Exploring Sex – Not You, Your Kids

Teenagers

Emma Coats’ Writing Basic #17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

I bet there’s not one writer who doesn’t already know this truth, or actually anyone past the age of three. Everything we do, all experiments and everything learned from them adds to the mix of personal creation.

End of article.

Oh yeah, there’s something else I’ve mentioned before – every mistake is beneficial and actually needed to reach our goals. We must know what fails before we can discover what works. Sometimes we get hurt in the discovery, but that’s life. No way around it.

End of article.

Wait-a-minute… There’s that thing about moving on when something fails, like an idea, an assumption, a process, solution, or a material thing put together. There is no justifiable excuse for keeping something in place when it simply isn’t true, doesn’t operate, doesn’t apply to the problem and goals, or is just too clunky to efficiently accomplish its task.

End of article. Or…maybe not.

Perhaps there’s more to say about holding on to stuff that’s not functioning well, even though it may have done its job in the past. And I bet you already figured out I’m not talking about writing anymore and maybe this is where YOU want to end this article. Maybe you don’t need to be reminded about change and evolution. If you’re liberal, you already glide with the trends or move ahead of them. And if you’re striving to conserve established ways and means, you don’t want me trying to change your mind about anything.

End of article. But still…

There may be one subject you’ll want to read about – parents and their teenage children. I’m going to talk about young people exploring sex for the first time and what their parents should do about that…or not do. And since I’ve never raised children myself, I’m obviously the utmost authority on that subject. And now you’re thinking…

End of article. But wait…

I have been a teenager exploring sex for the first time, and I have had parents laying down rules, and I did participate in the 70’s sexual revolution shifting from one paradigm to another. So I know what I’m writing about. If you don’t believe me, for you, this is the…

End of article.

But for those who are still reading, here’s my father-daughter true story.

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father_w_teenage_daughterI have an acquaintance who I occasionally encounter through mutual friends. I will call him Dan. Dan lives in Florida as a public defender, an occupation I wholly respect. Four years ago, when his daughter was fourteen and his son was eight, the three of them came to visit my wife and me. Dan was going through a divorce at the time. His wife had left the family.

During their stay, with the kids watching TV in the next room, I asked Dan if rearing two children alone was difficult. His daughter, I’ll call her Beth, would soon be dating and I was curious about how Dan would deal with that.

Dan was adamant. He would not allow Beth to befriend any boy, no matter how casual, without his approval. And he certainly would not allow sex between them. He knew what all boys wanted, (he was one once) and his daughter would NOT be their conquered Snow White.

Now Beth was fourteen and I could understand her father’s protective instincts. But Dan was angry, as if he resented having to stand guard against every teenage penis on the planet. This conversation was uncomfortable. I never forgot it.

After four years of no connection, last week I got an unexpected call from Dan. It was business related but I switched the topic to his daughter since I calculated she was now eighteen and would soon be leaving for college. I was right, and I asked Dan how he felt about the separation. Dan said that he and Beth had had a father/daughter sex-talk and in Dan’s words, “She got it.” The following is what Dan thought she got:

Sex is a commodity, like gold, silver or corn. And like anything else offered for market, it’s subject to supply and demand with the subsequent rise and fall of value. The more sex Beth awards, the less she will be valued. However, she can’t keep her sexual favors entirely off the market because then she will have no value. So she must be discreet, keeping her sexual experiences limited and her value up – but not so limited that she’ll disappoint a potential husband after graduation.

On the surface Dan’s words sound like practical advice. And if female birth control and condoms didn’t exist, these directives might save a lot of grief. But we don’t live in 1955 anymore and in this country something called the Feminine Liberation exploded in the 60’s and continues to this day. Not everywhere of course, but in most college hang-outs, dorm rooms, apartments and the back seats of cars.

College Kids on LawnDan finished our conversation by noting that Beth’s current boyfriend (or friend who happens to be a young man) is “safe” and on his Approved List. The teen is “safe” because Dan thinks he’s gay and he mentioned that to Beth. Now she’s leaving for college in a rage, and according to Dan, she hates her father.

He can’t understand why. He has nothing against homosexuals. Gays make loyal friends, and they won’t try anything. Why would Beth be upset about that?

I’m pretty sure I know why Beth’s upset, even deeply hurt. Here’s what Dan doesn’t understand.

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Sexuality is not a dessert we give out as a reward, although we can. Sexuality is how we FEEL and what we ARE. And yes, as parents we can suppress our child’s sexuality through guilt and conditional love, but we can’t redefine it; just like we can’t pray the gay away or keep deviant priests from expressing their sex drives.

If Beth is a sexual being, and that applies to 98% of eighteen year-old girls, then her need to feel female and sensual is a crucial step into adulthood and something that can’t be denied. But that’s what Dan is trying to do – establish Beth’s value, contingent on the denial of her sexual nature.

And where exactly, does the female value jury reside?

According to Dan, his daughter’s value is determined by the boys she dates – the male gender! Incredible!

Beth would have to ask herself, Why would Dad believe that boys think sexual girls are sluts unless he believes it? He must, because he’s telling me girls who like sex are disgraceful, which means if I like sex, I can never tell Dad or trust him again.

Bottom line: Beth’s potential loss of respect is not about boyfriends, it’s about her father.

And the irony about this disconnect, is that Dan is unaware of his own prejudice. He’s sexist. He gave that away when telling me Beth needed to be erotically satisfying to a future husband. This means after marriage, her high value is based on quantity and quality of sex rather than the restriction of it.

Dan has reduced his daughter to a service commodity who retains her value by suppressing her sexuality while single or supplying it on demand when married.

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This message is exactly what Beth “got” with that fatherly advice. Beth now understands that her growing-up sexual experiments will sacrifice parental support. And I suppose that’s all part of maturing and taking on independence. Despite her father’s edicts, Beth will become an older, wiser version of who she is now, whatever sexual orientation she has.

With the loss of respect for her father’s philosophical limitations, she will accommodate him, maybe tolerate him, telling him whatever he wants to hear. And Dan, needing to believe that his daughter lives in his image, will accept all lies which conform to his beliefs.

Loss of connection is what happens to parents who strangle their children with unnatural rules. Yes, some mothers and fathers do manage to convince their children that sex is dirty by calling it holy, for they believe that as well. And yes, one can live a “good” life within this very narrow moral focus. But that’s all it is – a very narrow slice of diversity and change, the true nature of God and His Creation.

If this sounds religious, it is. When it comes to sexual identity, love your children for who they are, not what you force them to be.

End of article.

 

Originally published on Curiosityquills.com.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2013/08/exploring-sex-not-you-your-kids/

NOTHING-TO-LOSE ALWAYS WINS

teddybear

What are the stakes? Give us a reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

This is Emma Coats’ Writing Basic #16 – four sentences fiction writers address when building a story. As I look at these ideas, What are the stakes? slowly emerged as the essence of this post. For me it means: Just what is my hero afraid to lose? Regarding my personal life, I’m asking: What am I afraid to lose?

Our fear of loss invites others to take charge of our lives. To protect ourselves, we build strong defenses, leaving nothing in jeopardy; or we strip ourselves of having to defend anything, leaving nothing to lose.

NOTHING IN JEOPARDY is an overpowering adversary but NOTHING TO LOSE always wins. We live somewhere between these two extremes.

The warrior who fears nothing, even death, loses nothing when his life is taken. You don’t want to face her on the battlefield.

