Blog Party: Mariela

BubbleHere we are. It’s the end of the month. The final installment of our Blog Party has arrived! We’ve so enjoyed working together and getting to know our respective audiences as a result. Hope you have too. Closing down our party is Mariela. 

Mariela GómezAbout Mariela: I have a passion for linguistics, culture and travel. Back in 2013, I started a blog to share my personal journey’s experiences with my family and friends, called El periplo de Mariela (or Mariela’s Journey). Although the blog’s name was in Spanish, posts were 99% in English. For the first couple of  years I wrote with certain frequency but then life took over and I eventually stopped. Fast forward to April 2017 and, after a 1-year hiatus from writing, I’m launching MarExplora. For now, its main feature is still the blog but this site will be an ever-evolving project..I’m excited to see what path it’ll take me!

CH-CH-CHANGES

One year and some change in transition mode: the company I work for will soon be centralizing all corporate functions related to the operations of its properties in the Americas in Miami and, therefore, they’ll be closing the Atlanta office.

Call it intuition or experience, this corporate decision didn’t take me by surprise. I had considered it might eventually happen, that it was just a matter of time. The majority of my co-workers did not see it coming, though. Confusion and sadness describe the very first days following the announcement last May. Although we were all given the option to continue with the company if we relocated to Miami, most of us decided not to, for different reasons.

In my case, as much as I’m always open to challenges, moving my residence to South Florida was not the direction I wanted my life to go. Being clear on what I didn’t want was a good first step, but what was next for me?

When something of this nature happens you have a great opportunity to take a step back and think what you want to do, where you want to be, what your purpose in life is, etc. I decided I’d take full advantage of being in that position and focus my energy on assessing all options. I’ve spent the last months doing exactly that.

I’ve explored and revisited plans I had earlier in my life that never materialized. I’ve returned to projects I had abandoned, including my blog site. I’ve even gone back to school to work on certain skills I wasn’t confident about. Along the way, I’m learning about many possibilities I hadn’t given a thought to before…and it’s exciting!

I’m still not sure what future lies ahead for me, but I know the changes in my life will all be for the better.

Blog Party: Shannon

BubbleSince we’ve been at this for a while, you probably remember what “Blog Party” refers to, but in case you bonked your head like a cartoon character, or are just late to the party, read this post.

This guest post is by Shannon. Here’s how Shannon first introduced herself when she got to the Blog Party:

Shannon:  Greetings! I’m a storyteller and story coach living in Atlanta, GA. I’ve beenShannon M. Turner blogging since 2006. My current blog is embedded in my website. I tend to write irregular reflections on storytelling, projects, and my journey. My subscribers are almost entirely a part of my personal network, so I’d love to have a chance to grow beyond the people who just want to make sure I don’t starve.

Seeing & Not Seeing

I recently went to the memorial service of a guy I worked with at Buffalo Mountain Camp. The following day I went for a long hike in the Great Smoky Mountain National Forest, terrain very similar to the mountainside on which our camp resided. As nostalgia is one of my favorite places to be, I went there.

Snake 1Conrad the Snake was one of the long-time residents of Buffalo Mountain Camp in the mid-nineties. He was a rat snake, not to be confused with a rattle snake, though they look frighteningly similar. Rat snake = loves to eat rats. One of my less desirable jobs for a time as the camp’s assistant director was to go to town and buy mice for Conrad. To. Eat.

Really hated that part of my job.

One day, through circumstances I can’t quite remember ~ someone left the lid off the cage? ~ Conrad escaped. After he was gone for a few days, we began to mourn. You see, a domesticated animal cannot go back into the wild. Tim, our resident guru, explained that Conrad would only last a little while on the mountainside. Surely he’d starve or be eaten by another predator.

Snake 2A week later, I led first aid orientation with new staff. I stood over this large plastic bin full of the fanny packs I’d lovingly made with all of their supplies. Counselors were to carry their emergency first aid fanny packs with them at all times. I opened and went through a sample fanny pack, like an alternate-universe Vannah White, showing the various pockets and Ziplock bags full of bandaids, creams, and ointments. I stood over the tub for like 20 minutes.

I’m sure you already know where I’m going with this story, but, before I get there, let me justify this moment to you a little bit.

Camp is a multi-sensory experience, y’all. There are “little altars everywhere”: feathers and stones placed lovingly for your secret pal to find; sloughed off snake skins are offerings of God’s creation made manifest here and there on hearths and in window sills. I’m not saying this totally excuses what I was so oblivious to, seeing and not seeing at the same time, but I was indeed distracted by my very important first aid business.

So, of course, the big reveal: Presentation over, as I bent forward to begin distributing the fanny packs to the less than eager hands ~ because let’s face it, even in the 90s, even at camp, which is its own society, who wants to be forced to wear a fanny pack day in and day out? ~ I finally understood that Conrad was right there at my feet. He was nestled up amongst the fanny packs, all shades of brown and black amongst the neon pink and blue. It took me a while to realize what I saw, even reaching my hand into the bin…until he adjusted himself ever so slightly.

That’s when I went into shock.

“Um, guys…” I think is what I said. “You know what?…”

Trailing off, I walked away, sat down on a rusted folding chair for a really long time, completely speechless after that. Just rubbed my hands up and down my legs, like I was trying to keep warm, despite it being a humid summer day. Amazingly, Tim, aforementioned camp guru, knew exactly what was happening in that moment and sprung into action. He gently lifted Conrad from his home-away-from-home and took him for emergency food and water.

I still sat where I’d landed for a while. If you’ve ever experienced shock, then you know this phenomenon. Generally, in a crisis, I’m your Jenny-on-the-spot. I’m the one to spring into action, think with absolute clarity, and get things done. But, just a couple of times in my life, I have been so taken aback in the moment that my reaction turned out to be quite different.

