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That Ever-Singing Chord of CuriosityMy nephew has started swim lessons, which reminded me of my own swim lessons as a kid. Have I told you this before?

If so, I feel as though we all need this walk down memory lane. Imagine, if you will, a dozen little kids in the pool in their brand new swim clothes, all wearing Styrofoam “bubbles” as they called them, practicing our kicking and clinging to the side of the swimming pool because our very lives depended on it.

The bubbles were football-shaped foam secured to our backs by a blue belt that fastened around our chests with metal clips. In my vast little kid knowledge, I’d never seen any swimmer wear such a thing, so it struck that ever-singing chord of curiosity.

We were told not to let go of the side of the pool. They yelled and yelled at us not to do that because we would sink. But this was a lot of talk and no action, so I let go. Just for a moment, mind you, to test it. I didn’t sink. But I really hadn’t given it much of a chance, so I let go again, and again my hands sprung back to the side of the pool to catch me. I let go of one hand, then the other, and I quickly got up my nerve to let go for slightly longer periods of time, daring to do a twirl before putting my hands back on the poolside. I twirled to the right, and, needing balance always in my movements then, I then twirled left. And I could feel during the twirls that the blue belt of the bubble was tightening and pulling on me. I looked around, and saw that no bubbles were under the water. In fact, on some of the kids, the bubbles were positioned even higher than their heads. It all made sense.

The girl on my right was crying from fear. “Look,” I said, and showed her what I could do when I let go. “You won’t sink. The teachers are wrong. The bubble will hold you up. See?”

She refused to let go, but she did calm down. The girl on my left started to test the theory, letting go of one hand and then the other. Soon the others started, all the way down the row of us against the pool edge. I let go completely and paddled around until I was a few feet from the edge.

Suddenly, whistles were blown and swim coaches were jumping in and that was the end of that. I tried telling the coaches that we all knew about the bubbles now, but the adult carrying me shushed me and had me hold the side of the pool again.

Remembering this, clearly I see that the adults were trying to keep all of us safe. And I appreciate that. I never was, and I’m still not, a troublemaker. I learn the rules, obey them, and try always to think of others first. But being led by fear and simply believing what I’m told, now those are things that have never worked for me.

Sometimes, when you’re in that kind of mire up to your eyeballs, inspiration strikes. That’s not something to ignore. Stick to your gut. Great discoveries are meant to be shared.

They’re meant to make a splash.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Jody BrownKingdom, and is a blogger, poet, and traveler. To learn more about her current writing projects, or for ways to donate toward their completion, see JodyBrown.com/writing.

IMG_0797I’ve never really had a Bucket List. But when I decided to go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, I called the trip a Bucket List adventure to anyone who raised eyebrows at me. No, I had no desire to bare all on the street for some beads. But I did have an intrigue about this tri-colored street party, enough to plan it out and go once and for all—or, as we say in the restaurant world when setting out for an after-shift drink, for “one and done.”

Mardi GrasI stayed at Le Pavillon, an historic grand hotel a few blocks from the noise of Bourbon Street. Le Pavillon is a hotel with a tradition of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches served for guests at 10 o’clock nightly. Mardi GrasWhat’s more, guests are invited to sit on the plush and ornate furniture of the beautiful lobby as if it’s our own personal living room. (I was to learn in the coming days that this is signature New Orleans style: a happy and open welcome.)

In the Battle of New Orleans in 1814, Andrew Jackson defended the city from the British—with the help of the privateer and pirate, Jean Lafitte. Lafitte and his men were instrumental in helping to defeat the British. A city defended by pirates? I was starting to like this town more and more.

Twenty minutes on Bourbon Street and I found myself with a drink in my hand, a glitter-painted mask on my head, and a feather boa around my neck. The good times were rolling.

Mardi GrasMid-street conversations with jovial strangers were the norm. Some revelers in the street asked me to trade masks with them. When asked which bar was making the giant hand grenade drinks, my friend and I comically pointed in opposite directions, but later found that we were both right: The Tropical Isle has three Bourbon Street locations. One day, I wore a Captain America t-shirt, and everyone referred to me as “Captain” everywhere I went. And later in the week, when asked directions to different points of interest, I’d spent so much time on foot in the French Quarter that I knew the right directions to give.

