Blog Archives

Flexing the Brain Muscle

Today I got off work around 2:30 in the afternoon for my break between shifts. As I waited at the bar for my cash out, I struck up a conversation with a guy sitting there. We ended up chatting for a half an hour about politics and religion (yes, in a bar!) — but not the way you think.

You see, we spent a half an hour discussing the ways people approach these things through their own respective biases. Our conversation rarely showed any red or blue, crosses or crescents, or any other indication of our own views. We discussed the way people think about politics based on their own religions. How the inherent irony in works like The Terminator and my current read Robopocalypse manifests itself — like how the technology we have all come to rely on so fully eventually turns against us and thinks for itself.

We discussed books, and how his favorite six-book collection of Winston Churchill’s recollections of the Second World War is loved in part because of the coffee stains on some of the pages. We discussed quantum physics and string theory and how physicists sometimes consult philosophers as they reach their arms toward the upper echelons of the universe’s mysteries.

I realized something profound as I left my restaurant to spend my couple hours at Starbucks blogging and reading.

I miss learning. I miss my brain.

I miss learning languages and struggling to meet each threshold of understanding. I miss conversations like the one I had today, where two or more minds just talk about life and history and science and evolution and faith and religion and all those subjects. I miss the stimulation of being surrounded by others who push my mind in new directions, who force me to analyze and evaluate instead of regurgitate and accept.

I don’t have any funny quips or bits of wisdom to offer. Only a yearning to find that kind of camaraderie again. I have so many interests, from microbiology to art to String Theory to philosophy. Language. Not just my own.

As I walked in the discordant warm December rain, I found my life wanting. I love my husband. I love our home. But I think if you were to ask him, he’d say something is missing as well. Neither of our careers are where we want them right now, and though I can usually get through a day or a week or a month chugging away paying my dues, today reared its head to show me that change is coming soon, and soon indeed.

This isn’t to say I’m foretelling my imminent success as an urban fantasist. This is not even to say I’m foretelling my imminent piddling attempt at urban fantasy. What I am saying is that no matter what my writing career holds in terms of the c-word (career), something must change soon.

Whether it means I go back to university and hire a Caterpillar to dig me into another mountain of debt to get my Ph.D or start building a freelance career in non-fiction isn’t the issue. One of those things will probably happen.

About the future I know three things:

1. I want to move to Scotland and raise a family with my husband.

2. I will write no matter what I do to pay the bills.

3. If I am to have a long-term career, it must be an intellectually stimulating one.

Those are evident in my every day life. While I have the occasional enlightening moment with my tables as I wait on them, it doesn’t change the fact that Sunday when a guest was looking for me to order dessert, she couldn’t so much as describe me by my fiery red hair. To most of the people I serve on a daily basis, I am faceless. Nameless as soon as they walk out the door. No amount of cooing over their babies will change that for many of them. As much as I love the regulars who do treat me like a worthwhile person, I know this isn’t my place forever.

And so I find myself today contemplating the future and what it might hold.  I know I’m getting close to something big, but I feel that it lies just around the bend in the mountainside. It’s coming, and I don’t know what it is.

If I were to be run off the road on the way home, what would I regret?

I would feel like I was being a bit wasted where I am. I can do more than waiting tables, I know I can. This is not to be down on people who do this for a living — I chose this job. It didn’t choose me. There are aspects I enjoy, but ultimately this job does not challenge me.

I would feel like I got stuck somewhere that wasn’t the end goal. I would wonder why I didn’t try just a little bit harder to do what I want to do with this life.

Could I die today and be content? No. I couldn’t. There would be that something missing.

In one area of my life I am fulfilled, and that is love. I could not ask for a better family, a better husband, or better and truer friends than the ones I have. In this one area, I know that I am content.

But the others need some work.

I will close with a quote from one of my all-time favorite authors, a man who helped me discover epic fantasy and showed me that it doesn’t have to be high prose full of doom and gloom — that you could build a fantastical world full of humor and laughter and real people who eat and sometimes discuss bathroom breaks. David Eddings passed away two and a half years ago, shamefully outside my notice. His passing did not make headlines that reached my eyes. I thought of him just the other day and wondered how he was getting on. The question got answered much by accident.

This man will not be forgotten, and I will ensure that his words endure, if only in a tiny library owned by a redhead writer.

