Live life, then write

ZoologyFew, if any, writers have practiced the craft of storytelling their entire lives.

Sure, almost all of us have written since we first learned how, but few saw this expression as anything more than personal amusement or a passing phase. And when we completed our last essay in high school or college, most put the quill aside for more socially acceptable vocations.

In my case, it was a life in Science, getting first a degree in zoology and then a degree in molecular biology. Others went to law school or into medicine. Yet others worked a production line or took up a trade.

In any event, we all largely dismissed writing from our lives or at best, saw it as a hobby on par with doodling.

And yet, despite putting our pens away and mothballing our creative tendencies, these years were not lost. Quite to the contrary, these years have been invaluable to making you the writer and storyteller that you are today.

Friends will sometimes ask me to speak to their adolescent and college-aged children who have expressed an interest in writing. They want their offspring to understand both the opportunities and challenges of the lives they desire. And I am happy to oblige.

Where the kids are willing to share with me, I listen to their interests and goals, offering insights where I can. But in almost every conversation, my ultimate piece of advice is the same.

Live a life and experience your world.

This is not to say you should give up on your writing, even for a brief period. Dear god, no.

Write. Write. And keep writing.

My point is more that your writing will be so much deeper, richer and more meaningful when you have life experience under your belt. Your greatest asset as a writer is the time you’ve spent interacting with your world, even when only as an observer.

Ladies who shop

You write the people you know, the lives you’ve led

Life exposes you to the amazing diversity of people and perspectives that populate this planet.

Life teaches you about human interaction, in terms of both relationships and conflict.

Life unveils the subtleties and nuances in communication, and the insane power of silence and subtext.

Life is how you instinctively know what to write next. How your character will respond to an event or statement. Why your stories will resonate with others who have similarly lived lives.

And because my life has been different from yours—at least in the minutiae—we will write different takes on a story even when given the exact same starting material.

As you can imagine, the advice is not always welcomed. Life can feel like a delay to the gratification of self-expression.

And yet, not only is it not a delay, a life lived is the embodiment of the self in self-expression.

Your life lived is your truth, and good storytelling (even fictional) is about truth.

 

To improve your storytelling skills, check out:

So, What’s Your Story? (web site)

So, What’s Your Story? (Facebook)

Bizarre faces

Without a strong understanding of self, there is only empty expression

Beyond happy

SONY DSC

We spend a lot of time in search of happiness, which I define as a blissful state of satisfaction. Being happy makes everything a little easier—work, family, life—and even where there are hard tasks ahead, happiness seems to make them less daunting, less onerous, less tasking.

When I am happy, I can roll with whatever punches life throws at me, and nicely have found that life throws fewer punches when I am happy.

And although not perfectly so, I find happiness is infectious. When I exude happiness, I am no longer perceived as a threat to those around me and therefore allow others to stay in their own happy place, or in some cases, make it easier for them to experience happiness.

alison_me

Although happiness may initially have an external source or motivation—a job you love, good friends—it is very internal. It is a state you choose to be in. And any external impact it has is purely passive; a choice others make in its presence.

Thus, I believe, there is another level beyond happiness that is more active, more empowering, and if taken wrong, possibly more intimidating.

Joy.

Where happiness is about contentment, satisfaction and peace, joy is the embodiment of love, laughter, engagement and play. Joy takes happiness and dials it up to 11.

me-and-duke-1

Joy is the ultimate expression of freedom, and as such, it cannot be easily contained. It exudes from every pore, every movement, every thought. It is an aura that precedes your entrance into any space and remains a gleeful echo long after you have moved on.

Joy changes how we see the world around us, finding glimmers of light in even the darkest of moments. It is not about self-delusion or selective memory, but rather a complete reframing of the question of the moment.

Like happiness, joy is a choice we make as individuals. But it is a more difficult choice to maintain because it ultimately demands an expanded consciousness to what is around us and an eternal openness to the possibilities in life.

agah-me

As such, joy demands more faith than happiness, which is more easily rationalized.

Happiness, when you choose it, makes sense. Joy doesn’t have to make sense. And perhaps, the less sense joy makes, the more joyful it is.

To embrace the irrational is to truly be open to the possible.

