Archive for December, 2014


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.

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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.

Merry Little Christmas

Merry Little ChristmasThis morning, Santa brought an easel for my little nephews and put it under our tree. Santa forgot, however, to supply the dry erase markers that are much needed for the easel. First, we searched the house—to no avail. Second, we made a list of places that might be open this Christmas morning who would sell dry erase markers—knowing full well that none of us had any intention of going to any store on Christmas Day. Finally, we got creative with some magnet letters and managed to spell out Merry Christmas on the easel board for my nephews. It’s imperfect, and they’re going to love it.

And this brings me to another moment this week: During the church Christmas pageant, one little boy had a bit of a meltdown and refused to play his part. He’d practiced and practiced with the other little kids, but when the big moment came (actually, it was about fifteen minutes before the big moment), he wouldn’t go on. Instead, while the rest of the kids were in front of the church singing, his father rocked him in a chair in the back to comfort him while his mother looked on, with the little lamb costume in her hands that would go unworn this year. Seeing this, I smiled and thought to myself, “This is Christmas.”

It can be a day when plans come to fruition, or a day when things go wrong and we think outside the box to make them right. We think with love. We smile at the cracks and the lines and tender imperfections because we’re humans and that’s what we do. And life goes on. Because the show doesn’t have to.

Have yourselves a… Well, you know.

~
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.

Breaking the Rules on Christmas EveIn my family, Christmas Eve brings with it the now infamous Sauerkraut Soup, creamed peas, and fried pork chops. The entire house smells thick with these traditional foods, and while earlier I’d planned to wait until some of the aroma cleared out in order to get ready for the day, I have since decided that it wouldn’t be Christmas Eve if I didn’t smell like fried pork chops.

Two years ago, in fact, I remember stopping at my Grandma’s house to drop off the chops and soup so she had them ready for the family to stop in and eat in shifts around church services and in-law schedules, and I spilled some of the soup down the front of me in the process. When I got to church and sat down next to my sister, she said, “What’s that smell?”

“Ah, that would be me,” I whispered. “It’s meat juice. Let’s hope no one is out walking a dog after the service tonight.” We laughed about that.

But in all the gettings-ready and gift wrapping and cooking and dress-ironing (which I don’t do) and food delivery and cleaning and place-setting and traveling, so much comes together for this night that we’ve long since given up on trying to make a perfect holiday, following order and rules and such, and instead enjoy whatever the day brings, sometimes with unplanned spillings and sometimes with surprise visits from favorite cousins.

And in it all, I’m reminded of the original Christmas, with the prospect of mandatory and dangerous travel just to register to pay taxes, and the delivery of a baby in Bethlehem, near Jerusalem. [Earlier I wrote the travel was to Jerusalem, because I truly have Jerusalem on the brain these days. But no, Mary and Joseph were, of course, traveling to Bethlehem.] I think of the Magi, who followed the star, sent by King Herod himself. And when they found said baby under the star, they gave gifts befitting a king. And I think of how the Magi left by a different route, not returning to King Herod because they were warned in a dream that the King only intended to kill the baby.

I think of this especially, because, even a couple thousand years ago, wise men broke the rules and followed their dreams.

And the world was forever changed.

Merry Christmas Eve!

~
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.

Detail Retention

Detail RetentionI just finished a conversation with my friend in Quebec about the card I sent to his family that they haven’t received yet. Turns out, I sent it to the wrong house number. His neighbors must have it.

But I did have to ask him if maybe he had forgotten the house number, since that’s the number I had saved in my computer. They’ve received my cards in the past, and no one ever said I’d sent them to the neighbors.

When I asked him how certain he was of the house number, my friend scoffed. He knew the house number, all right. You don’t forget things like that. “You wouldn’t forget your name, would you?” he asked.

“Actually, today, I forgot what state I was in when I went to the store,” I told him. (The lady at the register thought that was pretty funny.)

I reminded him that people forget basic information all the time. We go to the store for milk and leave after spending fifty dollars and still return home with no milk. We search for our cell phones as we talk on them, complaining to the person on the other end about how we can’t find the phone. Sometimes I push my glasses up to adjust my vision before I realize I’m wearing my contacts. These are not clever moments, mind you, but they’re so very human.

On the flip side, however, we can remember every word of our favorite song, every nuanced step along the way that lead to choosing the perfect school, car, or house. We remember the sound of our footsteps along the road, the distinct smell of rain, every moment of a vacation. And we remember every single, minute detail of a first kiss.

Some things just aren’t as important.

~
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.

Address Changes

Address ChangesI’m sending out holiday cards, late as usual. And I’m amazed at my friends on my card list who have not changed their addresses in the past couple years, and equally amazed at the friends who have moved around. Why the amazement, I don’t know. I move around all the time, and I imagine that’s annoying to anyone sending me a card. Yet I love the movement. And for my friends who haven’t changed addresses recently, I sat this morning and imagined what that would be like, to look around at my own space and know it’s mine, and mine for good. Perhaps the gypsy in me would sit down and enjoy a cup of tea. Or perhaps she’d walk the halls restlessly, hoping to put things into boxes yet again.

A relative of mine sent me a note a few months back, a very nice note that said he was proud of me for my wandering purpose and for following my dreams. His note came as a response to my own note sent to him, reminding him how much comfort he could take from knowing he had a great job that he enjoyed and financial security to choose vacation destinations and what color new truck he’d like. The grass is always greener.

But if we consider today, exactly where we are right now, to be the beginning of our next adventure, be it making a change or be it better appreciating what’s around us in the first place, then today is not so bad. Yes, most things in the past led up to this, but that doesn’t make this the end of the road, and certainly not the end of the journey. To make a change, we simply start today. And we remember this, right now–half-finished projects and walls that need painting and dreams about travel and kids and grandkids–as our jumping off point. Absorb today, in all its good and unfinishedness, and kindly step forward into your own.

~
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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