Mardi GrasBy day, you could traverse the Bourbon Street crowds easily, and there was music everywhere—especially live music on the side streets. At night, the movement was much slower, and thus, more chatty, especially in areas with balconies above Bourbon because partiers tossed (on Sunday) and threw (Monday’s Lundi Gras) and outright rained down cases (Tuesday’s Mardi Gras) of beads onto all of us in the street below. (There’s a misconception that the only way you get beads is to flash someone. Not true: Beads are freely given, thrown, and traded.) Each day and night, you literally skated on the beads that had fallen on Bourbon Street. (And Bourbon Street was cleaned every night.) Then on Tuesday, you waded around heaps of them so tall that you pushed the mounds to see make sure there weren’t people underneath them.

Mardi GrasThe things I saw: I saw a man in nothing but a thong who’d taken a black wig and stuffed it into the front of the thong. I saw women in nothing but body paint—beautifully ornate body paint. I saw a terrible cabaret show. I saw some definite (enhanced and real) body parts, but as my friend put it so perfectly: “The ones you see are not so much the ones you want to see.”

I saw the Bacchus parade on Sunday night, gorgeously lighted. I saw the Rex and the Zulu parades on Tuesday afternoon and I tried to catch an illusive coconut as they were tossed from the floats. (In New Orleans, an organization that puts on a ball or parade for Carnival season is known as a Krewe, pronounced “crew.” Officially, the parades were called the Krewe of Bacchus, Krewe of Rex, etc.) I saw parade watchers on balconies attempt to throw beads across the four-lane street to the opposite balconies. I saw them succeed in the endeavor, too. I saw people on top of the parade floats, dressed in feathers that extended an easy six feet over their heads. I saw a parade marcher give a news interview as he drank a Bud Light. I saw float riders toss beads to the crowd with one hand while drinking from a jug in the other. I saw the absolute mess on Canal Street at noon on Tuesday as the parade passed through. I saw the city of New Orleans take to the cleanup effort as if it were no big deal at all.Mardi Gras

I saw the police march down Bourbon Street at 12:05 a.m. Wednesday morning, a happy phalanx clearing the street for a water truck to make its way through. The truck driver then bellowed, “Here comes the hose!” and I watched as an all-out surge of soapy water was pumped onto Bourbon. (You can’t be on the street after midnight. But you can be in the bars if you want, no problem.)

Mardi GrasQuietly walking the French Quarter daily, I learned of the history of French and then Spanish rule, the architecture that is mostly Spanish as two fires during Spanish occupation destroyed all but three buildings of the original French Quarter. I learned that the bend of the Mississippi River built up the French Quarter to now 11 feet above sea level, while the rest of New Orleans remains below sea level. I learned that that bend in the River created a crescent-shaped coastline along New Orleans, dubbing it the Crescent City. I learned that my hotel, Le Pavillon, sits in what was the American Quarter, which is separated from the French Quarter by Canal Street—known as neutral ground where different people and different ideas could come together safely. (Eventually, any central traffic median in New Orleans became known as “neutral ground.”) I learned that New Orleans has a history filled with the intermingling of different peoples and cultures, who, like their brilliant cuisine, find ways in common to celebrate life. I learned to slow down, raise a glass, and enjoy.

Mardi GrasI traveled to New Orleans for Mardi Gras as a way to put a check onto a Bucket List that I hadn’t actually made. And I still haven’t made one.

What I found is that Mardi Gras, the French Quarter, and New Orleans itself are not Bucket List adventures. The celebration, sharing, the community of strangers, and the downright enjoyment of life are like feeling the sun on your face after a long, cold winter. That’s not something suited for one and done. It warrants no check mark. It’s something to be lived–again and again.