This is what I was talking about earlier when I suggested most aspiring fantasists will lose heart fairly early on. I was in my mid-teens when I discovered that I was a writer. Notice that I didn’t say “wanted to be a writer.” “Want” has almost nothing to do with it. It’s either there or it isn’t. If you happen to be one, you’re stuck with it. You’ll write whether you get paid for it or not. You won’t be able to help yourself. When it’s going well, it’s like reaching up into heaven and pulling down fire. It’s better than any dope you can buy. When it’s not going well, it’s much like giving birth to a baby elephant.

-David Eddings, from The Rivan Codex

Advertisements

Just Before Dawn

Oh, hello there. It’s been a while. Do forgive me. I’m afraid I’ve been pursuing hours in the day that do not exist for some time now, and it’s left me a wee bit…absent.

I’ve spent the last two months with my face buried in paper, up to my neck in ink, and just generally writing until my fingers fall off more days than not. This is a good thing, but it has left my other past times by the wayside. You know. By that side waaaaay over there. It’s just a little speck to me right now. Wave at them.

Words have ever been a giant central gear that my life revolves around. They propel me, fill me, spill out of me. They suck me into other worlds where planets spin through shining colorful galaxies filled with ultraviolet sparkles and dark grimy alleys where something really does want to eat you. They do it, and they do it often. I’ve occupied my imagination so fully lately that I haven’t had the chance to turn it to other things.

I want to sit under an oak tree and feel it live against my back. I want to watch the turning of fiery leaves and run my hands across velvet grass. I want to lay on my back and watch planets and stars appear in a cerulean sky. I want to look into the eyes of an elephant and have her reach out her trunk toward me. I want to soar above oceans again and smell peat and loam and heather. I want to climb up into the branches of a tree and read a book.

It is so easy to get caught up in things. I’m newly married. We both work and have passions and try to eat normal food at our abnormal times. We still haven’t gotten our thank you notes out.

As the world darkens and the sun stretches farther away for the winter months, I feel the return of a new year. I always sort of celebrate the Celtic new year, Samhain. It’s a day of the dead, yes, but it also marks rebirth. It marks the time of year when the earth slows to sleep, where all becomes still, and where hibernation occurs awaiting the return of the light and the burgeoning buds and blossoms. I can’t help but feel like something is…gestating in my life, for lack of a better word. Not in my body; no, there’s no life inside me forming. What I feel is that I’m frantically growing something. That these words I nurture every day are multiplying into something big, something that will soon be born to the world.

The leaves turn and fall to the ground, and the earth slumbers until spring. I will continue to create, to harbor the life of these words until they are ready to be shared. And I believe they will be shared. My husband believes in me. He brings me bright fall roses and dahlias and daisies to add cheer to our home and to comfort me while my body responds to the changing of the seasons. For every winter, there is a spring. So I will keep working, keep writing, keep hoping all through this long night of the earth.

I will write through the darkest hour.

New and Old

I logged onto MySpace just now.

I know. Whoa. Yeah, it still exists. I didn’t really know either. I went on looking for a poem I posted in my blog there a long while back. I felt like dredging it up and seeing if I still thought it was shiny and whimsical. I wrote it sort of in the style of Lewis Carroll — nonsense and bounce and yes, whimsy.

The first thing that caught my eye was this entry. I feel the need to post it here, to share it. I think it deserves that. So I give you the me of two and a half years ago; do enjoy. Some of it’s lyrical. I don’t know if the formatting was intentional or not or if it just happened as a by-product of MySpace re-imagining itself in a vain attempt to stay relevant against the Facebook behemoth, but regardless, I kept it.

i
stretch, feeling the tug of my muscles, a pleasurable ache remaining.
it’s a reminder of how much has changed this year.  2009, it seems, is
setting out to prove that spring of 2008 was a crucible — the
smoldering coals i had to walk over to feel the cool wet grass under my
feet.
the first crickets sing outside my window, their tunes riding on the
fresh breeze of the evening.  my breath is measured, even.  my fingers
and hands are warm as i type, the muted light from the paper-covered
lamp filling the room with a soft glow.  and here i am.
something leaps in my chest when that thought enters my mind.  the
breath in my lungs hitches for a moment, and my heart quickens.  here i am.
the air is cool, and the sun has begun its downward path,
setting the budding trees and leafy bushes to dusty gold.  i am alone
on the greenway path.  for once, no passers-by break the silence with
their footsteps and words.  no joggers with ipods, no walkers with dogs
and leashes.  just me.  i pause at the first curve, looking out over
the field.  a smile tugs at my lips — something that is happening more
and more lately.  a few puffy dandelions grow in the grass.  on
impulse, i step off the path and pluck one from its resting place.

