Land of Opportunity

yoni1

Though my Spanish wasn’t bad, the snapping of the scissors next to my ear mixed with the four ladies clucking in Spanish left me in a solitary mindset.  The second closest whittled away on a teenager, working closer and closer to his scalp until with the last layer she used an electric shaver to expose whitewalls and a short cropped top that resembled a putting green.  On the opposite side, an elderly gentleman leaned back as a young Hispanic female shaped his tumbleweed eyebrows.  Nearby, a heavy set señora laid out what appeared to be well traveled bracelets, necklaces and jewelry on a shortened ledge with all the optimism of a flea mart Queen.  Her spilling cleavage distracted my eye as she bent forward, and she seemed to sense it as she held the position longer than I would have expected, then flashed a smile.

Lefty’s barber shop had long since been abandoned by Lefty himself and replaced to serve the ever growing immigrant population.  I spoke a few words in Spanish to my stylist who told me she’d been in the United States for twenty years but hadn’t really learned English as she had been at home with her children for the early years, and later the population didn’t require it.

I thought back to Yoni Rodriguez, a student who came to my Physical Therapy clinic as a volunteer.  It was most interesting to see the art he had composed while in high school (attached sketch).  It was derived out of street art and I could sense the pain of poverty as well as the hopes for a better life. Yoni said his interest in art came as a child while watching his older cousins practicing their graffiti with spray cans on plywood in the back yard, though he didn’t have an answer as to why he chose to avoid the local gang scene.  It soon became clear that his ambition and drive would take him far, and I found myself encouraging him to continue with college and work towards a higher level.  He is currently succeeding in his pre-med classes.

I thought back on my own childhood of working in the asparagus field, something I began at eleven years old and continued seasonally through my high school years.  It wasn’t done for fun, but rather, as a means to enjoy a more fruitful life.  Yoni explained that his parents had arrived in the country from Mexico searching for a better life, but he was born here.  He laughed when he told me that he only recently realized that his social security had been collecting funds since shortly after his birth as a result of his uncles using it since he was an infant.  Yoni was highly motivated to improve his life, and for some reason this struck a chord in me as my own son had dropped out of college several times and was living with his mother at twenty-five.  Perhaps it’s my generation, or just me, but when I was young I couldn’t wait to get out of the house and earn my own living.

I didn’t have much time for drugs, and couldn’t have imagined the idea of dropping out of school if someone was paying for it.  Instead, I remember taking out student loans and trying to find my direction as my primary purpose was to obtain a degree where I could secure sustenance above the level of a restaurant dish busser and one free meal a day (one of my college jobs).  Driven by the need, will, and desire to survive it seems, yields the motivation to create a better future.  It’s no surprise that Yoni doesn’t have time for drugs and minimal leisure time as he works towards his medical degree.

While our society spends a lot of time worrying about marijuana legalization, and our right to get high, we are seeing more foreign students enter science, engineering, and the medical field where we have a shortage of workers.  It’s interesting as well that those underprivileged in our own country are drawn to these fields as much or more than the more affluent.

One wonders why these students seem so driven, so smart, and why we are not attracting more of our own youth to excel academically in these fields.  I look back at my own life and question whether or not working since I was eleven just taught me to expect to work, or whether the lack of funds taught me to work.  I guess it doesn’t really matter.  I value a life of productivity and am thankful to now be able to mentor others and give back to society.  Perhaps Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are better examples of how reaching a point well past survival mode allows more giving and how the classic American Dream can generate overall good for society, but if each of us sees to it that we are giving more than we are taking from society the world might be a better place.  This seems to hold true for those who will serve best by first securing their own place in society as well as for those from a more privileged class.

Kids—Feel free to lambaste me.

Art reproduced with permission of Yoni Rodriguez

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 Emoji Literature

This may seem a trivial post, but I don’t believe it is. My vehicle has a Bluetooth operation that allows it to read my texts. I find it verbalizes emojis. An example is if someone texts me with a sentence like “Thank You (smiley face emoji).” I hear an emotionless woman’s voice say: “Thank you, Smiley Face” .

