Writing emotionally, from the heart…

The last two days I wrote an essay for admittance to the next course in my Druidry training. I’ve been in the prerequisite course for the last two years, and the essay is a recap of that course. It’s experiential, so the essay doesn’t have right or wrong answers.

I’ve never been that great about writing to others authentically, meaning with emotion and personal perspective, about my personal experiences. It’s been a challenge, and no matter in the past how much I’ve poured out on the page, I had not hit that threshold of the deeply personal and intimate. I used to write police reports, and I spent so long trying to articulate the objective and rational, I beat out of myself the ability to write how I feel and how things affect me.

Another problem is I hold back. I worry about judgement and fear exclusion for what I think and feel. I’ve known for a while I can’t do that with creative writing. It’s sabotage. As I’ve gone through this course, as I’ve written poetry and read other writer’s works, I’ve looked for signs of writing which effectively draw out the author as a real human.

With this admissions essay, I think I finally achieved it, if for only one example. My partner Erica, after she read it, said it’s the first piece of writing that feels like me, even saying her reaction was “Yeah, this is him.” Then we talked about what she thought differentiated yesterday’s essay from other writing.

Erica said I usually write fast. I write fast, publish fast, and move on to the next thing. She doesn’t think this gives me adequate time to deeply feel, or realize my feelings enough to effectively articulate them. She said writing an essay that was essentially two years in the making gave me enough time to expand my feelings to writing.

I see it, and agree with it. I also don’t want every effective work of writing I make in the future take a couple of years.

Another friend who hadn’t read the essay asked me about it this morning. She’s taking the same course, and her own essay will be coming up in the next few months. She is worried about how long it needs to be.

I give better advice to others than I do myself. This is some of what I shared with her:

“If there is one piece of advice I might have: don’t hold back. Our advisors have seen many of these, and have been there themselves. I wasn’t sure how mine would respond if I fully opened up to him. Part of it I wondered if he would think I’m crazy.

I kept in mind as I wrote how much I worked for this. How much I learned, grew, and changed. Giving myself a break after finishing, I also thought about how much I wanted to move forward. To honor myself, my work, and my intentions, I put my whole heart into it, 100%. I haven’t done that often in my life. I’ve always held back, pulled punches, and tried to soften blows. I’m intense, and I hit hard. I’ve always been afraid of myself a bit. That fear sometimes holds me back from seeing what I can do.

Yet if you’re standing at the gates of somewhere you’ve worked hard to be ready for; if you feel you’re experienced and ready and put your heart into it; there’s no other way than to give it your all. So when you write your application, speak your truth, give it your heart. Tell them what you did and what it meant. Don’t hold back. The length doesn’t matter. The power you put into it does.”

Today, between those two conversations, I’m reflecting on the advice in front of me.

  1. Honor and take time with your feelings when writing. Don’t just grab the Who, What, When, Where, and How and go. Our feelings give us our Why, and sometimes they don’t make any sense. They don’t have to make any sense to anyone else but us. Yet, when we have the courage to put them out there, they may resonate with others, and that’s what forms meaningful connection with readers. To put feelings out there effectively, you should have a fair understanding of your own, and that takes time and mindful work.
  2. Be open and honest; intimate. Don’t hold back. It’s natural to want acceptance, to fear rejection or judgement. Fear is a great emotion – it warns us of danger, it can help us make better decisions. If I want to write authentically and intimately in a way that can connect emotionally with others, I have to overcome the fear that I will be judged, rejected, or shamed. What are you willing to risk to connect deeply with others? To be understood? To have someone respond to you and say “I feel this too!”? Those are the potential rewards if you can work past the fear.
  3. Remember your motivation and be passionate about it. For this essay, I had a clear goal I wanted to accomplish, to move to the next course. I felt that passion while writing, when making the decisions on what I would say. That motivation influenced how much of my emotion and self I put into it, meaning to say, all of it! The lesson I’m taking with me to the other projects is to remind myself of and cultivate my motivation and passion.
  4. Make yourself your first audience: Write like it’s your journal. Since this was an essay about a course I had taken over the last two years, I had a journal with my thoughts and observations. This journal was just for myself, so the things I wrote in it were my most intimate feelings. Writing the essay, I transcribed a few parts of the journal – a couple of poems, some off-hand writing. Easily, these are the most intimate parts of the essay. We don’t always have the benefit of having two years of intimate writing behind us, but we can turn whatever project we’re working on into our own private journal, at least for a time. However, doing this means you first have to be able to be completely honest and open with yourself, and that is a complete other topic for another time.

