Begin the Begin

20171031_184458~01~01.jpgI’m sitting here at my desk with a cup of coffee to hand, thinking up fantastic stories that will hopefully come to fruition in the next 30 days. It’s dark outside and I feel like utter crap, but my brain won’t shut down for the night. That’s because November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and I am once again taking on the daunting task of writing 50,000 words in a month. This is my sixth year doing NaNo, but there was a time when I never thought I’d ever even attempt it.

For a long time I was simply a writer of short works: short stories and poems were my forte, and I didn’t stray too far from those. They were creature comforts for me, as reliable as Old Yeller and much cuddlier. People would sometimes ask me if I was ever going to try and write a novel, and I would laugh at them. “Why would I stretch outside my comfort zone?” For me it was an easy answer, because for me it was all about doing what was easy back then.

My wife, upon hearing that I was gearing up for yet another NaNoWriMo, good-heartedly joked, “So we won’t see you for the next month.” On some level that’s about the extent of it, honestly, because NaNo takes a singular commitment. It means setting word limits every single day and hitting those word limits, come sleet, snow, or hail… you know, or even the dreaded writer’s block. It’s particularly tricky when faced with all that life likes to throw in the way, but that’s also what makes it so satisfying. When I look up on November 30 and realize I’ve surpassed 50,000 words in one month I raise my hands high like a fighter who has gone 12 rounds with a behemoth.

So I’m ready to begin again, but this time will be different from the ones that have preceded it. For one, I won’t be writing something directly from scratch. With every other NaNo I came into it with some ideas but nothing really set in stone. This time, though, I’m writing a sequel, which is a first for me. I’ve never written any kind of series, for probably the same reason I hadn’t written a full novel until seven years ago. Once I had the idea of writing a novel under my belt it became relatively easy to write with that in mind. But a series… well, it takes that much more commitment and an ability to take your characters and seamlessly slide them into another world, even if it’s the same world.

I guess it would have made more sense to just write 200,000 words in one shot, then separate all those words into two or three separate books, but I can’t imagine writing that way. For me every book has to have a beginning and an end, and splitting something in the middle seems just a tad bit wrong. Besides, now that I’m up for challenging myself, why not add on some more pressure? Maybe I should have waited until my 10th NaNo to attempt it, but I’m feeling like it’s time now.

Which reminds me, I’m tackling this as a YA series, something else I’ve never really done before (the first book hasn’t been released yet). It’s fascinating to me to write something so foreign to me, and yet I absolutely adored the first volume in the series. I knew while I was writing it that I wasn’t done with the characters, but I never thought far ahead enough to know exactly where I would take them next. Or where they would take me next.

I have a title, and that’s a start. I also have a chronology that I’m thinking will go in the beginning of every book in the series. It’s a start indeed. And first thing tomorrow I’m going to begin the beginning, as I attempt to string thread from where the first book ended off to where this one enters in. My thoughts have gone many places, from when I first decided to attempt to do this, to right now on the verge of actually digging in. Either I will get through it or I won’t.

But I think I will. Now I just need to begin.


Shades of Gray

“If I see everything in gray, and in gray all the colors which I experience and which I would like to reproduce, then why should I use any other color?” ~Alberto Giacomettii

I often like to think of things as black and white, as if things are clear when they’re not. I often like to imagine there are two roads that diverge and that I have to pick one path. Anything else is just too convoluted for my brain to process. But that’s not how the world works. Things aren’t always black and white. In fact, things are rarely black and white. This world operates in shades of gray that are many and varied.

When I was a kid I remember my dad telling me the world was what I made of it, and I recall thinking that just didn’t sound right. For one, I noticed the world was moving on regardless of me, despite what I did to make it stop so I could examine it closely with my magnifying glass. For another, I saw that there were bad things in the world that kept on happening even though I wished it some other way. The world wasn’t what I made of it, any more than an ant disturbing an anthill. I could make my paths in it, but the dirt would eventually fill in again in my wake.

