shouldn’t it?  If you can’t laugh at yourself, then you’ll be the only one not in on the jokes.  I love hearing Cate laugh when she is watching Ellen.

Back to the compassion thing.  As I said earlier, if you don’t believe me, watch her show for a few days—a week, tops—and you will see someone who truly believes in helping people.  She gives.  She gives.  Do you understand that?  She gives.  Not just money, but time.  She gives hope to folks who might not have had it before.  She gives money where there is a need, but she doesn’t just say, ‘here is a few thousand bucks, have a good life.’  No, she goes back and checks on some of the people she has helped, to see how they are progressing, to see if they are okay.  She’s a huge celebrity who acts just like the average person.

How refreshing is that?

I know that at the end of an hour of Ellen, whatever bad day Cate may have been having just got better.  To me, that is a person who makes an impact on others’ lives in a positive way.

And there’s one other thing that Ellen does that I think is awesome.  As a matter of fact, I’ve adopted it—well, partially.  At the end of each show, Ellen says, to me, the most important words anyone can say to each other: Be kind to one another. Do you understand the importance of those words?  In a world where there is so much violence and hate and selfishness and me, me, me mentality, being kind to one another has kind of gone out the window.  We don’t hold the doors for others.  We don’t say ‘thank you’ anymore.  We let others negative opinions and attitudes rub off on us.  We have road rage and shopping rage and whatever we feel like rage.

In a society where most everything on the news is negative, to hear ‘be kind to one another’ is such a radical thing, it’s almost unheard of.  And every time I hear it, I smile.

Back in January I made it a point to try and be as upbeat as possible; to try and be as positive as I can be.  Sometimes it’s extremely difficult.  Sometimes I want to just pack it up and say ‘I can’t do this anymore.’  Sometimes things happen and my nerves become frayed and my temper has a short fuse.  But the power of positive thinking is real.  Being kind to one another really does have a positive effect on people.  Just like being rude or mean to others has a negative effect.  If just hearing ‘be kind to one another’ can make people smile, imagine what actually doing it can do.

This is my challenge to you—all eight of you:  Go out and do something nice for someone. Do this every day.  Be nice to someone every day and see if your attitude doesn’t change over time; see if you, as a person, doesn’t have a better outlook on life.

To Ellen Degeneres, thank you.  Thank you for being a positive influence and role model in a society where there are few of these.  Thank you for your concern for others, and your desire to help them.  Thank you for making my wife laugh.  It’s the most beautiful sound.

As I’ve done in every blog since January, I leave you with my modified closing:  Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another…

These days I rarely buy books written by big name authors. Other than Stephen King, I haven’t bought a book by a well-known author in years. I tend to purchase books written by lesser-known authors (small press and Indie, for the most part). Most of these writers I have never heard of.

So, why would I purchase books from a bunch of unknown writers?

Well, the main reason is simple: I am one of those unknown writers. I’m starting to garner a little bit of a following, but I am nowhere near Stephen King status. I am, for the most part, an unknown trying to get my name out there to the reading population. By putting my work out there I am asking you, the readers, to take a chance with me, to trust that I won’t let you down when you listen to me tell a tale.

Anyone who works in the arts will tell you that this takes a lot of trust on the artist’s behalf as well. Everyone is a critic and artists get blasted hard and often, not just by the consumer, but other artists. Writing is an art. For those of us who no one knows about it’s often frustrating, especially if we believe in our work.

So, what do we do? We go onto social media and say ‘hey, here is my book, buy it, please.’ Every once in a while someone will see that bit of pleading and consider buying the book. But that’s not enough.

We do blogs or vlogs or other forms of communicating to people we try to connect with. And, like the social media thing, someone might see the blog and consider purchasing a book. [[Yes, I know a blog is social media, but when I say social media I mean Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and those types of things.]]  

Hmmm…but that’s not enough. Even if you have a potential best seller, unless you have a big publishing house behind you helping you with marketing, doing these things will only help so much.

Then there are conventions and festivals.

Back in April I participated in The Cayce Festival of the Arts as a vendor. It was the first time I had been on the other side of the table. Instead of buying from someone, I was there for folks to buy from. At first it was daunting and I was nervous. What if no one bought my books? What if no one came to my table? What if no one talked to me at all? Oh, the anxiety.

I can say that my fears were unfounded, at least for that festival. People did come to my table and talk with me and purchase books. It was a very successful event. And very enjoyable. I got to talk to a lot of nice folks.

