Persistence – That Creeping Voice

Before I finish any major project, I try to take a step back and let it simmer a while. This could be for an hour or two, maybe even a few days; any break mentally will do. It’s something I’ve learned to apply over the years; not something I put into practice right away. In fact, I used to be the type that would do whole projects in a single night, waiting till the last moment to make my move. But, that was mostly because I could. I’ve always thrived under pressure and whenever I was in a pinch, my best work would seem to come forth. It was great for a while, but I had no idea I was building some terrible habits within myself.

At first glance, it’s a familiar story: putting off the important stuff, allowing one’s self to get distracted, and then following through when it’s almost too late to wait any longer. Welcome to Procrastination 101: learning to work under deadlines when you should have started weeks ago. It’s an affliction that can be reinforced over many years without even knowing it. But, when life experience meets your own limitations, it might be a signal you need to change something.

For me, it was recognizing that creeping voice. The one that said, “You can get to this later,” but somehow managed to change its tone moments before I was near completion by stating, “You know, this isn’t going to work.” Now, I’m not claiming to have had bouts with multiple personalities, I’m merely trying to point out that common enemy we all face in the midst of something important to us: ourselves.

When the stakes are high and there is much at risk, we don’t find a friend in ourselves very often. We fight to drown out the noise of failure, albeit struggling to do so. As a Christian, I find it easy to blame everything on the devil. “The devil is after me again”; “I know the devil was in that,” but honestly, applying that type of hyper-spiritualism to everything we face is foolish. Every person does have a real counterattack coming against them and it’s not just from the father of lies – it’s coming from inside our own heads.

It doesn’t really make sense when you think about it. Why would your own mind allow negative thoughts to take precedent over positive ones? Especially when it knows (yes, we are self-aware beings) that success means a need for laser focus? Shouldn’t our brain know better? Shouldn’t it know we need a filter for those things to achieve maximum results? Of course it does, but the question is how well you’ve trained your mind to be that filter. Therein lies the difference.

My encouragement to anyone reading this is to consider what areas you struggle to have confidence in or struggle to find the proper initiative. It could be work. It could be a relationship. Or, if you’re me, it could be fighting to churn out 3,000+ words a day for that next book; all the while remembering the passion you had when you first started the journey.

So be encouraged; stay persistent, but also stay focused.

 

Pressure: Role Models and Writing

This may come as a surprise to some, but we tend to adopt certain traits and behaviors from the people we meet. Especially if the person is in a leadership role. But, the absorption process isn’t as simple as dipping a dry sponge in a bucket of water. We pick and choose model behaviors based on what we deem as admirable or attractive. Then we envision ourselves doing the things they do, operating in a manner that is reflective of what we are seeing. And we experiment to find out if what works for them, will in turn, work for us.

For example, when I was little, I wanted to be like Michael Jordan (and what kid didn’t?!). I read up on his training regimen, I tried to learn his moves, and I did my best to hone in on what made Air Jordan so great. I never did make it to the pros but I did adopt plenty of Mike’s attitudes along the way: don’t give up, strive to win, see who you want to be before you begin, etc. – all were applicable character-builders in my eyes. Mr. Jordan operated – at least on the ball court – like a successful guy and yes, I wanted to “be like Mike” too.

However, his off-the-court troubles have been hard to swallow as I’ve followed his career. As an athlete, he’s the best – driven, competitive, talented and applies himself – but as a husband and father, he hasn’t always had the best rep. And both are positions holding great authority in the most intimate of places: at home and with family.

Mr. Jordan has probably faced absurd amounts of pressure as an athlete, but he’s also faced a ton more in his personal life. Every leader, every role model, faces similar pressures. But, sometimes when you’re a leader, being the proper role model can often be an afterthought. “Let me get to where I want to go first” is the mindset – then, “I’ll worry about what people think of me” comes later. But, the two go alongside one another. A person who wants to have influence, but thinks a good leader means being a good delegator is a fool. Leadership is an act of service, and is done from the ground-up, not top-down. The eyes of the ones you lead aren’t watching you with awe because you’re in charge, they’re watching you and looking for consistency of character and clear goals and objectives. That’s all about role modeling and very little about delegating to your subordinates.

So there’s more pressure with being a decent role model than one may anticipate. Or perhaps it’s better to understand the perspective that people are always looking for strong role models, seeking out proper and good authority even when they don’t even realize it. Eager eyes watching and absorbing what you do like a sponge – hopeful you have the right gusto to serve them and not just yourself.

As a writer, learning how to be a better role model is huge. A person’s actions and words have great weight in the world and if you’re a writer, you’re basically in the business of both. You can write on a topic – any you wish – but the catch is that people’s expectations will increase. You have to live out what you write about; what you choose to be an authority on is what you must ultimately own in your own life. Otherwise, it’s like making a proclamation to hit a home run without ever having swung a bat in your life. But, here’s the good news: you can train ahead of time. It’s not like you have to bat without first taking a hitting lesson. You can still prepare; you can still train; and you can still seek out others who have done things well – modeling their attitudes, their practices, and their character. That way, some of that pressure can come off.

