Best Laid Plans

As June winds down, I find some of my best laid plans have been thrown to the wayside. Namely, my finishing a story within this month (which is only partially true). But hey, here’s why:

I became a father. 

I’ll admit it. I’m like most people who hop on social media, find his newsfeed flooded with baby pictures, and immediately wonder why parents feel compelled to take pictures of their kids every five minutes. Seriously though. Is it necessary to take a photo of your child for sitting on a couch? For staring at the ceiling? Or when he’s standing alone in his underwear for no reason? Well, after a weekend that ended with my first-born son, I can actually start to agree with these people. Seriously.

Having a son – one of your own your flesh and blood – has got to be one of the most amazing experiences in the known universe. My faith teaches me that this is good; that I was designed (like my wife) for populating the world with more like me (and her, of course). And I’ll have to agree, you literally feel a presence like God Himself is right there when a birth is happening. A child – a soul – appears as if out of thin air and fills the room. It’s like spontaneous combustion, only in reverse. Where there was once only two, now there are three – a father, a mother, and a child. You might call that synergy: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I like to think of it as a miracle. Nothing short of one and nothing less, either.

I never knew what it would be like, but in all the months leading up to the birth, I imagined what it might be like. After all, I’ve been force fed different interpretations and versions of childbirth on television for years. Chances are, one of them got the experience right. Right? Well, not exactly. Nothing seems to do the moment justice like being there for yourself.

For example, I once read that there is a difference between traveling to Istanbul and actually being in Istanbul. We may have an idea of what something will be like, what it will feel like, but ultimately, we have no idea until we are there. In the moment. Watching it all go down. And then exhaling once it’s over. If there were ever a case for God – and there are many – then childbirth would be it.

He – God – is rather adept at taking what we imagine and blowing whatever notion we have out of the water. It’s as humbling as it is terrifying when you think about it. Again, nothing short of amazing.

And so, now that I’ve downloaded some of my first thoughts, it’s back to the grindstone. Only now, with less sleep. And more baby. Here’s to July’s #12Months12Books and whatever else life has in store.

 

A Dad-To-Be Perspective

I’m going to be as brief on this as I can be. My wife and I recently discovered that we were going to be parents. And more so, we also discovered that the child was going to be a boy. I’m excited. She’s excited. I could have been happy knowing it’s a girl or a boy – that didn’t matter – but it’s really cool to know what to expect. The drama of delivery day will have its own stresses. But for now, we’re happy with having an idea of what’s to come.

And of course, what we have yet to learn. So yeah, it’s exciting.

But, as I’ve been reflecting on this awesome thing, I’m overcome by something. During our ultrasound (sorry, you’ll just have to imagine the pictures), there was a quick snapshot of our little guy facing the camera. He looked like an alien, but you could clearly see a face there. Then, as if he knew we were watching, a little smile came across his face and my wife, the nurse, and myself all laughed. What a character and he’s not even here yet.

Now, flash forward to the next day. I’m out and about. I run into an older gentleman at a food store – a guy I’d put in the ballpark around 80-85 years old. He’s walking slowly. Old age, perhaps? That’d be a good guess, but I come to see that he’s lugging around a heavy O2 tank. And since he can’t carry it under his own power, the tank is positioned inside of his cart. The tubes are feeding from his jacket up to his nose and I can hear him breathing his every breath.

Knowing this, what comes to mind? What’s your impression of this man? This guy’s a smoker, right? or maybe he’s paying the price for having smoked all these years? The list goes on. I’m sure there are many quick calls we’d make upon seeing this gentleman. But, here’s the thing: as I’m walking past this man, he looks at me and wouldn’t you know it, he smiles. And naturally, I smile back.

Sure, it’s a common courtesy – to smile when you see a a stranger. Be polite; don’t be rude – years of social conditioning may have been feeding into our interaction, but as I walked away from this man, it hit me: at some point – somewhere – maybe 80 years ago, maybe less, this gentleman didn’t have a cumbersome tank of oxygen O2. He didn’t have wrinkled skin, gray hair or weakened joints and muscles. No, there was only an anxious mother; one who was probably wondering what her little guy was up to, and God-willing, a man awaiting the day his son would come into the world. All the hope of a new life was wrapped tightly inside her and steadily being made ready for the world.

