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6527212 March 03, 2015

Big Girls Cry (with inspiration)

  [caption id="attachment_1415" align="aligncenter" width="513"]Big Girls Cry, 2015 Big Girls Cry, 2015[/caption]

[gallery type="rectangular" size="large" link="none" ids="1416,1417,1418" orderby="rand"]

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6527212 September 14, 2013

All is Write With the World

For these books, I have dug floppy disks out of corporate trash dumpsters (long story); re-typed nearly 100,000 words due to computer crashes; spent hours and hours on research; endured rejection after rejection; cried; and labored, driven by my unflinching belief that it was important.

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6527212 December 18, 2012

Five Years in Review (2008-2013): Penelope Przekop

"Painting completed my life."  Frida Kahlo

2012 has been a challenging year in terms of keeping up with my Aberration Nation interviews; I've been hyper-focused on my art work, which continues to evolve.  I'm considering changes to the Aberration Nation focus; details will be forthcoming.

Today the focus is ART!

I began painting in January of 2008; next month will mark my fifth year. At this point in my life, five years doesn't seem long, yet in these five short years, I've moved light years ahead in terms of my art work.

After having the urge to paint for several years, I finally began.  I never painted a single picture until that day, but had some deep arrogant conviction that I might just be able to do a decent job of it; I wanted to try.  For some reason, I needed to try. I had no idea what I was doing. I took 6 2-hour classes that covered the basics.  From day one, I chose to paint my original ideas.  I never had any desire to copy or paint anything that looked like a photograph. That wasn't what I was searching for or hoping to express, and I knew it.

Finally picking up a paintbrush was the best decision I've ever made in terms of both my creative and emotional growth. Five years later seems the perfect time to reflect.  

In addition to completing my life, in many ways painting started my life ....

2008 Representative Works:

Brute Strength

Stuck Inside

Piece of Meat

In 2009, I finished writing, Centerpieces, a novel based on the death of Vincent van Gogh.  As I attempted to gather some early review comments, I contacted Bob Hogge, Monkdogz Urban Art (NYC), to ask if he would read the book.  It happened to be the one moment of his life that he had a little extra time, so he agreed. He liked the novel so much that he decided to give me a call. As we chatted, I casually mentioned that I'd also begun painting. He asked to see my work but I was hesitant. He convinced me to send him a few jpegs; I was not too excited about this professional artist and New York City Gallery owner seeing my beginner work. After all, I was a writer not an artist.

To my surprise, Bob found something uniquely interesting about what I'd done in just one year and so we began to correspond about my work in progress.  He dubbed my ability, "a diamond in the rough." He encouraged me to be brave in all the steps I was taking to improve, to express myself, and to do both in my own unique way. That year, I began experimenting with layered canvas as well as other methods.

2009 Representative Works:

Economic Crisis

Stuck in Immovable Growth

Slice of Suburbia, 2009

By 2010, some of my early work had been shown by Philadelphia, California and Italy.  Also, the
Museum of Art in Caserta, Italy acquired one of my pieces.  I continued to work closely with Bob Hogge. I continued to layer canvas and began focusing on more figurative work.  By the end of 2010, I began to move back away from the layered canvas approach, instead adding complexity and depth to the work in other ways.

2010 Representative Works:

Paper Doll, No. 3

Paper Doll, No. 7

Shattered in Black and White
Throughout 2010, my early work was shown in a couple of New York City venues. Early 2011 was a turning point for me.  I began to gain solid confidence; self-identify as an artist rather than a writer; and to also break through my preconceived notions of what art was supposed to be, what I was supposed to be doing, and what I thought others expected of artists. I realized that to move forward, I had to drop all that behind and truly dig into what I could do as a unique individual.  My art began to evolve more quickly and so I started to view the work in terms of 6-month intervals.  I began to paint more and more with my fingers rather than brushes.

Jan - Jun 2011 Representative Works: 


Faceless Woman

Monster Stretching

Evolution of an Artist

Jul - Dec 2011 Representative Works:


Ridiculous Anger

I Was Born this Way ... please stay

I Never Meant to Upset You
During 2011 my work was shown by three New York City galleries, including Monkdogz Urban Art. Over the course of the year, the work became more complex and I began to understand the direction I wanted to go as an artist. It became more of a mixture of abstract and figurative art. I began to experiment with pastels and ink, and knives, almost completely dropping brushes. Brushes distanced me from my emotions; it was best to let it shoot from my own fingers where I could feel it. I was beginning to develop my own style. As 2012 began, I was extremely excited to take that style farther and farther. I had the wonderful feeling that I'd just begun, and that there was great potential for me as an artist. I began to believe!

Jan - Jun 2012 Representative Works:

It's All Inside

Powder Keg

They Follow Me

Jul - Dec 2012 Representative Works:


Monster Loose

She Leads and I Follow

What's the Point?

At this time, my work is presented by galleries in New York City, Central America, and Europe.  Monkdogz Urban Art (NYC) is currently featuring my work Gallery & Studio Magazine. My nudes have been selected numerous times by guest New York City gallery directors and owners on the Barebrush art site. Two pieces have been acquired by Italian museums, and other opportunities are in the works.

I recently made the following video to showcase some of the work I completed in 2012:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aH74OxasF3I]

Since 2008, I've painted approximately 300 works. Those shown here are a small representation of that body of work. To see more of my recent art and find a list of the galleries representing my work, visit my art site or join me on Facebook.

I'm still just getting started ...


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6527212 June 05, 2012

A Beautiful Girl: Aimiende Negbenebor

"The conflict that goes on in ones mind when you mix cultures, belief systems, race, class, etc., is quite scary." 

I don't yet know the full story of my guest, model and actor, Aimiende Negbenebor, but I can't wait to find out. It will be revealed in Asa, a short independent film currently in production by Sela Films, followed by a full length feature film.

Per Sela Films, Asa (which means "a beautiful girl") is a short film based on a true story. It's a dramatic tale of the last 24 hours before a young girl embarks on her journey to America. It takes place in two cities (Lagos and Benin) in Nigeria, West Africa.

The film chronicles Asa's life from age 7 to age 17, when she meets her biological mom and leaves for the United States. Within these last 24 hours, shrunken into12 minutes, we see what Asa's life has been like over the past 10 years, and gain an understanding for why she absolutely has to get out.

The film opens with a kidnapping plot to get Asa out of the country, and through a series of flashbacks, tells the tale of what she has had to endure from the moment she was placed on a plane with a stewardess to be dropped off at a foster home in Nigeria, to the pivotal moment of confrontation with her biological dad - she was going to leave, at any cost, and by any means necessary.

What's most incredible about Asa's story is that it could be anyone's story, regardless of race, class, religious beliefs or culture. It deals with those things that are kept in the dark and ought to be brought to light. In spite of its darkness, this is very much a dynamic tale of triumph, love and hope. It's both colorful (yes, the costumes are amazing too!) and soulful.

As I read Aimi's interview answers below and, in particular, her quote, "The conflict that goes on in ones mind when you mix cultures, belief systems, race, class, etc., is quite scary," I was struggling once again with my own mother. She chose to cut me out of her life, again, this week. This time, I'm determined to let her go.  Her decision was ultimately based on the religious, political and cultural differences that now seem to divide us. I don't think a mother should walk away from her small or adult children for such reasons, yet I understand their power.

I've always hoped the love between my mother and I would overcome any differences we have. As an adult, I shouldn't need that so desperately anymore, but it's hard not to want it when I've waited for so long. Now I'm trying to face facts. And like the brainwashed, I still struggle internally every day about whether or not I am doing the right thing.  Even when my heart and mind tell me I am, I still have an emotional ache to be at peace with all the notions that were pounded into my head as a child.


I question how adults can be blind to the needs of children, and how, although childhood is such a short span of time, how powerful an impact those years have.

Today I don't care what your culture is, or where you stand politically or religiously. I hope you stand for love. My suspension is that the story of Asa somehow relays this as well, and I'm so looking forward to that discovery. I've donated towards Aimi's production costs,and hope you will consider doing so as well.

Information on how to support the film can be found here.

What's your story ? How did you become interested in film?

My story, wow, where do I begin? I can answer how I became interested in film making, so I think I'll do that. The short version is that a theatrical director friend of mine, Michel Chahade, sat with me and basically said, "It's time we made your story into a film," and I said. "Let's do it." He's not the first to suggest making my story into something - a novel, an autobiography; my dad suggested a documentary and actually started the process by trying to get a few creative people he knows interested. I love my dad. I'm adopted by an amazing father as you know from watching the kickstarter video. I say he saved my life and he says I saved his! Funny isn't it.

I've always wanted to create. I've always been somewhat artistic. But it wasn't something that was encouraged growing up in Nigeria. After a B.E. in Computer Engineering and a B.A. in Literature, and working in the IT field for a few years, I turn around and start acting and modeling, trying to sing (I seem to think I can carry a tune ... not so sure of that though), sketching, painting (very private things for me so no one's seen those,) and writing. I wrote "Asa" and I can't even begin to express how gratifying of a process that was. After the process of making this film began, I realized with absolute certainty that this was what I wanted to do and I can't express in words what that means! I just knew I wanted to be behind the camera and make "this" happen. Since we started filming, I haven't been on a single audition. I can't even see myself doing it. I think I'm in trouble. I stumbled upon a long list of producers, directors and writers I've admired over the years recently, and realized that I'd forgotten I compiled that list. I must admit, I'm looking forward to being on it.

Can you tell us about your current project, Asa?

Asa is a short film that's based on a true story. It's a story about a young girl growing up in Nigeria and moving to the States at age 17. The story is being told in two parts. The first is the Short film that's currently in production and the second part will be a full length Feature. We had originally started work on the project with the working title "Journey" and later settled on "Asa" because this story is about her journey from childhood to adulthood. You may also say it's her journey from the darkness in her life into light. The film has many dark moments, but throughout the abuse, struggle, depression, humiliation, Asa stays very human. 

She's not the stereotypical (forgive me for saying this) black woman, at least not how black or maybe more specifically, African women, are typically portrayed. She strong, she's independent, and she fights, but through it all, she shows her vulnerability, her weaknesses, her fears, she cries, sometimes in front of people! She has her silly girl crushes like the next girl and makes the same sometimes unforgivable mistakes teenagers make, only her environment makes her punishment 100 times worse.

