Inspire and Be Inspired

Head on over to the new davecenker.com, sign up to be a member of my author community, receive a free award-winning short story and continue the conversation! See you there!

DaveJen-BannerOne thousand days ago (hey, it just sounds better than 2 years, 8 months, and 26 days) I remember sitting down with a guitar resting on my knee.

Those malformed chords I was strumming were messy sounding, but the chord it struck inside me was perfectly in tune. I remember thinking … I should start a blog. It came out of the blue, and I wasn’t sure why I vocalized that thought. I had written less than a total of 500 creative words up to that point in my life.

If someone would have told me way back then that I would be composing this post today, I would have surely let out an involuntary chuckle beneath my breath. It’s not that I wouldn’t have wanted to be here, but I have this way of starting different things (lots of them) only to have them collect metaphorical dust as the initial excitement fizzles out along with my passion for it.

And yet, a thousand days and just a few more than five hundred words later, I compose this post with an anxious yet excited heartbeat. This will be my last post at this blog site. That’s the sad part, for me at least. This little corner of the blogosphere has been a sort of virtual private sanctuary for me to discover and share insights, thoughts, and stories with each and every one of you.

The exciting news – again, for me at least, and hopefully for you too – is that my writing will continue forward with as much, if not more passion than I have had up until this point. Today, I am launching my new author-centric website at www.davecenker.com.

For those of you that have been following along with me on this journey over the past three years, you will know my tagline by heart – inspire and be inspired.

Second ChanceI’ve written personal essays, flash fiction, short stories, and even a novella up until this point. During NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this past November, I set an ambitious goal to write my first novel, uncertain where that lofty ambition would land me. 50,000+ words and several personal revisions later, I have a draft of my first novel, Second Chance, that I am now ready to pass over to my editor. My plan is to have it published sometime later this year.

In an effort to build an author platform, I have migrated my online presence to www.davecenker.com. Along with promotion and news on the release of my first novel, I will be offering flash fiction, short stories, book reviews, and the occasional dip into non-fiction.

I have a feeling that pressing the publish button on this post is going to be more difficult than any I have pressed up until this point in my writing life. But, if you’re reading this, I suppose that I’ve been successful in overcoming that small hurdle.

I want to sincerely thank each and every one of you for all the reads, the likes, and most importantly, the comments that have helped me to embrace this role as an author. I know it sounds so cliché, but truer words could not be spoken – I simply couldn’t have done it without you.

HomecomingI invite each one of you to visit my new site and continue onward with me on this journey we have started together. As a small token of my appreciation, when you sign up to be a member of my author community, I will send you a copy of a previously unreleased short story titled Homecoming. I would be honored to share this story with you that has received an honorable mention in the 2015 Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Contest.

You can join my author community by visiting my new site at www.davecenker.com and clicking the Free Story! link in the top right corner of the home page. I’ll still be checking this site for the next couple of weeks, so if you have any problems or questions, feel free to leave a comment here.

And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings. ~Meister Eckhart

Let the magic of new beginnings be with each and every one of you. Inspire and be inspired.

 

Cross country

greyhound-bus-logo

Anticipation
It makes my heart beat
With an intensity I have not felt before
What is this feeling
The insatiable longing to be where I am not

The silver box
Adorned with a race dog upon the side
Sidles up to the curb
The doors open
An invitation I cannot
I will not refuse

Seconds turn
To minutes
To hours
As the music draws me closer
Our song is playing

I feel like I am moving backwards
Away from my destination
Instead of towards it
I cannot arrive soon enough

The plethora of people
Waiting at my destination
Packed into such a small space
Like sardines in a can
Some anxious, some sad, most indifferent

My heart beats even faster
As if to send out a homing beacon to her
Staring back at me
From the sea of people
With unconditional love
Her innocent and genuine smile
Allows my heartbeat to subside
I am at peace
When I see a refined reflection of myself
My beautiful daughter

We all travel great distances cross-country to reach the next stop on our personal journey. Sometimes, the destination we arrive at is not what we expected when we initially set out – much like I hoped to convey in this poem about a father and his daughter. When I began my journey with writing on this blog, I never even imagined that I would be composing the words in this next sentence.

My first self-published e-book is now available on Amazon. It is a short compilation of four previously released short stories on this blog (Rescue, Open Book, Little Things, and Unspoken Voice). Included is the original story along with a short passage that provides a peek inside the mind of the author – my personal source of inspiration behind the idea for each story.

From today, Wednesday, May 6, 2015 through Sunday, May 10, 2015, you can download the Kindle book for free. Thank you to each and every person who has chosen to read and comment on my humble offerings. You have each helped, encouraged, motivated, and inspired me to take this next step on my writing journey. I hope to be able to pass on a bit of that inspiration to others. Inspire and be inspired.

Visit and download Inspiraction from the the Amazon Kindle Store today 🙂

Shifting gears

mustang-50I sit at the traffic signal, eyes locked on the red light. My left foot is depressing the clutch while my right foot is hovering over the top of the accelerator pedal. With my left hand at the eleven o’clock position on the leather wrapped steering wheel, my right hand caresses the gear shift knob presently in first gear. The tunes are streaming wirelessly from the cell phone in my left pocket and I am perched at the starting line awaiting clearance to launch with the anticipation of a green light.

I have been in this situation many times before. The versatility provided by my car allows me so many choices. I can ease away from a standstill and revel in the low rumble of the engine as the RPM gauge cycles from 1,000 to 3,000 – back and forth through the sequence of gears.

I can punch the accelerator with my right foot while simultaneously releasing pressure on the clutch pedal and accelerate – to a legal speed, of course – faster than most vehicles on the highway. And it’s perhaps what I enjoy doing most, getting where I want to be posthaste, both in my car and in the things I set out to do in life.

I was prepared to do just that on this day when something happened. It’s another reason why I am so protective of the commuting time in my car. It’s like a personal sanctuary for me. Some of my most persuasive and compelling thoughts have come to me while nestled in the cockpit of the driver’s seat.