And when you’re a writer, that’s something to rejoice over.

 

 

 

Oh, What Thoughts Awaken in the Early Morn’

There was a full moon the other night. That could be one reason as to why I’m feeling the way I do. My family – specifically those on my father’s side – find ourselves affected by the light of a full moon in strange ways. We aren’t secretly werewolves or some members of the occult; no, we just get a little antsy when there’s too much light in the room. Or too little.

I feel like a strange creature because I like the dark as much as I like the light. Some of my best work can happen in the dark while conversely, some of my best learning experiences can occur in the light of day. It’s a curious conundrum I find myself within. To think that in order for people to enjoy a good book or a good read, I must immerse myself in darkness; in secret; away from the world until that work is ready. If Edgar Allan Poe were still alive, I’m sure he’d agree. Only while others are asleep, I find myself awake. Conversely, when I prefer to sleep, others come awake themselves. What an interesting arrangement, this is – this whole light and dark business. Other writers and storytellers must find themselves in this same, ambiguous mess. I like the challenge, personally, even if the concept makes little sense to anyone else.

The one comfort I find in writing is that it reminds me of a common truth: I’m human. A being that indulges in darkness and light alike, or rather, dwells in both. The scientific term would be cathemeral (active in both night or day) but that description alone does not do the human condition justice. People often relate pain with dark times while joyful days are just that – days, but with light abounding. Why is this so? As a writer, I feel most invigorated in the early morning. When the world is still waking up for the day, I’m the most alive in thought. The light hasn’t fully reached me where I am, if you will. And when I feel the least inspired, the least likely to produce a good work, is the middle of a sunny day. How can that be so? Is it because I absorb the day so I can expunge what I’ve gathered at night? Something to consider, I suppose, if nothing else.

So this tightrope walk I’m on goes onward – drawn to the light on one end, but drawn to the dark just as much. And not because I desire dark times or eternal dusk; no, that isn’t it. I simply know where I must be if I am to work at my best. And it typically isn’t in the face of a hot sunbeam. Maybe one day I’ll adapt, but I’m curious if other authors or writers throughout history would agree. Or vehemently disagree. Either or, I’m intrigued to know the answer.

So here I am. It’s early morning; I’m immersed in my early morning thoughts, immersed in the unsteady nature that my thoughts bring, but excited at the possibility of what may occur should I tame these thoughts for proper application. And all the while, I am wondering when the sun will take hold of me again. For when it does, I’ll be thrust out of the dark room of my own understanding and thrown back into a world of new understandings – ones far beyond my foresight and well beyond my own making. Perhaps that way, when the dark returns, I will have had time to make right the chaos of these early morning voices. My thoughts will have been tamed in radiant sun; unable to hide away in the dark recesses of my own imagination. Oh, what a grand feeling that will be. And oh, what a great moment it’ll be for me to share. For the tasks I’ve completed in secret – or in darkness, if you will – will at last have the opportunity to be enjoyed by others. And in the light of day, no doubt.

We Are All Like Stones On A Hillside

In a literal sense, this isn’t an accurate statement. None of us are actual stones on a hillside. That’s a given, but even so, I feel like it’s a great analogy for any one person’s life as you begin to unpack the idea.

A close friend of mine, who shall remain anonymous, recently overcame some major trauma in his life. And it wasn’t any current trauma. We’re talking years upon years of dealing with a very serious issue that has been holding him back, specifically in the area of having and forming solid relationships. The issue being abuse; abuse that was committed against him when he was a child for several years. I can’t sit here and say that I relate to the events of his early years – as difficult as they were – so it breaks my heart to even hear about it. The type of abuse caused him to make life choices that were hazardous and downright toxic in his later years. And over and over, he returned to a place where he knew he was suffering, but since it was all he knew – or thought he knew – he would go there, hating and sulking in the futility of familiarity. I can’t imagine what it was like, but I can see and relate to the hardship. His hardship was unique to him, just as I have my own to contend with like so many others. That is a truth.

Many of us, including myself, were blessed with a safer, more secure upbringing. I am forever grateful for that. Conversely, many of us are not so fortunate. My friend was not in that regard, but in the midst of this trial, he’s endured and something really amazing happened over the past couple weeks. He made a major breakthrough – a concept that sounds out of date and “pie in the sky” but honestly, he did. How do you know? Or better yet, how does he know? Well, for the first time – and I’ll paraphrase his own words – he legitimately felt an absence or longing when he made amends with the party who failed to protect him from the abuse of so many others. His failed protector being his own father; the one person we, as children, look to as our guardian when we are younger. Now, even his father will admit that saying goodbye to his son is no longer an awkward task – it’s a difficult one instead. There’s a new desire to enjoy one other’s company; something that was previously offset by conflicted feelings via years of assumed passivity, denial, or abandonment.

