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.

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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.

 

The Mistake of ‘Allness’

That’s what my dear besainted mother called it ‘the mistake of allness’. It’s a relative of the ‘binary choice’ and my old friend the ‘one factor model’. And, it’s a real problem.

In some cases you can make a complete, accurate statement of the form “all x are y”. Much more often you need a qualifier to make the statement correct: “all my x are y”; “all your x are y”; “all oranges currently in California are not currently in Greenland”. Often statements with these qualifiers are correct, but even then you run into trouble. Sorry folks it would not be correct to say “All Latinos in Idaho are migrant farm workers”…

And it gets worse

The mistake of ‘allness’ really comes into full fruition when you get into the area of people. Sorry gang you cannot say “all Muslims are terrorists”; “all white people are racists”; “all ‘straights’ hate ‘gays’”; “all men are rapists”; or “all Russians are communists”. You also can’t honestly make the opposites of those statements. Things are more complex than that.

The moment you step into the world of human beings you step into a world of multilayered complex systems. There are a lot of factors that go into being a human being physically and psychologically (and if you bring spiritual life into the mix things only get more complicated). Even in the most homogenous situation you can create, identical twins living in the same home, you have little differences like one twin getting just a little more oxygen; or being pressed on just a little more in the birth canal; or being dropped by a clumsy sibling that create differences in who the people are and what they do.

The reality is that every human brain is a ‘one off’ instrument. They are generally the same, but from the start each one is slightly different. And then they grow and change based on the things that happen during the person’s life.

Now, this is not to say all people are completely different.  If you‘ve ever watched or read one of Shakespeare’s plays, or experienced a Greek tragedy, you can find the same things going on today. And I’m pretty sure that goes for the works of Musashi, Sun Tzu, and Confucius as well. People can be pretty similar, but when you get into the details each one is unique.

So how do we deal with people if they’re all different?

Well… That’s the trick isn’t it…?

And, if you try to give one answer that covers all people in all situations you’ve just committed the mistake of ‘allness’ again. The only being I know of that can actually get away with making completely accurate global statements would be God and He/She/It (choose one) doesn’t make them all the time either.

The best advice I can give dear reader is that we must use knowledge and understanding. At a minimum we must realize that not everyone is the same. We must realize that no one actually stays the same for their entire life.

Once we make those realizations, and accept that you have to deal with people where they are and (hopefully) help them toward a mutually beneficial goal; then you can actually start dealing with people effectively. As for exactly how to do that… You didn’t expect me to cover it all in one post did you dear reader?

See you next post.

When you are ready…

I’ve read it. I’ve said it. I’ve proved it true… You will get what you need when you’re ready for it.

I actually almost wrote about this last week, but the experience was a little too fresh and I guess I needed a little more distance…

As regular readers of this blog know I’m working on a young adult novel. The novel (actually the series now… Hard Way is the second book) has to do with a teenage boy trying to sort out his life. He is trying to sort out who he is; who his family is; who his friends are; and what he really believes. As the writer, it’s a challenge, but it’s a challenge that I’m willing to take. It’s a challenge I am taking.

I’m editing the second book and learning a great deal in the process. I’ve accepted that the third book (which I’m starting the first draft of next month…) is going to be even more of a challenge for reasons I’ve discussed here (link) among others.

I’m working hard, putting all the pieces I can into place. And yet, there are things missing. There are things that I can’t seem to find (on my own at least…). And then it happens…

Out of that tangled web we call the internet the girl I cared about back in high school, the girl my wife and I are both grateful to for having the courage to introduce me to the gospel of Jesus Christ, contacts me on facebook.

At the time I needed it most, the moment I was ready to receive it, someone from my past appeared and gave me what I needed. Someone provided the trigger to the memories I needed to get through the project.

You can get what you need to achieve any worthy goal dear readers. You need to be worthy of it. You need to look for it and prepare for it dear reader. But, whether you choose to call it a loving God or just a bountiful universe there is a source out there that will provide what you need when you are ready for it.

So dear reader, figure out your worthy goals. Figure out what you need to achieve them. And then get started. What you need will be there for you when the time is right.

I’m grateful to Susan and her family for really helping me when I needed it. And whether she knows it or not she’s helped me once again (Thank you Susan).

(A note for anyone wondering… No, neither one of us is going to allow anything inappropriate to come out of this. I love my wife. Susan loves her husband. I’m just telling the story of my adventures and thanking an old friend for some help along the way. (Oh, and my wife is nearly as good a shot with a handgun as I am…))

That’s it for this one dear reader. See you next post.

