To Exhale Experience: An Offering To The World

To me, every hour of the day and night is an unspeakably perfect miracle.
~Walt Whitman

How often we forget that we are gifted the perfection of finite hours within our lifetime, neatly packaged moments filled with experience. They arrive to us as much as we go to them, a mingling of synthesizing interactions that define our lives.

What we decide to do with them is inevitably our choice.

I spend excessive amounts of time in my car, which is limping along these days while the busier world passes me by. But in the slower commute to here and there, I am gifted the chance to observe not only the behaviors of others, but my own reactions to them.

When I am too much with this world, my reactions are swift, emotional, and often filled with raw anger and frustration. I allow myself to be a participant to the bustling ways of my fellow commuters. In remaining “there,” though, I expend an extraordinary wasteful amount of energy. And if, by chance, they receive my reactions, it only escalates into an exhaustive battle about, well, nothing.

I avoid these clashes with listening to a new soundtrack I created called “VW Core.” It comprises the top 137 songs that define my life, a gentle balance that includes everything from solo piano pieces to a few jams from the Grateful Dead.

To put it simply, it brings me back to the experiences that have defined my life, that rise above petty rants with passers-by.

So, as summer approaches, I am reminded of the unspeakably perfect miracles held within each hour of our days. I will be on Chesapeake Bay, or taking walks in the woods with my children, or exploring the trails that cling to the shores of our nearby watershed. And, in absorbing these moments from these miraculous hours, I will then share them here and with others, exhaling the experiences that define my life.

I invite you to do the same in the coming months. See the beauty in the hours gifted to us, and share what you find with others. It is the very least we can do to offer the world such wondrous miracles experienced.

It’s Time To Rename This Thing Called Blogging

I’m not much into branding, or rebranding, as this case may be, but I think it’s time that I abandon the generic term of “blogging” and get a little more specific about what I am actually doing here on the internet.

It doesn’t take a lot of research to realize that everybody has some kind of web presence now, and most people are on multiple social media platforms. In addition to a blog, they have Facebook profiles (yes, plural) and Instagram accounts (including the fake ones, or “finstas”); they also have accounts with Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, Tumblr, and other places that allow various forms of self-expression.

It’s all a little too much, if you ask me.

I’ve deleted most of the apps from my phone and have abandoned the majority of my sites in the last few months. So much of my time was being consumed by emotional responses to original posts or comments that had been left. Each “session” of checking my feeds left me exhausted.

So when I visited my blog this morning to see how much my writing has changed in the last few years, I felt ashamed, and even a little disgusted, that I had somehow strayed from being so open, so raw in my writing, with no particular audience in mind. I got swept up in branding, gaining some kind of following, and culling the best and finest words for posts that I had hoped would go “viral.”

What a horrible term to use for something we yearn for.

That’s why I want to change the name of what I am doing here, and I think it’s important for me to shout that out to the world, explain what I’m doing, and why.

I thought about naming this as my online journal, but it carries a weight with it that is just a notch or two above the horrible connotations associated with the term, “diary.” I’m 54 years old. I don’t need to put that wonder in the minds of readers that I’m chronicling what I had for lunch on any given day (don’t think for a moment that the irony is lost on me here; some food diarists are making six figures or more for writing about food).

I decided to do a quick search on Thesaurus.com for synonyms for journal. Here’s what they listed:

I was immediately happy to see that “blog” is not even listed. When I did a search for “Blog,” a much shorter list popped up:

I’m not trying to be difficult about this, but none of these synonyms really work for what I will be doing here. I’m seeing this space more as my “Leaves of Grass” that Walt Whitman first published in 1855 and then refined up to nine times in the last 37 years of his life. What I want to do here seems fairly aligned with Whitman’s attempt to capture his authentic philosophy of life and humanity as it evolved in his later years.

I want this space to be my “song of myself” from this point onward until I can write no more.

