The Shape of the Stone (On Following Your Passion)

The Shape of the Stone (On Following Your Passion)

So, there I was this morning. Woke up at a reasonable hour while the sun was still low in the sky and the house was still quiet. I shoved a bowl of cereal in my face while I had a hard enough time digesting what has been happening for the past few days. I shut off my Twitter feed, had a stretch, drank my coffee and got back to my first draft.

Ideally, I like to get a jump on my projects in the mornings. I’m not a morning person, but I do like getting stuff done earlier in the day. Some mornings go smooth. Still, there are other mornings that feel more like an inflatable pool raft. They take a little while and a lot of effort to get up to where it should be to be sea-worthy. And when they do, when all the things are set in a row and organized and neat, everything is fine. Those mornings go swimmingly as I lounge on my giant, imaginary ducky floaty.

Then some prick comes around and lets all the air out.

For the most part, I feel that, after many years of fumbling about and finding a place for myself in this world, I am lucky enough to have found a calling. Notice I didn’t say the calling or my calling, and I’ll get to that in a minute.

In my sophomore year of high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. And I know that for some people that’s normal, and they don’t concern themselves with this until much later in life. But for me, it was kind of a big deal. Like, wake up in the middle of the night big deal. Fortunately, a teacher recognized an ability in me that I didn’t notice about myself, and so he encouraged me to get involved in Theater and Speech Club. Thus began a pursuit of a passion. I must have been doing something right. I went to state championships, regional championships. I came in 2nd in a region of 6 states participating in competitions that forced me to do the thing that would make most people wet their pants. Public speaking, performing, learning to take control of an area no wider than your shoulders. Looking people in the eye and selling a character. Second. In a region of 6 states. Not bad for a shy kid. </dadbrag>

I call it a passion for lack of a
better term. It was more like my “A-ha” moment where I was taken by the hand by thisg60077833g6 gorgeous hunk of a Norwegian comic book character into this surreal melodrama that involved European race car dri… sorry, that’s not right. Scratch that. What I meant was my “a-ha” moment where I finally knew or at least had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t kid myself. I knew I had to work for it. Just like everything else. But at least I knew what I was doing. I had a direction. It was enough. This pursuit got me through college, but it was finally dealt a Quivering Palm Death Touch when I made the mistake of moving to New York while still a little green. Real life set in quick. The passion faded.

Since that time, I’ve been through several jobs. Most of them were a dead end. All of them had nothing to do with what I went to school for. I didn’t pursue my passion at the time because it wasn’t financially possible to do so. I had day jobs to do while I pursued the one thing I worked very hard for. But it wasn’t before too long where my Plan B suddenly turned into my Plan A, and any hope of getting back to my passion withered like a vase full of neglected orchids. I was no longer in pursuit of my passion. I was in pursuit of a paycheck.

And I think, therein lies the problem I have with the “Don’t Follow Your Passion” movement. It’s a mentality of “Give up on your dreams because they’re unrealistic and instead, do something you’re good at.” Well, what if your passion is the thing you’re good at? What if my passion is something I worked at and practiced on a regular basis? Do I give up on something I worked hard for to find an unrelated job that pays the bills or do I follow my passion and face ruination because, in the long run, it’s too hard because there are too many people wanting the same thing?

Should I have even bothered in the first place?

Am I a “loser” for following my dreams, or am I a “loser” for finding a McJob in an exchange for something that’s meaningful?

Some might say the answer is to marry both of these choices together to find happiness, but I suspect those people are usually close to retirement, or financially solvent and at the end of the day, could give a pimpled rat’s ass about you and your stupid little passions. Sometimes, you can’t have it both ways. Sometimes, life gets in the way.

Sometimes, you get lost.

And there’s nothing you can do about it.

Didn’t you want to be a chef at one point?
Too much stress and it enabled my alcoholic tendencies.

How about an IT guy?
Good work if you’re willing to jump through some really REALLY expensive hoops to get to what, in the end, was going overseas anyway.

Accountant?
Did you go to school for it?
…mmmNo?
Have you ever kept a ledger?
Is that the same thing as balancing a checkbook?
Can you define ‘mortgage’?
Dude, I’ve rented my whole life. And, why is it spelled like that anyway?
Then, yeah no. It’s probably not a good idea.

It’s conceivable to regard writing or any other piece of wonderfulness that lights a fire under your ass and gets you out of bed in the morning as “just a hobby” as more of a realistic term. Especially, if one were to concern themselves with other goals that are more tangible to them; promotion at their day job, running their own business, raising a family in the suburbs. And it’s easy to step back and look at the sharp decline in readership for the past couple of years and mourn our semi-literate society as they blindly walk out into oncoming traffic to catch another goddamn Pokémon and say, “Whelp, nobody’s reading anymore. Guess I should give up altogether. Oh, look! A new season of Big Brother is on! Let me slip into my Faded Glory pajamas and throw a bag of Dollar Store popcorn in the microwave while NOT thinking about killing myself. Giving up this way is so much better!”

I understand it, and I get frustrated by it a lot. I’ve felt it. But you know what else has taken a hit these days? Theater attendance. Not a lot of people are watching movies at the theater that much anymore. Is Hollywood packing it in and only making movies for the one or two people who kinda sorta pay attention maybe? No. They seem content to crank out the same meaningless, poorly written, completely forgettable crap they have been for as long as anyone can remember because that’s what people want according to some algorithm or something.

We are slogged with mediocrity, and we don’t care. They’re still making it. People will eventually watch it. Just because a movie is obviously not “Oscar™ Worthy”, doesn’t mean people aren’t going to watch it and be entertained. Just because a book isn’t on the New York Times Bestseller List, doesn’t mean people aren’t going to read it.