As the final chords of The Goo Goo Dolls Rebel Beat finished, there was a momentary pause while the software in my phone decided what would be queued up next. Once upon another time.

sara-once-upon-another-timeNo, this is not the beginning of a story. This was the song now streaming through my car speakers. The title track off Sara Bareilles’ EP album released in 2012 had been played so many times before. But, on this particular day, it provided me with something different than it had in the past – perspective. There is no logical reason why I heard the lyrics differently on this given day, why I paid them more attention, especially since I was focused on coordination of movements between feet, hands, and brain to accelerate quickly off the starting line. But, that is exactly why I have allowed logic to ride in the backseat more often these days. Situations arrive on our doorstep when we are ready to invite them inside for a visit. Today was that day.

Once upon another time
Before I knew which life was mine
Before I left the child behind me
I saw myself in summer nights
And stars lit up like candle light
I make my wish but mostly I believed

Something about the words resonated with me on this go-around. And I felt compelled to look up the meaning of these lyrics when I arrived into work. In an interview, Sara explained that this title track is really about loss of your childhood and letting go of your past, a part of her journey through life at the time she wrote the song. I sat and thought for a few moments. I was grasping for some connection. I was meant to hear these words in a different light for some reason. I just couldn’t figure out what it was. I had a good childhood. There was nothing I needed to let go from that past. And then, it hit me like a proverbial ton of bricks. There is more than one past. There are an infinite number of pasts that we are creating each and every moment of each and every day. And I did need to let go of one of those to move on towards my next big ambition.

rafiki-it-is-timeFor the past year, I have been publishing short stories to this blog. And it has been extremely gratifying – to tell stories, to share emotions, to welcome everyone who chooses to read them into my small corner of the world. It has become comfortable – like a warm blanket on a cold winter night. But, it is time for me to toss the comfy blanket aside and embrace the chilly air of doubt and uncertainty. You see, I have been encouraged, nudged – and eventually now – persuaded towards publishing some of my stories. I have a sense that it is going to require a fair amount of time, work, and growing pains to reach this ambition. But, as Rafiki proclaims in The Lion King, “It is time.”

Here I was, all ready to accelerate to 60 mph as quickly as I could, and instead I ease from one gear to the next as the captivating sounds of the harmonium echo in my ears. I am not going anywhere from a writing sense. In fact, I will probably be writing as many stories, if not more, than what I was writing before. But, they will now be in anticipation of publication in a book as well as on my blog.

Many of the stories that I have previously published on this blog will be made accessible, in the near future, via Amazon in e-book format. Check if one of your favorites is slated for release through the new Short Stories menu on the home page of my blog. If your favorite isn’t there, let me know and I will add it to my next wave of short stories to be published in e-book format. Each of the stories will be provided in their entirety with a short passage provided by me detailing the inspiration behind the story.

artist-easelIn addition, I will be releasing a new short story series titled Impression exclusively on Amazon. As a humble way of showing my appreciation for everyone who has read and commented on my stories to date, this new short story will be available to download for free during the initial days after release.

I will still be a regular contributor in the blogosphere – perhaps just in a different capacity now. I am not exiting the highway, I am simply changing lanes. I am shifting gears so that I can accelerate towards the next step on my own journey as an author. It’s a difficult decision for me, more than you could probably imagine. I have had this draft sitting on my computer and in the back of my mind for several weeks. Although things never seem to be black and white – except for my car, of course – the perspective provided by each situation helps us to discern the various shades of gray in between the two extremes. And even though it may not be easy or comfortable, it’s the process of choosing one of those shades of gray that adds depth to our perspective, and growth to our lives.

Open book

open-bookMaybe it was the scent of freshly roasted espresso beans. Or perchance it was the names of influential authors decorating the walls – Faulkner, Hemingway, Kipling, Yeats, and Steinbeck. Whatever the reason, the quiet bookstore situated off the bustling city street was a personal sanctuary for Evan.

Others found solace in the smoky confines of a pub, the noisy background and alcoholic influences drowning out the stressors of any given day. Evan never subscribed to this form of social medication. It wasn’t because of some moral dilemma that he shied away from this modus operandi for so many others. He had tried it himself on my different occasions – beer, wine, vodka, and scotch – they all placated his animosity temporarily, but it returned tenfold when the short-lived effects released their grip on him.

Evan was a thinker. He wasn’t one to push any occurrence, good or bad, to the mental filing cabinet before investigating it from every perspective, certain that there was some hidden nugget of wisdom to be mined from every experience. There was no amount of alcohol, smoke, or codependent bearing of the soul hunched over on a barstool that would ever allow him to reach his objective – a quiet and reflective journey within that allowed him to arrive at the same place he had previously been and see it as if for the first time.

That is why Evan found himself seated in his favorite bookstore café, looking left then right as if to absorb the information and knowledge in the books surrounding him through the power of osmosis. Four paces to the right in cooking and he has, at is fingertips, the steps required to create the most perfect flan in his kitchen. Eleven steps ahead in the music section and he too could learn how to play the melodic syncopation of the ukulele sounds streaming from the speakers above him. Seven strides to the right into the shelves of fiction and he is presented with a plethora of adventure stories, hidden caverns filled with elusive treasure, protected by the most ingenious measures, concealed to everyone save for those few who chose to look closer with a discerning eye. Evan wanted to be one of those few.

coffee-whipped-creamWith both hands wrapped around the glass hot to the touch, Evan was unable to see the steam venting from the hot liquid confined to its container. The small dollop of whipped cream on the surface was preventing that heat, that metaphorical tension, from escaping. Slowly, however, that whipped cream succumbed to the influence from the espresso below, dissolving into the mocha flavored java, allowing the inevitable release of heat. The physical realities of the natural world had a way of opening Evan’s mind to the more esoteric complexities of the world that were unable to be seen by the human eye.