I don’t want to worry about offending or pleasing; what I will spill here is my song. What you do with it is really up to you.

So that’s what I think I will call it, at least for now. This is not a blog, or a journal. This is My Song, celebrating life and humanity as I see it.

The goal is to publish more frequently, more authentically, with content that is important to me, but accessible by you. Over the next few months, I’ll begin to re-design this site to reflect it as more of a songbook. I’m excited to see where this might go.

Focus on One Thing

I made some pretty bold moves this weekend, and I’m a lot better off this Sunday night than I was just 48 hours ago. It’s because of some advice that I received last week, on something totally unrelated to what I just discovered.

A little backstory here is necessary. Since the 2016 presidential election, I, like millions of others, have been pretty gripped with the polarizing politics here in the United States. It doesn’t matter what side you are on; it’s been emotionally draining for everyone. Relationships of all kinds have been strained, and I’ve acknowledged several times here and on social media how I have been overwhelmed by it all. It has affected my writing, my art, my love for music, my everything. I’ve been passionate about fighting for what I believe is right, and as a result, so much around me has suffered.

Fast forward to last week, when I turned in my article to my Catholic Review editor. After he had a chance to read it, we had a phone conference about the story. His bottom line: Focus on one thing, and then write about that one thing.

Let me repeat that:

Focus on one thing.

In the context of writing, it is a fairly rigid rule to keep it simple and be direct. It’s good advice that I’ve heard, and shared, over the years. My editor was spot on.

So fast forward five days, and here I am, still struggling with fluctuating polls, vitriolic tweets, hypocritical rants from all sides, and paralyzing gridlock in my newsfeed. I texted a friend of mine that I had lost my love for reading, for listening to music, for going on photo shoots. It was as if I had picked up a handful of crayons and had scribbled relentlessly through my thoughts, scrambling any coherent idea or passion that was possible.

No passion. No focus.

Then, for whatever reason, my editor’s words popped into my head: Focus on one thing.

It would be easy for me to apply this advice by ridding my life of the distractions that are keeping me from my art. Delete the politics, and the focus returns. That would certainly work, at least in the short term.

But when I meditated on my editor’s advice, I realized something a little deeper.

If I focus my energy on my own gifts, and how I can make a change in this world through deliberate acts, then I will no longer be paralyzed by the things I cannot control.

I immediately thought of my mentors, including my patron saint Francis de Sales, and Mother Theresa, Ghandi, and Thich Nhat Hanh. While each of them might have been political, all of them were driven by their gifts of benevolence, peace, and charity. They looked for the common ground and not the things that divide us.

In other words, it’s not enough to delete the politics from our lives. I’m actually suggesting just the opposite. We need to, first and foremost, focus on the one thing that we are best at when it comes to making our communities healthy. Once we do that, everything else will take care of itself.

For me, these acts are done for – and through – God. And if I can offer contributions to my community that improve its overall health and wellness, then we are shielded from the things that are tearing others apart. In fact, it diminishes that contentious hold on us and begins to return us to a higher ground of respect toward all.

So as we navigate our energies through these turbulent times, focus on that one thing that you do well for others, and don’t worry so much about the things you can’t control. I believe that if more of us contribute kindness to others in our own communities, we will begin to feel a shift in our country’s larger energy for the values we believe are essential, not only for today but for our children’s future.

Our actions today are developing their focus for tomorrow; let’s make sure they focus on one thing: benevolence toward all.

 

Offering The Creative Collective To Artists, Writers, and Creatives

the-creative-collective-coverYesterday, out of a strong desire to create a “safe space” for creatives to share ideas, prompts, strategies, and inspirations, I created a new Facebook group called The Creative Collective.

Here, writers, artists, and all creatives now have the opportunity to share and be inspired to rediscover and strengthen their creativity. Nothing is being sold or pitched here; this is purely for imagination stimulation.

If you would like to join us on Facebook (it’s free and open to the public), go HERE.

