If it can happen once…

Several years ago I ran into the story of a soldier in the Vietnam War, a soldier who started as the classic last kid picked for the team, bottom of the barrel sort of person. It was entirely easy to label him as “the screw up” and send him away because nobody would want that guy on a mission. It could have ended there, with our soldier being the screw up no one wanted for time an all eternity; however, that’s not what happened.

The salvation of this man came through his own honest effort; a little instruction and assistance from a wise old sergeant; and… a cup of coffee.

The sergeant could see what was happening. He talked with his soldier and then made some changes. The sergeant took away all of the soldier’s previous duties and gave him one, just one, thing to do. The soldier would be attached to the company headquarters and was to make sure that the captain had a hot cup of coffee available at any time he wanted one. It was a little thing, a silly thing, but it was something the soldier could do if he put in the effort. And this simple act, this one duty, bore amazing fruit.

The soldier, the former ‘screw up’, did his one duty. The captain had a cup of hot coffee when and where ever he wanted. And, the soldier received two critical things: sure knowledge that he was not a complete screw up, he could do things if he tried; and the opportunity to observe and learn without undue stress and criticism.

The soldier took this opportunity to observe and learn, and then he stepped up to do. Our soldier was no great tactician or leader. He wasn’t a great fighter slaying the enemy with his M16 and bayonet. He wasn’t an engineer conjuring wondrous structures and impenetrable defenses with just his entrenching tool and some communications wire. But, the man did have a gift. And, when he was given the opportunity and knowledge he needed, that gift came out.

Our soldier, the ‘screw up’ no one wanted, was a logistical problem solver. This soldier became the man who could find solutions and get dry socks and warm meals to the men of his unit. That might not sound like much if you’re sitting in your own home with your own washer and dryer, and pizza delivery on speed dial. But, trust me, if you’re out in the field, out in the dirt and muck, that kind of thing matters.

The soldier, the former ‘screw up’, became a beloved and valued member of the unit because he was given an opportunity, a chance to both learn and succeed, and he took it. He took action to become better than he had been before.

But what does this mean to us?

And so it is with us dear reader. We stand on all sides of this equation.

There are times when we are the ‘screw up’ who just needs one success, even a tiny one, and a bit of knowledge and support to put us on course to better things.

There are times when we are the one who can see a need, and an opportunity. In that case we are called upon to take action and help someone to help themselves.

Sometimes we are one of the others in the unit, the ones who need to allow space for change; the ones who will forgive the faults of the past and give someone who can grow the space and opportunity to do so.

Sooner or later we play all three roles dear reader. Sooner or later all good things will come if we let them.

That’s it for this one dear reader, see you next post… Until then…

Find an opportunity and take it!

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Names: a question…

 

This week I’m doing something a little different dear reader…

I’ve been thinking this week about names, and what names really mean. The names we give to people and things, and the ones we give ourselves, actually do a lot of things. Names seem to carry multiple meanings. Some in the linguistics community would identify names as nouns, and yet they seem to function as verbs, adjectives and adverbs from time to time. Names seem to be big symbols with a lot of meaning, and yet they can be very specific.

So, dear reader, today I have a simple question (Ok… Four questions…). How do you see names? What do they do? Do they mean one thing or many? Are they important? (And if so, why?)

I’d really love to hear what you have to say on this dear reader. So, please, leave a comment; send an email; let me know what you think.

Thanks. And, see  you next week.

Larger than life

The first place I ran into the term ‘larger than life’ was in the movie Top Gun (and I am not admitting to when or where that was…). I wanted to know what ‘larger than life’ meant…

The first definition I found was someone or something literally larger than normal; the eight foot tall guy, the double sized model or blown up picture that helped you see small details, that sort of thing. The problem was that this obviously wasn’t what was meant in the movie…

Not literal…? So, what is it?

The term larger than life couldn’t mean what I thought it meant. Neither Maverick nor Tom Cruise was that tall, or wide. So, maybe the term was one of those simile or metaphor things that were all the rage in my English class at the time. So, what was Mav’ doing that would fit the descriptor…?