Granted, I don’t know all the facts. I don’t know if this man had a runaway dad, an absentee mother, or an abusive upbringing. I don’t know what pain he’s caused in his own life or the ones he’s harmed or suffered under. But, the fact remains: somebody cared enough to bring him into the world. And because of that care – that love that was built before he was birthed – I can’t help but be knocked by the enormity of that. I may not know this gentleman’s entire story, but a long while back, God saw him in the womb and was carefully preparing his arrival. And now, decades later, this once helpless, little baby boy, is an adult. He’s older – yes – and his body has changed over the years, but he’s still capable of smiling. Every person you’ve ever met – or anyone you will ever meet – started out in this very same way.

That sort of knowledge should change the way we see others, shouldn’t it? But, of course, it’s so easy to forget. What’s right in front of our faces often trumps these simple truths, but I’m encouraged to think that if God can see us this way, as children, then we can do the same if we try.

Truly, life is a miracle. And I can’t wait to share in the life of my son’s.

 

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.

 

“The Scientist’s Dilemma”

The Scientist's Dilemma Cover

I’ll be releasing this short story in just a few weeks. It’ll be available for direct to Kindle only – so no paperbacks. It’s not as lengthy as a full scale novel and it’s not the first in a trilogy, but it’s a story that has a significant place in my heart. And that’s as good a reason as any to share it, I figure.

The title alone isn’t meant to be a complicated one. This story is actually about a scientist and it’s actually about a dilemma too; one that just so happens to belong to the scientist (told you it was simple, didn’t I?). That’s the premise of this tale and it’s a premise I believe so many other people – even those without the title of ‘scientist’ – find themselves struggling to answer at one point or another: just what the heck are we all waiting for?

It’s a huge question to tackle; overwhelming to some and perhaps strangely intoxicating to others, yet it’s a question I find simmering under the surface of practically every person I run into. Or have the pleasure to read about. That strange hunger that rises up within and says, “I don’t know if I belong to this world alone. Is there something else?” In my case, it’s a question I’ve pondered on many-a-starry night, which is why I like the cover so much. It represents that curious nature any person possesses and it’s an image that ultimately brought legs to this story. What’s waiting out there to be discovered? Is there anything at all? 

The universe is a big place and has plenty to offer while we’re here, but sometimes looking out is an easy alternative to looking in.

So to quote Shakespeare and wrap this up, “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves.”

 

Persistence – Bold Moves

Talking about persistence is one thing and actually being persistent is another. Some people get caught up in the notion that being persistent means holding onto a certain thought or idea. And if they hold tightly to that idea – that thought forever circulating in their minds – then something will eventually happen to make that thought a reality. Obviously, this is not the case. Thoughts require action to become tangible. They (thoughts) need more than inner-mindedness; in other words, they need you to do something other than keep that idea a prisoner in your head.

Growing up, I was always more of a cautious soul. I didn’t like getting in trouble or disobeying my parents or even getting less than an A- on my tests. I’ve never liked the idea of letting people down and that attitude has permeated every facet of my existence for nearly 30 years. The danger in that thinking, however, is a stark and very dangerous desire for absolute perfection. Perfection in work, perfection in relationships, and perfection in every endeavor I take on. It increases expectations; it makes them – the expectations – practically impossible to ever reach and instead of embracing a good risk in life, you become paralyzed; afraid to ruin that perfect record of endless success. It’s maddening, to say the least.

But, I’m not here to appeal to all you other Type A’s out there who can’t stand when another person takes the driver’s seat or to say that it’s “okay” to demand perfection of yourself and others – no, the meaning of this message is to redefine what is considered bold behavior. What does that look like and what does it mean? To the cautious soul – like myself – bold behavior could be seen as intolerable actions. Breaking the law, rebellious acts, challenging an authority, even violence – may be among what many would consider “bold” moves. But, none of those behaviors are boldness in action or boldness in its truest form. It’s actually immaturity or a lack of understanding – not being bold.

