So, let’s talk

Earlier today, I had a little sit-down with myself to figure a few things out. You see, my inner critic has been working overtime in the past month or two, absolutely convincing me that the following were completely, and without question, true:

  • My words were no longer meaningful, and they no longer mattered with the masses;
  • Blogs were dead, stupid, antiquated, washed up, and no longer read (hey! just like me);
  • Your audience is sick of you;
  • You are pathetic to think otherwise; and
  • Hell, you are pathetic.

These thoughts stopped me from writing anything. I did not even write in my daybook. It was a ridiculous, self-piteous period of wallowing in negativity and doubt.

So, as I said, I had that little sit-down convo with me-truly, and I’m not going to lie, I let the expletives fly, as Seinfeld’s Kramer says.

It felt good. It really did. I needed to hear myself fight back against all that fake news that I have been self-spewing. I made the commitment to blog tonight, but with a purpose:

To not teach, preach, or inspire.

Gasp!

So, not only did I throw myself back into the fire, I threw away the crutches and dove in head first without a safety net.

Which brings me to what I’ll be doing here at The Baltimore Writer for the foreseeable future. Many years ago, I started writing “Rus Uncut” entries, and they were well received because they were so raw. I’ve tried a few times to get back to that, but I kept falling back into the teach-and-preach model.

Pathetic, right?

So here we are tonight, willing (desperately) to give it another shot.

What does that mean? Probably some really boring blogs, some out-there thinking, and maybe some pretty pictures to keep you coming back to see something shiny.

It means all of this, maybe none of it, maybe some Franken-mix of a bunch of different things. And I’ve opened comments for you to join in with the uncut-ness of the whole thing.

But what I can promise you is that it will be raw, uncut, and authentic. All Rus.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. I need to do this for me, though, so there. You are welcome to follow along, share your thoughts, or unsubscribe entirely and vote to have The Baltimore Writer completely scrubbed from the interwebs.

We’ll see how this goes. Thanks for whatever choice you make (except for the web scrubbing. That would suck for sure).

Yours, sans teaching and preaching,

Rus

Share More, Think Less

TBW writing spaceI spend a lot of time in my head, thinking and thinking and thinking about what to write about. Even though I keep a little Piccadilly notebook with me at all times, capturing little snippets of life that I find interesting, I don’t do enough with them.

In those moments, I am happy that I jotted them down. Good to make that thought concrete, I think to myself. And it is good. I believe there’s a lot of life that passes us by that is fascinating, especially the small things that we see between the bigger events.

Sitting at a table with a group of high school friends, listening to one tell a fascinating story of saving her small business, I glance across the crab cakes and buttered vegetables to see another friend pick up her napkin, dab the corner of her eye, and try to push a smile to support the success of her friend. Try to fit in. Try to not let the world see that she is elsewhere, caught in her own memory. I meant to mention something to her after the dinner, but by then she was — or seemed — totally fine. She moved on, and so did I.

Later, I remember and I jot these observations down in my little notebook, then go about my busy life. Months later I page through the old notes, and there it is:

Kelly’s tear when Tracy was sharing her business story. What memory composed that tear?

My notebook is filled with notes like this one, and many of them are left unexplored. While that little journal is capturing the immediate observations, I just don’t do enough to follow through with the deeper stories, whether they might be real or eventually fictional, as “Gretchie’s Gift” turned out to be.

There’s a reason for that. Simply put, I need to think less and share more.

I’ve always enjoyed coming here to the Baltimore Writer and sharing my ideas and observations with you, but I just haven’t done it enough this year.

In fact, when I take a quick glance at the stats, I’m pretty ashamed of what I see. The last five years have been ridiculously light, posting 40 or fewer pieces each year, with just 11 posted thus far in 2016:

published-posts

Now, these stats don’t mean that I haven’t been writing. When it comes to constructed fiction for the purpose of publishing with a larger audience (beyond this blog) in the 11 years since I started blogging regularly, I’ve written nearly 500,000 words. And my larger daybooks are filled with hundreds of thousands of more raw words that have never been shared with others.

But what I am sharing with all of you here at the Baltimore Writer… That needs to improve — not because I don’t think that I am writing enough. It’s because I don’t think I am sharing and publishing enough. What good are the thoughts if they never reach the hearts and the minds of my readers, both today and tomorrow?

