Thursday, May 17, 2012

You Should Write Down Memorable Moments

We're a fairly lazy society as far as technology has let us be, and that's ok.  So many memorable moments can be captured on video or a snapshot that there's no real reason to have to record the event in words.  You can simply look at the photo/video and the caption you put with it to remember the moment as if it just happened.  But not every important moment to you can be photographed or recorded on video.

Although I've had this feeling a few times before, this is the biggest one.

I just finished writing a novel.

Sure, I've got the editing, formatting, and publication headache lying in my immediate path, but I'm here to tell anybody who doesn't know that besides meeting the perfect partner or seeing your child(ren) born, there is no greater feeling than completing a book.

And that is especially true for writers like me who haven't hit it big.  Large names in the industry know they will finish.  Even the ones who are only moderately known are pulling in $10-20k advances.  The big stars, much more than that.  See, they know they will finish.  They not only have the monetary support and outside expectations blowing into their sails, but they have a confidence and really, a rush on it because as soon as they can finish one, they can get the next advance and start the royalties rolling in (if they are motivated by money at all).  At the very least, they know that this is what they do for a living, and that gives them the full confidence that they will finish each book.

But I have about 8 other unfinished works.  Moreover, a writer that hasn't "made it" yet always has to question whether or not his motivation will be destroyed by needs that dreams can't fill.  He has to wonder if he's wasting his time, and when you're writing a novel, you have a million chances to say, "I don't want to do this.  This is shit.  I'm done."

I've read a lot about this.  I, personally, have never really doubted that I was born to write, but from all I've read, the normal (I won't say average because there are few "average" writers in the world) writer often throws stories away, throws them in a desk and leaves them there forever or just stops writing them.  For many, they fear the embarrassment over their mistakes in content, form, structure, believability, or impact of a story.

Not me.

The reason is that I trust two things pretty well within myself--my ability to be a fairly accurate weather-vane for what is exciting or moving prose combined with my belief that I know people pretty well.  That's it.  I believe, correctly or not, that I have my finger on the heartbeat of human behavior and I believe that I accurately judge what will move a reader's heart and mind at a given time in our lives and that this knowledge will let me put down words that will be enjoyed by a reader. 

They say to write what you know.  Bullshit.  Write what you like.  Write what you would read--that's the best advice.  I write books that I literally read over and over.  Not because I'm proud of them or always looking for errors (no matter if they are good or bad) but because I am interested in the story.  Believe it or not, I write with a small feeling that the books I really want to read just haven't been published yet.  I write books that I know I will enjoy reading, even though I know that deep down, my true motivation comes from what happens when I imagine a reader taking in my story.  I can try to predict the impact and enjoyment, the fear or surprise that gives us that multifaceted human experience that we call life.  For reasons I don't understand and don't care if I ever understand, I like to give people something that their minds can enjoy eating and digesting.  I like to feed minds.  It's very fulfilling.  So what if mine is getting some food, too?

This is the night that I had never written about until now, even though it's my 4th published and 5th completed novel.  It feels like standing on top of a mountain that you fell off of fifty times before.  It feels like you've been wrestling a bear for six months and finally slammed his ass down on the mat and pinned him.  It feels good.  There is that knowledge that although now I do have some mucky work to do on the story, the story itself is complete (at least until the sequel).  It's done.  It's emerging on the other end of a war victorious.  It's telling your imagination, "Hey, kooky part of my brain, great effing job!  You did it.  You can rest, now.  You can go on vacation and re-charge--you earned it."

What a beautiful feeling.  This can't be captured with a photo or video--only writing, and so I did.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Get Your Religion Out of My Face

The biggest reason I signed up for service in the U.S.A.F., after wanting to get the Hell out of ma's house and a small town that didn't have enough action for me (but now is perfect) was because I have always been in love with the idea of defending freedom.

That freedom, in this country, means you get to worship whatever entity that you choose, or none at all.  I like that.  It's comforting to know that we can choose our own invisible men to praise or choose none at all.  Along with that freedom definitely comes some ruffled feathers, especially if somebody just believes you are entirely "wrong" in your beliefs, morally or factually.

I had somebody close to me send me her 5 millionth e-mail forward about Jesus a few years back, and it pushed me over the edge.  It wasn't any dislike for Christianity--it was my knowledge of her behavior as she preached the gospel.  I won't say any more than that so as not to give away any identities, but let's just say that it was like being sold Christianity by somebody who had never yet lived by the principles it taught.

