The Missing Link

I was watching this YouTube video about a guy who goes through bouts of depression. He did a lot of drugs to expand on his artistic creativity, but that took him away from society, which he called an illusion. I tend to agree. The video didn't state how long he had done this, but he decided to re-enter the illusion and rejoin the human race.

At the end of the short video, he said that life has more to offer than happiness and that he wanted to pursue something more fulfilling.

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Before I started my illustrious career in writing, I knew I wanted to be an artist of some sort. So I tried everything from drawing, acting, poetry, martial arts, etc. before I careened into writing. Diving right into it, I wrote almost every day, creating my world, free writing to meet my characters. I asked cool questions like: How do these people sleep and have sex? or Where do they pee and poo? or What do I call an apple in this world? Apple was the answer. Deep thinking here, folks.

However, there were moments where I didn't feel happy nor content. So I naturally questioned my passion for writing, for storytelling. I should be grateful for having the freedom to pursue something, anything. But I wasn't.

Then it hit me. No. Not my writing. I was linking the activity of writing to happiness. Those two things should not be linked because they have nothing to do with each other. It's kinda like linking the climate control knob in your car to the volume of your stereo. The knob turns the fan on and off. It does nothing to modulate the car speakers.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ― Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

Frankl was a Holocaust survivor. From his experiences of being a concentration inmate, he discovered that people are able to experience happiness or peace even in the direst situations. That circumstanth doth noth determinith yorth worldeth viewth . Sorry. Something was stuck in my teeth. Your circumstance doesn't determine your worldview.

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I had written about a woman whom I named Miss Hates Myguts. She had chosen her friends like how someone might choose their dining ware. The right cutlery flanking the perfect plates must match the serving dishes. The gleaming statues of glassware must highlight the richness of that setting. So, too, in this way had Hates Myguts chosen her friends. She surrounded herself with the right kind of people because they represented her in a way that matched what she thought her world should look like. And I'm the dirty, broken dish that did not fit in her world. But there's a fallacy to that thinking.

Famed life coach, Michael Neill, once said on his radio show, "Rearranging the furniture on the Titanic ain't gonna help, sucka." OK, I added some ghetto flare.

Often we link things to our happiness. If I get this job, I'll be happy. If I get this chic, I'll be the man. Once I roar down the street with my loud ass motorbike, people will think I'm the badass ass in the world. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Think of it this way. A CEO of a Forturne 500 company is no more human than a homeless man ambling down the street. One has more stuff than the other. But that has no real meaning except that he has more stuff. And we already know money can't buy happiness.

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I apply this missing link to money with security. The more of it I have, the more secure I feel. That's OK for now, but what happens if I lose all of my wealth? I'll feel incredibly vulnerable, broken, worthless as a human. There lies the crux of greed. Money is not the root of all evil. It's fear. We fear not having enough. So what do we do? We hoard. And the only thing money is good for is buying stuff. Because security is an illusion. You can have all the armed guards in the world, but that doesn't guarantee your safety. And if you need all of that security, meaning the fear has taken over your life, then you'll never be happy or be at peace.

And money can't buy happiness because it's a state of being. Not a tangible object.

So why pursue anything if we can be happy no matter the circumstances? That's where the fulfilling part comes in. When I dove into writing, I was fully engaged with my creativity. There's joy in that. If someone loves farming, then they love working the land, tending to their animals, reaping the fruits of their labor. I know that last part is cliché, but I'm not a farmer and don't know what else they do. 

Being engaged with whatever moves you fills the soul. It's heaven.

Love

I had written an article about know it alls. Now, since I'm the sole author on this website, I sound like a know it all. But if you've read those articles, I do point out mistakes that I've made and don't hide from them because I'm human, and humans make mistakes. Cuz we be humans.

