Archive for October, 2014


Marking the Miles, October

October
Happy Halloween!

At the beginning of the year, my good friend Jennifer reminded me that forward movement, without acknowledging the distance we’ve come and obstacles we’ve overcome, is to miss out on the bigger picture: the daily decisions and accomplishments that get you where you are. Thus, I started Marking the Miles at the end of every month, disclosing my own personal thoughts behind the daily writing.

October has been, undoubtedly, difficult. My Grandma passed away suddenly and unexpectedly around the middle of the month.

While my mid-October writings like Grasshopper in the Wind and The Imp Called Hindsight can stand on their own, if you picture a writer who’s had the rug yanked out from under her as you read them, they read very differently. Hurry Up and Wait is a big metaphor about waiting for answers when you’re not in control of the situation. And The Bottom Fell Out was just a quick moment in time, but a necessary one. I was asked to “pick up the butter” by another grieving family member who was leaving earlier than the rest of us for the funeral. I expected to find a stick of butter, or even an unwrapped stick that had fallen and needed some cleaning up. Instead, what I found made me laugh so hard I went to get my phone to take the picture before cleaning it up. In Upside Down Kingdom, there’s a scene that takes place weeks after September 11 when Ellen DeGeneres hosted the Emmys and, as a country, we laughed. The laughter felt odd at first, as if we were doing something wrong to be laughing in the wake of grief, but then a strange thing happened: the more the laughter came the more we started to heal. The bottom fell out when my Grandma died as we lost the glue that held our family together, to the literal bottom falling out the butter bag, to laughing in midst of grief and feeling its grip loosen.

In the wake of all of this, I considered stopping the daily writing for a little while out of a sense of propriety. But I found myself with an abundance of things to say. So I did what I do: I wrote. Writing doesn’t make it easier; it just gives me a place to go. And, I don’t mind telling you, some of the things I wrote were brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. And then I re-read them and realized they were crap. Hard to follow, a little bit crazy, utter crap (including a poem about things overheard at a funeral parlor entitled, “To Chicken or Not to Chicken”). I didn’t post those writings, but man, I have a lot of them.

October was a month full of looking back on better times and wondering if you knew how good you had it when you had it. And now, here’s to November, to a month full of promise because we march in bringing all we have and knowing the difference.

I’ll see you back here tomorrow.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing. 

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The Zombie SonnetsBecause nobody ever said you had to write about flowers…

Zombie Sonnet 7: Zombies on Halloween

On Halloween, they dress in human clothes
With all the buttons and the seams intact
They shine their shoes and gather all their toes
And even gel what hair they have straight back
They imitate the human parts of speech
Enunciating groans and talking sports
They like to keep a coffee mug in reach
For coffee keeps the humans in the sorts
And though this sounds like envy on their part
As if the zombies want a run at life
The truth is zombies are just kids at heart
They like to dress the part without the strife
For zombies, Halloween can be a gem
They love to see the humans dressed as them

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing. 

The Artist in Three Parts

So, You Want to be a Writer? Heh, Heh, Heh...Creative writing seems to be unique. I don’t know of any other profession that has as many support groups. And yet, there is that question that we face, maybe not daily, but sometimes monthly that goes: Do I want to be a writer?

If you’re following the blogs this week, you know that the title question (just the question, I added the “heh, heh” in my mind at the time) was posed to me as polite conversation recently when I was introduced to someone new. And the question itself filled my head with questions of my own:

Is being published the mark of being a writer? Why do artists feel the need to defend their art in order to sound legitimate? And finally today: Why do artists re-choose their professions all the time when non-artists seem to choose once and for all?

Artists, let’s face it, just think differently. In the artist mind, things are rarely set in stone. Everything is fluid. Everything can be changed, enhanced, or started again because life to an artist is a big work-in-progress. This goes for college degrees, relationships, major purchases, travel, and even the very conversations we engage in on a daily basis. I don’t know of any writer who doesn’t come home after a meeting or dinner party and reimagine everyone saying the words they could have said but didn’t. I don’t know of any artist who simply takes the floor upon which we stand for granted. The artists I know absorb every detail around them as if to memorize it all and change it later via paint, chalk, glue, or other media.