I think the more remarkable aspect of the story of Conrad-the-Snake-turned-Houdini, though, is my moment of seeing/not seeing. Think of how stubborn my senses had to be in order to completely miss that snake at my feet! I refused to connect the dots in my mind.

Today, it’s become a kind of allegory to me in more than just the following ways:

    1. Climate change deniers. With each passing year, we experience strangely warm winters and fiercer, more frequent, more frightening storms. I think about the cognitive dissonance people have to stuff down in order to pretend we are not having a devastating and direct impact on our planet’s ecology. I truly wish there were a way to help people stop seeing the matter as something politicized or out of their own hands. If we all could know this is our legacy, our responsibility, and something that’s very much real–acknowledge that we are indeed seeing what we’re seeing and feeling what we’re feeling–how much closer would we be to solving the problem?
    2. Mental illness. As you may know, I just spent a period of time back at Virginia Tech doing storytelling work for the 10-year anniversary of the 2007 shooting. I often think about Cho’s 23 years of life that came before he killed 32 people, shot 17 others, and then killed himself. At every point along the way, he had presented as a deeply troubled person. As a little boy he refused to speak. In high school he wrote a paper stating that he’d like to commit violence on the level of Columbine. He’d been placed on a 24-hour psych hold, which meant he should have never have been able to buy a gun. His teachers noticed the warning signs and even reported him to the administration. Our system–and individual people–let him down all along the way.  In retrospect, it’s terribly sad that he was able to do what he did because people were seeing–but not seeing–what he tried to show them.
    3. Systemic racism and white privilege. White people. Those of us walking around in pinkish skin, who are melanin-challenged (as my friend Kathie D says), have this tendency to bury our heads in the sand. This head-sand-burying problem is to our convenience. We like to claim that racism ended around 1968, as though Martin Luther King, Jr. was a second Messiah who cleansed our sins with his assassination. Of course that’s not true. We willfully ignore, remain oblivious. We look, look away at police brutality and assassinations of black children. Look, look away from the overly large numbers of incarcerations and state-sponsored killings (executions) of people of color. Poverty rates. Children who are punished and expelled from classrooms in imbalanced rates. Environmental racism is revealed as we build pipelines through places we don’t want to live. We dump toxic waste in communities of color and sit idly by but make sure to watch the made-for-TV movie about Detroit’s water crisis. Look. Look away.
    4. love found in an old friendship. (This! This, of course, is my favorite one to write about.) I have this dear friend who’s been friends with a certain gentleman for a very long time. He had a crush on her for years, but she just sort of tolerated it and basically ignored him until late last year. When she visited in the fall, quite unexpectedly, she saw him in a different light. He’d been doing a lot of work on himself both physically and emotionally–had been in love with someone else for a while, done a lot of yoga, grown a beard–and blammo! Magic! It was like when you were a kid, playing with magnets, pushing them around by their opposites, and then suddenly they flip around and stick to each other. She’d probably be the first to tell you some of what had changed was the work she’d been doing on herself as well. This story is not yet far enough along to know exactly where it’s gonna go, but I’d be willing to guess it’s going to remain as epic and sweet as its beginnings. It’ll be worthy of a Modern Love essay one day, which is apropos, since my friend is who introduced me to that wonderful column.


Tim, the now legendary camp guru of this story, had a funny way with words. He could turn a phrase with the best of them, and I’m quite certain his daughter now rolls her eyes at his jokes like, “The only thing worse than pneumonia is OLDmonia.” One of his favorite sayings was, “If it had been a snake, it would have…crawled away and hid from ya!” His point being that most snakes are not hiding in hopes for the chance to jump up and bite you as the more famous euphemism goes. Their markings are there to protect them; they’d rather stay hidden.

I guess my point is, it’s our collective responsibility to keep our eyes open. In essence, to be woke, but as a white person, I don’t really get to claim that term. To understand what it is we are observing and to make meaning of it as we must. My plan, and my dearest hope, is not to miss the next opportunity, the next observation, the next sensory experience, and especially the next potential love I’m given, that’s for goldarned certain.

Epilogue. A word about fanny packs and the camp counselor mentality. They evolve. I have now become infamous for always having bandaids, ibuprofen, an umbrella, sunscreen, and, of course, a reusable water bottle/coffee cup. The Boy Scouts didn’t land the market in the Always Be Prepared mentality. Good Methodist camp counselors had that too.
Epilogue, Epilogue. Please, let’s not talk about the escaped pythons in Florida. We’ll not think about that!

Blog Party: Zach

It’s time for Round Three of this month’s Blog Party! For those who have no idea to what “Blog Party” refers, I encourage you to read this post to see what it’s all about.

As this is my site, it would feel weird to call myself a guest, yet here we are. So, this post, which is not a guest post in the least, was written by me! What a nutty concept!

The Manic’s Guide to Connections

The moment he took the taser out of the case, I sat down and waited. I knew what came next. In that inexplicable sense of destiny, or fate, or the complete and utter understanding of my best friend/meta-sibling’s personality, there was nothing I could do to stop it. It took only, “I wonder what it feels like?” to inspire him into action. For three seconds, he held the charge against his arm, smile twisted in a blend of shock and amusement. Anyone else and I’m running to stop them. But this is the guy who covered his face in shaving cream in order to act like, I don’t know, a rabid Frankenstein or something, then wound up screaming his way down the hall because he hadn’t expected it to burn so badly. This is also the guy who filled a plastic container with butane, stuck his hand through the opening, lit a lighter, thereby (shock!) rendering his arm hair to curled, horrible smelling, reminders of what once was.

This is the smartest guy I know. No, truly, he’s brilliant. In fairness, this all took place over twenty years ago, so perhaps his judgment merely lost its battle against youthful curiosity. A fight we all remember losing more often than not.

