perhaps we love
because they reflect
to us the
that we first saw
looking up into the
face of the
pencil in hand,
a blank canvas
to convey images
unique to her,
ideas as strange and
as all those born of
whose minds are not bound
by the limits of reality
but instead exist in a
where birds carry umbrellas
and flowers are
as large as trees. Read On
Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.
Today is the first birthday for my blog. One year ago today, I sat down at this computer and banged out a bunch of words and posted them on this WordPress site as if I knew what I was doing. (I didn’t, and I still don’t, by the way.)
When I started Just Watch the Blinking Lights, I had one goal: to exercise my writing muscle. Wait – okay, two goals: to exercise my writing muscle, and to write one post a week for publication. Well, technically three goals: exercise the writing muscle, publish one post a week, AND get accustomed to writing for an audience. Those were my three goals as I set out on this new project.
The writing exercise was really the main focus, for in recent years I had let my creative muscles atrophy, and I felt I was wasting something very precious. The writing for an audience worried me, for I had never done so before, and the idea of opening myself up to people – friends and strangers – was outside of my comfort zone. Yet I needed to do it, because I knew I’d never be able to move forward as a writer until I’d developed some thicker skin.
But the one-post-per-week goal seemed simple enough. I know bloggers that have goals to post every day — that’s every. single. day. — and so I thought the one-per-week was going to be easy.
As regular followers of this blog probably realize by the irregular posting schedule — it hasn’t been easy.
Although today marks the 52nd post on JWTBL, I have not posted each week. Sometimes I have posted multiple entries in one week; more often, I have gone several weeks without posting a word. So even though my average might be on target, the truth is, I didn’t make the goal.
My reality is one of single fatherhood, corporate casual weekdays, deadlines, children’s schedules, trying to be a good dad and a good employee and a good friend, all while trying to carve out a new life for myself in what could be called ‘Terry, Act II’. I am loaded, and not in the good, financial way (but fortunately, not in the high, drunk way either). So with all my commitments and obligations, finding regular time to do personal things –like write– is difficult. Wait — no, scratch that. That’s a gross understatement. It’s bloody hard.
So I didn’t make it every week, but I did get some good posts in, here and there. Some were better than others — some posts fell flat, while others generated much feedback that surprised me at how much the writing resonated with people.
I made friends with strangers who happened to randomly read one of my posts, and I connected deeper with people who knew me but didn’t know I was a ‘closeted writer’. I have been writing all my life – but until this blog, I’d never shared it with anyone. Back in those wild days of my youth, I didn’t consciously decide to keep my writing to myself – I just did.
As this year went by, I learned some things about myself, so that’s kind of a bonus. But I found myself wondering, as the anniversary of my blog approached, if I should keep going. There was no way I would be able to post daily, and I was told that for a blog to be successful, you have to post every day. So if I couldn’t be “successful” at it (whatever that means), should I bother?
I considered letting JWTBL go dark. I had given it my best shot for a year, and I felt my results were fine because I didn’t really have any expectations of what this thing would be when I started. I just did it because I needed to write. Because that’s what writer’s do: they write.
Did I need to keep doing it publicly, though? That was the question I asked myself, as I contemplated abandoning this blog and doing something else with the time I spend on it. I figured some folks in my inner circle might ask, “Hey, what happened to the ‘Blinking Lights’?” but for the most part, there wouldn’t be any fallout from my walking away. This is how my blog would end, not with a ‘bang’ but — well, more of a disinterested sigh.
Then, last week, I received a message from an old friend of mine. I have not seen this woman in over a quarter of a century, since we graduated high school. Facebook is a wonderful tool for reconnecting with special people from long ago, and my friend Kriss is one of those people.
Last week, Kriss posted the following message on my wall:
“So hubby asks me yesterday “what would you do if Myah decided when she grows up that she wants to be a maid?” You’ll be happy to know I pulled up your blog and read him your post about your daughter wanting to be a waitress. Great conversation starter. Thanks friend!!”
Kriss was referring to my recent post, “My Daughter, the Waitress” – an essay I wrote rather spontaneously as part of a series of fatherhood-related posts leading up to Father’s Day. I wrote it in about an hour, and once I published it, I didn’t give it another thought — I just moved on. I received a couple of comments on it, but based on the blog traffic for that particular post, I didn’t think my audience felt it was particularly special or remarkable.
But Kriss’s message changed that thinking. The fact that one of my meager little blog entries happened to generate a dialogue between people fascinated me. Well-known and professional writers probably experience this all the time – but it’s a new experience for me. I was touched and honored by my friend’s comment, and felt a sense of humble gratitude at having something I wrote be referenced in a family conversation.