And, here’s the thing: If the movie wasn’t directed by Spielberg, does it mean no one is going to see it? Is he the “exception to the rule”? Have I dodged a bullet because I didn’t follow through hard enough on my passion for acting to instead embrace the world of the cubicle? Personally, I’m not so sure.

I too hear the voices of dogged practicality. The ones that barely contain their disdain at the mere utterance of what I do, have done and want to do. The ones that sound exactly like disapproving parents who mourn the day that their child dropped out of Law School.

“So, you know I was talking with Moira the other day,” (Note: For some reason, the Disapproving Parent voice in my head sounds a lot like a Jewish mother from Staten Island. To the best of my knowledge, none of my relatives are Jewish…or from Staten Island, for that matter.) “You remember Moira? She used to be part of our book club until, ya know, the accident? Anyway, we’re talking the other day and she told me her bubby graduated from Harvard. Pre-Law. Isn’t that wonderful? I thought it was wonderful. I just thought it was nice, seeing her being so proud of her successful lawyer son. Yeah. Good times.”

The ones that are so quick to equate creativity with poverty. “Oh, you’re a writer. Wow, that’s neat. What do you do for your day job?” You know, those ones. Don’t think that the side glances and hushed conversations haven’t gone unnoticed. I know I’m in the minority. I know that what I have done and what I am doing is fiercely competitive in nature. But you know what else is fiercely competitive? Being a lawyer.

As recently as 2012, Law Schools were stuffed to the rafters with cute, little lawyerlings all ready to hatch and fly after speeding ambulances. That is until word got out that the world is overflowing with them (Shakespeare saw this coming). The internet, with its vast wisdom and convenience, just made the roles of internships and paralegals obsolete, because legal documents were easier to get online and print out, rather than consulting a law firm. And those that were lucky enough to find employment on the other side of Law School were too focused in hanging their shingle in a specialized arena, rather than work for something that might benefit them in the long run (i.e. show business law as opposed to trial law). Basically, there were too many new lawyers and not enough law firms. There were too many people pursuing the same thing, and not enough things (jobs, opportunities) to go around. The market became saturated.

…sound familiar yet?

Financial Assistants, Pediatricians, Personal Bankers. Hell, even trying to be a food server at the local Chili’s is competitive. It’s going to be the same no matter where you go, or what you want to do. Competition should be a given. So with that in mind, why do writers, actors, singers, scientists, and athletes get dismissed so readily when it comes to pursuing their own goals? Why do people who have a passion to follow their dreams in the financial industry get a pass? Is it inconceivable to presume that there aren’t people out there who dream of being a hedge fund manager, but have to be satisfied with being just another investment banker? Why aren’t they considered idealistic, starry-eyed losers like the rest of us?

These are the thoughts that have been brewing and bubbling in the back of my head for a while now. It’s always out there, but it has been taking center stage lately has young people transition out of school to the real world. Maybe it was just me, and maybe it bothered me so much that I started seeking it out like some sad drunk with a chip on his shoulder and a newly minted ex-girlfriend when he grabs the biggest, meanest, baldest guy in the biker bar, grabs him by the front of his densely patched leather vest, looks him square in the eye and whispers, “You are such a pussy.”

Well, maybe not quite like that, but the displaced rage is the same, and the result of following through with it might leave me just as damaged. I’ve been known to punch above my weight. Never turns out well.

There seems to be a lot of people who will tell you that “Following your Passion” is pretty bad advice. I can see what they’re saying, and I have a pretty good idea who they are saying it to. It’s a reality check for those people who…ooohh…pffff…I dunno…want to play video games as a career. You might be good at it, and it does sound like fun, but seriously building a future around playing the Madden franchise, might be looked at as a little risky when looking to get a mortgage.

See? There’s that word again!
Drop it.

What they say when they say “don’t follow your passion” is something along the lines of, “Look. It’s good that you have a passion and that you are driven to do something great and change the world. But the reality is that more than likely, what you want to do isn’t going to be the best fit for you. So a better option would be to do something along the same lines of what your passion is. You will still have your passion, and you’ll have a more fulfilling life.” Which is all they have to say! If they would have led off with that, then it wouldn’t be so bad. I wouldn’t have to write this long-ass post, and I can get back to my first draft.

But harsh reality is better than sugary platitudes, and the advice still knocks your teeth in like some bald biker who just had his masculinity challenged. What it sounds like is, “Congratulations on dumping a hundred grand on an education that’s not gonna get you anywhere, dumbass. Good luck trying to figure out the rest of your life, because we have no idea, and it’s not our job to figure it out for you. We just like to knock the stars out of your eyes so you’ll be compliant enough to take anything that comes your way. We want you to be just as frustrated as we are because this is reality, loser.”

I dunno. Maybe I’m giving these people too much credit. Maybe I’m missing the point. Maybe I should try and turn the other cheek when it comes to some nameless d-bag who leaves a comment on my post and tells me in so many words that I should just give up because nobody is reading anyway and following your passion is stupid.

The thing I hate most about this way of thinking, other than being defeatist, mentally damaging, and unhelpful, is that I think it presumes WAY too much about other people. It presumes that the person who has dreams of becoming something someday is still a child. Even though this “child” has a College Degree in, or relating to, that thing they wanted to be when they were an actual child. It presumes that every person who follows their passion has not worked for it, will not work for it, and is expecting to be dropped right into the thing they want to do completely ignorant and unprepared. It presumes that we, the ones who do follow a passion, are stupid.