Fearless warriors usually reveal themselves when battling illness. My wife, a nurse, has met many in the hospitals where she worked. What made them warriors? They all acknowledged the limited state of life they had left. Some resigned moments before coma closed their eyes. Some found piece weeks before their passing. And some realized life could flicker away tomorrow and cherished each day years before they passed.

My wife’s mother is one of those far-seeing warriors. She is 98 years-old and sleeps in a two-hundred square foot nursing home room. She is 80% blind, 80% deaf, 80% wheelchair dependent and 100% happy. She also has 100% mental acuity.

Five years ago, when moving into assisted living, she gave up attachment to independence. Then three years ago she told us “she was ready.” Nothing more needed to be fixed. Nothing was so important it couldn’t be left behind. When this post is published August 7th my wife will be flying to Germany to spend another visit with her mom, knowing it could be her last. That “last visit” has been reoccurring for ten years.

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I just returned from a visit with my own parents, also in their nineties. My father is deep in senility and Mom hurts from extreme bodily pain. With all their handicaps, my parents are still not ready to close the store. Mom told me she awakes every morning wondering if it will be her last. Dying bothers her – a lot. Her husband, my dad, became her child. Who will take care of him when she’s gone? Mom’s task keeps her alive.

My sister and I will not be able to care for Dad if Mom leaves first. He will go into a home. Mom says he will then decide life is not worth living and quickly fade into an abyss of depression and angry regrets. Dad will not be a courageous warrior. He never was.

I know little about my mother’s fear of death. It’s uncomfortable talking to her about that. Still, I know she is a warrior, and so are four of her younger friends battling cancer. They’re not thinking about their own annihilation. Like Mom, they’re concerned about the people who love them and will mourn their loss.

This is heavy stuff. And I’m glad most of the time I’m wrapped with distractions of superficial drama like who’s right in an argument. How trivial, but it seems important until life is on the line. Life is always on the line, but who wants to think about that? Writers have to think about that.

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Microsoft Word - Document3

How about thinking this. I’m sure you already have. The only power people have over you and me is their ability to take away something we consider precious.

Your boss can press you to the floor as long as you’re afraid he’ll take your job. Your spouse can lie, cheat and steal as long as you want her more than she wants you. Children of course make things immensely more complicated but the issue stays the same: Something very important to you is on the line and you’re afraid to lose it. So much so, you give up control. You’re not alone. Millions of books tell this story.

Let’s look at another story – war. If you and your enemy agree on what’s at stake, like land, dominance, oil reserves, human life, freedom; you’ve got a balanced fight. All players invest the same in the game. All agree when too much of “X” is lost on either side, the war is over.

This is an archetypal conflict and most traditional novels describe it. But we rarely have those wars anymore. We have wars of ideology where the players can’t even agree on what they’re fighting about. Throw suicide bombers into the mix and you’ve got an unworkable clash. When one side is willing to die and the other side wants to live, human life is no longer the cash bet on the table. Back in the day when the generals ran out of fighters, the war was over. Not anymore.

When suicide bombers line up to blow themselves up, fear of dying has left the equation. Solution? Want-to-die fighters no longer confront Want-to-live soldiers. Instead they face airborne drones where their pilots, flying from air conditioned cubicles, go home for dinner. One fighter cares not if he dies. The other knows he won’t die, at least on the battlefield.

Revolutionary War

Balance is back. What’s all the fuss about? Oh… Innocent people perish? Well there’s that…

There’s one thing I want to make clear. From what I’ve heard suicide bombers actually do care about their lives, but not in physical terms. They expect to trade flesh for ethereal existence. Total annihilation is not their intention, and that applies to drone pilots as well. All soldiers value their identities in one form or another. So it seems to me one’s sense-of-self is the last treasure left to lose and the first thing we fight for. Armies and religions switch sense-of-self from the personal to group-think. When they’re successful, we have nasty wars.

*****

So writers, I ask you, when composing your story, what is on the line? What are the stakes? What is so precious it must never be given up or lost? Is it sense-of-self? Is it control, power, money, sex, loyalty, land, life or love? Whatever it is, the closer we emulate human instincts, like protecting our children, identities and freedom, the more we will engage our readers with intrinsic connections.

Sadly, loss of life no longer commands interest in fiction or on the news. Principles about life are more important than human life itself. Why? Because people are everywhere and replaceable, where as guns and drugs are not. So we fight over scarcity like food, healthcare, shelter and control.

As writers, what do we make of this? Are we watching and reporting our human conflicts? Are we pondering life and death, good and evil and making heroes that give readers reasons for hope? Are we showing the world what’s worth defending?

For me, there’s still plenty to lose. And although much is dwindling and I’d like to hoard it, I know survival is all about sharing. If I don’t and I’m fighting to keep what’s left, NOTHING TO LOSE always wins.

 

Originally published by Curiosityquills.com

 

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2013/08/nothing-to-lose-always-wins/

WHY TOTAL TRUST IS B.S.

man_with_mask

If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

This is Emma Coats’ Story Basic #15 – a series of literary concepts she compiled and tweeted. With number 15, I think she’s implying that readers will believe any situation you propose, within realism or fantasy, as long as your characters THINK realistically.

Well again we’re back to my own Story Basic. As writers it’s imperative that we understand human psychology. We must replicate logic, as twisted as might be, when building our characters. Their differing assumptions, beliefs and fears determine unique choices and decisions leading to actions and reactions.

As I’ve said before, molding all of your story people based on your personal assumptions makes a flat and potentially unbelievable story. You can’t apply your owe beliefs to all your characters. Well you can but then they’ll all think alike, act alike and talk alike. The result? Your readers will know you cheated. You didn’t explore enough. You didn’t respect your characters enough to give them their own identities. They were all YOU and without varied details about contrasting needs and fears, your readers have little to care about and will lose interest. They’ll sense your diminished commitment.

But no author sets out to create uni-dimensional characters. We all start from zero experience and learning to widen our attention is a maturing process. Failing to examine the whole story can be and should be forgiven as we learn how to describe our thoughts.

However, in real life as adults, telling stories that haven’t been vetted and thought out is not just bad writing – it’s irresponsible. When we’re passing off our non-researched opinions as facts and expect people to believe them, even demand that they do, there’s a name for that. It’s called bullshit.

Bluntly stated: Bullshit is the bending of truth or total fabrication delivered with the intent to deceive or manipulate. When this practice is skillfully done, it’s effective propaganda. People who convince others that their bullshit is the real thing are called Bullshit Artists. Bullshit artists shape their lies with so much confidence, they believe their own bullshit. That’s what makes them artists – their purity of vision. It all hangs together. That’s why we believe it.

When a delusional bullshit artist convinces you and me to serve his cause because his truths are the only truths, he or she is now qualified to run for public office…in a bad way.

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Cows

Of course not all politicians are bullshitters – only the ones who replace your best interests with their own. Their jobs are more important than your job, your healthcare, your trusting the banking system, your children’s education, your utilities and infrastructure, your right to hear and know the truth.

Bullshitting politicians keep control as long as they make you believe you’re getting what you want, even when you’re not. When you’ve figured that out, bullshitters blame everyone else. You’ll believe them by listening to only THEIR bullshit. So it’s really important to connect with many information sources, understanding that manipulators always insist that any opinion opposing their own is bullshit.