I don’t even remember when I met my first white person, but I do recall thinking their skin wasn’t as flawless as I thought it would be. They weren’t perfect reflections of the driven snow, and neither was I so different from them. Not really. Not where it really counted. And yet there was that division, as if we were indeed diametrically opposed just by sheer force of nature. I remember thinking then that I must be missing something, that I had been led astray by word of mouth, by overwhelming acceptance of a truth that wasn’t true. When I asked about it, my dad told me that’s what he meant when he said the world was what I made of it, that I had to see with my own eyes instead of believing the collective consciousness of others.

I haven’t learned much from my dad in my life, I’ll admit, but that is one that has stuck with me over these 40 years of life. The idea of seeing things with my own eyes before making up my mind, the thought that not everything is as plain as others make it out to be, that is priceless. Of course back then I didn’t see it. My adolescent brain went the complete opposite way, instead making things black instead of the pristine white I had thought it all fit into previously. To me what he meant was that the tiny sliver of the world I had seen was the way the world was. It wasn’t until much later that I realized he meant instead that I shouldn’t judge just based on my limited world view. That I should add to that world view, that I should make it individual, that I should keep adjusting my view based on each and every situation.

Or maybe he didn’t mean that at all. I’ve never really asked him about it. Perhaps he meant something entirely different, that he wanted me simply to not be so pompous about my own ideas. But I like to think he was warning me about compartmentalizing, about placing things in little boxes and thinking they would stay there for all time, letting them decay in places where they didn’t belong. And I took black and white literally back then anyway, trying to piece together my understanding of the world through the lens of the racial divide. Maybe that’s why it took me so much longer to see that it had nothing to do with race, that it had to do with me instead.

0a3cacdad4c3ef943382ee737e9230f4Seeing the world in shades of gray means allowing for that variance that inadvertently yet overwhelmingly permeates the world, for that trick of the light that changes light gray to dark in the blink of an eye. It means consciously considering that what I see now doesn’t always have to stay the same. It means not making up my mind arbitrarily but taking everything into account when considering anything. And it does fit in with my ideas of white people that have shifted dramatically since that first encounter so many years ago. Because it’s not about white people at all, not about good vs. evil in the least. It’s about looking at everything individually, at not judging at all, because judging means preconceived notions and prejudice.

And that goes for everything in life. It’s why I often have friends who aren’t “socially acceptable,” why I do what I enjoy even when I know it makes me look silly, because life is short, and to paint it in black and white just never does it justice. I try my best to see things in shades of gray because I hope others see me in similar shades. I try my best to see things in shades of gray because I think I finally understand what that means.


The New House

“We’re heading home,” I told my youngest daughter, and she gave me the broadest smile. It’s the one that shows all her teeth, and my favorite as well. There’s just something about her showing enjoyment that warms my heart.

While still smiling, she responded, “To the new house, dad.” And — you know — she’s right. We were heading to the new house, which is our home.

bee4fa54e8953da02a57738c9e1a4c05--doodle-quotes-short-quotesWe were boarders for 18 months, caught in the circadian rhythms of another household, of another system. It was the longest I’ve ever held my breath, waiting for it all to end, to finally be in our new house. And here we are, ready to take on another fall and another winter, our first of both seasonal varieties ensconced in our dream made real.

Madeline likes to call it “the new house,” and I correct her by saying it’s “home,” but perhaps we are both right. I think she likes knowing it as “the new house” because it helps her distinguish it from the other places we’ve lived. It reminds me once again how her brain works, of the organizational structure with which she lives her life. For her everything is cut and dry, black and white, stark in its edges with nothing on the margins. This is the new house now because it wasn’t here before, and now it is. And now we live here.

But she doesn’t change her designations either. It is the new house now, and that much is true, but in four or five years’ time it won’t be so new anymore, but to her it will still be the new house. To her it will still be the new one because it can never be the old one, and I love the way her brain sees it. It’s as simple as can be, this reliance on a phraseology that distinguishes for the moment but also for forever. I wonder what she would call this place if we ever moved again.

I told a friend today, when she asked how the new house was treating us, that waiting to be in was endless, but now that we are in I can’t really remember not living here. It’s the same way with my children. That’s probably the only thing I can really compare it to, life before my kids getting hazier by the second. I think it’s because this house, just like my children, is a permanent part of my life now, because now all of my memories from here on in will include this house in some way, shape, or form.