Taking A Walk In The Woods

I’m sharing this on the trail here in Gunpowder Falls State Park, where I’ve decided to take a little walk in the woods to reconnect with the Earth. This is my first mobile post here at The Baltimore Writer, an experiment to bring you my experiences more immediately, perhaps a little raw and incomplete. 

It’s authentic, though, and that’s what I’m going for. An authentic presentation of my life as I am living it.

It’s cold out here, just above 30 degrees. I’m in the middle of an abandoned archery range. It’s like visiting a ghost-town zoo, where the remnants of the animals’ souls remain, a reminder of their once-abundant presence.


I feel like we came here, pushed our way through, cleared out the wildlife, and then left-moved on to the next space to conquer.

And all in a state park.

I know it’s not this way. I’m sure that this archery range has brought delight to a lot of people, young and old. But I know this isn’t the case in other natural parts of the county (and elsewhere).

I’d rather walk in the wild and take my chances than step on these state-park scrubbed paths, these sanitized stones void of the very life forms that it once provided for, these thriving creatures small and large, now nothing more than bullseye props for us to play the role of the man-in-the-wild.

Oh, irony, how you are too close, too often, these days.

Faith, Hope, and Legacy: A Collection of Christmas Reflections

Sharing with all of my Baltimore Writer followers…

Thank you very much for your interest in Faith, Hope, and Legacy: A Collection of Christmas Reflections, featuring “Gretchie’s Gifts,” my latest Christmas story in memory of my dear friend, Gretchen Trageser Smith.

This is a 121-page eBook (PDF format) that can be opened on any smartphone or tablet. It includes three short stories, a collection of essays, and a series of Christmas song reflections.

This is currently a FREE publication. I am asking for donations, however, and ALL proceeds received for this eBook between December 8 and December 18, 2016, will be donated to the PICU at Sinai Hospital to ensure that the children who will be spending their holidays (and beyond) in the Intensive Care Unit will have a little light during this time of year. Faith Smith, Gretchen’s sister, and I will personally deliver the donation to Sinai before Christmas.

To download your free copy of Faith, Hope, and Legacy, click HERE.

To download your free copy of Faith, Hope, and Legacy in ePUB format, click HERE.

To download your free copy of Faith, Hope, and Legacy in MOBI format, click HERE.

To download your copy of Faith, Hope, and Legacy in the KINDLE store for just $0.99, click HERE.

If you would like to make a donation before or after you download this publication, please do so below ($5, $10, or $25). If you are interested in donating a different amount, please contact me directly at rus.vanwestervelt@gmail.com.

*** Please share this link with your family and friends. We want to do everything we can to brighten their Christmas. To learn more about the Children’s Hospital at Sinai, go HERE.

REMEMBER: ALL donations made between December 8 and December 18 go directly to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, MD.

To make a donation, please go HERE and scroll to the bottom of the page.

THANK YOU! I will keep everyone updated on how much we have collected for the PICU at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore.

as always…………………rvw

 

In the Wake of Tragedy: Choose Peace Advocacy

Is there anything sensible left to write when it comes to the tragedies like the one we are facing right now in our lives? In the last week, Orlando has experienced three horrific events that have shocked us as a nation, sending ripples of grief worldwide.

While each of the events is tragic in its own right, the Pulse night club massacre where a gunman opened fire and killed 49 innocent individuals punches us so deeply for its senselessness.

“The shooting resulted in 50 deaths, including the gunman, who was killed by police after a three-hour standoff. Another 53 were injured. The attack was the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman and the deadliest incident of violence against LGBT people in U.S. history, and also the deadliest terrorist attack in the U.S. since the September 11 attacks.”

Such attacks are not new in our country, and after each one, we refresh the wellness initiatives, employee assistance programs, and countless other proactive plans and strategies we have created to provide help and build strong community and organizational foundations.