I found other people that were described as ‘larger than life’. Most of them were stars (the media type) or fictional characters (the super hero type). So, for a time, ‘larger than life’ meant someone who did, or could do, things regular people couldn’t (this turns out to be sort of true in my own definition, but it’s not the definition I believe in).

This definition is false. If you operate on the TV star and superhero definition of larger than life, then ‘larger than life’ starts to mean the same thing as ‘made for TV’.  Under this definition whatever you choose to call ‘larger than life’ is fake. It’s something that doesn’t happen in real life. So, how could a character be described as larger than life in the context of his or her own reality?

The search continued.

Years went on.

I found the answer.

The truth is you can be larger than life.

But it isn’t easy.

The answer (at least as I have found it)

You can be larger than life, but it isn’t easy.

Over time pieces fell into place for me. I came to understand. I’m still trying to actually do and become…

Larger than life doesn’t just mean physically bigger, or something that normal folks can’t do (they can if they work at it). Being Larger than life is a real achievable thing that appears as a feature of heroes, those whose names and stories are written large in the world.

Being larger than life isn’t necessarily a physical thing. It isn’t entirely a symbolic thing. Being larger than life is a philosophical thing, it is a way of living. One might even call it a spiritual thing.

I don’t remember the precise moment I realized it. I think it’s something that develops in you over time. To be larger than life means to be aware of, and focused on, something larger than the day to day details of life. It doesn’t mean you don’t do the day to day details, but it means your purpose, the thing you focus on, is something larger, something more meaningful. You are larger than life when you get through the challenges of daily life and don’t get trapped or consumed by them. You become larger than life when you will endure the day to day frustrations to achieve a greater purpose.

The artist who skips meals to buy brushes and paint; the person who runs into harm’s way to save a life; the parent/spouse/brother/sister who puts aside his or her own fear, sadness, or frustration to comfort a family member; these are the real larger than life people. Being larger than life means looking past the now to something greater, something more important, and then actually doing something to get there.

Being larger than life means living for things that you know are good and right; living for goals and ideals rather than praise and paychecks. That is what makes it so difficult to achieve.

I can’t say I’m perfect at it. I am not yet entirely larger than life, but I am trying dear reader. I am trying. I know that I can be larger than life, and so can you.

Being larger than life takes a lot of effort. It means putting aside vanity and foolishness in order to strive for something greater. Sometimes it means you stop worrying about ‘optics’, appearances, and ‘dignity’; but when you choose to rise above and strive for something greater who and what you are rises above the day to day as well. When you choose to rise above the day to day concerns and do something greater you become larger than life. Real dignity, satisfaction, all of the literal and spiritual things you need await and will come to you when you need them and you are ready for them.

It is scary dear reader, but it is worth it.

That’s it for this one. Until next time…

Try being a bit bigger, standing a bit taller. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Change and ‘normality’ (one round of many)

A few months ago two really important things happened at the same time: my wife graduated with a doctorate in instructional design and I released Johnson Farm: my first novel, my first nanowrimo win, and a book that I was forced to admit really did need a sequel (and after I promised myself I wouldn’t do that…).

We were done and life was going to get back to ‘normal’ (yes dad I can hear the laughter from here…). I jumped straight into the second book. After all, being a writer is what I do. Unfortunately it’s never that simple…

  1. In becoming a full time writer I decided to create my own publishing label and that needs regular attention, just like the writing part.
  2. As much as I hate to admit it I do have a life outside of books (gasp! It scares me too!)
  3. I went full time on the writer me and invented the publisher me while my wife was working on a doctorate.

When combined these facts mean that Farangian the full time writer, and Forever Mountain Publishing, had never known life without a grad student in the house. We have spent the last couple of years in a ‘make it work’ mode. And, while it’s good we can do that, it’s not really a healthy thing to do long term. So, about a month ago I gave myself the task of reanalyzing and making things work better in a ‘normal’ life (I know, there’s that word again…). That meant stopping the blog for a couple weeks, stopping the writing for a couple of weeks, thinking, reorienting, and then starting the whole thing up again with a new plan (it also meant my wife hiding the swords, axes, fire arms, plasma cannons, and so on until it was done…).