I, myself, have lost that battle numerous times, predominantly in the pursuit of the ideal connection (a.k.a. Twoo Wove, a.k.a. Aphrodite, a.k.a. Zach’s Insane and Somewhat Naïve Quest for Completion). The trick—the part I always lose myself within—is getting beyond the initial connection and immediately attempting to translate that into some state of permanence. Some might call this a, “relationship”. I have called them, “oops, nope”. Still, I persist. After all, life can be whittled down to nothing more than an ongoing series of connections, right? Like the charge through my friend’s arm, we absorb the shock and it fills us. It enlivens the mind and heart; and, sure, it scares the hell out of us, but we do it anyway because stopping seems as likely as travelling through time in a DeLorean.

Speaking of which, I read an article regarding the activity of particles in relation to time. The prevailing theory the scientists presented stated that particles show behavioral patterns based on future events, working then backward through the complexity of what we know as “time” in order to reveal their true nature. Now, I have neither a chalkboard, chalk, nor Doc Brown’s manic energy to explain any of that; but it did get me thinking about the connections (and disconnections, for that matter) I have experienced in my life.

Perhaps, in this context, connections are actually echoes from the future. Perhaps we know we’ve met someone important in our lives because—as with the nature of particles—we’re seeing the result that will be instead of the emotion of the moment. Perhaps all of this is utter nonsense and merely an escapist means by which to avoid the reality of the patterns in my life.

Until recently, that pattern has gone like this: I find a connection, I feel alive. I have a sense purpose, completion, and a dingle-dangle twinkle of the ever-elusive surge of happiness. I dive headlong, the connection following my lead. The connection is strong, the pairing complex yet thriving on simplicity, the bond like, I don’t know, every metaphor for love ever stated. Something with flowers and sunshine, probably. Or waves across an otherwise silent beach. I could probably invent one that has to do with tacos, but it might make me hungry and then I’ll spin off into some tangent on cheese.

Mmmmm…cheese.

Anyway.

The point. Right. The non-cheese point is that every new connection thrives on the euphoria of discovery. The newness, the elation of two people sharing commonality and dreams. Ultimately, this wanes in favor of reality, personality, behavior, and the truth that some people just like to shock themselves with tasers to see what happens. And that’s okay. I didn’t know that. I was under some deluded impression that every connection required permanence. It had to last forever, otherwise what was the point? Not quite a shock to the arm, but I did do it to myself and marvel at the results.

Sometimes you meet someone, you share a connection, it feels ridiculously good, then the river of life leads you to drift you apart. Or, sometimes you meet someone, you share a connection, it feels ridiculously good, then no matter how much you want it to continue, the one you’ve connected with drifts away on their own, leaving you to wonder what in the hell of hells you did wrong.

And that’s okay too, I suppose. Everyone deals with this stuff in their own crazy ass ways.

I’m no atomic particle travelling backward through space and time, but regardless of outcome, I’ll take the connection, no matter the result. Sure, I have wants, needs, dreams I can’t shake no matter how hard I try; but I can’t be without connections. Which means I might need to fill the container with butane and burn my arm hairs off from time to time. I might need to shock myself just to see how it feels. I might even need to act like a rabid Frankenstein just to see who runs away first.

Life’s a crazy thing. May as well be a little crazy with it.

Blog Party: Lesley

BubbleWe’re back for another Blog Party entry! For those who have no idea what “Blog Party” refers to, I encourage you to read this post to see what it’s all about.

This guest post is by Lesley. To remind you of who she is, here’s her brief blog bio from the original introductory post to Blog Party (hyperlinked above):

Shades of Green and Shapes of Stories

It’s glorious spring in my neck of the woods, and the woods I walk my dogs in is bursting with all shades of green: emerald, jade, sea-foam, M&M, spearmint. And these greens come in all shapes and sizes, from mayapple to fern to clover to rambling rose to cottonwood saplings. Each different, each thicker in some parts of the woods than others: the mayapples tend to cluster where sunlight makes its way through the thickening canopy; the ferns seem to prefer darker slopes; the saplings dot the areas where an older tree has fallen—they need the light that’s available to them in those gaps.

So many greens So many shapes

And so it is with the forms that our stories may take: just as the majority of the plants in the woods are green, so many of our stories are made of words, words of all types: sacred, profane, Germanic, Latinate. And the form these stories take also varies: spoken word, poetry, creative nonfiction, drama, short story, novel.

I have been banging my head against the proverbial wall in regards to form for my writing: short stories are encouraged in the MFA program, I believe because getting a short story to “work” is a practice that can be applied to longer (and shorter) pieces of prose. But I’m only human, and I’ve worked with three- or five-act structure for years; I know Aristotle’s incline intimately, and Freytag’s triangle is my good friend. It’s like being in love with ranunculus or daisies and not noticing hyacinth and coral bells, and there’s nothing wrong with having a preference, for loving what we love.

For story structure, my love has been to include a fair amount of backstory. Last semester, while I floundered with a short story, my advisor suggested I get rid of all backstory and revise the story entirely in one scene. What?! No no no no my writer self hollered, I need backstory! At least a little bit!

I was wrong. Completely, totally, entirely wrong. When I cut out the backstory bits (carefully saving them in another file, because, well, because) the characters did and said everything necessary for the story in the present moment of the story. And in fact, once they were unencumbered by the backstory, they soared up and out and behaved in some startlingly interesting ways—the story blossomed.

Oh.

There are a gazillion ways to structure every piece of writing. OK, maybe not a gazillion. But more than three. How to become familiar with more than the major three? First learn the basics: Aristotle’s incline, Freytag’s triangle. There are all kinds of resources for this: Deepening Fiction by Sarah Stone & Ron Nyren. Imaginative Writing by Janet Burroway. The Practice of Creative Writing by Heather Sellers. In Priscilla Long’s The Writer’s Portable Mentor, page 19 has a wonderful jump-start process for an essay. Also Robert Ray’s The Weekend Novelist does a terrific job both teaching structure and providing the beginning writer with the scaffolding to complete the draft of a novel. And while learning, or reminding yourself, of the basics, read like mad. Take stories apart. Re-type them. It’s amazing how a writer’s process is revealed by simply re-typing their story. I’m doing it today with a chapter of Renata Adler’s Speedboat.