When everyone tells you the other guy is lying and you don’t know whom to believe, the whole world seems like bullshit. That’s exactly what bullshit artists want you to think. Manipulators wear you down so you give up looking for facts, so you stop sleuthing for hidden agendas and hand over the rule making to them. That’s bad. You have lost your freedom to choose.

Still, bullshitting leaders keep insisting you’re in jeopardy and only they can save you. Their follow-only-me instructions are supposed to be your safety net but their words are hiding covert deals. The promises are bullshit and the cruelest bullshit of all instills distrust between you and me. Fear draws attention. So while the population argues about moral issues that can’t possibly become one guiding light for all, scoundrels secretly service their own wealth and power.

Bullshit needs distraction. So it makes hate and war.

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card-cheat

 

 

Now if you’re feeling like you can’t trust ANYONE 100% you’ve got good cause. You shouldn’t. But you can get pretty close, like 99%. And the only way…and I mean the ONLY way to trust anyone or anything, (and I’ve said this many times) is to DO YOUR HOMEWORK! Get informed! Compare information and its sources. Consider all points-of-view. Let people talk and listen to them, even when it’s bullshit.

 

 

 

 

Yes, bullshit is bullshit, but many times you can’t tell it is. So, when listening to anyone ask yourself:

  • WHY does she want me to believe that?
  • HOW would my agreement benefit her personal livelihood?
  • WHO and WHAT could he actually be representing?

When you’ve answered those questions you’ve plowed through the bullshit. And what do you find beneath it? The most precious treasure of all – TRUTH.

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This is where it gets fuzzy. Truth is a moving target. Truth isn’t set in stone. Well it is but we all have our own stones; and as long as your truth doesn’t infringe on mine and vice versa, our stew of truths can get along. So to make that happen we all get together and decide how to accommodate and protect each other’s truths. In a perfect world, this compromise would be called a Democracy.

But Democracy can only work when everyone plays by the rules. Lying, cheating, deception and manipulation makes a bullshit government. When we no longer can agree on what is true and what is not, when we no longer recognize the difference between real facts and bullshit, we get mad, frustrated and head towards civil war.

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My first draft of this post listed “good” truths and “bad” truths but that meant I would’ve been trying to write my truths on your stones. That’s not my job. I’m just the Reminder Guy. I tell you things you already know. I say things like:

  • Don’t give up! With enough homework you can do it!
  • Not everyone is your enemy! The whole world does not have to be the same to get along.
  • Everyone goes to Heaven, even the bad guys because God does not make mistakes – only differences.
  • More knowledge makes you a wiser person, parent and poet. Don’t stop learning.
  • Every reason has more reasons behind it. The real reasons need to be discovered.
  • Diversity is where evolution is born. Conformity kills innovation and that’s not natural.
  • We all need to matter. When we don’t, bad things happen.

 

When I began this post I had no intention of diving into political stuff but it’s hard to avoid when exploring honesty. Obviously I’m no fan of bullshit but it’s here to stay because lies can be comforting when people believe them and there will always be people who believe them because simple bullshit solutions don’t need homework.

So considering the market for bullshit, I know there is lucrative opportunity in publishing it. How do I relate to that? Well, writing and reading bullshit is like kinky sex behind closed doors. As long as it stays there it won’t affect me. And if I jump in, it’s my business. You don’t have to join.

I’m not making kinky sex the law of the land so stop pretending deceptive rhetoric is everyone’s game. Just tell me the truth, even if it’s just yours. And then we’ll agree to share it or not. Also, I promise to tell YOU my truths. You can then share them, or not.

 

Originally published on Curiosityquills.com.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2013/08/why-total-trust-is-b-s/

Are You Interesting?

Tolstoy

Dear writers, have you ever been asked, “What’s your story about?”

Of course you have. And what was your answer? Did you recite your plot? Or instead, did you pitch a logline?

If the word “logline” beams a blank in your brain, here’s what it is.

A logline is a one-sentence story summary that can be published in TV Guide or a newspaper/web movie advertisement. It’s the hook that’s intriguing. It’s the sound bite that makes producers want to make your movie, publishers want to print your prose and people want to peruse your pages.

And it’s even more that that. It’s your personal focus on the human journey, whether real or mythic. It’s the reason you told your tale.

So your summary is the place where all stories begin, where the writer asks herself, “Why am I writing this?”

If it’s for income, it’s a perfectly acceptable justification, but then it’s work. And later, your words may feel like work when people read them. Money alone won’t make a book sparkle.

So let’s refocus on a more merry motivation, like: “I just gotta get my ideas out of my head and into yours!”

Great. You’ve got ideas to spread around. Where do they come from? And how do they build a story foundation?

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atom_structure_chargesLet’s explore idea construction with an analogy.

The atom is the basic building block of the material world. Atoms are composed of smaller parts dynamically interacting with each other. Atoms in turn build more complex structures called molecules. Your primary story idea, your concept, is built like a molecule, out of mental basic building blocks.

These building blocks are not the characters or the twist and turns of your plot. The atom-like primary pieces of your story are your themes – what my computer dictionary defines as: The subject of a talk, a piece of writing, a person’s thoughts, or an exhibition; a topic or idea that recurs in or pervades a work of art or literature.

Your theme is your unstated message, that core principal which lingers in the subconscious of the people who finished your book or watched your play. It’s what motivated you to spin your saga.

Got that? Okay, back to the atom. Its nucleus is a varied composition of protons (carrying a charge) and neutrons (with no charge but contributing to its mass). Electrons orbit the positively charged nuclei of atoms and are responsible for binding atoms together. Electrons have a negative charge and create the force of magnetism. Electrons can also leave their orbits to share the orbits of other atoms and bind them together. An electron is like an assumption, a mental construct that brings people together through agreements. More on that later.

Your theme, like the atom, is built out of a combination of parts. The nucleus of a theme is composed of ideas. Some are emotionally charged (like protons) and some are neutral but just as important.

Without interaction your nucleus of ideas just sits there minding its own business. But your ideas cannot live alone and so they create the push-pull of things spinning around them – things I’ve labeled assumptions.

An assumption, like an electron’s magnetic attraction and repulsion, creates likes and dislikes. Assumptions, made from and combined with core ideas, form your theme. And your theme attracts or repels readers.

It’s good the have varied themes. But that takes varied assumptions.

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A carbon atom is a carbon atom and will stay a carbon atom until some alien particle invades its space with enough force to break it apart and annihilate it. Nature doesn’t like free particles (well…maybe photons and x-rays) so it does its best to recombine smashed nuclei into more complex atoms with more parts forming a more “evolved” element.

The same thing happens with the building blocks of your personal paradigm, your mental nucleus that makes you, you. Your basic assumptions about life get rearranged when an event invades your space that cannot be explained or justified with the logic you use to define your world. An “unfair” tragic death or Godly miracle shatters your assumed “truths” and forces you to make new and more complex core beliefs leading to new assumptions. That’s a good thing.

Friends, we can’t fight or fake our ideas and assumptions. Everything about you and me starts with a nucleus of core beliefs. Even when we borrow ideas we’re making a choice about that based on our selected beliefs. It’s almost impossible (maybe it IS impossible) to write a plausible story and theme outside our personal truths and attitudes about them.

And even if we could, would we CARE about those ideas? I wouldn’t.

This topic, caring about the ideas we write about, explains Emma Coats’ Writing Basic #14.

Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

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ahaExposing your heart and passion becomes the soul of your story. Your themes sprout from your heart. If they come from some place else, your story will not come to life. You must love your ideas if you want someone else to love them.

And now I’ve returned to my own theme, that which permeates my writing/living philosophy.

If I want to write about new ideas I must continually seek new ideas.

And to author new ideas, I must be open to new ideas. And to be open to new ideas, I must stop being threatened by new ideas. And to avoid fearing new ideas, I must live with them for a while. I must become those new ideas even when I don’t agree with them.

Why must I take on uncomfortable ideas, those points-of-view I feel are destructive, at least for me?

Answer: I must walk in my neighbor’s shoes to understand how his journey shapes his path within a world we both share. Fear and hate fester in the fog of the unknown. Perceiving your neighbor’s intentions and understanding why they need to act feels a hell-of-a-lot more secure than looking over your shoulder and thinking, “What’s he gonna do next?”

We all strive for certainty, for balance. We all strive to predict the future. So the more we understand the push and pulls of conflicting cultures, the more we can predict an outcome or avoid a confrontation.

This statement is obvious. Right? We all go to school, learn lots of things. Right?

Nope, we all don’t. Too many people are uninformed about their judgments. And that limitation applies to writers as well. Many stay in their houses and describe their own backyards.

Now it’s not necessarily “bad” to have a narrow focus as a writer, especially if your readers happen to reside on your property. But it’s not a practical way to live. It’s too scary.

So again, my basic theme: The more we know, the more compelling our stories will be. Why? Because having a broader pallet of understanding allows our words to ring true with a wider diversity of readers. Beyond that, our neighbors don’t seem so menacing.

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So the next time someone asks you, “What’s your story about?” you can pitch a logline but inside you’ll know your story is really about your ideas. And that means your story is about YOU!

Are you interesting?

 

Originally published on Curiosityquills.com.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2013/07/are-you-interesting/

Opinions! Opinions! Opinions!

sugar_babe_w_old_manA long time ago, in a land far, far away (Los Angeles, 1970), a 22-year-old lad wanted to be a filmmaker. Three months out of college, out of options and hope for any kind of income, the young man finally got an unexpected call…about directing movies…adult movies…VERY adult movies, which he was not.

He took the job and entered a topsy-turvy realm where folks filmed other folks doing sex. Inside that bubble, the young man’s innocence melted away, because two years of living in a universe where naughty was nice, intrinsic truths oozed up through the sheets that no psychology or creative writing degree could ever deliver.

What makes a storybook character admirable, even a girl who throbs on-camera? You’ll discover the answer in reality porn.

Yes, really. Interview a sex star and you just might find yourself respecting her spirit.

Okay, I know. It’s obvious why fornication performers would make interesting protagonists. But for me, their profession wasn’t nearly as intriguing as their attitude and the answers they gave when I asked them why they exposed themselves.

Humm… Guess I forget to mention that the film student-turned-porn-director was me. He was, and that “Nice Jewish Boy” got smacked full-frontal with three growing-up questions.

  • How could nice people do something so naughty?
  • How could pornography performers become my friends?
  • And most importantly, why did I like them?

Yeah, WHY? Why were some of those people really cool while others were nowhere near my interest? What made the difference?

The answer to that special difference lies within Emma Coat’s writing basic #13. She says, “Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.”

See where I’m going? In a book or in real life, opinionated porn people are more interesting than Ho-Hum…whatever porn people.

But it goes deeper than that. Think about it. What makes any person admirable, porn princess or brain surgeon? Is it about their CONVICTIONS? Yes, that’s it – their that’s-my-story-and-I’m-stickin’-to-it convictions! Everyone has opinions but not everyone reveals them, believes in them and defends them.

People admire leaders with strong convictions. Why? Because defending the what they absolutely believe suggests there are absolute truths and solid boundaries where people can feel safe. “There’s US and there’s THEM.” She said so! “There’s RIGHT and there’s WRONG.” He explained it! Politicians know this game and flip-flopping is the kiss-of-death. They all do it anyway because things really do change.

Still, unwavering opinions leading to unwavering convictions leading to unwavering actions shows bravery in the heat of risk. We all wish we were more like that and admire people who are, in real life and in fiction.

naked-girl-w-man*****

So what about you? Strong principles, right? But how comfortable do you feel wearing them in public? Are you as steadfast as the heroes who populate your stories? And if so, is there room for other opinions not necessarily your own?

I’m asking that because it’s important to have a point-of-view and defend it but writing opposing characters with opposing opinions is a whole different story (pun intended).

Your characters have convictions because you make them that way. But are their causes, their beliefs, their morals and ethics your own or a version of your own? Do all your people view their world your way with different decisions?

Put another way, when you write evil antagonists, are they simply the antithesis of standard virtues…YOUR virtues? Do your vampires think like you do but have longer teeth? Does your scary menace use your logic but with wolf like fur? Does everyone agree on what’s right and wrong but do bad things because it’s practical?

If all your characters think alike but make different decisions, that’s not an accurate description of human diversity. Of course making things feel real in a novel may not be your goal, but it is mine. And to my chagrin, a while back I forgot that my personal morals are not necessarily my character’s and I wrote a short story based on too many wrong assumptions.

sugardaddy_w_cigar_girl*****

But I did my homework. Yes I did. There was lots of research, an extensive outline with noble causes for my young lady in college. She needed fast money to help her brother get into rehab. A sacrifice for family, I assumed (although wrongly), was a worthy reason for a quick stint in Sugar Baby Land. Contract dating comes close to prostitution but it isn’t, and couples who share intimacy that way defend it as an honest, beneficial relationship. And that’s what my story was about – with enough appropriate reasons, sex for favors can be justified.

Appropriate reasons – that was my second wrong assumption. Sugar babies and daddies don’t need appropriate reasons to make their agreements acceptable. With two consenting adults, there’s nothing unacceptable about it. It is what it is – an exchange where both people get what they want and enjoy the getting.

But deep down I didn’t believe it. I was prejudice going into this story and I assumed no smart college girl would date a rich guy for rent money unless she absolutely had to, and if she did, she’d feel guilty about it and lose self respect. This was my third wrong assumption, that I could I could base my character’s motivations on my own principles and make her use them for necessary decisions. Not good! My girl’s character fell apart and it took time to figure out why. Here’s why:

Because I built a character out of my values, my plot demanded that she contradict them and consequently, she sold out. The result? None of my readers respected her, and I didn’t either. In reality, if I were that twenty-year old, I never would have dated older men for money. My real-life justification for stumbling into the adult movie world had nothing in common with this sugar baby plot so constructing a character somewhat like me was the wrong approach.

The right premise would have had my college gal proclaiming, “I love sex and I love men. I’m pretty enough to get a good-looking rich guy and I won’t turn anything down he gives me.”

Had I started my narrative with that assumption, my story ethics would have been different, my message would have been different, and my character would have been different. Nothing like me, but realistic and worthy of respect, like the girls I met on the porn sets years ago.

Guess what they told me absolutely shame-free? Most of them said, “I love sex. All kinds of sex. And if I can get paid for it, that’s even better.”

Getting paid for something you love – isn’t that the ideal job?

That’s why I admired them, the ones who weren’t needy. They were confident and felt good about themselves. I felt great just sharing their space. Maybe that’s why so many people watch sex performances. It feels good! And so does winning an argument with someone who has strong opinions.