That’s why I created the Baltimore Writer. I wanted to reach all of you more with my daily thoughts, even the mundane ones, about what life is like through these eyes. It would be easy for me to make this a goal for 2017, but I don’t want to wait until the new year begins to do that.

So, it is my intent to resume publishing posts here as daily as possible about writing, about living here in Baltimore, about being a dad, about being spiritual, about being a human being just trying to manage a complicated life that needs to be simplified.

I expect the entries will be a little less polished, but you will hear a genuine voice, uncensored, about life as observed through these eyes. What my readers wish to do with it… well, that is up to you. My hope is that it will leave you thinking a little about what you are observing (and maybe eventually writing and sharing). But even that’s pushing it. In truth, I am just throwing these thoughts into the Universe; may they be used as necessary, now and tomorrow.

I appreciate that so many of my friends do this via social media platforms. Those posts, stories, and pictures capture what I believe is becoming a more genuine reflection of their lives. I’m seeing less of the cherry-picked moments of joy and perfection and more of the authentic experiences, both good and challenging.

That’s all I want to do here: give you the good and the challenging, and more often.

I look forward to sharing them with you in the days, months, and — God willing — years to come.

—-
You can read more on my professional site, The LifeStory Lighthouse, where you can also download my latest collection of Christmas stories, essays, and reflections (featuring “Gretchie’s Gifts).

TBW Writing Prompt #2: The Unknown Child

I was absolutely struck with this grave at an old Potter’s Field burial ground in Carroll County, MD. I couldn’t stop the run of possible stories that were developing as I kneeled beside this broken headstone. 

Where does this image take you? 

unknownchildrvw

photo: rus vanwestervelt, 8/2014.

More Than A Moonrise

IMG_1828

I do not know whether to trip over the light of the moon,
Or walk gently along the beams that find their way,
A cool, quarter-million miles to where I stand
This invitation to abandon stress, release the burdens, and follow play.

I marvel at its simplicity,
Framed in the silhouette of a Maple tree’s silk–
Long limbs cradling the brilliant orb,
A babe in nature’s womb, rebirth’d every 28 like the fate of the phoenix.

It is enough to be alive, a witness to beauty,
A gem polished again and again by the swirl of the sun,
The spin of the Earth,  the push–pull game of gravitational love;
The opening of a heart, receiving love rising along the light-dancing horizon.

~lines composed at moonrise, 8/7/14, rus vanwestervelt

Slow Down: Abandon the Speed of Your Newsfeed

photo: rus vanwestervelt, loch raven reservoir, baltimore, md

photo: rus vanwestervelt, loch raven reservoir, baltimore, md

My newsfeeds on multiple social media sites stream by me at a too-fast rate, pushing news and updates across my screen faster than I can refresh them. Emails await my replies in an overflowing inbox, and text messages are still unanswered from last night.

The world is too much with us…. wrote William Wordsworth in a sonnet he penned 212 years ago. Talk about words standing the test of time.

It is easy to get caught up in the rush of our digital world, isn’t it? With everything screaming by us at speeds that were incomprehensible earlier in our own lifetimes, we find ourselves feeling the need to keep up and match that speed so that we can stay in the flow of this ever-pressing world.

I think otherwise. In fact, I don’t buy it for a nanosecond.

I’m standing here on the banks of Loch Raven Reservoir in Baltimore, watching the colors of the rising sun sift through a patch of lazy steam making its own ascent from the still waters. There is nothing “fast” about this process. It moves independently, a natural beauty both fluid and brilliant in its display. I am mesmerized by how unfazed it is by my presence. I am a witness to its tranquil unfolding. I am open to all it has to teach me.

I come out here to be reminded of what matters most in my world. At times, like now, I have to remember what I am not, as much as who I am.

I feel my pulse align with my natural surroundings; my muscles relax, and my feet feel rooted in the damp, dewy grasses here at the edge of the waters. This is what life is about; this is what I am about.

A Mindful Intimation

I am not part of a scrolling newsfeed, nor do I need to keep up with one. The speed of my life experience is not dependent upon, or a mirror of, the technology around me. I align myself with the rising mist on local pre-dawn waters. I will not allow the world to be too much with me — at least not the one filled with screaming technology that never rests. I set my pace; I am mindful of my independence and personal solitude. This is my world. This is my existence.

