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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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self-discovery

So, it’s occurred to me……

……that many of my heroes, male and female, as varied and different and wonderful as they all are, had one thing in common – they had no fucks to give.

This is a huge and empowering attitude. It’s also incredibly freeing.

The opinions of others are like hooks in the mind, designed to keep you in your place, either real or imagined. I’m very familiar with those hooks – the ones that say you aren’t good enough, not talented enough, not worthy. Being trapped by those feelings is painful, but the thought of being free of those feelings is terrifying.

Because what replaces that?

Whatever you choose to put there.

This is not to suggest that you ignore your responsibilities (rent, bills, groceries, car) or any other obligations. We will always have those – they are a part of life and there is no getting around that. But it doesn’t mean you should ignore the hopes and dreams and aspirations you have for yourself. It doesn’t mean that you need to put them aside, neglect them, forget about them.

And for me, that was renewing my interests in drawing, painting and theater. It was choosing to take up the violin, something that’s been on my mind since I was twelve. It was signing up for tap dance lessons, even though the last dance class I’d had was ballet at six. I’m good at the first three, I’ve been practicing those pretty much my whole.

Violin and tap dance are things I suck at, mostly because I’ve never done it before. I’m terrified of sucking at it, I mean, really, who enjoys looking like an ass when trying something new? But the absolute joy in my heart when I strike a perfect solid note on my violin or the endorphin rush after an hour of tap dance are things I want to float on forever.

That means having no fucks to give.

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So, I’ve been pondering the word ‘can’t’……

…….and it is the most limiting thing to say, either to yourself or to someone else. ‘Can’t’ implies that you are not capable – of changing a tire, of getting a degree, of looking at situations in a different light. ‘Can’t’ implies that you are stuck forever in whatever circumstance you find yourself in. ‘Can’t’ implies that you are victim not of your own making and absolves you of the responsibility for changing it.

One can certainly say, “I can’t practice medicine because I don’t have the required education or degrees” or “I can’t inspect buildings to make sure they’re built to code because I’m not licensed to do so”. Fair enough. Those are legitimate ‘can’ts’ and can apply to areas that require one to be licensed or have a degree in order to find work in those fields.

So then the phrase becomes “I want to….” not, “I can’t do….”.

Let’s take masonry inspector, for example. I actually studied this for awhile and still have the books. I wasn’t particularly interested in becoming a masonry inspector, but it sounded like something I could do and since I didn’t have any real drive to pursue anything else, I chose to explore this as a possible career choice.

I didn’t fare so well – the architectural plan reading wasn’t easy and that’s an important part of being an inspector. You need to be able to decipher the lines on those plans – where the pipes are, what type of re-bar goes where, etc., otherwise, you end up with a building that’s not only lopsided, but unsafe and frankly, I want every building or structure that people live or work in to be safe.

It was a good lesson to learn, taking that class and paying for the books. Yes, it cost me the tuition fees and the books, but I feel that the investment was worth it, regardless of the outcome. Sometimes, that’s how it works – you invest some time and effort to see if it’s what you want for yourself. That’s always the best reason to do anything – exploring possible paths to better yourself, your circumstances, your life, your mind.

However, the only way to take that first step of exploration – of any positive change – is to say to yourself “I can do that.” Curiosity, desire, that insatiable want to see beyond the curve in the path, is what keeps you pushing forward.

“I can’t…..” locks you into a treadmill of fear and insecurity.

“I can…..” opens you up to every possibility.

As Henry Ford (1863-1937) once said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re probably right.”

Wouldn’t you rather be right knowing you can?

 

Recommended*:
My Life and Work by Henry Ford
How to Stop Worrying & Start Living by Dale Carnegie
Around the World in 72 Days & Other Writings by Nellie Bly

*to be updated with related material.

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So, the final curtain looms…..

……as my show enters its last weekend. The last few weeks have gone by in a blur and it seems inconceivable that there are only three performances left. Each performance led to something new in my character, a discovery of her humanity and motives. Although it’s not written in the script, I felt an underlying sense of guilt and fear that drove her to her final destination. There were specific lines that alluded to her distress, but the nature of her personality drove others away from her, a self-defensive measure on her part.

This show, The Mousetrap as written by Dame Agatha Christie (adapted from her short story Three Blind Mice, which in itself is adapted from the radio play written in honor of Queen Mary’s 80th birthday), premiered in London in 1952. It has continued to play in front of audiences, celebrating its 64th anniversary this year in the same theater.