The rustic wooden chair that he sat upon creaked with every subtle movement. Leaning onto the table built from splintering wood, its four legs rocked back and forth from its imperfect construction. We all have our own problems, imperfections, and stumbling blocks, thought Evan. It’s not what happens to us that matters, it’s how we respond to it. He had read that in at least one of the volumes surrounding him right now, perhaps in several of them.

Sometimes Evan found himself in this sanctuary out of habit. Today, however, a specific catalyst accounted for his presence at the café table. As he loosened his tie in an attempt to quell the hostility beginning to resurface, he recalled the events of the staff meeting earlier that day. It was one thing to disagree with a colleague’s opinion. That was natural and necessary. It was quite another to backhandedly undermine another colleague’s suggestion in the name of personal gain. As deeply as he contemplated the scenario, Evan could not find an angle that made any logical sense other than pure, unadulterated greed. His patience for this bureaucratic and political landscape of big business was waning with every supporting circumstance.

Looking back up from his coffee, eyes perusing the other patrons in the café, Evan noticed a couple three tables over, just out of earshot. A middle aged man and a slightly younger woman sat across from each other. The man was slouched over the table, head in his hands, right leg bouncing up and down with anxiety. The woman held a much more composed demeanor, sitting more upright, reaching across the table with her left hand. The diamond ring on her left finger sent Evan’s thoughts running rampant.

Was this woman a mistress, now just breaking the news that she was, in fact, married? Was the man hiding something from the woman across from him, attempting to work up the courage to share it with her? Or maybe the two individuals were brother and sister, figuring out how to deal with the failing health of their parents, one handling it better than the other? Evan surmised that he had perhaps read too many far-fetched novels filled with unexpected plot twists, but the possibilities were endless. His curious nature was too strong.

Feigning indifference to the developing situation, Evan rose from his customary table, laptop in tow, and meandered towards the periodicals, picking up the closest magazine within his grasp. Wandering slowly back into the café area, he chose a different seat, slightly closer to the couple. Flipping through the pages of his recently acquired magazine, he could hear the exchange of voices between the two.

“What are we going to do,” the man pleaded with desperation.

“It’s OK, we will get through this,” reassured the woman.

“But, the mortgage, the college fund for the kids – heck, the electric bill – how are we going to get through this,” he questioned with a bit more urgency.

“Honey, just because I lost my job doesn’t mean there isn’t another one out there for me. It might take a little time and patience, but we will get through this.” She reached across the table and tenderly took hold of his hand.

As the man’s hands uncovered his face, Evan could see the tears running down his cheek. He thought once again of the whipped cream in his coffee cup. Just like the steam trapped within, emotions always find a way to seep through the barriers suppressing them. Sometimes, it takes more time, more persuasion, and more reflection to bring those emotions out into the world. Sometimes we need to be able to accept those feelings ourselves before we can even contemplate sharing them with others. There is always another angle, thought Evan.

george-bernard-shawAs if controlled by his subconscious mind, he leaned over and retrieved the laptop from its case. His eyes drawn to the author’s names on the wall, his gaze fell upon one in particular – George Bernard Shaw. Evan recalled a quote from this great playwright – Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

Looking back down at his open laptop, a blank document and a blinking cursor greeted Evan’s eyes. It was both a challenge and an opportunity, a blank canvas awaiting the unique brushstrokes that only he could compose. And with that thought, his fingers began to dance across the keyboard – Maybe it was the scent of freshly roasted espresso beans …

Blind date

model-red-dressOne step after another, Sara strutted down the stone street, red dress accentuating the curves that secured the modeling position she had held for the past six years. At twenty-five years old, the desire for more than monetary success and fame was beginning to stir inside her. She was on four different billboards across the greater metropolitan area. Her face had graced the cover of three major magazines, twice each. Sara had it all to anyone looking from the outside. From the inside, however, the situation looked much different.

Her days were consumed with constant focus on what she ate, what she did, what she wore, all for the sake of career advancement. If she were to gain five pounds or lose the silky smooth complexion of her skin, she was at risk of being replaced by another young woman who had a winning ticket in the genetic lottery. In the name of job security, Sara sacrificed her own feelings of personal security and identity. It was beginning to weigh on her in a way that had nothing to do with pounds read on a scale. She desperately ached for a connection with another human being in a meaningful and non-superficial way.

At the conclusion of this premiere fashion show situated on the shores of Miami Beach, she had two weeks of undisturbed vacation time to do as she pleased. Consumed with the focus on her aspiring career, Sara’s plan for the ensuing fortnight remained latent. The possibilities were unlimited but unexplored. She lacked the energy to plan the rejuvenation and reflection she needed so desperately in her life. Driving north towards her home in Fort Lauderdale, Sara decided to let chance decide the location for her personal holiday. Passing a billboard on the interstate, an image of her eyes stared back at her. She remembered that photo shoot, designed to advertise the city marathon being conducted the following month. “Marathon,” she thought aloud. As if through some subliminal connection, Sara decided in that moment to spend her two weeks in the Florida Keys. Marathon, located in the middle keys, was midway between the hustle and bustle of Miami and Key West, a perfect location for both physical and mental repose.

florida-keys-bridgeCruising over the span of highway that connected the mainland and Key Largo, this was Sara’s first expedition to Monroe County. Forget about entering a new county, she felt as though she was entering a new country, a different universe. The turquoise waters on either side of the narrow road caressed her disheartened spirit. She could certainly buy into the adage that it was more about the journey than the destination. Sara could just keep driving all day, each mile melting away the anxiety and tension that had recently taken control of her life.

The ninety minute drive passed in what seemed like the blink of an eye. As she rolled into the gravel parking lot, the cardboard sign hanging in the office window was short and sweet, “Be back in ten minutes.” Everything seemed to move slower in the Keys, or so she had heard. The soothing breeze and the hammock draped between two palm trees on the adjacent beach transformed that ten minute wait into a half hour respite as she closed her eyes and listened to the gentle lapping of water along the shoreline.