~

“The value in living out your Bucket List is in changing your entire perspective on life, one brave step at a time.”
Jody Brown, blogger, poet, traveler, and author
                of Upside Down Kingdom

On the Other Hand…

Sitting in a dark movie theater, watching all the previews of the upcoming movies–many of which involve fighting or strife because those things make great stories–and I think about how the dramas unfold. I think about the ways in which the hero is put down, the ways he’s knocked around, pushed aside, and cast out. As I think of these things, I picture a hand with fingers slowly closing into a fist.

Then comes that line-in-the-sand drumbeat followed by violins (or guitar, depending on the movie) and the moment arises when the hero has taken all he will take and he comes out swinging that fist, because that makes great movies.

In real life, we deal with all sorts of things on a daily basis but it’s not the heightened drama of the movies. There are times, certainly. Times in war, times in protecting our families, times in standing up for what’s right. But most times, they’re just times. And most enemies are just people.

In real life, it’s hard to do nothing. We think its cowardice but it truly is difficult to do nothing. And yet, it’s even harder to come out swinging. But what if there’s a third option?

What if we don’t shrug and do nothing, nor come out swinging that fist of fury? What if we look to the other hand, the one with fingers outstretched, and offer it? What if we make understanding and bridging the gaps a priority over drama?

On the Other Hand...What happens then?

I sat in the dark thinking about this. And when the movie was over, I walked out into the light and looked at my hands, still thinking about this.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a blogger, poet, and traveler.

The Long Silence

The Long SilenceIt’s been a long ten days since my last blog post.

I’ve written. Oh, I’ve certainly written. I spend my days reading and fiendishly writing. But when it comes to posting anything, well, the world seems so full of news and disaster and commentary that I need to fall silent. Couple that with a sense of mourning over the end of #Project365, and I can firmly say I have felt the passing of each and every moment these first ten days of 2015.

The sense of mourning is a surprise, and surprisingly, is also familiar. I felt something similar when I finished my first book–this feeling of nothing to offer, as if friends have shown up for dinner but the pantry is bare, and a feeling of smallness, as if I’m looking up from the bottom of a well with the ground level towering so very far above me.

I find myself wondering what others do when they finish a written project. Is the strange mourning a necessary step, a nod toward the legitimacy of the project at its end? Or is it just the change of focus that is so disruptive to the system? I ask that last question because as soon as I recognized this feeling as the same I had after finishing my first book, it ceased in causing chaos and the aloft pieces started falling into place.

Silly enough, I thought that without blogging daily, I would delight in the free time and in the ability to devote myself to other projects. And half of that is true: I built a schedule for working on new writing and I’m diligent about keeping up with it. The fact that there is a schedule to run to, a structure to climb, if you will, is like seeing the stars from that well bottom.

It’s the other half that’s so intriguing, that I would miss the daily chatter in my head and the constant lining up of words to be read immediately. As with most things, just when I think I’ll run, arms flailing, mouth erupt with squealing laughter, away from a tough job the way school kids launch themselves upon recess, instead, I walk, calmly toward the waiting sunlight while wistfully missing the work at my back.

Ah, but these are the mark of life well lived, of chasing down a calling. There’s much to be said for standing at the bottom of the well and yet seeing those stars. There’s much to be said, too, for getting creative and making something from nothing, which is what you do when you think the pantry is empty. It’s what you do when you line words up on the page.

And as for the need to fall silent in the midst of disaster, it’s not what you think. It’s a very alive, active, thought-filled awe of silence. It’s the quiet moment of taking a breath before you speak.

In everything I’ve been thinking and writing and deducing these last few days, the thought that returns to me again and again is this: The human spirit amazes me.

Nous sommes Charlie Hebdo.

~ Jody Brown is an author, blogger, poet, and traveler. To read about her current writing projects or donate toward their completion, see JodyBrown.com/writing.

Marking the Miles, December 2014

Marking the Miles, December
Wow, twelve months! When I started this daily blog project, I had no idea where it would take me. I knew the merits: coming up with constant ideas, meeting one quick deadline after another, and strengthening the ability to write on command. I also knew the pitfalls: getting overwhelmed, not following through (which it probably why it took me until May of this year to even admit I was attempting a daily blog this year), and even the prospect of getting sick or dealing with life events that would require taking time off. I’m astounded to be sitting here today, penning my 365th consecutive post.

