Being brave

I know a lot of people who work very hard. Don’t get me wrong hard work can be a good thing, but have you ever known someone to work hard simply to avoid doing something that scares them? I know a few people like that too…

Hard work can be a good thing, but sometimes it’s more of an effort at evasion than something that will actually give us the progress we want. Sometimes hard work is just a way to avoid scary work.

Scary work

At the local university I know a number of professors that will do all sorts of unnecessary calculations and manipulations to avoid learning how to use the gradebook in the universities online learning management system.

I had an uncle who repeatedly got demoted because the scut jobs that low ranking enlisted men did scared him less than actually having to be in charge of anything.

I myself have occasionally been known to mark a project as ‘needing more research’ just because I was unwilling to actually go on the record and do something.

We all have things that scare us. Sometimes that fear is a quite rational thing. Some situations are dangerous to life and limb. But, sometimes that fear is because we are about to expose our own weaknesses: the things we’re not good at, the things we don’t know, the things we might be wrong about, and so on.

The really dangerous scary things should sometimes be avoided, but sometimes they are absolutely necessary. Yes, facing off against a rabid animal might be scary, but if you’re doing it to save your child it’s important.

The second set of scary things includes our opportunities for growth, our chances to exceed what we have done before and become better. That kind of scary is marking the things that will probably be hard work (in the beginning at least), but have the potential to pay off big. You really might want to do those…

Scary not edgy

Scary doesn’t necessarily mean edgy.

Scary includes things that we are afraid of doing. Edgy might include those as well, but also includes things that are just flirting with poor taste.

Doing edgy things is something performers do to get attention.

Doing scary things can lead to growth.

It is really a question of purpose and discernment. Do you need to be doing X? If so why?

If your purpose is good, then do it.

If your purpose is just to get a rise out of someone, then you might want to reconsider.

Doing hard things can be good. It certainly isn’t anything to be ashamed of.

Doing edgy things may attract attention. But they might not be worth it in the long run.

It’s doing the scary things that helps us grow.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Next time…

What can we learn from a song?

Christmas…

This Sunday is not just any Sunday. It’s Christmas Eve. There are many people in our country for whom Christmas is a genuine religious holiday. There are also those for whom it is not a holiday, including a subset that tends to be offended by Christmas, the idea of Christmas, or anything related to Christmas. If your intention in reading this is to find fault and/or reason for offence I invite you to go elsewhere, you have been warned and your wrath is not needed. If you intention isn’t to cause harm or contention you are welcome here regardless of who you are and what you believe; please read on!

Christmas is a Christian holiday and a day that has some definite conflict around it, which saddens me because Christmas is never and was never about conflict. It is about the good in people and bringing good into our world. To borrow from a Christmas carol, Christmas is about peace on earth and good will toward all people. It is a time for home and family, and helping those around you.

Christmas is about giving not receiving. It is also about being grateful for what we have been given and those who have given to us, which is best marked by ‘paying it forward’ (I’m not known for using that term, but it is appropriate here).

So here it is dear reader. Christmas is not a time for ego. It is not a time for contention or self-gratification. It is not a time to get big headed about what we have, or jealous over what we don’t have.

Christmas is a time to do unto others as you would have them to do unto you (to quote a very old rule…).

Christmas is a time of inclusion, a time to help others and remind them seemingly forgotten that they are not forgotten, and that there is still hope in our word.

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

Merry Christmas…

God bless us every one…

And get out there and do some good!

Average isn’t every…

“Average” it’s a word we hear a lot. “The ‘average’ person…” “On ‘average’…” “My ‘average’…” It’s a word we use a lot. But it is also a word with a danger attached, we should never assume that average is what we’re supposed to be. Average is only a description of what seems to be the most common or most typical based on a (usually limited) sample.

Average is an occasionally scientific wild guess at way to describe people. In the mathematical and statistical sense it is a measure of central tendency, an attempt to identify the central ‘most typical’ value of a group of numbers. In the mathematical and statistical sense the average is heavily influenced by a number of factors that can cause an average to be misleading.

In the personal description sense ‘average’ is in about the same spot as mediocre, or ordinary, in terms of meaning.

You can use an average to determine where you are relative to the group, but even then you have to understand a bit about what you are comparing and who you are comparing yourself to. Would you rather have you school grade point average above or below the ‘C student’ average point? What about the interest on that student/home/car/credit card loan, would you like your interest rate to be above or below average? What about your weight? (Actually that one can be a problem if you’re too far out in either direction so being in the ‘average’ range might not be all bad…)

Something they often don’t tell you is that average might not even matter! Just because the average person does or has something doesn’t mean that it is necessarily right for you and your goals. As someone who has a diabetes diagnosis if I were to eat the amount of carbohydrate in the ‘average’ American meal very often I would be running into health issues and probably have to go back on insulin.

Just because the ‘average’ American adult drives a car that doesn’t mean that you need. If you live somewhere like New York City with lots of traffic and little parking you may find other solutions much easier regardless of what the ‘average’ person does.

Like many things in our world the concept of ‘average’ is a tool that we use for describing, measuring and making decisions. It should never be considered what someone ‘has’ to be. Usually we aren’t average in some way or other, and that’s ok. We as human beings are unique beings unto ourselves.

We aren’t always ordinary. We have our challenges to overcome, and we have things that we are really really good at. It is those differences that make it possible for us to grow, improve and help one another.

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

Be better than average,

Be what you can become.

NANOWRIMO I’m in!