After a cordial exchange with the manager of the hotel, Sara checked into her kitschy room that was characteristic of the Florida Keys. The lavender exterior, tile floors, teal paint on the interior walls, and bedspreads adorned with large depictions of Florida native birds was overshadowed by the stunning view out Sara’s sliding door. With palm fronds dipping just into her view off the back awning, they framed a scenic panorama of the Atlantic Ocean that left her breathless.

Sara traveled light. After the hordes of outfits and accessories that accompanied her on various professional engagements, it was refreshing to have a single suitcase, the most recent mystery novel published by her favorite author, and her laptop. Relying upon the intermittent Wi-Fi signal provided by the hotel, Sara searched for dinner options. As if the signal had some control over the search results, the most highly recommended location was less than fifty paces away. Viewed as a small dive from the front of the establishment, the magnificent over-water deck view from the back was only surpassed by a promise for the most succulent conch fritters in the Keys. Easy decision, thought Sara. She was slipping right into the flavorful ambiance of this simpler life.

Requesting a table near the edge of the deck, the hostess happily obliged. Peering over the edge, Sara could see the fish swimming about, eagerly awaiting the scraps that were sure to fall into the water over these dinner hours. Even though she fancied a hankering for the proverbial cheeseburger in paradise, she opted instead for the grouper sandwich, and the conch fritters of course.

key-largo-sunsetAs Sara waited for her meal to arrive, she sipped at her iced tea and watched as the dusk sky transformed before her eyes, different hues of blue, violet, and orange painted across the horizon. The guitarist in the corner was playing a live rendition of Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes. The relatively minor change in latitude was not commensurate with this unexpected change in attitude. Everything was just, well, right and in tune at this very moment. The flames flickering atop the tiki torches danced in beat with the syncopated strums on the guitar while Sara tumbled farther into a state of complete relaxation and tranquility.

It was only the repeated voice, each request becoming louder than the last that brought Sara out of her pleasant daze. “Excuse me, miss?” She finally looked away from the horizon and towards the two men towering over her at the moment. Both of them wore sunglasses, which seemed unnecessary given the location of the setting sun just beginning to dip below the horizon. One gentleman, the one speaking, was much bulkier than the other, dressed in the formal wear reminiscent of a bodyguard. The other man, dressed much more casually in a pair of jeans and a white button down shirt smiled. He could smell the pleasant aroma of the perfume emanating from Sara’s pores.

The larger gentleman, once he realized that Sara had finally acknowledged their presence, spoke up, “Would you mind terribly if my client shares this table with you?” Looking around, Sara realized two things. First, she must have been away for quite some time because the entire deck was now filled with patrons. Second, those conch fritters must be the best in the Keys. Initially, Sara was hesitant. Was this some agent looking to exploit her talents? Was she recognized despite this relatively secluded destination, from a modeling perspective at least? But, looking at the younger man, the less formally dressed one, she sensed something different. Even though she couldn’t see his eyes, she could read his body language. There was nothing about his appearance that suggested manipulation. “Sure,” she said, “have a seat.” Whether it was the sweet and sultry tone of her voice or simply the invitation to join her, the young man’s smile widened.

Sitting down, he looked across at her from behind his shades and introduced himself, “How are you doing? My name is Jack. Thanks for allowing me to join you. I appreciate it.”

“No problem, what brings you to these parts?” replied Sara.

“Just a little R&R, you know, reading and riting,” he joked.

“Heh, I’m here for the more traditional definition of R&R. Where are you from?” asked Sara.

“Upstate New York. I’m an author. Well, I’m working on becoming an author. I haven’t really published anything yet, but I’m fervently working on it.”

“Ah, now that whole reading and riting reference makes a bit more sense,” replied Sara. “What do you write?”

Jack was used to this question. It seemed to be one of two replies that came after the admission that he was a writer. Half of the time it was what do you write? The other half of the time it was, Oh, I’m sorry in a rather sarcastic tone. Jack was happy to hear the less sarcastic response on this particular occasion.

“I’ve always been fascinated with Doyle’s work, specifically Sherlock Holmes. He’s been one of my biggest inspirations. So, I’m trying to break into the mystery genre.”

“Funny,” smirked Sara. “That happens to be my genre of choice too. Well, mystery/thriller, I guess. I haven’t read a lot of the classic stuff, but I really enjoy the contemporary writers like Patterson, Connelly, Deaver, and Koontz.”

For the next thirty minutes, in between bites of food and sips from her drink, Jack and Sara exchanged book reviews, favorite characters, and what each perceived as the most interesting plot ideas without realizing how quickly time had passed. For the first time in as long as she could remember, her stressful and high profile life in South Florida was the last thing on her mind.

sunglasses-on-tableDespite the wonderful time that she was enjoying with this complete stranger, there was something that kept popping into Sara’s consciousness, poking her in the side as if to say hey, something’s not quite right. She kept shoving it away, this nagging thought, not wanting to disturb the delight of the moment. Then she realized what it was, his glasses. Why was he still wearing them when it was clearly unnecessary? Hers were on the table in front of them. Maybe he was just one of those insecure individuals who preferred to hide behind a mask. Sara could certainly relate. Curiosity, however, got the better of her.

The inquisitive and distracted look on her face was communicated through the inflection and intonation in her words. Jack immediately picked up on it. He was an astute individual when it came to recognizing these subtleties. He beat her to the chase, “So, you’re wondering why I’m still wearing my glasses, huh?”

“Um, yeah, how did you know that? Are you a mind reader too,” joked Sara, easing up a bit once he admitted the oddity of the situation himself.

“No, but I do get that question a lot. I guess I’m just used to it. I wear these glasses, pretty much 24/7 because I’m blind,” replied Jack.