I’ve wrestled with the courage to be bold for a good portion of my life so I know how complicated the first steps of acting bold can appear to be. Especially if you’re someone like me. It’s maddening, as I said, but it doesn’t have to be. When I felt the call on my life to pursue this professional writer business, I was racked with “analysis paralysis”; just like I’d always been. And when that familiar feeling arose, I wanted to back off and think it too much to handle. But, the shift happened when I stopped trying to appease that perfect image of who I wanted myself to be in other people’s eyes, and changed that view to who I really was inside – and who God had desired me to be.

A pursuit of perfection isn’t as much about the person as it is about the people around that person’s life. Who are you trying to appease? Who is it you are trying to gain approval from? If it’s not yourself or God, then who is it? There must be someone you’re trying desperately to impress and if that person has a name, then break free from that. It’ll be one of the first bold moves you make as an individual.

As for me, my next bold move will be releasing some of my unpublished short stories. Again, I’ll be attacked with “analysis paralysis,” but I don’t fear it as much as I used to. It’s just another bold step towards the wholeness I’m meant to pursue, not the perfection I thought I deserved.

Courage – under whose authority?

Today’s world has trouble defining courage, but it has just as hard a time defining authority.

Mine was defined at home. When I was growing up, I learned to have a respect / fear of my father. He was the man in charge; the king of the household; the last line of defense at home. Essentially, he was the disciplinarian. His word was law and if I abided by his law, then I could live peacefully under his roof. That sounds fair enough, right? My mother had authority too, but it was a different kind of authority. She was more the hand to hold; the warm embrace; the ear to lend your voice to – she was the lifeline. And if I came to her with an issue that needed comforting, I could live more peacefully under her roof. Once again, sounds like a fair enough arrangement, right? Yes, it does – when things are running like they’re supposed to.

But, what if they’re not? The result looks much different. If my father’s law is skewed and his discipline unjust, then I feel the ramifications. If my mother’s lifeline is damaged or absent, then I feel the ramifications there too. And the consequences look like this: my idea of authority has been crushed. Moreover, my idea of a loving authority has been shattered. For if the people who made me – the ones who watch over me daily – can’t handle their own business, then what right do they have to govern mine?

And this is where it starts. That disillusionment with authority; that break from looking up to people and the conscious/unconscious decision to look elsewhere for guidance. Because let’s be honest, everybody’s parents mess up at some point – there are no “perfect parents” in the world; as good as mine were and are, they still had their bad days. So depending on how “bad” a parent messes up, the more work it’ll be for the child later. The more work it’ll be to fix the now disjointed views of a child who, after years of soaking in the brokenness of a broken home, has fractured more than than their view of parental-child relationships – they’ve fractured the very nature of how the world was meant to operate.

Whoa – back up, right? That sounds like a lot of pressure for a parent. But hey, let’s not forget – it’s a human life we are talking about; not a truck or a vacuum sweeper. These things, when fractured, can be easily replaced. The same cannot be said for a human life.

But, here’s the good news: fractures are mendable things. A fractured bone, for example, doesn’t have to stay that way. In fact, a broken bone will do whatever it can to get back to its original state. The only thing it requires is time; time to heal and time to mend. However, if the bone is disturbed too early, then it may become further disjointed and take even more time to heal – a more painful experience than the first.

This becomes even more delicate when dealing with authority. Bad experiences with authority figures can leave a person severely jaded; stricken with little desire to trust authority ever again. And the thought of ever being “ruled” by another is seen as detestable; to be avoided at all costs. So, in order to cope with this, a peer-to-peer kind of authority is established. “You don’t tell me how to live and I won’t tell you either” is the new mantra. And if we abide by these rules, we can all live peacefully under the same roof.

Yet again, this sounds reasonable and fair, doesn’t it? It does and yet, this concept breaks down rather quickly. For if there is no one to lead, no one to establish what is best practice, then the roof ceases to exist. What’s more, one person’s idea of best practice will inevitably collide with someone else’s. And another with another. And another with another and so on. The result being the exact opposite of the original intent; the individual’s desire to be more important than the whole splits everything into pieces, which will leave people feeling isolated rather than unified.

