Archive for November, 2014


Marking the Miles, November

Marking the Miles, November
I’m a bit surprised that November has come and gone. These past 30 days have flown by, and for me, even writing seems to have flown by.

I have so many favorite pieces this month, from Not Set in Stone to Tunnel Vision to Ever Vigilant and I Wonder. These were all fairly straight-forward writings, without hidden meanings or convoluted language. From memories to life’s details examined, I enjoyed telling the stories, and hopefully making a point and getting the words just right.

Here’s a secret for you, though: I wrote Quarters on Ice solely because of the picture. I love that picture, and risked frostbite in -30 temps to take off my gloves in order to take that photo last winter. I’ve stared at it often this past year, and this month, finally wrote something. I’m happy the way it turned out.

Mid-month, I examined some of my own bizarre thinking lately, which is why I wrote The Underdog Trap. Sure, we all have the ability to set ourselves up to fail, but once we realize we’re doing it, we can make a turn to a positive direction—or, at least I think so. And if I understand my own thinking well enough to write about it, and then the issue itself, the snare, becomes something that I know how to avoid. I suppose Underdog is a true blog, in the “old school” sense that it was my own diary web log that day.

Similarly, the traumatic thinking in Unchecking the D Box started as a natural enough comment that I couldn’t shake. It seemed to require a spotlight. The only way I know how to do that is by writing.

Gypsy Thanksgiving is by far my favorite, I think because of the specific details in the memories coupled with the overall tone of gratitude. It was a joy to write.

Here’s to more joy and more writing. Thank you for reading me. I appreciate that you do.

I’ll see you right here tomorrow.

-J

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Another Pretty FaceAt a restaurant where I worked, there was a husband and wife who liked to come in every Friday for dinner, sometimes with their daughter and grandkids, sometimes just the two of them. One Friday, when the whole lot was there, the man tells me he’s not above doing the dishes and he joked, “See there? And you probably thought I was just another pretty face.”

“You got me there, Sir,” I said. “When you came in I thought to myself, ‘He’s so pretty he must be useless.’” Luckily for me, this family liked a dry sense of humor, and we all laughed.

With blog writing, there are days when I walk through life and think, “I may not be an expert, but I do all right, as a matter of fact…” and other days when I think, “Wow, I know just enough about a random smathering of things to be dangerous.”

Yes, the whole blog (i.e. web log) craze started as the Internet version of a diary. And in a way, it still is. But from those humble beginnings, blogging expanded when businesses latched on to them to impart information to customers in an informal way, showing their human side via cyberspace. Today’s blogger suddenly became not just another pretty face, but someone willing to put in time, effort, and research in addition to knowing how to string sentences together.

Through this writing life, I’ve become privy to information like the differences between straw versus hay, the liquid science behind resting meat before you cut into it, and I know why we look for the groundhog’s shadow in early February. (I also know that smathering is not a word, though I love to use it anyway.) It’s amazing the random stuff floating around in my head, and all because of blogs I’ve written.

In my daily life, I don’t mind when others talk amongst themselves around me because I’m usually caught up in my own thoughts. But if specifically asked a question, I’ll state what I’ve learned. Usually, this random knowledge is met with wide-eyed stares or eyebrow raises, to which I get to shrug and say, “I’m a blog writer.”

~
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.

The Dust of Stones

The Dust of StonesAs a kid, I spent a lot of time in this old building, staring at its plaster walls and daydreaming. I used to imagine that it was once solid rock, painstakingly hollowed out to allow us entry. To go to that much trouble, I knew that there must be something amazing and valuable inside these walls.

I imagined rock carvers permanently covered in the dust of stones and hammering away for an age and a half, knowing that one day someone would sit here, admire their handicraft, and be inspired to dream big dreams.

Here I sit again, this time as an adult. And I know it’s thick plaster on these walls, not rock. Despite that difference, I know that it took time and effort to apply it so thick and design into it. I see it for what it is, for what it was meant to be, and for what it has meant to me all this time, and I think, “Yes, there’s clearly treasure here.”

~
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.

Gypsy Thanksgiving

Gypsy ThanksgivingThis is the first time in a long time that I am home for Thanksgiving. My home, the home I grew up in, with my blood relatives all around (making a lot of racket at the moment). I’ve missed this. And I’m grateful for it.

But I would be remiss to overlook my Thanksgivings past. There was the South Carolina Thanksgiving where my cousin and I woke up to Kahlua cake. This was the prototype for a wedding cake that his mother was making, and in our favor, this first cake didn’t turn out. We sat on the floor and feasted on cake that had been tossed into a cardboard box. The second cake turned out and we were not allowed to touch it.

And in all my years of working in restaurants, in five different states no less, only one, Söntés in Minnesota, offered itself as a gathering place for Thanksgiving for its far-from-home staff and for any regular guests who wanted to enjoy a gourmet potluck. It was not a work day; the doors remained locked. But a wave at the window got everyone in to warmth, food, and laughter.