there’s a difference in the air this year.  a softer note in the
sound of the wind.  as i let my mind drift over the events of last
spring, it touches on snapshots.  my heart stopping as i read a
one-line email from my cousin matt.  “please give me a call the first
chance you get.”  dark brown eyes under a shock of shaggy black hair,
darting nervously as my boss informs me my hours have been cut by 40%.
coming home again to find my roommate doesn’t have the rent money or
the bills at all.  mocking words.  maniacal howling from the other side
of my apartment.  walking into my bedroom and feeling someone else’s
uninvited presence.  things missing.  weariness.  driving.  driving.
mansions and mansions filled with people, hard faces.  suspicious
glances.  smiling children and dilapidated buildings playing among cut
gravel and broken glass.  a boy’s florid bow as he moves aside to let
my car pass.  spanish filters through my open window from neighbors
laughing on lawn chairs, easy banter on a summer evening as my car
moves through their world.  the quiet of the office, eight hours of
nothing.  from sprawling villas to shoebox dwellings — an invisible
line is crossed, and i drive into another world.  the rocky mountains
in the distance.  tired.  always tired.  six o’clock i drive to work in
the morning sun.  eight hours of nothing.  the sun sets as i drive, the
numbers on my meter move, move.  hours and hours.  at midnight, i drive
home.  i fall into bed.  i sleep.  six o’clock comes too soon.  tears.
the harsh scent of vodka.  the sharp sting of lies.  snapshots — just
snapshots — that world is no more.
mom always used to tell me not to spread the dandelion seeds.  i
pause as i lift the fluffy ball to my lips, my fingertips sticking
lightly to the thin, moist stem.  for a moment i feel a gleeful
rebellion as i purse my lips and blow.  tiny tufted dancers spin into
space.  freed from their resting place
, they float through the
air.  one lodges itself between my breasts, perhaps afraid to take that
step onto the current of the breeze.  i pluck it out and it soars away,
trailing behind the cloud of others that flicker in the light of the
afternoon sun
.
last year’s world is no more.  only this year is real.  only now.  here i am.
again my heart quickens as i glance forward in time.  the clock seems
to speed in its place on the wall.  soon and very soon.  no more
running away.  this time i’m moving forward, grasping at newness, at
vibrance.  everything about now tickles my awareness of the immediacy
of the present.  the pull of my muscles as i stretch, the comfortable
space in my clothing.  the smile that tugs at my lips.  newness.
i’m alone on the path.  i glance around, but no one is there.
my heart leaps in pleasure.  the creek burbles over rocks as i cross
the bridge, the soft pat-pat of my flip-flops still audible over the
water.  the path seems smoother, more even than i remember, even though
i was there not long ago.  i feel the urge to run.  what happens is
more of a scamper, borderline bounce.  my legs tense, my pulse jumps.
something in me sparkles.  without a thought, my shoes are off, left
behind on the pavement.  i pad a few steps forward, then i’m running.

2009 is a new year.  i felt it with the ticking of the clock as
december became january.  it’s new in every way.  the gentle ache in my
muscles gives me a moment of triumph.  my body is newer, smoother, yes
— slimmer.  i feel good.  i feel healthy, energetic.  when i look in
the mirror, i grin.  i think of what i’ve done this year, in the months
that have passed since the sorrow of last spring.  focus,
determination.  effort.  i’ve fallen down, but there have been hands to
help me up.  and here i sit.  i am ready.
i come to a halt where the path turns to grass.  i look out over
the field beyond where it ends, see the rolling, tamed grass of the
golf course and purposely turn the other way.  a small meadow is
nestled in the crook of a curving slope.  a few insects flit across the
path in the sun.  the breaths i take as i turn back toward home feel
like a drug.  the smile wins, and i feel my face light up.  when i
reach my shoes, i pick them up.  the plastic, warmed from the sun,
dangles from my fingertips.  my arms swing at my sides, and i revel in
the cool air that passes over my skin.  my earrings jingle as i walk
silently on my bare feet.  right now, at this moment, i am utterly
beautiful.

