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The Expense of TodayMy local bank has put up signs this summer next to each teller as some kind of financial promotion. Basically, each has teller was supposed to write what she (they’re all women) is looking forward to in life. Each and every one of them, without fail, wrote “Retirement.”

So now every time I walk into the bank I’m met with these “I want to retire, I want to retire” signs. It’s odd. The boss man’s is slightly different; he wrote something about cabin trips and margaritas, which is still an escape from the daily grind.

I’m sure this is just a way to get the bank customers to think about saving more or to think about our financial future. But I think about how this promotion is backfiring for me. I think about how the “weird” way I live my life–without paid vacation or designated sick days or financial security of any kind—and all in the name of art, is exactly where I need to be.

Sure, I should save more. But it seems the moment I have some monetary substance to my life, I find that that’s the exact sum I need to go see a remote part of the world, or to take a class with a Master on a topic, or even just to buy a book and some tools so I can fix it myself. I buy experience. And it all finds its way into the writing.

It’s not an easy life, and that’s why I put heart and soul into the writing I do, because those are the things for which I’ve saved and spent: heart and soul.

Don’t get me wrong; planning for the future is important. I still plan. But not at the expense of today. At the age of 24 I declared myself semi-retired because I didn’t want to wait until I was 65 (or, these days, 70) to make time for what I love.

The last thing I ever wanted was to seek tomorrow at the expense of today.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, 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.

Learning to Bob

Learning to BobHenry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, “Into each life some rain must fall.” In Western Pennsylvania, and most of the Northeast quadrant of this country, we’ve seen our fair share of rain lately. Over the weekend, a tornado was even spotted in this area. I was up in town, setting up for the dinner shift at our historic restaurant–which is the glamorous life of a writer, by the way–when I heard a dozen cell phones go off with this newest weather alert. Thinking it was another oh-so-frequent flood warning, many dismissed it. (The weather alerts have become The Boy Who Cried Wolf, even though the boy, in this case, is usually not kidding. Isn’t is strange what we get used to?) I looked at my phone anyway, and said, “It’s not a flood. It’s a tornado this time, a warning, seven miles from here.”

Now, this town has been hit by a tornado, and many remember it clearly. I didn’t live here then, but I have my own tornado experience (and hurricane, and blizzard, and even the fearsome thundersnow), so we did what we do: We listened and heard birds chirping outside. It was an odd sound because, in all this rain lately, you don’t hear the birds so much anymore. The second thing we did was to look toward the front door where we saw the awning gently blowing in a slight breeze. These were signs that the tornado was not headed our way, or at least, not yet, so we all went back to what we were doing and didn’t waste our thoughts on it.

The tornado, which was quite real, did not hit where I was. Could it have? I suppose so. But there are times when life rocks your boat so much that you learn to bob, and panic is just a thing of the past. Does that make you brave? No. Does it make you smart? Hardly. But when Fate is at the door, we’ll simply go to meet her, face-to-merry-face, because we all have a job to do and there’s no guarantee that it’s as bad as we think.

So, I sit here typing today as the basement dries and thunder rolls again on the horizon, thinking about this tremendous month of ups and downs, from weather to writing to people coming and going from the center stage back to lurking in the fringes of my life. And I think about the light and the dark, because it is also said that without the darkness, there can be no light. So let’s undizzy ourselves and look straight ahead, unwavering, and remember that it is in the darkness that experience is born.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, available on Amazon. She’s currently penning her second novel, based on the life of a WWII veteran. For more on her writing projects, or for ways to donate toward their completion, see JodyBrown.com/writing.

Technically Speaking...

 

Humor is everywhere.
Sometimes it lies in the technicalities.

Give Me the Grit

Give Me the Grit - aboveThe view above the clouds is marvelous and breathtaking. Air travel allows a person to see that the notion of glory is still there. Some would argue that it’s way above our heads, untouchable, out of reach.

Of course, none of that means we can’t lift our head and look up. And on cloudy days, we simply have to imagine.

The glow of those lofty pink and orange hues and golden light wrap around a person and inspire growth, strength, and other words about large concepts that get tossed around that no one really stops to explain. I won’t illustrate them, either, because they’re beside the point.

Give Me the Grit - belowFor me? There’s a beauty in the grey, the grainy, the grit, all the things that sit under the cloud cover that we wade through daily. Life’s challenges, like the writing of a book, ask that we pay attention, apply diligence to our work, and allow for, at times, constant change.

The view above the clouds reminds us that we can do it. But it’s in the misty undercloud that we get it done.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, available on Amazon. She’s currently penning her second novel, based on the life of a WWII veteran. For more on her writing projects, or for ways to donate toward their completion, see JodyBrown.com/writing.

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 Styrofoam 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 ellusive 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 it’s 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.

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