In that post I had talked about reading my friend's book, her first. She had asked me to, and I asked her what kind of feedback she wanted. Honest feedback, she answered. And that was what I had given her, and I was very conscious of any judgements that had welled up. In those moments, I usually put her book away and turned my attention back to mine. When I critiqued her novel, I had focused on structure, major grammar faux pas, and story and character development. I did advise her to take any suggestions that I had made with massive grains of salt. Well, massive grains would really be chunks of salt. Whatever.

On Memorial Day, I had sent her an email to see how she was doing. Not necessarily wondering what she thought of my notes, but to see how life was going for her. She lives in a different state. We had been friends for a long time, around twenty years, I think. We had met at the martial arts school that I used to attend. And we've experience each other's ups and downs.

She has yet to return my email, and she's usually pretty quick with those.

As I've written in another article, sometimes chapters in our lives end with the writing off of certain friendships. And maybe for her, she has closed the book on ours, which saddens me.

However, if it was due to my feedback, then I completely understand. Essentially, I attacked her baby.

I've heard this said many times. Writing the book is the easy part. Getting it out into the world is the hardest. That doesn't make the author's work less important to that author. Despite the number of books being published per year, each one is precious. That also doesn't mean each one will see the light of the public, nor is the public's response any real measure of success. Though, it'd be nice!

Writing a book is a lot like love. Being in a relationship is risky business. We risk our hearts, our sanity, our very souls for love, not to mention time. But the risk is worth the reward. What we get back from another human being, that connection that we all seek is oh so amazing and beautiful.

So it is for authors. We risk our hearts, our sanity, our very souls, not to mention time, to put into words what life can portray in a single moment. But the risk is worth the reward. What we get back from the process, a better understanding of ourselves is oh so amazing and beautiful. For all us authors out there, let's put everything we have into our books because doing anything less would insult the love we have for our stories. 

Our Souls

I told a friend that it was good to see her. She totally agreed and said it was good for the soul. Several of us had gone out to dinner, and we reconnected and talked about life, how work sucks, and love. I love how I put 'work sucks' in between life and love. I'm always curious to know what people are attracted to, what will end relationships, and it's always interesting to hear your friends' perspectives. And how we all can get caught up in everything that seems important and forget to take care ourselves.

I think we don't take the time to reflect on our time here, and not think about our time here, both of which are important. What the hell do I mean by that?

I write a lot of posts about hanging out and meeting new people. I've formed what feels like lifelong friendships, though am not concerned whether they are lifelong. I've also met people that for some reason I don't connect to, even a nemesis here or two, but do put too much time into why I don't connect with them.

What's the plural of nemisis? Nemisi? Nemisises?

What I don't see is people with hobbies. Or passions, or anything that feeds their soul outside of friendships. And this is what I mean by reflecting on our time here. Art helps us do this. Whether it be abstract, writing, painting, film making, sculpting. All of it is an expression of our souls.

Famed photographer Rodney Lough Jr. has said, "Art is the language of the soul."

It's the reason why cave paintings have been a part of our early history. We can tell by those paintings what was important to them. We can tell what occupied their minds, what drove them.

I'm sitting here outside on a sunny day, enjoying a cup of mass-produced coffee, writing this post, working on my story, and feeling content. And it's unfortunate for me, but feeling content has been a rare occurrence. It's only when I write or spend time with close friends do I feel fulfilled. So it sucks that from time to time I have to cut friends out.

I mean, I have nice things, I have a place to live in, I have a day job, but none of those things feed my soul. Except my midlife crisis caR. Joking. Those things may facilitate it, like my job helps pay for this mass-produced coffee, but it doesn't directly feed my soul. I think the problem for me lies in over thinking things.

Our minds have evolved to process complex information, and part of that skill is analyzing what has happened to either learn from our mistakes or to try and solve a problem. Sometimes our minds will dive into an endless loop of analysis and never get out. And this is what I mean by not thinking. There are so many voices in our heads, or maybe just mine, that we need to sit still, or take a walk, and let those voices go. You can't force them out, they'll just multiply like rabbits or get louder like my mother. Usually a mindless activity will help quiet those voices. It's probably why I take long walks. Or write.