So take Emma’s advice. Give your characters defined opinions, strong convictions and throw them into conflicts. Without confrontations, there is no drama. And we can’t have that!

 

Originally published on Curiosityquills.com.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2013/07/opinions-opinions-opinions/

How to be New and Exciting

woman-reading-book

Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

I agree with Emma’s Writing Basis #12. Forget those first familiar ideas that remind us of what we already know. Our job, as creators, is to keep the fun alive by making up new stuff for the world to DISCOVER. And the more DIFFERENT the discovery is, the more interesting it is.

That’s what art is about: DIFFERNCES. Contrasting normality delivers an experience of something new, nudging us to observe our lives in other ways, maybe think in other ways.

Problem is, beyond going to movies and reading genre books, most people don’t want anything different at all. If fact, they prefer continuity, stability, and a mellow ride into the future. In other words, while in real life, please, NO surprises! Stock markets crave assurances too. They react to change like cranky kids.

So I get it. Nobody, no company, no country, wants high drama. But friends, let’s face it. Unless we’re writing genre novels with preset structures, it’s hard to be an original author when we choose to cruise a straight road with no traffic. Nothing is happening.

Okay. We can make stuff up. But based on what? Someone else’s novel or movie?

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Here it comes, “Who IS this guy, Podolsky! He’s telling me to live a racy life of scary surprises! That’s nuts! I’m a mother of three holding down a job, with a husband who isn’t, and I live in McPherson, Kansas!”

Actually Ma’am, with that kind of small town struggle you’ve got some pretty meaty stuff to draw from. If you’re surviving, the stress demands action. So you became proactive, the savior, the Mommy/Wife Hero. Are you writing about that?

No? You’re not interested in describing your daily grind? Guess what. You’re writing about feelings, or at least you should be. If you invite them into your stories, those emotions can be powerful. But first you must understand who you are by contrasting yourself with who you are NOT, and that might take some research.

Let’s say you’re okay. No trauma. You’ve got a good life, good husband and your kids have yet to discover porn and weed. You started reading at five and haven’t stopped. And now you want to write fantasies like the ones in your bookshelves.

Nothing bad about that but are you scribing another version of a best seller? Or are you moving beyond your favorite authors with an entirely new spin on a vampire kiss? If you ARE searching for that unusual spin, do you know where to find it?

You don’t? Well here’s a clue. You won’t unwrap outrageous kissing techniques in classic gothic fantasies. You’ll unearth them in faraway lands. That’s right. Book a trip to Borneo.

What? Can’t do that for a thousand reasons? Okay, how about READING about Borneo, or the Seychelles, or Tajikistan? Accurate info about exotic cultures always helps. And so would reading about space travel, anthropology, archeology, or what it’s like to be a firefighter, a mayor, a zoo keeper or fashion designer; a New Orleans chef, journalist, soldier, CEO or mistress. That’s the research I mentioned. Learning about our World’s diversity helps you find your place within it, new ideas, and better kissing skills.

*****

Frans Johansson, an entrepreneur and business consultant wrote a book I read last year titled, The Medici Effect. He relied on the work of researchers in creativity and innovation, such as Dean Keith Simonton, Clayton Christensen, Teresa Amabile and a further range of psychologists, economists and sociologists. Lots of brainy people are studying how and why we create stuff and Mr. Johansson distilled their studies into one focused volume which I’ll briefly outline here.

His basic premise is this: When like-minded experts come together, say automobile engineers, they pool their knowledge to perfect existing technology, like the internal combustion engine. The engine mechanics gets better and better until there’s little more that can be improved. This is good of course, but this narrow-view advancement eventually hits a dead end. The inventors exhaust their well of ideas about gas powered cars because they’re all authorities in gas powered cars, and not with computers, rocket science or fashion design.

Conformity refines conformity.

There’s another approach to innovation, about cars and everything else. It’s more organic. It’s the way things work in nature, and it’s what I’ve been advising when it comes to authoring fiction.

Mr. Johansson writes in his introduction,

When you step into an intersection of fields, disciplines, or cultures, you can combine existing concepts into a large number of extraordinary new ideas.

This is what happened in Florence, Italy when the Medici banking family funded sculptors, scientists, philosophers, artists and architects all in one place. This group learned from each other, converged cultures and forged a new world which came to be known as the Renaissance.

Today, as artists and writers, we can bring to life the ideas we find swimming in the soup of differences. DIVERSITY is a much tastier stew than pure tomato soup.

So getting back to car engines, suppose you’re a young man named Elon from South Africa and you’ve got an economics degree from the Wharton School and you acquire a second bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Pennsylvania. Then you fly to Silicon Valley because that’s where the action is and you go for a PhD in applied physics and materials science. But you drop out to save the world, starting with software. You create Zip2, then X.com that morphs into PayPal which you sell to eBay for piles of money, and you use that cash to start two more projects: Telsa Motors and Space Exploration Technologies, commonly referred to as SpaceX.

Falcon_Heavy_from_SpaceX_siteSo what happens when a guy like Elon Musk with multiple degrees and interests, what happens when this modern Renaissance man builds a car company of IT engineers, ex-fashion designers and rocket scientists? What do you get? You get luxury, fast-ass, gorgeous “future-mobiles” that run on computer batteries with zero emissions and plenty of punch. You also get an electric powertrain system selling to Daimler’s Smart EV cars, the Mercedes A Class and the Toyota’s RAV4.

And what about SpaceX? It was the first commercial “starship” company to supply the orbiting space station and its Falcon 1 rocket became the first privately funded liquid-fuelled vehicle to put a satellite into Earth orbit. Mr. Musk plans to send people to the surface of Mars within 10 to 20 years. All this from a small but diverse collection of super smart dudes and dudettes in Hawthorne, California.

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Every great invention that came to be started with a dream and a mix of all the things needed to make that idea grow into something excitingly new. If that something new happens to be your yarn, to make it pop you’ll need to steer clear of WHAT IS and plunge into the abyss of WHAT-COULD-BE. That’s not difficult if you feed your brain. When you diversify, when you stretch your knowledge in many directions, your writing will surge with interesting associations. I promise you, new plot twists will automatically come to mind. It’s the way we think when there’s more to ponder than those first five ideas.

So click on the links. Watch other minds in play. Get inspired!

 

Originally posted on Curiosityquills.com.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2013/07/how-to-be-new-and-exciting/

Are You Afraind to Fix IT?

filesPutting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

What comes to mind when I read Emma Coats’s Writing Basic #11?

“PROCRASTINATION”

Procrastination about writing, procrastination about everything. We all procrastinate, even when we’re paid not to.

Why do we avoid a start or finish? Lots of reasons, but I suppose the big daddy of them all would be, we avoid doing WORK unless the payoff is more important than the process.

What is work?

You know what work is because you don’t want to do it. If you did, it wouldn’t be work. Fertilizing my lawn is work to me. To my friend Dave, it’s peaceful meditation. So working is doing something that’s drudgery because we’re not inspired while doing it. Something about the action feels empty. It’s not a game. It’s not a puzzle. It’s not interesting and it doesn’t reward us along the way…

UNTIL IT DOES.

Not always, but many times, work turns into pleasure. The writing of words that started out like homework flamed alive and began to mold itself. The process became interesting, entertaining, nurturing.

“What happened?” you ask. “What changed that made this authoring chore an engaging challenge?”