That’s how my friend knows. That’s how his father knows. And the distance between them, be it physical, emotional or spiritual, is no longer filled with that violent static. The grieving has been shared fully and the accountability brought forth. That means there can be movement now; no longer are they inhibited by past chains dragging behind. And that’s powerful.

Many a time, we may feel like we aren’t getting anywhere. Past problems hold us down, keeping us from progressing forward. And we feel stuck in a place that outwardly may look like progression, but inside, we are more than aware of the unhealed wounds. Think of how long it takes people to “get over” a break up or separation. The void left is never equal, it would seem. One person gets a chunk of themselves sucked out and the rest of their existence crumples without warning. This leaves their internal builder – aka themselves – with the job of putting things back in order. But since it happened without warning, the builder is plenty angry with his situation. And however long he chooses to moan, resent, or refuse to rebuild, will determine how long it’ll take to fortify the structure once again.

But relationships are one thing in comparison to a forced encounter; one that was completely out of the person’s control, specifically speaking of my dear friend. Time will march on regardless and we will be asked to “move forward” despite what may lie behind us. That’s the most difficult thing of all – struggling with how to break an age-old struggle before it permanently becomes a part of us.

This reason is why I use the analogy: stones on a hillside. All of us are like stones on the edge of a hill, looking around; wondering if we’ll ever go anywhere other than where we are. We can see the horizon ahead of us, and that gives us a sense of vision or possibly clarity, but the distance is so wide that we’d rather stay where we are – perched on the hilltop and out of the potential mess that could be waiting below. We don’t know what’s there, we just know that it’s unknown and that’s a frightening thought. And it’s these thoughts, coupled by our experiences, that shape us in such a way we can’t move to begin with. Life’s experiences can harden someone to the point of immobility if he isn’t mindful. This leads to inactivity, allowing all manner of weeds (problems) to ensnare the person and further cripple what could eventually start a path towards regeneration. All the while keeping one eye on the sky ahead, thinking and believing it’s either too far away or it’ll just never come to us.

This sounds like something we’d all want to avoid if we could. So how does one do that? Or what’s more, how does any one person stop this from becoming a reality in his own life? The same can happen to people who have little suffering to cope with – they are instead stagnate, immobile on life’s journey. To me, that sounds like a nightmare. I’ll speak honestly when I say that I am someone who has difficulty sitting still. It’s not that I have ADHD (perhaps to some degree but who doesn’t) but I don’t like getting caught or stuck on problems I know can be overcome. If there’s a vision or path to take, then I want to take it. No doubt about that. But everyone has blind spots. And what’s comfortable or familiar may be an attractive option versus something new that demands a serious undertaking. That’s when stagnation can set in, subtly and without warning. And as before, that’s when the weeds will gather and choke the life out of you.

So once again, what does a person do to keep this from happening? Well, a good first step is asking God what to do with your life. No apologies here – it’s a legit thing to ask. It’s what my friend did and it brought him to a place that’s been incredibly freeing. As for me, when I first asked God what He wanted for my life, He gave me some quick instructions: get rid of your clothes. Not all of them, just some of the ones you don’t need anymore. That appears to be rather insignificant, but hear my story. I keep clothes. For a long time. As in what seems like forever to some people. And God knew that I needed to get rid of them if I was to make some changes – good changes – and start rolling forward.

So I did. And a piece of the stone slab that was ‘me’ got chiseled away. That was the first answer I received. A remnant of the old had to be no more. I removed the unnecessary weight; a part of me that wanted to keep my room cluttered and full of junk that really just needed to be gone. Period.

What was next then? Well, I asked again and this time I got told that I needed to coach. Coach what though? That was question three. Then I was told a youth program. I once dreamed of being a school teacher – it’s something I saw on the horizon but was so unsure on how to get there. And since I had chosen a different career path, I thought it was beyond me now. But after I asked this question again, I got a response rather quickly. A coworker of mine asked me to help him coach his son’s ball club. So I took the opportunity and found myself renewed by the experience. Indeed, the vision I had really could be a reality. How exciting, right?

And so, another piece got chiseled away.

Another question, another answer. Another question, another answer. The process seemed to be getting faster. I was still me, but the form I had before all the asking-and-questioning was disappearing. That’s when I started rolling. That’s when things got really interesting. You know that feeling you get when you feel unstoppable? Not the unstoppable like when you’re a teenager. That’s just blind ignorance due to youth and vigor. I’m talking when you know that you can’t be stopped in your endeavors because something is backing you – even if you’re unsure what that something backing you is. That’s the kind of unstoppable I was feeling; rolling full steam down a hillside, gaining speed, and enjoying the ride.