It made me think, “If a simple, honest post about my experience can be useful to someone else in any way, then isn’t that reason enough to continue to publish writing on this blog? Couldn’t that be considered, in a way, ‘successful’?” I’m not using the old cliche “If just ONE person is helped by my action, then it will ALL be worth it”. I’m just saying – if it helps and doesn’t hurt, why not keep it up? Why not share it?
So today I decided that this will not be the last post on Just Watch the Blinking Lights. I can’t honestly commit to posting more frequently than I have been, but I will commit to continuing to share my path with those of you who are interested in where I’ve been, and where I’m headed. I suspect the reason you read here is because your path is similar to mine. Or maybe we’re just headed in the same direction.
Thanks for reading. Year Two starts now.
stripes of red and white
bright stars in a field of blue
our flag is still there
more than an excuse to eat
the fourth of july
an annual reminder
freedom isnt free
the one day a year
a patriotic sound is
a piccolo pete
born on july four
the home of the brave
Happy Independence Day, everyone!
I have been told by people all my life, “You have a gift for words.”
That sentence was awkward for me to write, because it feels like boastful conceit, but it is a true statement – throughout my life, countless numbers of people have said those words to me. I used to blush and stammer a reply of gratitude, unsure of what to do with such a compliment. When I was younger I didn’t think I was gifted – I believed anyone could write if they set their mind to it. Today, I’m older and wiser, and I still believe anyone can write if they want to bad enough. But I do recognize a gift when I see it, and a natural way with words happens to be mine.
Once, several years ago, a woman said to me, “You have a gift of words.” That was how she put it – “of words”, not “for words”. It was the first time I had ever heard it phrased that way. It seemed like a simple misstatement of a common phrase, like when people say “Daylight Savings Time” instead of “Daylight Saving Time”. The point gets across, regardless of the syntax. But the way she said it stuck with me. I liked it.
I receive gifts every day. We all receive gifts each day, whether they be material gifts or gifts of the spirit. There is an abundance of gifts to be thankful for at any moment, though I recognize that in our 21st century world of schedules and calendars and tasks and appointments and 24-hour connectedness, it is easy to get moving so fast that I don’t see them. I try, but I’m not always successful.
I received a particularly special gift a few months ago. It is unique for many reasons: It is a one-of-a-kind piece of art that was created from recycled material; it was made specifically with me in mind; and it is both a material gift and a gift of the spirit. The gift sits on my desk, and I touch it every day. Or, more accurately, it touches me every day.
The gift is a box. I have this thing for boxes, I can’t explain it and I’m sure there are many armchair psychiatrists out there who will assign some Freudian meaning to my proclivity for collecting boxes. I’m not bound for an episode of “Hoarders”, I just have this thing for boxes. My office is full of them – boxes of varying sizes, the contents of each as varied as the boxes themselves. Some hold photos, some have cards and artwork from my children. Some hold old watches that I intend to wear once I replace the batteries in them. One box holds incense; another holds candles. I have a box that contains a few precious artifacts that were my brother’s before he died. There’s a box with little bits of nature I’ve collected that snared my attention – shells of certain shapes, stones of unusual colors, twigs and leaves and blooms dried but still charged with the memory of the time and place they were found.
The box on my desk was a gift from my sister. She is a very creative spirit, and I admire how she has unleashed the artist within her to create pieces of work that speak directly to the intended recipient. What’s more, she works with found objects – bits and pieces of random materials are collected and assembled to become something new and beautiful. It is quite literally one man’s trash becoming another man’s treasure.
My particular treasure apparently began life as a jewelry box, but in my sister’s hands it became something more. She removed an inner tray, exposing the felt lining inside, and after painting it a pleasing, masculine shade of blue, she glued a few seashells to the bottom. She affixed an image from a magazine showing an Asian-inspired drawing of waves on a tumultuous ocean, and added a bronzed sun ringed with orange-red fire. On the front of the box, where once was presumably a lock or a latch to hold it closed, she attached a metal disk that could have been a button or a coin from an extinct civilization – I don’t know what it is or where it came from. And she covered the lid with a piece from an old map of the Hawaiian islands – a stroke of inspiration that addressed my love of vintage travel posters and maps.
The box alone would have been a special gift that I would have loved and valued deeply. But the box contained another gift. They are known as “Angel Cards” – small rectangles of laminated paper, each with a single word printed on them. They are spirit words – pieces of vocabulary that invoke a sense of awareness, of purpose, of consciousness. In fact, those three words are in there: “awareness”, “purpose”, and “consciousness” are among dozens of words that are collected in this box. Words like “adventure”, “spontaneity”, “truth”, “light” – each one having a meaning and a power of its own. Each one intended to bring something special to mind – and to heart.
