A Clear Voice

If you’re reading this, then you may have an idea of what I’m going to write about. Or maybe you don’t and you’re just curious. Either way, welcome, and here’s hoping you might identify with this post. As we know, there is no shortage of voices who claim to be authorities for navigating life. And they cover just about every topic under the sun: “Be the Best Parent”; “Make More Money Now”; “The Best Guide to Dieting” or “Epiphanies, Theories, and Downright Good Thoughts on Video Games” (sorry, had to throw that one in there for my own sake). But, at the end of the day, how many do you listen to? Well, if you’re a parent, you may tune into more parenting books. If you’re financially insecure, you read up on managing your money. The list goes on. Much of what we read is often an indicator of what we need. Or what we’ve made ourselves to believe we need.

The tricky part is knowing just what it is we need in the first place. Because as we know, there are plenty of voices telling us what it is we need. And the messages come faster than we’d like to admit.

This past week, I intentionally took a week off from Facebook. Not because I’m trying to lead a revolution against social media (I’m here, aren’t I?) but because I knew I needed something: a clear voice. For any writer or artist that might relate, you know what I mean. Yes, it’s fun to flip through your news feed and see what’s happening around the world. Or in people’s lives. I’ve done it frequently. But, there are ramifications if one isn’t careful.

For example, you see someone sharing an intriguing article and you click. That action leads to another click. And another. And another. Soon, you may find yourself reading a top 10 list of what not to do in summer whereas you first started reading a blog on rioting. At first glance, it sounds relatively harmless. You’ve become more “educated” on what’s happening in the world or you’ve been made aware of several hot travel spots you wouldn’t have considered otherwise. But, here’s the point: in a span of 10, maybe 20 minutes, you’ve allowed your brain to be subject to a multitude of incoming messages. And that sort of clutter lends itself to a cluttered mind. Rather than making crucial, timely decisions, your brain is now more interested in vacations (which is coincidentally just what it’s doing now – going on a vacation). The real issue you’ve been working on is lost in the muck and hey, that’s not good.

Reading isn’t bad. It’s fun. It’s entertaining. It’s educational. But, reading anything and everything can be bad for you. It’s why I intentionally decided to take a breather. Halt the messages and find some center ground. Not because I can’t control myself, but because it’s better to not tempt one’s self when temptation is imminent. I don’t need to be up to date on the newest blogs or even the latest hashtag. Those things have a way of finding a person if the message is good. And plus, I can check it out when I want to. Not when I feel like I need to. If what you want is a clear head, then don’t allow so many voices to fill it. It’s really that simple.

Oh, and to any I may have ignored this past week, I’m sorry. This is partially an apology for not checking my news feed. I trust we’re still friends, at least online.

 

 

 

So Your Book is Out – Now What?

Yesterday, I finally got to release The Scientist’s Dilemma on Kindle. Might go without saying, but hey – that was very exciting. It’s surreal knowing my thoughts and ideas are now open to praise, criticism, and verbal shellackings. I’m sure I’ll never tire of the high it gives me; be it for good or for bad. But, when the day is over and I’m lying in bed, an annoying question may creep up and invade my thoughts: so what now, Josh?

Obviously, I have some options when that happens – four of which I find to be the most immediate during this process.

My first option might be to keep checking up on my story. The Internet is a double-edged sword in this way. I can track views, likes, clicks, purchases – just about everything other than tracking my readers via satellite are some things I can do. And yet, if I’m not careful, I can find myself staring down the rabbit hole of never-ending browser clicks; hoping and praying that someone may have shared my link, viewed my webpage, or took the ultimate chance and made a purchase in the last five seconds.

Yes, the dark side of tracking one’s book can be dangerous. It’s nice to know how things are going, but if that’s all you’re doing then you’d best get to doing something else.

My second option would be to keep posting information about my book. Of the first two, this is the one that keeps things moving. A good business practice is to operate with forward motion. Lingering over concepts or ideas for too long creates stagnation and if you’re interested in being a professional writer, you have to view yourself in that same way. Your name brings a certain product and people – as nice or as thoughtful as they are – don’t always remember to check out your book. So you must remind them by continually getting yourself out there. This can be a tough one to execute and must be done with the level of charm that doesn’t turn people away.

Again, a double-edged sword, but if worked at, can become a powerful asset in your arsenal of online marketing. Am I pro at this myself? Oh, heavens no, but I’m learning as I go and this has proven to be a major part of what helps to build one’s platform.

My third option would be to look for more opportunities to share my work. I can post and connect links and write as many blog posts as I like, but I may be just working inside of a vacuum. With that in mind, it’s good to take a moment and think, “what am I not doing that I haven’t done before?” For this particular venture – The Scientist’s Dilemma – I decided I should only release it as an ebook. In the past, I would have scoffed at doing such a thing. “That’s too small. Either get recognized by an agent or nothing,” – that was my thinking. And with that stubborn attitude, I probably missed out on some opportunities along the way.