carbonation bubbles in my veins as a thrill passes through me.  my
skin hums in anticipation.  soon.  an electric edge is on the air,
seems to hover around me like an aura.  this time there is no
trepidation, only certainty.  clear, crystalline certainty.no running away this time.  no desperation, no stumbles and sobs.  only
an abiding quietness and a tugging smile.  a sparkle, a glimmer.
raindrops patter on the ground outside, and a fresh-washed scent floats
in on the evening breeze.  the crickets have been put on mute, gone for
cover from the rain.  inside in the glow, the world is spread out
before me.  i’m the tiny dandelion seed, and i’m finally ready to
launch myself off that cliff, to take the plunge.  till then, i’ll
smile to myself, i’ll keep these sweet secrets dancing at the corners
of my lips.  till then, i’ll look out over the world spread before me.
till then, i’m her.  i am ready.
fumbling toward ecstasy

I can’t help but love that.

The MacGuffin

In writing and film, a MacGuffin is a plot device that gives the characters a catalyst for action. It can be an object to quest after or a nebulous concept, but it makes them go. It’s like my gorse bush.

Right now what’s making me go is my writing. I feel good about my story and the people who have so graciously volunteered to help me edit my monstrosity of a manuscript and prepare it for submission. I’m coming to the end of draft two, and I’m excited to get it going with the polishing round.

Writing has been a dream of mine for so long, and now that I have a completed novel and another one almost done, I feel like I can move forward. It’s the career I want. I’ve been pretty deliberate about my steps, trying to make sure that I put the effort in on the front end to save some time and heartache later. I don’t know what to expect once my work starts spiraling around the ether, but we shall see.

That’s my MacGuffin right now. The wedding is in two weeks, and I’m starting a life with my fiance. We’re both the classic broke twenty-somethings. We’re both creative types. The driving force for me is getting my writing out there, because at the end of the day, I write for an audience. I want others to read my work.

The past month has been very busy. I’ve been writing in every spare minute. Sometimes in those minutes I can’t actually spare. I’ve been blogging and building, tweeting and grinding my teeth. I’m painstakingly digging a foundation for a career I hope will encompass my life. I want to show agents that I’m worth the risk of taking on a new author. That I’ll make us both money doing what we love: producing new books for people to cuddle up to.

A lot of the past month has been borne with frustration that I have to work fifty hours a week at another job. That’s fifty hours I can’t spend writing and honing my craft. That’s why I want to make writing my career — so that I can focus on getting better, push myself to creating more vivid language, sharper imagery, characters people long to read over and over again.

I remember how I felt when I discovered that by Jo Rowling’s timeline, Harry wouldn’t be the age of Dan Radcliffe — he’d be my age. That all of this took place parallel to my generation. It made it so much more powerful to me to think that Harry was my peer. I will love those books forever. I will never duplicate the Harry Potter phenomenon — nor do I want to — but I want to make that connection to readers. Make a place in their hearts where my characters will live as their friends.

The dream is there. The drive is there. The will and determination are there. Even with the wedding coming up a mere two weeks from now, writing is the pulse of my life.

Perhaps this entry belongs more on my other blog, but perhaps not. It applies to my life. It’s a shift that has occurred subtly over the past few years, and it’s starting to materialize. I’ve gone from sheer terror to hopelessness to confidence to resolve when it comes to my career — now that resolve is moving my feet forward into a new world.

Post-Script on Last Night’s Wedding Post

Rather appropriately, after writing last night’s post, I went to bed only to have my very first wedding nightmare!

No zombies, nothing exciting like that. More’s the pity. It was a very mundane nightmare, which made it probably worse, as it stemmed from more or less rational fears. In it, no one helped me put the decorations together on the day. I couldn’t get my best friend and maid of honor to help me with anything. I pleaded with everyone I saw to get Julia for me, and she was never there. My mother was still showering two hours past the time of the ceremony, and John’s mother kept yelling at me for not having things done. There were a hundred people sitting in chairs waiting for the ceremony to begin at 4:30, and it got dark around 6 and they were still out there waiting. No one would help me into my dress. Everyone laughed at me and called me useless and told me it didn’t matter that it was starting hours late, and I finally sat down and bawled like a baby.

Oh dear. I think I would have preferred the zombies. Horrible. I never get nightmares. I can think about blood and vampires and rotting flesh and character torture before sleeping tight, snug in my bed, but my wedding? Apparently my subconscious is petrified about the ceremony.

Damn you, subconscious.