Asa is a film that brings to light things that are usually hidden in the dark, but also shows that that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, might sometimes place itself smack dab in the middle of the tunnel and wait there for you to get to it, grab it, and light your way through the tunnel to the other side. "Asa" is a very complex story. While writing it, I found myself questioning what parts of it is considered the norm. What should I or am I allowed to question? Am I betraying my culture because I've become "Americanized?" Should any of this be acceptable or just left alone? The conflict that goes on in ones mind when you mix cultures, belief systems, race, class, etc., is quite scary.

[kickstarter url=http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/selafilms/asa-pronounced-aa-saa-a-beautiful-girl width=480]

With regard to your current focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

Yup! The moment I realized that I really wanted to be behind the camera. There's this small role in the film, Asa's cousin interacting with her the morning she's leaving for the States. The director, Chahade, decided to have me play her and I really did not want to do it. When I realized I was in shock and thought "Oh my, I'm in trouble!"

Many creative people never achieve the success they dream about. Which of your dreams have come to pass and what do you dream about now?

I've just started living my life. I feel I dream dreams everyday that come true. I know, this probably doesn't make sense. I dream of having a constant roof over my head and I do. I dream of being able to pull out a few bills and get a meal whenever and wherever I choose to and I do. I dreamed of being able to read, write, comprehend things and I do all that. I dream about being safe (mostly take it for granted I think, considering the situations I've put myself in at times) but I am safe. I dream about staying warm, clothed, and I am. I think maybe one would have to be able to understand how walking into a Payless shoe store at 145th and Broadway, for the first time (this was late 90s) being able to put down $50 for a pair of shoes, for the first time, and walking out of that store on cloud nine, could be a memory you'll never forget, to get what I'm talking about.  I dream of making friends too, cause I fear I am terrible at that, and little by little I'm making friends. 

I guess, when you talk creative ventures, I do have many dreams I'm looking forward to seeing come true - For one, "Asa" becoming an incredible success, leading to me writing many more successful screenplays and books, and producing more successful films. Acting in a few solid ones with directors I admire would be amazing. I'm looking forward to being on the cover of Vogue. That would be a big one. I'd like to call that my vain side but I'm not so sure it's all vanity. And if I may be bold here, an Oscar! I know, the golden boy. I want one. Badly. The culmination of everything I believe for me, will be becoming an award-wining director. The thought is actually kind of scary.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to your creative interests have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both? How so?

This is a complex one. My entire life is a deviation from the norm. I'm Nigerian by decent. Born in the US, shipped to Nigeria. Raised by foster parents and legal guardians and then by my biological remarried dad, in Nigeria, and then by my biological mom very briefly in the States. Getting adopted by a Jewish (Israeli & American citizen) single dad. Studying Engineering and Literature simultaneously, deciding to pursue modeling and acting afterward, and then turning around to become a writer and filmmaker, all the while refusing to fit into any one category in any area of my life. 

Yeah, one big, fat aberration! It's been more than my creative interests that's caused me aberrations in my life. But I do think that my creative interests have in turn helped me deal with life's aberrations. How so? By allowing me an outlet and a safe place to escape to at the same time.

Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

I mentioned earlier that growing up in Nigeria, being creative was not an option. My Nigerian parents wanted their children to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, that sort of thing. I remember mentioning once to my step mom that I wanted to be musician and she laughed so hard, it was amazing! And then of course she said musicians don't make money and that I needed to focus on more stable professions. I think it's funny how I ended up with dual degrees, one in the arts, the other sort of scientific, which never ceases to amaze me cause I'm terrible in math!

My Jewish papa also wanted an Engineer to work with him and take over his company. He actually mentored me in that direction, and it was very tough for him to accept me making the switch over to the arts fully, but when he came out to my first dramatic play, he said something to the effect of me having some talent. Then he came out to a second show and was blown away. I think he hated the third one or was it the fourth one, but after that, he was sold! He's my biggest fan and though occasionally he, you know, brings up the Engineering, he's very much supportive of me and is 100% behind me making this film.

I have lost a few boyfriends after they found out I have an Engineering degree and I'm pursuing the Arts. Painful experiences, but I lived. There was always that question of what's my plan B? "There's no way [I] expect to succeed in this industry." I had one tell me he wasn't interested in ending up having to support me, and another reminding me that I was getting old and at my age he had made his first million, which at the time we were dating seemed very funny to me considering how broke he was. I found myself wondering what he did with all that money! My most recent ex was very enthralled with me being in the arts, but he wanted it to be things he was interested in, and believe me, you don't want to know what those things are.

I must admit that I hid my creative ventures from my biological parents for a while and they kinda found out, I guess, when the time was right because they weren't upset and seemed okay with it. I think it's old age!  

To end this long story, I'd say that I don't have people in my life who fail to understand my creative interests. My creative personality, I doubt anyone will ever really understand! My drive is what keeps me moderately sane in addition to my solid support system, and the way I've learned to deal with and continue to deal with the people I may encounter who fail to understand me, is to leave them be. This may include walking out of their world. A tough lesson or skill if you will, that I am still working on mastering, but seems to serve me well when applied.

Have you developed a specific creative process that enables you to meet your goals? If so, can you tell us about it, and also share any thoughts you may have on the role of discipline and organization?

Ha!!! Nope. No methods unfortunately. I am very emotional I believe, so intuition, a sense of timing, that sort of thing mostly guides me. I've had to learn some serious lessons as a result of how I attack my goals at times, so I don't feel I can recommend my brand of tactic to anyone. 

Discipline and Organization are absolute musts! And I don't like absolutes. Without them, you get nowhere. So when I all of a sudden get that urge to jump out of bed and suddenly get going, first item on the list - make a list! Check it thrice. As for suggestions, research, research, research! Put everything, if possible, down on paper and know where you put down that paper! And then organize everything down to your thoughts. Ask questions especially when you feel any doubt. Look stupid before you LOOK stupid, if that makes any sense. And this is a big one, when you've made errors, own up to them. It's tough, especially when you're scared. but that's just my advice.

In such a highly competitive world, what do you think it takes to rise above the crowd in your particular creative industry, and has this changed over the years?

That's a big one (I say that a lot, don't I?) I think it takes being in the right place at the right time, fully prepared. I don't believe this has changed at all really. What I do see is that it's easier now for people to make films. There are many outlets for getting one's work out there which is both a blessing and a curse. Funding is tight and the whole structure of the past in the film industry has completely shifted. Everything seems to be blending or moving laterally. People are having to wear a thousand hats at one time, and it's become the norm. To stand out, you need, contrary to what seems to be the norm these days, Snookie, et.al., solid work, great marketing, drive, and an understanding of what's out there versus what you are presenting.

What's next for you?

Very next step, finishing "Asa" the short, submitting it to festivals, and jumping into the process for making the feature.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?


Put one foot in front of the other and breathe. It helps me stay focused, and in a very funny way, helps me stay grateful. I think it's because I suddenly realize after a few steps that I'm walking and breathing, and that's pretty cool 

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6527212 May 17, 2012

Hans Meertens: Starduster

"... interesting, polysemic pieces of art can only be created when I dive deep into my own cognitions; what makes me tick, what is it about certain visual influences that some have more impact on me than others, what is their connection, where is the mystery or poetry in a certain subject, how can I dig that up?"

Last week I went to a presentation at Rago Arts and Auction Center in Lamberville, NJ.  It started at 5pm so I headed over after work. The event was an open house for their 19th/20th Century American and European Art auction held on May 12th. I was looking forward to it, yet part of me wondered if I was wasting time; if I should get home so I could paint rather than look at paintings.

Three hours later, I was glad I went.

Dr. Robert Cozzolino (Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts) discussed the distinctive character of Pop in Chicago during the 1960s. As I sat listening to Dr. Cozzolino's fascinating lecture, some of my own thoughts on art seemed to solidify. I decided that I might be ready to write a statement about my art ... something that I knew at my core. Not a bunch of long, tangled words that sound impressive, but real truth about my life and my art. I felt myself evolving.

My guest today, artist Han Meertens, talks about his evolution as an artist moving from a focus on what he thought artists are supposed to do toward recognizing that the true beauty of art is much more profound than anything someone else can define for the artist; it's about the artist, and what he or she can uniquely define.

Meertens
Given my own story, I've realized that my innate drive in both life and art is to obsessively search for meaning and/or beauty in chaos. This drive brought me through my dysfunctional childhood in one piece, and has stuck with me throughout my adult life. What I've discovered, almost by accident, it that if I look into chaos, I automatically begin searching, trying to tease anything that might mean something, be familiar, comforting or beautiful. It's probably the strongest natural instinct I have. And I search until I find; it's as simple as that. I do not stop; it's a survival mechanism that has been wired into my brain. Sometimes it's a gift and sometimes a curse.

I didn't study art like Hans and Dr. Cozzolino. I have a degree in Biology, something that fascinated me as a young adult, not because I have a scientific mind but because I have a creative one that has its own unique qualities.  At a time when I was incredibly bored, I stumbled upon biology and found it interesting and challenging. Biology showed me how meaning and beauty emerged from chaos, and that attracted me. I wanted to understand it. My ability to pursue an interest in something no one expected me to embrace opened a door that provided familiarity and comfort.  It was my coping mechanism, and in some ways, my salvation.  And it ultimately led me down the path to Rago Art and Auction Center last week, where I sat eating cheese and crackers as I listened to Dr. Cozzolino. I knew I was in the right place, doing what I am meant to do.

Meertens
Looking back, I don't believe I could create the art I'm creating now had I taken the path of attending the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts. I'm not knocking it in any way; in fact, I'd probably go now if I could. I'm simply commenting on my own evolution as an artist. Who really knows what alternate paths would have produced. We can't know. We can only try to understand the path we choose and why.

I'm understanding mine more every day.

As is Hans ....

What's your story? How long did it take to establish yourself as an artist? Was the journey straight or twisted , and are you surprised by your success?