I will let you in on a secret: On my desktop, I wrote a mantra for this year of blogging that goes, “Make people strive to be better.” Not that people need betterment, but yes, sometimes we need betterment. In whatever I write, I always come back to this motto. Sometimes I fall short of it, I admit. But the sentiment behind 98% of my writing is precisely the will to strive to be better. I got in the habit of asking myself as soon as I’d wake up in the morning, “What do you want to say to the world today?” There’s a lot of potential in a big, open question like that.

I will tell you that in May, I wrote a post, A Will and A Way, that I planned to keep until today, and post it as my last post. May was the month I sold my house, packed my things into storage containers to ship across the country, wrote my toughest, best, and favorite article for Rochester Women Magazine, and somehow in all of that, I realized that that final post was a safety net. The last thing I need on this Earth is a safety net. So I posted it in early June.

These December posts, this last week of them especially, have been the most difficult. I expected them to be easy, what with nearly a year under my belt, but no. Earlier in the month, I thought I should make a list of the things I wanted to write, the things I needed to say during this year. Make a plan, map it out. I didn’t. [Chuckling on this end.] It seemed so forced, so canned, if you will, for me to plan a script, so I just kept writing and let whatever came to mind get down on paper. These last few were tough because I wanted to say something important. I’d psyched myself up so much that I had to talk myself back down again–in writer terms, I had to write and write and write until the writing calmed down enough to get to something I considered good. My favorites for December are Monday Relief, The Poet’s Heart, The Light at the Writing Desk, Baggage Claim, and two from this past week: Spilled Milk and Through the Everywhere.

I tell you, tomorrow will be so difficult not to blog. I may do it, anyway. But there are some amazing projects that I have planned to write in 2015, and I keep coming up with more ideas. First things first, I plan to track down some funding so I can free up work time to get them all done. If you have advice for me in this regard, I’ll take it. And I’ll be here, don’t worry. I may not blog daily, but I’ll blog often and keep you updated on writing progress. Write me if you need. I’ll answer.

Thank you, each of you, for being here. Knowing that you were here, reading what I had to say for the day, kept me dreaming up more things to write. I certainly didn’t do this Project365 for me–however fun, hard, or beneficial it’s been. I did this for you. I write for you.

And imagine this: It’s changed my whole life. From my heart to yours, I thank you for that.

Set your sights high, my friends. The year 2015 deserves everything we’ve got. Let’s show ourselves what we can do.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. To learn more about her current writing projects, or for ways to donate toward their completion, see JodyBrown.com/writing.

Through the Everywhere

After I wrote Address Changes last week, I received a comment from my friend and fellow blogger, Chris, who said, “Adventure, travel, wanderlust and the like is wonderful, exciting, educational… but knowing when you’ve ‘come home’ may be the most important part of the journey.”

Well said, Chris. And while I know you mean that one, true home, I couldn’t help but let my mind turn over this possibility for a few days and imagine all the things that home can be.

There are times when I can walk into a room full of strangers, meet someone, and chatter on easily, as if we’ve been best friends for years. Home.

Quite a while ago, I wrote Welcome Home about arriving in Israel and realizing that, while I’d never been there before, I recognized the feel of the place. Home.

Over the years, having lived far from my home state for many years, I can tell you that every time I flew into Pittsburgh and caught my first glimpse of the city, I got tears in my eyes. Home.

On a recent trip to Minnesota, I got the chance to spend time with some mutual friends that I hadn’t seen for a couple years, and after a few days of ideas and conversation, my entire life had re-centered and refocused. Home.

Even simpler still, I can put on my favorite Comic Con t-shirt and a pair of jeans and two different socks and feel like the world is just right. Home.

None of these things is home, and yet, every one of them is a form of home. When you come home to yourself, in any and every way that it happens for you, you turn the lights on, let down your defenses, and even start to enjoy the maintenance and the upkeep–because every good house has those.