P.S. In an effort to become more social I’m going to be trying to respond to likes, follows and comments more consistently in the near future…

Last week I approved the proofs for the paperback edition of Johnson Farm

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I’ve talked about the book here, but I’ve never really introduced the hero and his family here. That should change…

So…

John closed the book and looked out through the windshield. One of the green freeway signs was just coming into view. Interchange coming up in three miles… “Dad, why can’t we stop at Craters of the Moon?”

John’s father, Lieutenant Commander Donovan Johnson United States Navy, looked straight ahead and kept both hands on the wheel. He wore the look he used when dealing with ‘official businesses’ at work, or with his family. “Because we need to get to the farm. Theo will be waiting.”

We haven’t seen Uncle Theo since my second birthday. How much of a priority can he be?  Besides, Craters of the Moon is on the way.  “We’re going to be driving right down the middle of them,” John muttered.

“So you will get to see them.”

“No Dad…” John flipped the switch for the door lock. “I want to get out and see them.” If we stay on schedule we’ll get to Uncle Theo’s around two. There’s plenty of time. It’s not like Dad wants to get there either…

John looked over his shoulder at the garment bag that held Dad’s dress uniform and John’s suit, his new black suit. “It’s not fair,” John said, “We were supposed to be going deep sea fishing.”

“That’s life John. We have to go. We’re expected.”

‘We’re expected…’ How many times have I heard that before? Every time Dad has some party, ‘We’re expected’… Every time Dad’s lady of the moment arranges a date, ‘We’re expected.’ Every time it’s what someone else wants, ‘We’re expected’… But when it’s something I want… Or need… Or care about…

“It’s a funeral John.” His father didn’t look at him, there was a van to pass. “It’s important for the family.”

John rolled his eyes. Uncle Theo, Aunt Mary, Uncle Harley, and some guy that was dead now, that was ‘the family’. Mom didn’t count, not to Dad. Her side of the family hadn’t counted since the divorce. Dad rarely talked about the people he did count as family, especially Uncle Harley.

It doesn’t matter. Can’t do anything about it anyway. Two more years and I could drive myself back to Craters of the Moon. Dad would probably claim I stole the car… If it was summer he could have been at Moms, and Dad could have gone without him. Does the custody agreement cover that?

John turned back to his book and let the miles fly by. The story of the Lost River has to be better than this…

At least the trip got John out of school for a few days, even though he had to do a book report. Roadside Geology of Idaho would be easy enough to report on. He’d been collecting rocks for years. And I’m actually getting to see some of the stuff I’m reading about…

When he finished the chapter he flipped through the book looking at the pictures. He stopped on a shot of reddish sandstone. There’s a lot of ancient seabed around here, and fossil fish…

We should be fishing right now… Deep sea fishing was supposed to make up for the Padres game when Dad ended up with CDO watch. And the game was supposed to be to make up for… It doesn’t matter…

John went back to flipping through the book. He stopped on a picture of some rhyolite. “Couldn’t we have come up through Nevada?” John asked.

“I’d rather stay on the fifteen,” Dad said, “Some of the stretches through Nevada are pretty desolate. Besides there’s probably still snow.”

That was true enough. There’d been unmelted patches as they went through the Milad Pass. But, there were a lot of places to stop for rocks on the Nevada road. Not that we would have stopped… Dad didn’t see the value of ‘digging up rocks’.

Sometimes Dad talked about the ‘rock machine’ he and his brother had when they were kids. That was about all he said about Uncle Harley, that they had a rock machine. He hadn’t even said that much since the divorce.

Mom could have gotten Dad to stop. Before the divorce…

Mom did a lot of things before the divorce, she was a stay at home mom then. Now she was dating some guy from work and going to events with some ‘office professionals’ organization. But, beyond the delusion that the 1950’s were still cool she didn’t really do much anymore. Who would believe that staying with Dad was better?

“Look, basalt,” Dad said.

John looked up. They’d reached Craters of the Moon. He laughed when he saw the sign. “No Hunting. Yeah, take a shot out there. That’s a self-correcting problem.”

Dad almost laughed. “What?”

John rolled his eyes again. “Look at all the rocks Dad. If you took a shot out here it would probably ricochet back and hit you in the head.”

Dad shook his head and went back to watching the road. “I don’t think…”

John scanned the scenery. There was a little scrub, but more lichen on boulders than real plants. “Besides,” John said, “what is there to hunt around here?”

Dad pointed. John followed the line from his finger to the doe that was disappearing between two boulders.

There really are things to shoot out there… “Hey Dad,” John asked, “Think we could get some shooting in once we get to the farm?” A deer’s too big, but there’s got to be rabbits and stuff.

Dad flinched just slightly. John almost missed it.

“Can we?” John asked.

