ON PRIDE

Have you ever had a friend tell you they are proud of you, or tell you that you should be proud of yourself or your accomplishments?  On the few occasions it’s occurred with me it always throws me off.  It seems like something a parent should say to a child, or something you should say to someone that you feel may have low self-esteem.  Tell them you’re proud of them―make them feel good.

This happened to me recently and I really had to think about what they were saying because my first response was something like this.  “What the hell do you mean you’re proud of me?  You think I need a compliment or something?”

Sometimes I have to point my finger at myself and realize it’s me that has the problem.  Why should I be the only one that’s proud of my accomplishments?  It may go much deeper.  I think being proud, or having pride is an odd concept that gets intermingled with self-esteem.  Often those who appear the proudest of themselves are using it as a cover for their own low self-esteem.

So how does one find healthy pride?  Not being an expert on this I have concluded that healthy pride has more to do with self-honesty than anything else.  Few of us are capable of carrying out a self-assessment in an honest manner.  Not because we don’t want to, but because we can only use the tools we have and those include all the self-protective mechanisms we’ve spent years working on.

Perhaps, pride is a humble acceptance of those talents that others have identified in us, and that we personally know come from our true selves and not some manufactured identity or mask we create so that others will believe something about us that is not true.

Unfortunately, that narrows the field of those with true pride.  We live in a world of people who strive to emulate identities they have found on the internet, or in movies, or perhaps their favorite rock band―A world where many people define their own happiness on whether a team of professional athletes on a sports team wins or loses―a world where few have identified who they personally are, but strive to be something they are not.  Are these people being honest with themselves—about who they are?  Or are they hiding their true selves by pretending to be something they are not?

I realize this is an uncomfortable thought but the reason I’m bringing it up is because I believe in order to create literature, art, or music, beyond simply crafting it, 100% self-honesty is required.  True art will be the result of self-honesty, and pride will be a non-evasive by-product of knowing that one has produced that art, regardless of whether anyone recognizes it or not.  The ultimate compliment comes when someone is proud of being associated with what your self-honesty has produced.  You too will know when that compliment is an honest one, or simply someone blowing smoke because they feel they have something to gain from you.

I suggest looking deep into your upbringing, all the good, the bad, the dysfunction, the pain, and the happiness and find that true self.  I know this is not easy for me, but it is something I’ve committed to strive for.  Forget about someone else’s successes, failures, and experiences and find your own. Then you will produce your best work and be proud of it.  So will those around you.

You and I

As we follow the arrow of time, you and I share something.  We write, not only to touch the world with our thoughts, but to feel the spirit of those who read our words.  While Jung called it the Collective Unconscious, some call it Quantum Consciousness; some see it as a spiritual gift.  Regardless of the term, our souls are interconnected.

For you who read my blogs, my curiosity as to your creations motivates me to read your stories.  And the beauty of these stories, and photos, and thoughts, stimulate memories, and emotions, such that I feel I’ve known you before.  In some cases, I have been close to you, though unknowingly at the time, and in other cases, I was near your energy before you were born.  Nonetheless, I sense the verve of your soul as we trade our written word, art, and emotions. 

Yes, it’s true we are not being profiled by Enquirer magazine; we are not on the red carpet, but then, that’s not why we write.   You and I only know about each other; we are the soul seekers. We seek to know the passions of another, we seek to share our depths, and out of our collective unconscious we create new souls in our fiction and express them in our art, and share them in our literature.  We live in a transcendent plane that few understand, and we do not understand why they cannot share our visions as they rush through their lives.

As technology evolves and the internet allows global thought sharing, we become one in the world.  Today I stopped by one of my fellow blogger’s site, Alex Markovich.  I perused his stories, took in his art, and my mind was taken back forty years when I was a high school exchange student in Sweden.  This was the time of the “Cold War”, and The Soviet Union was behind the “Iron Curtain.”  I went on a two week student tour through Finland into what we called “Russia.”  We forfeited our passports at the border and were told not to go outside the city limits of the two cities we visited, Moscow, and St Petersburg, or Leningrad as it was then. 

In those two weeks, at 18 years old, I learned that the people, the smiles, the artists, and the salt of the earth are the same everywhere and it changed my future.  It’s no secret in today’s world that you and I have this curiosity about other cultures, lives, hopes, and dreams, but forty years ago our access to one another was limited.  Today, we blog, we publish, and we share globally.   It’s a beautiful journey, and I am thankful to each of you who share your journey; I am thankful when you take a moment and allow me to share mine. 

In a fiercely political world with upheaval, fighting, and global power plays we must continue to seek one another, and promote the higher plane of existence that the human experience deserves.  It’s we who share the beauty that surrounds us who must fill and spill our cups of energy onto the world to draw the human collective unconscious to our appreciation of this gift of life.  And you and I will share the peace we create.

Life Priorities

No, this is not a political post, it’s about life.

I live on the West Coast in Washington State.  Every Presidential election, it seems the winner is announced before my State’s votes are even counted.  It may just be me, but with age I become more indifferent about the elections.  Today, I look at the lineup and wonder what our world has come to.