Because even if we love only some of the greens the world has to offer, our stories may demand that we expand our aesthetics. Writers are here to serve the stories that come to us, not cram them into the little boxes we’re familiar with.

Here’s to spring’s wild greeny excesses, its bounty of difference.

May your stories find their shape.

Blog Party: Vienna

For those who have no idea what “Blog Party” refers to, I encourage you to read this post to see what it’s all about. 

This guest post is by Vienna. To remind you of who she is, here’s her brief blog bio excerpted from the original introductory post to Blog Party (hyperlinked above):

Vienna: Hi! I began my blog, Vienna writes, in the summer of 2014 and blogged on an infrequent basis until very recently. This year, in the last week of March, I decided it was time for me to blog again simply because I wanted to get back in the habit of writing. My blog is an exploration of reclaiming my voice as a writer, and I have committed myself to one blog post every day. It includes posts of my thoughts, memories, and inspirations that are slightly longer than a drabble. Feel free to come along for the ride, the ultimate destination of which I have no idea.

 

Our Body, Our Planet

Our country is home to millions of people, the majority of whom are overweight and obese. Fast food is everyday while slow food is a rarer luxury. People, overweight or not, feed themselves at a dangerous pace, looking at their screens and, at the same time, going through the motion of shoveling food in their mouths without consequence. The body is a car to get them from Point A to Point B. A pair of glasses to see through. Nothing but a mechanical shell to get what we want.

Who knows what we’re trying to feed? Our bodies? Our sense of comfort and convenience? Our numbness? Our spiritual emptiness?

Our planet is home to millions of other living species and organisms. Forests, fish, birds, and livestock. This blue-green orb, which offers up its riches without fail, suffers on account of the abuse inflicted upon it by humans.

Why would beings that mistreat and misunderstand our bodies do any better by the Earth?

 

Let’s Get This [Blog] Party Started

Hi, it’s us. We know, we know. You don’t know us. Not the collective us, that is. We are Vienna, Lesley, Mariela, Zach, and Shannon…five bloggers coming together for the month of May to cross-promote each other’s work, and hopefully elevate our own work in the process.

We decided to call our month-long endeavor Blog Party, like a block party. If you are a podcast listener, you may be familiar with a similar endeavor by that platform called #TryPod during March. We were inspired.

So, here we are. Just the five of us. We all have very different blogs and very different audiences.

As there are five Mondays in the month, we will take turns posting on each other’s blogs, and therefore, you will get a chance to see each of our works. If you find you like one of these new blogs, please consider subscribing.

Here’s a little more about each of us and our blogs…

Vienna: Hi! I began my blog, Vienna writes, in the summer of 2014 and blogged on an infrequent basis until very recently. This year, in the last week of March, I decided it was time for me to blog again simply because I wanted to get back in the habit of writing. My blog is an exploration of reclaiming my voice as a writer, and I have committed myself to one blog post every day. It includes posts of my thoughts, memories, and inspirations that are slightly longer than a drabble. Feel free to come along for the ride, the ultimate destination of which I have no idea.

Lesley: I’m a lifelong fiction writer who’s half-way through a low-residency MFA at Warren Wilson College. I began my blog in 2011, when my sons were pre-teens–its focus was on writing amidst the chaos of family life. My (infrequent) posts have of late focused on writing craft and engaging the world through writing. You can read my blog, the Art of Practice, here.

Mariela: I have a passion for linguistics, culture and travel. Back in 2013, I started a blog to share my personal journey’s experiences with my family and friends, called El periplo de Mariela (or Mariela’s Journey). Although the blog’s name was in Spanish, posts were 99% in English. For the first couple of  years I wrote with certain frequency but then life took over and I eventually stopped. Fast forward to April 2017 and, after a 1-year hiatus from writing, I’m launching Mar Explora. For now, its main feature is still the blog but this site will be an ever-evolving project..I’m excited to see what path it’ll take me!

Zach: Hello, I guess. Is that right? I’ve never been good at social … things. I’m a writer of fiction, currently delving into Middle Grade fantasy, where the kid in me is quite happy, thank you. For the most part, I’ve morphed my blog into a collection of posts about all the truly bad choices I’ve made in life. I figure others should be able to laugh at me as much I do. So, if you’re up for feeling better about your choices, check out I Have a Wrong Way to Go, drop a comment, talk about operatic mice, share stories, or, you know, stuff.

Shannon:  Greetings! I’m a storyteller and story coach living in Atlanta, GA. I’ve been blogging since 2006. My current blog is embedded in my website. I tend to write irregular reflections on storytelling, projects, and my journey. My subscribers are almost entirely a part of my personal network, so I’d love to have a chance to grow beyond the people who just want to make sure I don’t starve. My blog can be found here.

So, look for the first edition from  Vienna  to be coming out on all our blogs next Monday. We look forward to getting to know you, getting to know each other, and helping you get to know us all. It’s a lot like mingling at a party, don’t you think?

Cheers,

Us

I Have No Idea

Let me just hit you with a bit of shocking, unedited, truth so we can move on: I have no idea what I’m doing. Ever. I’ll give you a moment to digest that. It’s big, I know.

All good now? Maybe keep a glass of the bubbly handy, if not. In testament to my general lack of direction and understanding, I’m just winging this. Kind of a stream-of-consciousness type thing, if you will. That can be problematic for me.

I make no secret of the stupid things I’ve done in life. I’ve listed many of them here over the years and had a good laugh at myself in the process. Should you wish to know more about me and the stupid things I’ve done, take some time out of your busy schedule, keep the glass full, and have a read. I don’t know whether that’s a wise recommendation, or not; but as that keeps with the theme of the day, we’ll go with it.  Have fun. I’m a bit of a likable idiot, in that, “Oh, my, what brand of stupidity will he be a slave to today?” kind of way.