Art, this thing that you focus all your energy into, sacrificing sleep and friendships and normalcy, these puzzles that require expanding the confines of your mind to solve, the mental turning of the details until you get them right, these things tend to win, so that, while you know that you won’t let go of one another, you and art, you also know that art gets its way. Always. This is a relationship where you choose each other and reaffirm it daily, but not one where you take turns conceding and winning.

A life in art means daily growth and growing pains, and results in the betterment of the artist. It is a tough road with many exits.

But it’s a road I’ve driven, walked, and sometimes crawled for many years, and personally, I don’t feel a dramatically teenage need to write, or need to express myself through my art [there are hand motions to this: the back of the wrist to the forehead]. At this juncture, I tend to think of writing more like a childhood friend. This is the friend who knows me the best, and even though we may not always get along, when anything major (or even minor) happens in my life, writing is first friend I want to tell all about it. It’s, dare I say, a very charmed existence.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing. 

Like a Ghost

The Artist in Three Parts

Like a GhostYou don’t typically hear an engineer say, “I hold a few patents on code I’ve written, therefore I am an engineer,” or an architect say, “I designed the bank on the corner, therefore I am an architect,” or a doctor say, “I save lives every day, therefore I am a doctor.” So why when writers attempt to tell others what it is that they do, they wind up trying to defend their art as if to prove that it’s legitimate?

Today is Part Two of my unique writer behaviors. (See Part One here.)

Engineers, architects, and doctors don’t justify their work the way artists do, and one reason for that is that we know what they do, generally speaking. Creative writers are artists, by contrast, and artists do all sorts of things in the name of art.

In meeting an artist, be prepared to ask what it is that they do, and the artist, likewise, should be prepared to explain their work, quickly and concisely. It looks and acts a lot like defending your art, which is tiresome, but very necessary. We all know people, unfortunately, who talk endlessly about being artists and never actually make any art. That’s what artists are up against here, a bad rap from talkers, and the non-artists’ need to understand what we do. We have to explain ourselves.

I love the cliché Follow the Money. Creative writers, and perhaps all creative artists rely on sales of their art to support themselves. And until said art reaps a following and decent sales, the artist typically needs to have a side job to help pay the bills—though this side job is not one that artists use to define themselves. I remember when I lived in Washington, D.C., the first question asked when meeting someone new was, “So, what do you do?” because in that networking town, what you did defined who you were.

Being an artist is not as easy as saying you belong to an organization or that you work for so-and-so. If artists are fortunate enough to have commercial space to do their work, the buildings themselves are not paying the artists to work. It’s not like saying, “I work at the mill,” which implies that the mill is paying you. The non-artist world relies on these kinds of details, the kind of work that you do and the company you do it for, to ground them and give them reference points. In meeting someone new, writers and artists have to be ready to give an example of a place that sells or showcases their art, and if there aren’t any, they can say they’re up-and-coming, in progress, or that they’re focusing on the work right now before unveiling it to the public. The artist needs to have a plan. Tough as it can be for writers and artists to explain themselves to new people, especially to new people who don’t want to hear it, every chance encounter has the possibility of finding a new reader or appreciator of art.

Writers in particular need justification by being read, being heard of, having a fan base, having a publisher. Like a ghost, someone needs to believe in you. If you believe in you, you’re off to a very good start.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing. 

The Mark of Being

The Artist in Three Parts

The Mark of BeingI was recently introduced to someone who immediately said, “I hear you write a blog. Is that what you want to be, a writer?”

I couldn’t help myself. I did what every writer out there will do when they read that line: I laughed.

His question was innocent enough. And for a split second, I pretended that he thought I looked so young that I must be in school for writing, or something like that. When I stopped smiling, I managed to say, “I actually write every day. I am a writer.”

But his polite query brought many questions to my mind. Apparently you can’t even meet a writer without sparking thoughts in the writer brain that need to be written out and shared with the world.

Question One: Is being published the mark of being a writer?

Question Two: Why do artists feel the need to defend their art in order to sound legitimate?

Question Three: Why do artists re-choose their professions all the time when non-artists seem to choose once and for all?

I’m penning my thoughts on these questions this week. Today we start with the first question.

