Dear Mom

Lafayette's Mom Who At 18 Was Named Miss Lake Street Bridge

At 18, Lafayette’s Mom (pictured with some fan mail and news clippings) Was Named Miss Lake Street Bridge

Mothers are fonder than fathers of their children 
because they are more certain they are their own.” – Aristotle

Gotta love that Aristotelian wit.

Though, doubtless, there have been many moments when my mother has scratched her head and wondered that very thing.

Last week I wrote about being different. Well, there’s no way I’d have survived being different if not for my mother, not to mention the fact that she’s been one of the people encouraging me to be different my entire life.

I never told my parents (or anyone at all) about the things I endured during Middle School. But hey, that’s the beauty of being a writer. I get the chance to do that every day now with the hope of making similar odysseys a bit easier for misfits today who might find themselves on the periphery, belonging to some degree perhaps in every group, but not quite truly belonging to any.

This post is a rather informal ode to my mom.

She has an expansive heart. She’s extremely loving, caring, conscientious, empathetic person. Someone who tends to put others first. Though that can get in the way of her own happiness sometimes, it’s just who she is. It’s not intended as some noble thing. It’s not something for which applause or praise are expected.

Truth is – if she didn’t think about how this or that might impact everyone else, she simply wouldn’t be being herself.

Below I’d like to share a few thoughts about what a mother is, and about my mom in particular, and I’d also like to share a poem I recently wrote especially for her.
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Being Different

“Being Different” by Niccolo Caranti

“Being Different” by Niccolo Caranti

“It is better to be hated for what you are

than to be loved for something you are not.” ~ Andre Gide

True as Gide’s statement is, being hated for any reason can be pretty ugly sometimes. Especially if it seems to be a collective thing.

One person hating you is, perhaps, to be expected, but a group of people (whether it be classmates or affiliations or countries or entire races) can be beyond overwhelming. If you feel isolated, on your own, with no support, it might even lead to your undoing. Which, of course, suits no one but the people hating you.

I know this. Too well.

Here are eight of my favorite books with a major theme of being different:

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Black Boy by Richard Wright
The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt
Fat Kid Rules the World by KL Going
The Crystal Shard by RA Salvatore
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Nearly all of my own work (fiction and poetry) centers around the theme of being different. Otherness!

I suppose that is because it’s at the essence of who I am. And I’ll admit part of that is the result of being treated as if I was different. You can fight such treatment. You can acquiesce.

You can change who you are (by trying to become more like everyone else, yes, but also by resisting through the act of embracing the opposite, not because that is who you truly are, but ironically to be contrary to those trying to change you). You might, however, also realize that your difference is an essential part of who you are. Not all. Yet important!
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Utopia, Dystopia, and A Love of Life

“Life is a precious gift . . .” by Doug88888

“Life is a precious gift . . .” by Doug88888

“Every utopia – let’s just stick with the literary ones – faces the same problem:
What do you do with the people who don’t fit in?” Margaret Atwood

It’s true that the people who don’t fit in – the misfits – are often perceived as “different” by others. But sometimes they’re also the ones who feel that way about themselves.

When it comes to adolescents, quite a few don’t fit in (either when compared to the norm by others or as a result of self-perception and how they feel).

Dystopian novels and television shows and movies are especially popular these days.

Last weekend I saw Divergent with my niece and I will be reading the books soon. I catch Revolution each week with my dad. And I’ve enjoyed reading the Hunger Games and Maze Runner books. Back when I first discovered my love of reading, as a twenty-six-year old, I also discovered Brave New World and Anthem and Fahrenheit 451 and Nineteen-Eighty-Four and Clockwork Orange and The Giver.

One of the concepts often found in these stories is that even in those future worlds that are supposed to be  “perfect,” life is anything but perfect.
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Laughter, My Favorite Exercise

Laughter by Symphony of Love

Laughter by Symphony of Love

“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” – Victor Borge

So many times, laughter has saved me.

And some of my best friendships have been forged over laughter, some of the best moments in my life. Including times I’ve ended up laughing at myself.

I hadn’t thought about that until the other night during one of the NCAA basketball games. A commercial came on and my mom laughed. And I saw her dad in her then, the way he would break open in a soft smile and the way that smile would quietly sparkle with laughter.

And I thought, at that moment, laughter might just be one of the best things ever.

I recall being a boy (no, it’s true, despite the common theory that I just showed up with a receding hairline and a silvering chin) and watching this amazing pianist on one of the shows my parents liked to watch and his fingers were like Olympic hurdlers racing across the keys. And, yes, that was impressive.

Only I was like six and as appealing as it would have been to have fingers that were fast as gazelles (I could imagine their usefulness for hiding peas at dinner or tangling my sister’s hair), but what I wanted most at that time were legs that were cheetahs, so I could run all over the neighborhood (which I did anyway) faster than anyone (which I so didn’t do).

But then the piano guy stops playing and makes a sound or a face or he does some crazy thing or he makes some tangential comment and I laughed. We all laughed. It was unexpected and a bit absurd, given the seriousness of the music, and absolutely wonderful. And it was also something my family and I shared.