Wedding, ZOMG*

*I reserve the right to use such an acronym once every bajillion microseconds. Which is to say, every so often when it suits me.

My wedding is in two and a half weeks. Hence the ZOMG. There is so much going on — I don’t even know where to start.

The details are worked out, the cake is ordered, the awesometastic cake toppers are sitting atop our microwave, and there is a mossy little basket perched on our coffee table. My dress is at the tailor, my ring is in it’s box on it side. There is a box full of stinky flowers in our spare room. It’s all coming together, except for the bit where I can wrap my brain around it.

I have a feeling that it’s going to creep up, pounce, and then disappear into memory. Then we’ll just be married and start our lives the best way we know how. I’m awfully happy that we have several remarkable photographers coming to prove to us that it happened.

The wedding is a day to celebrate. I’m excited about it, to see friends and family and feast and be joyous. To walk down a grassy aisle barefoot and surrounded by loved ones. Pretty special.

I know I’m going to be stressed and fussier than I normally am…either that or completely apathetic. Probably the latter. I think others will do my freaking out for me. I have some people assigned to awkward duties and others there just to make sure I stay calm. Regardless, stuff is going to go wrong, so my main focus at this point is just to put on blinders and chill.

The main part I can get really, really pumped about is the honeymoon. John and I are doing something I’ve never done before — we’re going to Discovery Cove to swim with dolphins. I cannot wait. We’re going to be big old kids and go to the Harry Potter park at Universal, for which we have set aside an entire day. I am so excited. I want to drink butterbeer (no matter how many calories it entails) and get my own wand at Ollivanders. I just might pee my pants. We’re also going to do a water park and get massages and generally relax and do things we never get to do. It will be the first real vacation I’ve had since Scotland last year, and the first John and I have taken just the two of us…well. Ever.

But yeah. Wedding. 18 days. It’s close enough to be measured in days…ZOMG.

I just might post some pictures here, gentle viewers. We shall see. Maybe just to post some of the quirk involved with our wedding — because there will be plenty. Cake toppers are just a taste of it. (Shhhh, it’s a secret!)

I can’t wait. I also can’t quite believe it yet. Right now I feel extra surreal because I have a fever and don’t feel well. At least I’m getting sick now instead of later, right? Eeek.

Why Did the Turtle Cross the Road?

A couple days ago, as I pulled out of the driveway of my apartment complex, I almost hit a turtle. He was a small turtle, maybe six inches across. I managed not to hit him, but as I stopped at the light half a block away, I watched him in my rearview mirror as he plodded along, narrowly avoiding the F-250 that followed me out of the drive. Such a little guy, but his hard shell won’t protect him from cars. I wished I could have stopped to pick him up and truck him to the other side.

As I drove to work, I pondered how he even got onto the road. The curb is bigger than he is, and yet somehow he’d already made it across one lane. I hope he is okay and that he made it across the road. The world of Maryland suburbs isn’t made for such a small turtle.

Some days I feel like that turtle. I am trying to cross a road in a big, big world with all these large things that whiz out of nowhere, and it’s all I can do to plod one more dogged step after another. The only real motivation I can think of for a turtle to try and cross a busy road is that he’s looking for food. He needs to survive. If the road is dangerous, well, so is starving. I suppose sometimes we have to take risks if we want to get where we need to be.

I get asked fairly often at work why I’m working “in a place like that” and not doing something else. The underlying meaning of such a question is that I’m wasting my time, intelligence, etc. by being a server, and that I ought to be doing something more “useful.” I resent that question as much as I resent complete strangers asking me if my hair is natural. I don’t go around asking all the platinum blonds that question because it’s rude — but because my hair is red, that somehow makes it okay? Growl. Okay, I digress.

The point is, my current job serves a purpose. I enjoy it, and it suits me for now. I don’t have to get up at an absurd hour of the morning, and I’m making decent money. It’s a means to an end, and I’m happy there. I like my managers, and I get on well with my coworkers, so what’s to complain about? In the meantime, I’m revising my novel, trying to establish a presence in the world of the internet to promote said novel, and generally enjoying life. I’m about to marry a wonderful man. So when people ask me that question, it frustrates me.

I am that turtle in the middle of the road. Yeah, there are other places I could have gone, but this way seemed like a good idea. Each step gets me closer to the other side of the road, and when I get there, I won’t forget how I did. I will establish myself as a writer as a career, and while I might never make buckets of money like Stephen King or Janet Evanovich or JK Rowling (who probably make a teensy bit more than buckets), I will be able to support my family. That’s why this turtle is crossing the road, for god’s sake.