So what to do? Well, it takes courage. Not just courage to lead, but courage not to follow. And the “not to follow” does not mean to reject authority – it merely means to reject the notion of authority being a bad thing and to reject your own perceptions as being the ultimate reality. Children reject authority because they want to have their way all the time. As adults, this concept should be understood as not practical. Or better yet, not fulfilling. But, by today’s standards, embracing this understanding has been forgotten. God’s governing hand is only relative and as long as I can Google an answer, I’m better off. No, Googling answers does not require courage. Neither do blanket comments or fact-dumping. Courage is carving in stone, not writing in sand.

Imagine a home where your stay is just and your stay is kind. It’d be a joyous home, would it not? Not the kind of place you’d want to leave. But, you can’t get to that place without first having a response – to recognize there is more to be courageous about than your own agendas.

Sounds reasonable and fair, does it not?

Desktop Update – September 2014

I’m a little late to the party with this post but I think I deserve some leeway because of what’s been going on in my life. The biggest news being that I got married about a week and a half ago. Very cool and very awesome. My wife and I are slowly starting the process of settling into life together. Moving into an apartment, getting her signed up with my last name, figuring out who gets to shower when – you know, important administrative stuff. Indeed, the road ahead is a new thing for both of us but we are excited about what’s in store.

What’s also exciting is what “post-wedding” life is like. After all the planning, the honeymooning, and the moving in together, there’s no specific blueprint for figuring out your spouse. You just have to live life together. And that can be as daunting or invigorating as you choose it to be. Yesterday I met a woman who was going on her 50th wedding anniversary. Yes, 50. I’ve only been alive for 30 years – not being married – and this woman has lived almost twice as long with another person. When I told her I’d been married not longer than 2 weeks, she immediately jumped in with advice: “It’s hard but it’s worth it.”

Simple and to the point – I like it. I thanked her for the wisdom and went on to write this post.

Which brings me to the next topic – where does that leave the individual? I’ve got a partner for life but there’s also some new things happening for me too. All kinds of changes; changes that have affected this desktop of mine, for example. I recently became the recipient of a brand new computer; a gift from my amazing wife and I’ve begun the process of transferring data from one computer to the other. It’s more painstaking than I would have imagined and reminds me how much we tend to store our lives away on personal computers. Possessing storage applications like Google Drive and Dropbox are great, but when you find you have tons of personal photos, old word documents, and other buried treasures like past resumes and cover letters lying around, it really makes you wonder how much of your life is still sacred; not hiding away on some ancient hard drive.

Cleaning house....

Cleaning house….

The good news is: new computers mean new stuff. So that’s really what I’m up to this week: cleaning house. A somewhat humorous thing if you Google the terminology online. Don’t worry, they’re G-rated.

But more importantly, “cleaning house” now means more than just my own stuff – it means somebody else’s too. Once again, exciting, to say the least.

Did I mention I was excited?

The Worst of Enemies

I wanted to share an epiphany I had this week. One that has to do with the battles we face. Trouble is (ironically), I’ve been fighting my own battle as to find the proper medium to share it. Mostly, because I wanted it to be short and sweet. A quick dose of pick-me-up and then gone. But Twitter only allows 160 characters and Facebook is chock full of random quizzes, shared videos, and daily updates about bad drivers so I didn’t want it to get lost in cyberspace. So back to the blog we go.

My moment of clarity came whilst I was standing on familiar terrain: warring over a crucial decision. And doing so with myself. There’s such a tendency to point fingers in life – to make it appear that we, ourselves, are without fault and the world is against us. In many ways, the world can be cruel, but the more I travel through this thing called ‘life’, I find the greatest enemy isn’t necessarily the Devil or any one person or circumstance: it’s me. If you’re a Type-A, insanely-driven perfectionist, you can relate. If you’re a Type-B, oftentimes procrastinator, you can also relate. And if you’re someone who isn’t sure of either, you too can relate. Basically, I feel like any one person can relate to being one’s own worst enemy.

This conclusion doesn’t sound practical. I feel we’d prefer not to believe we have an evil doppleganger somewhere inside of us. After all, that sounds crazy. However, I’d argue that we do. I’ve experienced it and I’m willing to bet that so many others have too. And he’s bigger and more in control than you think. The reason? He’s all about survival; reaction to situation. Not about living life, not about conquering new heights, and certainly not about victory.