One particular woman came to my table about halfway through the day. She was older than me. She was also an editor. She came to my table and asked a question I had never been asked before: ‘Tell me about you.’ Yeah, I know it’s not technically a question, but in essence, it really was.

I replied, ‘Me, the person, or me, the writer?’

‘You, the person.’

Up to that point I had heard the term, ‘sell yourself,’ but never really thought about it. This woman—and I wish I would have gotten her name—was asking me to sell myself to her right then and there. And I did. I told her who I was and a little about my family and where I was from—which just happened to be a hop, skip and a jump from where we stood talking.

She gave a quick nod and pointed at one of my books. ‘I’ll take one of those,’ she said and handed me cash. I signed her book and gave it to her and off she went. She never asked me about the book, only about me, the person.

I learned a valuable lesson that day. As a writer, I’m not just selling my books, but I’m selling myself, my personality. Who I am. The term ‘sell yourself’ suddenly clicked with me. Again, I had heard the term, but never really thought about it. So, if I never thought about it, then how could I actually do it?

Fast forward to today. I went to the South Carolina Book Festival this morning. I was there for almost four hours. I talked to a lot of authors, both traditional and indie published. They were all trying to get people to buy their books. They were all selling their books. But not all of them were selling themselves.

I went to one table and the vendor said nothing. He looked at me and then turned around to tend to something else. I walked away. He wasn’t interested in me or my money. He also wasn’t interested in selling his books or even making an attempt. There were other folks sitting at their booths on their tablets or phones, seemingly oblivious to the many readers there to buy books.

One person stuck to his sales pitch and whenever I asked him questions, he didn’t seem to want to answer them. But he constantly tried to put a book in my hand and asked for the cost of the book, even though I didn’t say I wanted to purchase one. He was somewhat pushy.

Then there were those who said ‘Hello’ to everyone as they passed. I stopped at every single table where the person/people genuinely seemed to want to talk to the readers. They were there to sell their books. They were there to network with the readers and other authors. Many of them constantly had smiles on their faces and talked excitedly about their books.

And then there were those writers who were more interested in me, the reader. I spent the most time with them, getting to know them, the person, not the writer. They smiled. They talked. They asked me questions. I asked them questions and they answered them. They told me stories, not about their books, but about them. Those are the ones that I would purchase books from, even if I had zero interest in their books.

One woman said to me, ‘You don’t have to buy a book. I just want to talk to the readers.’ She was selling herself—and I really liked her and what she, as a person, was all about. I spent the most time with her.

This business—and really, any business—is never just about the product. It’s also about who sells the product, or who created the product. Sure, if the product is good it could sell on its own, but if no one knows about it, then it is up to the person who is selling it to do the best he/she can to do so. And in order to sell that product, the salesperson has to have the type of personality that could help convince someone to buy it.

One of the keys to selling anything is personality. If your personality is sour or pushy, then your sells may not be all that great and you could leave a bad taste in the mouth of the customer. However, if your personality is sunny and you treat your customer with respect and try to make them feel comfortable, not with just the product, but with yourself, then your chances of making a sell go up. Even if you don’t get a purchase out of it, you gave the customer something to remember you by and they may just come back to you on down the road.

Part of selling yourself is not about making the sell, but making a connection with the reader/customer. If you make a connection, most of the time you are going to make a sell. It might not be right away, but it will happen.

A lot of the books I have purchased over the last few years, I have done so after meeting the author online, usually through Facebook. Those authors I either had conversations with and came away liking them, or the things they posted on their walls showed me some of their character, showed me a little about who they are. Even through a Facebook connection, you can sell yourself, and so often we forget that.

One more thing before I go: don’t sell yourself short. What I mean is have confidence in your work and your abilities…and in yourself.

For the longest time I had difficulties talking about my writing. I’m not sure I was comfortable with people knowing I liked to write. I certainly wasn’t comfortable with people reading what I wrote. Talking about what I had accomplished as a writer always felt like bragging and I’ve never been one for bragging. It took me a long time and a lot of encouragement from Cate and other writers to start truly believing in who I was as a writer.

When it comes to selling your work and yourself, confidence is extremely important. If you are not confident in yourself, your abilities or your work, the customer (reader) will immediately pick up on that and your chances of making a sell diminish. I have confidence now that I was lacking four or five years ago. I believe in my abilities and my stories and I believe the readers will, as well.