Naturally, that’s when I hit a major snag. What kind of real life story would this be if there weren’t more obstacles? Pieces of myself, still being worked on, staggered my roll and I came to a standstill. Ever feel that way? That’s what happens when you start breaking those outer layers off. It’s fascinating how being honest with God about ourselves has such a powerful effect in our waking life. I really began to see the parts of myself that were truly ugly and I was exposed with issues that I didn’t even know were there! Wounds, lies, broken promises, character flaws – all are fair game when you start rolling. It shouldn’t be a surprise to us, if we’re outside-looking-in, but it’s the blind spots we all have and don’t ever see coming. So when we hit a snag, we get frustrated.

Don’t be alarmed though. My only advice is to not dwell in frustration once you hit that initial snag. Most people end the journey here, too afraid to pull out more of the junk that inhibits their movement. Instead of growing moss on the hilltop, they grow it here; somewhere in between the top and the bottom. But here’s a question – aren’t the plethora of previously answered and kept promises enough to keep going? This is crucial to maintain momentum. And if you do, you’ll be amazed at what you find – more people rolling like you. Just as flawed, but moving just as fast. Just as quickly as you.

These people aren’t like the ones on the hilltop. They’re embracing life’s call, but they are doing so out of a discomfort to become who they were called to be. They’re uprooting the bad parts of themselves, giving it to God, and soldiering onward. Why? Because there are more people flying faster and the thrill of flying faster is far more exhilarating than standing still. Is that not an agreeable statement? Sounds like a lot more fun too. Why position your eyes on the burdens the world wants when you can ask God what freedoms he wants to give you? That may seem like a loaded statement; vague, to a point. But consider starting small and going from there. Mine was clothes, after all. It can be as simple as that.

There’s no secret formula here, but there are definitely easy places to start. One word of caution though: the common confusion after we begin is wondering what God may tell us. When we ask God, “What can I do to help people?” we expect the answer to be something like, “be a pop star.” You know, something that appears to be far-reaching and full of genuine impact. Don’t be disappointed though when God says, “No”. Instead, His plan could be something equally or much more significant than the pop star dream. Something like a school teacher, a cashier at a retail store, or a landscaper. All are important trades. And they are important because they all tread in a very specific, very important field of expertise – they all deal with people.

It doesn’t matter where people are working or what titles they possess. We all mold and shape one other because we come into contact with each other daily. So if we’re asking the right questions, we can be chiseled down to have more of that; the more of that being the surprising journey. I used to think that I wanted everything in my life planned and plotted out according to what I thought was best, but honestly, I find that way to be quite boring. I thought I wanted to know everything – and truthfully, I sometimes do – but my confusion was more about security and comfort. There is certainly security and comfort to be had in God’s plans, but there is also the grander opportunity to be grafted into something better than what you are presently. I’d rather be constantly chiseling away pieces of myself – in keeping with this analogy – than be a square block on the hillside not doing much. That sort of life is predictable and ironically, it isn’t necessarily safe either. Weeds choke out whatever sits for too long. The same can be said for our own lives. How many people do you know that still harbor resentment for something that happened decades ago? There’s a burden there that’s deeply rooted and in serious need of being uprooted. Much like what transpired with my friend. Imagine the kind of freedom he can have now that he’s dealt with this issue. He and his father both. And what’s even more amazing, is how he can share his story with others to encourage people with similar pasts or struggles. My friend is rolling again, but that’s not all – he’s now a beacon to others still on the hillside. And when someone sees that on him – the piece that’s been made new – something cool may happen and another stone will rush down to join him. Thus, igniting their own journey from the hillside.

Asking God what to do with our pain isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s merely a fair start. One that can lead to more life, something so many people have forgotten about and what life is supposed to look like. And if that isn’t convincing enough, consider the alternative to not asking. Nothing can change and nothing has the chance to improve. So be encouraged to start rolling in whatever direction God asks you to, but also consider asking first. It’s certainly worth more than a quick look or a passing glance.

The chasm is wide, but we’re all looking out across the horizon anyway, wondering what it may be like on the other side, provided we are brave enough to ask.

The (In)Disposable Nature of Relationships

My generation loves to make lists. Here’s a “top 10” this and here’s “27 reasons why” for that. And the worst part is – I’ll click and read along sometimes. Perhaps it’s boredom taking me over? Or perhaps it’s…well, boredom again? But occasionally, I’ll seek out one that sparks my interest. I’m a relational and social animal so I enjoy reading about what makes “effective relationships”; not just romantic, but platonic also. I don’t care much for the “top places to travel before you die” or the “what makes your cat do the things he does” (sorry animal lovers) but relationship advice? Well, that piques my interest. And I’m willing to bet that it’s high on other people’s radars too. In fact, I’m willing to bet that the majority of internet lists revolve around what makes a prosperous, trendy, or modern relationship. You’re free to disagree with that assumption, but whether you do or not, you have to admit the danger in that possibility: too many messages equals too many people doing different things. And that creates chaos in an area that’s meant for stability, reliability, and real joy.