I expected to wait up to a month for a response to my essay. Surprisingly, I got a response within a few hours; I’ve been recommended to proceed! I feel like the emotional work I did for this course and essay was key to the response it received.

I still have a lot of work to do in this space, but I feel like I’ve reached a new level. I’m going to continue reflecting on the advice I received and gave. There are points there which can be refined and improved, but for today, it’s real and raw, where I am now, and that’s enough.

Tell Me, Don’t Show Me?

Today I learned something new about myself from watching my son.

We were at the playground, and he wanted to swing. This playground had the flexible seat swings instead of the firm plastic ones. No biggie, I thought. I figured he would get on it himself just fine.

I watch my son. Sometimes he would grab on the chains but not move back into the seat. Sometimes he would move back into the seat but not grab the chains. I tried telling him how to do it, but he’s not there with it.

So I decide to show my son how to get on the swing. I move to the swing next to him, grab the chains, and line up my butt to move back into the seat. I ask him to watch how I do it.

“No” he replied, refusing to even look my way.

“Just take a moment and watch” I plead, getting frustrated by his refusal to do something so simple as to be shown.

“No, Daddy, I don’t want to.” he said firmly.

Why would he refuse to even watch? Why would he refuse help while he stands there and struggles with what he wants to do?

I thought about this as a strange behavior at first. It defied initial reason, so I started to consider it from his perspective.

That’s when I mentally tripped right on myself. I do this behavior. Even if he didn’t learn it from me, it’s definitely something I do as well:

I prefer to be told rather than shown how to do something.

This inverts expectations about teaching and learning for me.

Initially, I thought not wanting to be shown how to do things was about my own ego. Sometimes I feel so capable of understanding what someone is saying clearly, I think I shouldn’t need any other input for understanding. Sometimes if someone starts with showing me how to do something, my ego is hurt because they think me insufficiently capable of understanding them.

Another, more positive and likely perspective, is I am primarily an aural or verbal learner than a visual learner. It makes sense with how I absorb books and audiobooks, yet have a difficult time engaging with video content. I process my thoughts as words, which is great for writing and the spoken word, but less ideal for visual presentation.

Somewhere along the path, probably as I was taught how to instruct to adult learners and had to lean into visual presentations, demonstrations, and a new default of showing, not telling. These are assumptions often made about adult learners who have not been in formal education for some time. It’s also the wrong way to instruct me, and appears now to be the wrong way to instruct my son.

In either case, I am the mistaken one, and I am getting in my own way of effective learning, understanding, and even teaching to some audiences. Rather than get frustrated by people wanting to show me how to do something, I should be communicating my needs on how best to teach me, and be mindful of it when it’s time for me to instruct others.

I’m going to give my son a break and try to do as much as I can by telling him. That’s how he’s preferring to learn right now, and it will probably be better for us to use our most common forms of communication as we learn more about each other together.

Imbolc 2022 – Part Two

Imbolc is the time for observation on the winter in passing, and preparation for the coming spring. With this post, I am sowing the earliest of seeds for the coming season, and stepping into the sunlight with what I hope to grow. This is a message for family, friends, or any interested, to whom I have not yet shared this part of my journey:

Part One is here.

In 2018, a partner introduced me to the book, The Four Agreements. I read it end to end on a cross-country flight. I was skeptical. There are many parts of the book I took issue with or held in disbelief, and I still do. However, the essential philosophy of the book is sound:

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don’t take anything personally.
  3. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.

The central idea is a key to greater happiness is living a more honest and authentic life with yourself, then the people around you.

With time, I found I had already been resolving conflicts based on previous expectations of others around me in my life. I had left Christianity, and reset those expectations with my family. I had been through challenges with marriage, and had begun working through those with my wife, albeit not in the best way. I had missed the time in nature from my childhood, and spending more time in places where I felt more connected to the greater world expanded my connection with myself and others.

As I explored these concepts from a spiritual perspective, I began reading about Toltec shamanism and the history of shamanism as a whole. I expanded on meditation techniques I had learned as early as second grade, and explored journey states over the next year.

This culminated in processing a traumatic event from my teenage years related to how I dealt with anger and other emotions. Released from this trauma, I found I had developed tools to aid me in processing trauma and experiencing a broader range of the emotional spectrum.

I also no longer felt spiritually inert. I felt connected to a greater universe, to people, to nature, to the earth, in ways I hadn’t experienced before.