It has been a privilege and a joy to work with my fellow cast mates, who have provided a lot of support and laughter in the last few weeks. I am grateful to my director, for casting me in this part, for reasons I mention in a previous post. I had the best stage manager and costumer and producer to help shape, guide and fashion us into a wonderful presentation.

For their privacy, I will not identify them or post their pictures – I feel I need to ask their permission.

But I will leave you with a photograph of our set, where we played out our parts and made our discoveries and connections, both within the context of the play as our characters and outside the play, as actors, as friends, as comrades in arms.

The set of Monkswell Manor, from The Mousetrap, by Dame Agatha Christie.
The set of Monkswell Manor, from The Mousetrap, by Dame Agatha Christie.

So, Julia Child once said…….

……..in reference to making an omelet, “When you flip anything, you really….you just have to have the courage of your convictions.”
While she was talking in terms of cooking, her words can apply to any part of your life, professionally, personally, and artistically. Opening yourself up to being creative is just as hard and terrifying as it is to open up to another person, which is why you need that courage of your convictions to take that leap of faith.
So, what now? How do you start? Well, what makes you smile? What makes your heart feel light and your feet want to dance? Is it poetry or sketching? Is it music or pottery? Trust your instinct enough to follow it. This is your time, your gift to yourself. Take a pen and a pad of paper, write down the first creative thing you enjoy that comes to mind. Then the next and the next. Make a list of creative, artistic things. Then go forth and create, whether it’s baking a cake or writing four lines of poetry.
Be prepared to do badly at first, but if you find your smile in the act, then keep pursuing it, whether it’s singing in the shower or strumming two chords on a guitar. If one doesn’t work for you, give yourself permission to try something else on your list.
Julia Child went to college with the intention of becoming a writer, but although she enjoyed the process, none of her writings were ever published. She developed a passion for French cuisine after moving to France and it was this that began her journey into French cooking, which resulted in the cookbook masterpiece, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, co-written with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle.
This was not an overnight success story – first, she discovered a passion, then, with trial and error and persistence, she pursued the process and then she found success.
That’s a fairly simplistic analysis, but it has its own truth. Julia Child pursued French cooking because it made her happy. That’s the important take-away. To find the spark that makes you happy means listening to that inner voice, the one that whispers with excitement, “I want to do that”.
There is no right or wrong way to the process – everyone has their own method for their artistic self. Remember that this is your gift for you alone. What you choose to do with it is up to you. And, to continue this cooking theme, remember that in order to make an omelet, you need to break a few eggs.

 

Editor’s note – this post is published concurrently on Citizens Journal – Ventura County. JJB

And now, a word from Henry David Thoreau…..

“What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.”

Henry David Thoreau, author
July 12, 1817-May 6, 1862

So, I’m thinking about pirates…….

…….of the argh! and avast, me mateys! type that roamed the high seas on tall ships. I’m not exactly sure why, because historically speaking, they were not people to trifle with and often left a great swathe of blood behind. Perhaps it’s that sense of adventure that seems to accompany them, the call of the open sea, the wind ruffling through one’s hair as the sun beats down. Human survival against Nature’s unforgiving trials.

Whatever the case, I’m thinking about pirates. Both men and women chose to pursue that life going back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Rather than focus on Hollywood’s sensationalized ideal of pirates, I’m thinking of several factors never fully explored. What drove them to piracy, to eschew convention and respectable society to embark on voyages that did not guarantee safety or security?

Whether it was Anne Bonny or Blackbeard or Ching Shih, they were not born pirates. Was it circumstance and personality that led them to their profession? Money, or lack thereof, that tore them away from their families? Was it survival or a choice freely made? Resentment of not being able to find their true calling due to rigid caste and/or societal rules?

I don’t suppose there’s any one solid answer for the pirates of the past, or those of contemporary times. I suspect that it may be a combination of many things that drive them to it.

Still, I’m thinking about pirates, the ones of yore, the type modeled from and idealized by the Hollywood Dream Factory. Their tall ships fascinate me. I wonder what they thought or dreamed about in the quiet moments on the ocean. Whether they had any regrets about or spared not a thought at all for those whose lives they altered forever.