There are several major projects I’m working towards – a novel, a short story compilation, a new website – so at times, I find myself becoming easily overwhelmed. And something inside me says, “Hey, it’s too much. Take a break.” And I do. And then a day, maybe two days later, I resent myself for taking that breather. So I gear up. I get going. And a week later, I’m further along. Then the voice returns and I’m back to being comfortable. Then, almost immediately after, I am defeated again. Ugh.

I’ve tried overcoming this internal enemy many times in my life, but only now – some 30 years later – am I getting a better handle on how to press through his advances. The secrets aren’t necessarily buried in well-written self-help books; no, I’ve found silent time to be the most life-giving. Quieting the mind is of utmost importance. It keeps distractions from becoming the focus and it keeps you from focusing on those distractions. I cringe when I hear people say they’re “so busy” all the time. Are you really? Or are you just really, really distracted? There is a difference. Consider if this applies to your life and take action against that.

As a writer, it’s so incredibly easy to get distracted. A new idea comes along and *ping*, it’s off to the races. But if the idea fizzles out and nothing gets done, then that feels like a failure. Then that voice comes back again. “You’ll never finish”; “Your ideas aren’t that good, try something else” – this is what can go through your head as a writer. More so than I’ve given credit to in the past, but I’m learning how to quiet that noise. How it’s me I’m fighting; not my next publication. A freeing and liberating feeling; one I’m slowly becoming more familiar with.

Staring Down Train Tracks

That's a long way....

That’s a long way….

The view is daunting; overwhelming, to a degree. Staring down train tracks – specifically the ones in this picture – can be as intimidating as they are miraculous. The long rows of steel and iron have sat where they are for decades, giving the impression that whatever has passed through here has done so without fail and without interruption for quite a while. Longer than many people’s lives, no doubt. It’s a fascinating realization, at least to me; one I claim due to my heritage. My grandfather worked on trains, my father made a living in steel, and now my youngest brother wishes to make trains some day. There’s definitely some “steam and iron” in our bloodline. And that’s a really cool thing.

My family’s path hasn’t always been as clear as these train tracks though. In hindsight, sure – we can look back and see the patterns of chosen vocations – but human foresight is not always so resolute. Physical train tracks, however, can be planned out, laid down, and carried forward so that we may see the entire journey. And if there are trees, rocks, a small crevasse blocking the path – well, we simply remove them. Obstacles are no longer obstacles; only the track remains. The distance between Point A and Point B is bridged.

I’d love to get super-philosophical with this concept. Straight roads; man’s desire for clarity; man’s need for land domination; man’s inner struggle for authority – there’s a plethora of ones I could go into. But I’d rather not go down that route. None of those topics apply to why I took the picture. Rather, I snapped it for quite the opposite: to remind myself of how I should not be thinking.

Men, in general, have an innate yearning to be visionaries. To claim what’s been set before them and make it their own. I feel that pressure daily and at times, it can be utterly maddening. But in some sense, I enjoy the challenge. After all, it’s freeing when a plan comes together. And equally frustrating when it does not, but it’s even more frustrating when the plan is hidden from your sight. I used to think that the last option was the most difficult one to deal with – to work around; to navigate. But I have since come to understand that there is a fourth road, one that’s not as easily discernible unless you find yourself in the midst of that road: it’s when a vision is cast ahead of you, the road is open for the taking, and all that need be done is begin. But once you start, and you see the path is without deviation, you begin to wonder to yourself – is this a trap? Am I seeing the big picture so that I can be trapped by it?

Alright, so I’m getting a tiny bit philosophical here.

I say this only because I know so many who are staring down train tracks, wondering if where they are headed is some sort of a trap. They see the finish line, but for some reason, that’s the problem. Is my career going to fulfill me? I’m a single parent, what does that mean for my dating life? Some external force seems to be dictating the path. Point A to Point B appears to be set in place and the journey doesn’t look to be a “enjoyably-manageable” one. “What will I do if I get stuck halfway?! I won’t be able to go anywhere!”