I don’t plan much of anything. Sure, I dream and fixate, handle my desire as if it were the most valuable gem in existence, then fall apart when it drops and smashes into cosmic dust; but I never truly have what one might call, “a plan”. As I understand it, life takes a good bit of prognostication, should one wish to excel within it. Ask me how the Braves will do this year, and I’ll give you a prediction. Ask me how my latest book, venture, or attempt at a relationship, will go and you get ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. My father asked me, after I graduated high school, to draft up a five-year plan for life so he could go over it with me. I moved out the next day. Not a plan. Just a reaction. Pure gold.

There is a reason I identify with Tigger

So, as we sit here together, please do keep in mind I have no actual plan for this. Any of this. I tend to operate better at this stage in my life if I cling to each word and watch where it takes me. Any effort to create a visual end point will only carry me off track. We don’t want that. Well, I don’t want that. I can’t presume to speak for you. You’re not here. I can’t see you. I have no idea what you’re thinking at this moment. Perhaps if I did I might consider my words more carefully, or generate something more akin to a point. Something like a plan, maybe? A loose sort of dangly string of a point? Something you can wrap your fingers around, just as a reminder there is a point to it somewhere? I don’t know. Just spitballing.

I’m a patient person. I can’t say this developed from my lack of planning, or if my lack of planning developed out of my patience. There’s a link there, I’m sure. One seems as connected to the other as an appendage to the body. You’d think they would work in concert at all times, but it wouldn’t be true. Truth is my patience is more like this … whatever it is I’m doing now. It has an end, somewhere. Could be the next sentence, could be another 1,000 words from now. Depends on what fuels it, how the line of Reece’s Pieces leads it from the shed and into the house. I would prefer the line of candy, honestly. Hell, I guess I’d prefer anything to nothing.  It’s a great deal easier to be patient with something guiding it, right? Regardless, I am patient because I want to see the point of it all. I want to watch the sunset to the day, to feel the warmth of the sky as the horizon blankets the light, as the clouds blush, as night takes the stage. That’s why I wait. Who needs to plan for that? In the moment, you just get to be in it. Sure, there’s the potential for clouds to move in, for the sky to diffuse the brilliance of the sun’s farewell, for any number of distractions to prevent full enjoyment of the moment; but I’ll take any chance on the potential for a glorious sunset I can find. The payoff is worth it, even if disappointment and life’s persistent clamor can occasionally blunt the joy.

That may best sum me up, actually. I’m looking for the perfect sunset. I believe it will happen at some point, but I may need to see far more sunsets than I can process to get there. I have no idea how many. For that matter, I have no idea what ‘perfect’ is. I have no idea what I’ll do in the moment I realize I’ve found it. I can wait, however, because the sunset keeps trying. I can be patient because each day I know it will return and try again. I can put effort into waiting on it because I know it will put effort into setting. And when the moment comes, when the sun and I find perfection together, it will own me and every ounce of my passion for it. That’s as much planning as I can muster, and in the end it’s less planning than it is a fait accompli. In the context of time and space, it’s already happened. I’m just bumbling my way toward it.

I tend overthink that which I do not know. It’s a product of an imaginative mind contemplating a path to the perfect sunset. I’ve tried to stop it, but the theater of dreams won’t close. I’m not sure how I afford it. The power bill is staggering. Most of my life I’ve overthought situations, emotions, interactions, you name it. Anything and everything beyond the bounds of what I know as fact. I don’t profess to have the answers. I have no idea what will happen next. I only know I want to find that perfect sunset; and when I do, I’m willing to make the most of every second it offers.

In the meantime, until I know what I need to know, I’m going to patiently do and say a lot of stupid things.

Just so you know.

Ruminations of the Reluctant Superhero

Recently, I was dubbed the Man of Zeal by a woman who is, by her actions and heart alone, a superhero. I thought it a comical title for a good three minutes until it occurred to me she wasn’t all that far off. I am, by nature, a zealous person, running around half-cocked on a mission to salvage some sense of purpose in this thing called life. Some times the quest pursues the fantasy list of happiness and dreams only an idiot–this one in particular–would dare expect to realize, the rest to serve those around me. The two entwine, often, but generally I find the latter balances out the failures of the former. In the end, though, I just like to help people. I like to be there when they need an ear, a voice, a shoulder, a heart, some muscle, whatever. It’s what I do.

I never stopped to consider why. I never questioned if I should let someone else handle it. I just did what my heart told me and hoped to hell it didn’t break me. I have no idea if this is healthy, if this is sane, or if it even matters. I know I’ve been taken advantage of. I know it’s blown up in my face from time-to-time. I know I’ve overreached when help wasn’t necessary. And still, I trudge on, zealous in my quest to do something, somewhere, anywhere, for anyone I can.

I imagine that sounds a bit braggadocious. I’m certainly no superhero. As far as I know it, superheroes tend to succeed more often than fail in their endeavors. That alone disqualifies me. However, that isn’t the bait on the hook here. The above is merely a train of thought leading to the station ahead. To narrow the field a bit: It’s only just now in life occurred to me that I never looked for any return of this way I have. I wanted it, somewhere within. Some quiet place where my brain sat idle in its desk, hand raised, patiently waiting to be called upon. Could very well be why my relationships have blown up, or why I don’t have a deep circle of friends to visit or hang out with regularly. No idea. I guess it’s irrelevant to me.

Truth is, I don’t worry about it. It doesn’t inherently change who I am. This is the way I’ve chosen to live my life, and I’m good with it. I’m at peace with it.