The silence that filled the gap between them might as well have been a chasm. It wasn’t that she was put off by his comment, just surprised. The thoughts racing through her mind were escaping faster than she could process them. She didn’t want to apologize for his blindness. That was too pitying and something that Jack had probably heard way too often. A blind writer, how does that work? She felt embarrassed at such shallow thoughts. Without thinking, Sara let similar words slip out of her mouth to fill the void, “That must make being a writer pretty challenging.”

helen-keller-quoteAs soon as the words left her mouth, Sara felt the awkwardness that they created, if not for Jack, at least for her. Jack seemed to take it in stride, used to fielding this common question among his new acquaintances. “It used to be,” said Jack, “but I came across a quote from Helen Keller shortly after my eyesight failed me. The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision. Ever since I was a little boy, I wanted to write. But, I never had the courage to take a leap into the unknown. I was blinded by what society said I should have done instead of what my heart was telling me. I was the epitome of that quote. I had my sight without any vision of what could or should be.”

Sara was left with a smile on her face that Jack could sense even though he couldn’t see it. Sara had always had a strong penchant for inspirational and motivational quotes. She had a notebook full of them in her apartment. She recalled one of them that seemed to fit perfectly well into this exact situation. “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see – Mark Twain,” Sara replied with the smile still impressed upon her face.

It started as an awkward gaffe concerning blind writers, and morphed into an engaging heart-to-heart exchange of beloved quotes by these two strangers sitting across from each other at the table. Like a dueling piano bar, the words were tossed back and forth, each one feeding off the last.

Jack: “A warm smile is the universal language of kindness. – William Arthur Ward”

Sara: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened. – Dr. Seuss”

Jack: “It opens the lungs, washes the countenance, exercises the eyes, and softens down the temper; so cry away. – Charles Dickens”

Sara: “The advantage of the emotions is that they lead us astray. – Oscar Wilde”

Jack: “The process of going from confusion to understanding is a precious, even emotional, experience that can be the foundation of self-confidence. – Brian Greene”

Jack was victorious, for with that last offering, Sara was left speechless. A quote from a theoretical physicist, someone completely outside her domain, shook something inside her loose and she began to feel a tear forming in the corner of her eye. It was not a tear of sadness, nor a tear of happiness. It was a tear of revelation. The chaos of her life situation awash with confusion suddenly became one of understanding.

Sara had craved a relationship with another human being. In that moment, however, she realized that what she really needed; at first at least, was a connection to her true self, without the distractions of what she was supposed to be. All the stress she felt prior to this temporary escape from her life back home came flooding back through the tears she shed. As quickly as they arrived, however, they disappeared, carrying all the superficial expectations with them, forever.

Sensing a change of venue might serve both of them well, Jack inquired, “How about a stroll along the water?”

“That sounds like a great idea,” sobbed Sara as she wiped the tears away.

couple-on-beachAs the unlikely couple stepped on to the beach, a natural affinity brought one hand into the other. And if as by some intangible connection, both had the same quote streaming through their consciousness.

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. – Lao Tzu

Sara felt blessed. She had finally found the courage to love herself. She was no longer blinded. The sun may have been setting over the horizon, but it was just beginning to rise on the possibilities for her future.

Alphabet soup

alphabet-soupI looked forward to the steaming bowl of soup placed in front of me on those cold winter days, even though I really didn’t like the way it tasted. Vegetables were not at the top of my favorite food list in my adolescent days. What did attract me to that otherwise mediocre meal offering was the sea of letters floating before me, swimming among the green beans, carrots, and tomatoes in search of their rightful place in my bowl.

Only twenty-six letters in the English alphabet, and yet the breadth and depth of emotions and meaning that can be conveyed through the precise arrangement of them is utterly confounding. Over the course of my life, I have used those symbols of communication to write checks, to solve mathematical equations, to compose book reports, to tell stories, and to share the philosophical musings in my mind.

There is one form of written communication that has always eluded me. My brain has never fully wrapped its metaphorical arms around poetry. I have consumed the words of the most respected poets, but my mind stumbles upon the words, like mental hiccups interrupting the flow of thought. Perhaps, like anything else, the appreciation of poetry takes patience and practice.

I realize that much of the predisposition to these sentiments is due to the less than fruitful experiences as a student in elementary, middle, and high school. Aside from the various renditions of the ‘roses are red’ poems tossed out on the playground among friends, my exposure to poetry up until this point in my life has been very limited. I recall the rigid rules associated with the haiku form, the free-flowing thoughts in my mind being constrained because it didn’t fit into the prescribed syllabic pattern.

Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words. ~Robert Frost

All my writing to date has been characterized by authenticity, vulnerability, and the conveyance of emotion. It is these three characteristics that light a fire inside me and allow me to exercise self-expression in the best way I know how. I have given poetry a bad rap, an unfair preconceived notion, and I don’t want that to be. It deserves an honest chance to find its way into my soul.

Gone are the restrictions, the rules, and the prescribed manner of composing these twenty-six letters of our native language. Instead, I turn my focus to the words of Robert Frost. I feel the emotion. I allow it to find its thought. I allow that thought to find words and pour out of my fingertips and on to the page. It may not be pretty. It may not be cohesive. But, it will be me. And therefore, it will be right.

I’m still not a huge fan of alphabet soup, at least not in the palatable form. I have, however, decided to compose a twenty-six line poem with each line beginning with the next letter in our alphabet, a different type of alphabet soup that provides nourishment for the soul. The thoughts buried deep inside are waiting for their opportunity to present themselves. Swirl your spoon in the sea of alphabet soup that comprise your daily life. Allow the letters to wade where they may. Allow the emotions to form and be carried on the coat tails of the venting steam rising from within.

Always wondering
Believing that good prevails
Caught in a tangled web
Dangling by a thread
Everything hanging in the balance
Forget what has happened in the past
Go forward into the future
Happy to part ways with the norm
Inside it feels right
Just following my soul’s whisper
Kicking bad habits to the curb
Laughing away past misfortunes
Meeting my destiny for the first time
Never looking back
Open my eyes
Place faith in the beating of my heart
Quit quitting on the voice from inside
Remove all inhibitions
Sip from the chalice of wild dreams
Turn them into a drunken reality
Under an enchanted spell
Villainous voices vanquished
Walking one foot in front of the other
X marks the next spot on my journey
Yearning for inner peace and fulfillment
Zero chance of failure, success is guaranteed

Looking back

yellow-traffic-lightThe approaching traffic light, color turning from green to yellow, beckons a decision. I look forward to assess the traffic flow ahead of me, I glance in the rear view mirror to gauge the distance of the vehicle trailing behind me, and I take notice of my present position on the road. Neurons fire in my brain that sends a conflicting message to my right foot. Depress the accelerator to avoid getting rear-ended, or apply full brakes to avoid running a red light. In a split second, I have looked forward, looked back, and somehow also remained in the present.