In the last few years, I have been privy to dinner at the house of some very good friends. Four generations, including in-law relatives and those of us not related, would gather around the table and enjoy traditional (local and foreign) foods and camaraderie as one, big, crazy family. After dinner, we all did the dishes together, which to me, is the mark of true family inclusion. Guests get waited on, and are treated to the spotless areas of the house. Family tells stories in the messy kitchen and snacks on leftovers straight from the pan.

I have so much gratitude, not just today, but every day for my home and family, and for all of my second families who’ve welcomed me in over these wandering, writing, gypsy years. May I pay this love forward, with my every step.

Happy Thanksgiving, to you and all of “yours”!

~
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.

The Tossing of Powerful WordsEveryone has their pet peeves, and writers are certainly no exception. We get grumpy about poor word choice, shortcuts in spelling, and especially about grammar mishaps. We put so much time and attention into these things that we forget that others don’t. But with all these gorgeous words around us, why choose to say something that’s been so over-used that it ceases to mean anything at all?

Case in point, my pet peeve: Love to death, as in, “My best friend Sally? Oh, I just love her to death…”

Yes, I get that you love Sally, and yes, I get that you’re not trying to be literal. But then, why say it? You just wasted an opportunity to say something real by grasping at a melodramatic phrase instead. If it came down to it, in the truest setting, would you lay down your life for hers?

If you have to think twice about that, then stop saying it. Let’s get rid of the dramatic death love, and just love. Words have power, and tossing them around like a salad dilutes their meaning. If, on the other hand, you’d trade your life for Sally’s in a heartbeat, then by all means, say it. And say it like you mean it so that anyone listening feels it.

Another concept that’s quickly losing its meaning is gratitude. True, undiluted gratitude, it seems, needs to follow a pattern:

  1. Feel grateful for something
  2. Realize that what you’re feeling is gratitude
  3. Full of feeling, say, “Thank you”

I think these steps get skipped a bit. Most times it’s just a quick “thanks” that we toss around to one another, which is certainly better than nothing. But the other steps are so very important: feeling gratitude and realizing that you feel it. I’m convinced that the immersion into this feeling is what opens the door for more good to come. And if there’s no feeling behind it, “thanks” becomes just another word. Don’t let that happen to thanks. Put the emotion back into it. Open the floodgate.

On this eve of Thanksgiving, put your heart back into what you say, and reclaim the strength of your words.

~
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.

On the Road to Santa FeRecently, I was faced with taking an extra shift at work, a shift that would have made me money. But I had writing to do, and some organizing to do in my writing life including making placards and signs and setting up for a book signing.

I agonized over the decision. I could do a lot of good with the extra money. I planned and re-planned how to get all of my ends tied up while also taking the extra money shift. In the end, I couldn’t see how I would get it all done without compromising the writing, which was its own, very final, roadblock to me. I try to make good decisions, and sometimes you need to opt for the money, but not to the detriment of the work I really do, not to the suffering of the writing. I chose not to work for straight money, and I felt like kicking myself for it even after the decision was made. But the decision was made; I would work for me, for my own betterment. I chose me.

And then I remembered a rare rainy day in Santa Fe a couple years ago, when a friend of mine had been grappling with a financial decision. When he finally made his choice, he was quick to share it with those of us traveling with him. “I choose to invest in me,” he said. “I can put this money into my own business and I can multiply it with the work I do. I’ll invest in me.”

I chose to invest in me, and when I started doing the writing work and organizing that I’d needed to do, it felt like freedom. And I think I finally understood the feeling my friend had that day it rained in Santa Fe.

You can live the life you want, the life you were meant to have. Just choose it.

~
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.

Tunnel Vision

Tunnel VisionDoctors will tell you the tunnel vision is a very bad thing, that there are many physical disturbances that manifest into tunnel vision: glaucoma, blood loss, hypoxia, to name a few. And the list certainly goes on.

Metaphorically, tunnel vision isn’t all that great, either. Walking around in life not seeing the forest for the trees is not ideal. But in times of great distress, like dealing with an illness or going through a divorce, tunnel vision can be a blessing.

You look ahead, your peripheral vision gone, and all the distractions lying in wait at the outskirts of your sight have vanished. They’re still there, of course, but without your having to plan ahead to deal with them and stress today about what’s coming tomorrow, when usually, none of those worrisome things come to pass. In times of great struggle, dealing with today is all you really need to do.

Darkness is all around, blotting out everything, yet the tunnel allows you to see only a pinpoint of light ahead. That dot of light becomes your focus, your only focus, and all you need to do is reach it. You can go as fast or as slow as you want. All you have to do is move. You will get there.

There are times when I’ve walked these tunnels in life, and the light ahead is sometimes only in my mind it’s that far away. But I know that what’s behind me is worse than the silly tunnel.

I don’t just know that the pinpoint of light is ahead; I know exactly what it looks like. I know what’s there, and I know that here is only one letter away.

Keep approaching.

for M.P.

~
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.