And what about that word I keep repeating? No, not mortgage, the other one. Passion. Perhaps it’s the word itself that people have a hard time with. Passion: That Purple-Prosed, Bodice-Ripping bastard that pollutes the shelves in airport bookshops and local supermarkets. Passion: the very presence of the word makes you want to lock up your daughters.

The dictionary definition of passion is essentially “to have strong emotions about something”. I think that most people think that something refers to one thing, and it should. But we forget that a passion can be easily replaced. Especially after life-changing events: I had a passion for smoking and junk food, now I have a passion for smoothies and yoga (not really, just sayin’). I had a passion for chasing girls around the mall, now I have a passion for chasing my children around the house. I had a passion for acting, now I have a passion for writing. People change. Plans change. Passions change. You still have that passion that lights a fire under your ass in the morning, but it’s fuel doesn’t come from anything external. It comes from inside, Grasshopper. Now, go fetch some water and when you return, see if you can take the pebble out of my hand.

In my lifetime, I have accumulated many callings, and I feel lucky to have experienced all of them. If it weren’t for that fire, if it weren’t for passion making things interesting, I would be a lump of couch potato salad wasting away watching The Simpsons every night. Which is something I don’t want to be. Potato salad is very hard to get out of a couch.

Another thing that chafes my thighs is when most people say “don’t follow your passion”, they don’t follow it up with anything actionable. There are no alternatives to doing your do. Just the cautionary, knee-jerk, face slap that can easily be housed inside a fortune cookie.

“Don’t follow your passion.”
Why?
“Because it’s bad.”
How?
“So bad, you have no idea. It’s the worst. The absolute worst. Believe me.”
…Wait a minute, you’re Donald Trump, aren’t you! How did you get in here?

Saying “don’t follow your passion” is like giving a death of a thousand cuts where the words don’t kill you right away, but rather they take their time and root and fester in your mind, until you wake up one morning and notice the fire is gone, and you look in the bathroom mirror, and you notice you resemble a human husk made of toenails, cobwebs, and failure. Uninspired, drained of will, and waiting for your last breath to leave your body. Say, “be flexible.” Say, “see the world.” Say, “keep an open mind, you never know what might fall in.” Not following your passion sounds an awful lot like “just give up.”

I don’t feel like giving up.

Not anymore.

My calling, if that’s what I’m calling it, isn’t even mine. I didn’t make it or give birth to it, I just scraped off the masking tape name tag of someone else it belonged to, and added my own. And as I hold it in my hand, I can feel the warmth of every hand that loved and nurtured it in their own way, and that gives me hope. What I do now is barely a shadow of what I once did, and that’s okay. In my experience, the world needs more storytellers and fewer lawyers. I’m happy with what I do now. In the future, who knows?

Whatever it is…

…just let me be happy doing it.

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Spare Me Your Thoughts & Prayers

Spare Me Your Thoughts & Prayers

Author’s Note:

Baton Rouge
Falcon Heights
Dallas
Too many places to count
Too many places to mourn.

I wrote this last year on my other blog. Then as now, I am tired of seeing innocents getting shot because of the color of their skin. I am tired of the injustice, and the wheels that grind so slowly and accomplish nothing. 

Yesterday, a black man was shot point blank by a cop for selling CDs from his car. Today, a black man is shot dead for following an officer’s order to show ID. Tonight, Dallas is on edge as a shooter takes out his prey from the shadows. 

This will not end. I fear that this will never end. I cannot sit by and watch this happen. I need to say something. The only thing I can do, the only thing that is in my power is to scream as loud and as often as I can in the form of a poem, framed in a blog post. 

How many more times do I have to keep posting this?

I’m tired. I need to go to bed so I can get up in the morning and write my little insignificant story. Hopefully, nobody kills each other tomorrow.

Thanks for reading…

 

There was a period of time back in the early 90s where the albums, “No More Cocoons”and

7075406127_5ec0d14a1c_m
Photo: Danielle Burma via Flickr

“Fear of a Black Planet” were in heavy rotation on my CD player. Both Jello Biafra and Chuck D were (are) prime examples of what first came to mind whenever I think of “Slam Poetry”.

At the time, it was new to me. The anarchic spitting of some of its finer authors who felt the constraints of society through verses that could barely contain their rage, let alone a classic structure, spoke to me that there was more to poetry than couplets and iambic pentameter. It signaled to me that poetry wasn’t just empty drivel in a greeting card. Poetry could love, be passionate, and rage in more ways than I thought possible.

Although I am a fan, I’m not a practitioner. What I would sweat for hours over a notebook page for was done so much better, and more effortlessly by my heroes.

Recently though, I’ve been feeling it.

I have committed to myself to write on a more regular basis these days. If I’m going to be an author, I need to practice every day. And even though I’d like to sequester myself from society so that I may accomplish my lofty, literary goals, it doesn’t seem feasible when there is a toddler that needs your attention.

So, I write when I can.

Sometimes, it’s real life that gets in the way. Sometimes, it’s my own fear and doubt. Other times, it’s what’s happening in the world, and the feeling of helplessness when you feel you can’t do anything about it.

For the record: Politically speaking, I lean to the left, although I am in closer alignment to the Green Party. What does that have to do with anything? Nothing.

These past few months have been building up to a personal crescendo for me when I see which way the wind is blowing in terms of social and fiscal accountability from our elected officials, our reasoning when it comes to choosing new elected officials and who is getting more exposure for the wrong reasons, and of course our endless obsession with violence.

I should watch more Netflix and less cable news. I should spend more time on Cheezburger than Twitter. I should focus more on making my kids happy.

