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.

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.

Have Fun with This!

Have you ever been reading a story when a sentence the author wrote stopped you in your tracks?  Occasionally I come across a book that has great lines, the kind that you remember and other people remember.  I love this type of reading because I get excited to see what the author will come up with next.  Another reason I like them is because they kick me in the rear to step up my own writing.

One of my favorites is “The Last Good Kiss” by James Crumley.  It’s a great piece of writing and full of quotable lines.  Here’s one of them:

“Stories are like snapshots, pictures snatched out of time, with clean hard edges. But this was life, and life always begins and ends in a bloody muddle, womb to tomb, just one big mess, a can of worms left to rot in the sun.”  –James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss

Here’s another Crumley line:

“When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.” –James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss

When I really don’t feel like writing, I sit around and think up sentences that I might use at some time in some story.   I think about people I’ve seen, Situations I’ve been in or observed and try to describe them with one clever sentence.  Mine probably won’t end up on somebody’s notable list but I really enjoy the exercise.

Here’s a few to ponder.  I used some of them in my as yet unpublished novel, but most of them are just waiting for the perfect time and place.  Let me know what you think.  I’d be interested to hear if others do anything like this.

Dale’s Random Brainstrom quotes:  Have fun with these.

“It’s hard to realize that our own actions are just the sum total of the wills of those around us.  They push us one way and pull us another, and eventually the melting pot of wills moves us to action.  I mean, do you really think you know anything that you didn’t learn from someone who came before you?”

“He started all this shit but the problem was he had no balls.  Talk’s great, but if you can’t stand over the turd you laid, you’ve got no business taking a dump.  At least that’s how I see it.”

“It was like every other shield in life, you don’t know what’s on the other side unless you lower it, and if you keep it up you never know.  Funny, he thought, some people don’t even realize they’re living behind one.”

“Her pretty face held her two steps above the town whore.  At one time or another she’d been married to every guy in town that had more than a rag bag, taking a morsel or two with her before moving on until she gradually built up a small fortune.”

“The guy was a dick, you know the type, a high school quarterback who was the town hero at the state tournament and ended up throwing bags in a fruit warehouse.  I don’t know why I liked him.”

“He had small man’s syndrome so he got his black belt in karate.  It seemed every time he took a drink in a bar he’d look for a big guy and coldcock him with one of his moves then brag about kicking some guy’s ass after warning him not to cross him.”

“The situation was starting to remind him of his first fuck.  It was just one of those things he wasn’t ready to let go of for a while.”

“He’d realized that he was only independent in his job, and though he’d considered himself a patriarch, it came to him that he hadn’t a clue how the bills got paid, or even how the garbage went out. It seemed she was running the show.”

“She was one of those nasty girls, the ones you see in health clubs with tattoos clawing their way out of their asses.”

“When he saw her sunken eyes he realized the results of his actions were worse than shooting heroin straight into her veins.”

“Put your tits away mam. They’re not going to put the fire out and I’m afraid someone’s gonna get hurt if you keep swinging ’em around.”

“The winners always pissed him off.  They were the ones with the sixth sense.  The one that tells you what the consequences of your actions will be.”

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.