But I yearn for peace. For connection. For happiness. And don't we all?

Girl Fight, Good vs. Bad

BS
BS

Just watched Black Swan this weekend, starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. The movie is about the character’s psychological breakdown, which parallels Swan Lake’s story between the dark and light side of the Swan Queen (and no, I’m not familiar with the story). A subplot in the movie is Portman’s character’s struggle of technical perfection in ballet versus artistic expression.

Good Girl

Good Girl

When I started to write consistently, I had struggled with wanting to be the good girl versus the bad girl (not sure I’m doing myself any favors here). The good girl is being technically good at writing, and the bad girl is allowing myself to suck and the freedom to just write whatever comes out.

Which is better?

Bad Girl

Bad Girl

So I started with the bad girl (yes!). I started to write Nightfall, and allowed whatever to come out, come out. I wrote sixty pages worth of material.

Then I talked to my friend who’s constantly working on being a technically perfect writer. He turned me to books and seminars that taught me how to be a good girl, how to write well technically. They focused on structure, emotional techniques, how to build depth in character, scenes, overall story, and provided a mechanic’s dream full of tools. More than what any writer would use in any single work.

But deep in my heart, I felt the bad girl pounding, wanting to get out and expose herself.

I’d talked to a friend recently, and she told me she wrote a book with her eyes closed. As far as I could tell, she’d done little research on writing technique or structure but was inspired to write. I haven’t read it so I’m not sure of the quality. However, when I was listening to her talk, the good girl inside shook me and said, “She’s crazy!”

Was my friend unconsciously incompetent (the individual neither understands nor knows how to do something, nor recognizes the deficit, nor has a desire to address it)? Google the four stages of competence and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

To be fair, my technically induced friend does allow for inspiration, and my crazy friend could be a great writer. But these two people showed up in my life as symbols of two extremes because I asked the question:

Which is better?

What's coming out of your butt?

What's coming out of your butt?

In life, too much of anything isn’t good.

Humans can’t live more than a few days without water. But drink too much of it and people can die of water intoxication. Take in what you need. Leave the rest.

Today, I’ve used very little of what I had written during my purely bad girl days. But I learned what not to do, and in the process of my redemption, I had taken the time to learn. In doing so, I found out something interesting about myself that is the fundamental philosophy behind Bruce Lee: When one has reached maturity in the art, one will have a formless form. It is like ice dissolving in water. When one has no form, one can be all forms; when one has not style, he can fit in with any style.

What?

Learn what you need to learn. Leave the rest. You don’t and can’t know everything. Just make sure what you’ve learned doesn’t imprison your soul, that you can still express yourself wholly. Another words, forget what you’ve learned and just go with it.

As renowned photographer, Rodney Lough has said, “Art is the language of the soul.”

She Said, She Said

You Lookin' At Me?

You Lookin' At Me?

One of the coolest things about all art is the interpretation. Debates go endlessly about movies, books, paintings, poems, sculptures. And who's to say who's right and who's not when we can't even agree what's art and what isn't.

In trying to get feedback on my book, I've been giving out copies to my friends and family to get initial reactions, both kneejerk and constructive. I had readers who are fans and non-fans of fantasy, which is my genre.

One of my readers stated that my main character was highly sexual and emotional. I wanted honest opinions and here we are!

My kneejerk reaction was of course to defend.

My toof?

My toof?

But I'm here to learn so I asked her question after question, trying to keep an open mind.

None of my other readers had mentioned any of this. And just in case they missed something my friend hadn't, I asked one of them specifically about the above points.

Yummy!

Yummy!

Highly sexual was something that really surprised me. I asked her what made her think this. She said that my hero thought about his wife's scent, was enamored by her silky hair, and in a key scene couldn't sleep due to the absence of her breathing next to him. I asked another female reader what she thought about this without mentioning what my friend thought. She said my hero was in love with his wife that it was about love.