Recently Facebook took a new step in evaluating posts. Where it used to be a thumbs-up or thumbs-down they have now added emojis to the evaluation key. So what does this have to do with literature? I’m not sure yet, but something tells me it will have an effect. Internet chat started, and texts facilitated the odd means of communication that we have now including TU, CU, OMG, LOL, IMHO, LMAHO, TTYL,TMI, SLAP, B3, IDC, BFF, and more than I can count, but now we also have the emoji configured every way imaginable.

Even as an old guy I can accept this, but when my emotionless voice message interpreter in my vehicle says to me “I’m at *$, LOL, Where U, **// 459 4EAE,” it still throws me off. Now that we have an emoji every couple words I’m more confused because the emotionless female voice in my vehicle says things like “I’m at *$, happy face where U frown face, **// 459 blush face 4EAE”.  Then I ask myself why I can’t understand this simple English language.

I recently read that a 12 year old girl faces charges for posting gun, bomb, and knife emojis on Instagram. As text acronyms and emojis filter into our everyday language it will be interesting to see where and how they land in our literature over the next ten or fifteen years.  Perhaps there will be a crime novel such as “The Emoji Killer”.

Confession of a writer

Last year I began attending a writers’ group.  We read what we write and criticize each other.  It’s a healthy experience, but it seems people don’t like to beat up on their peers.  They’re too nice.   I love it when someone beats my writing up.  Not because I’m a masochist, but because that’s the only way I really learn.  Kick my butt, I say, and they say my writing’s pretty good.  No, I say, lay it on me.  But they don’t.  That’s not my confession though.

Here it is:  I attend a writers’ group because when I criticize someone’s writing, it causes me to look much deeper into my own.   There’s nothing more humbling then telling someone they shouldn’t use too many adverbs, or whatever, (in front of a group) then realizing that I’ve made the same errors and my writing is up next.  

As corny as it sounds, the real benefit, for me at least, of attending the writer’s group is that it makes me a better self-editor.  It took me a few years of writing before I started this because I tend to be a loner and prefer to live in a cocoon and write in a corner somewhere.  Not to mention, there’s always someone cocky in these groups who believes he or she is God’s gift to the literary world just waiting to be discovered.

I’m wondering if anyone else out there attends writing groups and whether or not they find any benefit.  If so, let me know.

Imminence

 

In the name of life I must discuss death as the news I wish to deny arrives.  This is not something new; it is something natural, something all around us, something we all experience within ourselves at some point, yet we clutch onto life, beg for life, and wonder why we are such cowards near death.  It’s been overwritten, over studied, and over discussed.  Yet, I discuss it.

It can never be the same for one lover to lose a lover as compared to another.  The loss of a father, a sister, a brother, or a friend is as unique an experience to each of us as our own fingerprints that reflect who we are.  When death draws near we deny, we run, we avoid, we pretend and we pray.

The medical world builds an army of vaccines and medicines and chemotherapies and radiations and sends them into battle, but when the battle is lost we cry, we beg, and turn to the charlatan for a new bottle of snake oil.  And so it is, today, as my younger brother who together with his family fights and prays and kicks and screams and denies the cancer that reminds us our consciousness is no more than a guest in a body that allows us to see the whims of the universe for a moment in time on this planet, a spot in the galaxy somewhere in a space that we cannot understand.

And he steps into that dimension where we shall all one day join those who’ve come and gone, yet we do not understand what it means regardless of whether we know that it’s true, or whether we have faith, or have nothing.  He fights that battle with honor and courage, and for his children and wife he fights as he reaches that ultimate resignation that this universe sends.  A reality we all continue to deny, but one that reminds us that we must tell our stories, write our novels, and complete that which we have to offer this universe before it’s too late.

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.