If There Are No Coincidences, What Do You Call It?

All right, full disclosure: this wasn’t the post I’d planned.

I had planned on writing a post on an entirely different subject. It was going to be insightful, thought-provoking, perhaps a bit controversial, given the subject matter… it was going to be something you’d remember.

But this isn’t that post.

Why? Because I’m a lazy ass.

Well, two reasons: One, because I’m a lazy ass. And two, because I just got one of those “whoa” moments. Read On

Happy Blogiversary

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.)

I wanted a pic of a birthday cake, but around me, cake never lasts long enough to be photographed.

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.

This is me, circa 1990, writing in a dive motel on the Oregon coast. I actually have very little memory of this - good thing I wrote it down.

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.

Me, watching the blinking lights with my eyes closed.

Thanks for reading. Year Two starts now.

A Flourish of Hate

It sounds like a real bummer topic for a blog entry, but relax – it was just a writing prompt I saw on creativewritingprompts.com yesterday. I briefly toyed with the idea of naming this post the exact opposite to counteract the ugliness of the phrase – something like “A Fanfare of Love” – but that title made me want to throw up a little. 

“Craft a poem or story based on this metaphor: ‘a flourish of hate’.” Intriguing prompt, I thought. It sounded like it had potential. For some reason it conjured images of an eighteenth century bureaucrat signing a piece of oppressive legislation and signing it with a pen that had a long fluffy red plume that danced and swayed with his signature, which was all loopy and curvy and pretentious. As he signed it, he declared, “There you have it: a flourish (he rolled his r so it came out “flour-r-ish”) of hate! Ha-ha!”  Clearly this man would be the villain of the piece. He had rotten teeth and a powdered wig and bad skin and never married due to his poor hygiene – my mind put it all together instantly. So without hesitation (or regard to the fact that I know next to nothing about eighteenth century living so the piece was likely to suck hard), I typed it at the top of a page.

And it sat there.

The prompt sat at the top of the page, inviting me to communicate. Real friendly-like. “C’mon, man” it taunted. “Eighteenth century dude. Frilly pen. ‘Flour-r-ish’. It’s all here. Whatcha waiting for?”

I couldn’t write about it, despite feeling that I needed to. Eventually that little writing prompt began to feel like a person I started a conversation with and soon discovered I shouldn’t have. You know the scenario – you meet someone, they seem pleasant enough at first, but then after just a few minutes, you realize they’re kind of annoying, fairly ignorant, and borderline insane, and you start to fear for your safety, and before you know it you’re scanning the room for the exits and judging whether you can sprint to the door before they retrieve the knife they carry in their boot. We’ve all been there, right?

“A flourish of hate.”

The subject wouldn’t leave my mind. Even after the bureaucrat with the fancy pen faded from my mind and I was just left with those four words on a blank page, I started to wonder, “Why did I find that particular prompt out of the 346 total prompts displayed on that web page? Is there a message for me here? Why can’t I just pick another prompt? Why don’t I want to write about this? And what is the real reason I don’t want to write about it – the reason I won’t admit to myself?”

I can’t stand it when I wonder so much that I start to ask myself questions because it usually leads to work of some kind, but the truth is, if I am “stuck” on a thing, I usually have two reasons why: the first reason that I admit out loud, and the second, more powerful reason, that sometimes remains hidden even from me.

So I will write about “a flourish of hate.” But instead of the B.O.-ridden bureaucrat (his name would have been Thaddeus if he had lived), I have decided to write about my experience with hate. There may or may not be a flourish involved.

I have had hate in my heart. There, I admit it. You all heard it, you are all witness – I’ve hated before. I am not talking about my dislike of brussel sprouts or my disdain for the state of American popular music today. I’m talking about pure, unadulterated, seething hatred – the kind of hate that obliterates all rational thought and replaces it with a dark energy that flows out from my body and kills houseplants with its toxicity. Huh-ate.

It’s not the kind of hate that gets lots of airplay on the news – not the broad, generalized version found in hate-crimes, the crippling hatred of racism – nothing of that scale. It’s more like the personal kind of hate that often gets depicted in literature or films. It’s my own private hatred of a few individuals. A select list of people who have one thing in common: my scorn.

Names? You want names? Come on, people, you don’t think I’d be that classless here, do you? First of all, they would mean nothing to you – I could list names like John Fairmore and Ed Lindstrom and Ariel Quackenbush and you would just wonder, “Are those real people? Did he just change their names? What did they do to him? Does he really know someone with the surname ‘Quackenbush’?” (Answers: No, they’re not real; I made up the names; they did nothing to me; and no I don’t know the Quackenbushes).

Besides – the objects of my hate are unimportant, because my hate is not about them. This is a truth that took a long, long time for me to understand. My hate is simply that: mine. It’s about me.