Who's correct?

Both.

There's a saying. What you hate in others is what you hate in yourself. When I look at the lives of these two women, I can see why both thought the way they did.

I'm not saying they hated my book, but often what we see in art is often a reflection of us, an aspect anyway. I mean, haven't you listened to music that reflects how you feel in the moment? We listen to love songs, or angry alternative, when we've broken up with someone. Or listen to ambient music when we want to be calm. Or listen to heavy metal or techno when we're working out.

Is that garlic I smell?

Is that garlic I smell?

And knowing how 50% of sold books are romance novels tells you what women are feeling or needing.

My friend's second point, complaint really, about my hero being emotional was also interesting.  For one, he is.  It being a complaint is a judgement on the character. Kinda like saying someone being short is not good. It's not their fault.  My hero just turned out that way.

This brings us to the definition of art. First off, I don't think it can be defined. It's like defining the soul. Or God. You can't. But a famed photographer once said that art is the language of the soul. Isn't that where inspiration comes from?

But if you want to see a cool and heated debate of what art is, check out an articleRober Ebertwrote about how video games aren't art.

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Peel the Onion

Onions.  They give you bad breath but adds flavor to the food we eat.  Have you ever peeled one?  Peel the rough skin and reveal a fresh moist layer.  Peel that and there’s another silky layer.  On and on. In writing my book, I purposefully laid in layers to give it a sense of depth.  On the surface, it’s a fast-paced, action packed, page turner (damn, I’m conceited).  There’s sex.  There’s mayhem.  Want betrayal?  You got it.  Want love?  You got it.

Slice under that superficial layer and you’ll find a deeper understanding of the story.  Billowing clouds may reflect a character’s painful conflict within.  Heat from a fire reflecting off someone’s clothes may echo the character’s anger.  Wind may symbolize a character’s dominance over their lands.

In 1954 a renowned filmmaker released what’s considered one of the best films ever made:  Seven Samurai.  It's about a Japanese farming village, constantly beseiged and pillaged by an army of bandits, recruits seven independent samurai to defend it.

Akira Kurosawa’s films have influenced great directors such as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.  In fact, Star Wars was heavily influenced by The Hidden Fortress, a Kurosawa film.

I have to admit, when I watched Seven Samurai, I was like, “What da hell?”

I was caught off guard by the soundtrack, pacing and language (despite my slanty eyes, I don’t speak Japanese).  I did drag myself through the length of the film, all three hours and forty-five minutes.

Luckily, I had bought The Criterion Collection of the film.  There are tons of lectures on the DVD discs, and I listened to all of them, wanting to learn everything I could.  What I learned had a profound effect on me and my writing.  Or is it my writing and I?

Consolidating Kurosawa’s genius would be difficult and insulting.  But here I go.  He controlled everything because everything in his films had a purpose, a reason.  Every word, action, shadow, even the swipe or fading to the next scene meant something.  If someone broke wind, there was a purpose.  Unless it was silent but deadly.

The most interesting character is Kikuchiyo, played by Toshiro Mifune.  He doesn’t exactly look like a samurai, nor does he walk like one.  So is he a samurai?  He lugs his extra long sword on his shoulder instead of holstering it around his waist like the other six.  What does this say about Kikuchiyo?  Is he compensating for something?  Or is there a deeper story within the character?

In his dramatic scene, Kikuchiyo admits he was once a villager and somehow found his way to samuraism. (Is that even a word?)  This didn’t happen in those days of Japan.  It was difficult enough to move up the ranks of the samurai.  And admitting you were once a villager was like admitting you’re a woman, when you’re really a man, but without the operation.