Through the EverywhereUntil you get to that one, true home that Chris is talking about, elements of home can be found everywhere, pointing the way. So look for them. Enjoy them. And stop keeping count of the steps between you and your ultimate home sweet home. You’ll get there.

As for me, my journey through the everywhere continues…

And you’re all invited.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. To learn more about her current writing projects, or for ways to donate toward their completion, see JodyBrown.com/writing.

Spilled Milk

Spilled MilkYears ago, when technology wasn’t what it is today, I remember writing an entire scene and losing it through the magic of a computer glitch. The whole thing was gone. I was miserable. I wanted to kick myself for not saving it as I went, but even at the time of writing it, the words were flowing out so fast and so well I didn’t take the chance on slowing down, even to save it.

I have since learned to save as I go, regardless of the roll I’m on. I’ve also taught myself, especially through the daily writing of this blog project, that I can stop and restart writing at any time and get right back into the groove, so to speak. Practice and practice certainly help.

But, as I hate to do things twice, I was kicking myself for losing that old scene that was so majestic, so perfect in its diction and its humor. Finally–and it took time–I set out to rewrite the whole scene. It turned out pretty well. And after that, somehow, through the magic of technology that is far beyond my capabilities, I found a copy of the original on the printer. Comparing the two, I realized how far superior the rewrite was to the original. I never would have known it, but there it was, plain as day.

The thing about spilled milk is that we cry over it because it was perfectly good milk. But sometimes we lament things that are gone and done, and really, they weren’t a waste at all, and they were never very good.

Some things need to go to make room for something better that’s approaching. Note here the word approaching; not here yet, perhaps not even on the horizon, but regardless, riding toward us without our knowing. Other situations, quite simply, are better off in our rearview mirror, getting smaller and smaller as we move forward. Because forward we will go.

Of course, in the rare instance that the milk spills out in the shape of a silly, flying ghost, there’s nothing left to do but stop and laugh, and laugh well.

Make room for the great things that are coming, because they’re out there, mid-approach.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. To learn more about her current writing projects, or for ways to donate toward their completion, see JodyBrown.com/writing.

Undertake the Crazy

Writers get to create every detail in a story. It’s a big responsibility, and, truth be told, a lot of fun. Characters, families, histories, motives–whole worlds get created and it’s all up to the writer. (For the most part, anyway. Well-drawn characters typically begin to tell their own stories.) But this work makes you look at the world and always think that you can effect a change.

I’ve been noticing lately that many of us are asking questions deep inside ourselves. We wonder if we’re doing the right things, making the right choices, living in the right place, working at the right job… And I think: We can’t possibly be right all the time. Typically it’s doing the wrong thing that helps us learn faster and better, anyhow. So, as much as our insides are begging, “Right? Right? Right?” I’ve also been noticing that if we quiet that anxious voice and listen, the answers are coming. We’ve indeed been receiving answers all along.

Things don’t always go our way in life, and yes, there’s plenty of negativity to go around. But with a slight shift in focus, sometimes life is just downright magical. The shift can be as simple as this: If you look for the good, you typically get good. If you look for something to laugh about, it could very well show up.

Undertake the CrazyThe thing to do–and I can’t believe that I’m saying this–is to look at the world like a writer. Start by dreaming up and creating your own life, listening to that inner voice, the instinct that tells you which way to go. Populate it with the characters you want, with the job you want, the story you want to live. Create your world much the way writers create the ones for the storybooks. And then dare to undertake the crazy, the lofty, the grandest thing you can imagine, the thing you believe is hovering just beyond where you think you can go.

Go ahead, reach for it. It’s your world, after all.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. To learn more about her current writing projects, or for ways to donate toward their completion, see JodyBrown.com/writing.

Class of 19...There was a time when I realized there were only so many tough decisions I could make in a day. I started a mantra then that went, “Today is not the day.” I would say it to myself when I’d done all I could and yet another painful decision would appear in the distance. And I learned that the distance to the horizon can really be a necessary journey of preparation.

