Archive for June 2012

The Can/Can't Mind Game


Much of my anxiety is a head game. Someone asks me to do something, or tells me to do something, or encourages me to do something and I respond: “I can't.”

I don't always respond to them verbally, but even if I only think “I can't,” it is debilitating.

“I can't.” Not even “I won't.” “I can't.”

If it were “I won't” then it would be a choice, either laziness or assertiveness, but my decision.

“I can't” is saying it's not my choice, that it's out of my hands, that I'm doomed, fated to what I am.

While meditating I was thinking about the opposite of “I can't”: “I can.”

“I can” is pregnant with possibility. It's not quite as dominant as “I will” (the opposite of “I won't”) but it's quite powerful in its own right. I realized that so much of my anxiety is saying “I can't,” and believing it! Then someone says “do this,” and I think, “I can't,” and this thought pulls me in the opposite direction of where that person is leading me. It's a tug of war that causes much unneeded stress, fear, worry, instability, uncertainty, anger, and guilt.

It creates pain in the brain. But when I exclaim, “I can,” I may not ever do the thing in question, but I no longer feel the pain. I am free.

I also realized (though I'm not going to take credit for it, because any cognitive psychologist should be able to tell you the same thing) that the more I say “I can't,” the more I won't. And the more I say “I can,” the more I will. Each leads to its own conclusion, and giving up and saying “I can't,” is like closing a million doors of possibility all at once. “I can,” does not close doors. It may not necessarily shove me through any (“I will” will do that), but it leaves all opportunities open and acclimates me to facing the world.

This is the mind game then: If I leave these doors open and believe that a thing is at least possible, it makes that thing easier, and therefore less daunting. If I close these doors, I must face the reality that everything is too difficult—and so everything will be daunting.

If this was advice to give I would say just this: “Do yourself a favor. You don't have to go through any of these doorways, but at least don't close the doors. Don't lock yourself out of life. Don't give up. Keep the door open, even if it's only ajar, and wait. Practice, repeat over and over that you can, and wait. Sooner or later an opportunity will arise that you will want to take advantage of, an opportunity that you would be forced to miss if you closed any one of these doors.”

I of course need no guinea pig for this. I have myself. The advice is for me. But take it if you want it. I bet it will work for many things, not just anxiety. Leave these doors open in your education, in your vocation, in your personal life.

Live as if all the world is your playground.

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Blood not Thicker than Friendship


I am very thankful for the Internet. I will never take it for granted. It is a window into the lives of others, and a window for others into my life, and because of this, I am and have always been able (and always hope to be able) to connect with other human beings on a deeper, more personal level than I've found possible to do in real life.

Sunday was Father's Day, and Father's Day is always a reminder that my father never lived up to my expectations of fatherhood. I haven't spoken to my dad in nearly 7 years. For different reasons, I speak less and less with those on my mother's side of the family, people I live in close proximity to.

I cut my father out of my life because of the way he treated me, and I feel as if my mother's family is cutting me out of their lives. It's depressing—I feel like a wall flower, I feel taken for granted and neglected. I have tried to insert myself into their lives, but for many reasons it has not worked. I have an incredible gift of intelligence, passion, and creativity, but as far as my family is concerned, it matters not. They seem to only be able to judge me by my past, searching hard for examples of my present to justify their beliefs. To them, people don't change. (I admit, freely, that I was very annoying, talkative, too passionate for people who simmer on an emotional low.)

I am a Taoist, I temper my expectations as much as I can (and try to temper my mouth), having minimal expectations as often as possible, but where my family is concerned, I have failed. Failed both in not having expectations, and apparently being the person they want me to be. Like them: low key.

I don't do enough gossiping, I'm far too intellectual (this can be a real negative, especially when I'm in a talkative mood or “think” a lot—it's obnoxious, even to me), and quite frankly, we have nothing in common. You've heard it before, children should be seen and not heard. I'm an adult, and the rule still applies.

I have felt depressed about this, hopeless. I feel I can, and should, give up. To stop trudging forward through life with my head up.

