Archive for the ‘Random Thoughts on Life’ Category

I remember it well. There was a field and a slight rise there that I always noticed whenever we used to drive by it when I was a child. I would be bored in the car and used to imagine someone on a dirt bike pacing us as we drove. That was one of my favorite places to watch my dirt bike rider jump. It was like that video game that I would play. He would go soaring through the air and land smoothly, so long as you didn’t let his engine overheat. I’m not sure if my parents ever understood why I would stare out the window so much when we drove. I’m not sure that it mattered to them. At least I wasn’t reading all of the road signs out loud. That was the other thing that I would do to pass the time.

I finally realized today what they are doing there. A road is being cut through that field. They have already blasted through that rise so that the road can remain level.For a brief moment I pictured the dirt bike jumping over the gap from one side of the unfinished road to the other. I wasn’t able to complete the jump. I’m the one driving the car now, so staring out the window isn’t a very safe idea. I check the rearview mirror and see my own son in the back seat. He isn’t looking out of the window. His nose is buried in a book. I love that he enjoys reading so much, but part of me was hoping to see him staring with his eyes going up and down as he imagines every jump. I know that in a few months, he will see a new road there with some buildings being put up along it. He won’t even remember what it looked like before the road started to be built. He’s young. The world is always changing for him. I guess what bothers me is that in a few months, I will see the new road and buildings being put up along it, and I may not remember what it looked like before that either.

Ok. I have to confess this. I’m sure that it will change many people’s opinions of me, but it must be said. I have a fidget spinner. There I said it. Even worse, I gave my child a fidget spinner. I know. I deserve your looks of anger and resentment.

I have to say something else as well. I like my fidget spinner. My son’s fidget spinner helps him be less of a distraction. I keep my fidget spinner close by. It helps me focus. That’s right. My entire family is one of “them.” We are the people that keep these ridiculous types of objects on the market. We are to blame.

The thing about the fidget spinner that amazes me is not how quickly that it took off, or even the backlash against it by parents, educators (my coworkers have given me no end to grief), and the public at large. What amazes me about it is how well it works without doing anything amazing. It just spins. There is nothing profound about it. Still, that simple spinning can do wonders that the most unique or profound objects, thoughts, or writing can never do.

I worry that as a society in general (and writers in particular) we expect everything to be profound. I am extremely guilty of this. Rather than using a blog to just put some thoughts out there and to speak my mind, I feel that every time I put something on my blog that it should teach something important. Everything that I say should make somebody reading it on their computer stop what they are doing and just look off into space for a moment and say, “Whoah!” in their best Bill and Ted voice. Why? What makes me think that everything must be profound? Is it because I think that only the profound ever stand out? I suppose that is why I like my fidget spinner so much. A life lesson learned from something so simplistic that many people hate it, just because it is so simplistic.

So, if you haven’t tried a fidget spinner, go out and get a good one, hold it with two fingers, and give it a spin. Rock it back and forth as it’s spinning. See if you don’t feel the urge to spin it again as it slows down. Most importantly, learn the lesson of the fidget spinner: everything you do or write doesn’t have to be profound. Simplicity has its own appeal. Even if people are talking about how simplistic it is, they are still talking about it!

 

 

feature image credit: thegadgetflow.com

I used to love a song from Bon Jovi entitled I Can’t Write a Love Song. There was something about the poetry of singing about why you can’t sing. I find it to be more of an irony than poetry today. I understand what the song was talking about now. I have needed to write a blog or record a vlog all weekend but haven’t been able to make myself do it. When I finally sat down this afternoon to write a blog, nothing that I wrote felt right. It didn’t sound right. I felt like I was forcing myself to put words on the page but not feeling them as I did. I finally had to admit to myself that I can’t write a blog today. There is no reason to write words that you don’t feel. Maybe tomorrow or the next day my mind, my heart, and my life will work together and allow me to have the words flow like they have before. But for now, I can’t write a blog today.

Sometimes we become obsessed with the idea that we should only do things that we can be successful at. I completely understand that. Who wakes up and says “Today, I’m going to figure out how to fail at everything!” Yes, I know that we are all acquainted with someone that seems to do that, but I don’t think that they actually do. So if success is what is keeping you from writing much, maybe you should look at what defines “success.” That’s what I explore in this week’s video.

Feature image courtesy of Quotespaper.com

I have spoken several times about the interaction between the main character in my latest story, Darwin, and her friend Clive, a fellow college freshman that has Aspergers Syndrome (Autism Spectrum Disorder.) I have loved how these characters interact in what I have written and even how they will interact in future writing. I’ve thought a lot about this, and it’s helped me make a decision. 50% of the royalties I receive for Darwin’s Selection Volumes 1, 2, and 3 I will donate to an autism-focused charity of my choice. Watch this video for the announcement, then consider purchasing an e-book of Darwin’s Selection, Volume 1. You’ll get what I think is a good story, and you’ll be helping out a great cause.