Yikes, right?

The flurry of relationship experts makes it difficult to discern what’s best practice and what’s merely a fool’s errand. “Do this more”, “create this habit”, or “understand this about the opposite sex” – these all sound like practical and plausible pointers, but there’s an underlying catch here: they tend to be self-serving. “Do this more” can be translated to “Do this more and you’ll get this.” See how that works? The whole idea about what makes relationships good or great is morphed into selfish pursuits. And when you’re acting selfishly, you may get what you’re after, but do you ever receive the same in return? No, not very often, if ever.

I often feel like my generation has been brainwashed by this notion. That relationships are meant to be places where you get everything you want. Where your partner is second fiddle and you get everything you’ve ever desired. And if you don’t or aren’t receiving these things, then it’s imperative you step away and look elsewhere. All the while, reading another top 10 list in hope it may cover where you might have went wrong. Yikes again, eh?

People aren’t that simple though. You can’t read a top 10 list of “nice things to do” and expect your significant other to reply in positive ways from 1 to 10. That’s not realistic. People are much more complex than that. Men and women included. And what people are looking for involves some of those more basic principles: stability, reliability, and a certain joy; one that assures the other person of more than a good thing, but a certain thing.

Now imagine the opposite happening in that relationship, caused by all the mixed messages or selfish pursuits. Stability crumbles into weakness; reliability stumbles into persistent uncertainty; and joy twists into resentment and bitterness. That’s what you end up getting if you view relationships as being disposable. A selfish attitude will eventually result in a selfish view of relationships and people. Extreme guardedness, unwillingness to compromise, unwillingness to be flexible – men and women will both carry these burdens if enough hurt has been accumulated over time. And it only gets harder and harder if the selfishness continues.

I trust some of this isn’t news to anyone. Read up on “millennial thinking” and almost immediately you’ll touch on the topic of relationships and how commitment just doesn’t seem to be high on the priority scale. “There’s always options and you need to keep those eyes open as much as possible” – this is the thinking. I don’t want to say it again, but hey – yikes. How’d this happen? And what does it look like?

Well, for example, how do you feel when someone breaks plans with you at the last minute? And for no apparent reason other than they don’t “feel” like being there. Time is a non-renewable resource; wasting someone else’s time or refusing to give someone time a day – after promising to do so – is a huge letdown to the other party. No one likes to feel that way. Why? Because we know that the other person acted selfishly. Or even cowardly, in some regard. But people do this all the time to each other. And they do so on even greater levels than merely breaking “hangout times”.

Take physical promiscuity – that’s sex – for example. Giving one’s self to another is more than recreation, it’s a promise. It certainly can be fun though! Absolutely it can – it’s one of the functions that God designed it for, but it’s so much more than recreation and it’s so much deeper too. Riding roller coasters is recreation. Throwing a baseball back and forth is recreation. Watching a movie or reading a book is recreation. Would sex be lumped into these same categories when speaking of importance? I’d be surprised by anyone who would claim it as such. And if they did, they’d only be lying to themselves and others to get attention. Why else does my generation and the one following it have so much difficulty with commitment? It’s because the promises being made through physical contact have been broken; broken because someone believed there were options. And it was those other options that created the chaos, the uncertainty, the unreliability, and so on. I suppose it’s no wonder that the response to all this mixed messaging has been, “fine, I’ll get what’s mine”. Why? Because it translates to, “I’ll get what’s mine because the other person clearly had an agenda and they got what they wanted. So that’s what I want too.”

Yes, yikes.

I’m no saint as it pertains to relationships; I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, but thankfully I’ve been able to come out of the social pool with limited fractures. Sure, I have scars – romantic or otherwise – and I’ll always be susceptible to that so long as I’m alive, but ultimately, I’m a product of my generation and the mixed messages out there. I grieve thinking about what my friends or even acquaintances have had to endure or even believe is right or true about a relationship. They – relationships – aren’t disposable because people aren’t disposable. Is that not true? A messed up generation, namely my own, is proof of the failed experiment to prove otherwise.

My only argument would be to return to what God’s work is for relationships: a promise, one that gets back to the basics of what joy should look like. And it’s not a self-serving, self-righteous, self-reliant joy – this doesn’t exist. And it’s not some kooky concept that’s outdated – no, it’s the original framework we keep dancing around, trying to make better but stubbornly can’t duplicate. But perhaps we can get it right with the next generation? This coming generation will inherit our hearts, but they have yet to inherit our attitudes or our experiences. And that warrants a serious look, not another top 10 list.