But it got me to considering the others out there. You know them. They’re in your life. The people who do, not for gain or reward but because someone needs to. The people who call, text, message, visit, invite you to coffee just to see how you’re doing. The people who aren’t asking for anything in return. They just want to help. Some will consider their motives suspect. Some might find annoyance in their do-goodery. Generally, however, they are beacons of light in an otherwise dim moment. You know exactly who they are.

So, should you actually be one of the ten or twelve people who read this, I ask of you a simple task: Find the superhero in your life. Thank them. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them if they need any help with anything, or need to talk life and its myriad challenges, or would just like to sit silently with someone and have some coffee or food or whatever and not feel as though they fight the good fight alone. Don’t let them turn the conversation on you. For one day, one moment, one blink of an eye, be their hero. It will fuel them more than you know.

It’s Only Funny When You Don’t Die

I once drove 7,500 miles in a circle.

Technically, it was only a circle if you’re two-years-old, have a box of crayons and a whole lotta wall awaiting your art. So, maybe it was more circle-esque, in that the start and end both coincided and it offered some sense of a looping line in between.

I had a number of wild ideas in my twenties. Most of them resulted in generous face-plants into walls inconveniently placed where doors should have been. Or it could have just been I had no directional awareness of where doors where supposed to be and a strange affinity for pain. On occasion, however, my wild ideas bore fruit. Bananas, mostly. A lemon or two. Nothing as exotic as a kiwi. Of course, I don’t really like kiwi. My associations with kiwi coincide with a time in which I thought dating a not so sane ex-stripper a fancy idea. That’s another kind of fruit altogether, however, but a decent explanation of both my dislike for kiwi and for running into metaphorical walls.

Where was I?

Oh, bad ideas. Right. So, I had this idea once that I should drive around the country in thirty days. Ambitious writer-type stuff. See what I see, live the life, draw words from the nectar of experience, write bold provocative words for the world to behold, stand proudly in fists-to-hips superhero pose. Not quite Jack Kerouac, at its core. More like Clark Griswold with a video camera instead of a family, and more ambition than actual plan. I didn’t so much as work on the logistics of the trip as dig my hands in the Lego box, toss things around, and scream OH MY GOD LEGOS YOU GUYS!

So, with the help of my Uncle Charles, I converted my pickup into a mobile hotel–complete with shelves, bed, topper that resembled the top of a square igloo, road atlas, all the sci-fi soundtracks any good sci-fi geek should own (yes, shut up), and left. I may have bought food. I can’t be certain. I don’t recall starving, so somewhere in there rest assured that Pringles, peanuts, or Combos made an appearance. Quality nutrition to fuel the soul of any spirited traveler. I figured I could find my way to various campsites along the unmarked, unplanned, who-the-hell-knows path and save a good bit of money avoiding hotels. REAL WRITER STUFF!

See, the thing is … the thing about “planning” that makes so much sense is you take the time to work out logistics, so that when you head out on the road for a month long trip around the country, you do so knowing whether or not you’re driving into the path of an oncoming hurricane on the first day of your journey. Small detail kind of stuff. What’s that? Oh, nothing. Just your average Category 4 nightmare bearing down on you. Hey, I made it six hours into my trip before needing a hotel. That has to count for something. All that prep and money invested on Hotel Truck really paid off! At least my vehicle had some height. Owners of the cars I passed, floating in their lagoons on side streets as they were, seemed terribly displeased with the situation. I probably would have been too, but I was too white-knuckled and desperate for a hill to pay much mind. Fortunately, not too far off I-10 I found a hotel, conveniently located at a higher point of elevation–for Florida this would be measured as ten to fifteen feet above People Level, since Sea Level is nothing short of a hopeless dream–where I watched the water level rise from the safe confines of a second-floor room.

By the way, have you ever seen a river flow from the sky? I have. It’s really fun.

Despite it all, and the odd dreams that night of being a fish trying to swim its way to Heaven, my truck did not float away. By a few inches, it managed to not get flooded, which is more than I can say for the guy in the Audi parked next to me. He was a sweet guy, for a man whose face flared with the focused rage of an insolent beet. I felt bad driving away as he tried to encourage his Insurance company that he didn’t drive into the pool this time.

The trip held it’s share of memories, not the least of which involved me, a couple of hours, a pig pen on the side of the road in the middle of Kansas, and a very one-sided conversation. Pigs really don’t have much to say, as it turns out. Fortunately, they fry up well.

Around Day 20, I found myself in Montana. At the time, my meta-dimensional secondary brother Jim lived in Livingston with his family. It was a long way from their previous home in Georgia, but with one look at the mountainous landscape, open sky, and brilliant Fall foliage I understood why they did it. Actually, that’s not true at all. I just wanted to talk about how beautiful it was. I’ve still never seen anything as majestic and breathtaking. But their reasons for moving were completely removed from the serenity of nature and more centrally fixated on the complete and utter lack of people. It was hoped that less people equaled less stupidity. Unfortunately, the equation doesn’t work that way. Though it would seem more people equals more stupidity, the truth is the percentage of stupidity in any group is always a constant. Spread fewer people out over a larger area, and they’re simply harder to find. They just account for a greater percentage of the required Stupid in the equation, and are therefore increasingly more stupid. Something like that. I don’t know. Jim’s father can explain it better. He rants on Stupid like know you’ve ever met.

Anyhow you rant it, I was there. Wanting to make the most of it on my behalf, Jim suggested we go hiking. Nothing extreme (that 10,000-foot peak came on the next trip). Just a small climb to the top of a waterfall. Didn’t matter that it was snowing. All the better even. More picturesque. Good for the trip’s documentary. So we headed out of town, camera recording the drive and the subsequent climb. Actually, it was great fun. Particularly the holy-hell-we’re-still-alive journey back down. After all, Jim did almost die at the top of the waterfall.