There was also more to do. There were ways I wanted to develop, more trauma to address, and new ways to discover of learning how to experience and live in the world. I’ve always been concerned about climate change, the environment, and our impact on nature. Since my grandmother’s death when I was 5, I’ve thought deeply about death, how we process it, and how people address (or don’t address) the impact of loss.

Yet, various forms of indigenous shamanism weren’t suitable for this, and were in multiple ways problematic for me. This isn’t to reject the notion of it as a valid path for many others, but it didn’t connect with me wholly in the way I needed to develop more useful experiences. There’s also the aspect I am in no way indigenous or connected to most of the traditions I was reading about.

The search for a further framework of spiritual exploration began in the fall of 2019, and didn’t take very long. Decades before, I met a student of Druidry and we discussed his practice. He was introspective, intelligent, and seemed very peaceful on his own path. I respected him and what he was doing, although my own spirituality was vastly different at the time.

I began reading about Druidry, its history and philosophies. I learned about reconstruction and revival Druidry, and explored the different groups practicing today locally and internationally. I researched all I could about it before even talking with anyone, because if there was anything I didn’t like, I wanted to know about it early before I started exploring it further. I found some things I didn’t like. While I found some groups, and uniquely some people, who I didn’t agree with their ideas, I found many aspects of Druidry something I could connect with.

Further, Druidry worked with my own personal heritage. While not a requirement aside from a few more dogmatic groups and individuals, Druidry would allow me to learn more about the history of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and Britain.

I attended a local Druid ritual in late 2019. I met people practicing Druidry, discussed some current issues and differences among various groups, and learned more about my potential path. In December 2019, I joined the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, commonly called OBOD, a revival Druidry order based in the United Kingdom.

OBOD is a popular introduction to Druidry for many because of its remote correspondence course, created by prior Chosen Chief Philip Carr-Gomm, on prompting from the order’s founder, Ross Nichols. This course is mailed to students over the course of the initiate’s first year, and guides students through the Bardic Grade, studying, among other things, Druidry history and philosophy, lore, cosmology, poetry, and inspiration.

None of this is like the pop culture version of Druids we have in America, influenced in part by games like Dungeons and Dragons and World of Warcraft. Druidry is a nature-based spiritual path, but depending on your type of practice, it can range from a philosophy focusing on art and creativity with practitioners from many religions including Christianity, to a complete polytheistic religion focused on various pantheons of gods and goddesses. If you wish to read more about it, please check out OBOD’s page on Druid Beliefs.

I began the course in January 2020, initially keeping pace with the weekly structure of the lessons. 2020, however, was a notably difficult year. When the pandemic struck, and later the forest fires here in California, I was both stuck inside and away from the places in nature I had connected to. Like many others, I experienced depression, weight gain, and other symptoms of the trauma we were collectively experiencing. I paused working with the lessons in July 2020, but kept what I had learned with me in meditation and recognizing the Wheel of the Year.

Druidry was not my only means of self-exploration and care through this time. I also sought professional counseling for what I experienced, and was diagnosed with ADHD. This became a process of reviewing my life and unexplained behaviors since childhood, along with the tools I had found on my own to mitigate them. I also helped build an online community of local polyamorous people who supported each other through the pandemic, which still exists and is growing. In person, I was in a bubble with my wife, son, and partner, and it went a long way in strengthening our own connections.

Social justice issues came to the forefront in 2020, and OBOD took a firm supportive stance. I wrote a post for OBOD’s Druids for Justice section titled An American Person of Color in a British Druidic Order.

In April 2021 I was ready to begin again. I reviewed all the lessons I had covered in 2020, and the journal entries I had written. I picked back up, yet took my time, and the lessons unfolded naturally with the progression of the year. I found new places in nature to connect, including small, unexpected ones in urban areas. I don’t think I would have learned how if the places I had access to before had been available.

I finished the Bardic Grade in January 2022, taking two years to complete. It has been a moving, transformative experience, and I feel I have walked further down the path I set out on with this journey.

However, I have done this silently. Aside from my wife, partner, and a few friends, no one outside of Druidry has known about it. I have challenged myself to live openly and transparently, which has come at great cost, but to greater benefit. The next stages of this path mean walking more openly.

Along with writing a book, which is based on some of the Welsh mythology and lore I have studied in Druidry, I have enrolled in a course on End of Life celebrancy. My vision is to help Druid and pagan families to process loss and grief from death, and to serve them and the deceased by hosting funeral services. This comes from my own experiences with death and grief, and I believe I can effectively serve the community in this way.