After spending some years abroad as an art student in York (U.K.) and Ghent (Belgium) I graduated from the HKU - the Art Academy of Utrecht (Holland) - in 2000. I was 25 by then. I took some more courses on the art academy until 2001 before combining my career as a professional artist with a part time job as an art teacher in Amsterdam for the indispensable financial input. For 6 years I worked really hard to build a consistent body of work and portfolio. In the meantime, I had had some sold out exhibitions and in 2007, I decided the time was right to take the risk, and to spend all of my time and energy on my artistic career. I truly don't ever think in terms of success. It is tough in times like these to be financially dependent on art-sales, but being able to do what I want to do most is what it is all about.


Meertens - Stardust 
With regard to your current creative focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?


Whenever I feel the need to focus on something different, in technique or subject matter and the combination between the two, it usually takes some time and effort to get it right. 'STARDUST' - my current series of collage portraits - found its final shape and form after a period of experimenting with materials and trying several approaches to transform a personal loss into something more transcendent. The ah-ah moment with this particular project was when I made the connection between a mother and Icons.

What has been your process for engaging galleries to show your work?

When I first got out there, I realized that fortune favors the bold! I have always been very straightforward. For the past years I have become lucky with that and still I'm being approached most of the time. In such cases I tend to find out more about the other artists represented, their exhibition space, etc. And most importantly, whether they are interested in me as an artist, including my artistic growth. Is there a drive to help me forward? Unfortunately in the past I have dealt with a couple of opportunistic galleries only in it to make a quick buck. There was absolutely no love for the artist or my work.

Meertens
Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations (issues), or both?

Both. I think one of the key elements of being this passionate about and committed to creativity is the fact that it is a part of who I am, how I live and breath. Like most artists, I have always been a pretty sensitive and visual type and this cognition has led to a rather equivocal attitude to life´s aberrations.

It is great to dive into the good stuff with your senses wide open, but it hurts equally hard when things go bad. All my paintings are a reflection of how I felt at a particular time in my life. They are like diary pages to me that helped me recover from bumps along the way.

Meertens
Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

It took some time and effort to convince my parents that attending art academy was the best option for me. I think there have been a couple of awkward situations with friends and lovers since then when we were on different planets when it came to sharing the intensity of undergoing art, or failing to keep connected when I was highly involved in a particular creative interest. Sometimes it is hard to explain the inner necessity - that drive that is flowing from a very emotional desire - to spend this much time and energy on art. I can deal with it though, by realising I can't follow all their passions either.

Have you developed a specific process that enables you to meet your creative goals? If so, can you tell us about it. Where do most of your ideas come from?

In my first years in art academy, like most fresh art students, I was focusing on fictitious concepts of what art was supposed to be like in my head, based on a very shallow knowledge of art and art history. The results were overtly 'invented', created for the outside world, without anything of the real me in it. I have learned since then that interesting, polysemic pieces of art can only be created when I dive deep into my own cognitions; what makes me tick, what is it about certain visual influences that some have more impact on me than others, what is their connection, where is the mystery or poetry in a certain subject, how can I dig that up? With the risk of coming across vague: the source for my ideas derives from a self-examining form of mindfulness and self-awareness.

Meetens - Stardust
What do you believe places an artist apart from his or her peers? So many are highly talented, but what makes one stand out as truly gifted?

An unstoppable inner force and vision to create and innovate autonomously. A combination of hard work, talent, motivation, will power and courage. Knowing when not to be modest. Also, being in the right place at the right time meeting the right people getting the right feedback and recognizing opportunities, etc should not be underestimated. But this is all just a shot in the dark, really, since I wouldn't know. I think often success is like an avalanche; sometimes a person who experiences some success, is being picked up and then the ball starts rolling which doesn't necessarily mean that the work is much better than someone who hasn't been moved forward to a spotlight point.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

"Always keep in mind you know nothing." This makes me question what I'm told, keeps me humble, curious, open to different views and most importantly; it keeps me moving forward.

STARDUST




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6527212 May 01, 2012

Irving and Teledildonics: Michael Olson


"Humanity has this indomitable urge to surround ourselves in elaborate fantasy worlds." 

On the day I finished reading a review copy of John Irving's new novel, In One Person (launching on May 8th), I received guest blog content from author, Michael Olson. Olson's debut novel, Strange Flesh, is about sex and gamesPublishers Weekly describes Strange Flesh as a "head-spinning thriller" that "takes us down a rabbit hole of kinky cybersex and multilevel mystery."  It's a "complex, cutting edge debut."  Irving's book, on the other hand, chronicles the life of a bisexual man.

In his latest novel, Irving tackles the various evolving sexual attitudes we've all either observed, participated in, or endured from the 1960s through today. On par with his previous novels, Irving provides brilliant food for thought on the diverse sexual appetites that exist, regardless of who may or may not be comfortable with them. He reminds us, as others have before him, that there is a specific kind of unnecessary madness involved in trying to deny the truth about who we are as individuals. It's a losing battle and a fruitless crusade.  

Olson's novel brings up another side of sexuality that sits on the border of what many folks consider "normal," even in 2012.  It involves teledildonics, something I had to look up.  Per Dictionary.com, teledildonics is:

Sex in a computer simulated virtual reality, especially computer-mediated sexual interaction between the virtual reality presences of two humans.  

I'm thinking it's akin to making Ken and Barbie get it on in the Barbie Country Camper ... times a million.   

According to the dictionary, teledildonics is not yet possible except in the rather limited form of erotic conversation.  Apparently, the term is "widely recognized in the virtual reality community as a ha ha only serious projection of things to come."  Olson, a Harvard graduate who worked in investment banking and software engineering before taking a master's degree from NYU's Interactive Technology Program, knows a thing or two about it .... from the technical perspective.  When I became familiar with Olson's novel and read about the topic, it struck me as highly creative and different, the buzz words that drive Aberration Nation.  

In response to the question of why bisexuals are rarely represented in literature, Irving said, "I just know that sexual outsiders have always appealed to me: writers are outsiders--at least we're supposed to be detached.  Well, I find sexual outsiders especially engaging. There is the gay brother in The Hotel New Hampshire; there are the gay twins (separated at birth) in A Son of the Circus; there are transsexual characters in The World According to Garp, and in A Son of the Circus, and now again (this time more developed as characters) in In One Person. I like these people; they attract me, and I fear for their safety--I worry about who might hate them and wish them harm." 

Both Irving's In One Person and Olson's Strange Flesh provoke thought, and effortlessly pry open the mind to new levels of consciousness. 

In honor of Irving, one of my absolute favorite authors, I'm pleased to welcome Olson to talk to us a bit about the cultural response to teledildonics, which surely represents a new level of disgusting in the minds of those who would condemn Irving's beloved characters.

Here's what Olson had to say:

“Wait… you don’t seriously think people are actually going to do that?

“Well, actually, they already are. It’s a niche, but it’s growing.”

“But that’s… that’s disgusting.”

Since the publication of my novel Strange Flesh, I’ve been having such conversations a lot. The book is a pretty sanguinary thriller featuring a certain quotient of outlandish violence and a fair amount of material related to the Marquis de Sade. But the element that some readers find far more disturbing is the technology around which much of the action revolves: virtual sex, otherwise known as teledildonics.

The erotic potential of virtual reality has been apparent since its very inception. Soon, using a head mounted display and some means of body tracking, denizens of online worlds such as Second Life will be able to immerse themselves far more fully than they currently can with a traditional desktop computer. In such places one can easily find partners interested in all kinds of salacious exploration. Indeed there are whole worlds explicitly dedicated to adult activity. Adding into the mix special mechanisms designed to simulate the human anatomy could help to render a compelling sensual experience. Initially not much like the real thing, but our tools are always subject to refinement.

I come from a technical milieu where attitudes to teledildonics range from, “When can we have it? Seriously, when? This was promised to us,” to “But will it make iPhone jealous?” In fact, we already see a small industry developing to serve the nascent market for artificial sex. That said, the state of the art remains rather exotic, and I should have better foreseen that the idea seems a bit outré to many.

And yet, I can’t help but think there’s a failure of imagination behind that scandalized “disgusting.”
Granted, at first blush, the notion of having sex with an appliance might seem off-putting. Though of course, we’ve employed various inanimate objects in sexual intercourse from time immemorial. But something about an articulated mechanism seems altogether stranger than the basically inert form of a vibrator. A robot’s position on the continuum between object and being makes them feel uncanny.

But let’s be sure not to confuse the tool with the medium. Precious few people putting household items to alternative uses are in any way sexually attracted to socks or produce. The romance of the moment occurs in the realm of fantasy. We close our eyes and immerse ourselves in a world of our imagination. To say that using a device for sex is disgusting is like saying that minutely inspecting tiny ink markings on a bound sheaf of paper is intrinsically tedious.

The object is just an interface. The real action happens in our minds.

True, teledildonics does tend to bring some of this knee-jerk opprobrium onto itself. One can find plenty of videos and sites online where the robot really is the sexual object. Certain device bondage sites make use of an eye-opening array of automata to service their particular fetish. One to which many observers simply cannot relate. But there’s nothing inherent in the technology that condemns it to be used in that way.
The holy grail of teledildonics is not to create an erotic impulse in people toward machines. It’s for the machines to serve as a means of connecting two humans. The goal of the medium will be for the mechanism, the tool, to disappear as much as possible. When watching a film, we don’t sit and gaze at the projector reels turning.

I propose we try to reconceive sex interfaces as a means to enable a novel medium of sensual communication. Like a camera and projector. Just a new kind of brush with which we’ll be able to paint our fantasies. In doing so, I think we’ll transform them from strange and alien machines to anodyne gadgets that allow us to form a richer kind of connection online. Hasn’t our frigid cyberspace been too long without a sense of touch?

Humanity has this indomitable urge to surround ourselves in elaborate fantasy worlds. To exercise our imaginations. We tell stories. We make images. And we voraciously consume them as though they’re essential to life. The weird folds of our brains hate the harshness of unadorned reality, and we’ll take just about any pretext to embellish it, reform it, or even leave it altogether. We are easily seduced: that page of minutely configured ink can make us weep inconsolably at some ephemeral tragedy. That whirl of sequential images through light can yank our hearts into our throats.