Nerd_at_deskWell, a few things happened. First, you got past the hard stuff – getting your ideas in place and dumping the stuff that didn’t belong. You got past the boring part. And then, while rereading that outline or first draft, you began to see what others might find interesting. And then a notion started to seed.

“Maybe these words actually matter,” you thought. “And if my ideas matter, then I matter.”

Yep, this blogger is at it again. I’m painting the world as the human quest for PURPOSE. Can’t help it. Everything we do starts with the need to feel needed and any work that doesn’t meet that requirement is avoided.

We call that PROCRASTINATION.

That’s why we’re paid to do work. The entire planet rewards itself with money, perks, and vacations when the real reason for doing stuff, our enjoyment, isn’t happening. We do things to FEEL GOOD! And we feel good when we make the world a better place, or at least our own world, as skewed as that might be.

If work doesn’t make us feel good, we do it so we can be happy after work. This fact you know. And you also know that getting paid for what you love is NOT the way most people subsist. And that is sad.

*****

But getting back to Emma. She says: If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

So here’s another question: Why would a perfect idea stay in your head, especially at work? After all, wouldn’t you want to shine on the job? Wouldn’t your manager’s appreciation make your day feel like less work?

Answer: It’s not going down. You know damn well your idea, as noble and perfect as it is, will stop at rung one of the executive ladder. It might even get you in trouble. Management hates the exposure of its flaws. You know this. You know you have no control. You know your job is a drag.

Yes, there are companies that reward excellence coming from the bottom up, but not many. Mediocre managers fail upward as long as they protect their bosses. And those bosses cover for THEIR bosses. The whole business is wrapped in rewarded denial; and while your kids scream rebellion your spouse is advising, “Don’t get involved. Nothing will change.”

You sigh and head for shelter – that private place where you write. If you’re paid for dishonesty, frustration, and domination, there’s still freedom where you live as a Lord of Words.

And now it’s night. You’re in bed facing your laptop, thinking, “Maybe my story isn’t all that great. Maybe I’m deluding myself believing it’s important.”

STOP RIGHT THERE! Your confidence was stolen!

Girl_Guilt_on_FaceIt can happen. It does happen, snatched by people who pay you and others who love you. And now you’re deciding, “I need some distance from my book. I’ll come back to it with fresh eyes.”

And so distance turns into procrastination ‘cause deep down inside you don’t want to hear, “Those first chapters suck.”

Yep. We’re back to fear-of-failure. So much for your beta readers. You won’t share. Well…maybe you will…when it’s ready…later. Writing has turned back into work.

*****

Now many of you reading this post are published authors so you know what happens when you share – even when it’s not finished, even while doubting your skills. You know what happens when you risk approval, about anything.
When you share your creation (a plot, a painting, a poem), some reader, perhaps three, maybe four, maybe ten, will respond positively to your treasure. And then you will know you are not alone. The things you’ve made are valued by others, even if it’s just one honest opinion stating, “I believe in you.”

This is where we all begin – hearing that first, “I believe in you.” And so, feigning confidence (which will do until we really feel it), we trudge on with whatever our endeavors happen to be. We continue practicing, perfecting, evolving…sharing.

When confidence allows us to express our true selves, we grow. It’s our nature.

*****

I’m still thinking about the movie, Man of Steel and the Superman mythology.

Since I’m again talking about validation as a motivator, it just occurred to me that the most admired people in the world and the heroes of legends are not necessarily the headline makers. There are people who take on sacrifice to help others while avoiding recognition.

Hence, Superman hides in the crowd as Clark Kent. We admire reluctant heroes.

Many teachers are Clark Kent heroes, as well as firefighters, police officers, the clergy, social workers, soldiers, nurses and doctors, domestic help, lawyers, IT engineers…and yes…garbage collectors. The list goes on. If you’re not on it, I apologize.

Everywhere, mostly unnoticed, someone somewhere is doing something special without a thought about personal gain. I bet we all know someone like that, a local hero doing good deeds, hidden in the crowd. Are we writing about them? Yes we are. But we morph them into imaginary characters as if they exist as mere reflections of the human journey. They are real! We forget, or at least I do, that as writers, we too could be real heroes if we just gave up needing validation.

Businessman Wearing CapeI also forget that a simple act of kindness in a parking lot, or market, or at home in the kitchen does not go unnoticed. I do not have to point it out. And sometimes I forget that sharing my ideas is not about me. It’s about you.

Emma says, “Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it.”

I do that. As I fix my words, I strive to fix myself. There’s never a time when I can’t use improvement. So I expose my thoughts to get better – as an author, as a person.

Sharing for the improvement for all – not a bad reason to write, is it?

 

Originally published on Curiosityquills.com.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2013/06/are-you-afraind-to-fix-it/

Do You Like Who You Are?

Fan pagesEmma Coat’s Writing Basic #10

Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

This approach to writing is so loaded with implications, I could write five posts about this one concept: Figuring out why you like a story. I don’t know where I’m going with this because figuring anything out can lead anywhere.

So let’s begin with the unwinding of a plot for clues about why it works. What does Emma mean when she tells us to look for what we like? What does “like” mean? I think Ms. Coats is suggesting that, as readers, we must be concerned about the hero. Without that concern, we won’t care about the story.

Okay. How do we build concern for protagonists?

It happens when we respect and admire his or her persona. The character either reminds us of ourselves or an improved version of what we’d like to be. Consequently, we’ve invested our interest in the outcome of the story, hoping he or she succeeds and isn’t appreciably harmed. In the real world, we want proof that good guys can win and we seek role models who make that happen.

If your future more evolved self becomes your own role model, that much better! Self-respect is everyone’s goal.

So how do we gain self-respect? Through two means: proactive and reactive ways of living. One is more productive than the other. Let’s examine proactive lifestyles first.

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Living PROACTIVELY means we make choices that avert bad things…or cause them! Either way, we’re not waiting for the next shoe to drop before we take action.

If we take action that manifests positive results, we become role models. Positive results imply we’re doing noble acts. If written characters encounter danger while striving to do the “right” thing, as in noble acts, that makes them heroes. It’s the same for you and me.

Of course what constitutes a hero depends on what we think doing the “right thing” is all about. Edward Snowden, the man who leaked the NSA surveillance programs, is an example of hero/traitor status. He’s not only both, but neither. Everyone has a different opinion about the merit of his revelations. This is why his story is so compelling. It breaks apart the illusion of absolute right and wrong or good and evil.

Complex stories explore shades of gray.

So when pulling apart an intricate scenario to find out why we like it, we’ll discover there are many layers to look at using many layers of thinking. There is much to grasp and we should start by asking the question:

If we’re all unique in many ways, what are the universal narratives and character traits we all agree are worth reading and watching? What makes a hit movie or book?

It’s no secret. A gripping yarn starts with an admirable proactive character – someone who takes risks for our benefit.

Still-from-trailerLast night I saw Man of Steel. The movie was fantastic. Everyone loved it and the audience invested in Superman saving the world.What made him a noble hero? It’s the combination of his immense power coupled with a sweet humility. Add a dash of vulnerability, a pinch of sensitivity, a sprinkle of Gee whiz, what do I do?, season with sacrifice, and we’ve baked the perfected American pie hero.

That’s a “basic” of good story telling – describe acts and principles we all admire, place them in jeopardy, and eventually have them overcome evil for the good of all.

But remember what Emma says: We must recognize the reasons for respect before we can use it. And to recognize admirable thoughts and actions in stories, we have to recognize admirable thoughts and actions in ourselves.