Talents and gifts we wish we had

Short break from the story writing here. A few more thoughts I’ve had since I’m almost through with Spirit Run. Reflecting on the stories I’ve written has really opened up some good observations, I feel. Especially with the type of week I’ve had.

I believe every person has a talent. Yes, each and every one of us has a gift of some kind. That sounds like some cheesy Hallmark card, but it’s the truth. The usual list of suspects come to mind – singing, dancing, sports, etc. You know, the ones that get glorified in social media and late night television. There are other, “less glamorous” talents though too; just as important and in some ways, even more important: leading, teaching, mentoring, organizing, building, puzzle-solving, navigating, etc. So you see, there are plenty of talents out there. I’m sure you have one. But even so, and despite the talent you’ve been given, we still find time to covet someone else’s gift. Somewhere there’s a skill, an ability, or even a trait that we wish we had. We look at this person’s gift and we covet it greatly. We want it for our own. Ever feel that way? Oh, I’m sure you have.

Mine is drawing.

I royally suck at drawing. Not just a mediocre, average kind of sucking – I’m talking the royal kind. Granted, I can trace things. I’m pretty good at tracing objects. So long as I’m provided a piece of paper lying over top of the intended image, I’m fine. Oh, and I have to be able to see through that paper clearly too. Then I’m good as gold. But stick me with a pencil and paper and ask me to come up with an original piece of work and I’m sunk. It’s just not gonna happen. I can see the picture in my head, but the translation I create on paper is so heavily filtered that it looks like a tank rolled through a war zone.

I recall being asked to make a self portrait in the 11th grade. I thought it was an opportunity to finally hone my skills and convince myself that I had some artistic talent. Well, what did happen was something resembling microwaved jello. Ugh. Was I really that bad?

Yes. Yes, I was.

And still am to this day. There are times where I have isolated moments of triumph though. A friend of mine asked me to draw a stick figure on his paper once. I accomplished that feat quite nicely from what I remember. Beyond that? Well, I haven’t had much success. So drawing is my kryptonite. The one thing I will probably never be able to do, but covet all the same. And I hate that.

It’s the great tragedy of my generation. With so many options on our plate, we think we ought to have all of the talents out there. And if we aren’t keeping up with the person next to us, then we ought to be trying harder. But I would say otherwise – along with so many others, I’m sure. Why waste time trying to be a banker when you love to cook? Why try to be a guidance counselor when you hate hearing other people’s problems? And why try to draw your work when you’re made to write it? No one person can do it all.

As a writer, I need others to help get ideas out. I will need those who are gifted in editing, gifted in publishing, gifted in teaching, and so on. And while that’s going on, I know other people will require my talents to help get their own ideas out. Or at least make sense of those ideas by putting them into words; words they couldn’t come up if they tried to do it themselves. See how that works? It’s a great feeling when you come to that realization – the epiphany that your gifts can and will be used to their utmost capacity if you’ll allow for it to happen.

But first, you have to hone the gift that’s yours. Only then will you find yourself not coveting everyone else’s, wondering if what you’re doing is right or not. That’s a road to real satisfaction. Cheesy Hallmark card and all.

When you witness others fail

I’ll admit it. I’ve had times when I enjoyed watching another person fall short. It’s not that I am an evil person; I just feel like people should get what they deserve. And what they deserve, is a swift hand of punishment for their crimes. Crimes against me or someone else, of course. Like justice has been served, right? Who says that this person should have everything that he wants? Why not me? Those are the initial thoughts and feelings I may have, depending on the situation. Sound familiar to you? I’m sure it does.

And I’m also sure that in those fleeting moments, you find two very distinct voices crying out from the inside. The first one says something like this: “Yes, he finally got what was coming to him. Bout time too. Now I can get back to feeling better about myself.” While the other voice says something like this: “Why would you even think that? Imagine what he is going through or if that were you. How might others react if that had been your failure?”

Well, what we have here are two very different responses to a singular event. Let’s take a closer look.

Indeed, a question of character is raised depending on which of these voices you hear first. Moreover, which of these voices is more audible to you is also of concern. Why? Well, think of it this way: what we feed, ultimately grows. And what grows, beckons more attention so it can continue to grow. So if you’re always indulging in voice number one, then you are continuously reinforcing a concept that people get what’s coming to them. And to take this one step further, that you alone are a proper judge as it pertains to proper punishment. Yikes. God complex, anyone? But, if you are feeding voice number two, then your immediate reaction is not so self-serving. And it’s not as cynical either. Heck, it may make life more manageable too. What a thought, eh?