Or I can turn to where I'm appreciated, turning to those who want me to speak my mind, to those who enjoy it!

That is on the Internet. Google+ has become a home away from home for me, not in the sense that I spend all my time there (I limit my networking activity to no more than a couple hours a day), but because the people there have become friends, and some have become more than friends—gaining my respect and trust.

I must refrain from expectations here as well, building these relationships to a point others cannot live up to. I must live for myself, and not judge my personal worth by what others say, do, or think (whether it's my family or anyone else). But it's nice to feel loved, even by people who were strangers to me just a few months ago.

I am a black sheep, but I am not alone—and black sheep must flock together (though it's unlikely that we will flock in lockstep; we're black sheep after all!). We have only each other. Our families, sometimes for the same reason, sometimes for different ones, have let us down. We are too different, relative to our blood relations. They have hurt us. They have in some cases abandoned us, or we have abandoned them, or both. But being black sheep, we have something in common with each other that holds us together a little more tightly than the tenuous lines of blood.

Blood may very well be thicker than water, but it can't parch the thirst of the soul.

The internet is incredible because it allows us to come together, those who would not have otherwise known each other due to the great limitations of time and space. In the past, most people have been stuck with those they've grown up with and live with. Times have changed, and there is a great deal of flexibility in human relationship these days.

On Google+ I wrote a short post that summed up my feelings. After I wrote it I was reaffirmed by the incredibly passionate thread, the comments by people I consider friends—my allies in life.

I am not alone. I may not be the right person for those who brought me into this world, but I am not trapped to them. I can grow, I am my own person, and I can find others who are like me, who not only can accept me, but want to. I still love my family, even (if not especially) my father. Yet I understand that some things just aren't meant to be. It's impossible to make others like us and still practice any sort of integrity.

Being rejected by family is not an end. Far from it. It is a beginning. It is an open door into a wider world. Instead of being something that I am burdened with (as I have treated these feelings in the past), this rejection is the push I need to be who I am destined to be.

Myself.

So here's to living comfortably in my own skin (and you in yours), and not resenting those who would have me change for them, and never taking for granted those who like me just the way I am.

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The Success of Spontaneity


When I talk of spontaneity to those hard-set in the ways of Western culture, the door is often slammed in my face. Of course this is no real door, but the door to their minds, because in our culture spontaneity is synonymous with idleness and a life without goals, and many people have already closed their minds to other possibilities.

To let things be what they are, to let come what may come, and to ride the wind conjures visions of bohemians, hippies, gypsies, and bums.

Not someone with goals, with a plan, with motivation, passion and drive to get from point A to point B.

I find myself spending a lot of time refuting this concept of spontaneity. I refute the claim because it's not true. Or, more specifically, it does not have to be true. In fact, spontaneity may lead to even more goals, plans, motivations, passions, and drives—for the right person.

What do I mean by the right person? Some of us go about success in the wrong way. We try to force it. We work very hard, living on our to-do lists, and expecting to get as much out of the system as we put in. When things don't go our way, we end up frustrated and dejected because this way of operation is cold and offers very little satisfaction—it merely turns real life into an assembly line procedure. We continue on with our to-do list, but with less motivation, more than likely losing the spark we began with.

The surest way to avoid this inevitable let-down inherent to our system of “productivity > enjoyment” is to venture from the regular path, to trust that we will fly when we do.

I feel as though I live a very spontaneous life. I still have goals, but I am not tied down to them. I am free to leave my feet when the spirit takes me, to go headlong into the unknown. If I were simply living life by my to-do list I would not venture. I would stick to the list.

Living a spontaneous life means living in a way that the list, if you have one (and I almost always do), is not the end-all, be-all of reality. It's accepting our human need for creativity and exploration. Yet spontaneity is not completely discarding the old forms.