And, I am certain that these programs have assisted many individuals in overcoming their anxieties and illnesses. Believing that these programs are ineffective or a waste of money is completely ridiculous. We must do more — not less — to help others, in all ways.

With that said, it is becoming very clear to me that, despite the work of many millions of caring individuals, we cannot close this ugly and once unimaginable door that has been opened. It is horrific, it is unconscionable, and it is a part of our existence that we cannot deny.

The vast majority of people who have committed such atrocious acts as the Orlando massacre are not those individuals who were denied services, who fell through the cracks, or who were just looking for a little attention. Something went wrong internally, and they shifted their focus to the evil residing in that Dark Place.

Perhaps Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened that door on April 20, 1999, when they murdered 12 students, one teacher, and injured an additional two dozen others at Columbine High School. Since then, more than 50 massacres have happened in the United States, with 27 of them occurring since 2007. These are not isolated, retaliative attacks against one or two individuals; these are full-blown assaults against innocent individuals, regardless of race, ethnicity, age, or gender; although the Orlando massacre occurred at a gay nightclub, it is still uncertain how sexual orientation might have played into the gunman’s decision of where to carry out the attack. As new information is learned, there is a speculation about the gunman’s own sexual orientation.

An infinite number of security systems, wellness programs, and lines of love are not going to close this door. They help tremendously, and we need to continue to support them unconditionally.

But completely close the door on such horrors? Impossible.

Goucher Easter 011This is why we need to shift our energy, our thinking, our focus.

Friends on social media have been pleading the case for love, not war. Hope, not hate. Life, not death. Their words have a powerful impact on me and, I hope, many others. Yet, with the presidential campaign using this massacre as a means of condemning candidates, we are left with a less unified reaction. We are quick to blame instead of being quick to love.

Instead of blaming others, though, I think we need to be aggressive in our activism for peace.

So, in addition to the thoughts and prayers, in addition to living the lifestyles of gentle peace, I believe we must now live our lives with aggressive intent to be peace activists, and recognize the value in having a genuine awareness of the beauty that not only surrounds us, but absolutely bursts from within us. We need to harness that energy and use it purposefully, mindfully, and with serious intent.

We need to see that, despite these horrors that are now a part of our world, we possess an infinitely greater power to change lives for the better, starting with our very own. It takes action, though, to be engaged in the solution, to be cognizant of those around us who are in need or who are hurting, to reach out in ways that lead to solutions.

The gunman who slaughtered 49 people in Orlando talked about his intentions. He wrote about them. He was investigated twice by the FBI for reasons that placed him on a terror watch list. Even on a personal level, there were opportunities for individuals to say something, to add new information to existing files.

These three simple rules to living a purposeful life with an aggressive advocacy for peace can save lives.

First, you need to find the Prism of Life in every moment. You need to recognize and embrace life’s beauty. Even in the darkest of personal times, beauty still surrounds us. See it and absorb it. Let the prism of life radiate through you, not around you.

Second, you must believe in your power to radiate an infectious, inspiring, and unconditional love. Your energy, limitless in abundance, can and will change lives of the people you meet, interact with, and share a space. We do not need to know when we change lives, or even the specific actions that we have done that have been effective; we just need to know that our actions of peace and love make a profound difference in our communities, both virtual and real.

Third, you need to know, with your entire being, that all we really need is love — to feel, to give, to live. You need to understand that we are not alone in our bouts of confusion, anger, sadness, and frustration. These emotions are just as real and genuine as joy, happiness, and calm. They are allowed to occupy our minds, our hearts, and our souls just as freely. In understanding that these emotions and feelings are real among the millions of Americans and individuals throughout the world, we begin see people in a different light. We begin to approach our relationships with empathy and understanding, with compassion and love, with action and with support.

Yes. There are differences in belief systems that drive some individuals to carry out horrific acts. But these individuals share their thoughts, they throw signals of intent, they talk, write, and publish their plans. If we, with a heightened sense of peace and love through advocacy and activism, can report such signals and provide support for the individuals in need, then we are contributing to more peaceful communities and diminishing the chances of such horrific acts from ever taking place.