We are presented with what seems like an infinite number of choices, every second of every day. Some provide more significant consequences than others, but they are decisions to be made nonetheless. Accelerator or brake? Chicken sandwich or hamburger? Remain in the comfort of your hometown or move a thousand miles away to a new job and a fresh beginning?

As I sit at the red light that I have successfully navigated, the single engine airplane flying overhead reminds me of the delicate balance between looking forward, glancing back, and staying present.

During the practical test required as a part of obtaining my private pilot license, I knew it was coming. It was a skill that needed to be tested in order to assess my aptitude for operating an aircraft as pilot-in-command. You are taught to always remain two steps ahead of the airplane. Remain cognizant of every potential pitfall that may arise while you are thousands of feet in the air. It’s not only required to pass the practical test. It’s essential to remaining safe.

The mesmerizing murmur from the piston engine through your headset and the spinning propeller lures you into a complacent state. Until that sound and that movement is no longer present. The aviation examiner has reached across with her left hand and retracted the throttle lever to idle. “You have just lost your engine”, she says. “What do you do now?” There is a checklist for everything, so I carefully work through the memorized steps: assessing my altitude, locating a suitable landing spot, reporting an emergency over the proper communication channel, and attempting to restart the engine, all while gently and slowly bringing the aircraft closer to the earth as a glider. After living this experience firsthand, it is easier to appreciate why staying ahead of the airplane, looking forward, is more important than staying in the present and admiring the scenery.

I think about how this relates to my everyday life outside of an airplane cockpit. How much time do I spend looking forward, looking back, and staying present? And what is the right amount of each? As evidenced by my experience as a pilot, looking forward keeps you from enjoying the present, those moments right in front of you. Living in the past leads you to stagnate, either constantly relishing in past accomplishments and experiences or playing the “if only” game that plagues our psyche at times. And staying too present prevents you from learning from the past and planning for the future.

I have been looking in the rear view mirror more often lately, in my personal life, in my professional life, and in what I like to call my writing life. And they have some very interesting parallels to one another.

There are things I wish I would have said. There are things I had hoped to handle differently. The decisions themselves and their consequences are irrelevant. What was significant for me was deciding to acknowledge the decisions that were made and reflect on them accordingly. I didn’t obsess on my choices, although it was tempting. The key to my sanity was the decision to glance, as I did when looking in the rear view mirror of my car, and not hyper focus on the past.

In my writing life, I look back at the first few posts that I composed as a part of this blog. Looking at those pieces, I often mutter under my breath, “What in the world was I thinking?” and almost laugh at the absurdity of the content. Poorly written, maybe. Embarrassing, likely. Authentic, absolutely.

I am what most would call a recovering perfectionist. And you would think that my desire to go back and tinker with those pieces from the past would be impossible to resist. Truth is, I never have done so. Maybe it’s because it would be too much work, Maybe it’s because I’m lazy. But, more than anything, I know that it’s because one of my guiding principles is to remain vulnerable and authentic.

Those pieces, however malformed they may have been, were an accurate reflection of my thoughts, feelings, and emotions at that time in my life. Going back and reading them may be difficult for my discerning perfectionist eye. But, there is more to a piece of writing than the words. There is the emotion and feeling held in the space between the words and decisions. And in that sense, to me, these are works of art. They tell a story of my growth as a writer and as a human being.

Looking back you realize that a very special person passed briefly through your life – and it was you. It is not too late to find that person again. ~Robert Brault

rear-view-mirrorI am sure that another year from now, I will look back on a piece I wrote today, on decisions that were made and mutter the same thing beneath my breath, “What was I thinking?” And in a strange and somewhat peculiar sort of way, I actually hope that is exactly what happens. It means I will have grown just a little bit more.

 

Cookie crumbs

gingerbread-man-cookieOn a day when nothing seemed to be going right, his world changed. Riddled with problems from his waking moment, the alarm clock seemed to scoff at Seymour as it neglected to dispatch its wakeup signal at the prescribed time. The soap bar breaks in two. The two week old razor nicks his chin. Every green light becomes red on his commute. Even the elevator partakes in the mockery as the silver doors close just as he is about to enter. Looking at his reflection in the doors, Seymour sees defeat in his facial features. And he has yet to begin his workday. Marcel, the security guard on duty, always a grimace on his face, senses the anguish of Seymour, and offers up an apologetic “Dude, I feel your pain.” After all, misery does love company, doesn’t it?

Stumbling towards his office door, Seymour pulls the badge from his pocket and pauses to look at it. Half expecting to be refused admission, he reluctantly swipes it across the reader and is genuinely surprised to hear the signature click granting him access. As if, he thinks. The one thing that he wished didn’t work today actually did. Perfect. Just perfect.

Flipping the lights on, retrieving the laptop from his bag, he carries about his normal morning ritual, awaiting the next misfortune to reveal itself on this beautifully ill-fated day.

Have you ever been doing something, something you do every single day, and have a moment arise where your world shifts? Ever so slightly, your attitude is altered. Your heart skips half a beat, like what occurs with love’s first kiss. Seymour felt this very thing as he gazed down at what should have been his empty desktop. Part neat freak, part minimalist, Seymour wipes his slate clean every afternoon, both figuratively and literally. Bury the memories of the previous workday. Either throw it away, or stuff it in the desk drawer with the rest of the junk. Out of sight, out of mind.