To get to the other side.

Make it Happen

The more I think about life in all its complexity, the more I realize that it’s all a matter of making it happen. There are things that ebb and flow through its tides, but if you sit around waiting for something to wash up on your shore, you’ll be wading through a lot of driftwood and abandoned toilet seats before you find that message in a bottle. If you ever find it.

If there’s something you want to do, do it. No excuses. If you want to write, be a writer for god’s sake. If you want to paint, go get a brush and an easel and do it. If you want to travel, get your passport. If you want to go back to school and get your MBA, enroll. Make it work. Make it happen. No one is going to do any of those things for you. If you want to learn to play the violin, do it. Try. You don’t know how much time you have here, and why on earth would you want to waste it doing something that doesn’t fulfill you? Why would you stay in a stagnant swamp when you can be floating down a river toward your destination?

I’m not saying it’s not complicated. What I’m saying is this: people find a way to buy new clothes or new shoes. They’ll spend hundreds on a new computer because they’re sick of their old one, even if it works fine. They’ll spend hundreds on a new bike. Or a new car. They’ll keep upgrading their lifestyles instead of saving and living below their means. And when you ask them why they haven’t taken that trip to Spain or Greece or Mumbai or Antarctica, they’ll say they can’t afford it. Of course they can’t — they orchestrated their lives so that they can’t. Make choices now that will get you where you want to be five years from now, ten years from now.

I’ve seen people with nothing manage to build lives so spectacular, so rich and fulfilling, that it brings tears to my eyes. I don’t mean financial success, though sometimes that’s the case. What I mean is personal joy because they followed their bliss. Ask anyone who retires after thirty years of a job they hated. They’ll always have regrets. Always. Never be that person with a wistful glimmer in their eyes saying, “I wish I’d done that.”

I always ask myself if I will regret something more for doing it or not doing it. The answer is almost always the latter. If you try and fail, at least you tried. At least you went for it. And “failure” doesn’t mean you can’t make it work for you.

Your life is an earthen vessel on a potter’s wheel. You are that potter. You shape it, mold it, touch it as it spins. If you let it go of its own accord, it’ll spin into a misshapen lump that looks nothing like you imagined. If you grab hold of it and firmly direct the curves and flows, you’ll always know that you had a hand in it. You made your life what it is.

Take the clay and give it form. Make it happen.

Forces of Destruction

Another insightful prompt from the folks at WordPress. I wouldn’t respond to this one, except it ties into a lot of what I’ve been keeping on the ponder burner all week about my characters. In writing, characters motivations are what make them believable. There’s more to it than that, of course, but if readers can’t understand what a character does or even predict what their next move might be from knowing that character, they won’t read till the end of the book. They’ll get frustrated.(You can read more about my novel writing process/progress here.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about motivations this week. For good or ill, motivation is what drives people. It’s what plunked me down in front of my trusty constipated dinosaur of a computer to write today. It’s what drags our butts off the couch to the gym (or in my case, the living room where my weights live). It’s what makes people mug someone on their way home or donate to charity.

What is the most destructive force of humanity? I would say it’s one of humanity’s largest and most powerful motivators: greed. I’m not talking about Scrooge McDuck polishing his piles of gold coins before diving into them in a sparkling splash. Such a cartoonish vision doesn’t do it justice.

To me, greed is the sense of wanting more than someone else has regardless of who it hurts. The qualifier I tacked on the end there isn’t actually separate from the desire to have more, because ultimately the desire for more will hurt someone. It’s why employee benefits are often the first things slashed when a budget gets cut. Not salaries at the top of the chain. It’s why people resort to stealing. It’s why people fight over resources. Not because they think it will make them have enough. It’s because they want more.

If there’s anything I’ve learned on this earth, it’s that people very seldom think they have enough. I’ve heard people complain that they don’t have enough money when they make over six figures every year. If you were to follow them home, you’d see a Lexus in their driveway, which is attached to a million dollar home. Very few could successfully make the argument that they don’t have enough. I think that someone living in a one room shanty in Peru might have a better grasp on what “enough” means than most of America.

Every day I’m thankful for my toilet. That might be a very strange thing to be thankful for, but I grew up without one for many, many years. We had a five gallon bucket with an old toilet seat attached to it that we kept in our kitchen. Yes. You read that right. Kitchen. It was my job as a young teen to empty this bucket into our outhouse, which I dug myself. As a Caucasian American, I understand that I am in the very distinct minority for having had this experience as youngster.