After every election, I wait for things to be better, but it seems that in the end, other than seeing my taxes go up for one reason or another, the world goes on, both sides attack the other, and my life is about the same.  The Democrats try to convince the world that the Republicans are idiots, and the Republicans try to convince the world that the Democrats are stealing their liberties.  Each cycle, it seems that what used to be considered a form of civil service creates more wealth for politicians, and the rich Republicans and the rich Democrats get richer, or make someone else richer, somehow using us to do it.

Most of us are putting forth labor so they can reach their goal of going from average Joe to rich politician.  Still, we continue to listen to their ideals and allow them to manipulate how we choose or keep friends.  We debate the issues with emotion, argue with fervor, and promote those ideals we have been manipulated to identify with.  In the end, it’s often wealth and lobbying that influences what comes out of the politicians mouths, regardless of the party, with the end goal of influencing our thoughts.

Today, I’m sitting in my brother’s home as he and his family face the effects of a Terminal Brain Tumor.  He can no longer make it to the restroom alone and his wife needs help because she can only do so much.  His children, one in college, and one out in the work force are home for the weekend to help.  Life, not on hold, but coming to an end.  Priorities now straight, and somehow Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, neither of which has anything to offer the world in my opinion become trivial background noise, a place I hope they remain every day.

A terminal diagnosis does wonders for understanding priorities in life, and it turns out that most of them are not out in the world trying to fix world problems.  In fact, for those who have families that they love, and families that love them, priorities might all be right at home.   Such a diagnosis is fodder for consideration that, while we have our armchair debates about the world’s problems, most of us never resolve our own issues.  On the rare occasion that we are given a terminal diagnosis we might have the chance.

Today, I would appeal to each one of you to cast aside your political discussions, turn towards your family, childhood friends, and for a minute realize that civilizations, the world, capitalism, socialism, and great societies have been running their cycles for thousands of years, and individuals have minimal to no effect on the course a society takes from start until collapse once the wheels are set in motion.  If your political debates and discussions make you feel you’re having an influence, continue on, but a deeper perspective may help you focus on the areas where you can have an influence.  An interesting book, “The Lessons of History”, Will & Ariel Durant, summarizes these cycles of civilization in a short concise manner.

Don’t wait for your terminal diagnosis, or for that of one close to you to find your priorities and where you can make life meaningful.  First, take a close look at the presidential candidates and ask yourself if they’re worthy of much of your time or thoughts.  Second, realize that today’s the day to take care of those close to you without the influence of any institution.  Do it from your own heart in your own way.

Empathy Beyond the Ego

­­Looking within to find empathy offers a different perspective so I’m going to throw it out.  While many over-achievers want to be empathetic, and some feel they are, it may be a false empathy in many cases.  They are focused on themselves, and the need for personal satisfaction is wh­­­at drives their achievements.  Achievements tend to be self-indulgent in nature.  Achievers often have difficulty finding empathy until they reach a point of satisfaction with their own accomplishments.  Unfortunately, this may be an ego driven empathy, self-satisfying empathy―one more accomplishment to add to the list.  Granted, doing good works help the receivers regardless of the motivation.

Is it possible that empathy can be another method of self-satisfaction for some?  i.e., I am helping others therefore I feel good about myself to the point that empathy becomes a narcissistic endeavor?­­  

Our consciousness is what gives us a sense of self―really the ONLY thing that gives us a sense of self.   For each one of us, the universe, the empathetic subjects, and everything else we perceive live only in one place.  That place is our consciousness…. Without consciousness, they do not exist for us.  What does this mean?  It means, that everything we sense as the outer world is really within us―within our perception.  Once we realize that our achievements are not something that we personally accomplished, but, also required consciousness, other lives, and the universe, we can no longer separate ourselves.  Thus, they are an accomplishment of the universe.  Our consciousness manifests this reality for us.  We are not separate from the universe; our perceptions are the universe as we know it. 

Once one understands this, it becomes clear that the true feeling of empathy is an integral part of self-love and it comes without effort to those who have this characteristic.  Empathy becomes intuitive rather than learned, and is no longer an object we seek; it’s a part of us.  True empathy is not born out of guilt, or feeling sorry for someone in need, nor is it found in feeling guilty about having more than others.  True love is not attainable without empathy, both for oneself and those one perceives as others.  Likewise, true empathy is not attainable to those lacking self-love, and I submit that lack of self-love is a motivator for many over-achievers.  Many are seeking self-love through their achievements and carrying out good works for them is based on false empathy as they seek self-love.

This took me many years to understand.  Early in my life I thought I would find it (self-love) through education so I­ collected degrees.  Not surprisingly, the degrees brought me no closer to understanding any of this.  I loved nature and climbed mountains and worked as a Physical Therapist.  I thought I was empathetic because I was helping people, but just like climbing mountains, it was motivated by my own need to achieve and had little to do with empathy.  Sadly for me, a substantial amount of over-achieving was necessary before I realized it would not bring wisdom, empathy, self-love, or anything of importance. 