I’m thinking about pirates. I’m thinking about two very different stories that have not seen the light of day in many years. I’m thinking about how pirates are actually incredibly symbolic metaphors for change, natural, man-made and maybe even supernatural.

I’m thinking about pirates.

So, I’m feeling a bit kerfluffled…….

….about my Current Work In Progress. Although approximately two-thirds written, I’m at a point where the story is starting to balk and refuse to move forward. The characters are trapped on the staircase in a forgotten and abandoned house, someone is at the front door, and the only way out is back the way they came – upstairs.

I know what’s going to happen after this bit, who it involves and the eventual wrap-up that is the final page, but I’m not sure of how I’m going to get there. Or what connects the current bulk of the manuscript to the final pages.

I also don’t want to write it.

Which is probably why the story has balked at this particular point and why I’m feeling kerfluffled. I don’t know why I don’t want to write this next section of the story, but I can feel it every time I sit down to work.

I’m avoiding it, I want to avoid it. Badly. But, like the characters in the story, I’m trapped. The only way out is not through an upstairs window, but moving forward and trusting the words that come out of my pen to show me the way.

Besides, it’s not like anything terrible is going to happen beyond betrayal, self-discovery and falling in love.

So, you’d think writing erotica would be easy……..

………and, for some, I suppose it is. The set up is simple, the situation clear and the end result is fairly obvious. Also, you could just throw a couple of hot babes and some dinosaurs together and, wow, red-hot Flintstones sex in Bedrock.

The reality, for me, anyway, is a little different. While having far too much fun with the, um, you know, research, I did find myself struggling a little with the actual writing of my erotic tale. Since this is a new genre for me as a writer, I expected it to be a challenge in many ways. Not necessarily with background or snippets of dialogue or even character, mind, but working to describe the sensuality of the setting and what transpires between the two primary characters as they engage in a verbal dance that will eventually lead to the, ah, physical culmination.

I’ve been aware from the beginning that I was very much inside my head, intellectualizing and falling back on logic and structure and continuity instead of leading with my heart, embracing the feeling of what I wanted to do. This was reflected in the Narrator’s voice – she sounded quite prim and proper and kinda boring, if you ask me. Bland, too.

I worried about this, because, as my first venture into this genre, the worst kind of sex is boring sex, even if it’s in the written form (and I’ve read my share – if I have to put the book down during a sex scene in order to figure out the how, the why and the number of partners involved in a diagram, then it’s poor writing). I want to put my best effort out there in any kind of story, thus my research not just about time and place, but in how other writers handled the language of sensuality and intimacy.

Putting that kind of pressure on myself wasn’t helping, as you can imagine. Performance anxiety, I suppose one could call it. I’m not giving up on it – I gave myself a specific challenge and I plan to see it through. But when I went to put what I’d learned into practice, I came up against a wall. Like a stubborn horse, I balked at using certain words, wanted to shade things so that the outcome wasn’t obvious, like it was a mystery or thriller or something.

I have to laugh at myself for that last one – erotica isn’t like a mystery, where red herrings abound, only to reveal whodunnit in the end. Erotica is an intimate journey between two people where the outcome isn’t in question, only the when. (Porn is altogether different – in my opinion, erotica is about intimacy and connecting, porn is about the fuck).

So I push on and do what I normally do – get the bare bones of it out on paper and change what doesn’t work. I’m getting to know the characters as I go along and I’m finding that the Narrator is a bit feisty. I recently wrote a full-blown scene where she blithely issues a challenge to her male lead, which he proceeds to take her up on while in a public place. And this led to back-tracking and fleshing out bits earlier on, so that when I finally am able to place this particular scene into the main body of the story, it’s an ante that’s been upped.

And that’s when I realized what’s actually going on here – I’m circling into the project, not from the inside out, but from the outside in. I’m navigating this story in a way that allows for discovery and more than a little fun and many occasions to laugh at myself.

So maybe writing erotica isn’t so different than writing a mystery, after all. All writing is about discovery and human nature, either of the self or of the outer world, isn’t it?

So, I’ve noticed an interesting trend in my novels……..

……..and they seem to be reflecting major events that occurred in my life. I’m sure I’m not unique to this revelation and I’m also pretty sure that I won’t be the last writer to experience this strange bit of self-realization. Sometimes, I write things in my stories that later come true, but that’s another blog altogether. There’s a saying about life imitating art. This is about how life influences one’s art.

