Walking Around

Just a reminder for all my fellow work-a-holics – 

Never underestimate the extraordinary body/mind/soul healing power of a long walk past neighbors’ gardens with a child and a dog on a sunny, almost-spring day.

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Who Are You Surrounded By?

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It’s not uncaring strangers we need to look out for, it’s family and friends, the ones who are supposed to love and support us to the bitter end. They’re the ones who will kill your dream. And almost always, they’re also the ones who have never dared to do anything great, the ones who have adhered slavishly to the safest path, never taken any risks, never made the sacrifices or had the discipline it takes to be a great artist or do anything extraordinary.

They will try to project their own reality onto you – sometimes in the subtlest of ways – saying things like “I just don’t want you to be let down” or “do you have a back-up plan in case this doesn’t work out” – because deep down inside, even when your success might benefit them, they really don’t want you to succeed. They don’t want to have to look up to you someday.

But it’s not always comfort junkies you have to look out for. Sometimes it’s people who appear to be successful in terms of material accomplishment but their egomania and type-A competitiveness overrides their sense of decency so much that their success just doesn’t feel complete to them unless they’re also making everyone else less successful. Sort of like chopping everyone’s head off so they can feel taller. Of course, if you dare to question such a person about an insulting comment, they’ll react with the standard, “You’re just too sensitive.” (The #1 mantra of the insensitive.) 

I know. It’s a hard pill to swallow. But sometimes your worst enemies aren’t enemies at all. They’re the people you live with. The people who tell you they love you. Assholes aren’t just people that flip you off from a passing car. Sometimes they’re sitting in your passenger seat, secretly hoping you’ll fail so they can feel better about the chances they weren’t courageous enough to take.

So what can you do? Once you have discovered a friend or family member who is determined to keep you down, the only solution is to eliminate them from your life. If you can’t do that, never – and I mean never – share your goals and dreams with them again. You should keep that stuff to yourself as a general rule anyway. What’s the point of talking about what you’re going to do? It steals the energy you’ll need to do it and gives some comfort zone junkie a chance to discourage you.

Some people don’t deserve to join you on your journey. It would be wasted on them anyway. If you are attempting extraordinarily difficult things that 99% of humanity is too addicted to security to attempt, explaining yourself to them will be like explaining the cosmos to a flea. 

Fortunately, the opposite is also true, though rarely. If you have a friend or family member who is confident and secure enough to wholeheartedly wish you well, who encourages you and strengthens waining courage, who praises the slightest improvement and reminds you of the greatness within you even when you feel like you’re forgetting it, take the time you were going to spend with the dream-stealers and give it all to him/her. That person is a treasure in this world. 

Who Can You Trust? Humor poem (sort of)

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Who can you count on?
Who can you trust?
From the day you are born
till you return to dust?

Coca-Cola doesn’t care if your teeth fall out.
Phillip Morris doesn’t care if you cough up a lung.
OPEC doesn’t care if the earth is a wasteland.
Skoal doesn’t care if you spit out your tongue.

Casinos don’t care if you blow your life savings.
Wendy’s doesn’t care if you have a heart attack.
Developers don’t care about nature or wildlife.
Big Auto doesn’t care if we all cough and hack.

So who’s watching out for you and your family?
Who’ll care for you and for them if you won’t?
Here’s a clue that might help you figure it out –
If they’re making any money from you, they don’t.

You might say your parents would die for you
They certainly love you so I’m sure that is true
but they can’t watch you every waking moment
and they sure as heck can’t live your life for you.

You might say your friends are the best in the world
and I’m sure that they’re all very warm and sincere
but if you could see ten or twenty years down the road,
you might be surprised to see who’s gone and who’s here.

You might say your dog loves you without condition
and he’d faithfully walk beside you through hell
but if Mussolini or Hitler stopped by for a visit,
chances are he’d love both those bums just as well.

“Well,” you say, “Surely God watches out for me.
You’re not going to slam HIM, too, for Pete’s sake?!”
But drive your car toward the highest cliff you can find
and see if He helps you step on the brake.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that God loves us
and He’ll welcome us home when life is through
but for someone who’s bent on self-destruction,
there’s not a whole lot that even He can do.

Okay, so who’s really watching out for you?
Here are a few more not-too-subtle hints.
It’s not the police. They’re just too damn busy.
And it’s not politicans or world governments.