In this business of publishing, the writing and editing and proofing and publishing is only part of the gig. The marketing is a huge part as well. Part of that marketing is selling yourself as well as your books. It’s making a connection with the people you want to read your books. I hope along the way I’ve connected with you at some point. And I hope you were happy, not just with the product you received, but in whom you received it from.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another…

 

 

 

Four Thoughts on Writing

Posted: May 6, 2015 by ajbrown in Writing
Tags: ,

So you want advice about writing?

What do you do? Get a self-help book? A how to guide to being a better writer? There are tons of those out there. The best, I think, is Stephen King’s On Writing, not because he tells you how to write, but because it’s kind of autobiographical and in that bit of life we are told about, we also see how to write. It’s a very unique way of teaching or advising. There are plenty of other books out there, but none I really care to mention here.

You can ask other writers their thoughts. Some of them will give you good advice, while others will completely steer you the wrong way. You will get don’t do this, but do this. Or you have to do it this way and don’t do it that way. That way is always wrong. This way is always right. You should never write in this perspective or in this tense. Always have lots of action. Don’t use too many descriptors, but make sure and give enough that the reader can somewhat picture it. My favorite is ‘show, don’t tell,’ but so many people can’t explain what that means. Ask for examples and often you don’t get them.

[Side Note: there are some very good authors out there who can give you examples of what they are explaining. Those people ‘get it.’ End Side Note]

There are so many different things that you should or should not do, depending on who you talk to.

If you are a writer, feel free to disagree with me. It won’t bother me at all, unless you are rude and disrespectful.

For anyone out there who may care (and there are about twelve of you that I know of…I think), I do have some advice for you. No, this isn’t a self-help kind of thing. This isn’t even a technical kind of thing. You won’t see me telling you to be grammatically correct or to condense your sentences or whatever. This stuff…this stuff is mental. As Yogi Berra once said about baseball: “Ninety percent of this game is half mental.” Well, I think it’s the same with writing.

Are you ready?

Okay. Here we go:

Be yourself.

Oh. Whoa. Wait. What?

Be yourself.

Be who you are when you write. Don’t try to be Stephen King or James Patterson or William Faulkner or Edgar Allen Poe or anyone else. By yourself. Write the way you are. Write what you want to write. Why do I say that? Because if you try to be someone else, you might miss out on what you can actually do if you were just yourself. You might miss out on finding your own voice.

I tried to write like others. I experimented with a lot of different voices, a lot of different styles. I tried going all action and not so much descriptions. I tried using a ton of dialogue and then as little dialogue as possible. I tried in the first, second and third points of view. I tried in past and present tense (and even something I played with trying to create a future tense).

Guess what? Until I stopped trying to be everyone else, I couldn’t find my voice, my style, the way I wanted to write. I was kind of all over the place and nothing really fit.

So, first and foremost, be yourself.

Next: Read. Don’t just read the writers you like. Read other writers that don’t fall within your normal reading tastes. While you read, make mental notes on styles and how the story develops. If you want to keep a notepad handy so you can jot down something that strikes a chord with you, then do so. You don’t have to analyze the story, but when you’re done, think about what you liked and didn’t like about it. Read—it may be the most important thing you can do for your writing.

Third, and this is a big one: You need to develop thick skin. By thick skin I mean you need to have skin as thick as an elephant. If you get your feelings hurt easily, this is not the business for you. This is a tough gig, folks. There are those who will help you—and they are good people who will do what they can for you. Then there are those who would just as soon break you down to the point that you would give up. Editors and publishers are tough and some of them aren’t very nice when they reject you. The publishing world is difficult and sometimes publishers screw over the writers. If you carry your feelings on your sleeves then you will get eaten up and spat out.

And, for the most part, readers are totally cool. But sometimes you get one that just doesn’t like your work and they attack the story and you, personally. If you can’t handle that with a level head, then putting your work out there may not be the best idea for you.

Though there are many more things I can put on this list, I will stop with this last one. It’s important: Enjoy what you do. I’ve heard people say they suffer for their art. Really? Suffer? Not me. There is an old saying: Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day of your life. It’s the same with writing. If you love it, it’s not work and you’ll never suffer for it.