Should we question our thoughts and actions? You bet. We should question their validity and admit our cool ideas may be soggy toast with our boss or best friend. Knowing that, if we’re still using our personal standards to model likable characters, we better be absolutely sure WE are likable!

Are you hero-like, even in your imagination? Can you FEEL like a hero?

It’s easy to create an angry character. But can you write about forgiveness and tolerance when you think you’re defeated? Can you describe a tender love scene when your own bed moments are All About Me? Can you detail a generous personality when you feel poor and powerless?

Maybe some writers can. I couldn’t. I had to mature and punch through frustrations before I could write a truly optimistic scene. This is why Emma’s advice about uncovering what you like about a story, and yourself, is so important. You need to clear your desk of unhappy junk before you can build something fun, with ease, and have the confidence to experiment and fail.

*****

Taking risks, or not, brings us to the second way of approaching life: making choices based on REACTING. It’s a wait-and-see policy…or avoidance…or denial.

It’s better to do nothing than make a mistake, so the wisdom goes.

I’ve written about this issue before, but it can’t be stated enough. We have to give ourselves permission to fail – to miss our mark, to discover the dead ends. It’s part of success.

The only way you can give yourself permission to take risks and try new things is by knowing and believing that YOU are not a failure when something doesn’t work out.

But you ask, “How can I believe I’m not a failure when I’ve made serious mistakes – when I’ve hurt others, when I’ve hurt myself?”

Good question. Everyone messes up and if you’re learning from those mistakes, positive results are down the road. But if that’s not happening…

  • Are you dodging bullets with the same crippling moves?
  • Are you blind to proactive alternatives?
  • Have you lost hope?
  • Have you painted your hero into a corner?

Superman comic coverIf “yes” applies to any of those questions, then you have come to believe that unhappy choices mean YOU are a failure. Would Superman ever think that? Maybe. But he’d soon figure out feeling-like-a-failure is a choice too and that this attitude was covertly placed by the bad guys in act one.

Babies don’t come into the world thinking they messed up!

So become your hero or heroine. No matter how hard the fight, never, EVER allow someone to define you as a failure! Or worse…not good enough! Anyone who demeans you doesn’t love you and is bent on control.

Manipulators demand veneration and devout loyalty to validate their own doubts of worthiness. It’s impossible to be creatively yourself when you’re trapped in a one-way relationship like that. It won’t let you respect yourself.

So when following Ms. Coat’s Writing Basic #10 and you’re figuring out what you like about yourself, take a look at what you don’t like, especially those times when someone convinced you you’re not good enough. Realize missing the mark today doesn’t mean you’ll miss it tomorrow. Keep trying until you succeed, at least in part, baby step by baby step, for the good of all. Be your version of Superman.

And when you’ve faced your foes who are intent on degrading you, when you’re respecting yourself because you’re fighting for your soul, honoring it, and loving it, I promise you your writing will soar! And so will you.

 

Superman still – copyright Warner Brothers Pictures   Superman cover – copyright DC Comics

 

Originally published on Curiosityquills.com.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2013/06/do-you-like-who-you-are/

How to Stay Unstuck

in_a_jarI’m looking back on the past 43 years of working for paychecks and feeling like I just walked out of jail.

It wasn’t a bad career. At times it was meteoric. But it wasn’t easy and I struggled many times. I was freelance, hopping from project to project, never knowing when and from where the work would come. And the stress never let up – not between jobs, not inside the jobs, never…until today, when that other ME retired.

This morning, June 7th, I cleared out my office on the Warner Brothers lot and at twelve noon, I stopped the clock. Not since college have I given myself permission to float in bliss without concerns for tomorrow. Because tomorrow will no longer be a day of unemployment, or counting the weeks before a project ends and again I’m out of a job. Tomorrow I will no longer be asking,

Have I worked enough, acquired enough, impressed enough? Am I good enough?

Or am I fooling myself? Maybe I’ll never rest. Unhitched now from movie credits, where will I find meaning in Act Three, the rest of my life? Having changed course, where is my destination? Will I find happiness getting there?

In other words, with money issues out of the way, what do I want now? It’s time to ask again, WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF MY LIFE?

For that matter, what is the purpose of yours? Are you happy about where your journey is taking you? If not, can you see through the fog to rewrite it?

You can’t?

Okay. Are you stuck then, not knowing what you want?

You are?

In that case, this is where Emma Coats Writing Basic #9 comes in.

When you get stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times, the material to get you unstuck will show up.

*****

Of course, this is about building a plot and knitting an unexpected tale while maintaining plausibility. That takes a lot of thought. Any writer will tell you to throw out your first five notions of what comes next. They’re too predictable.

But in the real world, can we…no, SHOULD we, apply uncertain novelty to life’s decisions? When thinking about a course for our personal futures should we focus on practical, income-producing endeavors (like a steady job in programming), or follow whimsical dreams seeking serendipity surprises and changes?

Which one – certainty or uncertainty?

Choosing one or the other depends on the type of disposition we have. Some people need structure and boundaries. Others demand freedom and change. But beyond working for income, when it comes to a career, what do we actually want?

For me, getting rich was never a priority. Creative expression was tops. And to do that, I wanted both surprise and certainty. I couldn’t have both and I never felt comfortable with freelance work. Still, I loved the spontaneity of meeting new people on every movie with a different set of challenges. It was a trade-off I didn’t want, but had to make.

man_with_dollarsSo continuous income never happened. But looking back I realize now the stress of waiting for work and then scrambling to meet outrageous demands helped me to grow –not tougher, but more sensitive and aware. To stay sane in an all-or-nothing business where egos do battle for all the wrong reasons, I had to learn to cope. I had to discover the tools for dealing with frightened, mean, or condescending humans. I learned to take the pain when I got hit and deal with disappointment when I missed the mark or it missed me.

Today brought an end to all that. Now what?

Do I want more drama? No. But do I need it? Is the challenge to survive what life is about? With no winners and losers, does passion die, along with interest? Or am I totally over thinking this?

*****

Oh boy, I’m skidding into sticky confusion. I need another look at Emma’s guide # 9.

When you get stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

Okay, to find out what I want now, here’s my list of what will never happen again.

 

  1. Feeling like I’m unemployed when I’m in between jobs.
  2. Spending weeks, no months, looking for projects knowing my success rate is five percent.
  3. Making cold calls and pretending I’m charming.
  4. Feigning respect and gratitude when in fact, I’m avoiding jerks just to finish the job.
  5. Losing sleep, worrying about where I’ll find my next gig.
  6. Losing sleep, worrying about where I’ll find time to finish the gig.
  7. Supporting the people who hired me when their project sucks and they won’t let me fix it.
  8. Working solely for a paycheck.
  9. Driving two hours a day to and from work.
  10. Returning home so late and bushed that all I want to do is drink down my frustrations and hit the sack.
  11. Redoing the work of the people I hired.
  12. Wasting precious time pursuing an unworkable end so my boss can see his idea was stupid from the start.
  13. Getting something to finally work and handing the credit to someone else.
  14. Working sixteen-hour days for last minute changes and mumbling “That’s okay,” because the higher-ups won’t take responsibility for unpaid overtime.
  15. Transferring my frustration into an unmotivated argument with my wife.
  16. Chasing a check when Payroll misses it.
  17. Seeing my name on movie credits and thinking, “That’s nice. But this isn’t what I wanted to do.”