“We’ll see,” Dad said. He muttered something under his breath. All John could catch was “Harley” and “Last time.” Probably shouldn’t push…

John watched the terrain, looking for more deer. He spotted a couple rabbits between the rocks. He’d brought his air guns, the rifle and the pistol. If he could elude Dad and the uncles for a while he could get in some shooting whether they liked it or not.

The rocks were beginning to blur together. You can only look at so much basalt, even when you’re a rock hound. There was no help for it. John laid back and tried to go to sleep.

His mind wandered. Some blond girl was waving at him.

The next thing he knew Dad was shaking him.

John pushed Dad’s hand off his shoulder. “What?”

Dad pointed, then turned at a sign that read ‘private road’.

They were in rolling hills, more dirt than rock. But still some boulders though… There were fields, some short and green, others just rows of dirt. There was some kind of irrigating rig in the field just to the left. Ahead of them was a cluster of buildings. A couple of barns stood off in the distance. The houses were closer.

The smallish house on the left was faded avocado green. Between the peeling paint and the aged wood of the porch it could have blended into the surroundings, or been written off as abandoned. But, the roof was too new, red and black asphalt shingles.

The house to the right was bigger, newer, and painted the same red as the barn behind it. Someone had even used the same white for the trim. The chairs on the porch were done in a floral pattern that Mom would have loved. Real 1950’s escapees…

John’s eye was drawn to the thing between the houses. So, what is…?

It looked like a cross between a chicken coop and a little girl’s playhouse. But, whoever she was, the girl had been gone a long time. The coop’s faded avocado paint had pealed, revealing a faded blue underneath. Where the blue paint had peeled away there was old, worn wood. Above the walls the roof was brown and vibrant green, old wooden shingles playing home to lively moss.

“Dad, what’s that?”

Dad ignored him. He stopped the car in front of the red house and pointed to the door that was just opening. “They’re waiting.”

Johnson Farm is available in E-book form here and from other major online sources. The physical book will be available as soon as they get here from the printer.

Thanks dear reader. See you next post.

Don’t write (all) your obsessions!

One of the first, and best, pieces of advice young writers are given is: ‘write your obsessions’ (you can substitute passions for obsessions if you must). It’s good advice, but it’s a guideline with a dirty little secret.

You should write things you are interested in, things you know about, care about, and are willing to spend time with. Those are the things that you do. They are part of your natural way of going. Those are the things you know enough about to write them well (or at least you are willing to learn about them to a high enough degree to write about them well).

Writing about things you really know and do saves you a lot of time in research because you know the basics already. You know the language of what you’re writing about. This is a good thing, but it will also require you to think about what you’re writing and who you are writing for.

“Well Farangian… I’m already thinking about those things!”

Yes, but sometimes the way you have to think about things to write about them is different from the way you think about them to actually do them. You have to think about audience. You have to think about presentation, formatting, packaging, grammar, narrative structure… Sometimes you may even find yourself trying to work up projects just so you can write about them.

And there dear reader is the dark secret. If we write about our obsessions, if we write about the things we love, it can easily turn what we love to do and do for enjoyment into work. Turning what we love to do into work can kill our enthusiasm for doing, and for writing.

The way out is to write about your obsessions, but not all of you obsessions. And definitely do not write about all of your obsessions all the time.

Yes, if you love pottery you can write pottery books. But, when it gets to feel like work you might need to back away for a while. That may mean putting the writing down, or going to work on some other interest (for a while at least… Don’t give up entirely on you obsession, or your writing). It may be a good idea to separate what you love from what you write, or spend some time with another interest that you’re not writing about (at least for a little while).

Sometimes time away from a project is the best thing you can do for it. To achieve that ‘step away’ time you need to have something you’re not writing about (Gasp! I know… It scares me too!)

So, yes dear reader, write your obsessions. Just don’t write about all of them all the time.

Now, if you’ll excuse me I think Delta and Echo companies need their commander…

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See you next post!

Whine or Do?

Occasionally when you are working on a project you get to learn something. If you’re lucky you might even learn something about yourself…

I initially wrote this on Tuesday after finishing a little work on Going Home the Hard Way, my next novel (and my most recent NANOWRIMO project). I’d just finished going through chapter 1 for the fourth (fifth?) time. While I was feeling pretty good about the chapter I was a bit worried about my hero being a bit of a whiny brat (he is fourteen…)

I realized that, for the character, occasional bouts of whininess are to be expected (again, he is fourteen and from a broken home…). John growing out of that whininess is part of the story I’m trying to tell. The important part of things is to not let myself (as a theoretical adult) be a whiny brat.

It is easy to complain about the ‘breaks’ and chance you didn’t get. It is easy to say “if only I had what he/she has, then I could succeed!”