This particular journey brings me to today, the day of my high school reunion. My mother says that at your 10-year reunion, everyone is just trying to impress each other. Then at your 20, everyone has calmed down about impressions, and is busy sharing photos about kids and information about careers. At the 30 mark, you really start taking a good look at who no longer walks the earth, because they’re numbers are increasing. And so on, and so on, until your class starts to combine its reunions with the classes ahead and behind you, making it a group thing of sometimes strangers and sometimes whole families.

I went to one my mom’s reunions, about ten years ago. It involved ten classes at once, so basically the entire town and their spouses showed up. My friend and I crashed the party and no one seemed to notice. (Incidentally, I once crashed a wedding, but that’s a different story entirely.)

Today I go to my reunion, and I’m excited about it. It seems silly that we’ve waited a decade since the last one to run into each other again, but life takes over sometimes.

I remember, at the last one, that it didn’t matter who you were or what you did, we were all nervous. I’ve talked with some of others since then, and the same sentiment rang true: We all walked into the reunion transformed into our awkward high school selves. Whether we were the football player or the science nerd—and in my school, that person was probably one and the same—we walked in feeling like kids again. And even though that’s not necessarily the best feeling, even though it can feel a good bit downrightly oppressive, I must say I’m really looking forward to it. (You know I am!)

It’s not every day you get to step back in time. It’s not every day you get to say, “If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t be afraid this time” and then actually get to prove it. Today is the day to enjoy one another’s company, because we’re all in the same boat. We’ve all had successes and failures, triumphs and low times. We’ve all done the wrong thing and we’re learning how to spot the right thing when we see it. We’ve all made hard decisions. Now it’s time again to face the overwhelming teenage fear that’s buried deep within all of us. This time, to make it better.

Today’s the day.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. To learn more about her current writing projects, or for ways to donate toward their completion, see JodyBrown.com/writing.

Within and Without

Within and WithoutJournalists jump into the who, what, when, where, why, and how of what’s going on. They get into the nitty gritty and organize the details. Creative writers, by great contrast, sit back and watch the big picture.

I’m not sure if the news lately is especially tragic or if, when compared to the beauty of the holiday spirit exhibited across multi-religions all over the world, the bad news looks exceptionally worse simply by comparison.

Regardless, the discrepancy between the good and the bad is obvious, and so is one key factor practiced on the side of good news that is twisted by purveyors of bad. That is the practice of accountability.

What I’m talking about is this: One the side of good, news program after news program has shown in the last few days the stories of people finding a need and filling it, usually in the name of the holidays at hand. People are reaching out to one another, serving dinner to the poor, opening doors to foster children, gathering supplies, building homes, donating, giving, sharing. Kids, even, have entered the mix, organizing the gathering of toys to give to those less fortunate than they are, and singing in hospitals to cheer patients receiving treatments over the holidays. In these feel-good stories, I see self-accountability; I see people who know they can make a difference reaching inside themselves for something greater to give.

On the side of the negative news stories, I see blame, finger pointing, and “I see what’s wrong with you, not me.” This outward approach is not working; it’s not effecting change. That’s because the practice of accountability starts within, not without.

There is much hurt and injustice in the world. It’s all right there, easy to see. And none of us is above reproach. We take chances; we mess up. The little kid in all of us wants to put the blame elsewhere, to keep us out of trouble, to keep us in good favor. The little kid in us runs to Mom and says, “My sister hit me.” And Mom, who watched the entire scene play out, says, “Yes. She shouldn’t have done that. But you hit her first, so you’re both in trouble.”

Mea Culpa is Latin for “It’s my fault.” Latin builds the foundation for dozens of Romance languages, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, just to name a few. It’s pervasive. On the flip side, the psychology revolutions in recent history have taught us to stop blaming ourselves for every little thing. Thus, we live in an age when, to acquire balance, we must admit that it’s not all my fault, but it’s not all your fault, either, which leaves us either tossing blame about, which has not worked, or looking for another solution. Perhaps it’s this: While it’s true the world can be cruel, unfair, and the playing field is rarely level, there is also a lot of good in this world, and it resides inside each of us. We have only to look within, and let it out.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. To learn more about her current writing projects, or for ways to donate toward their completion, see JodyBrown.com/writing.

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