It isn’t anger I’m dealing with. Anger, my friend Rich tells me, is a God-given emotion that is directing our attention to something that isn’t working. Rich is a physicist and one of those scary-smart people that could make me feel incredibly stupid if he wanted to but he never does, and in fact he is one of the most accepting people I have ever met. Anger, says Rich, is a feeling, and feelings are not facts; they are neither good nor bad, they are just “indicators”. He’s always saying cryptic things like this and I nod like I understand and then ask him to explain what the hell that means.

Anger is healthy, he tells me. It is when we get to abusing it that it becomes the character defect of wrath – one of “the Seven Deadlies” as he refers to them.  “WRATH”. That word has always conjured images of dark, evil creatures with pointed tails and leathery wings that will steal me from my bed in the night and spirit me away to miserable places like fabric stores or the DMV.

Wrath seems to be kissing cousins with Hate. Can you have one without the other? I think not.

My ego will tell me that something as unsavory as “hate” is beneath me. My ego is a nasty little bugger who is constantly yammering crazy ideas in my head like a bratty little kid all hopped up on pixie sticks and Nyquil, and he likes to tell me, “Of course it’s about me! EVERYTHING is about me”. But that doesn’t apply to ugly character defects like wrath or hate – that’s not something my ego wants to own. Among all my baggage, the Hate Bag is the one that remains on the carousel, covered with tags from all the places it has been, going round and round, unclaimed, until finally alerting security and putting the airport on lockdown.

This bratty-little-kid (I call him Attila) says innocently, “Why, I don’t hate anyone! I could NEVER hate anyone, because I’m a Nice Guy!” The logic apparently being,

I am a Nice Guy.
Nice Guys don’t hate.
Ergo, I don’t hate.

Of course there is a word for this – denial. I know this, you know this, but sometimes there’s just no getting through to Attila. He’s usually too busy taking down names and cataloguing resentments for future reference.

So there is a list of people that have come and gone in my life for whom I have held absolute hatred. But here’s another truth that was hard for me to learn: Whatever the people on this list did –whether they actually did something, or whether I just imagine they did something – they did not do it to me. They just did something, and I hurt over it. That is the extent of it. What I do (I could blame Attila, but alas, Attila is just me) is I create my experience of it as one who was “done wrong”, who was “betrayed”, who was “victimized”, by the person in question. My whole focus becomes the other person’s actions instead of my own actions, and we all know which of those is within my control.

The question that I have to ask myself, when I get down to the simple facts of a matter, is “Why isn’t it okay for that person to be who he/she is? Why isn’t it okay for them to be flawed? To make the mistakes they made? To value something else more than they value me? To make choices I wouldn’t have made? Why isn’t it okay for them to be human?” And if I’m lucky, I’ll get around to asking, “Why am I letting their actions affect me so much?”

It is, of course, okay for them to be human. But if I focus only on my pain, I get angry. And if I dwell in my anger, I get hateful. And hate, Yoda would tell me, leads to the Dark Side. And if I honestly search my heart for the reasons why I hate, I usually find that there is something about myself that I am not addressing. Maybe I’ve been guilty of the same transgression for which I am condemning other person. Maybe I recognize I’m capable of committing the same mistakes as they are. Maybe I never realized that my own grandiosity made it impossible for these people to live up to such unrealistic expectations in the first place. Maybe I’m not telling the truth about my own flawed, human existence. Maybe I have the same potential for assholery as anyone else does.

These are truths I admit out loud. I share them with people freely. But as I mentioned, there is usually another truth, one that remains hidden, sometimes hidden even from myself. The truth about my hatred that I don’t admit out loud is: I hate because I choose to. And I choose to because it’s easier.

It’s easier to blindly hate someone else than it is to own my defects of character. It’s easier to hate that person who “betrayed” me because then I get to play the victim and blame my troubles on that person. It’s easy to be judge, jury and executioner to that person because then I don’t have to look at my self-centered fear. It’s easier to make the other person “bad” and “wrong” and deny their humanness than it is to acknowledge that I’m simply refusing to see it any other way. That, after all, is the essence of forgiveness: to see it another way.

I can always choose to see it another way, or I can choose to hang on to the pain, thereby ensuring the hatred thrives. How I create the experience is up to me. I get to choose, and I often forget that I have a choice.

I don’t think I could’ve written this much about Thaddeus and his oppressive governance. I see there was another purpose for my stumbling upon that writing prompt. I reckon it is up to the reader to determine if there was actually “a flourish of hate” in this post. It certainly didn’t end up being about what I thought it would when I began. I guess the purpose here was not about experiencing creative writing but to write about creating experience.

Next time, it might be more fun for me to go with a simpler, basic writing prompt – like, “What I Did On My Summer Vacation”, because there’s lots of interesting stuff to write about there. Like this one time, at Burning Man…