Going forward

Now we’re at the point where everything is moving forward again. I’m keeping semi-regular office hours (I still get book ideas at 5:00 AM on a Sunday morning, but I try not to be working on work stuff while I’m spending time with my wife in a non-work setting). I’ve reworked my weekly schedule so that things like website maintenance are less likely to be forgotten (I know I still have catching up to do, but at least it’s regularly on the plan and starting). And, I’m back to writing and putting out the blogs.

Things won’t change too much here. My blog at FMP is about writing: the mechanics of writing; life as a writer; the publishing process; and other things or interest to writing and publishing people. Words Mean Stuff is about words and ideas. That might sound like the writing blog, but from here on out it is about words and ideas about life: Making positive choices, finding meaning, and other “humany” stuff that words represent.

I will talk about books and projects that I am working on in both places, but I will try to talk about them in context appropriate ways. I will also talk about crafting stuff from time to time, in contextually appropriate ways. What I’m not going to be doing (well, I’ll try not to, but I’m not perfect) is ranting and spewing hurt feeler negativity. Those things happen in life, but I have no desire to speak of them here.

These blogs are about ideas and communication. You need a safe, open forum to talk about those things, and that’s what I’m going to make here. Speaking of talking… I love comments and discussion. So, dear reader, feel free to comment on the blogs, or share them if you find an opportunity and find the blog post worthy.

That’s it for this one dear reader, time to stop talking about and start doing! See you next week.

Lessons from ‘the great American eclipse’

Yep, on Monday of the week I’m coming back to the blogosphere we had an eclipse, a total eclipse of the sun that ran the entire length of the country. I happen to live in an area where the eclipse was 98.9% from my door step and full totality was only about 45 minutes north…

Naturally our area braced for the event and some of the ‘knowledgeable ones’ predicted lots of things, some of which happened and some of which didn’t. Here are a couple of things we learned and some thoughts going forward.

A once in a life time experience:

Everyone and I mean everyone was saying that a total eclipse (not just a continent spanning one but any total eclipse) was a once in a life time experience. And, it is… If you just sit in one spot and you don’t live long enough!

I’ve been through at least two total solar eclipses, several partials (they were total eclipses for somebody!), and more lunar eclipses than I can remember. But, I’ve moved around just a little bit…

Lesson: opportunities do happen, but you need to figure out where they are and what you are willing to do to get them. If you sit and do nothing they don’t come around very often.

Bracing for the horde:

Government officials, media types and professional prognosticators warned us to be ready for 100,000, then 500,000, then 1,000,000 people to who were supposed to be descending on our area. Gas was sure to run out. The phone lines and internet connections would be overloaded. The state transit department was going to have to make I15 a one way street to deal with all the traffic. Stores and restaurants would be swamped and run out of food and supplies. I believe there were even warnings about witches, zombies and ninjas (Wiccan ninja zombies?).

Well, in the end there were difficulties. After the eclipse a forty five minute trip away from the zone of totality became a four hour trip (on the one side of the I15… Traffic in the opposite direction (toward the zone of totality) was just fine…). Several hotels and gas stations artificially raised prices. And… Several stores and restaurants ended up ordering too many supplies, and didn’t sell them all.

The main problem was a problem of hype over thought. Yes, there were lots of people who came up for the eclipse. A lot of them came from relatively nearby and made a day trip of it (or tried to at least…). A lot of them brought food and water with them. The ones that weren’t making a day trip of it filtered in a day or two ahead. It was only when everyone tried to leave at the same time that there were big traffic problems. Some store shelves got barren, but new shipments were getting in on a daily basis and to my knowledge nobody starved.

If you were looking for roving gangs, there weren’t any. Roving gangs don’t’ usually travel long distances for astronomical events. If you were looking for zombies, apocalyptic horsemen, or other such oddities, there weren’t any of those either (that I’m aware of…). If you’re still looking for them I’ve got some nice fiction books in production that you might like…

Generally if you thought ahead and made reasonable preparations you were fine. If you didn’t prepare ahead of time, or it you went straight to the worst case scenario, then things were less satisfactory (but still not a total disaster in most cases!).

Lesson: Be prepared, but make reasonable preparations. A one day event like the eclipse isn’t the same thing as WW3. Yes, people are going to go see something like the eclipse, but it’s unlikely that the whole state of California is going to take a day or three off work and end up on your doorstep.