It’s not the Great Pumpkin or the Easter Bunny.
It’s not Woodsy the Owl or Smokey the Bear.
It’s not the Tooth Fairy or good ol’ Saint Nick.
(I hate to break it to you but Santa ain’t there.)

Well, I’ve narrowed it down pretty well
and given a lot of darn good clues.
If this was a game show or a board game,
there’s no way on earth you could lose.

But a game it is definitely not, my friend.
In fact, it should be chiseled in stone.
The only one you can count on 24/7
is you, just you, yourself, alone.

  • Mark Rickerby

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People Every Writer Should Know About #1 – Joseph Campbell

 

This is the first of what will be a series of posts about great writers and others who writers can learn from. I intend to learn from these as I post them, too. After all, when we stop learning, we start dying.  

Anyone who wants to write fiction or find their own true path in life should read everything they can get their hands on by this man – Joseph Campbell.

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He wrote a couple of books –  

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He may be among the top three authors who answered the deepest questions anyone could ever ask, about religion, mythology, writing, and their own inner nature.

He said some cool stuff. Stuff that not only inspires but saves you from the soul poisons of anger, blame, resentment, etc.

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But I think my favorite is this one –  

“We have not even to risk the adventure alone for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known – we have only to follow the thread of the hero path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a God. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outwards, we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”

Jonathan Young’s interpretations of one of Joseph Campbell’s main philosophies is pretty good, too.

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He is valuable to a writer because in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, he described the elements that tie together most great stories. Here’s a chart – 

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The book to start with is this one –

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It’s an interview in the 1980’s between journalist Bill Moyers and JC. It is extraordinary. A friend I urged to read it once told me she felt as if she were “coming home” – like it tied together everything she had studied up to that point.

Like most geniuses, Campbell had a way of charting the obvious, or what feels obvious once we’re made aware of it – things we knew but didn’t know we knew about storytelling, movies, religion, and the inner workings of our own hearts and minds. 

It’s important for writers to write what they know and what they feel compelled to write, but it’s also important to know the elements and, okay I’ll say it, formula that makes a story great. We don’t need to adhere to this formula slavishly. In fact, doing so can make a screenplay predictable and even boring. But if we deviate from the basic elements of the hero’s journey, we do so at our own peril.

Here’s an even simpler breakdown – 

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These elements are defined very thoroughly here – http://www.movieoutline.com/articles/the-hero-journey-mythic-structure-of-joseph-campbell-monomyth.html

Thanks for joining me on this particular “journey.” Please look for future posts titled “People Every Writer Should Know About.” 

I hope you write a best-selling novel, hit movie, or timeless poem, and I hope this post and the others in this series help you get there.

 

What Happened to Peace and Love?

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There’s no way to say any of the following without sounding like a crotchety old carbunkle, but for all you youngsters today who may not know it, back in the 60’s and 70’s, there was a real, serious, dedicated movement that centered around coming together as friends, seeing beyond differences to the heart and soul, ending war once and for all, etc.
We have gradually lost sight of that goal as time has passed. It’s like we’re all standing among the ruins of a half-built Utopia without the will or ability to complete it. In fact, many people seem to be determined to widen political/religious/social/racial divisions and wipe out everything not exactly like themselves. (Exactly what the Islamic terrorists are guilty of, ironically.)
I was a kid in the 60’s, but I was befriended by a group of hippies, and let me tell you, they lived their philosophies. They made me feel like a prince at a time when I felt pretty small and insignificant. I told that story in Chicken Soup for the Soul’s book called Random Acts of Kindness.
I’m not saying we should all become hippies, or even that they were right about everything. For instance, I don’t respect the fact that they wanted to put limits on everything except their own behavior. But what can’t be questioned is their level of commitment to peace and love. I wonder if we’ll ever get back to that ideal of seeking understanding and compassion. We can’t have anything unless we first actually want it, and wanting is useless without action. In other words, if we don’t define what we want, there’s no way to ever achieve it.
There will always be evil and naked aggression that needs to be squashed by non-pacifists. (ISIS, Al Quaeda, the Taliban, Nazi’s, fascists, etc.) But it’s equally and maybe even more brave to seek peace in our daily lives with people we have nothing in common with, to try to connect as human beings and see past (or not even notice at all) our racial/sexual/economic/educational/religious divisions, and all the other ways we divide ourselves from others. After all, the first requirement for doing evil to another is to think of them as something separate from ourselves, or even non-human. That’s why the first thing Hitler and every tyrant like him did to win over the mindless masses was to label the group he wanted to persecute as “vermin” that needed to be exterminated. This is how he convinced men who weren’t born killers to murder women and children. 
Every measure of peace must be attempted before breaking out the guns, or fists. At least the hippies were brave enough to try, you know?
Here are a few songs from back in the day that illustrate my point. Feel free to message me with your favorite.
Why Can’t We Be Friends – War
Stop Children What’s That Sound – Buffalo Springfield
Love is the Answer – England Dan and John Ford Coley
Everyday People – Sly and the Family Stone
Lean on Me – Bill Withers
Eve of Destruction – Barry McGuire
The Times They Are a-Changin’ – Bob Dylan
Blowin’ in the Wind – Peter, Paul & Mary 
Give Peace a Chance – John Lennon
Some Mother’s Son – The Kinks
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The Broad and Narrow Way