I suppose I could have said, “I have a book out there, I’ve written magazine articles, I received grant funding toward the legwork for writing a second book, therefore I am a writer…”

But is that what makes one a writer, being published? Does having an arts organization award grant funding toward your writing make your work legit? Is producing something tangible the mark of being?

No one likes to list their accomplishments every time they meet someone. And no one wants to listen to that laundry list, either. I remember overhearing a cocktail party conversation between two men years ago, where one man was doing all of the talking. He even went so far as to repeat himself, saying, “And, like I said, I…”

I remember thinking that the only time I would need to say, “Like I said…” it would have to be in an interview situation. Otherwise, it just comes off pretentious. I vowed then and there to eradicate it from my speech.

I suppose we need to draw the line somewhere, and publication sounds like a decent place to distinguish writers from non-writers… Unfortunately, I’m proof to the contrary. I’ve written my entire life and my first novel was published when I was 35. So, was I just practicing for 34 years? Yes, I was practicing, but I wasn’t just practicing. I was writing like crazy and rewriting and editing and reading. What’s more: I was thinking like a writer.

Writer thinking is looking at the world and wondering how to write it. It’s delving into feelings in order to capture them on paper. It’s creating characters in the mind and watching them act out scripts.

It’s nearly impossible to convey all of this when first meeting someone. Publications are tangible items that easily say you’ve been bitten by the writer bug. They’re just the surface, which is perhaps just enough for a first meeting. But they’re not really the mark of a writer.

It sounds so cliché to say, “I write. Therefore, I am a writer.” But it’s a great thing to say in polite, surface conversation because it’s nearly the entire truth of it. The actual practice of writing and the constant thinking about how to capture a moment into words, these things are being a writer, publication or no.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing. 

Out of the RocksLast year, I planted sunflowers along the fence in my yard near the berries and grapes. I watered and checked on them, but many of them kept getting dug up. Neighborhood critters were apparently hungry. I replanted. And replanted again. Then I ran out of flowers that I’d started growing indoors and just went straight to planting the seeds outside. Sometimes I covered the seeds with rocks, but I never got any flowers to grow. I did well with all the other plants and flowers around the yard, including the finicky roses, but could not get a batch of sunflowers to grow.

Flash forward to a different house in a different state, where sunflowers not only grow, they grow in October. My friend told me that one flower had grown in the back yard a year ago, and that the seeds must have been carried on the wind to a rocky area of the front yard where it blooms proudly, even on a chilly October morning. And it seems to grow out of the rocks.

I’m not one to think this flower is mocking me. I suppose it all comes down to perspective, but I look at it, and I just shake my head and smile. This sunflower on the rock is crazy and hardy and thriving and precisely where it’s meant to be. I also know that where it began in the backyard is overrun with squirrels, but there are none in the front yard–so this flower knew what it was doing.

Sometimes it’s not up to me where everything should go and how it should all look and how it should all act and get along.

This brings to mind a quote in a bathroom from oh, probably three dwellings ago, that went something like, “Do yourself a favor and resign as general manager of the universe.”

Yeah. The world shines great on its own.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing. 

Striving for Dusty TrophiesI hear parents of young people complain that lately in childhood sports, everyone gets a trophy just for participating. And recently, a youth football team was fined $500 because a defensive player caught an interception and ran it in for a touchdown, violating a rule for scoring when his team already had too many points. I imagine that rule was not very well thought out. Should the kids have just stopped playing? What are the contingencies for the rule when the defense rather than the offense scores the additional points beyond the set rule? Should the game have been called, or perhaps the overall scoring of football should be changed to allow the first team to a dozen or so points to be the winner? Personally, I think perhaps the team should lawyer up and those poor kids should learn the intricacies of when to score and when to sit down according to the rule, in addition to their entire playbook and physical conditioning schedule. Silly kids. They act like it’s all a game.

Okay, let’s be serious for a moment: They made a scoring rule????

Yesterday I saw a Facebook post imploring people to be nice to trick-or-treating children this Halloween who take too much time to choose a candy, take too many pieces of candy, frown at the candy bowl, or simply refuse to say thank you. In each scenario, the child had a motor skill/allergy/ADD/speech impediment situation going on. I suppose I’m old, but I remember when kids didn’t come with an instruction manual, and when adults applied patience and encouragement over categories, and yes, I’m going to say it, excuses.