Love. Act. Serve. We cannot wait for the next tragedy to advocate for peace. The days are long gone for us to talk about how bad it might get. We are already there.

Pushing Through The Darkness: Faith, Trust, Commitment

BlueSkyJuly212015

Taken 21 July 2015, Towson, MD. rus vanwestervelt

On June 16, when I cut ties with social media to focus entirely on finishing my book, Fossil Five, I made a big deal about descending into darkness (you can read about it HERE). After all, I selected a 105-day period that ran from a new moon to a total lunar eclipse. You can’t get much darker than that, I thought.

Until I heard from a college friend, who reached out to me the other day, disconsolate as she struggled with her own darkness in the early stages of divorce.

“There is no light,” she wrote. “Everywhere I turn, there is this blackness, this abyss, and it all looks the same. I have no idea where to go or what to do, because no direction is providing any hope.”

Our periods of darkness are relative, and her darkness is genuine and even terrifying. Even with the great differences between her involuntary darkness and my decision to “go dark” for 105 days, there are some similarities that emerge.

When I took that big jump off the cliff (and into my own creative abyss), I wanted to remove myself from the distractions. What I found is that what lurks in that darkness are all of the things that really have stopped me from writing all this time. And down here, they are just plain mean and ugly.

Now, I’m not beating myself up here. I write all the time, and more for publication than at any other time in my writing career. But there’s writing for the paper, or blogging, or journaling … and then there’s writing a 130,000-word story about five individuals who have inherited the mystery of their lives.

This story — and all by my doing — has been a bear to map, to design, to plot, to create.

To write.

Going into the abyss was necessary. I knew it then when I made the decision, and I affirm it today, 36 days into the journey.

Removing social media and other distractions, however, only showcased the deeper reasons for the challenges I’ve faced with finishing this story.

And that, Fellow Creatives and Faithful Readers, is why this is the hardest — and best, I hope — story I have ever written.

So what’s in the dark lurking with these words about these five wandering characters, facing their own challenges right along with me?

Raw, primal living where I am face-to-face with the big questions challenging my Faith. Trust. Commitment.

I’m a 50-year-old husband and father of three children, ages 10 to 19. Life is busy, as it is for everyone else, and I am writing around and among my life as a husband, father, and individual. I have chosen to sacrifice none of these things as I write.

But still, I write.

In this darkness, I have explored the depths of my own faith and am more spiritually connected in a 50/50 East–West blend of Taoism and Christianity that, if it were a brew at Starbucks, the line would be out the door. My faith continues to strengthen, my confidence in who I am, my belief in the power of my spiritual core and what I am here to do, here to give, here to share.

In this darkness, I have hit some pretty low points in motivation and creativity. But in those low points, I have realized what trust is all about: trust in others, trust in a plan, trust in having patience. I have realized that the greatest Trust comes in what cannot be seen.

But still, in all that darkness, I continue to write.

And in that writing, the trust and patience have turned frustration into epiphany. I have discovered new connections, new experiences, new opportunities for Fossil Five as well as for myself. These would have never been possible without jumping off that cliff and into the abyss.

As well, in this darkness, I better understand commitment, and that going all-out for one thing (plunging into darkness to finish writing a book) doesn’t necessarily mean that the rest of the world stops spinning. Kids get sick, bills need to be paid, and dogs and cats still need to taken care of.

Commitment is the long walk, the big journey over hills and through valleys. It’s through rains and then droughts. It’s in the blazing, intense sun and under the ecliptic, portentous storm clouds. It’s day when it’s night, and night when it’s day. It’s the most oxymoronic experience of my life.

And still, in that darkness — thanks to commitment, I continue to write.

