Category: Friday 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.

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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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We Give As We Go

We Give As We Go

I’m thinking about strength today, specifically about steel.

At the moment, I live just north of the steel town of Pittsburgh. Depending on how the steel is processed, how many alloys are in it, the extreme temperatures you bring it to and how quickly you cool it, you can wind up with a product that is extremely strong, as everyone knows, and yet flexible. Rather than a weakness, this flexibility gives the steel added strength.

People, similarly, have strength borne of seeming weakness. We aren’t perfect. We discover each other, just the way we are, with all our baggage and the mess, and we let each other in. We give as we go. And it’s okay.

Together, we learn to live and love, and the mess is all just a part of it.

People don’t come in perfection. We come as we are. And we don’t mind.

This is what life, love, is all about.

~
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 Poet’s Heart

The Poet's HeartHere’s a story for you:

A friend of mine once said to me, “I don’t know how you write about things from the heart and then show them to the world. I make art, but I don’t take it personally when someone doesn’t like a piece. You, though. You put your heart out there with every piece, ready for the slaughter.”

We were walking in the woods at the time, a group of us, walking two-by-two on a muddy path. I thought about his words, and said, “You met your wife when you were teenagers. You only have eyes for each other and everybody knows it. But in all that you do, working your career and giving speeches for your employer and creating art when you come home, your heart is very much out there and it can be rejected just the same. Your courage comes from knowing that your heart is safe, that she protects it. The only difference is that the safest place for the poet’s heart is out in the open. So that’s where I put it.”

In one way or another, we all put ourselves out there every day. Because of this, we’re all a lot braver than we realize.

~
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.

For Richer or Poorer

For Richer or PoorerA friend of mine used to feel he was mistreated at his job, but he stuck it out for years. And when he no longer worked for that employer, he decided to take some money out of his IRA to go have an adventure. My friend knew he would pay a penalty for taking money out early, and he didn’t mind that. His rationale was, “The bulk of the money put into that account came from my employer, so I’m spending their money to do something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.” And with that, he hiked the Appalachian Trail.

Now depending on who you ask, this was either poor planning or a brilliant idea. Remember the story of the ant and the grasshopper, where the ant worked all summer long and the grasshopper lived it up, and then in the winter, the ant had enough to eat while the grasshopper lamented that storing up for lean times was the way to go all along? The ants of the world (as opposed to the grasshoppers) would tell you that what my friend did was the worst idea ever, that he should be saving for his future, for his retirement, and healthcare costs alone in retirement can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. As a former ant myself, I understand the thinking. But the ant in the story worked so hard all summer that he didn’t even have time to chat because he was so busy stocking up for winter, which makes the whole ant/grasshopper story sound as if the only way to prosper is to sacrifice.

Ask any dreaming artist or any hardworking artist out there and we’ll all tell you my friend’s plan was brilliant. That IRA bought him unrivaled life experience, and in our line of work, these are our riches. Our riches are the experiences that help us make art. We capture time, place, and emotion so well in our work because we’ve been there, done that. It’s not grasshopper, and it’s not ant. It’s somewhere in between. So when rational thought says, “Can’t afford it,” the artist brain says, “I can’t afford not to try.” And we know that disaster may strike, that we’ll be financially behind our peers, that we’ll pay penalties, and we’re willing to take that on, because the life experience of fully knowing the now is worth it every time.

~
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. 

Seemingly From Nothing

Pssst… Hey. Yes, you.
Remember that idea you had? The one that could change everything? The one you locked away, you say, for safe keeping, when we know really you were thinking you weren’t ready. And you vowed to return to it in the future, when you’re a little wiser or a little better off, but even you know that was just wishful thinking and that an idea like that shouldn’t be kept under wraps.
The thing about that idea, and the reason I bring it up, is that it’s good. We’re talking really good. And the world needs to see it in action, and yours is the voice for it. Yes, yours.
Because it occurred to you, not anyone else, and it came about because of who you are, the life you’ve lived, and the things you know. It came to you at a time when you needed it most and seemingly out of nowhere. And there were even others in the room at the time but they didn’t see it, they didn’t realize the way time slowed as you caught this idea.
The time is now. Unlock the door of your imagination and let the idea brighten the room, the building, the parking lot outside, the street, the next building, the grassy space beyond it, the next town, city, state, country, body of water, expanse of air, planet, stars…
Fueled by inspiration, lighted by hope, and guided by you.
We’ve been waiting for this moment. We’ve been waiting for you.

–Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom.

Seemingly From Nothing post

The North Wind of Change

The North Wind of Change postThe winds have picked up in Pittsburgh this week, with a touch of a North Wind chill in the air. The North Wind is active in mythology for its cold, stormy activity, and is known generally as the bringer of change.

Though we’re told we need to embrace change, it’s a tall order. We strive to have a sense of order and comfort to our daily lives that change is looked upon as a great disturber of the peace.

I think sometimes we get a picture in our minds of how things are going to be, and nothing can move that gaze. As kids we’re told not to let anything get in the way of our goals, so we learn to focus hard. But keeping our eye on the ball doesn’t mean that we stop seeing the ballpark. We see this especially in conversation. Focusing so hard on speaking our mind, we forget to listen to what’s happening around us to know if our comment is even applicable to the conversation. We speak before all the facts are in. Again, the lack of being able to adapt is the culprit. My Dad says, “When you walk into a room full of people, the first person to open his mouth to speak is typically the stupidest person in the room.”

(He has the best proverbs.) As an introvert, my Dad tends to think the world talks entirely too much. His philosophy is, and always has been, to listen and then speak only if necessary.

And we’ve all heard stories about the person climbing the success ladder who kicked, scratched, and clawed to reach the top regardless of who got knocked out of the way. No one sets out wanting to be that guy. Yet, in chasing down our personal goals, we tend to get short sighted and forget that are many ways to reach that goal, not just the one way we’re trying to push through. Take a step back, and look at it from another angle. See the ballpark as well as the ball. Let the details in.

Change, according to Merriam-Webster, is to become different, to become something else. I don’t know about you, but I find that exhilarating.

The winds of change are upon us, my friends. Good or bad, they’re already on their way.

The North Wind of Change post

~
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

Writer’s Journey

Writer's Journey bookA lot of writing is sitting with your eyes closed, visualizing what’s going to happen next, who’s going to say what, and how. And while writers can write anywhere (and typically write everywhere) at all times and in all places, there is an art to sitting still and letting the story tell itself.

You can push. You want forward movement and you can certainly make anything happen that you like. Unfortunately, pushed scenes that sound forced and trite, and they’re the first ones you delete upon re-reading. Good stories tell themselves. It’s the writer’s job to listen and let them.

While you’re listening, if truly nothing is happening, you can begin to lob nouns at your characters. Maybe a storm hits, an elephant enters the room, or an angry uncle shows up, or the car was never green but blue… There’s no end to the spaghetti noodles you can toss to see what sticks when the story is ready. When something does take hold, write. Write feverishly, and capture every detail of the scene and how it affects everything else you want to say.

There’s a flow to writing, and you know when you’re in it because you stop looking at your word count and page numbers and instead get swept up in the current, a cartoon character sitting cross-legged on top of a wave, busy fingers clacking on an old and buoyant typewriter and at the end of the day, you suddenly look up and realize you no longer recognize your surroundings. Look around with new eyes, because everything has changed and even you aren’t the same anymore.

Before and between waves, stories nudge and stories whisper while you are anxious to write and feel forward progress. Quiet that anxiety so that you can hear the story around you. You’re not blocked. You never were.

~
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

Past the Age

From my great friend Keith:

“I’ve told people in my department lately that I won’t die young. I know I won’t.”

They look at me with concern and say, “Don’t’ say that. Why do you say that?”

And I tell them, “I’m past the age of dying young.”

Keith tells me this, and then looks at me and says with authority, “It’s a good thing.”

We smile about it.

~
My first book, Upside Down Kingdom, is available on Amazon. I’ll sign it for you.

Abundance

Did you ever have one of those days where everything is just a mess? Everywhere you look, each direction you turn for comfort or solace you just find mess, mess, and more mess?

Today is one such day. North, South, East, and West, problems, trickiness, and sticky situations abound. That’s the bad news, which, really, isn’t all that bad because the good news is, I don’t think I can mess it up even further. There’s a sort of liberation in that. To borrow from Doctor Who (Doc #10), “The worse this gets, the more I love it!”

These are the best kind of messes, because the cleanup process has to involve creative thinking and great risk.

I’m stepping out the door now, ready to take some chances.

~
Follow the blog! And check out my first book, Upside Down Kingdom, on Amazon.

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