I am also helping smaller Druid environmental action groups with organizing and communications, like The Order of the Oak. We hope to make a larger impact on creating action to properly address climate change.

The other next step in this path is moving forward to the Ovate Grade, which will begin in the coming months. Along with the other changes I’ve initiated in life, I look forward to the next stages in the journey.

For some, I know this may be a shock. I have lived as a Christian, and lived as an atheist. I will talk about in the future where I stand in beliefs now, but the important thing to know is the essence of who I am, a person wanting to learn, to help others, and to live a good life, has not changed.

With Peace, Harmony, and Balance,

Alex

Imbolc 2022 – Part One

I have a long history with religion.

I was Christened in the Methodist church in the late 70s. My baby pictures show the sepia tones of sunlight shining through stained glass windows on my family and little me at a beautiful ceremony.

My grandfather’s brother was a Baptist minister. I remember running around his church with my cousins, singing with the other kids, and starting to read an old Bible handed to me by one of the women of the church.

For a while, my mother was my Sunday School teacher at my grandfather’s Methodist church. It was one of the most consistent bonding moments of that part of my childhood, after my grandmother’s death. I grew to love Bible stories, and was a voracious reader. My young mind craved the concepts of good and evil, right and wrong, and the unconditional love of an omnipotent God.

When I was 11, we started going to a Southern Baptist Church. I was re-baptized by immersion, and through my teenage years was taught the Bible was a literal and direct message from God himself, homosexuality was a sin, along with a list of many others.

In college, I was on the Baptist Student Council. At one point, one of my ideas in response to a campus minister who angered half the campus by calling them names was to stand in the campus square and hand out Valentines from Jesus for Valentines Day. Yeah, if you were at Eastern Kentucky University in Spring 1998, that was me. I was also part of a ministry group, singing and acting at churches in the area.

I considered seminary, and was given the opportunity to speak at a very rural church in Eastern Kentucky. Before going, our campus minister prepared me; King James Version of the Bible only, men and women sit on different sides of the building, and they were likely all white. I spoke passionately, and seemed to be welcome, although I was likely the first black man to have spoken at that pulpit.

After college, I saw the rise of the megachurches and the strengthening of the bond of politics, money, and Christianity through the preaching of prosperity gospel and the war on terrorism. I was a voracious listener of conservative radio, and a frequent viewer of Fox News. I read Hannity, Savage, and O’Reilly, among others. I was surrounded by right wing ideology.

Over time, I lived in different cities, and saw how this affected me and the people I met, many who were on the fringes of the society I thought existed from my rural, small town. I always had confidence in the scientific method. I had found tenuous excuses to allow both conservative Christianity and scientific knowledge to co-exist.

Eventually, the cracks in my worldview began widening. I had never personally been homophobic, but I had seen how homosexuals were talked about and treated by fellow Christians throughout my life. I felt a kinship as a Person of Color, because for every Christian space I was in where LGBTQ+ people weren’t welcome, I knew not ten or twenty years before, I wouldn’t have been.

In 2007, I found myself trying to bridge the relationship of a fellow Christian coworker with several others, and I got to really look at our views from their perspective. Over the next few years, I noticed more of the hate, the anger, and the inconsistency of the modern Christianity I was a part of, and I tired of it.

At first, I thought, I would always hang on to Jesus. I thought even if the rest of the dogma, the conservative media, and the inconsistencies of words to action weren’t a part of my life, Jesus would always be.

A few years later, that thread too was gone, not by sin or denial, just no longer needed. I felt better. I felt free of the anger and mistrust of others and the world. I felt free from the dogma and expectations of a religion which seemed to have grown more out of touch with what I was experiencing.

I began to consider myself an atheist somewhere around 2010. For years I described myself as “spiritually inert”, and I embraced the world of engineering and knowledge around me. I found ethics which fit my already existing beliefs of equality, harmony, and peace through Humanism. I encountered a binary world of 1s and 0s, and made sense of it with what was available to me at the time. I got into a comfort zone, and I didn’t need to consider an intuitive, spiritual, or more complex universe than the material one I could see.

In 2016, I learned I had survived a heart condition which could have killed me at any moment my entire life. I’ve lived through being shocked with paddles in an emergency room. I’ve survived being awake while cardiologists burned extraneous electrical pathways on my heart.

In 2017, my son was born. The first week, I saw every family member I had loved in him. I felt them again, many for the first time in decades.