Funny thing about holding a video camera from the 90’s. They were big, heavy, and difficult to balance on your shoulder. Like holding a 24-pack of water bottles on its side. With one hand in the grip, and the other bouncing around in a vain attempt to offer support it could never manage, you were pretty much at its mercy. Sure, nostalgia is great, but the risk we took to record it was kind of, well, dumb. Especially when you’re trying to balance on an icy rock surface at the top of a waterfall. I give Jim credit. Both for offering to put my stubbly face on my trip documentary–of which it had not yet been–and also for maintaining a perfect cradle on my expensive equipment as his feet slipped out from underneath him and his body was suddenly no longer a part of the solid part of Earth. The recording went beautifully. After all, it was a really nice camera. One moment I was there, being the absurd and awkward fool I am in front of a camera, the next there’s a wonderful shot of the moon in daylight as Jim gives a subtle “oop” as he went airborne and a less subtle “oof” as he collided again with Mother Earth.

Here’s the kicker. What you should hear at this point is absolute panic. Screaming, calling Jim’s name, rushing to his side. Me, in frame, concerned for my best friend and meta-dimensional secondary brother. What you hear, instead, is me laughing. Hard. Jim, despite the ordeal, didn’t quit recording. A real trooper. Pure dedication. It’s just life after all. Better record it while you have it. He managed to sit up, find me, and then recount the harrowing tale of something that just happened as if I had not been there to witness it. To which, through my continued laughter, I offered in defense, “It’s only funny because you didn’t die.”

What still disturbs me to this day is how genuine my words were. I didn’t think about it, I didn’t sugarcoat it. I just said what I knew as a truth at that moment. Because Jim didn’t propel himself off the waterfall, instead falling flat on his back and in notable pain, I could laugh. Because his choice to protect my camera over an effort to brace himself during a fall didn’t result in horrible splatter death … funny. And I wonder what that means about me. About my perspective. Life is only funny until you die? A joke is only funny until it’s over? A hurricane is only funny unless it’s carrying you away kicking and screaming? Does this indicate derangement? Have I been on some type of lifelong psychotic bender?

Or was it just really funny?

It’s a fair question. I mean, America’s Funniest Home Videos made a living off poor schmucks whose kids accidentally whacked them in the nuts and people laughed at that. On some level, isn’t possible that children who might have been born will no longer? It’s not death per se, but a lack of opportunity at life. In fact, the Christian Coalition should look into whether or not it’s some type of pre-meditated sex-free abortion.  Not so funny anymore is it? If these poor schmoes died of testicular raculation it wouldn’t be funny either. Why? Because they died. See? It’s only funny when you don’t die.

An Accidental Identity Crisis

Twenty-three seconds into the accident, the nascent writer Joshua Alexander jumped for joy. Concentrating on the significant damage to the bumper of my Explorer proved challenging amidst the ever-maddening screams of “THIS IS MY MOMENT! I HAVE ARRIVED!” The poor kid who pulverized his car with my bumper, some student from George Washington University home on break, apologized repeatedly for his lapse in attention; though to be fair, I’m still not sure if he directed it to me or to the crumpled remains of his car. I consoled him, insomuch as I was capable with all the celebratory screaming coming from Joshua. To his credit, the kid remained stoic, clearly at war with the beside-himself-father in his head, taking complete blame when the officer arrived, while I stood at the back of my vehicle analyzing the damage.

“This is great. Fantastic. The best thing that could have happened.”

I countered that, citing that car accidents are not great watermarks of joy for anyone. Not that Joshua cared.

“This will pay for the conference. You should thank that kid.”

I hadn’t considered that. Granted, my bumper looked a bit as if the horrors of life had consumed its soul, leaving its remains to melt into a perpetual frown.

“It’s just a bumper. What do you even need it for?”

As far as I could tell, the moment offered an example as to the primary reason bumpers existed. If I learned anything from Bumper Cars as a kid it was to never play Bumper Cars with my older brother. He had this fixation on ejecting me from my car, or better, the entire ring. Of course, he also had a fixation with swinging me in circles from an arm and leg until my glasses flew off and I started crying, so maybe the Bumper Cars weren’t the issue. In the moment, however, I found my first appreciation for the lessons those ricocheting cars offered.

Still, I had a hard time arguing the point. It was just a bumper. What’s a bumper in comparison to a week’s worth of writing education that would certainly land me a contract with a publisher? Three days later, when the Insurance adjuster handed me a check for $1,100, Joshua’s elation caught up to me. The internal war began. Bumper vs. bills vs. writing conference. Bumper lost in the opening round, if for no reason than it shut Joshua up for a while, and the worst it could do was follow me wherever I drove, its downward slope of sadness perhaps warding off any other unwanted visitors. Bills … those were a trickier obstacle. Apparently, those are supposed to be paid? That’s what I’ve heard. Somewhere.

I guess I should probably mention I had quit my job three months prior in order to write a book. That seems important, in context. Bills and all. Sudden money at hand and the like. A lack of employment certainly made income a pestering nuisance in relation to actually paying for things. You know, the important things like bills. Food. Collectible Star Wars figures. Even writing conferences. Especially those lasting a week long and costing a thousand dollars. An amount I happened to have in my bank thanks to a careless kid fiddling with his radio at forty miles-per-hour as his car rudely greeted the stopped Explorer in its path.

Maybe I shouldn’t have quit my job, I thought for the one-hundred and thirty-first day in a row. As decisions went to this point in life, it ranked up there with the best of Not Good. Sure, I finished a first draft of the book (two if you count the less than stellar 1st person draft I finished in 21 days), and by the time the conference rolled around two months later I would have a good edit complete. The timing fit. The conference–my first ever–would offer me a chance to pitch it to agents and New York Times bestselling author David L. Robbins, who would be the judge in a fiction contest. My book, Anointed: The Passion of Timmy Christ, CEO was good, by my estimates. Okay, so I thought it was perfect. Something to behold. To cherish. To love and to squeeze and to call George. Surely the agents would agree and the whole suffering for my art thing would be worth it, just as I had envisioned. That singular dream in which I quit my job, wrote a book, went to a conference and BLAMMO … agent. Agent would become Publishing Contract. Publishing Contract would equal Advance. Advance would balance out Voluntary Unemployment. Success would follow.