People are people and that includes both locals and tourists…

One of the problems that did come up was relatively normal people conflicts.

Several national news reports claimed that the locals weren’t friendly. Several local news reports included pictures of tourists driving their vehicles and setting up camp in local farmers fields, the ones the farmers were growing crops in…

Sorry folks… I know ‘farmer John’ may be “just a farmer”, but if you drive through his field and set up camp on top of the crops you are damaging his lively hood. You are also cutting down your own food supplies. Tourists you need to use some sense.

On the other hand… Locals, please have the courtesy to wait until the tourists actually do something offensive before you get all offended. And remember, they’re new here… Some of them have never have gotten out of the city before… Maybe put up a few signs to mark the active wheat and ‘tater fields?

Again this is one of those things that’s kind of predictable… When you get large groups of people together somebody’s going to be less than intelligent. The goal is for you to be intelligent and do what you can to prevent problems in the first place.

Trust me folks, when it comes to my home I’m as territorial as anyone. I’ve also been the one who’s traveling. I know what it’s like to not understand what’s around me. It is much better to do some thinking, planning and considering about what’s around you than it is to go immediately to harsh words and blaming the other person. (By the way… To the ones who were offended when the farmer decided to call the sheriff: be grateful… I know folks who were stocking up on ammo along with the food and toilet paper! Think first!)

Summing up

The name of this blog is Words Mean Stuff. I named it that because words do mean something; they are symbols for ideas. The biggest lesson from this week’s events is to have and use ideas, good ideas. A lot of problems can be avoided and a lot of truly majestic moments can be witnessed (or even participated in!) if you just gather some good data and think first.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Next week I’m going to talk a little about what I’m doing with the blogs. And then after that… Well, that’s next week’s post isn’t it. See you next post dear reader.

Point of change… August 2017

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I didn’t get to posting last Friday and it looks like I may not get to it for the next couple of weeks either… Fear not dear reader the blog isn’t dead!

Several things are shifting at the same time in regard to Forever Mountain Publishing and my life as a person, so rather than babbling randomly I’m taking a couple weeks off from the blog and hope to come back with a much better idea of what’s going on soon.

It’s for the best dear reader. The good of what I do will be getting better and the rest will start shifting in line!

Thanks and see you soon!

Families, Choices and Bravery

One of the biggest ‘secrets’ that nobody was supposed to talk about at my wife’s family’s reunion was the fact that one of our nephews was making some big life choices, and not doing what the family expected. It was supposed to be a secret, so naturally it was one of the most discussed things at the reunion.

My nephew was looking for something, something he really wanted. The majority of the adults in the family were sure he would ‘find it’ the same way they did (whether they actually found what they were looking for is a subject for another day…). The majority of the family assumed he would spend a couple of years doing church service and then get a bachelor’s degree and enter the work force in some engineering or construction related field. Instead my nephew is joining the United States Marine Corps…

Choosing between honorable paths

Regular readers of this blog already know that I am a person of faith and I have absolutely nothing against worthy service to God. What less of you may know it that I am also a military brat (as well as being a professor’s kid…). I see honor in joining the military as well. So, this leaves us with a question… How do you choose between two good paths?

Well, you have to choose the path that is right for you. And, that might not mean the path that ‘they’ say is the right one!

There are lots of tools to use: talking to family, internet research, introspection… you might even want to throw a little prayer and fasting on that list if it helps you. But the bottom line is that if you are going to commit your life to something it needs to be worth it and it needs to be the right thing for you. It’s a decision that only you can make. Others can help, but they can’t make it for you.

And that’s it for this one dear reader. Today I think I’ll end with a joke…

One day not so very long ago a meeting was held for top leaders in the United States military. The meeting was held at Fort Benning Georgia where the army trains paratroopers, some of their bravest soldiers. Naturally the discussion quickly turned to bravery.

“I’ll show you what bravery is,” an Army general said. He called over one of his soldiers and issued an order. “Soldier, go off that jump tower with no repelling line and no parachute.”

The soldier climbed the tower. He looked down. You could tell he was scared but he stepped off the edge. Seconds later he splattered on the ground at the base of the tower.