I guess that after you have walked a few hundred-thousand steps and you look over your shoulder, you see how far you have really come through all of it, even when life was so dark that you couldn’t see your foot as you took the next step forward.

I marvel at how far Faith, Trust, and Commitment have carried me, just as they begin to carry my friend facing divorce, and just as they might have carried you (or continue to at this moment). All because we kept moving, or kept writing. We invested Trust. We held on to our Faith. We didn’t waver in our commitment, even though we might have trudged begrudgingly up the hills and searched for a way out of the valleys.

How beautiful it all continues to be.

For my friend on the verge of divorce, I tried to offer a little life-light to let her know that she was not alone. In her own abyss, there can still be Faith, and Trust, and Commitment that will pull her through. In darkness, these three — and Love (always Love) — will get us through. I hope she reads this, and I hope she knows that others (you, and you, and I know you) have been in your own darkness. You got through, as will she.

We just need Faith, Trust, Commitment to see the first beam of light, feel the dark slip slowly out of sight, and gather strength from the Promise that awaits.

It always awaits.

The story itself of Fossil Five: I am in love with it. Every single word. I don’t regret the struggles along the way, the battles within and the challenges around me. All I need to do is keep writing, and I’ll reach my goal of finishing this beautiful, wonderful story about five people I have come to love very much.

So. It’s back to the writing. Thank you for allowing me these few moments of light to share these thoughts with you.

I look forward to the moment when I can finally share these five fine lives with all of you as well. I do believe they will change your life, as they have changed mine.

Until then, Embrace Faith. Have Trust. Be unwavering in your Commitment.

And Love. Always Love.

 

 

It’s Time For Us To Get (Really) Acquainted

cropped-rvw-autumn-road.jpgHi.

I read a piece this weekend by a former student of mine and now fellow writer/author. Amanda, like a few others I know, is really digging deep and writing authentically (here’s the piece I’m talking about).

She made me turn the mirror on myself and see if I practice what I preach in my writing, or if I am one of those e-Posers, creating a false image of who I really am.

After thinking about it for the last 24 hours, I’ve come to this conclusion: I’m walking the thin fence, and I wobble a little to the left, a little to the right, a little too often.

What does that mean exactly? Well, to be honest…

What I Am Noticing

I believe everything that I write, everything that I preach, everything that I share. My mantras on love, kindness, wellness, and spirituality are all sincere — not just for you, but for me as well. All of that stuff is true.

The wobbles come in when we start talking about what I will call “selective posting.” Like Amanda writes, we’re all at least a little guilty of it, in some way. Right? We hold back the negatives that might cast a harsh light on our otherwise stellar lives. We keep in the backs of our minds our jobs, our family, our friends, our relationships. We are careful to walk that smooth line atop that fence, keeping our opinions in check, making sure that what we say, or write, or do does not become a misconstrued piece of evidence to jeopardize any aspect of our lives as we have crafted them.

In effect, though, we are becoming a mirrored image of the not-so-transparent people that we pose to be in our online worlds.

Do you get that? Do you see what is happening? In our effort to use social media to build ourselves up, we are actually using it to build nothing more than a superficial prototype of ourselves.

This is not who we are! And yet, the more we put in to that image, the less we can access that core of who we really are.

There’s another thing that happens, too: We spend a lot of time doing two things: logging in and logging out of the virtual world, and spending a lot of energy trying to get back to a place that we are losing touch with.

Thoreaus_quote_near_his_cabin_site,_Walden_PondThoreau called it the masses leading lives of quiet desperation. I think that, in this 21st century, Thoreau’s editor would change that to “…masses leading desperate lives of quiet superficiality.”

It’s sad, but it’s true. All it takes is a little mindfulness to slow it down long enough to step off the train and get reacquainted with who you really are.

Then hold on to that knowledge and never, ever surrender it.

What I Am Changing

Well, for starters, I’m going to use this space to be a bit more… uncut. My friend Steve has always liked these kinds of posts. He says that they are raw, real; something he can relate to. That’s what I want to share with you: more of the real side of me that isn’t always shown in a polished piece of writing. That begins now.