When we have passion for a thing, it is very easy to spend time with it. I have passion for exercise. I do not need to keep a detailed to-do list when it comes to running. I just run. I do so often when I have passion. Many times in my life I have found that when I try to control how I run, the distance, the time, and the harder I control these things, the less joy I get out of running—and therefore the less I run. Despite detailed goals, I am less motivated. When I just run, I run farther and faster than I would if I approached running as a chore. I still carry a stop-watch with me, and I still try to improve from one run to the next, but I don't grow moody if I don't. I don't make myself. It happens of itself.

Spontaneity increases passion because it does away with our culture's have-to's. With more passion, we do not have to guard our steps. We can trust ourselves to do what we love, because we love doing it, and there are few things we'd rather do otherwise.

The argument against this tends to be “What if I find I don't have the passion, even if I live spontaneously?” My response: “Then why do it?”

We need money to survive in this world. We must eat, clothe, and house ourselves. Yet how we make that money is entirely up to what we enjoy doing. If you don't want to work in a cubicle, don't. If you don't want to be ABC, but would rather do XYZ, do what you must to get to that point. But do so spontaneously. Don't try to out-think life. Don't try to trick the system. Don't do a thing for any other reason than that you find joy in doing it.

When there is joy—joy borne of spontaneity—there is a way, a living, a life.

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Amina and Zen, "Sacrifice" Excerpt


Below is something I wrote tonight. Unedited fresh copy for book 2 of The Czar Chronicles: Sacrifice. I'm slowly beginning to get into the story again after a much needed break, and am starting to do some outlining and thinking about what my goals for the novel are. I particularly enjoyed writing this piece, so I'd like to share it as an excerpt.

Critiques are welcomed, praise is welcomed. If you hate it, let me know, but tell me why.


~*~


She wasn't sure she could put up with Zen's innocence, with his apparent disregard for maturity. And yet something was drawing her toward him, something greater than the simple bond they shared—that of being creatures.

Amina Fay felt as though she could love the boy, and yet that's what she thought of him. A boy. A few months shy of his eighteenth birthday, a lanky thing though tall and with broad shoulders. In ten years he would fill out and he would look formidable. And he would fill out, as he continued to grow, because Zen was not like she was. He was still human, at least half so.

She was all dead. She didn't even breathe. She ate only one thing, blood, and she could get it from only one source, another living, breathing human being.

She crossed from the cellar stairway to the shop's front door, walking slowly, pressing her left hand against the textures of the bookshelf. Outside it was still light, but darkness was coming soon. She could feel it. She felt it even in the eternal darkness of the sewers Zen had saved her from. She knew when the sun sank and the sun rose as any human would know when it was time to wake or go to sleep.

She had been tempted to leave him. To slink back to her sewer or finally use this opportunity of leaving Zen to leave the city itself, to return to her origin, to renew the search of the man who had made her. But something stayed her. Zen.

She knew it, as she knew when the sun was beginning to set, feeling the vibrations of the planet, that he was one of a kind. She was also one of a kind. There may only be the two of them left—the witches had done their job well.

She had to stay close to him. If she left, would she ever find him again? If she stayed, would she ever have to leave?

Amina turned her head to the stairway, to the noise descending from the darkness above. The sky had grown pink, the sun no longer reflecting off the buildings outside the window. Zen came to stand by the window and his body was like a brightened shadow before her. Her eyes adjusted to the growing darkness and her true senses came to the forefront. She saw him in a way no one else had ever seen him. In the darkness he was not human, his body giving up a faint glow that only her heightened senses could detect.

“What are you going to do?” he asked.

“About what?” Oh she was so stupid! Beating around a bush like a girl less than his age.

“Will you leave like you said you would? Will you stay...”

He was beating around the same bush, she knew. He could not say what was on his mind. He could not finish his own sentence—with me.

“I intend to stay, Zen. For now. But I need to eat. It's been nearly a week since I came here and I have not eaten, and I'm starting to feel a little thin.”

“Clara said—”

“Oh, to hell with Clara!” She reached out and grabbed Zen's hard arm, harder than appearances suggested, stronger than anyone would have guessed. She squeezed his arm until she almost imagined the pain flaring up in her own tightened fist. She dug her nails into his skin.