Writing—telling stories—can bring so much enjoyment and personal fulfillment. For me, I get a sense of accomplishment that nothing else brings me. To quote another source, this time Twisted Sister: There’s a feeling that I get from nothin’ else and there ain’t nothing’ in the world that makes me go… Creating a world my characters live in, giving them situations to deal with, seeing how they resolve those situations, is such a rush. It’s better than any drug. Really. It is. Drugs are bad. Don’t do drugs. Write. It’s much better for you.

Let’s recap:

  1. Be yourself.
  2. Read.
  3. Develop a thick skin.
  4. Enjoy writing.

If you will take notice, I didn’t tell you how to write. That’s not my place, and I don’t feel I am qualified to tell anyone how to write. And if I was qualified, I still don’t think I would tell anyone how to write. One of the parts of writing that can be so enjoyable—or any activity, for that matter—is practicing at it, learning what you need to do to get better and then learning how to get better. It’s those ‘Ah ha’ moments where the light turns on and you ‘get it’ that is so exhilarating and that makes writing fun.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

 

Everybody has their own path. Every path has many forks in the road. If you take the one to the left it takes you to a different place than if you take the one to the right. One path is going to be tougher than the other. That’s truth. Pure and simple.

Let me give you a little example.

Years ago when Cate and I were still dating we took a trip to the mountains with my family. On that trip I proposed to her. At that point she could have said no, but she said yes. Here’s where our paths forever changed. We were young and in love and I knew I was going to marry her after our first date a year or so earlier. But that’s not the point. Cate could have said no, and things would have drastically changed between us. Honestly, I don’t think we would be together—her saying no probably would have been a major deal breaker.

But she said yes, and on that day our lives went from being on our own separate paths to, a year later, us joining in marriage and creating a path together.

There is another one to this story. While Cate and I were on this trip we went hiking in the Black Mountains of North Carolina. There were three different paths we could have taken: the easy, the intermediate or the hard. Cate had never really done much hiking so we opted for easy. At one point we came to a fork in the path. If we went one way we continued on the easy path. If we went another direction we went on the intermediate path.

We thought we had taken the easy path. No. No, we didn’t. Though we didn’t take the hardest one, we still took one much more difficult than the easy. You see, we had a choice on which path to take: the easy or the not so easy. We took the wrong path and it led us to a harder, much longer hike. By the time we reached the end, I was pulling Cate up steep hills and using tree limbs to pull myself along as well. We were exhausted, but we had conquered the path and made it to the end. We had taken the wrong path, but somehow managed to navigate it, even though it was tougher than the one we meant to take.

Do you get what I’m saying? Life is all about the paths we choose. I’ve always said each decision we make takes us on a different path. If we choose to do drugs that decision takes us on a different, much more difficult path than if we choose not to. Are you married? Great. If you cheat on your spouse, that path just became rocky, at best. If you take this job as oppose to that one your life will forever be changed. Which college you go to changes your path. Everything you do in life, every decision you make takes you on a different path.

As a story teller it is my job to tell a story that has paths throughout it. If a character makes a decision it could alter the direction his/her life goes in.

Paths. That is a Common Thread we can all relate to. Everyone takes them, whether they know it or not. Every decision is a new path.

Let’s talk Cory’s Way and paths.

(If you have not read Cory’s Way, the next few paragraphs contain possible spoilers, all of which are related to the first chapter of the book.)

If Cory’s father doesn’t leave his mother, then Cory doesn’t end up in Century Falls and Gina doesn’t end up working insane hours at a restaurant to try to make ends meet. If the bullies don’t chase him, then he doesn’t run under the overpass and meet Mr. Washington, who, in turn, decides to help Cory get rid of those bullies.

All of these things (decisions) changed the paths for all of the characters involved. How, you ask? Let’s take a closer look at them.

For whatever reason, Cory’s father made a decision to leave the family, which forces Gina to move them away, creating a new, somewhat unpleasant path for Gina and Cory. And, incidentally, the father’s decision also changes his own life (something we don’t see in Cory’s Way). This one decision made by Cory’s father changed the lives of everyone involved in the story, which are quite a few paths. It set the stage for the story itself.

Gina’s absence because she works so much sends Cory on a completely different path than if she were around more. Sure, it’s the only real move she can make to ensure they have food and a roof over their heads, but with his father already gone, he probably could have used having Mom around more often.

We talked about bullying in the first Common Threads post. Well, let’s talk about it again. The Burnette brothers play a huge role in Cory’s Way. We are introduced to them in the third sentence of the first chapter. They make a decision early on (like Dad leaving, we don’t actually see this decision—we just know it by the way the first few paragraphs unfold) that they don’t like Cory and making his life miserable becomes a goal of theirs. That decision changes the entire trajectory and lives of every main character of the story right off the bat.