So, I had had enough, and I grabbed my American flag and waved it about for a while before sending this response out to her and a few other people so there would be no confusion, and it worked.  It was very clear.  I was upset that I had to break it down into so much detail, but here's my advice to you--say it once, say it with love, and leave no room for interpretation if somebody is doing something that drives you insane on a regular basis.

In my message to her, everything I stated is still accurate as far as what I believe except that I'm a full-fledged Ignostic now.

My message follows:

"Hey Jane Doe,
     You know how much I love you, right?  Ok, well I went ahead and read this e-mail you forwarded.  And this e-mail is pretty much for you but I'm sending it to Jane Doe 2 and 3 as well so I can try to make my position clear here and live a more peaceful life, and hopefully to get the same type of cooperation from them as I hope to get from you. 
     I've told you that I'm Agnostic (although lately I've been considering adding a little "Ignosticism," in with it... it's a bit of a different creature...), that I always will be, and that I hoped you could respect it.  I think that you semi-acknowledged my request, but that in your heart, you believe that if you can just throw enough Jesus at me, it'll finally stick.
     Each time that I get something like this from anybody, after I've made my position known to them, hurts a little.  It has a ring of dominance to it, as if the sender is saying, "Yeah, ok, you aren't so sure my religion is the right religion (if any one necessarily is) but I'm just going to keep dunking your head into the toilet filled with my brand of Holy water until you believe."  And, as you imagine going through such a gross analogy, you are feeling what I feel when I get these e-mails (and these e-mails can come from different people I know, but don't worry--all will get this response from now on). 
     I love you very much, and I'm thankful for you and all of my family, and everything that my family and friends have done for me.  I am committed to our pact of the elimination of negativity, and it is in that spirt that I'd like to politely request, again, that you try not to send me religious e-mails, especially of the type that suggest any one human being might be closer to God than any other, or that some kind of "love," or "blessings," have been deposited into some imaginary bank account. 
     I've read the bible, cover to cover.  I've read more than my fair share of the al-Qur'an, the Veda, the Analects, the 5 classics of Confuscianism (Book of Rits, I Ching, Book of History, Book of songs and one other), the Talmud, the Upanishads, the Tao-te-Ching, and the Bhagavad Gita among others, and we aren't even into the real African and Greek gods yet, with those books.  We haven't even touched on alternative religions or even pagan ones that lasted for centuries and millenia.  And how many religions were never recorded, but were practiced?  Believed?  Religions that people lived and died for--that shaped their daily decisions?  It's a large, large number. 
     Normally, I wouldn't go into so much detail to try to explain to you why I'm a dedicated, committed Agnostic, who has lately also become a staunch defender of Agnosticism.  Again, in summary, I am a man who believes every human being, sane and insane alike, should be able to both choose and exercise their religion as long as they are not physically endangering anyone else or negatively affecting the general public good in their worship rituals.  
     Moreover, I'm not willing to tell any single religion or theism (including atheism) that they are wrong, are going to Hell, are mislead, or are right.  That includes you and Christianity--I'll give my life in a split-second to defend your right to pray and to try to heal people and everything else, because that freedom is automatic for Americans (and I think most of us would die to protect that freedom).  In return, all I'm asking for is that you not push your religion on me, because I don't see your religion in the same light as you--I see it as a practice, which was created by man (by Divine guidance or otherwise) and represents but a speck of beliefs that all humans before us and those alive among us, believe.  It's your speck--I respect that--but it ain't mine.  And of course you could be dead-right in your beliefs--I don't know--what I do know is that I will not commit to any religion until I am certain it is positively, absolutely, the only correct one nor will I rule any out as legitimate until I can find and equally dis-empowering argument against it.
     The truth is that I'm not going to live my life with any reward in the after-life as a goal (nor will I live in fear of an eternity in Hell).  If that costs me, please, let it cost me.  I am your [family member], Kevin A. Kierstead.  I'm not a fence-post Christian, nor am I a Christian who pretends to be one when it's convenient while routinely behaving in ways that would make any saint cringe (this is the bulk of my disgust for many religions, from al-Qaeda claiming to be doing Allah's work to the American Sunday Christian, who's normally breaking those commandments up like crackers every day but Sunday--or so many "priests," who saved their "best work," for Sundays, when they could get alone with the altar boys...)...nor am I a Satan worshiper or a whacked-out Wiccan.  
     I am Agnostic, and I have the right to be Agnostic, because I'm an American (it's automatic).  I will not routinely e-mail you anything trying to talk you out of Christianity, nor will I try to convince anyone in this world, including those from every practice I've written about in this e-mail, to see things from my point of view.  What I will demand, however, and what I am demanding now, is the right to not be bombarded by presumptuous messages from any of those religions (I know you don't come up with most of these "forwards," but I've seen soooooo many, and this is one too many).
     I really hope you don't take any offense to this.  I just know that I'm gonna be stomping around this old brown and green ball for some years to come, and I'd like to be able to peacefully dodge the flying carpets that tend to be zooming around regarding invisible deities and testaments that only the dead can validate.  I was talking to [my child] one day, and ever since she was old enough to talk, I've encouraged her to explore religion and that if she believed in a God (or anything else) and she wanted to "immerse" herself or get involved, I would get her to every single meeting needed for her to live that commitment.  She knows that, too.  And you know what she said to me when she was visiting two summers ago?  We had been talking about how many different religions there are, and that most people around here believed in Christianity.  And I told her that lots of people base everything they do in their lives on the Bible.  She says, "Well, Dad, it is just a book."  I said, "Huh?"  She blinked, looked at me like I was stooopid, and said, "The Bible.  It's just a book."
     She will not be punished for that (I will make sure of it) just as she would not have been punished for saying that the Bible was all that mattered in life.  But I will say that I'm proud of her.... not because she has somehow demoted the Bible--we all know there are some good moral lessons in there, and that even if nothing else, those are good lessons for the kids--but because she was/is willing to open up her mind and think for herself, not to be corralled into some cattle pen where the Christians are saved and the rest set ablaze.... she's free.  I'm free.  You're free.
Love ya.
Thanks for understanding."