Don’t be discouraged by this. External pressure should not dictate internal longing. Using my own life as an example, I didn’t want to be controlled by external forces. So I asked if He (God) could help me out with that. That seemed like a good place to start. What’s funny, in retrospect, is that when I asked God how to do this; asked Him to set a vision before me – He actually did it. He gave me a clear path – devoid of those external pressures – showing me where to go. But here’s the strange part: I buckled. For when I saw the enormity of that vision in its entirety, I got frightened. Whoa. “What if I get stuck on these tracks? Is this all you have for me?!” The clear path was there, but now it looked like a one-way ticket to a trap. And I hated feeling that way, especially since I asked for it in the first place!

So what gives in this scenario? Why did I suddenly feel this way? The answer is actually very simple: I still wanted to trust in my own devices, which in turn, made the destination appear impossible to get to. And that sort of thinking can lead to immobility; it can also lead to “trap-mindedness”. It’s an invitation for external forces to once again play a factor – the very thing you asked to be guarded against. “If I get stuck though,” you may say. “I can only go backwards, right?” Well, and this will sound cliche’, you have to trust that the obstacles will be removed – just as they had been when you first asked for help. You see, God hasn’t changed; only our perception of where we are on the tracks has changed. Getting “stuck” can merely be a matter of losing faith, disabling ourselves based on an experience we had. The key is – and by no means is it an easy one – reengaging the original vision. Reminding ourselves of who brought us there, who cast the die, and who set the path for trotting. It wasn’t a family member who told you aren’t good enough; it wasn’t an article you read about the impossible nature of dating;  and it wasn’t a bad experience that you believe should define you. None of these things bring life. And none of these things take you further down the tracks.

If that much is true, then do not lose heart wherever you are on the path. I’m forever learning this myself. Slowly, it’s becoming clearer to me how God desires us to have faith in His foresight, not our own. Getting caught up in the vision, its size and scale, invites too many factors that shouldn’t matter. So do not entertain what lies in the woods. Instead, be encouraged by the path that’s calling you forward. Whatever that may be.

 

The Difference a Year Makes

It’s been a year since I spoke to inner city youth on pursuing dreams; a whole year. I’ve been fortunate to mentor and inspire young adults in one-on-one environments but a whole year since I’ve been granted an audience larger than a mere handful. I’ve grown much in that frame of time – as a person and as a writer – just like any other person can or does. And recently, I was granted the opportunity to repeat what I did a year ago: speak in a classroom about what I do.

This wouldn’t be like what I did before though. This time, it would be pre-teens and new teenagers; a whole other animal to work with in a classroom setting. Last time, it was 9th and 10th graders, but this time, it would be middle school students. To any teacher who knowingly takes on the task of teaching 7th and 6th graders, I applaud you. Better yet, I say ‘you’re amazing’; you deserve a ton of credit. When it comes to these ages, the interactions can be as tender as they are hostile. The differences between a 12-year old and a 13-year old are vast; vast like an ocean, I’d say. Becoming a teenager can be like sailing off to a new continent, not knowing what to expect, but you have to go because you don’t have any other option. And that’s a maddening concept. You’re on a boat and there’s no way you can get off. The land behind you is dead or dying and your only escape is somewhere across the open ocean. But it’s not an escape so much as it’s a predetermined destination. And when you land, you find a place that’s nothing like what you left behind. It’s frightening to many, and for good reason.

I say this because I knew what I was getting into – a land full of angry inhabitants who want to be heard as much as they want to left alone. Quite the hypocrisy, but you tread lightly regardless. It was “Career Day” at one of our local city schools; a day I recall as being one filled with weird guests who had something called “jobs” and one day I would have a to choose a “job” myself. The usual suspects would come year after year to my school – police officers, nurses, firefighters, and sometimes other teachers. But never was there an author, I remember. There was never a professional wordsmith; a person like Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, or R.L. Stine walking through the archways of my alma mater. Not that I claim to be on their level – I just don’t remember one being at my school’s “Career Day”. So this was exciting. For me, it was, but to the kids? Well, who is to say that they had any interest in listening to me or what I had to give them.