Anytime someone comes up with a new way for us to exercise our overactive imaginations, a new way for storytellers to weave their worlds, it spreads like wildfire. So as we imagine devices that indulge what is perhaps humankind’s strongest, most fundamental drive, does that really sound so marginal and bizarre, even disgusting?

To me it sounds inevitable. No medium has ever remained chaste. And I for one will be eager to see what we paint with this new brush.

________________________________

I read another great book recently, The Giver by Lois Lowry. It was about a world with no choices, no room for imaginative brushes, no experimentation, no real emotion, and no chance for making a right or wrong decision. No differences. No agony. No pain. No love. Everyone was safe.

It turned out to be a nightmare. 

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6527212 September 24, 2009

Following the Carrot: My Writing Life

... I'm nothing at all without the writing. Without truth, my truth, the only truth I know, it's all a gambol in the pasture without rhythm or sense. It's empty. God gave it to me (so help me, Deist or no, I believe that!) and I can't cheat myself or you or them or anyone by not doing it the best way I know how. --Harlan Ellison
I had a dream last night that my skin kept peeling, literally ripping apart. No matter how many times they stitched it up, it kept splitting. It didn't hurt, yet I knew that without something cohesive to hold it together, I couldn't survive. Writing is a bit like that for me. Things keep splitting, bursting out, and without an avenue to hold it all together, to make it mean something concrete, it overwhelms me. That's when I feel most lost. So I keep writing, year after year, agent after agent, rejection after rejection, assuming there's a purpose, a plan, and that there will be an ultimate outcome.
There are times when I want to rip my skin to shreds and dance through life unfettered by rules, pressure, publishers, and readers. I wish I didn't care about those things, but I do. Some people write because they simply enjoy it. They don't care if anyone reads it, how it sounds, what it means. That's not me. I've always been one to set goals and drive toward them like a donkey after a carrot. Sometimes it's torturous. I'm trying to squelch an insatiable hunger. I think a lot about where that hunger comes from. Am I like an actor who longs for applause night after night? Am I emotionally wounded and therefore need constant reassurance? Am I vain? Or do I just have an unending need to find myself, and the only place I seem to truly be is embedded in a series of words splashed across my computer? Whatever it is, it's been there for a long time. It was there before I realized my life was flawed, or that I was anything more than a little girl with giant pigtails. I meet, read, and hear about tons of writers who have all sorts of reasons for writing. I wonder if they feel like I do. When I see all the books at the bookstore, I wonder, and it makes me sad that life is filled with hoops we must jump through to be heard. There are so many of us, each with so much to say. So how do a few rise above the crowd and get the attention needed to make it to The New York Times Bestseller List? Did they run faster after their carrot? Did someone hand them a carrot? Or did they compromise and ditch their glowing carrot for sloppy seconds (the market)? I sit here today in an orange shirt--of all things--wondering if I should eventually give up? I'm 43 years old. If 40 is the new 20, maybe I have a few more years ... This week I met a writer, Sandra Carey Cody, who began writing at 50. Avalon has published three of her novels. I also read an article about James Michener, who wrote his first novel at 40. Cougar Town and Courtney Cox are hip. And to top it off, I just heard that Phyllis Whitney (who died in 2008), wrote her last book, Amethyst Dreams, at age 92, and began writing an autobiography at age 102. Wow! So here I am with another finished novel in my hands ... staring at the carrot. This is my creative journey ( with babies and degrees mixed in) from 1988 through today (21 years): Graduated from college Had a baby and got married Moved to the Northeast Started Pharmaceutical career After reflecting on the Deep South and my childhood, began writing first novel, Boundaries After ~ 5 years, finished Boundaries Signed with first literary agent Hit Manager-level in Pharma First literary agent passed away unexpectedly Began second novel, Aberrations Had another baby Wrote Six Sigma for Business Excellence for McGraw-Hill Hit Director-level in Pharma Finished Master's Degree After ~ 8 years, finished Aberrations Continued to edit Boundaries Signed with second literary agent Second literary agent decided to go into entertainment law Self-published Aberrations Aberrations picked up by Greenleaf Book Group and re-launched Continued to edit Boundaries Signed with Planned TV Arts (A-list Publicity Firm) Took step back from Pharma career to focus on writing Launched blog, Aberration Nation Began painting Signed with third literary agent Began writing third novel, Centerpieces Awarded honorary degree in publishing by third literary agent After ~1 year, finished Centerpieces After ~2 years of painting, my work included in major EU exhibit Began research for fourth novel, Dust Waiting .... In this economy, trying to sell an unknown author is like selling ice to Eskimos. My husband says that in time the ice will melt, and I'll be ready. It would be foolish to give up now. I had another skin dream a couple of years ago. In that one, my skin was too large, dripping and dragging around me. I pulled and tugged it around, expending all my energy just to get from point a to point b. I was nothing more than a blob of flesh. During the dream, I grew inside, slowly filling the bag that had so painfully trapped me. Eventually my shape took form, and I ran. Phyllis Whitney said, “Never mind the rejections, the discouragement, the voices of ridicule (there can be those too). Work and wait and learn, and that train will come by. If you give up, you’ll never have a chance to climb aboard.” ... or taste that elusive carrot. To read more about my writing life, also see: Author Karen Harrington Interviews Penelope Bookish Ruth Interviews Penelope DeAnna Cameron: The Business of Books with Novelist Penelope Przekop

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6527212 August 01, 2008

Forget Me, Forget Me Not

Growing up in the whirlwind of alcoholism has received considerable mainstream attention over the last twenty years or so. It’s widely known that adult children of alcoholics often struggle with common issues such as feeling isolated, a dependant personality, and judging themselves without mercy (http://www.adultchildren.org/). Another less exposed affliction is growing up in a home overshadowed by mental illness. Perhaps even more than alcoholism, the stigma of mental illness creates a veil of secrecy. This curtain can be so tightly woven, that it not only brings profound loneliness, but also a skewed sense of reality for the children struggling to cope.

Some varieties of mental illness can't be hidden while others seem to disappear once the front door is thrown open, delicately and brilliantly cloaked by those who seek to hide them. If you could peak into most of the homes on your street, you would likely see the normal ups and downs of relationships, laughing toddlers, and boisterous teens, everyone spreading their wings, trying out life, stumbling between those exquisite moments that take the breath away. But some families live in quite a different world. For them, there is an insidious aberration adding extreme complexity to all of the above. This aberration twists the normal experiences of life into painful, misunderstood, and/or misinterpreted realities that are not easily washed away despite the most skilled coping mechanisms.

Even when mental illness isn’t carried forward into the next generation, a legacy of confusion, low self-esteem, out-of-whack emotional development, and fear creates a new kind of aberration that can take years to overcome. This is the legacy of the forgotten child. Much like that of children of alcoholics, these children share a common struggle as adults.

Forgotten children often struggle with a complex blend of emotions for the suffering parent. The nature of our love is a confusing mix of love that a parent has for a child, and love that a child has for a parent. These should never have to mix but they do in this case. The emotional turmoil of wanting to parent someone and wanting to be parented by that same person is an aberration that can sometimes be tucked away just neatly enough to pursue a normal life. The tucking process takes time and is usually achieved the hard way, but in the world in which we grew up, the hard way was the only way. No one remembered to make it easy; there were bigger issues to resolve.

In times of stress, this conflicting love can rear its ugly head. It reminds us that we were never quite good enough to wash away the adult pain we saw as very young children. This message lives outside the bounds of logic or intellect. It hides inside the emotional core that defines us as solidly as the beating heart that keeps us alive.

The hardest part of being a forgotten child is finding oneself. For us, the normal coming-of-age experience is complicated by a lack of proper mirroring and out-of-whack emotional development. Internalization of childhood experiences is diverse, of course. My brother’s life took a different path than mine due to our individuality; however, we did not go forward without an equally intense internal struggle for normalcy. All we wanted was normal but all we could relate to was abnormal.

I still fear that if I share the facts of my life with others, I’ll be branded. People may think that I’m mentally ill. And furthermore, is there something so terribly wrong with me that I wasn't worthy of my mother’s love? Was that why she couldn’t pull herself together for me? She was my mirror and when I looked into it, I saw myself; therefore, when others look at me, perhaps they see her. This skewed logic impacts my ability to feel loved and accepted by others. Again, these fears are blind to reason; they're embedded like roots I cannot pull completely out.

Sometimes we laugh to keep from crying. We forge on, knowing that we have so much to be grateful for, and to look forward to. But that dark spot hangs in the heart, tangling, groping for a place of comfort. And so we still long for a caring smile, for understanding and acknowledgement that what we bear is sacred. It played a huge role in making us who we are. Like the edges of a puzzle, it somehow holds us together although we long to break away. If others can embrace it kindly, our plight to do so becomes a bit easier.

With all that said, we are survivors. We are victorious! Forget me or forget me not. Toss me a challange and watch me shine.

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6527212 July 22, 2008

She's a Brick House

This week I finally watched Randy Pausch’s last lecture on YouTube. I was particularly impressed with his message about brick walls. According to Pausch, brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. It’s about dedication, tenacity, and gumption.

I lived in a brick house until I was nine years old. We had a perfectly normal door but getting out was not that simple. Even when we moved, and even when, as a young adult, I lugged my junk from address to address, I struggled to escape that white brick house. When I was eleven, some boys at school told me that I was a brick house. I wasn’t sure what that meant, and thought it was an odd thing to call a girl. Looking back, it seems a fitting description considering all the brick walls that surrounded me.

Many people aspire to live in brick houses. It’s a buyer’s market. Having one can provide a great sense of security. The bigger, the better, right? Why would anyone want more? Get two gas fireplaces, a six-burner Wolff Range, and a dual shower. Once you add the three car garage and a fancy mailbox, you’re set for life. Well, fact is, a lot of us want much more than that and what it stands for. Is that so wrong? Is it wrong to want more when what you have seems perfectly okay for most people? One of the characters in my novel, Aberrations, asks, “Is it bad to want more than what you have?”

Is it?