The lectures in the special features stated Kikuchiyo symbolized the filmmaker, Kurosawa.  His views were somehow reminiscent of Kikuchiyo and his rise in society and that Japan had moved into the modern era.  This is further symbolized when each samurai is killed by a modern weapon:  the gun.  Once the villagers were saved, they continued their lives giving any thought to their saviors.  We see the surviving samurai walk from the cemetery where their comrades were buried and out to the horizon, never to return.

I rewatched the film many times, and I grew to love it. The story density is amazing.

It’s interesting to see how we clamor to the magazine stands to find out the latest on celebrities.  What atrocities have they committed?  But if we were truly curious about who they were, all we'd have to do is turn to their art.

For art is the language of the soul.

THE ROAD to STRIPPED

Netflix.  It's totally revolutionizing how people rent movies.  And it's economical.  But this post isn't about that.  It's about The Road to Stripped.

Netflix offers a free two-week trial, and I thought I'd explore that.  Moving into my own place requires that I explore entertainment choices other than paying for cable.  And what was the first movie I watched?

Stripped

Jill Morley made a documentary about the lives of strippers, being one herself.  She's not anymore but you can check her out at www.jillmorley.com.  Her new documentary Fighting It, follows the lives of five female fighters.  That should be interesting.

So you may be asking why I chose to watch Stripped. I'd like to say that I was doing some research for a new book or character.

No.

Plainly, I wanted to watch something naughty.

Then why didn't I go to the millions of sites that hosts saltier types of media.  Been there, done that.  I also have a soft spot for strippers.  During my acting days in the city, I'd come to know and befriend a few strippers who took acting classes who wanted to break into mainstream entertainment.  And I became close to one in particular.

In talking to them, their perspective on men, strip clubs, work, children, and life is echoed in Stripped.  And unlike watching saltier types of videos, I didn't find myself fast forwarding to the good parts.  The whole documentary was interesting.

But the thing that stuck out in my mind was how each stripper felt trapped.  The money they earned seemed to outweigh the toll it was taking on their soul.  Because it was the club owners who truly benefited from the clientele, the labor of these beautiful women, and the intense hard work, both emotionally and physically, they put in.

Aside from the tragic circumstances some of these women were in, what struck me was their view of men.  Everything a stereotypical male chauvinist pig represents is what their view of men is.  I saw how desolate they felt when talking about men.

And for some reason it reminded me of the book The Road.

No, the book didn't contain any strippers.  Despite that essential element, wink wink, I loved the book.  The desolation described was incredible.  Incredible that I saw real images as I read.  Incredible that it's one of the few books to affect me, to help me realize the abundance that I have, to remind me of the unending strength of the human soul, to show me what people could and would do when dignity is gone.

There was a scene in the book where a group of cannibals had chained about a dozen prisoners, and they were herding them back to their dwelling.  This coincided with a passage McCarthy wrote about cattle.  How we use cattle as beasts of burden, then slaughter them for food.  No one is ever shocked that we do this to cattle or any other animal.  But we're totally shocked when we see people do this to other people.

Is there a difference?

Look at the owners of strip clubs.   Earning their meals on the labor of women.  Preying on men's desire for sex.

Is there a difference?

Yeah, Jimmy.  Club owners aren't eating these women.  Literally.

What about the soul?  Is that not as important?

I deeply explore the soul in my book.  I've thought about it a great deal.  I know I have one.  Art is an expression of the soul.  And because life mimics art, or art mimics life, I chose to make it important both in art and life.

In saying that, pieces of strippers' souls are being taken away each night they dance.  Each lap dance they give, a part of their soul is lost.  Each dollar they earn, they give up a part of what makes them a human being.  This is what I felt when watching Stripped, or whenever I talked to my friend who worked in that industry, or when reading about the cannibals in The Road.

Now here's a question for you.  When you work in your day job, as I do, do you feel a part of you is torn away?  At the end of the day, what is your life about?  At the end of your life was working all those extra hours worth it?

Or are you the fortunate few who've discovered your passions, your life's purpose, and truthfully love what you do?