Instead, I get sucked into it.

With apologies to Jello, Chuck, and everyone else who spits, slings, screams their own voice of revolution, here’s my release. And by release, I mean “release me from thinking about this so I can move on to other things…”

 

You seem confused when it comes
To protecting the ones
Who elected you to do so.
The streets are filled
With raised fists
And raised voices
Screaming and waiting for protection
And for you to follow through, so
You vilify and separate.
Intellectuals are Enemy of the State.
Brown skinned people on TV feed your hate.
Anything to justify using the gun you bought.
Everybody else’s Freedom is an afterthought.
Hundreds dead from the fear you wrought.
I can’t feel sorry about your sinking yacht,
When all you do is rearrange the chairs.
The bodies pile up, and all you give are thoughts and prayers.

Hey!
Who’ll clean up the oil spills?
“More guns!”
How ‘bout our health care?
“More guns!”
What about our homeless and hungry and disabled veterans?
“More guns!”
Not every issue can be solved
With guns blazing.
You forget that we’re all responsible
For the children that we’re raising.
Or, does it not matter anymore
Now that it’s not in the womb?
Children are a statistic
That are groomed to consume
All the crap that they see on TV
And then, BOOM!
Twenty dead kids are presented as fictional ruse?
Twenty dead kids is not a lie.
TWENTY DEAD KIDS IS NOT A LIE!
Unless the one who pulled the trigger was an “alien”,
All you get are lifeless stares.
Unless the kids that got shot
Are related to a Senator or a celebrity, no one cares.
We’ll tear down your school,
And put up a prison
That’s built on thoughts and prayers.

Okay,
Stop me if you heard this one.
A man walks into a church,
Kills everyone inside.
A man walks into a theater,
Kills everyone inside.
A man walks onto a campus,
Kills everyone in sight.
That’s alright
Cuz their white.
They get taken in alive.
Meanwhile a black kid gets gunned down for
Crossing the street.
The poor, the sick, the huddled masses,
Get turned out on their ear
Because they don’t meet
The Christian Criteria for our homegrown terror.
They are ones who should be feared.
Not us, we’re the good guys, remember?
They walk down stairs, alone and in pairs
and slaughter in the name of their god…

DAMN!

You won’t even acknowledge the blood on your hands
Because that’s not what your so-called holy leader demands
He commands you to make sure his empire
Expands and expands
Along with his profits and shares
At the expense of the lives of innocent kids
I could give a shit about your thoughts and prayers.
You say you see the problem
You say you know the solution
Arm the babies
Arm the teachers
Turn every neighborhood to a “Guns and Ammo” Theme Park
Because the problem isn’t us.
It’s never been us.
The problem is not that we’re poorly educated
Easily influenced, easily intimidated, easily manipulated
Overprivileged, trigger happy, flag waving, Bible thumping, diabetes prone,
Armchair Jeebus Freaks.
The problem is just over our border,
Over our heads
The danger of the unknown
The terror of the other.
It’s those brown people, black people, yellow people,
People who worship different gods, eat different foods,
Sing different songs.
You say you see the problem
You say you know the solution
And so its shut down our borders,
Lock up anyone who doesn’t look like you.
Sell more guns, spread your hate,
Shoot anyone who doesn’t worship your god
And deport the rest
Because, fuck ‘em, right? They’re never going to learn English anyway.
We don’t want to listen,
And we don’t want to learn.
It’s our fault that we can’t help ourselves, as far as you’re concerned.
It’s hard to have empathy
When your head’s up the ass of billionaires.
We need to protect us from ourselves.
Please.
Spare me your thoughts and prayers.

Thought-and-prayers-2
©2015 The Writers Bloc/AA Payson

How To Find Your Voice (4 Tips on Taming The Black Dog)

How To Find Your Voice (4 Tips on Taming The Black Dog)

HappyAlexMy son turned two recently. This means he’s reached that magical age where he gets into everything he’s not supposed to and screams “no” a lot. Except that, he doesn’t say “no” a lot. Frankly, he doesn’t say anything resembling a full sentence.

My son is two, and he’s going to be a late talker. Now, whether this is because of blockage in his ear canal, or he doesn’t feel the need to express his wants and needs beyond a window-shattering screech remains to be seen. Mommy and Daddy have been put on a list for speech development therapy, and hopefully, something will come of it.

Still though, he’s happy. Despite his lack of vocabulary, he’s healthy and happy and loves to play and get into trouble as every two year old should. And just to be clear, no, he isn’t on the spectrum. He responds, he interacts, he smiles and laughs, and most importantly, he tries to speak. He wants to speak. A lot and at length. He wants to pontificate and sing and argue. But, as of right now, the best he can do is sound something like an octopus that desperately wants to join the world of man, so he disguises himself Clark Kent-style to go about his business on dry land.

Boss: “Johnson, have you finished those quarterly reports yet?”
Octopus: “Glorba BLORGA blorga glorba blorgablorg!
Boss: “Ah, very good. You know Johnson, I like you. You’ve got the right attitude to make it in this business. Wilcox, how come you can’t be more like Johnson?”
Wilcox: “Because he’s a cephalopod, sir.”
Boss: “Have you always been this racist, Wilcox?”

He likes to talk. He wants to. And when he starts chugging along on his little sibilance choo-choo, I am convinced that he thinks he’s making perfect sense. I am convinced that he’s got The Gettysburg Address, The St. Crispin’s Day Speech, and ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas completely memorized, and he’ll roll it off his tongue at the drop of a hat. The thing is, no one can understand him, although not for lack of trying. His family all just smile and nod and do their best to understand. And he’ll still get frustrated at us because we still don’t get it.