Cory had a bunch of decisions (paths) he could have made during this opening paragraph. Run from the bullies or fight them? Take the short way beneath the overpass or the long way around it? Toss his book bag or hang onto it? Give up halfway home and let them beat the crap out of him or keep running? Try to fight back. Hide beneath the overpass or keep on trucking? Can you see how any of those decisions could have changed the course of Cory’s life, and by the same token, every major character in the book?

Mr. Washington really only made one significant decision: leave the overpass and run off the Burnette brothers or give Cory away and let them know where he was or force Cory to continue running away. His decision was one of the most important path changers in the entire book. Without it, there is no Cory’s Way.

I’m not going to go beyond the first chapter here, but every single chapter has a path changing decision, just like every single day we, as real people and not make believe ones, make decisions that alter our lives and the trajectory our lives are on.

If you haven’t read Cory’s Way, well I’m going to encourage you to do so. Here’s the thing: I’ve said since day one that everyone will be able to relate to something in this novel. When I say everyone, I mean EVERYONE. I relate to it on many levels, but the one way I truly connect to it is that the story of Cory Maddox was the first such story I wrote in this conversational style. It was the story where I truly found my voice. It’s the story that deepened my love of story telling. It was the story that changed the path of my writing. It’s THE story.

As a writer it is my job to give you something to enjoy, to relate to, to connect to, a common thread that links you to the story. One common thread are paths and the ones we choose in life. Every decision is a fork in the road. Choose one thing and go one way. Choose the other option(s) and go in a different direction(s) all together. Either way, the path is yours to take. Which way will you go?

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

 

 

It’s a Human Issue

Posted: April 19, 2015 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

One good thing about having my own blog is that I can talk about any topic I want to. I don’t have to ask for permission to state my opinion. It’s my platform. It’s my voice.

Go back and look at the 250 or so posts that appear on Type AJ Negative and you will see most of them are writing/publishing related. Being a storyteller, that is where a lot of my interests are. But there are other things that appear on here, most of them attempts at humor or life stories.

Today, I want to talk about something that bothers me.

Let me see if I can paint the picture for you:

There’s this guy and he’s taking this kid home. The kid is a little girl who is the friend of one of the guy’s children. You follow me so far? Guy taking little girl home. The girl is eleven.

In the middle of the conversation the girl says something that makes the guy asks a few questions. What is that thing?

“I’ve lost friends before because I’m different.”

“What do you mean?”

“This girl (she said the girl’s name, which I omit here) told this boy (again, omitted name) to try and change my religion.”

“What?”

She repeated the statement.

“Why would she do that?”

“I don’t believe in God.”

That caught my attention. I am a spiritual person. I believe in God. I believe in Jesus. I don’t believe in religion. Believing in God and believing in religion are two entirely different things, in my honest opinion.

“You don’t believe in God?” I asked.

“No. My family is atheists.”

“You’re atheists?”

“Yeah. I’ve never been to church. My family has never been to church.”

“And that girl wanted you to not be atheist?”

“Yeah. I’ve never been to church, but I want to go one day. I may not believe in God now, but I might later.”

There was a lull of silence before I said anything else.

“Well, I tell you what, if you ever want to go to church, let us know, and if your parents are okay with it, we’ll take you with us one day. Okay?”

“Okay.”

So later that night I told Cate about it. Then she said something that really bothered me. Again, no names will be used here.

I told her the story and this is what she said:

“I heard her and the kids talking in there, and some of the kids at school said she worships the devil.”

Let’s stop here. I am going to get on my soapbox for a minute.

I know the little girl who said the things about the other little girl. I know some members of her family, and sadly, I can see them saying something like, ‘if they are atheists then they worship the devil.’

The problem with this thought is it is not true. I know plenty of atheists, and I haven’t known any of them to worship the devil. If they did worship the devil, they would no longer be atheists, but Satanists. See how that works?

The real problem here is that a ten year old said this about an eleven year old and now several of the kids in their class are saying this little girl worships the devil. What? Really?