Processing these experiences I began to feel there was more than I was getting from my life the last few years. I had achieved success, money, and notoriety in my field. I found myself increasingly unhappy.

In 2018, many people already know my wife and I opened our marriage, dating separately, and I started practicing polyamory. About that time, I also became vegetarian, and began spending more time in nature, hiking, camping, and spending weekly time in the woods. These were the external changes.

It’s time to tell the story of what occurred internally and privately the last four years.

Part 2 is now up and here.

Why Do I Keep Getting Back Up?

My confidence comes from learning my greatest ability is the capacity to change. To improve. To learn. To be a better version of me.

I recently read an article with an in comic explanation of why three different heroes keep getting back up – Iron Man, Captain America, and Captain Marvel. The article goes on to analyze why each get back up when knocked down. Iron Man gets back up because he believes in the future. Captain America gets back up because it’s the right thing to do because of his morals. Captain Marvel, though feeling weary of it, gets back up because she’s stubborn.

It made me think about my life, the times I’ve gotten back up, the time I said I only had one last time in me, and even now today, why I keep getting back up. 

I’ve come a long way from where I started out. Some would say I’m fortunate, and I can’t deny there are a lot of things in my life that have looked fortunate from the outside. There is truth and privilege in that. I went through times when I would ask myself why I would be worthy of luck or opportunity while others weren’t. I went through times when I felt misfortune for having persistent health issues, weight management problems, or just being me. The reality is, most of the positive, good things which have happened in my life have happened because I was on my feet and ready for them. I had planted seeds, or been the right person in the right time and place, or I saw something interesting and chased after it. 

I’ve also failed. I’ve felt miserable. I’ve been defeated and broken. So far, thankfully, for each of those times, it wasn’t long before I got back up and into something else. Even now, in the midst of recovery from the initial part of the pandemic, and recovering from leaving my career at Apple, a company I loved, bled, and sacrificed unrelentlessly to for 12 years, I have gotten back up and I’m healing again. This isn’t my worst fall. This wasn’t the one where I said to myself “I got one last one in me”.

This was the one where I’m said “this is part of life, and I may fall again, but this time I’m preparing myself to keep getting back up”. 

Why? 

I believe in the adventure of life. I believe that everything we experience is an opportunity to grow and become the next version of ourselves. I believe in the power of change and transformation. I believe as we pick up and carry ourselves into the new, we bring along the tools and lessons from the past to help carry on in new ways into the new present. Ultimately, and this is with some measure of self-awareness at the amount of confidence it takes to say this, I believe in myself. I believe in my ability to discover and refine the life I want to live, and each version of me, the people around me, and the life I’m living comes a little bit closer to a more authentic, natural, life for me. 

I think this is nuanced from belief in the future, belief in morality, or stubbornly getting back up in spite of the universe. Granted, spite is a huge motivator for me. I know it well, and of the three, I empathize with Captain Marvel the most. The number of people, especially early on, who would have rather seen me not get back up felt staggering. 

My confidence comes from learning my greatest ability is the capacity to change. To improve. To learn. To be a better version of me. It comes from hope that the path I’m on is the right one, and acceptance that even if it isn’t, I can find it again. As I draw closer to being on the outside who I am inside, it gets easier to find fulfillment and deeper happiness.

I’m in uncharted territory now, and have been for the last several years. I’m separated from my birth family who lives along the east coast. I’m seeking out different things than I have in previous iterations of myself. I’ve had heart surgery to correct the major health issue I had the first half of my life, and while I live in the city, I seek out the natural world I was surrounded by but ignored in childhood. I’m a relatively new father, and learning to balance who I am with fatherhood has its own challenges and worries. I’ve become a leader of a small community. There are so many ways my life has changed the last few years, yet I know more are on the way. 

I keep getting back up because I believe in myself. I believe in my story. I believe I am living an incredible adventure. The only way all of that ends is if I stop, so I’m not going to. I will keep getting up. I will keep finding new ways and new paths to follow. I will keep failing and learning. I will keep being optimistic for the things I can do, people I will meet, and life I may live, because I can keep growing to do amazing, incredible things. 

Why do you keep getting back up?

Virginia Election 2021

Yesterday’s Virginia election results were disheartening, but also show the path to build a consistent foundation of liberal victories lies in building across racial divisions, minority and majority. We need to evolve racial perspectives further toward understanding and harmony.

We have a large number of people we have vilified, who have also vilified us. We can’t expect to win elections unless we give them a better story than what they’re getting from right wing media, or even our own media!

