Hello, Dear Readers. As I write this, it is a beautiful Tuesday morning outside. A bit gray, but I’ve always liked a little bit of variety. I think that the gray days make the blue ones that much more vibrant. Whether this is a reasonable position or not, I do not know, but an overcast day stills me, gives me pause. It feels like a deep breath in between the sunshine, and I like that.

Today I want to write about something I have been thinking about quite a bit. Last week’s post having been possibly the most surrealist piece I have ever written (perhaps that I ever will write), today’s musing is going to be much more tangible and grounded.

I have heard it said that the only thing we can always control is our own attitudes. An earthquake may come and shake our work into ruin, a robber might come and steal our belongings, a smarter man may foil our plans, and a tyrant may come and take our freedom from us, but no matter what happens upon this earth, we retain our ability to choose how we will feel.

“Now, wait,” you say. “You can’t choose how you feel. That’s the whole point of emotions! I’m going to go watch cat videos on YouTube.”

Not so fast- consider with me for a moment.

If I think back to a really sad time, the day that my grandfather was buried, for example, I’m going to start feeling sad. My breaths will begin coming in slower as I think over the details, remember the pain and the sorrow. Though previously I may have felt happy-go-lucky, now I’m feeling sad. My emotions have changed. How did they change? Based on what I set my mind on, what I chose to think about. Who controls my thoughts? Skynet. (Just kidding.) I control my own thoughts, of course. As long as I am able to direct my thoughts, I am able to direct my emotions and my attitude.

We are recalcitrant to admit this simple truth for many reasons. We hear trite aphorisms in songs, films, and television shows that say things along the lines of, “I can’t change how I feel,” and, “I have to follow my heart.” God may have given me a heart, and for this I am thankful, but He also gave me a brain. Life is such that I am behooved to use it. I can change how I feel. If my heart is telling me to do something stupid, I have veto power. Do you know anyone who actually lives by the trite television method? People who believe that they can’t choose how to feel and that they have to follow their heart all of the time? I do. They are a gentle breeze one moment and a hurricane the next. A life ruled by emotions is unstable and prone to the slightest change of circumstance. I also know individuals who are grounded. They are presented with extreme situations, but they stop and consider how they ought to respond, and then they do. I admire these people. The first group, frankly, I avoid.

What this means for me, practically, covers a great many things, most of which we haven’t the time to discuss in this post. One of the more pertinent applications, however, I will expostulate upon.

When I err in some fashion, it is extraordinarily easy to feel a sense of inevitability towards failure. The line of thought says, “Well, I’m already slipping, so I may as well slide down the rest of the way. Sigh…” This is a terrible and sadly pervasive line of thinking. Those of you who read my blog regularly have likely gathered that I am quite an enthusiastic lover of wrestling. I love the sport, I watch the sport, and I even help coach at USC (my alma mater) in my spare time. In watching wrestling matches, I often see this line of poisonous thinking. An athlete will approach the line and shake his opponent’s hand full of confidence, coming out strong. If he gets taken down, however, or he falls behind in points, you can see the toxic thoughts on his face sometimes. “Here we go again… just like that match in the fourth round of nationals. Another two minutes in the match until I lose.” When a wrestler starts thinking this way, he does continue his slide downward. He moves about in an obligatory fashion to finish the match, but his spirit is broken, and he is going to lose.

But not everyone wrestles like that.

If you watch the greats, their attitude when pressed is not, “Might as well stop trying;” it’s, “How can I do the best from this situation, from this position?” These athletes are the ones who become champions, who come back from a five point deficit in the last thirty seconds. This is the kind of person that I want to be. When I mess up, I want to choose an attitude that continues striving for the best.

Someone very wise once said, “What you think causes how you feel, causes how you act.”

The question, then, is how am I going to think? What attitude will I adopt? It’s hard to change the way you feel about something, certainly, but it is so incredibly possible. Be encouraged, friends. Hold onto that which no one can ever take away from you. Wield your volition well.



Maria Elena

She couldn’t stop wiping her hands on her jacket. It was as if there was some invisible stain, some unseen gunk that she could feel, but it wouldn’t come off no matter how hard she scrubbed. She felt disgusted, and there was nothing she could do about it. She continued nervously rubbing her hands on her jacket, not knowing what else to do.

“Ms. Elena?” a voice called from down the hallway. “They’re ready for you now.”

The girl, no older than seventeen, whipped her head up at the sound. She tried desperately to keep her calm, but she knew that she would never be able. Why was she here? The walls crawled with worms and slime dripped from the ceiling. The lights flickered even as they hung unnaturally, and she was afraid. She could not remember how she got in the sickly hall, but something deep within her knew that she had to get away. She wanted to run, to turn and never come back, but she remained frozen.