No, not when what you have is fine and dandy based the standards of others and not your own. I long for the freedom to explore and create the kind of life I want, not the one you think I should have. It sounds so simple, so why is it so hard sometimes? The desires of others often become the brick walls we get trapped behind. At times, everything seems fine. We’ve got front doors and windows, garages and back doors. But inside, we sit alone and stare at the wall, knowing there’s something more.

Those are the times we can assess our dedication. We can decide just how badly we want the more we crave. Can we make tough decisions and changes? Can we find a way to bust through the walls that have kept us so comfortable? It may take some creativity and yes, it may hurt. A rib or a heart may break in the process, but how else can we move beyond the cute cookie cutter landscape that’s really just a green screen behind us. I don’t want to live in front of a green screen no matter how lovely the picture. I’m not sure I know how to live without it yet but I won’t give up.

This week, I was reminded of some of the gigantic brick walls I broke through as a young adult. There were a couple of particularly thick ones that nearly killed me. It’s so easy, as the years fly by, to forget our past triumphs. It gets easier and easier to accept the new walls popping up around us. Sometimes as we start down the other side of the so called hill, we start hanging pictures and painting the bricks all kinds of interesting colors rather than making the effort to smash them down.

Well, I don’t believe there’s a hill and that I’m over it. I say bring on the bricks! I’m stronger now. Why should I settle when I still want more? This weekend I went the Manayunk Brewery in Philly to celebrate my 42nd birthday. While I noticed quite a few folks from my general decade, I seemed to be surrounded by people who were born in the 80’s. They all gleamed with promise so bright it could bring a blinding tear to the eye. Most of the women had tans and super straight hair. My husband noticed that a lot of the young guys had buzz cuts. As we were leaving, I said, “Hey, I’ll only be 21 for a few more minutes.” He said, “Now wouldn’t that be nice?” I looked at him and aged twenty years, realizing my Freudian slip.

I don’t long to be 21 again to recapture my youthful body; I’m not too shabby. I long for an extra 20 years because I want more time without the green screen. I guess getting older just means I’ll have to break out the heavy artillery. Those boys were right back in 1977; I am a brick house. I’m finding a place for each brick I’ve knocked down along the way. I’m building my own castle. Once I’m done, we’ll have a party. I’ll send you an invitation.

Watch for it in fancy mailboxes everywhere.

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6527212 July 11, 2008

Evolution Pollution

Isn’t it frustrating when people assume you’re exactly the same person you were yesterday, last year, or twenty years ago? Maybe you don’t care, but I do. Last year I loved Pina Coladas and baby powder, now I’m sick of them. I was trying to channel my creativity into an extremely narrow focus and a business suit. Now I’m spewing it out like an open fire hydrant. Last year my personal definition of happy was different. If I can’t change and grow over time, either in my own mind or in yours, just put me out of my misery. If you’ve been following me here, you know my evolution is a combination of slow growth, epiphanies, cart-hopping, and long-term battles with southern charm school rules and childhood demons.

Years ago I wrote, The Evolution of Darwin’s Theory, a paper for the grad-level history of science course I took as a college senior. I was fascinated by Darwin’s decision to hold back on sharing his theories and conclusions regarding evolution for the sake of religion, society, family, and his own peace of mind. I hung onto that paper for years in one faded folder or another, and then incorporated it into my novel, Aberrations. Darwin’s dilemma, which is highlighted in this week’s edition of Newsweek, speaks to the universal conflict of deciding when and where to share the truth. According to Newsweek journalist Malcolm Jones, “as delighted as he was with his discovery, Darwin was equally horrified, because he understood the consequences of his theory. Mankind was no longer the culmination of life but merely part of it; creation was mechanistic and purposeless. In a letter to a fellow scientist, Darwin wrote that confiding his theory was ‘like confessing a murder.’ It’s no wonder that instead of rushing to publish his theory, he sat on it—for 20 years.”

Was Darwin cowardly or brilliant to hold back information that would rock his world? Did he owe his research to society? Would science be twenty years farther ahead today if he’d published sooner? Regardless of the reason, is sitting on the truth a form of lying? In some cases, it certainly is, but the complexity of life sometimes causes us to hold back out of love, and/or our own weakness and fear of facing the truth. When is it right to come forward? When is it okay to lie? And speaking of evolution, how do we know when those we seek to protect have evolved enough to finally handle the truth we’re hiding. At what point do they deserve honesty? When does our hoarding of it become an insult? Are we playing God? These are some of the questions addressed in Aberrations and that I’m still stewing over even after writing more than 65,000 words around it.

There are times and situations when, with good intentions, we reserve the truth to protect those we love. But as time goes by we’re all evolving, which often leads to a couple of scenarios. The first is that the person we’re trying to protect has evolved, but we haven’t. They're ripe for the truth but we still don’t want to give it up. We’ve somehow moved from a place of protecting them to a place of protecting ourselves. Inevitably, once the truth comes out, although ready to hear it, the person on the receiving end feels insulted that we ever thought they couldn’t handle it. The second scenario is that we’ve evolved into the braver state of not wanting anything between us and the world. However, the world’s still not ready. In these situations, those most emotionally fit survive, I suppose.

If we could simply evolve together in lock step, life would be a breeze. Maybe we’d all get over feeling personally slighted by the truth. Maybe we’d understand the motivations of others and ourselves. But our individual evolution will always pollute communication and relationships. There’s no going green on this one. The cultural and biological dilemma of multifaceted emotional, intellectual, and creative development adds complexity that can crush marriages, parent-child relationships, and who knows what else. We are all just apes, cavemen, monkeys, and men—struggling for understanding.

When we share the truth too early, we run the risk of slowing down evolution rather than speeding it up. Maybe the reaction means death to a relationship with solid roots and a vast capacity for growth, whereas allowing time for personal evolution paves the way for a profound burst at that enlightening moment when the truth is finally shared. Could the recipient finally be ready to understand complexity and emotional depth that would have stunted their growth had you dumped it on them sooner? Maybe knowing when and where to share the truth is part of how we survive.

I’m not naïve. I realize there are some bad dudes in this world. These people hoard every single truth they can just to get what they want. But in all honestly, I believe I’ve only come across one downright bad soul in my forty plus years. The rest who have lied or held back truth from me weren’t bad seed. We’re all flawed. We’re all evolving at our own haphazard pace, trying to figure out how to survive in an imperfect world. I’m trying to forgive them and hoping they're busy forgiving me. I’m not sure if I'm an ape, monkey, or man right now but as long as I keep moving and trying to understand the situation, I think I’ll survive.

Bear with me, my theories are evolving.

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6527212 June 30, 2008

Gimme Everything but That

As progeny of this gimme society, we often want for everything and yet we miss the gifts right beneath our nicely botoxed foreheads and expensive sunglasses, nose jobs, and wrinkle cream. Whatever it is you paid for, these gifts hide beneath it all, hoping you'll find them. They are the gifts nobody asks for.

Today is the launch date for Aberrations. The reviews so far are fantastic! It’s the realization of a dream I’ve had for a long time. It's the culmination of gifts I never wanted but have struggled to embrace as part of my unique identity. I’m pinching myself. I’m doing my happy dance and bracing myself at the same time, knowing it's just the beginning.

When I was about thirteen, I snuck out once in the middle of the night. I took a blanket and a radio to the elementary school a few blocks away. I stretched the old blanket out in the middle of the playground, turned on the radio, got comfortable, and looked up at the stars for a long time. I remember feeling like a giant leaning against the side of the world; I had a sense of it being round and turning that night. I felt the fullness of life; how everything revolves and connects to create a deep, solid existence. I swore to myself that one day I would write a great novel that would make everything in my life worthwhile. It was an adolescent dream but it was real. That was nearly thirty years ago.

In my novel, aberration is defined as the negative or tragic in our lives. Everyone has at least one issue; it’s the human condition. These aberrations may be caused by our own misguided or foolish choices, or they may result from something far beyond our control such as illness, deformity, family history, etc. The underlying theme of Aberrations is truth. How do we face the truth in our lives, and then how do we deal with it? How can we use these seemingly negative aberrations riding our backs to embrace a unique existence filled with positives? Sometimes reality can be downright ugly; however, if we make the effort to search for beauty, we can almost always find it hiding in the shadow of our pain.

Sometimes the gifts we receive are not what we want. I’ve been asked a few times recently to explain this statement (found on the back cover of Aberrations). Let me put it this way. I never asked to grow up in a dysfunctional family. Numerous things have happened in my life that I quickly categorized as negative. My list could go on and on. I bet you have one, too. Depending on my age, maturity, and emotional status at the time, I often ran from these painful negatives, hid them from others, and/or tucked them away as tightly as I could, either denying their existence or saying that I'd deal with them later. But I can tell you without hesitation and with complete confidence, that if my own aberrations had not existed, copies of Aberrations would not be surfacing in bookstores everywhere this week.

Perhaps there would a different kind of book. I’ll never know, but the one I wrote and love would not have been possible. Over a ten-year period I poured a tremendous amount of myself into each word. Perhaps my talent isn't worthy of the Pulitzer, and perhaps Aberrations won’t be a bestseller or find a place in Oprah’s Book Club, but it’s a damn good start. It represents everything I love about myself and my life--the good, the bad, and the ugly. It makes everything I’ve experienced worthwhile.

This accomplishment from someone, who, like Angel, the protagonist of Aberrations, struggled for a solid identify as a young person, stumbling quite a bit along the way, is a huge step forward. It's a testament to forging ahead when all signs point to failure. Sometimes, it’s the failures that keep us going; they are filled with hidden gifts. Sometimes, failure makes success all the more important, all the more enticing, and finally possible. Failures, misfortunes, bad choices, and stumbles in the dark often pave the way for who we are to become. It’s common knowledge that trials make us stronger but to actively live under that premise is tough. Searching for something positive through our tears, embarrassment, or despair isn’t easy. It takes time, bravery, and persistence.
Aberrations is a beginning for me. I've had a thirty year start. I’ve finally hit my stride, and I’m prepared to keep moving forward until I see the finish line. It will be interesting to see what the next thirty years bring. Maybe I’ll actually get that Pulitzer one day. Hey, if you’re going to dream, dream big. After all, when I was five years old, left alone, my brother and I had to fill up an old plastic trash can with water just so we could go swimming, and now copies of my novel are headed to a New York City Borders Bookstore that sits next to Central Park.