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Do You Have a Favorite Sports Team? GOOD!

I had a very wise friend who wasn't into sports.  Although he played ice hockey in college and I even talked him into playing rugby one season (and he was 48 and out of shape--I was exactly half his age), he didn't idolize anybody or anything that you would see on ESPN.

It was back then that I got to thinking.

I have been a life-long Washington Capitals fan.  They were given the go for the expansion a couple months before I was born, and when they started in 1974 (even though I was only a couple years old and my family members were avid Ft. Wayne Komets fans, who lost in the semi-finals the year I was born but when the Championship the next year), I was already in love with the Caps.

Thirty-eight years later, and the Caps still have no cup.

As I told some friends recently, I am only a fair-weather Washington Redskins fan.  I was madly in love with them, too, up until around 2000 when my daughter was born.  She took a lot of attention, but she wasn't the reason I stopped following the Skins.  I stopped because they kept breaking my heart in part, but mostly because football had lost two things by then: 1.  local players, 2.  team spirit (vs. individual celebrations and money moves).

Back in high school, we didn't have hockey or I guaran-damned-tee I would have played.  I did talk a friend once into playing hockey with me when there was ice outside.  We used brooms and a smashed beer can.  That was as close as I ever got to the real sport.  But who cares--I love being involved in it.  I've been to a zillion semi-pro games.  The Hampton Aces, the Hershey Bears, the Norfolk Admirals, the Syracuse Crunch, the Alaska Goldkings, and I could go on (and quite a few Caps games).  If you don't follow hockey, give it a shot.  It has elements of boxing, soccer, racing, and football in it.  Hard hits, real blood, and the teaser for me is the slippery part--the somewhat unpredictable nature of puck movement on ice.  That's exciting.

What other sport (except fighting, boxing, mma, etc.) will let you fight with another guy until blood is all over the place and teeth are flying and only put you in chair for a five-minute time-out?  Hockey is golden.  It is representative of every desire humans have (almost).  Fighting elements, competition, pain, and if you're watching the right team(s), hunger.

I got to thinking about it though.  Pro sports is a business.  They want your money... tickets, merchandise, licensing, etc.  That's how they'll pay their players to be stars.  Plus, like football, hockey rarely has locals on a team anymore.  The trading game is alive and well.  Most players are European or Canadian.  So knowing all of that, people do ask, "Why like a pro sports team, specifically an NHL team?  What does it accomplish?  They don't represent you or your town anymore (with the constant trades/moves)."  That's true, really.  And I will admit that my love for the Caps is a combination of just having always loved them (not a good excuse to love a team, being that it was a love jump-started by my folks) and having always respected the sport and the team-nature of the players... the odd relationship of a goalie with his mates; goalies are in a class of their own that only they fully understand.  I love the sport, the positions, and the team, and it's history, and now, one of the guys I grew up watching is coaching them (Dale Hunter, scrapper extraordinaire).