“Ms. Elena?” the voice spoke again, closer this time. A hair-covered beast with massive, shaggy arms and drooping jowls poked its head around a corner. Its axe hung ominously from the straps that wrapped around its chest and back. “Ms. Elena, are you coming? You requested this meeting, after all.”
The girl’s teeth began to chatter with fear at the sight of the terrifying monster, but from somewhere outside of her, somewhere further than her own mind, she felt urged to stay. She looked down at her hands and was acutely aware of how dirty her hands were, though they appeared perfectly clean. She scrubbed them on her jacket with renewed vigor, knowing it would do nothing.

“Don’t listen to the creature,” it whispered in her ear. The girl turned to look at the flower-shaped growth that protruded from her shoulder, her constant companion. The flower’s center inclined towards her as if blown by the wind. “There is nothing for you here,” it insisted. “Leave… Choosing to come here was a mistake. They will kill you, they will harm you. There is nothing for you here.”

“Ms. Elena,” the shaggy, massive creature repeated, reaching out a clawed paw. Its bloodshot eyes, though crazed, seemed to implore her. Not entirely sure why, the girl raised a shaking hand and accepted the grip.

The monster grinned and growled low. The girl’s atrophied, shrunken legs shuffled along at the creature’s side.

“Run. Get away. Go. Find a hole and crawl into it. Be anywhere but this accursed place,” the oleander flower on her shoulder whispered. Its pleading was urgent, but for whatever reason, the girl kept walking, trying not to see the blood-red worms as they inched along the walls and called out jeering discouragement. The axe-wielding monster at her side gripped her hand tighter, leading her on through the twisting halls.

“Here we are, Ms. Elena,” the shaggy monster growled from the top of his massive height. “The doctor will be in shortly.”

The hairy creature released her hand then and walked to the doorway, guarding it. The girl panicked at this, thinking that the frightful beast would never allow her to leave, but then she noticed that it faced outward, almost as if it was trying to protect the room from whatever was outside. She felt dirty once again, but she knew that the invisible gunk on her hands could never come off. She scraped them on her denim jacket anyway, desperate to be clean.

“You’ll never be clean,” the oleander hissed. “It’s a lie. False hope.”

The girl was almost convinced by her perennial guide, but she once again noticed how strange it was that the monster who led her to this room faced outward. Trembling, she remained where she was.

There was a change in the room all of the sudden, a shift in the presence. The girl turned to see a figure she could not discern. It seemed to her formless and too bright to perceive. She had to avert her eyes to remain standing.

“Hello, Maria,” it said. “Will you let me help you?”

“NO!” the flower on her shoulder shouted. “No! Never! LEAVE US!” The oleander’s agitation was evident.

The girl, not entirely sure why, gave the slightest nod of her head.

“This will hurt,” the brightness said, “but it is for the best.”

It reached forward and grasped the babbling flower by the base of its stem. The flower screamed, and pain flooded through the girl’s entire being. She could feel the roots in her shoulder tense and pull, and for the first time she perceived that they wrapped all the way around her heart, reaching up into her brain, and all through her. The oleander screeched and roared such that the girl’s ears began to bleed. The roots inside of her pulled where they were planted, threatening to tear out her flesh.

But just when she thought that she would perish, able to bear it no more, the roots were stilled, and in a rush of inner motion, she was freed of them. Her eyes clasped shut and an explosion of light caused her to stumble backwards, striking the wall and slumping down to the floor. Through flickering eyelids, she saw the brightness struggle with the poisonous flower, but as she watched the world as if by strobe light, the brightness became a man, and the flower that had so long lived attached to her flesh became a horn-covered lizard, blazing in a shield of flames. It struggled against the man’s grip, but it did not prevail. The man placed the lizard upon the floor and brought his heel crashing down upon its head. The fiery lizard struggled no more.

Breath filled the girl’s lungs and she felt relieved yet bewildered. Her eyes felt heavy, but they lightened more and more as she struggled to open them.

The man who had been the brightness stood in front of her, being the first thing she saw. He had a well-groomed, chestnut colored beard, and kind eyes. He looked into her with compassion, as he bandaged her wounded shoulder.

This was only the beginning of the changes that had taken place, however. As the girl looked around, she noticed that there were no worms on the walls; the ceiling did not drip with slime. The axe-wielding monster at the door was no more, and in his place stood a vigilant, dark-skinned soldier who guarded the entrance with his assault rifle. He was muscular and fierce, but she felt that she had no reason to fear him.

Then, her eyes strayed to the dead lizard in the corner, still burning with strange fire.

“How do you feel?” the man who had been the brightness asked her.

Unable to grasp the fullness of what had taken place, but aware that something tremendous had happened, the girl shook her head and took a tentative breath.

“I’m not sure,” she began. “My hands still feel filthy, but I guess that wasn’t-” She stopped midsentence suddenly, having lifted up her hands, which had always felt as though they were covered in unseen gunk that she could never get off. Instead of being clean and fresh as they had always appeared, they were instead covered in blood and gore. Horrified, she immediately began trying to rub away the stains on her jacket, but it accomplished nothing. The man who had been the brightness shushed her, and took her hands in his own.