Wow!


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6527212 June 17, 2008

Pocket Full of Sunshine, Closet Full of Bad

Natasha Bedingfield has a pocket full of sunshine. My pockets are warm and toasty, too, but my closet is full of bad. My bad. I can’t run for President; I’ll admit that. I’m afraid there’s one too many skeletons around for that particular road. I’ve always been puzzled by those who say they never look back with any kind of remorse. I wonder if it’s even possible to get to the city of no regret, and where those lucky people got their directions. What would it look like? How would it feel? Who on earth would be there? Would you?

I was asked recently if I believe that time heals all wounds. At first I answered yes. Then a small but sharp pain in my chest led me to come back with a no. That nagging jab reminded me that time had only dulled my demons. Then I wondered if I simply required more time. I wondered how many more days or years I might possibly have left to hope that wonderful eraser called time would do its magic, transforming all my bad into blazing pockets of sunshine.

The regret that hangs on the longest, at least for me, comes from the bad and sad I created rather than anything that was done to me or thrown at me during the times I've stumbled through. I realize by now that most of my bad wasn't intentional; it was merely an off shoot of inexperience, fear, ignorance, confusion, or all the aberrations riding my back like yelping monkeys. I won’t offer excuses; I’ll take responsibility, but it doesn’t stop me from contemplating the complexities of my choices, actions, and outcomes. Regret sneaks in.

So, as we get older and wiser, where do we put all these regrets? Is there a special closet for that? Can we possibly file it neatly into novels, music, our children, or some other beautiful masterpiece only we, as individuals, can create? Is it up to us to shape something radiant enough to shatter all skeletons? I think it’s worth a shot.

Aberrations is clearly about the choices we make – and the sacrifices we volunteer to undergo. But sometimes we make the wrong choice and our life is never the same. It’s true that we may never completely forget some of our worst mistakes; regret may linger. Certainly, if we know that we’ve learned and grown, it helps keep those things in perspective. Sometimes we just have to forgive ourselves, hoping that we did the best we could at the time, even if it wasn’t good enough. We have to somehow incorporate those experiences into the masterpiece of our lives, as unique and extraordinary as it may be. I wish self forgiveness were easier. Maybe it’s a breeze for some. Maybe some folks don’t actually require it. I suppose those are all the chaps with no regrets that amaze people like me.

But having absolutely no regrets could make Johnny a dull boy. It’s like giving a kid the choice of playing with a picture or a puzzle. The picture could be spectacular but how long can it hold his attention? If we’re brave enough to delve into all the pieces of the puzzle, spread them out, sort them, search for the edges, and take the time necessary to snap them all together, surely we'll be much more engaged, entertained, and ultimately satisfied. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my life to be a twelve piece puzzle. If I'm destined to piece this sucker together, I need complexity. Furthermore, I can’t imagine being happy with someone who prefers to play with a twelve piece puzzle. Where is the mystery? Where is the challenge? Where is the reward? I want it all.

Perhaps there’s a perfect closet out there for all my puzzle pieces, including the beautiful, confusing, edgy, simple, and damaged. As soon as I find it, I’ll store my regret there. I’ll attempt to organize and label each piece if I must. Whenever I have a free moment, I’ll pull it all out and chip away at the mystery. Surely I’ll never get bored. If I’m diligent, maybe one day I’ll step back and finally see the picture of my life, a masterpiece only I could create. Perhaps I’ll be in a wheelchair by then. Maybe I’ll be in a hospital or a nursing home. My hair will be white, my face dented with time. With my heart barely beating and my hands filled with sun shining like the tears of my children, I’ll smile as I gently close my eyes. Perhaps then I’ll see the road to no regret. I’ll go there--and look for you.

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6527212 June 10, 2008

"Surely Not Shirley," Charlotte Said

One late night in 1986, my friend Charlotte and I were in a club called Cowboy’s in Bossier City, Louisiana. As we sat drinking beer and watching people, I suddenly said that within twenty years (when we were each settled with kids of our own), it just might be acceptable for one of those kids, or a kid down the block, (let’s call her Shirley) to announce at the dinner table that she plans to take Tina to the prom. Charlotte made a little uncomfortable laugh and said that surely that would never happen. She said, “I cain’t believe the thangs you come up with!” After quickly glancing around, she went back to peeling the label off her Heineken bottle. She's a physician now.

I don’t remember why, in 1986, I was thinking about people like Shirley and Tina going to the prom in 2006, but I do remember the comment because, in many parts of our world, it has come to pass. My intense people watching may have turned overly contemplative. I may have been thinking about how unacceptable the things I was busy doing would have been to my grandparents twenty years earlier. Perhaps I was simply getting bored; I believe I was dancing on a giant speaker soon afterwards.

I didn’t know what gay was until the 1976 election. I overheard my father say that Jimmy Carter was supportive of it. I noticed that he whispered when he said it. I was ten years old. By 1986, information on the topic still traveled in hushed tones. Certainly, bringing it up in a club called Cowboy’s on a Saturday night in the Deep South led to suspicious glances and head turns to see if anyone was listening.

Some people still believe it’s downright sinful to love people in ways that don't particularly make sense to them. I know these people. If you met them, you would likely conclude that they’re wonderful, mighty kind folks. These are people who talk pleasantly to strangers in the grocery store line. They would babysit your kids for free. These people have aberrations of their own and know it, so why can’t they grasp that the universe is a little more complex than black and white, good and bad, angels and demons? Many leaders of the free world don’t pretend to know the machinations of the universe so how have these grocery line chatters been able to figure it out so damn well? Why are they so comfortable casting stones? Sadly, love seems somehow forgotten in its own trial.

Love is complex, and it strikes at the oddest times. Can you love, or be in love, with more than one person at a time? Do you love your second child any less than your first? Do you love your mother more than you love your father? Intensity levels for those we love may vary at times, or all the time, but in its purest form, the human heart is an ever expanding tool. The limits are those imposed by society, circumstance, genetics, and sometimes ourselves. And the heart is not a cookie-cutter tool plopped into each of us on an assembly line just before we’re sewn together from head to toe. If we can love our children, parents, dearest friends, and grandparents in unique ways, couldn’t a woman love more than one man ... in different ways? How about another woman? Are there limits to what a heart might possibly feel? Could your neighbor’s tool be wired a bit differently from your own? Could the tool in my chest actually enable me to experience an emotion that you may not be capable of, and vice versa? Love is love is love, and once a certain variety takes root, must we judge its expression between two adults?

Are You My Mother? was one of my favorite childhood books. Written by P.D. Eastman, this classic story follows a confused baby bird who’s been denied the experience of imprinting as he asks cows, planes, and steam shovels the Big Question. He doesn’t know what mother is but he knows it’s missing. Lack of consistent maternal imprinting also causes Angel, the protagonist in Aberrations, to search for mother. In my novel, mother is defined as something soft and warm, accepting and positive. I looked mother up in the dictionary and wasn’t satisfied with the results. They all seemed to use the word mother or maternal without capturing the essence of it. Do you recall being six, crying over a skinned knee? Mother was the emotion you drank in with that big, soft hug that only she could give. Mother is unconditional love, acceptance, and hope exuding from skin that smells and feels familiar, encircling you until you know that everything will be all right, that you will be all right. It may be the purest experience of love we ever have.

Angel realizes a critical emotion is missing from her life, and she craves it. Her intense need to find it, and her loneliness, enables her to accept and understand feminine love in another realm. She later learns that mother, true love stripped to its emotional core, can come in many forms. Being a mother is complex and not having one certainly doesn’t make you gay or lesbian. But the powerful bond between mother and child impacts us in surprising ways. And loneliness causes us to do things we might not choose to do otherwise.

Sometimes the actions leading to salvation are unique. Sometimes they include things that wonderful, mighty fine folks may not understand. But if life truly is a journey riddled with a hierarchy of needs, driven by unique hearts that beat like tools, must we be ashamed of the roads we find ourselves tiptoeing or running down? Perhaps in twenty, forty, or fifty years, we’ll all meet at the feet of God and see how silly we were to ever believe we had love figured out.

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6527212 May 12, 2008

Home Sweet Hollywood South

This week’s edition of Entertainment Weekly tells us, “This month, in Shreveport, La., Oliver Stone begins filming a dark, comic, and already controversial movie about George W. Bush’s unlikely rise to power.” Stone’s movie ‘W’ is one of 22 separate projects, with a combined budget of 190 million dollars, slated for production in Shreveport this year alone. My brother and I used to call it Shreve-pit, the armpit of America. Our relationship with our barren hometown was akin to siblings yelling at each other while actually sharing a deep, unspoken love. Shreveport’s come a long way since then. On the West Coast, it’s now known as Hollywood South. Examples of movies made in Shreveport in the last few years are: Mr. Brooks, Premonition, Factory Girl, Mad Money, and Harold and Kumar: Escape from Guantanamo Bay.

When I was a kid, there was nothing to do in Shreveport except ride your bike, try to keep cool, eat fried chicken, and collect sunburns that peeled. In high school, we drove our cars around for fun. Many a night, we congregated on a fairly secluded, narrow, poorly paved downtown road by the Red River. It now hosts casinos, parking garages, and what seems like a hundred restaurants. You just can’t go home again, right?

The Shreveport I grew up in was extremely hot and fairly oppressive. Perhaps you grew up in a similar place. It doesn’t mean that positive things weren’t happening; that slow change wasn’t underway. Just like anywhere, Shreveport was filled with many wonderful people with good intentions. There was, literally, a church on every corner -- preaching love and acceptance-- yet the racial divide was so pronounced even in the 1980s that my 70% Caucasian high school elected a Caucasian set and an African-American set of class favorites. Two sets for each grade. Also, girls like me were insidiously discouraged from playing high school sports. That was what the tough African-American girls did. They made up the softball and basketball team with a token Caucasian mixed in. Those token girls were considered unladylike. They were immediately labeled. In fact, all the types of people one could be were rigidly defined. And they labeled you; you were rarely granted the option of labeling yourself.