That is why the gingerbread cookie sitting in front of him on his desk left him taken aback. There was no note, no indication that this was left here accidentally, or on purpose. Shaped in perfect gingerbread form, this inanimate object carries energy about it with the carefully etched smile on its face. In a moment of complete submission, Seymour picks up the cookie and takes a bite. And like a magic elixir, the smile of the gingerbread man becomes his own.

Curious in nature, Seymour continues throughout the day wondering about the origin of this sweet treat. Eventually, however, the banality of his workload pushes curiosity to the recesses of his mind. And like the remnants of his tasks at the end of the day, the thought of that sugary confection is wiped clean, purged from his memory. Until.

The following morning found another cookie, same gingerbread form, same captivating smile sitting in the exact same location on his desk. Day after day, month after month, another cookie appears in precisely the same location. Although it made no sense, Seymour came to expect it. There was a part of him that wanted to understand why this was happening, how this was happening. But, another part of him remained consciously oblivious to the rhyme or reason behind it.

Over those days, weeks, and months, something peculiar transpired in Seymour’s demeanor. His smile became wider. More importantly, it became a fixture on his face. Those trivialities that troubled him previously released their stranglehold on him. The clean slate that began each day became not so clean, in a good way. Photos of the scuba diving expedition taken with his wife, the perfectly heart shaped stone given to him by his daughter, the scuffed up baseball snagged down the right field foul line at a local game. All these physical objects now reside on Seymour’s desk, the recollection of each experience imprinting a permanent smile in his memory. And although his desk and his life had become filled with reminders of pleasure, laughter, and cheerfulness, there was a spot, almost sacred in nature, which was left undisturbed and unpopulated. Space was always left for that next gingerbread cookie to appear on the following morning.

On a dreary and rainy Monday morning, the ones characterized by melancholy in the lives of so many others, Seymour walked with a spring in his step. No umbrella required. As the saying goes, some people feel the rain. Others just get wet. Seymour is feeling the rain. He is feeling everything, and the feeling is inexplicably wonderful. Playfully galloping left and right around the puddles, a dance ensues choreographed by Mother Nature herself. As the elevator announces its arrival at his floor, Seymour begins to whistle a melody flitting through his head. Swipe the badge, open the door, greet the cookie. It has become his new normal.

wooden-boxIn perfect harmony with the beat in his head, Seymour’s index finger flips the switch to illuminate the room. And suddenly it is quiet. No whistling. The only thing he can hear is the hum of the fluorescent lights and the beating of his heart. Sitting in front of him is not a cookie. Instead, there is an old antique wooden box. Protruding from the keyhole on the front is a brass key adorned with a long flowing tassel, awaiting Seymour’s fingers to grasp it, to turn it.

Mind racing in a thousand different directions, he rotates the key ninety degrees. An imperceptible click breaks the deafening silence. As the top is raised, hinges creaking, Seymour finds two objects inside, a calligraphy pen and a leather journal. After months of gingerbread cookie after gingerbread cookie, this sight is an unexpected curveball, similar to the pitch that resulted in the souvenir baseball on his desk. Looking around blankly, focusing on nothing in particular, he takes the journal in his hands and fans the pages. Not really looking for anything in particular, just something to occupy his physical being while he processes the situation. About midway through the journal, a flash of black appears. Thumbing back to the page of interest, Seymour finds a note.

The gingerbread man of folktale fame was nimble and quick. He outran the old lady and the farmer. He was faster than the pig, the cow, and the horse. But, the fox was a different story. The swift little legs of that gingerbread man were no match for the slyness of that fox. That little cookie comprised of cinnamon, raisins, and chocolate chips was running from everything and chasing nothing. The faster he ran, the more confident he became, but the closer he also approached his imminent demise. Truth is, there is no need to run. We miss the blooming tulips, the fluttering wings of the butterfly, the calming sound of the wind singing through the leaves on the giant oak trees. Like crumbs of a cookie, the gingerbread men that have become a part of your daily life over the past several months have led you down the path to your real and authentic self. In this journal, write your story. For yourself, for your family, for complete strangers. Share those cookie crumbs with others. Inspire and be inspired.

Seymour flipped the page over, looking for more. There were no more words, no signature. A smile crossed his face. A different kind of smile. Not a smile characterized by pleasure or joy, but one filled to the brim with deep awareness and understanding. We are all in this together. We are all connected by a common thread, a desire to be appreciated, to be loved, to make a meaningful difference. And we only do that by sharing ourselves with the world.

On the way home from work that evening, Seymour picked up some milk, butter, and frozen pizza from the grocery store. He also added some cinnamon, raisins, and chocolate chips to his cart. That evening, and for many evenings to come his kitchen breathes the scent of gingerbread.

As he enters the lobby of his office building on the following morning, Seymour is nearly a half hour early. He thinks to himself that he better get accustomed to this new schedule. With eyes peeled for possible onlookers, he approaches Marcel’s desk, the disgruntled security guard, and finds the perfect spot to place this cookie, and many more to come. Retreating to a quiet corner, Seymour cracks open his leather journal wide, creases the binding, and begins to write with a smile spreading across his face: Day 1, It’s not the destination that we seek, but the path which leads to it that changes us …

Building blocks

let-things-goOver the daily course of our lives, we develop many relationships. Some healthy, others destructive. If we are vigilant, the problematic ones are not permitted to proliferate their malignancy, tarnishing our being and existence. And sometimes, we need to have the courage to walk away, just in time, despite the hypnotizing effect cast upon us, and separate ourselves from those ruinous liaisons we are sometimes drawn towards, whether by conscious decision or by fate.

 

 

Dear Ms. Block,

It’s not you, it’s me. I fell captive to your charm. I was enticed by the forbidden fruit you presented to me. I was arrogant to believe that the power you hold could be turned away from at will. Just a small bite couldn’t hurt, could it? The fruits of my thought tree were harvested with ease until you walked into my life. And since that moment in time, my mental gait is characterized by careful planning, walking on pins and needles, wary of every potential pitfall along the way, instead of a playful and carefree skip through the thoughts and emotions of my cerebral garden.