I’m also changing the frequency with which I write in this space. A good friend of mine, Jackie, writes a blog called the BaltimoreBlackWoman, and I find her words to be so encouraging and sincere as she embarks on this journey of online writing and publishing. Last month, she PM’d me and asked if everything was okay, as I had not been publishing much here at the Baltimore Writer. I assured her everything was fine, but it made me realize that I wasn’t seizing an opportunity to write more, share more, be authentic…more.

So that’s a big thing: Walking the walk while talking the talk. I want you to get to know me as a writer who freaks out about synthetics sucking all of the negative ions (and creativity) out of his soul, who charts methodically — obsessively — about every character’s nuances and every twist and turn of the story’s plot.

I want to share my more personal thoughts that are behind the polished pieces I write.

In essence, I want you to get to know me 3-dimensionally, where the struggles and challenges of living are made apparent in such a way that you can identify. That we can say we’re going through this thing called life together, holding hands, and taking our steps forward with courage and determination.

That we can say we knew each other more deeply than what was printed on the page, the screen, the tablet.

That we can say we appreciated the genuineness of our words, of our friendship, of our ideals.

That we can remember that we are not alone, that we are deeper than our social media avatar, that we are more loving, more gentle, more kind than we might have let on.

That we love, that we need to be loved, that we need to deliver love.

Those last few grafs sure sounded pretty plastic, I know. They sounded like the stuff I always publish, and maybe that’s the part of me that’s transparent. I believe in those things; I really do.

But what I believe in, just as much, is authenticity, through and through.

So there’s this:

I’m a writer runner, skipping over projects sometimes two at a time to get to the safer piece, usually without the deadlines, so that I can continue to feel productive. I am immensely deadline-driven, and I lose myself whenever possible in the non-structured wilderness of brainstorming, generating, and molding of ideas.

But for me to be successful, I have to stay close to the core of who I am. That’s a daily struggle as a writer. I have enough freelance gigs now that I can hop from story to story without feeling too guilty. Hey– I’m writing all the time; isn’t that what this life is all about?

Yes and, well, no.

The stuff I’m writing isn’t deep enough. I have to stay closer to the core, and more often, to really capture the words to express what I am thinking, feeling.

It’s not about hopping from deadline to deadline; in fact, it’s the complete opposite. It’s about crafting pieces deeply and then finding homes for them afterward.

It’s also about being genuine with myself, more often.

And that’s what you will be hearing from me, more often, here at The Baltimore Writer.

 

 

2015: Living Primal In The 21st Century

This is my last post for 2014. I made some bold decisions in the past year regarding my writing, and I expect to see the benefits in 2015. Not because I can kick back and cherish the fruits of my labor; it’s because I have laid the foundation to really begin doing the hard work (which I love) for many years to come.

And so, with this entry I remind my readers: often, I write to discover an understanding of what I am feeling, of what is — or is not — establishing balance in my life. This post is no different; it is not a judgment on you (or you, or even you). Rather, it is a general conclusion I have made about my own use of social media, of how I, as a highly introverted writer, need to get on in this world to refine my focus and establish a more stable balance of existence. Simply put, I recognize that each of us has a unique path. If my epiphanies work for your journey, then I am grateful. If, on the other hand, we have little or nothing in common, and my words affirm your own place in the world (be it far different than my own), then I am equally grateful.

All good? Wonderful. Let’s move along, then.

Ulysses and the Sirens

Artist: Marie-Francois Firmin-Girard: “Ulysses and the Sirens” (1868)

We have sacrificed a great deal of ourselves in the early years of this 21st century, and as I get older, I am becoming more aware of the pull, the siren-type lull as famed in Homer’s The Odyssey, to resign to passivity and mediocrity.

Bluntly put, that doesn’t lead us to anywhere good.