I cannot help but sympathize. Sometimes, I feel the same way when I write. Especially when I blog.

So, You Want Your Voice Back?

For the past couple of days, I’ve allowed, as an old friend used to say, The Black Dog to

sherlock-202-the-hound
Yeeesh…

come to my doorstep.

The beginning of my blogging days was cultivated in the dark, dark days of the now defunct Yahoo 360°. For those of you too young to remember, Yahoo 360° was a social profiling site along the lines of MySpace and was the perfect place for the more socially averse who weren’t quite ready to jump on board the Facebook bandwagon. Those were the days where I was still cutting my writing teeth and finding my voice. Although, as I think back to then and reflect on what I do now, not a lot has changed. And I’m not quite sure I found my voice yet.

Among the new friends I accumulated at that time was a fledgling author. At the time, she was doing the song and dance of getting herself published. Her blog kept her friends and followers in the loop as to how and when the publishing was coming along. That is, when she wasn’t regaling us with tales about her kids, or refurbishing a house she and her husband just bought, or random pieces of erotica that she wrote. Her writing would have us in stitches, but every once in a while, Doubt would come calling, along with her kooky cousins; Anger, and Depression. She would apologize for her candor, and blame it on the Black Dog that showed his teeth when she tried to step outside of her house.

It’s over ten years later. The people I knew on that site are now scattered to the wind, and I wish them well. It’s over ten years later, and it hasn’t been until recently where I’ve actually considered getting published myself. I haven’t thought much about that time until now. I would have been satisfied leaving it in the past, but presently there is a familiar beast who has found himself just outside my own door with a sign around its neck reading, “Isky sends her regards.”

I get lost. More times than I’d like to admit. It’s so hard not to in this brave new world of self-published authors and readily available information. I want views and notoriety just as much as anyone else who starts down this road. I want to write as a career, and I’m willing to work for it. But sometimes I get impatient, and the void I scream into doesn’t respond back. Then I start to question my motives and practices, and maybe I should return to the “real world” because my blog hasn’t sold enough widgets and the placement of my SEO has gone all screwy or whatever. I get nervous, and the Black Dog gets hungry.

When I get lost, the first thing I gravitate towards are the hectares of blog posts that are so eager to dispense advice on how to boost your blog traffic. Their oh-so clinical and categorical language always leave me more confused, frustrated, and about as satisfied as forcing myself to eat a freezer-burned Lean Cuisine when I really want a pizza.

Then come those days where I just want to detach altogether, put a ball-peen hammer through my computer screen and spend the rest of the month binge watching Gilmore Girls. When I get scared, I lose my voice. When I lose my voice, I get lost. When I get lost, The Black Dog will find me.

But I’m not alone in this. I take the smallest grain of relief in the knowledge that there are others out there like me who are worried that they haven’t found their voice yet or fear that they may have lost it all together. However, in acknowledging this, I have discovered something that’s been in my pocket for a long time. In worrying about not finding your voice, or not finding your words, you allow doubt to take over. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration, after all.

Full disclosure, I didn’t go to school for writing or blogging or business. What I have learned, I learned on my own through my own research and just sitting in front of a monitor every day while my fingers tap out a few thousand words, and, most importantly, allowing myself to make mistakes. I’m not an expert, but here’s my advice for whenever The Black Dog starts growling.

1. Ignore Just About Everyone.

“Okay, Google.”
blingityblink
“I’m drowning.”
[Seconds pass as the lifeboat sinks a little deeper.]
blink “Here are some websites to tell you what to do in case of drowning.”
“Not very helpful, Googleblubblublblub…”
blink “Sorry. I didn’t quite catch that.”

Research should be second nature to you, right? Blog post, genre fiction, non-fiction, book report, burrito recipe, doesn’t matter. We used to spend hours raiding the shelves of our local library, now everything you need can be held in a few tabs worth of Google searches. You put the time and effort into researching everything before submitting anything which is the way it should be.

However, I think the byproduct of living in the age of Google is that we have become too dependent on it. We rely on it for everything we need to know. Unfortunately, Google can only tell you so much. Case in point, in terms of advice, Google is really good at telling you who said what and when, it’s not so good at telling you whose to follow.

“Okay, Google.”
blingityblink
“Tell me I’m pretty.”
[Seconds pass as the mascara runs further down your face.]
blink “…errrrrrmmmm… Can we just be friends?”

There comes a time when you can only absorb so much advice before you realize that you haven’t put any of it into action. Are you honestly looking for advice because you’re stuck, or are you looking for someone to validate the exact same thing you’ve been thinking about for the past week? Have you painted your manuscript into a corner, or are you licking your wounds from a really bad review and in need a virtual drinking buddy? Taking advice is fine, just remember that most of it shouldn’t be taken as gospel. If you want to write, get writing.

2. But, Be Careful With the Advice You Seek.

The biggest pet peeve I have with blogging/writing advice is the presumption that it should be done with the full intention of getting views/clicks and generating an income. Every post on the subject is a “Top 10 ways to blahblahblah,” or “The Most Obvious Thing That Your Blog is Missing,” or any other form of flashy, deep-fried clickbait that gets you to read the same regurgitated information that’s been shared a thousand times before. It gets to the point with me that I figure the most guaranteed way to get more clicks, is to title my blog post “How To Get More Clicks” and give away a FREE BOOK on the subject that’s worth $100’s of DOLLARS and FILLED WITH VALUABLE INFORMATION that someone else wrote, but you can NEVER FIND EVERYWHERE ELSE if you don’t know how the internet works and BE SURE TO GET ON MY MAILING LIST because YOU’LL GET HERPES IF YOU DON’T!!1! FUCK YOU, SHUT UP AND CONSUME!!