An Airforce general shook his head. “No, that’s not bravery. Watch this. Airmen! Go off that tower with no repelling line and no parachute. Do it with style!”

Like the soldier the airman climbed the tower. Unwilling to look scared in front of the general the airman started at the back of the tower. He raised his arms like the majestic wings of one of the big bombers and ran off the platform. A few seconds later he splattered on the ground at the base of the tower.

“No,” a Marine Corps general said, “As usual we’ll be the ones to get it done.” He spotted one of his marines nearby and shouted “Marine! Off that tower! No repelling rig! No parachute!”

The generals laughed briefly when the marine ran the opposite direction, but soon he was back and scurried up the tower loaded down with several grenades and machine gun.

At the top of the tower the marine hurled grenades down before him. When he ran out of grenades he grabbed his machine gun and went off the tower firing the whole way down. In a few seconds he splattered at the base of the tower amid the smoke of his grenades and the casings of his bullets.

The proud generals looked at the one Navy admiral in the group, daring him to do better.

The admiral called over one of his sailors and said. “The order is to go off that tower with no repelling rig and no parachute.”

The sailor looked at the admiral and the generals.

He looked at the tower and the brave men splattered at its base.

He looked back at the admiral and said “No Sir.”

The generals were taken aback, but the admiral smiled. He raised one finger and said, “Now that was brave.”

Have a good one dear reader. See you next week.

When it happens it happens…

It’s a short and sweet one today because a lot of things are starting to move very fast on a couple of book projects. On the other hand… I decided to push off the post I’d planned on doing today because some of what’s going on is really exciting (to me at least…).

Some days you can’t see that far ahead…

This week I’m seriously started on Jamie’s Sacrifice, the third book in a series that started with Johnson Farm. I got chapter one written last week (at the dreaded reunion…), but that was as far as I got. So, I started this week with a hand written chapter one to transcribe, and no idea how to get to the events I knew were happening at the end of act one (apparently three act structure is a thing for this book…). I also had a ton of stuff that had piled up on my desk while we were gone (still digging out actually…).

Monday: I got the prologue and the first part of chapter one transcribed, but still no idea what came next.

Tuesday: I got the rest of chapter one transcribed and still had no idea what to do next.

Wednesday: I figured out what should be in chapters two and chapter three, but didn’t actually get to write much of it. I got about three hand written pages and conked out again because I wasn’t sure how to attack the next section.

This kind of thing can be quite disheartening. I know of more than one project that has failed at this point because the artist/writer/creator allowed him/her self to become invested in not knowing how to move forward. Things get depressing. You want to stop. But, you can’t let yourself do that.

Some days you can…

Thursday came and I transcribed the first part of chapter two. Almost immediately it became clear what needed to happen in the next section! I ‘pencil whipped’ nine pages in a burst of activity that persuaded more than one customer at my hangout of the day that interrupting the ‘mad genius’ was a bad idea…

Friday (today) started with basic (non-writing) ‘get it done’ stuff. Then, while watering the roses, I realized that not only did I know what to do with chapter three, but chapter four followed pretty logically.

By the time I could put things down and do something about my ideas I knew what had to happen in chapter five.

By the time I got inside and finished writing myself a note I knew what was happening in chapter six.

Between finishing that note and actually getting into the shower I knew what I had to do for chapter seven.

By the time I was out of the shower I had worked out chapter eight and had a pretty good idea about what was happening in chapter nine.

At this point I realized I had caught up to the end of the first act stuff that I’d already planned. And that I really needed to get all of this formally written before I tried to push further…

We all do have hard days and hard times on the projects we work on. Actually I have to ask… “If they didn’t challenge us occasionally would they really be worth doing?” I am not going to say “buck up and get going” because that’s both insensitive and stupid (it overlooks people’s reality and situation. It’s an attempt to get people going while not really paying attention to what’s going on). But, I will say that if what you’re working on is really important to you and one of those down points hits. Don’t give up! Hold on to the project. Hold on to what you want to achieve and keep trying to find that next step forward. If the project is worthy and you are willing to keep trying, the answers will come and you will be able to move forward.

The universe is a really big place dear reader. The answers are out there and they will come in their own time.