Those moments laughing.
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The Things We Learn From Kids

JOY by Symphony of Love

JOY by Symphony of Love

Not intending to downplay the words of wisdom my parents have shared with me over the years, but I recently realized that all you have to do is study a child to learn everything you’ll need to know about how to live. Truly live, that is.

I’m not talking about elements of survival like how to get your own food, but more about how to be happy.

Of course, when you’re a child the last thing you’re going to do is intentionally study one of your colleagues to learn a thing or two. The whole center of the universe thing can get in the way of that and is, perhaps, the one downside to my theory.

But before we chuck it altogether, consider what follows.

As an adult, I have been reminded about some of the essential ingredients to living a happy, fulfilled, compassionate life.

Here are just some of the things we can learn from kids:

Unbridled Joy
Love
Kindness
The Essence of Play
Anything is Possible
How to Live Creatively

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The Gift of Generosity

Lafayette & Sis at ChristmasToday I’m going to write briefly about Christmas and the Gift of Generosity.

I don’t remember a lot about my childhood. I’m not sure why, I just don’t. Even less from my teen years. Perhaps, I’ve just tucked it all away somewhere. The events I recall most from my early years tend to be embarrassing and funny, though a few were frightening. I alluded to several of those last week in the list that appears at the end of this post and I’ll get to those incidents after the holidays.

Two things I do remember from my childhood, though, are how my family showed me the importance of GENEROSITY in the things they did, and CHRISTMAS.
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Family, Friends, and Our Stories: Continued

famsmallIn the beginning, FAMILY is pretty much all we know.

While we’re infants, they’re perceived as an extension of us (in regards, mostly, to how they meet or neglect our basic, inherent needs).

Most of the early truths and discoveries we make are learned through our experiences with family. Our values, our beliefs and attitudes, are influenced by them (as we grow to accept or to resist theirs).

As we age, as we approach and then navigate the muddy waters of adolescence, our FRIENDS assume a much larger role in shaping us (or at least in influencing how we shape ourselves) into the people we’ll become.

All of this may be true. All of it may, and does, and will influence our stories.

But, as Willa Cather stated: “most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.” I can say that most of my personal stories, most of the memories I draw upon when I write, are from that time in my life. They’re related to experiences I had with my family, and adventures I had with my friends back then.

A few of them, in particular, have in some way influenced the novels I’ve been working on recently, but not in the ways you might think. Not for the events themselves, in most cases, but for something more.

Here are a few specific events I recall from when I was between six and nine years old:

The Great Carpet Incident
Broken Bones & Concussed Noggins
Shattered: Or Wrong Place, Wrong Time, Wrong Body
The Land of Up & So Much Falling
Climbing the Walls
Rooftops & Hurricanes

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Family, Friends, and Our Stories

Lafayette Wattles & His Little Sister“Other things may change, but we start and end with family.”

What is family? For some, it is the heart, the marrow, the soul. For others, the dragon, the demon, the darkness. If we’re lucky, family is a light that guides us toward our own light, the one inside us.

I’m one of the lucky.

I don’t feel guilty for that, but I AM hyper-aware that not all families are created equal, and that when it comes to family I struck the mother-lode (and father-lode and sister-lode, so to speak).

I don’t come from money. My parents didn’t go to college. They got jobs after high school (before and after the Army for my dad, before and after my sister and I were both school age for my mom) and they spent their entire adult lives working extremely hard.

I was lucky because my grandparents never felt entitled. My parents never felt entitled. My sister and I never had a reason to feel entitled.

We did, however, feel happy! And loved!
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Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving by Hammer51012

Happy Thanksgiving by Hammer51012

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments
when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” – Thornton Wilder

Thanksgiving is more than a time for gathering with family and friends, it’s a time for giving thanks.

It’s a time for remembering. And for expressing gratitude.

I have much to be thankful for this holiday season, especially related to my writing, my friends, and my family. Unfortunately, I’m battling a little vertigo at the moment which makes it difficult for me to look at my computer, which means there’s something for you to be thankful for – a short blog post.

I’m working on a post about family and friends and how they influence our stories, but I’ll save that for next week.

As a result, below you’ll find the very first poem I ever had published in a print journal.
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Try a Little Tenderness

A Mother's Touch by Electric Echoes

A Mother’s Touch by Electric Echoes

For the past week, one word has been creeping around in my head, popping up over and over and over. That word is TENDERNESS.

Maybe it’s because my mom went away for a little while and I’ve had some time with my dad that I might not have taken otherwise.

I know tenderness may not be one of those words you usually associate with two grown men bonding. It’s not typically part of the Y Chromosome Playbook they give you as a boy to commit to memory and take to heart, yet I think it might just be one of the most crucial reasons why my friends are my friends (female and male) and why my family and I are so incredibly close.

Not only do each of those very special people in my life have a capacity for tenderness, they have a propensity for sharing it (with others and with me).

As a young boy, I suppose I looked up to my dad first and foremost as this great athlete, as this man’s man to use an old-school phrase, for being strong and brave and able to do just about anything. Today, I still appreciate all that, but the thing that strikes me most profoundly is my dad’s ability to be that guy and to still share moments of tenderness.

And, in looking back, I think what truly connected us even when I was a boy, regardless of how many sports I played and how many other things we had in common, was that part of my dad’s personality, that part of his soul, which he revealed in those moments.
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