Nothing against you guys doing what late night infomercials have been doing for years before the internet was born, but I’m looking for writing advice, not the P.T. Barnum Playbook with a foreword by Zig Ziglar.

34713-rantclosed

Anyway, getting back on subject…

According to many pro-bloggers, blogging is solely designed to facilitate sales. That’s it. Not the exchange of ideas, and certainly not to be used for any artistic or abstract expression. To paraphrase from  Halt And Catch Fire, “Writing isn’t the thing…it’s the thing that gets the thing…”

Nope, it’s all about the almighty dollar, y’all. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that (I mean, c’mon. It’s the way I’ve chosen to pay my bills coughcoughCheckOutTheDonationButtoncough), it has very little to do with what I’m seeking help for.

What gets me so bummed whenever I think I lost my voice and I go out to find it, is that I’m not careful with whose advice I follow. After taking into consideration the wisdom that some gurus dispense, I tend to think that what I’m presently doing is wrong. Simply because I’m writing fiction and entertaining readers, rather than to just knuckle down and write some drab, emotionless fluff piece for the corporate interests of others while utilizing the tried and true Carrot-On-A-Stick Method.

My intentions with this blog are to entertain because I want to, inform when I can, and yes, sell things that I’ve made (coughRandomMerchPagecough…sorry, allergy season). That’s the way that works for me. What works for you might be completely different, and that’s okay. Just don’t do one thing that’s disguised as another in order to make a buck.

Writing is fine. Self-Publishing is fine. Making a buck is fine. However, there is a difference between the three. And meaning and intention tend to get blurred in the ye olde Google search.

This is something I obviously struggle with on a regular basis. I hate to break it to ya, but nobody is going to tell you what’s going to work for you as a writer. Seeking wisdom from our heroes is always good for perspective, but if you really want sage advice on how to find your voice, keep reading.

3. Realize That We All Start Somewhere.

So, you lost your voice. The manuscript you’re working on has stopped making sense by the second act , your characters have all walked away from you while flipping you off and giving you the side-eye, and the fear of “not being good as your heroes” that you’ve shoved to the back of your nervous, flop-sweaty little mind, is now front and center wearing a Boater, a candy-striped blazer and twirling a cane in his fingers singing, “HELLO MY BABY, HELLO MY HONEY, HELLO MY RAGTIME GAAAAALL…”

Before you pack it in, consider this…

This fear is a good thing.

This fear means that you are on the right path.

Because let’s face it. If you didn’t want to be a writer, you’d be doing something else by now like repairing lobster traps, or learning how to be a spreadsheet whiz-kid, or whatever you kids are into nowadays… with your Facebooks and your smartphones [shakes fist].

I’m presuming that since you are not any of these people, or have no intention of becoming one, that you have a story inside you that no one else can tell.

Great authors, like great football players, actors, surgeons and sandwiches, aren’t born. They’re made. Anyone can deliver a plot. Plot is nothing. Plot is the barest of minimums. But, you’re looking for something with a little more meat on its bones, right? You’re a storyteller, Harry. If you want to deliver your plot on something other than on a styrofoam plate, you need nuance and foresight and planning and grace and other words that aren’t coming to mind at the moment. All of which takes a lot of trial and error. All of which takes…

4. Practice.

That is all. Practice. It doesn’t get any simpler or any more obvious than that. There is no magic pill, no secret that only a few know about, that is free with purchase if you order within the next 20 minutes. Nope. That’s really all there is to it. Practice.

If you want to write, write.

“But…”
But, what?
“But, I still lost my voice.”
Oh, that’s not true. You’d be amazed what could happen once you get going.
“…but…”
What now?
“I don’t sound like J.K. Rowling.”

A word about that.

Many writers will tell you, and I’m in full agreement with them, that there is something to modeling yourself after your heroes when you are first starting out. It helps with the process of writing the story as well as finding your own voice. Yes, we all want to be the next Rowling. Just like I want to be the next Robbins, Thompson, Gaiman etc. So, I study my idols. I dive into their works and study how they do it and with a little luck, I’ll come out on the other side with just the right colors in which to paint my own landscape.

We all want to be the next Rowling…

Have you ever considered being the first You?

There is a story inside you that no one else can give a voice to, but you. Your craft is to build worlds from nothing more than imagination. We’d all like to see it, but the only way we can see it, the only way that you can stop sounding like an octopus in a polyester polo shirt, the only way to bring The Black Dog to heel is to just keep writing.

You’ll see.

keepwritingnotposter2015bla
Find this and other items to inspire on my Random Merch page!

Never Blog When You’re Angry

They say to always keep your blog shiny and happy. Never criticize or belly-ache. Stick to the positive and never let on that something might be bothering you….

…bullocks to that…

So the interview with the recruiter went well. It was congenial and went pretty much as expected with, thank you for your time and we’ll get back to you. Although the friend of a friend of a friend of a colleague was so sure that this place was desperately looking for positions to fill, they still took one look at me and decided, “Mmmmmwell…maybe not…hiiiim.” Which is alright. I went in not expecting to be swept up and immediately asked to work that day. What one person says, and what is reality have always been entirely separate things.

Before my first face-to-face meeting with them, I was asked to finish a couple of assessment tests to see where my strengths and weaknesses are in regards to workplace acumen. Since I expressed an interest in Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable work (something where I have very little experience in, but find myself drawn to because it’s detailed work and I don’t have to deal with people), they provided me with tests in both. I failed miserably in both. “Not to worry,” said the nice representative. “I have a few more tests that you can take that would give us a better understanding of what kind of work you can do.”