But, I don’t blame you. You are just doing your job. You’re only presenting that necessary challenge which makes the journey through life all that more gratifying and meaningful. You may not even like your job. And if that’s the case, I commend you for carrying forward with such tenacity and resolve. I have no negative feelings toward you, even if you admit that you enjoy the broadside slap to my ego that you so often administer.

I have chosen to summon you into my world. I have cracked open the door. I have welcomed you, unaware of the consequences it would create. And you have kicked that door wide open, bringing your friends, self-doubt and timidity, along with you. I don’t remember inviting them to the party, but no matter. I suppose that when you grab one end of the stick, you also get what’s attached to the other end.

If only I had known the acquaintances you keep, I may have made a different decision, never inviting you in the first place. But, maybe I needed to take this necessary diversion in order to appreciate the jovial nature within my realm before you and your friends crashed my party. The truth is, in a somewhat warped and convoluted way, I thank you for opening my eyes to just how enchanting my world was before you arrived. Thoughts free-flowing, ideas germinating like freshly planted seeds, nurtured through the use of my senses, absorbing the magic and beauty of everyday experiences.

It’s been an enlightening ride with you, bouncing through the potholes, swerving to avoid the puddles you set in my path. Was it a beneficial journey? Yes. Was it an enjoyable one? Not really. I have reached my tipping point. Enough is enough. We cross paths with those we encounter for a reason. But, now I am ready to exit this superhighway of malformed creativity. I will always remember you, for what you added to my existence through subtraction. I am stronger for the challenges that you presented to me. I am humbled by the things you have taught me, but I am courageously taking the next step forward. I have many adventurous and breathtaking travels ahead of me. I have a passionate rendezvous planned with my first love, inspiration. I am trading in my relationship with you, writer’s block, for creative building blocks that cause those walls you forge to come crumbling down. Adios. Au revoir. Arrivederci. Good bye Ms. Block. I will not forget you, nor will I miss you.

Sincerely,

The Sarcastic Muse

Share your story

tell-me-a-storyI tread on a slippery slope as I compose these thoughts. In the publication of this post, I may alienate some readers, or I may attract others. Either way, these words are inside me waiting to escape. This topic is tugging at me to be contemplated, in both my mind and the minds of others. Be true to yourself. Sometimes the words that are most difficult to write are the ones that need to be read.

I didn’t think that I would be producing this post today. Not in the way you think though. It’s not like I had some premonition of impending doom or anything like that. It is actually quite a bit simpler and much less melodramatic. You see, I begin a lot of things. I take on new projects, too many to count. And often, they sit. Unfinished, unresolved, collecting dust. It’s both a blessing and a curse. I love to explore new realms, open new doors. I just tend to not spend a lot of time in the room once I get there.

This writing thing? It seems much different. When I wrote and published my first blog post, I would have been lying if I told you I was sure to be committed to it eight months later. In my unspoken thoughts, I suspected it may just be another one of those transient pursuits, a fleeting passage through another door from which I would quickly run and escape, bored and unfulfilled. I was very wrong, and I couldn’t be happier that I was. That initial post was the first step on a lifelong journey. A journey that has no finish line, but one that I am happy to travel upon. One that will provide many eye-opening observations along the way, each important in its own unique way. Today, I share one of those personal insights with you.

I had no grand aspirations about my blog being read by other individuals aside from family and friends. However, when the first notification appeared in my WordPress banner indicating someone liked a post, a peculiar type of addiction was born. With the simple click of a mouse, my perceptions on writing changed course. Like an airplane being diverted from oncoming traffic, I felt rescued, blinded by the fact I was being redirected into a storm cloud.

Suddenly, the number of likes I received on each post began to serve as a barometer for my writing success. Not success in the form of monetary gain or anything material. Rather, success defined as my ability to put words on paper and have the mostly coherent thoughts make a difference to someone else in a positive way.

In the weeks and months that followed, each like, each follow, served to deposit a form of mental currency into my emotional bank account. And can we really blame ourselves for wanting that? I would be lying to myself if I said that I didn’t feel a rush of adrenaline with each of those mouse clicks that resulted in a new like or follow. Even WordPress nudges our excitement levels along by displaying the message ‘8 people have liked your post so far. Nice!’ We all want to be liked, to be appreciated, to make a difference with our contributions to the world. Whether they are for business, pleasure, or anywhere in between, we all want to be accepted.

But. There’s always a but. Being liked can be dangerous. For some, it can become a malignant growth that permeates your being in a truly viral nature, overshadowing the original intent of your offering. The euphoric feeling of swelling social media statistics blocks you from conveying your true intentions. I have been witness to many websites, many people, many attitudes that have been cultivated and nurtured based upon these seemingly innocent and harmless mouse clicks.

Special invites to like other pages, personal goals to reach a certain number of likes or follows, like me and I will like you mentality. It has evolved into a compulsive desire for some. As if coercing or convincing someone to click a button on your page will provide some tangible evidence of your worth or value. Without even realizing it, I was teetering on the edge of this precipice. In a somewhat hypocritical manner, I was outwardly chastising this behavior on one hand while relishing in my site statistics on the other. A fortuitous voice of reason spoke to me upon reflection of words that are very familiar to me. My bio page.

walt-disney-quotes-it-seems-to-me-that-we-have-a-lot-of-story-yet-to-tellDuring those moments of infancy as a blog author, I was also most pure, relatively unbiased by the feedback and opinions of others. And in the compilation of that page about me, I unwittingly defined myself, providing a personal mission statement to live by in the process. My four words, inspire and be inspired, have evolved from those initial thoughts.

I don’t want to be liked. I don’t want to be followed. What I want is to share my story with others. And to have others share their story in turn. What I want is to make a difference, to make our lives more meaningful. Together. A click is just a click, but a single word has the power to echo in our memories forever. Like me, if you wish. Follow me, if you dare. But first and foremost, share your story.