It’s the new house because it has transformed us by being here, from some transients into a family with a stable homestead. It’s the new house because Madeline has deemed it thus, and I’m overjoyed to accept her label. And in four or five or twenty years’ time, when she’s still calling it the new house, I will still smile because she will be as right then as she is now.


Apologies & Excuses

“Never ruin an apology with an excuse.” ~Unknown

I’m sorry, but…

I’m sorry; however…

These are never good ways to show that you’re truly repentant. Believe me. I’m accomplished in the “qualified apology,” the idea that any apology has to come along with an excuse. But that pretty much negates the apology. See, an apology is your way of accepting blame for whatever happened. An excuse is a way of denying blame for whatever happened. You can see how the two cannot possibly jibe, how they can be confusing and destroy the point of an apology in the first place.

I’m sorry. I was wrong. I take full responsibility for whatever happened.

I know it’s hard, too. As human beings, we are hard wired to look for the way out, to see how anyone else, how anything else, could have had a part in whatever happened, in whatever went horribly wrong. I’ve been there more times than I want to take credit for, but here I am, taking credit, or blame, however you want to look at it. No one else is responsible for the decisions I make, and I learned that the hard way. There’s no surer teacher than the hard way.

There was this one time I really liked a girl (don’t all quality stories begin this way?) so I lied to her about having exclusive Dave Matthews Band fan club tickets. Of course I figured I could join the fan club the next day, get some tickets, and no one would be any the wiser. Unfortunately the exclusive tickets for the show were already gone by the time I signed up, but instead of fessing up I got in deeper. I bought a regular ticket and gave it to her, telling her it was the exclusive one, then lied about meeting her there later.

Of course the tickets were nosebleed section, and of course I was no where near when she inevitably found this out. I don’t know what I was thinking, honestly. All I can say was that I was hoping she was dumb enough to A) accept that fan club tickets just aren’t as cool as they claim to be, and B) accept my excuse for not being there. She wasn’t dumb at all, it turns out, and the next time I saw her after the concert she ripped me a new one. I apologized then, of course, but it was way too late, and we pretty much never spoke again.

If only I had just told her I was sorry I lied about the fan club tickets ahead of time perhaps I could have salvaged a friendship. And when I did finally apologize it was with the patented excuses built in. I said how much I liked her and wanted her to think I was an exclusive kind of person. I said how I really did try to get exclusive tickets after the fact, how I spent a lot on the regular ticket… just for her. And did that get me anywhere? No. All she did was say that if I really liked her then I should have just trusted her with the information.

Because those excuses were never really for her. They were so that I didn’t feel so horrible about myself for what I did. But that’s just it. I needed to feel bad about what I did. I needed to let it all out and let the chips fall where they would. It was my fault, and I needed to take responsibility for it instead of thinking of excuses, instead of trying to rely on excuses to get me out of taking that responsibility. It never works, and even if it does all it does it reinforce the idea that I wouldn’t have to take responsibility.

You can be assured I learned from that experience. That doesn’t mean I didn’t apologize with excuses after that in other situations. I’m sad to say that I did. But it did mean I was aware of it, and eventually I was able to cut out the excuses. The more times we do something and don’t receive the desired effects… the more we learn. Now, when I apologize, I take all the blame. I lay it all out there and take the consequences. Because that’s what I would want in return.


Judge Not.

Why do we feel the insane need to judge others? Why can’t we simply enjoy our own lives and let others enjoy theirs? Or at the very least why can’t we just leave others alone? Meddling has become an art form. I swear it has. There’s just something so… American about getting all up in somebody else’s business, and making our home there, whether we’re welcome or not.

I honestly don’t know where I was going with that. It’s just that way too often lately I’m reminded that we don’t know everything about others, that we judge them based on what we think we see, but we don’t have the full picture. Because we think the world should revolve around us we see things through the lens that IS us, through our own experiences and the way we would do things.