Until then, good luck and I’ll see you next post!

For better or making it worse?

I spent most of this week at my wife’s family’s family reunion. For the most part things went well, so far as I can tell everyone is still alive and had a pretty good time. There were biffs and goofs here and there, but that’s what you expect for a family reunion (especially when you’re hitting four generations of family present, and enough people for you very own baseball tournament…). And of course, as always when riding through the desert, I found a few things to think about…

My wife’s parents and siblings went in to rent a large house and that lead to the title and subject of this post…

A house disinterested in itself?

The problems we faced with the rental had a lot to do with how the couple that owned the place treated it and each other.

When we arrived the electronic lock on the door didn’t function. An hour after we arrived we managed to contact the woman who owned the place. An hour after that her husband arrived and skillfully concluded that the lock wasn’t functioning…

The problem fairly quickly came into focus as I observed the man and how he dealt with us and the property. I’m sorry, if you and your spouse/partner/whatever are going to run a rental property together (or go in on any significant project) your response should never be “I don’t know this is my wife’s thing”… You made a commitment to your spouse/partner/whatever and then you made another commitment together. That means if you are treating part of the project like a chore assigned by an annoying school teacher you are failing to keep two commitments.

Not keeping the commitment to the project might be one thing, but blaming your spouse/partner/whatever and setting him/her up to be ‘the bad guy’, that’s a real problem. We are talking about the person that you presumably love, care about, and have committed yourself to. If you’re going to go into a commitment with her/him, and then not holding up your end what are you doing to the relationship (and you honor as a person)?

Rings in the pond

Between the two issues I think not supporting (or worse being in active conflict with) your spouse/partner/whatever is the biggest problem. Relationship issues can quickly poison other deals, projects, or endeavors.  When that happens it creates problems in the deal/project/endeavor and the things around it. And those problems feed back into the relationship causing more problems…

When you are in that situation it will be painful to address the relationship issues. But, it’s the only way to fix anything.

Remember dear reader, in ever so many ways our lives are about people and relationships. And no amount of success elsewhere can make up for failure in that department.

Take care dear reader. Take care of yourself and yours. I’ll see you next post.

Would You Believe It Isn’t the Money (Why We Do This part 4)

Last Friday (a week before this post went live) I did a book signing thing with the cover artist for my novel Johnson Farm. The next day I got to hand deliver a copy to another beautiful and intelligent young woman who just happened to have been one of my most important helpers in this process. She was the first teen to read the manuscript (kind of important for a YA novel…). Both of these experiences are ones I treasure. Both of these experiences reminded me that there is a lot more than dollars and cents involved in being an author.

Before anyone accuses me of making excuses because my book isn’t selling… I’m not.

A first novel (like Johnson Farm) usually isn’t a big cash machine and I know that. Also, Johnson Farm has outsold my previous book already… Literally it brought in more in the first month than my first book brought in in its first year (and I’m not expecting sales for Johnson Farm to really take off until the second or third book is released). I’m not being bitter about money. I’m just saying that there are other rewards that are more important.

Non-monetary rewards…

Both of the young women I mentioned were excited to be part of something. They got to do something, achieve something that they hadn’t done before. Both got to be on the inside. Both received a tangible artifact that demonstrated that someone valued them for their talents and abilities.

And me? My reward? You could hear it in their voices. I touched their lives. I gave them something more than just paper with words printed on it. I honestly feel like I made their lives better, at least a little bit.

Actually there is no practical empirical measure of how much of an effect even a small nudge toward the good can have. A single pebble, a single sound, can start an avalanche that seems vastly out of proportion to the energy put in to start it.

If you choose to create (write, draw, paint, sculpt, whatever), or just in living your life; if your only purpose is money, yours is going to be a sad and shallow life. There are greater things out there.

In the scripture my religion holds sacred it is said: And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!

It’s not about huge numbers, it is about the one.

What I will say to you dear reader is: If you choose to create, if you choose to build or make something that helps others access and understand the beauty, greatness, and power within them, then you are a force for good in the universe. And that has its reward’s dear reader, rewards that you will not understand until you see them. And even then you might not understand the true measure of what you have done.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Go, do, create, and be a force for good. See you next post.