Teenagers are complicated organisms; more so than their earlier forms, the pre-teens. Having this knowledge, I wanted to speak in a way that would be engaging, intriguing, and somehow “fun” for the class. How does a one go into a school full of hormone-raged adolescents and keep them interested though? I understand their need for visual stimulation, but hey, I’m a writer. Putting words up on a board would be business as usual to these kids. How was I going to do this and what was I going to talk about and show? Well, the immediate answer I came to was this: I have no freaking idea. That’s when I decided to rely on some divine intervention from God to help me out because alone, there’s no way I could do it effectively. That’s not to say that I didn’t prepare ahead of time. I gathered a couple visual aids, specifically on stories I’m working on, and brought those along with me. That was for starters, but only after asking what might be a good idea to bring along.

So I went to school and encountered the 7th graders first. And truth be told, it was rough. Students could scarcely pay attention for more than a few minutes. But I trudged through on how and why I tell stories, my educational background, and all other things that may help paint a picture of how I got where I was. But all that broke down when I asked the kids one simple question – “do you any of you know what ‘passion’ means? Or do you have one?” The teens didn’t have much to speak on the word, which was surprising to me. Some said it was “something that’s fun to do”; another said, “singing”; and one kid said, “you mean like lobsters or something?” (this boy loved lobsters). I went on to explain that some of their responses were on the right track – save the lobsters comment – but there was one crucial piece missing. “What’s that?” one of them asked and I replied with, “the willingness to suffer for something better, namely a reward”. That’s when I got a ton of confused faces. And unfortunately, my time was up in the classroom.

I walked out of there feeling defeated; like, I’d done a poor job of explaining my work or what drove me to become a writer. The class was hard enough wrangling up to stay attentive, but the reception I received on that final remark really shook me. Not that every teenager should have a clear understand of passion is, but to think that wanting to suffer so as to gain a reward was a foreign concept was disheartening to me. I knew many of these students, if not all, came from difficult backgrounds so suffering or struggling is not unfamiliar. But that was the issue altogether. The reward, the possible gain; the hope was missing. If any one of those kids had the insight or the ability to do so, they may have jumped up and said something like, “well, we already know suffering, but what’s this reward business you’re talking about?” That’s when I sunk inside myself and immediately became angry. Suffering for the sake of something good did not make sense. What reward? What goal? There was none, it seemed. The blank stares made sense and I felt compelled to go back into the classroom and elaborate on what I meant. But there was no time for that – I had another classroom to share with.

This time, it would be the 6th graders. Not as old as the last group and some of them still teetering between pre-teen and teenager. I focused up and decided to stick with my original game plan but this time, get with the program and explain what ‘passion’ means as a whole. Or at the very least, touch on what that may look like for them. I got through the first part of my talk and then came back to that critical inquiry: “Do you any of you know what passion is? Or what that means?” The same responses came through. So I opened up and said, “It actually means that you’re willing to suffer for something so you can hopefully achieve something later.” Again, the blank stares. So I got with it and shared how I’d once wrote a story for a girl I liked when I was 10. I penned a short horror story for her and gave it over to her. My hope was that she’d love it and I’d win her over with my amazing writing talents. And as I told the tale, several of the girls laughed, wondering why I’d resort to something like that.

“Why do you think?” I asked.
“Because you like to tell stories?”
“Yeah. That’s it. And what do you think she said when she read it?”

The classroom went silent until one girl burst out, “She hated it, didn’t she?” To which I replied, “Yes, she didn’t exactly like it that much, at all.”

Every student in the class had a good laugh at that, but when I went on to say how I still wanted to write stories, despite that crushing blow, something clicked for a few of them.

“So, you kept going?”
“Yes. I did.”

It’s been a year since I got to speak in front of a classroom, talking on my life as an author/writer, but more importantly, it’s been a year since I got to speak in front of a classroom on why there’s hope despite any current circumstances. For me, it’s years of sticking with something, committing myself to a craft and not giving in to the doubts that try and intercede. For the students, it could be graver situations like abusive homes, drugs, alcohol, gangs, etc. and that’s frightening to be within. Passion doesn’t exist; survival is the name of the game. So to these students and so many like them, a “guest speaker” is just another adult with an agenda; one they’re not interested in hearing about. But if anyone can bring a story that speaks of triumph – not mindless struggle or silver-spooned entitlement – ears open and heads perk up. All because there’s a hope that something will change for the better.

The storm of adolescence is hard enough, but if there’s a hope that the storm will subside someday, somehow – then that’s much more significant. And worth speaking about.