One of the miracles of our world dear reader is that we have the ability to change. We can become more than we have been.

Another miracle of our world is that we can achieve our worthy desires. Maybe not in quite the way we initially see them, but we can achieve them. We will be given what we need to do so, if we will do the work and be ready to receive what we need when it is given.

It takes thought and effort, but we can really achieve our worthy desires.

Stay tuned dear reader, and see you next post.

Geometry and Reality

I’d like to start with a thought I had while doing some book research:

In geometry terms a line is a theoretical, it has no ends. A line segment is the thing with two end points. For our purposes we can have as many line segments as we need, in any direction we need, as long as the overall line from us to our goal is followed.  When we stray from that (mental) line we are in trouble.

When we actually try something we want to do the result can be pretty ugly. We will make mistakes. We will have missteps…

But, if we learn from our mistakes and missteps we can progress toward the thing we really desire, even though the line segments in reality don’t line up as perfectly straight and true as the mental/theoretical line we wanted.

How this has applied in my life:

As of this Saturday (20 May 2017) the novel Johnson Farm is finally on sale. It’s been a long time in coming. It would have been quicker to arrive if I could have held closer to that mental/theoretical line between where I was and me being an author. It would have been a much longer process if I had continued to listen to those who told me I couldn’t do it, or pushed me in other directions.

I will admit that my first attempt at writing a novel wasn’t very good. It was a first attempt; I was going through a lot at the time; and I was about twelve… Just because I didn’t knock it out of the park on the first one doesn’t mean I should have given up!

That first attempt still exists as a file on my computer. Elements of that story also exist here and there in other stories I’ve written (and some I’m writing right now…). I keep that story around because it helps me see where I was when I started down the path to being an author and novelist. It helps me measure my progress.

What it actually means:

Sometimes the real life line isn’t as straight as the mental/theoretical one. But those shifts aren’t necessarily mistakes, unless you give up. That’s an important distinction. The time I said “that person is right, I can’t succeed as an author, I should be a computer programmer” was a mistake. It was me shifting from the true line. The times I set a story down to get a little distance and perspective before I picked it up again were not.

Ultimately it is that mental line from where you are to where you’re going that matters. If you have to side step to get around (or over, or under) an obstacle that’s OK. If you’re beating your head against a cement wall, you’re not getting anywhere. If you shift slightly to walk through a doorway you’re making progress.

The sidesteps and diversions that come from giving up on a goal are the ones that can kill you. The ones that you can explain in terms of how they get you closer to your goal (including making it possible to get to your goal…) are the ones that save you.

The biggest threat to your success is the same thing as your biggest asset in becoming successful. It’s  you, dear reader, ultimately it all comes down to you, and your active choice to do the things that will get you where you want to go;  even when it doesn’t look to others like that’s what’s happening.

That’s it for this one dear reader, see you next post.

Taking life as it comes…

In my recent adventures I’ve found myself thinking about where I’ve been and where I’m going.

It’s been several years since my “little vacation” to the hospital and my diabetes diagnosis. It that time I’ve grown and become more the person I want to be.

Becoming who you want to be isn’t an easy process. But, it is worth doing. Becoming is a process that involves effort and pain.

It isn’t necessarily a linear process. In fact it usually isn’t a linear process. There are a lot of things that go into a human life dear reader. We don’t’ all deal with them in the same order. We rarely have complete choice in what we have to deal with. And, we never get all the way through life without adversity.

We’re actually lucky in that way. Adversity helps us to grow and change. If we had no unmet desires and no challenges to face we would never become more than we are; we would never reach our potential. It would be stupid and we wouldn’t do it.

Often it’s not the fact that we face a challenge that makes things better or worse: it’s how we react that mattes. It’s how we choose to act that matters.

We can learn, grow, and overcome, or we can let things eat at us; let them wear us down. We can choose to be positive (at least as positive as we can in the moment)), or we can choose to be negative, whiny, and mean. One of those choices is surprisingly effective at making things better, and the other isn’t…

Sometimes it’s not the challenge, but how we deal with other people while we deal with the challenge that matters. (I know…I know… I’m not perfect at this myself. But, I’m trying!)

I can’t make a blanket statement about how to act in all situations, or in dealing with all people (there are several billion people out there which adds up to several trillion interactions or situations (at least!)). But, more often than not calm and measured out performs “losing it”.

You can influence other people just through what you say and do. You can change what you do and how you do it. That means you can become better and become a better influence on society, and so can everyone else…

That’s it for this one dear reader. At this point the book is in press, and the graduation’s done. The diabetes is in check, and the in-laws have gone home. So, more sure than I’ve been for a while… See you next post!