He did not flinch. His jaw, set like stone, hardened.

She would have eaten him if only the sight of his green eyes staring down at her didn't move her with...passion.

“I must eat, and I do not care what she thinks, I do not care if it's dangerous. It is more dangerous if I go into a starving coma.”

“I understand,” he said. He took his free hand and gently placed it over Amina's wrist, and she let go. “But look, if you're going to feed, let's do it this way.”

“What way?”

“Don't kill anyone who doesn't deserve it,” Zen said suddenly, a smile erupting upon his face. She was looking at his arm, the bruise she had left there, and when she looked up the grin was still evident, glowing. “Let's hunt us up one of Czar's men.”

Yes, let's, she thought. “And where do you suppose they will be? It's far easier nabbing a vagrant in the alleys than it is breaking into a nightclub and kidnapping someone as important as one of Czar's henchmen.”

“I know of a place. I can take you there, tonight. We can leave when the sun fades.”

She loved him. She knew it then. And she knew why. Despite his innocence, despite his youth and immaturity, he understood her needs. He knew what it was like to be a creature. Clara and Tom couldn't fathom it. No one could—but for him.

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A Ray of Light

A Ray of Light Does Not Vanish into Darkness

No man has lived a more fulfilled life.
...and we are sad that he has gone?
Flying into the sun as he has, and his wings unmelted?
Nothing could he have achieved by staying a moment longer.
And you hold his spirit to us with grief?
Not a second will I waste in mourning, not for an Immortal.

I have been at the top of ecstasy, refusing sadness, refusing tears. Smiling, joyous.
Ray Bradbury is dead, you say? A great lie, that is.

You're sad because he is gone?
How dare you take him for granted!
Lift your head up, celebrate.

If ever there was a man worthy of celebration,
not because he has died, but because he has lived
--lived more deeply than you or I can fathom--
that man is Ray Bradbury.

Do not waste an ounce of life on grief.
Ray Bradbury has gone to the stars.
He needs only your Godspeeds and applause
as a chorus and rhythm to the echoes of eternity.

Love him. Share him. You cannot forget him.
You will always have him, and he will always be there for us.

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The Sounds of Oppression


Someone had said that they enjoyed all things “Southern” but found it weird that they didn't listen to country music. To me it makes perfect sense, because there's little “country” about the South. Country music is a product of Nashville and Texas, and to a larger extent the Midwest (Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, etc., or certainly this is where most of the listeners are from).

The United States is a vast place, and differs greatly from one location to another. To me the “South” is Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, maybe South Carolina and Northern Florida (for Southern Florida, especially Miami, is in its own universe). Texas is more Western than any other state, and is distinctly not Southern. Tennessee and other middle states are quite the same, something a little different.

What is the music of the South? Southern rock, of course! As well as rap, jazz, and the blues. The African American influence on the world is incredible. The South, whether it be New Orleans or Atlanta, has had a huge impact on several prominent forms of music. There would be no Led Zeppelin without the 1940s and 50s blues musicians—there would be no rock n roll!

There are some places which supersede their surroundings. New York City is far different from New England or the Northeast. Los Angeles and Hollywood seem alien settings adrift in California's beautiful mountainous regions, forests, and deserts. Nashville is nothing like anywhere else. New Orleans and Miami are no more Southern than Fargo or Chicago are. Speaking of Chicago, it dwarfs the rest of the Midwest, a strange artifact, an international conglomerate in the middle of farmland for as far as one can drive in a day. And yet not all great American cities can claim the same grandness. Boston seems to be quintessential New England and Atlanta is the South. Seattle is to the Northeast as apples are to pie.

And yet these cities are at least unique compared to one another, and it is in these “unique” cities where many of the groundbreaking musical evolutions have come from, and these revolutions are both a product of their city's uniqueness and also mother to that uniqueness. Rock stars in L. A., country music superstars in Nashville, the blues and jazz in New Orleans.