He closed his eyes, and the girl watched in amazement as her red, bloody hands blanched and drained of their disfigurement and damnation. The gore and the guilt passed into the man’s hands, and when he let go, he was the one who was red-handed. He stood up quietly then and walked to the sink, turning the handle, and he began to wash the filth from his hands. When he turned the water off, his hands were clean once again.

The girl could not stop staring at her hands. They appeared clean again, but they felt clean as well- a feeling she had never known. The man who had been the brightness toweled off his hands silently as the girl gawked at her own hands, then poured her gaze over the changes all around her. The room was well-lit and clean, like a doctor’s office should be. Art from various thankful patients lined the walls, and there was a corkboard full of thank-you notes addressed to the man who had been the brightness. A feeling of peace fell over her, and she shook her head in consternation.

“Yes?” the man who had been the brightness asked. “You have a question in your eyes.”

The girl nodded, searching intently for the right words, still shocked from all that had taken place.

“Was I… was I insane before?” she asked. “Or am I insane now?”

The man who had been the brightness finished toweling his hands and he neatly replaced the towel upon its rack.

“You have experienced both worlds,” he said. “You know now which one was madness.”

There is Beauty

There is beauty in the night, but only

For the specks of light that pierce the darkness.

Stars redeem, a silver sheen, to show me

Subtleties in new light, without starkness.


There is beauty in winter, but only

For the warmth that remains to enliven.

If the frozen frost wins out utterly

Ice’s art has no one to survive in.


Oblivion’s comforts are false and faux

Saying that crash is the only release.

But now is not pleasant for having no

Strife, but for the presence of restful peace.


There is beauty in the silence, only

Because in stillness I may better hear.


Running Out of Ideas

Writer's Block

When I meet people and they find out that I am a writer, there are two questions that seem to pop up:

“What do you do about writer’s block?”

“Aren’t you afraid you’ll run out of ideas?”

These strike me as strange questions to ask upon a first meeting. After all, at their foundation lie deep-seated fear and the underlying insecurity of most men in my profession. If people did the same thing with people of other professions, it might look something like this:

Me: “What do you do for a living, Tim?”
Tim: “I’m a contractor.”
Me: “Wow, aren’t you worried that your nail gun will go crazy one day, wounding your employees and piercing your eyes?”
Tim: “Um. No…?”
Me: “But you wouldn’t be able to see!”
Tim: “I’m… I’m going to go refill my punch. Excuse me.”

Strange, right? In any case, at some point the questions I mentioned at the beginning of this piece are legitimate, even if they serve as bizarre icebreakers. Here is what I think of them:

What do I do about writer’s block? I deny its existence. I have never experienced it. I think that writer’s block can come from a lot of different places, but at its core I believe that it is the fear of being wrong, the fear of performing poorly. Do I sometimes have these fears? Of course! But I write anyway, because, as Louis L’Amour once said so aptly, “Writers write.” It’s simple, but it’s true. The solution to writer’s block, in my experience, is to never allow it to happen. Some days I sit down to work and I don’t know exactly where I should go with what I’m working on, but I begin anyway. In a way, I sort of feel as though I’m on an adventure of discovery even while I’m writing. One of my friends once asked me what writing a novel was like. I told him that it was like reading one, only harder.

Still, I recognize that writing is best accomplished when the writer comes from a place of abundance. This is why we must research, this is why we must dream. It is said that Michelangelo sat from dawn to dusk in a courtyard in Italy staring at a block of marble every day for months, never touching it, rarely even moving, making no notes. One day someone asked him what he was doing and he told them that he was working. A few years later that block of marble was the statue of David- arguably the most beautiful piece of craftsmanship ever wrought by human hands. Sometimes as a writer I find that I need to sit and think for a while, but this is just part of the process in any creative endeavor. It is part of writing. When fear creeps into this process, that is when “writer’s block” begins to loom, I think. I do my best not to worry, and I write.

As to the second question, I am not afraid of running out of ideas much like most people are not afraid of running out of heartbeats or breaths. Will the number of times my heart agrees to beat finally come to an end? Yes, but not for some time now, I think, and even if it is much sooner than I expect, I have only to continue on until that time, functioning as best as I can. In my mind, there are many more good ideas to be had and written about than there are heartbeats in my chest or breaths in my lungs. Will I one day run out? I honestly don’t think so. Everything can serve as a starting point. Yet even if there is some limited number of ideas out there worthy of being written about, fretting about this seems to me to be about as ridiculous as fretting that the sun is burning out. Is it? They say that it is. Will I be long gone before that ever happens? Yes. Yes I will.

Thus, my inspirational little piece for this week ends with death and a reminder of our own mortality. Oops.

Go get ‘em anyway, writers.