Here's the whole point; think about what you love in life.  Your kids, maybe your job, maybe even a politician or his party.  You root for them.  You feel good when they win--bad when they lose.  The quote is that it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.  True?  I think so.  The experience of life is about feeling and experiencing.  I have insane love for a few people in my life, including my daughter, family, girlfriend and her daughter, and a few friends, but I also love a sports team.  I love when they win--hurt when they lose.  Far as I can tell, that adds to the experience of life.  The drama of having not won a cup yet pushes every year... a repeating theme.  When will we win it?  It's a cliffhanger.

Why not love a sports team?  Why not add to your experience in this world?  Why not regularly test your ability to love and hurt--to heal and cheer again?  Why not lift that psychological weight-set to strengthen yourself?  It will add passion and depth to your character, as well as growth and maturity in accepting loss.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Unlikely Measures of Success and How to Recognize Them

Think about all you go through in life.  Think about this question; what are the first three or four things you think about when you wake up in the morning (besides the bathroom)?  Right there, you have it--that's what really matters to you in this world.  It may be a love for somebody.  It may be a fear of/for somebody or a respect or an excitement over some thing (toy) or event.

This evening, I'm out cutting my grass.  The neighbor is consumed with how we blow our grass to ensure it doesn't go into the drainage ditch or into his yard.  I suppose caring about it is reasonable, but being consumed?  I don't know about you, but I've mowed grass since I was 8-years old.  I probably wouldn't even remember when I started if it weren't for the dog that bit me in the ass when I was dragging the mower home one day--I suspect he thought I was an Imperial Walker and he sought to protect the street of his homeland.  In all those years of mowing, 32 since then, I've been taught to/practiced mowing grass outwards, away from the uncut grass, in order to keep it from accumulating inward and bogging down the mower.

But he's a specialist.  He owns a business that deals with the intricacies of lawn care.  I can respect that.  Yet, in all of the lawns I have mowed where there were ditches, I have never had to worry about the grass going in and accumulating.  Some of those lawns, I took care of for years and there was never any accumulation (it was either destroyed by the push-mower or weed-eater, or pushed out of the way by the forces of the mower's blowout, wind, or water).  The mower I'm using now cuts grass so fine that it's like a powder almost.  Little, teeny, itsy-bitsies.

I didn't get defensive when he came over and lectured my gf and she volunteered to go rake out the ditch after the first time I broke his cardinal rule.  I didn't get defensive this evening when he stood at his fence line to chaperone my cutting as he has taken a liking to, and even when he said to me (which were his first words directly to me), "I'd like if you blow it away from the ditch and the fence.  I just cut here, and I blew mine away from your lawn," which wasn't even true because we watched him with a push mower, on our property, blowing it right into our yard.  I didn't get defensive last year when he suggested that trash was ending up in the ditch, as if it was coming from our place (which is rather tidy if I do say so).  We live on a MAIN road, with litter!  Didn't bother me.  I blew it off.

Do you sense where this is going?

He must be doing great!  The only question I had for him but never asked was this: "When was the last time you had a genuine smile?  About anything?"

If you are doing so well in life that your thoughts get consumed with grass fragments or the origin of plastic bottle caps or hamburger wrappers, you really should pat yourself on the back because you have arrived.  I have no question that the man knows his business, but I don't take kindly to anybody telling me how to cut my grass where I live.  I have a general problem with authority anyway, but specifically problems with those who try to impose their will upon my domain.  Yet, the more I thought about him, two feelings emerged: the first, of course, was the realization that he must be doing pretty damned well and the second was that he needed to find something to enjoy instead of policing.

When I came inside tonight, another thought occurred before I realized the topic of tonight's post.  I thought about an author who had written on the Amazon boards that she couldn't understand why her sales had dropped down to under 50 or 100 (can't remember) books per day, and the other authors and some readers were all consoling her and giving her tips.  Nothing at all wrong with that, but I sell an average of just over one book per day, and the reason I'm entirely content with that is this: two years ago on this day, I hadn't even published a book, and now my fourth one will be published in June (I've written five to completion but I'm re-working the daylight out of one).  I look FORWARD to the day when I have to complain that sales are under 50 per day, because you know what?  That's not a problem.  That will never be a problem for me.

The message I guess I'm trying to push is this; take a survey of yourself and find out what you worry about or complain about the most in a given day.  Then think about where you were ten years ago and what you were complaining or worrying about then.  If your problems are worse, then you're pretty much average in your thinking by my guess.  But if your problems are much less severe, don't be afraid to smile inside even if you won't let people on the outside know that you're doing much better (you know who you are--some people love to appear always on the brink of death in some form).  The depth and true impact of your perceived problems is the most accurate measure of your success.