I will start out by saying that this is a perfect example of what is meant by the phrase, “Doctor, heal thyself!” I am the absolute worst at not following this advice. Of course, that is probably why I have joked with my students that my name should be a verb meaning “to screw up badly.” So if you ever heard me say “I Slatered myself by not listening to my own advice,” then you can understand what I mean.

Today I was on my way out to mow the yard. Just before I got out there, I started to hear a noise. At first, I thought it was my central air conditioning. I was wrong. It was raining. No mowing for me. For a lot of you, this would become a prime time for writing. It makes perfect sense. Not so much for me. I started asking myself if I had things that I needed to grade. I wondered if I had something that I should be doing with my son. I started to run through my “Honey do” list. It would look to any author out there like I am trying to avoid having any writing time. Well, I am.

It’s not that I am having writer’s block. I actually have several things that I need to write down for an upcoming novel (I hope to have news to tell you about that soon!) My problem is that when I start up writing time, I feel that I am being selfish. I lead a very hectic life. Time to write is rare, and even when I think that I have that time, I usually have a thousand other things that I need to be working on. This is not my career, it is something that I do as the adult equivalent of an extracurricular activity, so I feel that it has to come after all of my responsibilities. I worry a lot about being selfish by putting my writing time before any other responsibilities or expectations. Even as I am writing this blog, I have stopped twice to help with folding the laundry despite my wife’s insistence that I do not need to.

What I know intellectually (I just have to make myself put it into practice) is that setting aside writing time and making use of it is not a selfish act so long as you moderate it. It might be easy for some amateur writers to start writing and not get out from in front of their computer for eight to twelve hours a day every day of the week. If you happen to be single and are still making it to work, more power to you. However, if you are like me and are married with a child and have a career, you do have to moderate yourself from such extremes. Once you do that, you also need to accept that your writing time is not selfish. For many, it is a necessary release from stressful jobs or situations. A little bit of guaranteed writing time can give you something to look forward to, improve your disposition, and make it a little bit better for those around you when life many little quirks start to make things difficult. Talk with the people in your life and figure out a way to create some writing time for yourself. After that, if writer’s block becomes your biggest source of stress in life, then you managed not to Slater things!

To say that there are a lot of problems in our world today is an understatement. Maybe all of these problems were always there and we didn’t know, but technology brings them to the forefront now. Who knows? What I do know is that sometimes life imitates art and vice-versa. Consider the number of dystopian novels that achieved prominence in recent years. Think that doesn’t put a bit of a pallor on someones worldview? So, can writers help impact this whole mess? I’m glad that you asked!

 

Writers and artists of various sorts always talk about their inspirations. It might be another artist or an event or the sun set just perfectly while they were walking their pet wombat through the swamp on the winter solstice…I’ve heard some interesting ones. Inspiration is something that we all need. Maybe it is inspiration to convince us to do something. Maybe it is inspiration that brings about a new idea. Maybe it is inspiration to push ourselves to be our best. No matter how much intrinsic motivation someone has, extrinsic inspiration is always a factor in ones actions and choices (I really just wanted an excuse to show that I could use the terms “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” intelligently!)

Anyone that knows me or that has read enough of my blogs knows that my grandfather has been a huge inspiration for me. So has my wife, son, parents, and many of my students. However, every once in a while I will stumble upon a new inspiration. These inspirations might not be life-changing, but they give you something new to look up to for a while. This happened to me just a couple of years ago. I was in a Master’s degree course talking about grading using a rubric, and we were given a rubric on how to grade someone’s public speaking presentation. We were then given a link to a video showing a young lady, about 12-13 years old, who was not only giving a public presentation, she was giving a presentation at a TED Conference. All of the students were amazed. The content of the presentation was excellent as was the style in which she presented it. I have taught students her age for fifteen years and I don’t think that I have ever taught one that could have presented with such poise and confidence in front of such an audience, and I have taught some talented folks. To make matters more interesting, she was already a published writer. I have to admit that this was inspirational to me…mostly because I was annoyed that it took me until I was in my thirties to become a published writer! The nerve of some overachievers…

Just a couple of days ago, I stumbled upon another TED talk by this same young lady, although she was older (maybe 17-18), and she spoke very intelligently about the inaccuracy of using test scores to judge a student’s merit (if you are a teacher, you are probably nodding your head vigorously right now.) Once again, she provided a great speech and made excellent points. I was impressed.

So what does any of this have to do with inspiration? Well, I have to say that this young lady has inspired me in a couple of ways. First, as a writer she has shown me that talent knows no age and that words do still impact the young. For a time, I think that we were all frightened that the internet would kill reading. As a teacher, she has inspired me by showing that there are those out there that understand what some of the true problems are in education, and that they aren’t all the fault of teachers. As both a teacher and a writer, she has also inspired me with hope that writing and teaching to a higher level than reality television even thinks exists will still reach my students and readers. Watch the speeches of Adora Svitak yourself and tell me what you think.

What about you? What inspirations have you found?