Having grown up with a lot less than most people in this country, I am always very baffled (and I’ll admit, less than sympathetic) when people who have a safe, comfortable home with their own bedroom, a car, food every day (more than once a day), and a pot to piss in that flushes think they don’t have enough. What greed stems from is a lack of perspective.

Recession or not, we live in a golden age. We are utterly dependent on technology for everything from heating our homes to doing our banking to finding knowledge. I always wonder what would happen if we lost that. I see what happens when the power goes out for a matter of days. We have no idea how fortunate we are.

Greed poisons us. I’m guilty of it as much as anyone. I want to provide for my family and give them things I didn’t have — though from my perspective, I don’t have to do much to exceed what I had as a child. In spite of that, I want to raise my children to know that for every one of us who has water, food, shelter, family — there are millions who have to fight every day to have a fraction of what I have.

A sobering fact that I think of often is that if the wealthy of the world really wanted to, they could probably wipe out world hunger. If we weren’t so concerned with financial profit, we could invest in people who have so much less. It wouldn’t be a quick turnaround, but the world would be a better place.

Just to clarify, I don’t think greed exists only on Wall Street or in the upper classes. It exists everywhere, like a noxious weed. People kill each other for clean water when they could probably find a way to share it. At it’s heart, greed is taking for yourself what you could share with others. Everyone might have a little less, but everyone would have something. As children, we’re taught that if we have two of something we should share. We’re taught that sharing is caring. That it’s the nice thing to do. The right thing to do. I feel like we all cling to our resentment of sharing until we’re adults and we can buck that dictate from our parents and finally say no, what’s mine is mine.

Greed is the most destructive element of humanity, because it cannot exist innocently. It always hurts someone. On a wide scale it destroys nations. On a small scale it hurts someone’s feelings. In The Kite Runner, the protagonist’s father remarks that all sin is theft. You take something that doesn’t belong to you, or you lie and steal someone’s right to the truth. You murder and steal their life.

I’ll close with a quote from Shusako Endo (paraphrased). “Sin is to talk brutally over the life of another and be oblivious of the wounds left behind.”

Back to the Future

I rarely respond to writing prompts, mainly because I know what I’m planning to write about without needing a poke in a new direction, but today I saw one that caught my eye. So here we are.

Here. (Not over there.)

If you had a chance to know what the future held, would you take it?

The world holds so many choices for asking people what the future holds. Tarot readings, palmistry, numerology, astrology, divination in general, psychic mediums. Whether or not they work is anyone’s guess. However, I can’t say I would want to know. Given the choice, I would take the surprises.

No matter what you believe happens in the afterlife or even if said afterlife exists, all we know for sure is that we’re here now. (Okay, some might want to debate that point, but I’m not trying to go more philosophical than I have to.) The last thing I want to spend this one, short life doing is worrying about what is going to come next. Seeing every bad or good thing lurking down the road, inevitable. I don’t like inevitability. I’ve resigned myself to the inevitability that I will die, but I don’t want to know when it’s going to happen.

My grandfather is about to pass away. He’s 83, and has already lived longer than any other man in our family. He survived a stroke and made almost a full recovery. He then got a kidney infection a couple months ago. They eradicated the infection, but now it’s back, and he’s made the choice that he wants to spend his remaining days at home, with no meds that make him sick, in the company of people who love him. He’s made his goodbyes. While none of that is easy, if I could imagine the best way to leave this earth, that’s how it would be. After living a long, full life, surrounded by family.

That’s why I don’t want to know what’s coming. Most people don’t get that kind of end. Many never get the chance to say goodbye, to come to terms with death. To look it in the eyes and take its hand willingly. I don’t want to spend my life worrying about what good will pass me by or what bad might strike. I want to work hard, live this life as well as I can, and push myself to achieve the dreams I have. I believe that if I do that, I will get where I need to be. If I tell everyone I love them now, share myself with loved ones, and treat others with dignity, I won’t leave unanswered questions when I go if it happens to be sudden.

So why wouldn’t I want to know the future? I like the present. The future will come. Time is inexorable. It moves whether you want it to or not. I can deal with whatever comes when it comes. Until then, I will love as well as possible and greet each dawn with hope and determination to keep moving forward.