What I’m saying is, and this is going to be the hot take that seems controversial, while at the same time for our democracy, and even for liberal ideas, is necessary – we have to get better at reaching out to white people with our message. Even Trumpers. Even “deplorables”.

The values of liberal ideas, open ethical government, and a social safety net should be made accessible to all because they are beneficial to all. UBI, Universal Healthcare, Public Education, and other programs don’t just benefit minorities, they benefit everyone.

I think that messaging gets lost. I think demanding everyone to fully check and understand their privilege before stepping to the left makes the chasm too wide. We first have to reach out to people where they are, then we can bring them with us. Process, not revelation.

To build a party open to all is to figure out how to stand with those who have been hostile to us. Who have hurt us in some way. We have to protect ourselves, but we also have to heal ourselves, then others. We have to live and model a better way.

A rebrand, with more new stuff coming…

I have lived many stories. I have done many things. Through all of them, I’ve never had something I’ve had interest to write so much as to write a book about it.

Writing has been a near life-long interest, hobby, and benefit to my career. I started reading at 4, with spelling and writing coming along shortly after. Until the joy of literature and creative writing was beaten out of me by uninspired and end of career teachers, and one specific very likely racist English teacher, I might have taken a more active, professional interest.

Instead, writing was left to personal notebooks until I realized my reports as a police officer were well regarded. As I left law enforcement and went into business, my professional style developed with a shift toward business writing. Eventually, I became a technical communicator as an intrinsic part of my roles, which brought new methods and skills to my writing.

Through storytelling, social media, and other blogs, I have received continuous, healthy feedback from friends and family. At work, I have been encouraged by prior managers and coworkers. Finally, throughout my life, I’ve heard a repeated, mostly serious, and occasionally pejorative phrase…

“You should write a book.”

I have lived many stories. I have done many things. Through all of them, I’ve never had something I’ve had interest to write so much as to write a book about it.

Yet privately, some things changed…

The last few years I have explored inspiration and creativity again, revisiting the joy of my younger years, and healing some of the wounds I had from childhood teachers. I have been properly diagnosed with ADHD, and I’ve developed tools to help me beyond the personal tools I had through the first part of my career. Through a renewed spiritual interest, I have explored literature, poetry, and committing emotion and artistic meaning to writing. Essentially, many of the things which would be necessary for me to even consider writing a book have now happened, but there was one final problem.

I needed an idea.

Among my reading, among the stories, among everything I have explored the last few years, I have found something unexplored which uniquely aligns with me, and is a story I am very well inspired to develop and tell. Part of me is deathly afraid that someone out there is in the process or already has a head start on writing it, but another part of me comforts and assures that even if they did, they could not and would not have the unique take for this story I do. The other part of me fears that in the uniqueness of this story, I may not gain either readers or following for more, but that is a problem for another time.

The important thing, at least right here, right now, is that I now have at least a book to write, with ideas for storytelling, art, and other mediums for a long time to come. They have come through like a fissure suddenly opening from green land, erupting lava, forever changing the landscape of my mind.

So now I do have a book to write, or at least an idea supporting one. For some people the ideas come easy, and while for me this is true, finding an idea worthy of taking action on the scale of writing a book has been new. Here’s the catch…

I don’t know how to write a book, or at least, I don’t assume I know how to write a good one.

So as with all things, the decision to write a book also begins with learning how to do it. I could assume I could start right now, write a few stories as chapters, mash them all together between a prologue and epilogue and call it done. I imagine especially in the beginning this process won’t be too far off that. I also have the benefit of this coming about two weeks before November, when the annual NanoWriMo competition (?) begins. I’ll be working on the book through the month of November, provided I get some of what I need to do done before Nov 1. I don’t want to rush my work, but I do want to do it well and get it done.

Finally, it will not be my only writing. It can’t be. To keep the skill of writing sharp, you have to keep writing to hone it. So that’s how I’m using this space, apart from my other notebooks. Here I will write about what I’m doing, my process, and from time to time I might drop other writings about other things. Maybe even some poetry as I encounter it in myself.

So I come back around to you as a newly aspiring book writer, what are your tips, tricks, and tools which you use for writing novels? What are your pains, your gotchas, and your watch-outs? I’m also interested in any groups or workshops which might be a good fit, and I’m looking out for those separately.