The idea is to draw one word from the box each day, and let that word do whatever it does to me. I could meditate on it, I could make the word a goal for my day, I could demonstrate the word in my actions – I am at choice in how I experience each word. So in the morning, I open the lid of the box and without looking, randomly pick a word. Actually, I pick three words each day. My little family consists of three people – myself, my son and my daughter, and so I choose a word for me, and two words for my kids. Three words. If Schoolhouse Rock taught me anything, it’s that three is a magic number. And there is definitely magic at hand here.
Yes, they are just words. But while words can never harm me (as per the “sticks and stones” chant), they certainly have the power to heal. Something happens each morning when I look at what I’ve drawn from the box. I’m reminded of something that I tend to forget. If I draw “tenderness”, for example, I’m reminded of the importance of a gentle heart with my kids, who are still young enough to be wounded by a thoughtless temper. If I draw “brotherhood”, I’m reminded that the men I encounter every day are all just like me, in varying stages of awareness. If I draw “synthesis”, I’m reminded – well, I gotta be honest, I don’t really know what I’m supposed to do with “synthesis”, that angel might be from a business college or something. But “play” – that one’s easy.
It might sound silly to say that there is magic in these words. Yet I cannot deny that when I see a word like “gratitude”, I think of what I have to be grateful for, and a change occurs – as if by magic. I see “understanding”, and I am reminded of St. Francis of Assisi and his prayer to understand, rather than be understood – and a change occurs. I read a word, and a change occurs. Magically.
I may sound crazy to some – that’s okay. I know that there are many who, like me, see a word like “love” and feel a glow in their chest; who see “courage” and feel a hum in their belly; who see “freedom” and feel an urge to throw their arms wide and breathe deeply. Words have the power to make people feel. A word can change a person’s day – we encounter this regularly. See how a demeanor softens upon hearing the word “please”. Notice a smile on a person’s face upon hearing the word “thanks”. Look someone in the eye and see what they do upon hearing the word “beautiful”.
This box on my desk is one of my most treasured gifts – it is, quite literally, a gift of words. As we approach the holidays, we will be bombarded with ideas and messages about gifting. Businesses are all ready to use their calculated skills in getting people to spend money on their goods and services to give as presents to loved ones. Televisions will be full of “news stories” about the latest “must-have” toy or gadget for this year. Malls and department stores will be overrun with people in search of items to purchase for that special someone.
No, I’m not criticizing the commercialization of the holiday season or decrying the practice of shop-til-you-drop bargain hunting. I love the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season as much as the next person, maybe even more. I enjoy it all, even the crowds in the stores, for I feel a strange sense of unity and connectedness with them – we’re all there for the same basic reason, after all. But my invitation to readers is to consider the gifts that cost nothing. A smile, a gesture, and most easily, a word. As you navigate the chaotic paths of the upcoming holiday season, spread a little magic of your own.
It’s easy to do. Write a note, say a word. One word can speak volumes.
It used to be, back in the “olden days”, that movies telling the tale of something that happened in real life were taken as being completely factual. If it was in a movie and told from a historical perspective, it was basically believed to be true – the general public didn’t seem to question what was in the media. No one seemed to ask, “Could they be embellishing any of this?” And unless the person viewing it happened to be a scholar who was well-read on the subject matter at hand, nothing was apparently noticed.
Then in later years, it became necessary to make a distinction that the story had its origins in reality, so a film would display the movie’s title and then, either tacked on the end of the title or displayed seconds later, the words “A True Story”.
At some point, I suspect someone got sued or otherwise busted for using the “A True Story” claim because it was soon modified to “Based on a True Story.” This would indicate that while the story had its origins in real life, some liberties were taken with the content of the film for dramatic effect.
Eventually this wasn’t good enough either, giving way to “Inspired by a True Story”. Why “based on” was rejected and “inspired by” was suddenly all the rage is unclear. “Based on” indicates that the story followed the truth in parallel; “inspired by” seems to indicate the truth and the story intersect but only at various points.
Now the trendy tag is, “Inspired by True Events”. The withdrawal from “true story” to “true events” just sounds like giving up. A story has a beginning, middle, and end, thus a tale inspired by it would logically follow along those points. An event is an occurrence, an incident that stands alone without the context of a story. It is misleading to say a film was “inspired by true events”. One could conceivably claim “The Wizard of Oz” is a true story because it was “inspired by” a tornado in Kansas.