One time in 5th grade, I played with three African-American boys at recess. Afterwards, my blond teacher pulled me aside to ask if there was a problem. “Did they hurt you?” she asked, her concerned eyes probing over me. I stared at her, wide eyed, ponytails baking, thinking, why is she asking me this? As I matured, there were many times when I questioned the logic and fairness of it all. Like the time, in 1985, when I experienced my first college rush week. As a member of the sorority, I was expected to help decide which new hopefuls would be invited to join our sisterhood. Slides of each girl were projected onto the wall as we discussed whether she was a good fit or not. When a picture of the one African-American girl brave enough to try made the wall, I was shocked at the comments. It was decided that, even though she was one of the nicest, smartest applicants, we couldn’t possibly allow her to join. We would become the black sorority. That’s how it starts and there would be no turning back.

I dropped out of the sorority the following week. The sisters were furious; you just don’t drop out, they said. It was unthinkable, down-right rude, a slap in the face to my sisters. So then I had one more label to put with all the rest I’d collected. Looking back, I think leaving that particular sisterhood was one of the most honorable things I did as a young person. I wish now that I’d done more.

Now, from Philadelphia, I see my hometown in movies, splashed across the big screen in my basement. I see the pine trees, the old high school on Line Avenue, Barksdale Air Force Base, and the Texas Street Bridge filled with movie stars and drama. Now, I drive my eight-year-old daughter to soccer and basketball practice, and wait for her to attend a high school that doesn't have class favorites. Where teenagers, like my oldest daughter, now in college, open their mouths in disbelief at the prejudice of having two sets of anything based on race; at the insidious ways in which adults, even teachers, taught prejudice; and how, not so long ago, nice people got the quick boot simply because their skin was just too dark.

I ask myself if I really want to go home at all, and the answer is always yes, yes, yes. Take me back, if only for a day, to see what made me who I am, that stifling heat and insidious injustice that formed my strong heart, that ripped it open so many times, knocked me down, and resisted as I pulled myself up. That gave me an appreciation of pain and hardship, oppression, and mercy. I wish I could go back and right the wrongs that surrounded me, and appreciate the many positives. I wish I could go back and right the wrongs I created. But I can’t go back there; I can’t get home. Now I can only write about it, and hope that what I have to say has value.

I wonder what happened to the rejected sorority hopeful. I wonder if she lives in the new and improved Hollywood South.


Related Blogs:
Hilary, Obama, and the Little Seedling (Jan 2008)
Sleeping with Deuce Bigalow (Nov 2007)

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6527212 May 01, 2008

Alone in a Crowd

Some aberrations are hidden in the heart. Are these any less important, damaging, or sharp as those in plain view? Their unique set of coping mechanisms run insidiously deep, and sometimes get tangled in surprisingly diverse aspects of our lives. There are a million different scenarios that generate this brand of aberration, many more severe than mine, others less. But is it so wrong to stand in a crowd and feel alone, pierced by my own affliction, wanting to be rid of it? The dichotomy of knowing we all have aberrations, that we live in this aberration nation, and owning one can pose a humdinger sized internal conflict.

Sometimes we laugh to keep from crying. We forge on, knowing that we have so much to be grateful for, and to look forward to. But that dark spot hangs in the heart, tangling, groping for a place of comfort. And so we still long for a caring smile, for understanding and acknowledgement that what we bear is sacred. It played a huge role in making us who we are. Like the edges of a puzzle, it somehow holds us together although we long to break away. If others can embrace it kindly, our plight to do so becomes a bit easier.

I’m a huge supporter of laughter. In fact, I could be a poster child for the incredible healing attributes of laughing at oneself; however, laughing too hard for too long can wear you down. I suspect that those who laugh, like me, sometimes wish they didn’t have to. Sometimes we laugh because everyone else is laughing. It’s the best way to keep decorum and normalcy alive. On the flip side, society seems to go overboard at times with our new mantra of political correctness; we can’t expect everyone to tiptoe around us and our personal demons. So where does this leave us and our heart gripping aberrations that just won’t go away? To laugh or not to laugh, that is the question.

In the long, winding road to now, I’ve come to accept that my mother suffers from a brand of mental illness, that her aberration grew into mine. My pain now mostly stems from the lack of understanding in others, and my heritage as a parentified child. Although my mother is currently on multiple medications, and doing well, she remains different. Her view of the world is not average. It’s one that is fascinating but at times tough to swallow. If she were in a wheelchair, the inconvenience imposed on others would be forgiven. But instead, she travels in an unseen chair, one that I have pushed and pulled and tugged, washed, and desperately tried to hide. Am I the only one who can see it? In 1971, didn’t anyone see the child pushing the wheelchair at 1109 Crestmoor Street in Shreveport, Louisiana?

In her book, My Parent’s Keeper: Adult Children of the Emotionally Disturbed, Eva Marian Brown writes that the task of repairing a parent’s psyche is impossible for the child whose main goal in life is to make mommy happy. We were all fated to fail in that task. Our childhoods were stolen by that overwhelming, impossible goal. We were adults at five, six, or seven. Now, as true adults, we are sometimes wise beyond our years, and yet we are too young, never having had the opportunity to mature at a steady pace. We are 200-year-old souls in middle aged bodies. We are giggling children commuting to work. This unusual, divergent mix provides tremendous treasures if we look for them.

The amazing truth is that my mother gave me an unending gift, the insatiable desire to move forward, to create something out of the thick and hollow, but cracked and overflowing, shell her illness gave me. When my oldest daughter was born in 1988, I began to understand more clearly how my own mother loved me. Her love is unconventional and unwavering. It is a love easily misunderstood, lost among the crazy decisions, angry outbursts, and paranoid moments. But through my journey, I’ve learned to forgive the invisible chair that has strapped her down. I just wish the world could, for one moment, see her through the rose-colored glasses I have learned to wear. I wish they could see her tender heart, and good intentions. The love she has for so many surrounds her in a pink, purple haze that clouds her perception, and fools theirs.

If the world can embrace the contributions of Vincent van Gogh, Abraham Lincoln, Isaac Newton, Winston Churchill, Jackson Pollock, Sylvia Plath, and more recently, Adam Duritz, surely it can find value in the aberrations my mother and I have shared. Surely it can forgive us our unconventional love and rose-colored glasses. Surely you can take what I have to offer. After all, it’s a gift.

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6527212 February 21, 2008

To Hell with Perception

My novel, Aberrations, will be re-launched this summer under a new imprint. The publisher, Greenleaf Book Group, accepts less than 3% of the books they consider. They love Aberrations but not its cover. According to Greenleaf, it does not adequately reflect the guts it covers nor does it meet current top market standards. Studies show that readers look at a book cover for about eight seconds. Those eight seconds determine whether they will pick up the book or keep walking. Packaging is critical to short term marketability. Long term sales rely on much more, including what’s inside. If the guts deserve a better package, let the designing begin!

But you can’t judge a book by its cover, right? Actually, you can but you may be dead wrong. I've heard that adage a thousand times, and I bet you have too. So why can’t we stop judging books by their covers in a culture jam-packed with diversity initiatives, politically correct obsession, and religiosity, all with a smattering of creative pop on top?

I love words but there is one I absolutely cannot stand. Perception. I’ve detested it since the day my first corporate boss said, “Well, that may be true, but the perception is …” It is the hidden root word of politics and the wood from which the corporate puppet emerges. The painstaking whittling begins even before we feel the knife. In my years of managing people, I struggled to avoid that dreaded word, determined to base my decisions on reality. But it was there, looming overhead as my employees and I stared at each other during evaluations, informal feedback sessions, meetings, and hallway conversations. All the while, I had to navigate through the perceptions afloat about Penelope. Isn’t life complicated enough without having to do this? It's akin to living your real life, struggling to be yourself and accept others while simultaneously operating within a SIM world where everyone is someone else.

Perception is the process of acquiring, interpreting, selecting, and organizing sensory information. It’s a highly complex process that occurs in less than eight seconds. According to Wikipedia, an object can give rise to multiple percepts, so an object may fail to give rise to any percept at all: if the percept has no grounding in a person’s experience, the person may literally not perceive it. If we cannot perceive what we do not understand, we define what we see based on what we do understand. This can lead to inaccuracies and confusion. If this is true, the focus on perception in the workplace seems counterproductive to all corporate theories of authentic leadership, individuality, and diversity. It’s like saying one perceptive view prevails based on a common experience. It is almighty and best that we understand it, model ourselves to it, and see others through its shining eyes. How can we win? How can we succeed on the strength of our own unique qualities? Perhaps this is why the traditional corporate environment is not perceived as creative.

Do these perception issues also lurk through our personal lives? If you’re unsure or suspect you’re immune (because you’re so highly perceptive, so skilled at reading people), watch this video about a guy named Paul Potts. And consider this case: an introverted bookworm lands in the top 10% of her senior high school class without too much effort, graduates early due to hard work, intelligence, and creative planning, and ultimately is voted the most dinghy girl by her classmates. (Note: Our use of dinghy may have been a 1980s southern phenomenon, short for dingbat, I suppose. Perhaps it was coined at my high school. It means silly, ditzy, dumb or frivolous … a small mind that floats about in a listless sea of ideas.)

I recently saw The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway for the first time. This guy with his makeshift mask and booming voice is a great example of someone who allowed the perceptions of others to rule his life. He hid in the shadows, stewing and yearning to be accepted. The story, particularly the movie version, questioned the root of his evil. He whacked a few folks so we can all agree that his behaviors warranted the ultimate rejection of his beloved Christine. His brand of love was just plain bad, right? Well, love is love is love. It’s not good or bad; what the world does to us is bad. It takes from us what is beautiful, and twists and turns it until it squeezes out however it can.

But that story occurred during the Victorian era; that wouldn’t happen today. Wrong. So many of us hide our gifts, squeezing what we have to offer into packages and puppets that meet the standard. Why are you doing this to each other? Can’t we tear off the masks, see each other for who we are, slay the corporate puppet, and burn to the ground all those preconceived notions that taint our behaviors?