So which sounds more appealing? I’m sure that most people would agree with the second option. It’s a “win-win” for all parties involved, but it’s also that much harder to do. Why? Because inwardly, we can hide our intentions towards others. We can witness someone falter and keep our hidden agendas to ourselves. We aren’t required to parade around with our inner thoughts plastered to our foreheads (what a thought though!) – so we can “fake” it, if you will. There is certainly a fear of being exposed, but that fear is discarded since we know that no one else can see what we see. And what we see are our truest of intentions. Kept for us, and only us.

This appears to be the safest route, but it’s actually the most treacherous. What we keep hidden remains close to our hearts and what remains close to our hearts eventually dictates all other facets of our life. In a way, we slowly destroy relationships with others just because of a little jealousy. If I’m really honest with myself, I can say that I feel that way at times. But wouldn’t it be such a relief to not have those secret agendas? To not be worried about who you gossiped to about who? I, for one, would love to experience that daily if I could. I know people who can’t wait to share the latest news on someone else’s problems. I’m sure you know of some yourself. And they burst like a flooded dam when they’ve got the “goods” on somebody. Why though? What did this other person do to deserve such ill favor from someone? The failure alone is usually harsh enough, isn’t it?

So why not kill that self-righteous monster before it rears its ugly head? Sounds idealistic, right? As in, “it can’t be done.” Sure, of course it sounds daunting, but it’s an idea that everyone would admit to wanting while few will admit to trying. So once again, why not try it? It’s something that warrants our collective attention. Internally, externally, and all the way through.

Social media is no substitute for life.

I recently went to my 10-year high school reunion. A lot of people don’t go to theirs, but I went to mine. My graduating class, 2003, had about 120 students in it so I expected to see about 15, maybe 20 of my classmates. I was pleasantly surprised to see more than that – about 25 in total – and was even more pleasantly surprised to find that most people had gone on to do things they either enjoyed (job-wise) or had families of their own (child and spouse-wise). This was very encouraging to hear. I hadn’t attended in hopes of comparing my life to everyone else’s, I just figured it would be nice to go. And the time spent doing this was time well spent indeed.

The night went on and we shared stories with one another. We laughed. We joked. We reminisced on funny moments from the past and even took time to remember those who were no longer with us. This was difficult and a sad reminder that life is short, even in the space of 10 years, but there were good words for each of the people who had passed since our graduation day. Once again, this was most encouraging to hear despite the circumstances. And so, the evening progressed onward and everyone appeared to be enjoying themselves.

But then something happened.

At one of our tables, I overheard two of my former classmates discussing their children with one another. One of the women stated how she had two kids and potentially a third on the way. The other exclaimed how excited she was and followed up with how her little one was doing. Listening to new mothers having discussions about their children is something I will never be able to relate to fully (you know, that whole pregnancy thing is something I just can’t do) but I can certainly understand the joy that comes out of new life in a family. That’s the good part of this tale.

The sad part is that I already knew all of this because I have Facebook. And Twitter. And LinkedIn. And Google+. I have most all of my social media bases covered so this was somewhat old news to me. Even if I hadn’t seen these folks for years, I already had a leg up on their lives. I had seen baby pictures; I’d ‘liked’ or commented on the new arrivals; or I’d perused old photos just long enough to discover what others were up to and how they were presently doing. I was “up to speed”, if you will. This was a little depressing, if just for that one moment, and I decidedly turned my attention to another conversation.

But then something else happened.

One of the mothers started a story about her child. And then she started another story about her new house. And then someone else chimed in about housekeeping and the lessons learned therein. And then another person spoke up about some other life lessons they had learned. The conversation went from social-media-reminder-time to normal-adult-conversation-about-life. How intriguing, right?

I was experiencing how the possession of social media was no substitute for actual life. This may seem like a “duh” statement, but consider that notion for yourself. How often are we content to just follow a person’s activity on the internet rather than pick up the phone and talk to them? A close friend or relative even. And how often do we accept commenting on a person’s status as being ‘enough’ to show support for them doing a tough time? The amount of time it takes to dial a number is the same amount of time it takes to write a post on Twitter or Facebook. There may be slight variances by mere fractions of a second, but I’m pretty sure they’re really close.

I’ve been particularly convicted by this fact as of late. I see the lives my closest of friends and family are having across the vastness of internet space and I sometimes feel like that’s good enough. Like that’s all I need to be doing to be a good friend or relative: just follow their daily posts and keep tabs on them. So long as no one is dying or in pain, we’re good, right? I’ll see you at a holiday or something and we can chat idly there too, right? Yep, that’s what we think. But of course, something will happen and I’ll be reminded of how silly that thinking truly is.

Case in point, I had a phone conversation with a high school friend (one who could not attend the reunion) a couple weeks ago. I haven’t seen him for over a year, maybe longer. We were close in high school and closer afterwards but our careers pulled us to different parts of the U.S. Now, he lives two time zones away from me. Sad? Sure, but I’ve seen his wedding photos, replied to comments he’s made online, and have read that he’s just as witty as ever in his status updates. So I am at peace and in balance with our relationship, right?