Nineteenth Century British author Walter Copland Perry called the Sirens in our mythology the muses of the underworld. He wrote, “Their song, though irresistibly sweet, was no less sad than sweet, and lapped both body and soul in a fatal lethargy, the forerunner of death and corruption.”

For much of 2014, I grappled with the tease of social media, the reasoning behind my dangerous attraction to it, and the manipulation of data by the media and money-hungry conglomerates that have thrown the net far and wide to catch as many consumers as possible. All of this has sucked me in, but out of disgust. It’s like that inevitable accident that you can’t stop watching. You flinch, you grimace, you might even bring your arms up to protect your face.

But you still leave a crack of light open for your eyes to capture it all. That’s where I have been with social media and the battle to live life simply.

And– when I step back, I mean really far back, the bigger picture is even more horrifying.

I am reminded of the scene in the movie Contact, directed by Robert Zemeckis in 1997 and starring Jodie Foster, when the masses gather to celebrate the “message of Vega.” They were drawn to experience something that they had never seen before. Immediately, they were lulled in to so much more. This short clip from the movie, to me, captures what Social Media is doing to me and so many of us in the first handful of years of the 21st Century.

This is what I see, at least. We are jumping on a bandwagon that’s been rigged from the start to placate us, to make us doubt ourselves as we pretend to build ourselves up. We buy and sell things, feelings, emotions, lies, deceit, hope, promises, love, and even hate. We persuade, distract, overwhelm, satiate, and lull — yes, lull like the Sirens — each other into false senses of security, comfort, and rescue from chaos. It is the machine of all machines, and we are all cogs in its greater mission. It is the largest force of artificial intelligence, and we are all contributing to the hum of its finely tuned operation.

I want out.

Friends and writers alike tell me it is social suicide to delete social media accounts and make the move to the woods. They tell me that I will never get my writing to “take off” and build on the momentum that I have created over the years. Social media is the number one way to stay in touch, informed, and intrigued. To sever that cord is like walking out of the Superdome in life’s greatest ongoing Super Bowl event that has ever occurred.

I know that, to a large extent, they are right about my career. But more important than any writing dreams I might have, there’s this: I don’t want to lose touch with everyone I care about.

So what to do?

I have to return to one of my old stand-by lines of great wisdom. To quote Emerson (for, perhaps, the 12th time on this blog):

“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

That’s it. Right there. I want out, but I want to stay in, too. I just don’t want all the ugly stuff that comes with staying “in.”

Is it any different, though, than watching television? We are given the opportunity to tune in to nearly 1,000 channels at any given moment. We choose the frequency, my friends. We make the choice.

What I have learned in 2014 is that those choices require a lot of hard work, focus, dedication, and commitment. Getting older doesn’t make any of those things easier; in some ways, we have to try even harder to avoid the sirens’ alluring calls. They tempt us to resign to the complacency that social media offers us.

Tempting, yes. All the time. That’s why 2015 is about returning to the Hunter-Gatherer within me.

It’s not going to be easy to focus my energies into the things that matter the most to me. I have to employ a will to seek out my greatest needs and achieve them; I need to do away with everything “processed and refined” in my life and retain the primal goods and meaningful relationships that exist. I need to let them flourish, become the most powerful things in my life, and live genuinely with and among them.

There it is. My focus for 2015: Living Primal in the 21st Century.

I leave you (and 2014) with a great clip from a movie called Facing The Giants (2006). It captures the essence of how I need to prepare for the long haul in 2015. Maybe you feel the same. Maybe you need to realize that you can do some pretty once-believed impossible things. For me, I need to remember that it’s a long year, and I can’t lose sight of my focus and my goals, no matter how heavy or burdensome the pursuit might seem.

Just keep going, never give up, never quit, and never stop believing in the greatness within you.

 Happy New Year to all of you, near and far. May these be the greatest of days, regardless of the challenges we will most certainly face along the way.