“Oh,” I said. “That would be great.”

After a few moments of inputting data on her computer, she turned to me and said, “There. I’ve just emailed them to you. Just complete them soon and we’ll get started looking for you. So,” she continued studying a copy of my resume, “what are you looking to be? Reading your resume, it looks like you’re all over the place.” Which I am. In a normal situation, normal people would finish their normal school and find that normal job, and normally advance or apply their skills to a better paying position and another place of employment. Normally. In a normal situation, one would work to strive toward a certain goal. My resume looks like someone who is just trying to survive; instead of a straight line, it looks about as complicated as the tire tracks of a kid trying to parallel park for his driver’s test in the snow. I had no 5-year plan. Nothing is for certain. Especially when it comes to employment. I did what I had to do until I could no longer do it. As I explained this to her, she half-sympathized as she perused the rest of my resume while taking notes.

We finished our meeting, and I left. I got myself situation as soon as I walked through the door; changed into comfortable clothes, made sure my son was dry and comfortable, made myself a cup of coffee. I fired up my computer and readied myself for a session of test taking. I opened my email and sure enough, there was a list of tests, ranging from spreadsheet skills to proofreading prowess. This was all well and good until I got to the bottom of the list. There was a test that wanted to check my proficiency in Spanish.

I grew up in central Maine during the mid-70s to the late 80s. The landscape is rolling and mountainous. It’s people are and have always been a homogenized mixture of English, Irish, French, and Dutch…except for me. My lineage didn’t come from a straight line. I’m Italian, German, French-Canadian (Acadian) and Philippine. I was the darkest kid in those Grammar School class photos. I was 8 years old, playing in a playground when I was told by some fat, sickly, trailer trash Cracker to “get off my playground, nigger.” I am reminded of my non-linear heritage in the eyes of everyone I grew up with. I suffer the slings and arrows of bigotry blatant or implied. I get beat up for no reason. I move to New York where I could be amongst a deeper shade of soul, and nobody knows what I am. White people think I’m black. Black people think I’m Mexican. Mexican people think I’m Asian (I’ve been given the nickname “Chino” on more than one occasion by more than one person). Asian people think I’m a goddamn rock star….and I’m okay with that. I have seen bigotry for years, I know what it looks like, sounds like. Tastes like.

I see that test, and I’m back at that playground.

I try to blow it off. Focus on other things. But, it’s always there. I take a few more tests, then I tend to my boy, feed him, change his diaper. I go back to the list, and I cannot proceed any further.

Technical difficulties, the kind you experience when you have been at a company at least a little while, were preventing me to continue. A page kept popping up saying that my session was still going on. I log out, thinking that might help. I log back in, same response. I leave it alone for a few hours, come back, same response. Come back the next day, same response. I contact the help desk, they respond back…hours later, essentially telling me the problem is at my end and not there’s, turn it off and turn it back on….that kind of thing.

I respond back, something to the effect of, “All I wanted to do was take some tests, how did I have to end up at the mercy of a third party IT department?” They responded back…hours later saying, “Look dude, I’m super lazy and it’s Friday. Could you like, give me some contact info and I could like, probably get back to you? Thanks, dude.” Paraphrasing, but not by much. Hours later. Not within the hour, many hours later.

So, let me sum up: I’m at the mercy of an apathetic, third party, IT department who can’t do anything because reasons. I’m waiting for them to get their act together so I can take a list of tests that I’ll probably fail, to be checked and scrutinized by a woman who thinks I’m a migrant farmer only to be told that my resume is screwy and they might get back to me once they have a position open up for a groundskeeper. Which is, y’know, KINDA the same as accounting.

Perhaps it was the past few days of putting up with this nonsense. Perhaps it was the rejection letter I received today had something to do with replying to everyone at the organization by saying, “Look, thanks for everything, but I can do rejection on my own.”

So, I’m back. Back to blogging, back to writing, back to creating, back to my quest of working on my own. I know I’m missing something about the 9 to 5 world, but if it means ignorance on this level, I’m not missing a thing. I’m glad this happened.

REVISED: I apologize. I’ve always had the habit of not completing a thought. It’s a nasty habit that I hope to shake the longer I write. This post was a lethal combination of writing while angry and continuing to do so until I fall asleep on my keyboard. I had more on my mind that I meant to get out there so, here it goes…

I’ve always been a subscriber of the “Do What You Love…” movement, and I’ll probably continue to do so no matter how many times I get slammed to the dirt.

However, that being said, I’m finding less and less things to love. I try and fail and repeat and hopefully love might come out of it. These days, I’m trying real hard to hold onto the things that I love to do. I have passion, but is it enough? I have ambition, but it is enough? I have a plan, albeit flimsy, but it’s better than nothing. Is that enough? Seriously, I feel my mood starting to stain everything in my brain a deeper shade of burnt umber. I’m doing what I love, just waiting for the money. Is it enough?

Does This Rant Make Me Look Fat?

You Have Been Warned…

Yesterday, I went on a tear. A fire was lit underneath me and I couldn’t stop writing. One right after another, little things that keep bombarding me from news outlets. I mean, forget that Kiev is probably going to go the way of Syria any time now. Forget that Pussy Riot was publicly flogged in the street by government thugs while the Putin administration scratches their collective noggin and wonders out loud why nobody likes them. Forget about this winter’s weather and how it made 1963 look like a passing shower. Forget about Elk River and how the company responsible for poisoning most of West Virginia with impunity suddenly went magically bankrupt when called out on it. Forget about all that. There is only so much yelling-at-the-tv type news that I can take before I make that turn into madness. Living in Florida, there’s only so much one can take. On this particular day, there were three things that pushed down that straw ever so gently on top of that camel.