I’ve gone back and forth on doing NANOWRIMO this year. For a while I told myself “I’ve already ‘won’ twice, so why do it again? I’ve got other things to do.” But recently I find I have at least 50,000 words to go on the story I’m working on, so why not (that’s new words not counting what I’ve done so far…). I also have a friend that hasn’t done NANOWRIMO that wants to try, so I’m wanting to do it to support a new writer in the process.

I thought about all this aannndddd realized I really want to do NANOWRIMO this year. It’s hard work (and you do have to treat it as work if you want to win), but in some ways it’s a vacation for me. When I do NANORIMO I clear my schedule for the month. That means work wise it’s just me and the story. I don’t have to worry about other things. So, it’s hard work, but very liberating.

I’ve talked about some of my other thought on National Novel Writing Month here and here on my other blog, and I stand by what I said there.

I also invite and encourage others who want to write a novel to dive in and join us. Writing can be a good thing (and if you want to be an author it’s a mandatory thing…).

That’s it for this one dear reader. I’m taking the next month off for NANO, so see you in December.

Moral Fidget Spinners…

There was once a word, morality, that meant a doctrine or system of moral conduct, or conformity to ideals of right human conduct. It was a good word, a strong word. It meant “This is what I believe is right; therefore, this is what I will do”. It really was a good word.

Unfortunately there came a time when someone (male, female, black, white, brown, plaid, purple, gay, straight, or all of the above (it really doesn’t matter!)) decided that morality should be defined as: a commodity. For those not familiar a commodity is an economic good, or something subject to ready exchange or exploitation within a market. Someone decided they could sell ‘morality’, or at least the idea that some editions of morality are valid (while others are not…) for money. That someone managed to make fairly good money at it…

Unfortunately someone else (still doesn’t matter who…) noticed the individual making money and decided to get in on the act.  Now, the first ‘flavor’ of ‘morality’ was already for sale and that meant a new ‘flavor’ of ‘morality’ was needed for the new peddler to get into the market. And this second person sold the newly invented ‘morality’ for a tremendous profit!

But, with that new flavor, and the attached profits, came an open door for other vendors of ‘morality’, each wanting their share. And so, morality fell victim to niche marketing.

And so it is dear reader that we (or I at least) find ourselves (myself) in a world where ‘morality’ changes based almost entirely on what online polls say the consumer is buying…

Within the past weeks I’ve watched people waffle back and forth on guns, ‘liberties, ‘taking a knee’, and a host of other issues. It honestly feels like ‘morality’ can be found in online auctions or as a prize won in arcade ‘skill’ games right along with stuffed animals, team jerseys, and fidget spinners (remember those?).

Unfortunately ‘moralities’ and moral positions seem to be abandoned as fast as those fidget spinners. This is part of a cycle dear reader, a long painful cycle that can and has caused the deaths of nations (along with a few hundred million people at least…). It is a cycle that needs to be broken.

Morality is not a fidget spinner dear reader. It is not something that can be bought, sold, packed, given away, or won in an arcade game. Morality is a personal code. Morality is the way we choose to act toward one another. It is something to be carefully considered and then lived. Yes dear reader, there are many flavors of ‘morality’ out there, and it can be hard to sort through them all. But it is necessary. It is a part of life, a part of growing up, a part of the reason we are here on this earth.

So that is my challenge to you dear reader. Find your morality (or if you have it, evaluate how well you live it…). Draw closer to a way of life that makes life better for you and those around you. Draw closer to things that are good and true dear reader. Don’t be bought, played with and forgotten like last spring’s fidget spinner…

That’s it for this one dear reader. Next week I will present a few thoughts about NANOWRIMO, and admit that I goofed…

P.S. thank you to www.merriam-webster.com for help with the definitions portion of the post!

“Common Sense”

This week I’m in the process of researching a nonfiction book; one that has some big ideas I it that I’m currently working on how to relate. It’s funny how when I do things like this I find seemingly unrelated stuff that is really significant…

We talk about the ‘five senses’ (though there are actually more) and we talk about ‘common sense’. Would you believe these ideas actually come from the same source?

And, common sense was the actual original sixth sense.

The ‘five senses’ come from the writings of Aristotle who discussed the senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste as how we explore the world around us. He also talked about the common sense.

Aristotle’s common sense was an internal thing, a thing of the mind. Instead of the nebulous ‘don’t be stupid’ sense that is thought of today Aristotle’s common sense was (and is) a coordinating and interpreting function. The ‘common’ sense was that internal system that coordinated the data we got from our five external senses into something useful and meaningful. In Aristotle’s thinking (and mine) a lack of common sense meant not using the data you have in front of you.

If anything, the ‘common’ sense is more important now than it ever has been. Modern folk are bombarded with more information than at any time in history. We need to learn to evaluate, coordinate, and utilize that information correctly.

‘Common sense’ is truly the vital sense of the twenty first century.

Of course you and I both know that it is not that simple dear reader. ‘Common sense’ is a learned skill. Actually it is a learned skill set. What that means is that we are not automatically experts at using common sense. We are born with legs but have to learn to walk. The same logic applies.

The good news is that we can learn and improve in our skills. It is not always easy, but when we put forth the effort we will improve over time. If we consciously work on our skills for evaluating and using information we will actually get better at it faster.

I’m not trying to tell you everything about common sense today dear reader (this is a blog post not a book). For now know that we all have the capacity for common sense. We all have the need for common sense. And, we all have to accept that common sense comes to us “some assembly required”.

See you next week…

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!

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.