The downside here is looking back in hindsight, but there is a silver lining also: any chance you didn’t take doesn’t really matter anymore. If you’ve arrived at a point where it’s easy to look back and say, “should’ve done that” then you can ultimately use that to your advantage later. Learn what works and what doesn’t, but don’t try to recreate old scenarios for the sake of just trying to prove yourself.

My fourth (and last) option would be to work on the next project. It’s in these times when I can feel the most invigorated or the most demoralized. To know that my next work could be months, maybe even years away, is a daunting feeling. All sorts of doubts and dreadful thoughts can surface – and they can come from inside my own head or even come from the tongues of those around me.

The key in beating this is to be decisive in what project you choose to undertake. Oftentimes, I’ll find myself floundering between ideas, unable to get a solid grasp on what the best use of my time will be. This is normal though and is a natural part of the process, but it’s also not something to dwell upon or beat yourself up over. If anything, it might be healthy to have more than one project going at a time. Journaling is a good deterrent and can be very beneficial in flushing out the gunk that clogs things up. I’ve found journaling to be very helpful.

All that being said, back to it. I got some options to work with.

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.

And now for something semi-hilarious

This weather, for starters.

It’s actually not funny anymore when you observe what old Mother Nature has been up to lately. It’s just straight up dangerous. In fact, when I wake up in the morning, I think to myself: “I wonder how cold it’s gonna be today.” Thoughts of food, breakfast, or peeing come second. And I don’t want to move from the space I’m in. I want to stay in bed and remain at a comfortable temperature.

So I pick up my phone and check the weather. Locally, it’s below zero. Regionally, it’s just about zero. And across the nation, it varies but the consensus remains the same: it’s frickin’ cold; just around zero. And it’s predominantly below zero with wind chill no matter where you are. I also notice that schools are closing. Some have even kept students indoors for the night. Steak-um’s for lunch yesterday, kiddies? Well, you got’em again today! I’m sure the kids are digging the massive sleepover, but the teachers? Yeah, probably not so much.

In Atlanta, folks have been stuck on highways for as long as 24 hours; gas run out and going nowhere. One individual left his car and walked 4 miles to the airport, leaving his rental in the sea of cars stuck in the second ice age. Again, wow! Very impressive. If it were uphill, then I’d be even more impressed.

And when I turn on my computer, I see that the top 5 trending items for the day are:
1. Amanda Bynes
2. X-Men movie sequel
3. Justin Bieber mugshot
4. Puppy commercial Super Bowl
5. Justin Bieber vacation girl

Nothing catches my interest so I log out and go about my day. All the while making certain that I don’t wear less than three shirts and two pairs of pants. Remembering, it’s frickin’ cold out there.

But here’s the semi-hilarious part of this post: around 9 pm, I get a phone call from family asking me if I saw the state of the union address.

“What’s that, you say? That was tonight?”

“Yes, did you see it?”

“No. I did not.”

How embarrassing. Regardless of where your political stance lies, it’s hard to believe that the “unnamed Justin Bieber vacation girl” trended higher than the state of the union. What’s more, those other things trended higher on my radar. That’s the really embarrassing part and I’m ashamed to admit that. It’s not even semi-hilarious when I think about it. It’s just sad. Sad that I didn’t seek out something else. And sadder still that I allowed myself to think that there was nothing else out there. Frick.

So here’s hoping that you weren’t like me the other day. Here’s hoping that when you awoke, you did something like this: “Wow, it’s still frickin’ cold out but hey, it’s the state of the union address tonight. I should probably watch that. If nothing else, so I have an idea of what other people may be talking about tomorrow and not be in the dark about really important stuff.”

Yes, that’s much better.

Into the funnel I go….

For as much as I razz on social media, one would think that I despise the concept altogether. That I believe it’s some terrible, horrible thing meant only to destroy socially acceptable behavior. Well, part of that may have some truth in it, but I don’t hate social media in its entirety. For instance, without social media I wouldn’t have this blog at all. And I’m sure other folks out there wouldn’t be able to connect with people they otherwise would never have met (for good or bad). So there is certainly some good things to be had in the realm of social media.

Keeping this in mind, I’ve recently decided to begin a “funnel” experiment with social media. In other words, I’m attempting to centralize my efforts. A single point of origin for the majority of my work and what I’m up to. And it’s starting with this blog.

After I finished my last post, I realized how much cyberspace I was already occupying: Facebook (personal and otherwise), Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, among others. This was all done in order to keep people from using my name or any of my ideas. I know, sounds narcissistic, doesn’t it? But from a business standpoint, this would make the most sense, would it not? You know – get the real estate before someone else moves in on your turf? Well, that may also be elaborate cover for my own paranoia but that’s what I was up to – making certain that nobody else could get the “Epiphanies, Theories, and Downright Thoughts…” pages whilst creating groups, links, and other various sites that could house the project. After a year of flirting with this, getting distracted, and tossing around failed ideas, I’ve decided that it’s best to minimize the effort. All things will just be coming from J.C.L. Faltot at this point. Done and done.

It feels good to finally put that in writing. Ideally, it would have been nice to come up with this plan earlier but that’s just how we live and learn. So into the funnel I go and as I do, I enter with the hope that what comes out of the funnel will be worthwhile for the new year.

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.