 

Featured image credit: tnooz.com

I think that if you have read much of my writing or heard my vlog, you can probably guess that I was an unusual kid. The thing is, that was true in a lot of ways. One of the more unusual things about me compared to kids in todays society was that I never moved to a new house as a kid. I lived in the same home from the day that I was born until I got married after college. Sure, I lived in the college dorms or apartments while I went to university, but my official address didn’t change for over twenty years. These days people move on a regular basis. It’s made me ask the question, why do people regularly pick and leave the place that they have made into a home just to try and do it again someplace else.

Naturally, there are lots of societal reasons. We can move now without packing everything into a covered wagon and spending months traveling and wondering if we will ever see our new home. There are also all kinds of economic considerations. The locations for work as well as appreciation in the value of your house may convince someone to pick up and move. Those have all been factors in the multiple occasions that my wife and I have moved. Those things answer why we go from one house to another. None of them answer why we move our home.

It took me a little while to come up with a reason for this, but I think that I finally figured it out. I had to think back to when I was getting ready to go to college. My goal was to go to a college that was about three hours away from the home that I had always lived in. My mom came up to me one day and said “Chris, I hope that you get that scholarship, because if you don’t, you might have to go to the community college for a couple of years first and keep living here.”

The idea of staying in that house another few years hit me like a ton of bricks. “Mom, I’ll join the Army before taking that route.” That was not meant as any dig at the army (anyone that knows me knows the respect I have for our service men and women.) Both I and my mother knew that I was not physically or mentally conditioned for the military, but that was a risk that I was willing to take to get out of the house. I had seen those same four walls for my entire life. We rarely went on vacations or long trips, so my whole world had consisted of my hometown and that house. I knew that there was a lot more out there. I had friends that talked about the places that they had been and the things that they had seen. I was ready to find out what there was in the world, both good and bad, and I couldn’t do it in the comfort and security of the home that had been the only home I’d known. I got a scholarship and returned to that home four years later with a degree and news that I had a fiance’. I got married six months later and moved out permanently. I still see that house regularly. My parents still live there.

So what did this tell me about why people move? Honestly, I think it is because we are restless. Each generation is being exposed to more of the world and finding out what is outside of their city limits. Now that we know that there are other ways to live, I think that we want to experience them. Sometimes, that can only be done by moving. For thousands of years, home was where your family had set down roots. Now it seems that home is wherever we decide to park our bed, recliner, and computer for a few years to see what the place has to offer. Some people see this as a decline in family cohesion, and I can understand why they say that. There is something about living in the same place that your family helped build over generations. If you are content with that, then welcome home. I think that for most people these days, it isn’t an option, and that is fine with them as well. After all, what is a home if not simply the place where you and your family go to for comfort, security, and love? A change of address doesn’t matter in the end.

 

 

image credit: http://www.businessinsider.com

Whenever a person reads what someone else has written, there is always an expected level of judgment. The reader is going to judge whether the topic of the writing is something that they are interested in. They will judge the writer’s ability to express themselves or to describe a situation, act, person, or object. The reader will ultimately judge whether the writer’s work brought them any satisfaction. All of this is expected and probably required if writing is to have any meaning. However, do you ever judge the writer as a person based on the content or style of their writing?

I’ve never been the type of person that likes sacrificing realism for the sake of self-censorship. I oftentimes feel that such self-censorship robs the reader of a more insightful, fulfilling experience. That having been said, I have self-censored myself many times out of concern as to whether people will judge me based on what I write. In my case, it isn’t as much of a concern about people liking me as it is a concern for my career. In my profession, certain images are expected to be maintained. This is not a construct of my imagination. I have seen a colleague receive a complaint because a family saw them at a local restaurant drinking a beer. Witnessing this left a lasting impression on me, and I have always been extremely careful of both content and topics in my writing.

This begs the question as to whether it is appropriate or accurate to judge a writer’s character based upon their writing. I used to enjoy the writing of one particular author, but as time went past, the books being published by that author revealed a definite political leaning. While I didn’t agree with that particular point of view, I still tried reading the books because of the joy I had gotten from reading their previous books. Eventually, the constant political diatribes became too much and I stopped reading the newer books. I tried not to judge the author because of this, though. I thought that they might just be writing to a particular audience. When I found that author on social media, I happily followed them. It turned out that they were just as outspoken in person. So perhaps we should make certain inferences based on a writer’s work.

On the flip side of that, I can look at my own writing and know that it would be a incorrect for someone to judge me based on some of my characters or topics. In Pup: A Novel of Accidental Heroism I have some characters that aren’t very hospitable or friendly. Some  enjoy bullying the main character. That is certainly not something that I support or think is necessary. Some characters in my writing can be foul-mouthed and crude. That isn’t what you would see from me in public. Still, I worry that some people might  get an image of me based on those characters, so I sometimes self-censor.

Do you judge writers based on their works? Have you ever read a story or novel and thought “I really don’t want to ever meet that person”? Perhaps for some, separating art and life isn’t easy. Some of those people are readers. Some of those people are writers. I guess, like so many other things in life, we can only decide with each individual situation