So what happened to the most dinghy girl in the high school class? When she went to college, she began to realize that her sense of humor, although charming and useful for getting dates, didn’t support her intellectual goals. It was a damaging perception but she was damn brilliant at it. Too bad she didn’t get a gig writing dialogue for Paris Hilton, Kellie Pickler, or dear Miss South Carolina, the map expert. I hope you’ll like the cover of her new novel. You’ll only have eight seconds to decide.

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6527212 January 03, 2008

Curve Ball Salvation








Have you ever lied? Likely a stupid question. What about lying by omission?


We all know lying is wrong but can telling the truth hurt too? Of course it can. It hurts the way love hurts, I guess. Someone recently told me there is truth to be seen in the lies people tell. In a black and white world, a lie is wrong despite the content or why we feel the need to speak it. In a gray world, the lines become blurred. I wonder how important it is to share every single thing happening in my life with those who love me; is on the spot reporting required? How about those who don’t know me? Should I be an open book even if the book stinks at times? Must I share all my drafts or can I clean it up first, make sure it’s actually what I want and need to say? Can I spend time choosing the right words? Can I string them together perfectly before I dump them in your lap? Should the book of my life be written by me or by those who insist that I spill the beans, lay it on the line, expose my dirty laundry, and rip open my heart? Spilling the beans can create a mess. Laying it on the line can be scary. Exposing dirty laundry can be embarrassing. Lastly, ripping open my heart just plain hurts. Once you put it out there it’s hard to take back.


Sometimes I wonder about the truth; I don’t understand it. Am I lying while I figure it out? I don’t think so. In those cases, the truth is white, a blank space in my whirling dark mind. Was Jamie Lynn Spears lying before she came clean about her teenage pregnancy or was it simply not our business? Do I have to tell you everything that happens to me even before I understand it myself or decide what to do about it? Lots of questions, I know.


I had an unplanned pregnancy as a young adult. I also chose to have my baby. It just so happened that I wasn’t obviously pregnant until nearly eight months into it. I wasn’t trying to hide it. I wasn’t lying. It was just plain hard to deal with. Quite a few crude and rude college crowd comments regarding unwed mothers, white trash, and tainted wedding dresses were made by snickering, unsuspecting folks while I sat quietly holding my tongue. I knew they would eventually see the truth; I prepared myself but I wasn’t ready. Was I lying by keeping my mouth shut, allowing them to go on with their stories of shot gun weddings and sleazy girls? No one expected me, a middle class, straight A, college student raised in a southern church pew to be single and pregnant. Guess what? Life if full of surprises, and frankly, I prefer it that way.



Sometimes life throws unanticipated curve balls – something hard comes at you from a new direction, twisting and turning as it approaches at incredible speed. The best we can do is shift as quickly as possible to avoid the pain of being smacked between the eyes. Sometimes entire worlds are shifting. Sometimes it happens in slow motion and sometimes it happens in a split second. However it comes, it’s blurry, like the past, present and future morphing into something we didn’t think it was at all. We would love to consider everyone else in the room but sometimes it’s just not possible. Does that make us selfish? I believe it makes us human.


So now I’m all grown up with a beautiful, mentally gifted nineteen-year-old daughter. What would the world be without her? What would I be? She handed me my heart on her way into this world. At the time I wrote:



Salvation,
Came at the end of my rope,
The cord that held us together,
Baptizing pain tore us apart,
I,
Exonerated,
She,
Born,
Into my life she shines,
Like God's bright eyes,
Upon the sinner.

Salvation comes in many forms and I know now that I hit a home run. We all must choose what’s right for us and when. Sometimes the choice is unconventional and controversial but if that’s the brightest, rightist road we see, are we to turn away? Are we supposed to lie about who we are and what we need? And are we lying while we decide, while we wait for the blur to clear? Jamie Lynn Spears has a tough path ahead but her road belongs to her; I won’t judge the mistakes or choices involved. For me, it couldn’t have happened any other way. If you think so, you don’t know me at all. It was wrong but it was right. Bad but good. Please make your way in life and I’ll make mine. My road may be twisted, too narrow in spots, and wide as hell in others, but I can't turn back. That would be a forfeit.

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6527212 December 14, 2007

Break My Bones, Please

I bought a bookmark in 1984 that still hangs on my bulletin board. It says success is failure turned inside out and that one should stick to the fight when hardest hit. It’s extremely corny but I still take the time to read it every now and then. I thought of that bookmark when I heard about Evel Knievel’s recent death. This guy must have the record for sticking to the fight. What fascinates me is that it was his unique fight; he seemed to live in a different world.

Some people believed Evel was just plain stupid. I’m sure that thought went through my mother’s head on the fateful day my brother and I decided to stand up on our bicycle banana seats while riding as fast as our five and six-year-old legs could get us going. For a brief fairy tale, hands-in-the-air moment I was on top of the world, like Evel flying across the Snake River Canyon. But like the big guy, I fell and ended up with a huge concrete-induced scrape on my left cheek. There was blood and puss and gravel, a huge bandage on my tiny face, and a million tears. But in the end it made for the most spectacular show-and-tell story of the year. In the 70’s, puss was big in kindergarten. I’m lucky I don’t have a nasty scar.

There’s an Irish proverb that says it’s better to be a coward for a minute than dead the rest of your life. A lot of people live like that and in one big huge way, it makes sense; they seem to be doing fine. On the other hand, Evel refused to be cowardice but he still died; we all do eventually. In my novel, Aberrations, Angel Duet says she’d rather die on the spot today than still be standing on it tomorrow. She realized that nothing could be worse than failing to muster the courage to move forward, toward the top of her world, whatever that was going to be. In his quest to be on top of his world, Evel suffered nearly 40 broken bones. According to Newsweek (http://www.newsweek.com/id/73206) he didn’t like being called a hero. He was simply good at riding a motorcycle and a smart businessman. But I subscribe to the theory that all the different worlds we live in allow for an eclectic variety of heroes. The top of Evel’s world may not have been that of my mothers, but he kept trying to get there as long as he could and that’s pretty heroic to me.

My teenage daughter thinks it’s a bit odd that I occasionally read the obituaries while drinking my morning coffee. I do it because it reminds me that life is fleeting and I’d best not waste it. I wonder what those people did with their time, how they lived and how they died. Was either painful? Was either pleasant and why? There’s a rare disease that causes a congenital insensitivity to pain. It brings complete unresponsiveness even to injuries that cause severe pain in healthy people. On some days we’d all like to have that affliction, either for our bodies or hearts. But if you study the outcomes for those individuals, you’ll realize that pain is good. Our ability to experience it gives us safety, pleasure, decisiveness, and joy. Life is a trade off.

We’ve all heard everything in moderation but I wonder if sometimes it’s healthy to stretch toward that pinnacle of joy, even at the risk of falling over the edge, to move forward. I want the view from the top and if I fall off every now and then, I think I can recover. I’ve done it before. Maybe broken bones mend easier over time. Does a broken heart? Not sure but I won’t suppress my life, afraid to find out.

If you’re one who thought Evel was stupid for enduring 40 broken bones, you may think I’m stupid, too. I don’t care. Falling off the top of the world sucks but oh the things you see from there. I don't want to cause trouble for anyone but it’s hard to resist wanting to share that sunset view. I read that Evel was satisfied at the end of his life, 40 broken bones and all. When the sun goes down for me, I hope to carry my broken bones in a bag across the finish line and through the pearly gates. I won’t call it baggage. I’ll call it treasure.



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6527212 November 28, 2007

Get the Hell on the Cart


Had any epiphanies lately?



Have you ever found yourself suspended in a moment that feels significant but you’re not sure why? You might even call it fateful defined as having momentous significance or consequences; decisively important; portentous. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. In my novel, Aberrations, Angel Duet experiences such a moment when she walks through a loud, smoke-filled bar toward Christian, his Bass shoe gleaming in the filtered light. So now you’re thinking, ahh, it’s all about love and romance. Well, no, it isn’t. It’s about the individual and where life is headed. It’s about a turning point, a vision of possibility, however fantastical or seemingly unrealistic. Whatever it is, it never feels wrong. It’s undeniable and right and true but in the moment lacks meaning. Sometimes it causes the tiniest click in the mind, like light turning on, the first crack of glass, an explosion of our preconceived notions. I’m quite certain it’s psychology.

I’ve lived long enough to realize there are very few truly epiphanous moments in life. But maybe there could be more. Maybe we miss them altogether because we’re so busy barreling though the grown-up lives we’ve constructed, fortresses that keep us safe from change and new horizons and believing in miracles. In his novel, Thirteen Moons, National Book Award winning author, Charles Frazier wrote, “Hesitate to get on the cart and you are lost. Maybe every life has one moment where everything could have been different if you’d climbed on the cart.” In Psalms 46:10 God says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Novelist and philosopher, Ayn Rand (http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer) said, “People create their own questions because they are afraid to look straight. All you have to do is look straight and see the road, and when you see it, don't sit looking at it - walk.”

Ayn Rand knew that instead of looking, really seeing the road ahead, we spend our time gawking at the fortress trying to figure out what will become of it, a scary thought for most. We hesitate and lose whatever it was we could have found. I think a lot of people hang onto the kingdom because they can’t believe in the possibility of something better. Life is filled with risk but it can also be filled with faith, that blinding silly notion that everything works for the best, that God is watching and has a plan. How can we even pretend to understand a plan that includes starving children, disease, global warming, and war? Do we need these fortresses to make us feel safe?

So when we find ourselves floating in a pivotal moment, what do we do about that? Do we allow ourselves to know a piece of God, get the hell on the cart, walk straight, and see where it leads? Could that be following our instincts or could it be playing with fire? Either way, we risk changing the life we know. Is that a bad thing, I wonder? Ayn Rand believed that reason should ultimately prevail; the intellect should guide us through our choice. She also taught that we must be true to ourselves. We each must consider the context of our lives; within that context there are correct and incorrect choices to be made. As individuals, we can choose our own path but we must be willing to live with the consequences. That’s why God gave us free will; I don’t think he intended us to waste it by making decisions based on the collective will. I hope my choices today are made for the right reasons … mine, not yours.

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