This is a fairly long post, so bear with me.

In my first novel, ‘Secrets & Howls: A Wolf’s Head Bay Mystery’, Marita ‘Marty’ Brye moves home after many years away. Not such a big deal, I know – everyone moves, either away from or back to the town/city they started out in. But moving, whether in fiction or in real life, is a catalyst for change. Big or small, slow or fast, change is always happening. In ‘Secrets & Howls’, change wasn’t just about trading one place for another, but about inner and physical change. Marty’s catalyst for moving home was to finally lay her mother’s ghost to rest, but she ends up uncovering secrets about her family and her town that dated back over a hundred years. I wasn’t making such profound discoveries in my own life, at least, not consciously, but like Marty, I also traded one city for another and in the process, was put on the path to find my inner strength.

Which brings me to ‘The Pike Horse: A Literary Cousins Mystery’. This one was a far more personal and a much darker story than I had originally intended it to be. I had wanted a fun cozy mystery, I got deeply unsettling. Like Marty Brye, Josie March had also moved home or, as she more accurately perceives it, she ran away from a toxic situation that ends up following her. What she doesn’t foresee is that the one is a precursor of sorts to another, far more dangerous encounter that tests her mind and spirit. So this novel is about something traumatic that happened and succeeding stories about Josie will follow her recovering from it and finding herself again, just as I and thousands who endured such trauma has before her. It was also a novel that became a way to purge and release, a catharsis, if you will.I’m sure there’s a saying of some sort, one that warns that monsters lurk under safe and familiar faces, but I can’t recall what it is.

And in ‘Much Ado Over Murder: A Hey! No Problem! Mystery’, there are old friends re-connecting and old loves finally opening up. As I was writing this novel, I kept encountering heart themes. I lost a heart charm and, in the process of developing portions of the novel and expanding on several plot threads, I kept seeing open heart surgery imagery. There were many other such blatant images popping up and I ultimately realized that I was writing a love letter of sorts – both for the characters, Alexandra ‘Al’ Hitchcock and Jack Taylor, as well as for the kind of relationship I want for myself. The original version of this story had Jack and Al part ways in a not so friendly manner. I was never entirely satisfied with this, because, while it read and wrote well, it didn’t suit the characters. It wasn’t true to who I knew them to be (and I should know, since I’d been writing about them for more than a decade). In the published version, they still part company, but on loving terms, with love confessed and hope for the future. I know what’s happening with them, but they’re not ready for the telling.

So, that brings me to my current Work In Progress. This one is a paranormal story about Cadence Galloway, a woman who can talk to ghosts. She’s a bit of a loner and a hermit by choice and generally keeps others at a distance, not trusting them more than necessary. Upon landing in a small coastal town (about thirty miles north of Wolf’s Head Bay, not so coincidentally), she is suddenly finding herself making new friends among the living and finds she has actual ties to the community she landed in. While the potential for romance is clearly indicated, I’m two-thirds of the way through and nothing’s happened. Which, to me, seems odd, because I usually know before page 100 if there’s going to be some Cupid activity going on. I’m not too unhappy about this, because I’ve realized something else far more important – this is where I am, in my life. Not needing the romance or the relationship, but fully aware that the potential is there. I’ve also been something of a hermit and now, instead of keeping people at a distance, I’m coming out of my shell and making new connections and interacting with Life. And instead of talking to ghosts, I’m exorcising them. It’s a lot harder than you’d think and it does cause some anxiety, especially if it’s brand-spanking new to you.

So, what’s the point of this particular blog? Well, each poem, story, novel, whatever that is written reveals a great deal about the author. What the particulars are is known to the author herself (or himself) and you may never know them. When I write, I throw everything and anything I can think of into my stories (so far, no kitchen sink has been thrown in, but a broken coffee maker has). Even Stephen King put himself into his own story (The Dark Tower series), incorporating the accident that nearly killed him to continue the tale of Roland and his ka-tet.

However, I can only speak for myself when I say that just about everything I write has some basis in my life. My stories reflect where I’ve been, what I’ve experienced and how I view life and the people I meet. More importantly, I feel, they’re also starting to reflect my progress – as a writer and as a person.

Art, no matter what the medium, allows us to explore our inner selves and, hopefully, we can also find ourselves there, too.

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