 

Maryland’s Roadside Barns: Realizing a Communal Pulse

DeerParkBarn

photo: rus vanwestervelt, 8/2/14

There’s an old barn on Deer Park Road in Finksburg, MD, that I have passed over 2,000 times in the past 7 years. It stands rather defiantly, showing the wear of decades of harsh weather. Each time I pass it, I am drawn to its stand-alone beauty against a backdrop of rolling hills of farmland and forest.

In these 7 years, I have breathed deeply in my approach to it. The calm it has brought me, though, has remained somewhat of a mystery. Our drive to Madelyn’s farm is a peaceful one, filled with plenty of natural settings, where the greens and the browns seem a little more saturated against the stirring skies.

Why am I drawn to this simple, weathered barn abandoned on the side of a winding road, a long drive that leads me to Liberty Reservoir, a place hardly lacking in steal-your-breath moments of beauty?

Earlier this year, I felt the call to this barn becoming stronger; the alluring pull seemed exquisite in its own right to slow down even more and see beyond its “macro” beauty. In matters of such callings, I don’t waste a lot of time pondering them. I simply answer them when I know it is time. It’s like seeing an image of a work of art in some magazine; on the page, it captivates our attention and makes a certain statement. To view that same image up close, to realize the power of each stroke of each color just inches from you, is an entirely different experience.

Yesterday, despite feeling a little worn down myself, the affinity piqued; as I neared the barn on my drive back to the farm, I could not refuse its calling. Every board comprising its structure seemed full of life, where colors of steel gray and black pulsed against a marvelous sky weaving a tapestry of deepening blues and purples. I slowed down and really observed the aged details in the wood, the crawl of the ivy along the vertical grooves in each plank, the fortitude of the doors to protect whatever rested in the darkness within.

Immediately I was taken back to the tobacco barns in Calvert County. A quarter-century ago, I spent several years living among them on the rolling spanse of land in Southern Maryland. The outside of these structures bore the brunt of the harsh elements year after year, protecting the precious commodities within its four walls. A quick glance from a passer-by would conjure thoughts of neglect for an antiquated building that should be deemed unsafe and dismantled, board by board, until all that remained was the dusty foundation it rested on for forty, fifty, or more years.

These barns thrived, despite their outward appearance. On some days, when the tobacco was hanging to dry inside, every fourth or fifth plank would be pulled away from the side of the building, letting oxygen and light into the barn like gills providing the necessary ingredients for a fulfilling life. In the few times I was allowed to enter the tobacco barns, the thin lines of light and the hint of a soft breeze was all I needed to know that this place breathed; the outer structure nurtured the hanging tobacco inside like a womb woos the unborn child with nutrients and love.

From the outside, it might not be the most beautiful sight to behold, but in appreciating the inner depth of its beauty, words become mere markers that fall short of capturing something so undefinable. It is alluring in the most inexplicable manner; to diminish its mystery with definitions of individuation compromise the very essence of its beauty.

It is enough to see and feel it breathe, to witness the miracle of its existence in the oft-blurred backgrounds of a bigger landscape.

In my car on Deer Park Road, I stopped. The barn loomed large with its boards towering over me. Before I raised my phone to snap a few pictures, I breathed the air around me; my lungs expanded with a harmony of life and decay, a decadence of life in balance. The swirling curves of crops to its right reminded me of a flow of life that moved beyond the barn in front of me, keeping everything in its rightful place for that longer journey.

But in those few, brief moments stopped along Deer Park Road, I allowed the energy of the barn to fill me completely. I wondered what it was protecting within, still to this day. What was it sheltering from the elements? What kept its boards pulsing with a charge so strong that I could not resist the urge to slow down, stop, and appreciate its beauty, its life?

Just a barn, or so it seems from the outside — at least to those who never slow down enough to feel the communal pulse of something larger within each of us.

I heard the hum of approaching cars, and so with a surge of new energy, I snapped a few pictures before rolling slowly away from the old barn on Deer Park Road. I glanced back at it in the mirror as I made my way around a final bend, and I could still feel the affinity of its calling. This time, though, I acknowledged its mystery with a new appreciation.