In my father’s memoir, The Other Belfast – An Irish Youth, he wrote about a painting his grandmother had on the wall of her bedroom in her cottage. It showed what the Bible calls “the broad and narrow way” – two roads, a wide one with all the easy to find sins of the world, loaded with sinners engaged in all kinds of debauchery, and a narrow one with one figure, walking uphill toward a light. My father said he studied that painting until every detail of it was seared into his mind. I have searched the internet for the image. It may have been this one –

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Here’s a more modern one – 

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As much as I love the power of the written word – the right words in the right order – I’m not sure which shapes the heart and mind more – words or images. Imagery, film in particular, may be gaining the upper hand in the modern world, as more people watch movies than read books. 

When I was in elementary school, police officers and others came to our school to teach us the evils of drug use. In a pamphlet they handed out, there was a healthy-looking kid who didn’t use drugs and a freaked-out, twitchy one who did. This was one of the pages from it –

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That did the trick with me. I never wanted to become the twitchy kid hiding in the old box.

I had the added emphasis of watching my brother go down the road of addiction. My earliest memory of discovering his problem was when I was ten years old and he was thirteen. I was skateboarding with some friends at our elementary school and one of them said, “Hey, isn’t that your brother?” I looked and saw him running down the sidewalk on the other side of the chain link fence, flapping his arms and trying to fly. I called him and he came running over with a wild look in his eyes. He said, “Hey, little brother, want to try some of these?” He held out a handful of pills. He was my brother but not my brother. I said no and he ran off down he street, still trying to fly. 

We used to play baseball and frisbee in the street. That stopped when the drugs started. I became a potential “fink” (tattletale) to him and his friends. In fact, he began to torture me psychologically and physically when my parents weren’t around. He hadn’t just changed. He became sadistic.

A few years after the day he offered me drugs, I had a dream that he and I were walking in an unfamiliar part of town. He wanted to go down an alley. I told him it was too dark and that we should go around. He turned down the alley and said, “Come on. It will be fine.” I yelled after him, begging him to stay, warning him that something bad was going to happen, until he disappeared into the darkness.

As time passed, he listened to bands like Korn and Cannibal Corpse. I listened to David Wilcox and The Beach Boys. Still trying to get him out of that dark alley, I warned him that the messages in music, like chants, are embedded into the psyche because of their melodic and repetitive nature. He laughed and said, “This music is what I loved when I was young. If I started listening to Air Supply or Neil Sedaka, I would age rapidly and die.” 

He kept walking down that alley until he died of a drug overdose at the age of 37.  

I’m still on the narrow road. I still medicate myself with music with positive messages, martial arts (hitting bags instead of people), singing, trying to absorb the beauty and innocence of my children, and, of course, writing.

I still seek God. I hope He’s at the end of this narrow path. And I hope my brother is with Him.

 

Just One Yes

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It’s hard not to get discouraged sometimes, but remember, all it takes is one “yes” to put you on the road to a better place.

Dr. Seuss was rejected by every major publisher of his day and went home with his first manuscript And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. He got together for lunch with a friend and told him how disappointed he was that nobody wanted his book. His friend had just become an agent with a local publisher a day earlier. He told him he’d run it by his boss. The rest is – well, you know.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

– Calvin Coolidge