This is the first….

Photo and Story from the Associated Press, published in the New York Post, 12/19/14

 A Utah mother, while shopping in a mall with her 18 year old…well…young man, became so enraged at a Pac Sun display of t shirts that showed scantily clad models, that she did what every other normal mother of an 18 year old young man would do… Went into the store and purchased every last t-shirt on display…about $600 worth in total.

Now, granted that this is Utah. This is a state where bikinis are…shall we say…out of style. This is a state of Ultra-Conservative Mormons who have a history of considering Rolling Stone, Cream, Tiger Beat…pornography (thank you Jello Biafra). This is a state where Victoria Secret is close to being outlawed, but Abercrombie & Fitch still have their half naked male models displayed all over their walls and nobody bats an eyelid. This is a state where gay marriage is considered icky, but a man marrying multiple wives at the same time is a-ok. Utah is what it is and a tiger can’t change it’s stripes overnight. All you can do is just shake your head. Still, I can’t help thinking back to 2003.

…Does anyone remember the whole “Freedom Fry” thing? Around the time when ‘Murica REALLY started losing its mind?

In 2003, President Bush officially declared War on Terror at a UN Security Council Meeting. The French Minister of Foreign Affairs (which only sounds sexier than it actually is) declared in no uncertain terms that France will not support an invasion of Iraq. Upon hearing this, a lot of people in this country got a little bit unamused. Fox News fanned the flames of xenophobia and dredged up centuries of distrust towards the French (because, y’know, that’s what they do) by shouting their oh-so unbiased reports on Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast and Freedom Kissing and Freedom Ticklers and on and on… but one item they “reported” on caught my attention.

After the rash of banishing of the word French from everything on American markets, “Sorry, French’s Mustard, I know your product is named after a person and not the country, but you are going to have to change your name to ‘Billy Bob’s Kick Ass Yeller Hot Dog Sauce.’ Because ‘Murica, that’s why!” After all that madness started getting old, there was a movement by some people to buy all the Champagne they could and dump it out in the streets (sorry I couldn’t find a link for this. This actually happened, but it looks like all information on it has been wiped from the internet…hmmm). I remember seeing images on the morning news of these well dressed wall street types buying cases of really expensive French wine and dumping it into the streets like they were shooting for the same effect the Boston Tea Party did a long time ago. All the while, these well-coifed morons we’re laughing in the style of “Muaahhahahaaa…We sure showed them Froggies! Hehhehehhhh…” What you couldn’t hear in the background was the entire country of France laughing at them. “Ha HA, américains stupides! La blague est sur vous! Vous deviez toujours acheter notre champagne pour le déverser dehors. Ainsi remercie de tout l’argent comptant. Vous êtes un crétin complet!” Loosely translated it says, “You do realize that you had to BUY the Champagne in the first place in order to dump it out, right? Oh well…YES! oohhhh…[shake fist] I guess you showed us, what with you giving us a whole bunch of money…in…protest…soooo….GOOD LUCK!”

It would be one thing if they brazenly did a smash and grab job in every liquor store in their zip code; breaking in in the middle of the night and taking everything with a French label, taking it all to the nose-bleed section of a Wal Mart parking lot, and then setting it on fire. THAT would have made more of a statement. But they didn’t do that. This mother of an 18 year old young man could have made more of a statement by chucking paint balloons at the window thereby covering up all the naughty bits so as not to offend the eyes of her impressionable, young, innocent 18 year old son. THAT would have made more of a statement. But she didn’t do that. She instead choose to spend close to $600 of her own money, boosting this franchise’s revenue, probably enabling them to receive a huge bonus check and a pat on the back by the CEO, bringing them that much closer to opening another store nearby, all because she was protesting the so-called “indecent imagery” printed on the t-shirts. You didn’t make a stand against the tyranny of indecency, you actively participated in Capitalism. Congratulations! Way to stick it to the man!

Look, I grew up in the Eighties, and this whole uptight, conservative housewife act is nothing new to me. And

AGGGHHH!!! MAKE IT STAHP!!!

while I agree that sometimes boundaries can be pushed a little too far on things like pseudo erotic imagery on a t shirt, or unfettered access to 4Chan, or The Tea Party agenda, Justin Beiber, Miley Cyrus, Dance Moms, Real Housewives of…, TMZ, Birthers, Ted Cruz, Gangham Style, twerking, Hot Pockets, and the de-evloution of the English language in general, I also agree that shopping at the mall is gross. I however do not agree that shielding your 18 year old, [technically an] adult from images of boobies does anything for him. All it does is confirm that you still treat him like a toddler, and will probably make him not want to be seen with you. Ever. And honestly, did I mention that your son was 18? I don’t care if you live in Provo, Utah or Cairo, Egypt, if you feel that your 18 year old son is emotionally damaged from looking at something as innocuous as The Swimsuit Issue of Sports Illustrated or, god forbid, certain sections of a JC Penny Catalog, then he’s probably gay. Deal with THAT little nugget of information, Mrs. Religious Nutjob.

Oh mah goodn…I mean AAGGHH!! MY EYES!!

The mother is quoted as saying,  “I hope my efforts will inspire others to speak up within their communities,” So does every other shop and franchise owner in every other mall in America, ma’am. So do they…

Picture Credits:
Rant Ahead
Tipper
Kate Upton