Perhaps accepting that the only true asset we have is our consciousness and that our ego is an obstacle is all we need to understand to offer more to the world we perceive as outside of us. 

The Prompt

I constantly peruse the blogs and internet sites for various writing exercises.  Writing prompts haven’t helped me much in the past.  After all,  I can look around my room and find plenty of prompts, from the Nutcrackers on my mantle to the college graduation gift my ex-wife gave me before we were married.

Recently, I began working with a book called “Fast Fiction, Creating Fiction in Five Minutes” by Roberta Allen.  This short book taught me that when employed properly the prompt can allow one to reach deeper into the sub-conscious.  The theory, and it seems to work, is that if given a prompt and five minutes to write a complete short, there is no time to consciously think of a story.  Thus, it flows from within.

In this book, it’s recommended to carry out six five minute prompts in a row.  After 30 minutes, you have six shorts.  With thirty minutes a day you could theoretically have forty-two first draft shorts in a week.  Granted, many or most of them may not be stories that one wants to expand on.  Eventually though, one of the stories strikes a chord and connects and you want to finish it.

This cute little book also gives a lot of tips on writing a good short story so when you do revise your story you have plenty of tools to work with.  The key is to not revise while writing the five minute story.  Just let the nonsense, misspellings, bad grammar, and whatever else shows up flow for five minutes.

It has an interesting way of uncovering personal hang ups that may prevent you from reaching your full potential for creativity in writing.  At least, it did for me.  Try it and you’re sure to learn something about yourself.  I’d love to hear what you think about the exercises.

About Those Mountains

About life and literature―Promise

The pictures on my blog and Instagram are photos I took while climbing mountains.  Climbing a mountain is a bit like writing a novel, possibly more so than running a marathon.  It really is a one step at a time adventure.  Occasionally, one has difficulty finding a route up the mountain and has to take some steps back and redirect.  Mostly though, it’s the mental game of placing one foot in front of the other when one is fatigued, and mentally worn out from the steep and sometimes rough terrain.

A few years ago I went to South America with the singular goal to climb the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere, Mt. Aconcagua.  After climbing local mountains such as Mt Rainier, Mt. Baker, Mt Hood, and the other volcanoes of the cascades I wanted to try high altitude climbing.

It turned out to be the best training I could have asked for in preparation for writing the novel that I have since completed.  Incidentally, my novel is a crime novel not a mountain climbing novel.

In order to climb high altitudes, one must first train, then acclimatize.  This is carried out by spending months of weekend climbing, and running.  Then, once on the high mountain, by climbing a few thousand feet higher daily, returning to a lower altitude for a night, then climbing higher and staying higher, gradually moving up the mountain.  This allows acclimatization so that one will not develop Cerebral Edema and die and requires various amounts of time on the mountain depending on the altitude.

Still, when summit day arrived and we climbed from 19,200 ft to 22,840 ft the altitude played havoc on my mindset, and psyche.  There were times when I felt like quitting but—in the end―it was one foot in front of the other, at a snail’s pace all the way to the summit, and highest point in the Western Hemisphere.

I think mountain climbing sums up the journey of completing a novel through to publication.  There are often route finding difficulties, and always a new challenge of acclimatizing to what one didn’t know before one started the journey.  After the fervor and toil of writing many drafts, and having editors and readers making suggestions, and writing many more drafts there is a moment of perceived completion.  This is the false summit.  It seems this is when the real high altitude acclimatization begins because one realizes that the mountain has not been climbed.  The summit (publication) does not come so easily and there suddenly appear new challenges that were never identified prior to setting out on the journey.   When I climb a mountain, or now as I have completed writing my novel, I don’t look to see how far it is to the summit, I just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

A Work in Progress

Last month I submitted my first short story for publication.  I decided to submit short stories after having several agents tell me that my novel was well written, and engaging, but would probably not find a publisher since I was a no-name.  After that my strategy became to publish some short stories before submitting my novel again.

I’m excited to announce that my short story was accepted for publication in an online literary journal, “gravelmag.com”.  Gravel is published by the MFA program at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.  My story will appear in the October issue. I’ll probably put out a link and share it once it’s published.  It was a personal story, nonfiction.

Here’s what I noticed about this piece after it was accepted.  I found several sentences that I was (even more) unsatisfied with my punctuation.  The one word that I never felt was quite right in the story now seems like it doesn’t belong at all and glares at me as if it’s in bold print.

I have since submitted a short fiction story and found myself editing between every submission such that everyone receives a different version.  I used to write software, and it was never finished and that’s how my stories feel.  Anyone who uses the WINDOWs operating system knows that it gets updates every week or so, and then eventually they just build a whole new version of the same story.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could build auto updates into our published stories?

I believe a story is like that.  It seems that if we sit on a story for a while we update it with new thoughts. I often wonder if it’s due to evolving thoughts as the world and our perspective change, or just from letting the story simmer.  I’m afraid if I ever do get my novel published I’ll want to change the story before it hits the press.  I guess that wouldn’t be such a bad problem.