Because it is difficult or impossible to suppress joy—not sure I know why you would want to—joy can be seen as obnoxious or intrusive to those who have yet to find their happiness or joy. That is unfortunate for those individuals.

For those in joy, however, this is another opportunity to explore, understand and exchange. In this way, joy begets joy, even if not always from person to person.

All this to say that while I continue to explore happiness in my life, I have chosen to embrace joy and hope to share it with as many people as I can.

It is my gift to myself and to others.

vic

Authenticity

who-is-this

This election is about authenticity.

Michelle Obama’s speech resonated with so many people because she was the most authentic person on stage.

There seems to be a great need in the world for people to be authentic, to be honest about their needs and desires, hopes and dreams.

His word is his bond.

What you see is what you get.

I work every day to be an honest practitioner of me, and yet, it continues to be a struggle if only because I do not yet know who I am.

In my defense, however, I never had a fighting chance, because from our earliest days, Western society impels us to fit into molds.

In school, we are taught to behave in a specific manner; to sit in regimented rows and speak only when spoken to. Our excellence is constantly measured against that of our peers on a scale that doesn’t really seem to prepare us for anything except more of same.

When we find employment, we are slotted into roles beyond which it is counterproductive to stray. We are hemmed in by job descriptions and told not to get above our station. To strive for something bigger is to earn the threatened enmity of our “superiors”, as well as our supposed equals.

set-de-moules-pour-personnages-pme

More often than not, to break from our confines and achieve improvement let alone greatness is to go it alone; to be ostracized from our fellows. And even in achieving something, there is a vast pool of people waiting for you to fail, snapping at your heels, if only to validate their decisions not to strive.

And while I find that sad—and admit to having wallowed in that group myself—I cannot blame these people for feeling, thinking and behaving in this manner. They, like I, bought the lie that if we behaved ourselves, if we followed the rules, if we lay our souls down to society, to industry, to community, we would be taken care of, we would be protected.

The lie is crumbling, however. It is becoming more difficult to not see beyond the façade. To remain blind is becoming increasingly difficult even for the most determined.

Children are graduating from school to find nothing awaiting them. Get your high school diploma; get your Bachelor’s degree; get a graduate degree. The bar keeps moving if only to delay arrival at the precipice, an abyss that grows deeper with every tuition payment.

Middle-aged and older employees who remained bound to a company, addicted to seniority, pensions and steady salary, are suddenly finding themselves cut loose after 15, 20, 25 years and staring back at a ravenous pack of un- and underemployed juniors—local and international—willing to work for lower wages.

In many ways, these poor souls are the victims of the very investment portfolios and pension funds they fought so hard to build, stakeholder groups that demand increasing returns with little concern for how companies achieve those returns.

lockedgate

And so the cry goes up for politicians and administrators and executives to be more authentic, to be more honest with those they oversee, to live up to their promises.

We point vehemently to the walls of the molds into which we poured our lives as though they were legally, morally and ethically binding contracts, and implore others to save our lives.

And as has happened in every decade that preceded this one, we will fail and we will fall as institutions redefine and reconstruct themselves on the old models.

The same hue and cry that triggered the Reformation and the Renaissance also triggered the Inquisition and Fascist Europe.

What I have come to believe is that I cannot change the world. Rather, I can only change me or perhaps more correctly, stop changing me. The person who needs to be authentic, to be honest, to live up to promises is the one I see in the mirror; he is me.

Rather than distort myself to fit boxes constructed by society and its micro-collectives in the mistaken belief that this will keep me safe, I need to risk all and not only discover who I am, but also express that person to the world.

My first steps to do just this have been awkward and timorous. It is uncharted territory and demands a certain amount of trial-and-error.

But as I continue to move toward authenticity, I am finding the footing firmer. Dirt-grasping shuffles are becoming steps, and will hopefully one day be strides.

And whereas society is not always welcoming of my decision, I have been lucky enough to find that the people in my life have been almost universally supportive.

It is unlikely that I will change the world, but it is a certainty that I will change my world.

And if I am authentic, that is enough.

authentic

Shaped, not defined

We are all, in many ways, shaped by our life experiences.