I am a follower of Christ. I believe He died on the cross for my sins. But—and this is a HUGE BUT—I don’t believe it is my place to condemn someone else for his or her beliefs (or lack of beliefs). Jesus preached love your neighbor, not hate them because they are different. Jesus ate with the sinners of his time and walked with those same sinners and helped those same sinners. He looked on all people with compassion, even the criminal hanging on the cross next to His. He loved people.

He didn’t care if you were Jew or Gentile. He didn’t care if you were black or white or red or brown or yellow or zebra print. He didn’t think less of women or children. He treated them well. He even said, ‘Do unto the least of these and you do unto me.’ (Matthew 25:45)

He loved everyone.

I think Mahatma Gandhi said it best when he said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

There lies the problem with many Christians: the majority of them don’t love everyone. Many of them think they are better than others, that if someone isn’t like them, then they are going to Hell. Do not pass go. Do not collect two hundred dollars. They think being a Christian is a bunch of don’ts and if you mess up once, then you aren’t worthy of Heaven. Many Christians just aren’t very loving. Many of them are not Christ-like to the point of being judgmental. Many don’t teach their children to love one another. That is something that can be taught regardless of your religious or non-religious beliefs.

As a Christian I try to set the example, not with my words, but my actions. You can say you are a Christian all you want, but if your actions and your words present a different image, then it doesn’t matter what you say or do—no one is going to believe you. And if people do believe you, then they are probably going to say something like, ‘if that’s what being a Christian is, I want nothing to do with it.’ By spreading hate, you push people away. By preaching love, you bring people closer.

It’s not just Christians though. The majority of people don’t love others outside of their circle. Many people think they are better than others, and if they don’t look like they do, or make the money they do or drive the cars they do or vote for the politicians they do, then they’re not good enough for them. Many people think they are always right and everyone else is always wrong. It’s a society issue.

The thing with ten and eleven year olds is that most of what they believe they learn from their parents or other adults in their lives. Abusive fathers generally breed children who grow up to be abusive fathers themselves. Racists parents generally raise kids who become racist themselves. It really is a monkey see, monkey do type of thing. Sure, there are plenty of cases where kids made good, even though the parents were kind of crappy to them. My dad is an example of a person who broke the cycle to be a better person than his parents ever were.

Back to the girl. As she said, her family members are atheists, so she is atheist. This is what she has learned, based on how she has been raised. The other girl who started the devil worshipper rumor learned that from someone as well. She may have been misinformed on the topic at some point or drew her own conclusions based on, what? I don’t know. What I do know is she is wrong.

We are all quick to judge what we do not understand. We all have done it. I have. You have. Part of that judgmental attitude comes from fear. FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real. We let our minds or others tell us what we should believe or say or do. We don’t understand it so we either don’t accept it or we are afraid of it. But something we don’t do that we should do more of is learn about what we don’t understand and make educated decisions based on that education. Don’t just have an opinion. Know the facts.

People, I want to make this clear: I don’t care what religion you are. I don’t care if you worship a god or are an atheist. I don’t care where you are from. I don’t care what your skin color is. I don’t care if you are rich or poor or somewhere in between. I don’t care what your job is. I don’t care if you are single or married or divorced. I don’t care about your political views. I don’t care if you are a woman or a man. I don’t care if you are attractive or unattractive. I don’t care if you are gay or straight. I don’t care if you agree with me or disagree with me. I don’t care.

Do I have to say it again?

But I do care about people. I care about how we treat one another. I care about how we judge one another. I care about respect. I care about whether someone is hurting and if I caused it, how do I fix it. I care about our world and I see it crumbling every day with the self-serving and entitled attitude of so many people. I care about how people lump other people into a category because they are of a certain skin color or religion or political party or income bracket. I care about people.

I will say that again: I care about people.

We are all human. We were all born in the same way. We all have feelings and desires and passions and we all need the same things to live: food, water, a place to live and air. Companionship helps, too. We all have loved at one time and we all want love. Go ahead and deny it if you want, but it’s true.

Honestly, this world makes me sad, and hearing what ten and eleven year old children say about another one because that one doesn’t believe in God saddens me deeply. Where did we forget how to love one another?

This isn’t a Christian or non-Christian issue. This is a human issue. And we have lost a good chunk of our humanity.

Stop fearing and judging what we don’t understand. Don’t just have an opinion. Educate ourselves. Teach our children to be better than we are. And love.

What we forget is we are not the people we are judging—we don’t know what is going on in their lives. We don’t know their situations. One well-placed kind word could make their day better. And one mean-spirited word could crush them.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another…