So I do not see the South as a place of country music. When I think of the South I think of black men playing horns and pressing their strong fingers against some of the first electric guitar strings. When I think of the South I think of the precursor to “rock,” both in England and in the South itself (whether it's The Rolling Stones or Lynyrd Skynyrd), not to mention the West coast. The South has a sound, and that sound has a lot to do with the hardships of tilling the land, not on green tractors, but with the hands that later free men would put to use on instruments quite different from plows.

The South is all about music. Or, rather, music is everything to the South. But what kind of music is it?

It's the music of pain, of being put down and kept down. It's no coincidence that the downtrodden youth of the 1960s, be it in America or England, related to the blues masters of the 1950s. There is a distinct trend of oppression from society throughout both musical genres.

When I speak of oppression I am not talking of slavery, but of being singled out for the way you look, act, and feel. There are few people today who can relate or truly understand what it was like to be a slave, but there are millions who know what it's like to be oppressed. Oppression is as general a human emotion as fear or joy. Kurt Cobain understood oppression, as did Keith Moon.

This oppression, as far as I can tell, has not existed in country music for decades—not since, perhaps, Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn. Otherwise country music is about more wholesome topics. Losing or winning the girl, riding the ranges, painting a sound to go with the picturesque ideals of Midwestern America.

In African American culture there is still a heavy, lingering memory of oppression. It is visible in rap and hip hop.

Counterculture in the 1960s ran headlong into oppression. The blues artists of the previous decade were born from it. It is no more unique to the South than rocks are unique to mountains. Yet the South harbored it, erupted it, and from there its music spread across land and sea.

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The ABCs of Specific Goals


I practiced something in November, December, January, February, and March that I have not bothered with at all through April and May, and I feel that this is largely the difference in productivity in the first five months, and the lack of productivity in the last two months.

The difference is not the goals that I set, but how I've managed those goals. In other words, the goals are the same, but I've stopped making daily, specific to-do lists, have stopped biting off little chunks of each goal, and have settled for a more abstract direction.

It was “Do ABC for XYZ.”

Then it became only “Do XYZ.”

Without the specific goals (the ABC), I have had trouble understanding exactly what I need to do each day, and more often than not, I've done nothing.

Having future goals as opposed to present goals is important, but future goals are usually going to be more abstract. “Finish your novel” is not very concrete, whereas “Rewrite chapter 1 on Monday” feels specific and tangible. I can bite into it!

With nothing but abstract goals, I get lost, unsure of what to do, where to go, how to do what I need to do. Following daily, specific goals helps me break down the tasks and get to where I'm headed. Just checking off a list each day is a great motivation and provides the extra oomph! of feeling accomplished.

For the last two months I've only had the goal of getting a few stories and a few nonfiction books done. The deadline was by the end of this year. Very vague, of course. And as a result, I've managed to write one rough draft of one of the nonfiction books, and rewrite one short story, woeful production compared to what I was grinding out in December and January. 

In the first five months I managed to publish a novel, two short stories, posted blog posts regularly at three a week, and market all of that.

I at first thought this was due to the hangover of editing and publishing my first novel. But then something happened on Sunday. While meditating, I had ideas for several blog posts. I wrote them down in the form of a to-do list, and later that evening I wrote the rough drafts of those ideas, and managed to complete one other task besides.

Voila! I suddenly had one of the most successful and productive days in weeks, no longer struggling to figure out what to do. I had my work cut out for me, and with clear direction, I found the work easier.

The same happens when I write rough drafts or work on rewrites. If I have an outline to go by, some direction, I'm a much faster writer. I can then manage 5,000 words a day, sometimes even 10,000 words. Without a detailed outline, I can cover just 1,000 or 2,000 words in any given day.

This is a perfect example of my output for five months compared to the two. November through March were each “5,000 words a day” months. April and May have been “1,000 words a day” months. That's a 5:1 ratio. I was five times more productive then than I am now. Shocking!

And all because I was keeping specific goals. Hard to believe I can reach my destination faster with a map than without one, right?

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