It is important to remember, however, that those experiences don’t have to define who you are or what you become. That is up to you.

wade

When Gods evolve

In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

Genesis; 1; i-iii

Ancient of Days

Ancient of Days (William Blake)

I know the feeling.

I am the Creator and the Destroyer. I am Fate pulling the strings of Destiny. I am Existence itself. The Void remains until I choose to illuminate it.

A tad full of myself? Perhaps.

But it comes with the territory, because I am a writer.

Despite all present evidence to the contrary, I am an introvert; and as a child, I tended to avoid contact with others out of fear of injury and a touch of self-loathing.

My escape from this fear was my imagination and the worlds I created.

Where the world around me was filled with questions, uncertainty, chaos, the worlds of my mind were clean, certain, orderly. Good was good. Bad was bad…and even bad was good given time and understanding.

And over all of it, I was God.

The world didn’t exist until I put pen to paper, and just as quickly, it blinked out of existence when I lifted that pen.

I am no longer that child—well, perhaps a less fearful child.

The world in which I live is coloured with all shades. It has texture. It has flavour. And while it still has chaos and uncertainty, I am better able to embrace that chaos, to find freedom in uncertainty.

Likewise, the worlds I create have become more nuanced. Nothing is either good or bad, but instead is delicate and needful.

And over all of it, I am God. But even Gods evolve.

God Creating The Universe

God Creating the Universe (Layne Karkruff)

Where once I enslaved my worlds to my control, I am now more apt to offer degrees of freedom, to allow my worlds to ride the wave of existence.

I completely reserve the right to rain fire and brimstone, but am more likely to use a gentle hand with my charges. What were once caricatures are now sentient beings with a full range of emotions and thoughts, prone to mistake and capable of wonder.

And perhaps, in allowing my worlds to move beyond me, I achieve true Godhead. For as much as I no longer define their existence, they no longer define mine, and I am free to be me.

Ehyeh asher ehyeh.

I am that I am.

 

Let go(al) and let…just let go

Mountain

Don’t have to climb the mountain to admire its beauty

Where do you see yourself in five years?

It’s a common question at job interviews and often creeps in silently when people reach age or career milestones.

Rephrased more broadly, it is asking: What are your goals?

In most Western societies—the only ones I really know—we are told it is good to have goals; that you need to set your sights on a destination and follow that path to its conclusion. It is how you get ahead. It is how you find happiness, or at least the stuff that brings happiness.

I have spent my life working this way.

Checklist

Life goals complete

I tell you this not to present my resume—you can find that on my LinkedIn pages (yeah, I have two)—but rather to explain the pattern of my life (and probably yours) in contrast to where I am today.

You see, for the first time in my life, I have no goals. And I am finding it incredibly disconcerting.

Sure, like everyone else, I have daily, weekly, monthly and yearly obligations.

I need money to pay for rent, food, bills, hockey tickets, beer. I have editorial deadlines and the odd gift to buy. But I have no long-term goals. I am living my life without my next destination in mind.

Five years from now? Hell, I sometimes don’t know where I’ll be five minutes from now.

In some ways, I am as close to living in the moment as you can get without living under a tree or in a cave (basement apartment notwithstanding). And it’s freaking me out.

Having a goal is a hard habit to break after 50+ years.

Butterfly

What if I had missed this moment?

To be clear, I’m not looking for a goal—floating freely has some lovely benefits—but I struggle some days to know what the point of my day is or was.

Simply being is really simple—it requires no preparation or gear—but our society has taught us that it is wasteful; that it is selfish; that even our “free” time must be productive.

Having no goals, I find, is entirely selfish. I can only affect change in myself.

But I’ve come to realize that “selfish” isn’t bad in and of itself; only when it negatively impacts others, which I don’t believe I am.

Still, like a good Pavlovian pound puppy, I sometimes find myself whimpering at the window, waiting for someone to throw the stick of destiny, to give my life meaning and purpose.

Is it okay or desirable to lead a purpose-less life? Is that my purpose? [Never met-a-physics that didn’t hurt my brain.]

But then, it’s 7:30 a.m. and the alarm goes off. I turn it off and go back to sleep.

Life without goals definitely has its upside.