But others are not us. They have their own lives, their own circumstances, and their own thoughts. They do things their way, whether we like it or not, because they don’t live their lives for us. So even when we think we know better, we need to remind ourselves that we don’t, that it’s their choice to make. We need to remind ourselves that we are mere pebbles in the stream, all working to find purchase.

We often judge because we either don’t understand, or we misinterpret. How often have you seen the show where the audience knows what the main characters are talking about but the entire half hour is spent with them upset with each other because of misinterpretation? Or the Shakespeare play where each Act builds on the previous one, and almost leads to absolute ruin before the characters realize they’ve judged all wrong. Oops.

Yet it’s not just judging based on misinformation, or on a lack of understanding, or even on our misguided perception. It’s judging based on preconceived notions of entire groups. I see way too much lately in my feed about how, “Republicans are douchebags who care more about their guns than about other people.” And I see way too many instances of, “Those stupid democrats know that gun laws won’t stop killing, right?”

Which is precisely why we continue to have this divide. Why can’t we all just get together to say that what happened was WRONG, that it should never have happened, that we need to ALL figure out a way to stop these things from happening.

Because I haven’t gotten numb to this kind of violence. Each instance fills me with a sense of dread, of a deep sadness that threatens to overrun my soul, thinking of how far humanity still has to come… together. I will never be numb to this kind of violence, but I will also not take out my anger and sadness on others. All that does is foster the same kind of atmosphere that led these people to believe that was the answer, that led these people to think that was the only way they could make some kind of statement.

I won’t judge them. I will judge their deeds, which were heinous, and I will mourn those who lost their lives, and the ones who were left behind.

This is not about democrats or republicans, about agendas and gun lobbies. This is about humanity, about the ongoing fight for relevance that will never end while there are people around who breathe. Because humanity has always been about judging others, about making ourselves out to be better than whomever, about survival of the fittest. Humanity has always been about getting over, getting by, by any means necessary. Of course as we have progressed it has become easier to take out our aggression on those we judge, who judge us in return.

This is human nature. That’s why it’s such a fight to be nice, not to judge others, to be quality human beings. That’s why people say they “strive” to be good, because it’s something we have to strive for, because human nature is not good. It’s in our nature to be our base selves, to demean others just for the sake of demeaning them. It’s in our nature to get pleasure from belittling those around us in order to raise ourselves up. We push them down so that we can rise.

But it’s wrong. It’s wrong to hold others down, to wish the worst for them, to judge them for what they cannot help. To judge them for who they are. Because we are just as bad. We are just as responsible for the things we do as they are, for the times we have judged others when we haven’t been innocent ourselves. We need to come together, not to take pleasure in discord. We need to learn the lessons from all these acts of violence, because contrary to popular opinion, they’re not senseless. It’s only when we can learn from them, when we try to make sense of the chaos, that we can truly progress, that humanity can learn its lesson.

I think back to Klebold and Harris, names that will forever be etched in my consciousness, and I feel sorry for them. I feel sorry for their victims, a category the two of them also fit into, and I grieve even today. The same is true of every single instance between then and now, between Columbine and Vegas, and for all the instances to come, because I know it’s not over. I don’t judge those who did this, nor those who paid the ultimate price. I don’t pray for them or for their souls either. Prayer is not going to help anything or anyone. It’s only when we stop saying we are helpless, that we couldn’t have done anything, only then when we can truly make a difference.

Because making a difference doesn’t mean praying. It doesn’t mean banding together to send money and supplies to the victims. It means making connections with others every day, so that no one falls through the cracks. It means getting people with issues some honest to goodness help, not just paying the whole thing lip service and then shaking our heads when bad things happen. “Not on our watch,” we tell ourselves, because we honestly think we were watching and trying to help. This is a method of patting ourselves on the back, on saying how good we are when we’ve done absolutely nothing.

Then we sit back, and we judge them. Even worse, we judge those around us, the whole rhetoric of democrat vs. republican just window dressing for the two sides that can’t be separated so cleanly — good and evil. Because everyone has the capacity for both. After all, it’s human nature. So we must fight human nature every second of every day. We must try to make a difference.

And it starts with no more judging. No more.


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