When in doubt buy the artI attended an Author Event at a local library this week. Twelve local authors represented their books, and all twelve have the same publisher (not mine), so I was on the other side of the table for this one. I entered the cramped room and took a chair in the back of the audience. As the authors stood up and talked about their books and why they wrote them, I sat back, happy to relax and listen–and a bit grateful that I didn’t have to stand up and speak for a change.

One author, Chip Bell, I had read about in the newspaper and felt a little familiar with his work before I arrived, stood up and described the feeling when his first book went number one on Amazon downloads for 70+ hours. Of all the authors and all their stories, some funny and some very, very poignant, Mr. Bell’s story of the 70+ hours is what made me tear up. Others around me nodded and smiled at Mr. Bell’s accomplishment in a good for you way, and I nearly jumped out of my chair and shouted, “That is so hard to do!! Your first book? That’s amazing!”

Somehow I managed to stay in my seat and not make a scene. But it took effort. And when they all had finished speaking and the Q&A had ended, they opened the floor for audience members to purchase books and have the authors sign them. At this, I did not hold back.

At events like these, often you can pay less than the retail price for books, and the authors are happy to sign and personalize them for you. I gathered a stack of books, some for myself and some as gifts, and carried them from author to author to have them all signed.

When buying books from authors, like art from craft shows and music from someone playing at a restaurant, you not only give a nod to a local artist that you enjoy their work, you also start to ensure that the artist has the funds to keep practicing and keep producing more art. To someone pouring heart and soul into work without the [for better or worse] benefit or security of an employer, these purchases are not only encouragement but a lifeline.

This gift-giving season and always, remember that art is a gift that keeps on giving.

~
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.

The Case for Wisening

The Case for WiseningOn our way for sushi today, my friend tells me today, “Sometimes being cynical is a good thing.”

“I don’t think being cynical is good,” I say.

“Yes, it can be a good thing, Brown. Not always, but it can be good. It can save you. Well, not save your life, but…”

“Save heartache?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says. “Say you hear someone likes you, and you’re cynical about it and choose not to pursue it, and then you find out that that person was never into you in the first place. See? Being cynical just saved you.”

And in an instant, I think: Saved you from what? From taking a chance? From being embarrassed? From feeling exposed?

And I wonder, less in words and more in pictures and feelings: Is this the way people think? Is this how I would think if I didn’t write and take that exposed chance every day? Artists aren’t out there trying to suffer to create art, but they aren’t protecting themselves from life, either. You have to put your heart out there, and sometimes it gets stomped on, and that’s okay because you pick up the pieces differently each time and you grow in vast new directions and look at the world through ever clearing and ever wisening eyes. And even though wisening isn’t a word, it should be because wisdom is a process, and one you can only walk, putting one foot in front of the other deliberately, not with rushing force, and certainly not by standing still grasping at cynicism as life moves along without you.

The light changes to green, and I come out of my wisening mental argument, and we proceed on our way to sushi.

“The saying is ‘live and learn,’” I say. “The ‘live’ part comes first for a reason.”

~
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.

Food for Thought

Food for ThoughtI have food on the brain today, and I like it. When I was pretty young, we’re talking maybe 5 years old, I decided I didn’t like red meat anymore. (I didn’t realize until well into my twenties that it all comes down to food texture for me.) So, one dish after another, I stopped eating most red meat. I say most because I still ate soup with a beef base, I still ate spaghetti sauce with meatballs–picking around the meatballs, of course, because while my pickiness was tolerated at the dinner table, it was not encouraged. (I’ve since learned to tell people I’m not picky; I simply have standards.)

Luckily my mom was always big on making side dishes, but there were many nights that I would eat a peanut butter sandwich as my main course for dinner. A peanut butter sandwich (no jelly) goes well with just about everything, especially au gratin rice. (Carb on carb. I tell myself it was a runner’s diet.)

Growing up, it was difficult to explain that I was “mostly” vegetarian. At the time, the only way to be vegetarian was to denounce all meat and meat eaters, because vegetarians in the ‘80s had agendas. Except for me. I happen to come from a long line of carnivores, and honestly, as long as I didn’t have to eat it I didn’t mind much what others ate. My preference to pig out on cheese was never political.

Picnics and restaurants took a little finesse. At picnics, I could usually pick the meat off of a ready-made sandwich and offer it to someone nearby as I added extra cheese and mustard to the bread. It was a good way to make a fast friend. At restaurants I could manage by making an entire meal out of French fries or a salad. (And lately, fries on salad. Why, yes, I do live in Pittsburgh where fries on salad are standard issue.) Back then, salads usually included bacon bits, and, I know I’m the only one here, but I don’t like bacon. Picking bacon out of a salad is just about impossible. I think if Psyche had a fifth task to win back Cupid, picking bacon out of a salad would have been it.

I did my best, and it never occurred to me to complain. The world was not made for me; I was made for it. So I adapted. And I’ve been adapting ever since. When I come to a roadblock and see others sitting still, shouting about how the world should bend to their will, I look for another way around, happily.

~
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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