Lately it seems we’ve leveled the playing field so much that there are no mountains to climb anymore. Yes, everyone has different abilities. Yes, we all have weaknesses. Most of us, at one time or another, feel good about one and lousy about the other. But in this journey called life we can learn to handle the differences, turn negatives into positives, make lemonade from lemons. That can mean taking a good, hard, look at the truth, and going for it anyway. There has to be some personal incentive for striving and accomplishments should mean something.

At some point, every day, I remind myself that I’m only as good as my last post. Sometimes that makes me a genius–which is hard to follow. Other times, thankfully, that makes me human. But then I always correct myself and think, “I’m only as good as my next post.”

Strive and let strive.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing.

Because it’s harvest time.
And because nobody ever said you had to write about flowers…

The Zombie Sonnets
Zombie Sonnet 6: Grape Stompin’ Zombies
When Jimbo’s toe fell off into the mash,
They banned us all from drinking from the pail.
For zombie stompers harboring a gash,
The bucket stomping was an epic fail.
When stomping grapes, a good technique is key.
The zombies learned to spread the grapes around,
They then could drag a leg or limping knee,
Across the grapes they dumped upon the ground.
But zombies have been on the earth a while,
They know the vintage history they save,
By gathering to stomp the grapes with style.
(It’s true the zombies always loved a rave.)
Because the undead got into the act,
This age-old wine tradition is intact.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing. 

Ready to Pounce

Ready to PounceAs I signed books in Pennsylvania today, a woman approached me and told me my book “will help people to be brave.”

“I thought people were brave,” I said, and then corrected myself. “Well, I don’t know if it’s brave, per se: We’re all scared. We do it anyway.”

“But we don’t,” she said. “Haven’t you noticed how people hesitate? Not everyone, of course, but quite a few people will wait to drive, put off going to college, wait to leave home, wait to get married… They sit on decisions rather than act.”

“Perhaps they’re better planners than I am,” I offered.

“They’re not planning. They’re hesitating.”

(1. I meet the greatest people, in all sincerity. 2. I liked this lady.)

Her words reminded me of a memory:

When I first moved to D.C., I had a terrible time getting to and from work everyday with all of the road construction amidst the nation’s third worst traffic problem. One particular day, I was witness to three accidents, all right in front of me. That was the good news; I was not a victim. When I finally did arrive home, my roommate’s mother was at the apartment. She encouraged me to get back out there on the road. I told her I’d think about it, and get a good night’s sleep first.

“Oh,” she said. “You’re that type, eh? Crawl off to the corner to lick your wounds before pouncing again?”

“Yes,” I said kindly, while thinking that the corner suited me just fine and I needn’t ever venture out again.

“Good,” she said, acknowledging my agreement. And then, speaking to my sulk, she said, “Just don’t sit in the corner too long.”

I didn’t. I emerged from the corner, sooner than I wanted to and entirely because of what she’d said. The challenge was offered. I accepted. It made the whole world of difference.

Lick your wounds, and get ready to pounce.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing. 

Setting the Boat Adrift

Setting the Boat AdriftAn old friend used to have a catchphrase that he was fond of repeating. “I don’t mind burning bridges,” he’d say in his smooth, Southern drawl, “Because I don’t plan to retreat.”

Most of the time, I live my life in an opposite fashion. I hold on, I keep, I save. I find comfort in the notion that 98% of the daily decisions I face aren’t going to bring about the end of the world.

Still, there’s something very healthy about letting go, cutting ties, or just plain setting the boat adrift. There’s also something to be said for reaching the point of no return and living on your feet, moment to moment, without the safety net.

I’m just thinking out loud here—and putting it to screen—but I wonder how much our decisions change based on whether we can turn back or not. Do we take the risk? Do we play it safe?

When you get beyond that point of no return, beyond the safety net, outside of the comfort zone, you have to figure out the puzzle, interpret the clues; you have to make a move. No one’s going to do it for you, and you can’t get anywhere until you make the call. It’s all up to you. Where you go, how you live, what you spend your time doing—all up to you. The story you write is all yours.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing. 

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