Finally, I want to thank anyone who has told me, at least halfway seriously, that I should write a book. I’ve usually either responded with extreme humility or absolute certainty I will, but I have never been sure the day would come where I would be inspired for it. Here we are, and here it is. Thank you. I would not be doing this if it weren’t for the encouragement I’ve received, and the support of friends, family, and loved ones.

Peace, Harmony, and Balance,

Alex

Fixing divisions

Today is my 44th birthday.

Hearing the sound of my 4 year old singing Happy Birthday first thing in the morning is one of the blessings I’m happy I’ve lived to receive. There are many others the last few years particularly I’ve been blessed with. Travel. People. Given the circumstances, even survival.

This year I lost my father, although really it was last year because of politics and disagreement. The things that tend to divide people right now are important yet dumb things to be divided about. Common ground is found easily enough when you stop a moment. Most of us want a peaceful life, a warm home, a full belly, and to be surrounded by others important to us. We get lost in the details of how we get there, and how much we acknowledge and ascribe these same concepts to others.

Don’t get me wrong, my views and my politics are still there. I got opinions. Lots of them. I think there is space to have them while acknowledging commonality. That’s the only way we find our way to some sort of harmony.

It’s easy to point fingers at another person or group. “We could live good lives if not for those people over there.” “Why can’t those people stop doing whatever shit they’re doing that is pissing us off?” Barring active harm to others, that’s what most of this squaring off is about, manufactured by others still to further division, discord, or maybe just to get views.

Our world, our media, our platforms and services and ways we share haven’t been working for us. Not in ways that bring us together. I know the irony and even hypocrisy in me writing this, as I’ve had my own part, and carry my own culpability in where we are now.

A few months ago I started trying something different. I stopped the direct confrontation about views. I stopped posting out of anger and frustration. I stopped showing anger or contempt online for whatever my feed or my news sources had been showing me that day.

I started engaging people without judgement of them. In discussions, I started just stating where I stood without frustration with others. I started treating others with a little more space and care for where they are, because another thing we all have in common is we’re all tired and frustrated and angry and sad and confused, and just trying to figure out the best way to get through this life with the people we love.

It doesn’t stop the anger. It doesn’t stop the discord. It doesn’t change the daily messages coming in that the world isn’t going the way we want it to.

Giving people more space does change our conversations. It changes the way we connect with people. It changes the burden we carry of people we alienate or feeling of otherness from saying “things would be fine if not for those people over there”. We don’t have to share opinions to talk about them. We don’t have to be on the same side of the political, economic, social, religious, or ethnic view to get along with each other. We only need to recognize our common humanity, dignity, and needs. That’s universal. We can all still be heard. We can all still be listened to. We can’t expect it to start with our leaders, or the media, or our apps or platforms or employers or anyone else but ourselves, and how we conduct our own lives.

I started. I’ve given it a shot. I’ve still talked about my opinions. I’ve still listened to others who have disagreed. I still get angry and frustrated and upset, but I’m walking away from more conversations feeling better about how they go, and feeling we actually listened to each other a little better than before. 

If I had learned this lesson a few months earlier, my father may not have died alone in a hospital room in Philadelphia with us never reconciling. So if I can use this pain, this weight, this thing I’m carrying from that for any good, it’s to encourage any of you or all of you who have read this far to start thinking about how you defy the messages of division from wherever you are, stop saying “but for them” and figure out how you can start changing the conversations around you. Wars have been fought for the worst of reasons. The worst reason is to fight one when ultimately you want the same thing.

It’s hard to change what you’re doing, to look at the same thing one day differently than you did the day before, the week before, or the 43 years before. I’m not asking you to change what you believe, or think, or watch, or identify with… I’m asking you to consider how you move through the world. This wild west of a hyperconnected, brain bending, propaganda laden, fake news, talking heads world that we’re all having trouble navigating. 

If you’re struggling with this, if you’re reading this and you’re feeling hesitant, blocked, challenged, or some other kind of way about it, let’s talk. Even if we haven’t in a while. Even if the last time we did it didn’t go so well. Even if I called so-and-so a something or you just can’t see why this is even a thing to begin with. It’s ok. Things change two people at a time. 

With peace, balance, and harmony;

Alex

This post is public for reshare. Do as you will. 

Where have I been?

I logged into WordPress today to make a comment signing an open letter for the UN’s COP26 conference next month when I realized this blog was still dutifully up and running. The letter is important to me, and from its topic, content, and fellow signees, there’s been notable changes in a few things for me in the years since my last post.