THIS IS MY MOMENT.

Did I have a choice? Sure. I had many. Many, many, many, many of which began the day before I quit my job. Did it feel like it? No. No, between Joshua’s screaming and my inability to see the world of possibility as more than a single light at the end of a short road, the Universe basically sat on my head, declared itself the Master of My Destiny and urged the chariot onward. All of this wouldn’t have happened otherwise, right? Everything happens for a reason, after all.

RIGHT YOU ARE UNIVERSE!

Fueled by the need to risk it all, to bypass sanity in favor of chance (LIVE NOW FOOL!), I registered for the conference and submitted the first fifty pages of my manuscript for the contest.

Sort of.

Technically, yes? Officially … not so much.

The thing is … the thing I should mention is how incredibly tired of me I had become. I saw myself every day. In the mirror, staring back for that brief flash before looking away, lest I thought myself some kind of creepy pervert offering longing glances from the other side of the glass. I talked to myself incessantly daily (yeah, yeah talked … that’s the ticket), whether I wanted to hear me or not. I cooked for myself, cleaned for myself, got sick of my needy self and needed a break.

So, I sent Joshua Alexander to the conference. I’m not sure if I thought he would generate better results, or if it would simply be nice to not be me for a week. Truthishly, I can’t really recall a specific thought of why I should do such a thing. Maybe I took a back seat to the process and Joshua jumped in. I don’t know. I just don’t know. I’m just weird like that, I suppose.

Regardless of reason–and likely absent it as well–I made my way to the conference full of cheer and lofty dreams, toting my completed manuscript in a wooden box as if it were the lost Ark of the Covenant. I checked in under my name since Joshua, for all of his robust enthusiasm, still lacked both an ID and a bank account, settled in and made off for the Opening Remarks with another hundred plus writers. All of whom were likely themselves because they were smart that way. I sat next to a behemoth of a figure–a tall, muscular man stretched out across two chairs. As I have established, socializing is not my strong point. Joshua, on the other hand, seemed to have no issue with the complexity of Hello and jumped right in.

“Hi. Joshua Alexander.”

Good for you, Josh. Well done.

The man shifted, shook my hand, introduced himself as David L. Robbins and immediately launched into praise for my submission, about how he had planned on finding me to discuss it, and stating his wonder at the luck we would sit next to each other.

It’s possible, at this point, I considered dropping the Joshua persona to ensure Mr. David L. Robbins, New York Times bestselling author, knew who I really was. I offer the possibility of such a though only because I don’t particularly recall if I though much of anything at all. Not with Joshua in charge.

THIS IS MY MOMENT.

So, I let him run with it. Let him talk throughout the Welcome, carrying the conversation onward into my work, its strengths and weakness, the nuances of the craft of writing, echoing David’s belief that conferences were vital to the growth of a writer, and I don’t know, tacos or something. It went on for hours. The next day David even invited me to go watch him golf in between sessions. I became the envy of the entire conference, buddied up to David like a excitable, loyal, puppy. Everyone knew my name, curious about what I wrote, how I had managed to so quickly win the favor of such a notable author.

They were the best two days of Joshua Alexander’s life.

They were, in fact, the only two days of Joshua Alexander’s life.

On day three, David woke up and decided to invite good ole chum Joshua to breakfast. Strange thing though. The front desk had no room for a Joshua Alexander. David insisted they were wrong. Had them check and check again, taking potential misspellings into account. Nope. No Joshua. Confused and slightly embarrassed, David fell into full research mode, following the trail of Joshua Alexander to one Zachary Steele, in room whateverever. He called me. He grilled me. Questioned what reason a man with my name would possibly have to go under any other name, then laughed at me. For the rest of the week. As he told each and every person about the ludicrous tale of Zachary “Joshua Alexander” Steele. For the next few months, as we kept lines of communication open. For the next few years as our friendship grew, as he became a mentor to me as a writer. To this day, some sixteen years later, as the memory pops up and he needs a good laugh at my expense. His last words on this planet to me may very well be, “Tell Joshua I said hi.”

I will always accept life as a never-ending ride of Cause and Effect. For instance, I make really odd decisions, the effect of which tends to rail off into the deep recess of Shitsville. I get to relive them, marvel over them, and perhaps even grow from them, but damn. Just damn.

Every once in a while, despite myself, I get to follow a train of Cause and Effect that isn’t all bad in the end.

I quit my job to write a book, with the express purpose of getting said book published, thereby jump starting my career and minimizing the damage caused by Voluntary Unemployment. In order to facilitate this, I decided I should go to a conference to get noticed. Unable to afford said conference due to having no job, I made use of accidental money to fund my way. I changed my name for no reason, met the author I wanted to meet, made a sizable impression both due to my work and the fundamental identity crisis masquerading as me, and made a friend of David L. Robbins. David created James River Writers in Richmond, Virginia, invited me behind the scenes, to their conference, gave me time with other notable authors (um, hi there Tom Robbins) and awesome people, and taught me the craft. All of which made me a better writer. Fueled by the need for more, the hunger to be better in all aspects of life, I made other questionable decisions, one of which netted me a bookstore I called Wordsmiths Books. During my tenure as owner of Wordsmiths, I met a publisher interested in Anointed. She published it. Publisher’s Weekly gave it a good review. My career as a writer found first gear.

THIS IS MY MO … oh, wait. No.

SEVEN YEARS FROM … is that right? Seven years? Sevenish years, you say? Right.

SEVEN PLUS YEARS FROM NOW WILL BE MY MOMENT.

Sometimes the wrong way can be right. Just, like, way longer.