What does this list tell me? It tells me I put up with tons of bad stuff. And yet, there must have been enough good stuff to keep me doing it for 43 years.

What was the good stuff? Simple. It was helping others and getting their thank you’s. That happened more than it didn’t.

But I’m out of the movie business. What else will turn me on?

If I project the opposite condition onto my NOT-WANT list, specifically numbers 7, 11, 12, 13 & 17, I can figure it out what needs to happen next. Humm… This must be what I want:

To successfully work for myself on my own projects and then do or make things people appreciate.

Okay. That’s not much different from what I wanted while working. Which means…my new mission is still my old one. Gosh. Guess it’s my life’s purpose.

Is it yours too? Is that why you work? To make a difference? To make contributions of value appreciated by others? To have validated significance?

That’s probably you, and you’re not alone. Gratitude is why you do what you do, with or without remuneration. You need to have meaning in life, to have benchmarks of growth, to push past boundaries and set new records, to leave a legacy. And you might as well strive for all that while you’re making a living. So you do.

We all want to MATTER and we work very hard to make it happen. When it doesn’t, we’re not happy.

Sorry people, but I just realized you can’t back out of battles and remain whole. Challenges grow meaning. And that applies to me too. My NOT-WANT list will soon be replaced by a new set of hurdles and although I’m happy resting in today’s bliss, it’s just a pit stop. Tomorrow I’ll be back in the race.

Going, growing – going, growing… It’s what we do to stay unstuck.

 

Originally published on Curiosityquills.com.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2013/06/how-to-stay-unstuck/

When is Good Enough, Good Enough?

achievement 1Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

This is Emma Coat’s eight writing guideline. When I first read it, I thought, This advice is wrong! The Uber Rule of all writing clearly states our stories must “work” before we let them go.

Fact: A finished story isn’t finished until it’s doing what we want it to do, and doing it well with no spelling and grammar errors.

But revisiting Emma’s rule, I realized this is not what she’s talking about here. Ms. Coats used the word “perfect” – an entirely different matter, begging the questions:

  • How many times should we rework our thoughts before they’re perfect?
  • Will our content ever be perfect?
  • What IS “perfection” anyway?

I write twelve hundred blog words a week, polished twenty times before publishing. Three days later I’ll reread the post and find five places I could tweak again. But golly, when I kissed that column goodbye and sent it to you, I was SURE it was the best it could be. And yet, it wasn’t. At the time though, it sure felt good enough to ship.

So at some point we must ask ourselves, when is good enough, good enough? Where do we stop our creation convinced we gave it our best shot?

There is no easy answer about our personal best because there is no hard-edged line where we can no longer make our work a little better. If we continue to practice anything, we’ll improve and what we’ve done in the past won’t be as good as what we can do in the future.

So again, when exactly is our art finished?

It’s finished when the public owns it, when we can’t change it anymore. As Emma says, it’s then time to move on. You’ll do better next time (another shot at getting it perfect).

*****

I’m not an anthropologist but I bet Homo sapiens is the only species that endeavors to create perfection when nothing is perfect. We live in a universe of teensy-weensy particles that don’t know what they want or where they’re going and most of the time they end up everywhere at once or instantly annihilate themselves or combine to form something else. If this is perfection, it’s random and changing.

We love cut gems and especially expensive diamonds because they look perfect with absolutely straight edges. On a molecular level those straight edges resemble the Alps during an earthquake with lots of space moving all around.

Nope. No perfection there either.

When science measures things really, really closely we find that nothing in our universe is perfect and stable, except God maybe, who supposedly created the universe and therefore is not part of it.

So if God is perfect and we’re not, is mediocrity God’s creation?

Must be. Biologically none of us are born error-free. Some babies are close to being a superbly working bio-engine but we all eventually breakdown. Human cells cannot duplicate themselves perfectly forever, and their atoms never do.

Your house cat intrinsically understands all this and long ago gave up trying to cough up the perfect fur ball.  Still, our teachers, parents and mentors coax us to bring home A’s, be the smartest student in class or the toughest homey in the hood, the prettiest girl at the dance, the best dressed man at work, the highest paid female executive, the most popular pop singer, the fastest Olympic swimmer, the most famous author – or starting way back, the best spear thrower, hunter, gatherer, hut builder, farmer, sculptor, church designer, mayor, astronaut, president.Obama with kids

As a species we can’t stop striving to push past old limits and boundaries. I think that makes us a very special animal, but not perfect.

Conversely, those who don’t strive for perfection, to be the best, to compete, to win, are thought to be lazy and unmotivated, ultimately inferior to the high achievers.

But really? Are non-competitive people of less value to society than those playing the game? Beyond the survival thing, if we don’t have to kick ass to take care of ourselves, are we less a person for wanting to watch TV rather than writing for it?

Are people who don’t strive for perfection, or even improvement, shirking their job as homo sapiens? Should we write them off as losers, assuming we’re winners? Should we resent them and call them Takers, deeming ourselves the Makers? Should we hope the Lesser Ones will just go away?

See where I’m going? When it comes to everything and everyone, at what point is good enough, as in ACHIEVING ENOUGH, good enough? When is your neighbor, your co-worker, your banker, your congressman, boss, wife or husband; when are they all good enough to live on your GUESS-THEY’RE-OKAY list?

More importantly, when are YOU good enough to live on your list? Or their list?

*****

All these questions I’m asking you, I’m asking myself. How close to perfect do I have to be before I can relax? At what point is my best shot good enough? And if it never is, will I be content?

I think people who don’t consider striving-for-excellence relevant, are happier dudes. This doesn’t mean they don’t try. They do, because it’s their nature. But the pressure’s off. They don’t LOSE because they’re not in the race. They’re not asking, “Where am I now? How far did I get? Am I better than yesterday? Am I better than my piers? Am I famous yet?”

They don’t judge themselves and we get a benefit. They don’t judge you and me either. They’re contented with what they’ve achieved at the point they’ve achieved it.

Imagine that. To be happy about yourself just the way you are, where ever you are.

Are these non-competitors rich? Sometimes.

Famous? Some of them.

Are they in Wikipedia? A few. And they’re written up because they know the Secret-of-Life.

And what is that? I’ll tell you part of it. Letting go while accepting yourself allows you to have everything you want, as long as what you want is not for you.

Generous, giving people rise to the top because they love the process, and that process is not about them. They love the doing, not the becoming. And because they love the doing, they do it a lot and get good at it. Since they’re not yearning to become Number One, they don’t think about failing at that. Achieving anything less than perfection is simply part of the process and deserves a feeling of accomplishment.

DOING for others, is winning.

But people of service don’t give to gain, although it comes anyway. They don’t see the world as completions and failures. They consider their lives a sea of change and challenges, all interesting, all creative, all productive. For them, human existence is about learning what won’t work so they can move on to what does. Missing is necessary! It’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Only a few people of this caliber live among us, yet they influence our world in both subtle and crucial ways. They’re not keeping score. We are. And they’re as close to being perfect as any soul can get while still walking this Earth.

Perfect people don’t think about status or recognition for their gifts. But as I said, some get it anyway. I wish I could join their club. I’d like to be closer to being perfect. But if I were, I wouldn’t be interested in writing about it and this post wouldn’t exist.

 

Originally posted on Curiosityquills.com.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2013/06/when-is-good-enough-good-enough/

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