I don’t write here anymore, although I do write quite often, and have started a path of creativity and art I didn’t know or understand the first part of my life. With my family, partners, and others, I’ve navigated the coronavirus pandemic, leaving Apple, and a myriad of other changes which have set the course and tone for the next few decades. Rather than an exhaustive post outlining them all, which is less interesting to read, I’m leaving this post as an end cap, at least until such time is suitable to pick this blog back up, or continue an open journal elsewhere.

Until then…

Balance and Harmony,

Alex

Looping Back Around on President Trump

A few years ago, I wrote a post about then President-Elect Trump, calling out concerns I had about his election. My writing style then was… diplomatic. I’m not so diplomatic anymore, at least I’m emerging from behind the filters I had in previous iterations of myself.

Today, I’d like to get back around to the scorecard of what I wanted to ask of then President-Elect Trump.

I don’t want to build a wall.

Trump failed my expectations while still managing to fail building a wall. I think the designs they’ve put up, hours they’ve spent talking about it, and the massive amount of resources they’ve channeled to try to fund it have all gone to waste. Wall development has been a parade of flag-waving opportunists trying to grab for potentially lucrative contracts while not coming to terms with the fact walls aren’t the solution.

I don’t want to start mass deportations.

Trump failed badly. If you had told me we’d have concentration camps at the border where we split families up, I’d have never believed Trump would have set it up. It’s almost like his sycophants and cronies had plans already drawn up to execute. I use that word about literally, because people are dying down there.

I don’t want to regulate immigration on the basis of religion.

Trump failed. His administration tried to execute it literally through an executive order, then got smacked down because the basis was religion.

I don’t want national stop and frisk.

Trump failed, if not in letter of the law, but definitely spirit, even going so far as to pardon Bernard Kerik, the poster child of stop and frisk policy. The Trump administration hasn’t been able to get far with the Supreme Court on this yet, and there is a massive backlash by Civil Rights and police watchdog groups fighting it, but it’s clear where Trump stands on this.

I don’t want to cut the protection of a free press.

Another failure in spirit that isn’t for lack of trying. He has notoriously attacked the free press, and has screamed about changing slander and libel laws to make it easier to get convictions. Ultimately, you can’t slander someone when what you’re saying is the truth (and you can prove it), so even if he gets these changes, he’ll lose.

I don’t want more involvement in overseas conflict.

So, so, many fails.

I don’t want women, minorities, and LGBTQ people to lose hard fought civil rights protections.

Trump may not be solely responsible for the downfall of the Voting Rights Act Section 4, it happened before his election, but the spirit of trying to block out anyone but Christian white male landowners is evident in his policies. We now have a formal team in our government that is set up to de-naturalize and remove the citizenship of US citizens. It’s heinous. It’s unethical. Yet, here we are. FAIL.

I don’t want people to lose health care insurance.

Failed. Hard. The number of people without health insurance has gone up since under Trump.

I don’t want sexual harassment to be acceptable.

I should have never put this one Trump. Whether that asshole believes it or not, it’s never acceptable. There is part of our culture that resists this level of decency, and it tends to be associated with Trump, or at least his brand of patriarchy, but even all of those assholes can’t make it acceptable.

I don’t want you to try to be a moral compass for me or my family.

This one is admittedly interesting to watch. Trump plays to his different audiences, and while I don’t think he tries to put himself up as a role model, he has a streak of self-aggrandizing behavior with anyone he’s around. If he’s around scientists, he talks about how awesome a scientist he would have been. If he’s around military, he talks about how tough and strong and how much of a leader he is. When he’s around clergy, he acts like the Messiah himself, and even manages to say things directly opposing to Christian theology to a largely Christian audience without getting called out. I have no doubt if someone asked him his thoughts about whether he should be considered a role model, he would exuberantly answer yes. I just could never take him seriously as one even if he tried.

In retrospect, this list was far more optimistic than I would ever make now. Trump is a narcissistic, arrogant, corrupt, and increasingly challenged asshole of the first degree, and we should never have even considered electing him President, but that also says a lot about us and our culture. That’s a topic for another time.

Today it’s enough to look back and see the misery of the last three and a half years. Our swamp is drained and now we have a toxic waste dump.

However, dear reader, there is hope. We have another election coming up. Even if we can’t vote for a candidate who will put in place the policies we want, we can at least vote to get rid of this undeserving wretch. This year, no matter who Democrats put on up on that national stage, of the ones remaining, I’ll give my vote to them over Trump on their worst day and his best. Let’s vote Trump out!