Well, after a six month hiatus from speaking, we connected via phone and caught up on everything but the photos, the status updates and the comments. None of those things really mattered at all, really. He’s fond of cooking now; something I was shocked to discover, and I hinted to him that I was to be engaged soon (for the record, not as shocking to him but exciting news nonetheless). There was much life to be had in our conversation and I left it feeling like I’d been brought “up to speed” on the last six months of his life. A life that just couldn’t be summed up in a candid photo or a sarcastic one-liner from Twitter. No, neither of those could do the conversation – the connection we made – any bit of justice.

If anything, I felt cheapened by my own presumed assumptions. I had seen a photo of him jumping in the air so I figured that he was physically alright and yet, he’d had surgery and had been couch-ridden for days on end. Hence, his new obsession with cooking. I wanted to reference how I’d seen other updates or pictures of the past six months but hearing him tell me was far more gratifying. And when I reciprocated that discussion with my own life stories, I got the same result in return. So as our conversation ended, I wasn’t left pondering about something I’d seen or read out of context – I instead knew where he was in life. And he knew where I was. That was a good feeling.

So is social media the devil incarnate sent to break our ties with the ones we know? Some would say so. I’ll choose to say ‘no, not exactly’. All I’m saying is to not treat social media as a means for being engaged with people’s lives. Sure, you can follow others on social media and that’s all well and good, but do not mistake the experience for knowing someone’s story. The real thing is much more enjoyable, I assure you. Not to mention, it’s real too.

When you’re hit by a baseball…

…it usually hurts.

It don’t really matter who you are. The brief impact, the sudden abrasion against your skin, the force of a round object against you – all of these events are unwanted experiences for your body. And yet, if you play baseball, you’re bound to be hit by a ball sooner or later. Whether it be at home plate, in the field, or in the bleachers – there’s a good chance you’ll be hit at some point. And when you do get plunked, it won’t be enjoyable.

When we increase the amount of times we do something, we also increase the possibility that something bad will occur. Take dating, for example. The more you go out on dates and the more people you decide spend time with, the more liable you will be to have your heart trampled upon. The same can be applied to driving. Drive a car long enough and you’ll probably witness a few crashes or heaven forbid, be involved in a crash.

If you broke this concept down a little further, you may refer to this phenomenon as “probability”. Or rather, the likelihood that an event will eventually take place. Anyone who has ever driven a car knows that there’s an inherent chance that something bad might happen while they’re driving. The engine stalls, tire goes flat, and so on, but we rarely focus our energies on the one-in-a-million situation. We fix our eyes on the objective instead. “I need to get groceries”; “I need to pick up my kid from school”, among others. The goal outweighs any possible fear we may possess.

So why am I drabbling on about this stuff? Well, I got hit by a pitch this weekend and man, it hurt. I won’t lie about it. A 75+ mph fastball plunked me right in my side. If my kidneys were positioned on the outside of my body, they would have exploded. Thankfully, they are not but you get the idea.

The ironic thing about all this is how I had just been thinking that I hadn’t been hit by a pitch for a while. Honestly, it’s been about three solid years since the last time I’ve been hit. And for a guy in his late 20s who still plays on weekends, that’s not bad odds. Historically, I get out of the way pretty well, but on Sunday I just didn’t. So as I took my hit to the side, grimaced and threw my bat down, I couldn’t help but think of my earlier thoughts that morning.

You know, I don’t think I’ve been hit by a pitch in a while. That’s not bad.

And from that moment on, I was doomed. I’m sure most people can relate to this. The instance we recognize a glitch in our universe, that quick observation of our own extended bliss; we send an open invite to agony so it can return to our doorstep.

But here’s the reality – agony returned because I got lax. I was comfortable with my circumstances. Rather than keep my guard up, I was content to “ride my good fortune out”. Like I was somehow immune to being hit by a ball again. If I were really watching carefully, on guard and ready for anything, I may have dodged that ball and this blog post would have never happened. But on the flip side of that thinking, I could have reflected upon how I’ve kept my mind sharp. Not being content to let a baseball smash into me after so many years of avoiding a wild throw or errant pitch.

I didn’t though (as you know). I got comfortable. Such is the way with most people. However, I find myself not wanting to be like most people. I’d like to think of myself as someone who challenges himself daily. Moment to moment, second to second, with the understanding that I can change things as they are happening without having to sit idly by. Because if I sit idly, then I’m sure to be caught in that familiar “Hey, that hasn’t for a while, has it?” And we all know what comes next when you have one of those silent epiphanies….

You get hit by a baseball.

Video games and real-life guns.

Hopefully that link works. I was wondering wehn articles such as these would start popping up considering the state of things with gun control. It’s an unfortunate correlation but a very true one.