Seeking Home: One Writer’s Journey

“What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.” – C. S. Lewis

Jessica Evans Writing

Jessica Evans Writing

Cincinnati native, Jessica Evans and I share a few things in common that stretch beyond a love of words. Yes, we both have MFAs in writing from Spalding University, and we both write poetry, as well as fiction. Yet early on, it seems, Jessica began to examine the ways in which “life is impacted by socioeconomic status.” She was standing at a particular place of experience, and she chose to look, to notice, to see things others may have overlooked . . . to consider and try to perceive life for those standing in a different place of experience.

This aspect of her character, this reflection of the sort of person she is, and as a result the sort of writer she is, resonated with me as I am compelled to explore other views, to write about those who are different, misfits, those who live on the periphery, those who have lived lives I can only try to imagine, yet with whom I have much in common. I love exploring what life might be like for these people. Another deep connection I have with Jessica.

That is why I asked her to be a guest blogger on Write Side Up. The post, which is in interview form, appears below. I hope you’ll spend a little time with Jessica here and then explore her website and her work. Her latest book, the novel Hippie Mafia, is set in her hometown of Cincinnati and “examines humanity through an unconventional lens.”

In my humble opinion, those lenses often offer the clearest vision.
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The Obstacle Is The Path

Boat and Boy by Peter van Straten

“Boy and Boat” by Peter van Straten

There is a Zen saying that sometimes the obstacle in the path is the path.

A friend of mine who is not a writer, though he is a very talented visual artist, shared some insight with me once that has resonated with me quite a bit the past few months.

“Consider this,” he said: “in the Chinese language, there is a word for Crisis. Much like words in English, the word is made up by combining two different words. The first symbol is the Chinese word for Danger. The second symbol is the Chinese word for Opportunity.”

On Leadership by Peter van Straten

“On Leadership” by Peter van Straten

When we consider the duality of all things, and the idea that an obstacle might also be an opportunity . . . when we acknowledge that the unwanted condition has a right to exist; that every conceivable state might have a purpose in the grand scheme (even if only as a “learning experience”), we provide ourselves with the chance to grow.

Back in November and December of last year, I wasn’t writing. From August through the end of the year, I was working nearly every day and was utterly exhausted those meager hours each week I wasn’t working.

I was frustrated, but believed that things would slow down in the new year. After all, my job is busiest August through November.

Except when it’s not.
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Being Receptive – Creative Sparks Take Many Forms

sparkles on water

Children are extremely perceptive and absorb what goes on around them long before they can talk or even comprehend language. They are like finely tuned receivers that pick up much more than is merely said. They are receptive and attuned to every mood, feeling, and change that goes on in people around them.”
– Theodore Isaac Rubin

I just got back from an amazing week in Historic New Harmony where my friend Terry Price and I led a week-long retreat for writers called West of the Moon Retreat. It was our third year doing the retreat and, somehow, each year tops the last.

One of the underlying intentions for the week was to encourage the writers to be RECEPTORS or RECEIVERS (i.e. to more RECEPTIVE – like those old Pioneer and Bose receivers that allowed stereos to pick up so much extra musical goodness that was bouncing around the stratosphere).

We invited them to be OPEN to whatever sort of inspiration might present itself rather than going into each writing session with preconceptions about how their inspiration would come to them.

There’s a need to approach each writing session with a specific intention, a focus, but we discussed how writers often go into a session expecting their inspiration to come in a specific way. As a result, we set our dials and tune in to that one way and we tend to dismiss so many other signals instead of recognizing that our body and our unconscious mind reach out to us in a variety of ways.

After showing the writers a series of yoga poses (not to be confused with ninja moves) put together in a brief sequence for the purpose of opening them up for those myriad signals (any image, color, word, sensation, etc), I finally had my own chance to walk the walk, so to speak. And what a walk it turned out to be.

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The Best Things I Learned From My Dad

Lafayette & His Dad Listen,” my dad said. “Be a good listener.”

I grew up as a fan of superheroes, sure, and of mountain men, and of good-guy gunslingers who disappeared after the town was saved, and of self-less soldiers, and of super-sleuth detectives (and we can’t forget NINJAS), and of all sorts of heroic types my dad and I watched together in movies . . . and of amateur and professional athletes, of course, but for me there was really only one true hero. Only one adult of whom I was the biggest fan.

MY DAD!

I’m not just talking that common boyhood idolization of someone who could do just about anything. It wasn’t just about his physical strength or his vigor, nor his confidence, nor his ability to figure things out, nor his super-fine motor skills which he demonstrated on the field and the court and the course.

All those things certainly influenced the level of awe and admiration I had for him (and still have).

But it was more than that, really, much more, that made me look up to my dad so much.

He never went to college. Back then, most people didn’t. He did, however, have specialized training in several areas – first while in the Army years before I was born, then after he got back home as an apprentice in a trade that required the use of mathematics and intricate measurements on a daily basis, not to mention a lot of physical labor.

My dad worked hard for most of my life. Actually, from the get go, that’s all I knew him as – this hard-working man, this talented athlete and this great coach (for me and for several teams over the years), this very loving father.

My dad has also been (and still is) one of my greatest teachers.

Not about books or academics, but about life, about living. Things that have shaped me. That have even shaped my writing (not to mention my chasing my dream in the first place).
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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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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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A Thing Called Fear

Shark by Deja Photo

Shark by Deja Photo From Lens To Picture

“I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” – Woody Allen

Fear. At a basic level, fear is an emotional response to a perceived threat. Essential, historically, to the survival of humanity. Yet a potential catalyst to the undoing of an individual.

It should probably be noted that this is just MY take on fear. For what it’s worth.

I’m not going to get all psychoanalytical here or even very philosophical, but it seems that fear can be the spark that saves a life or that gets us headed in the right direction. It can also, in a manner of speaking, end a life when it becomes paralyzing, when the threat is viewed as a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to happiness, success, dreams.

Although fear might be an instantaneous response to a specific threat at a particular moment in time (a reaction to stimuli in a present moment), some are layered. They’re not merely a reaction to that one instant, but are often threaded deeply, intricately, inextricably to other (often sundry) past experiences.

It figures, doesn’t it, that something so influential would be so complex.

Here are My Four Biggest Childhood Fears (in order of severity, not in chronological order, from ages six to eighteen):

DEATH (as in no longer alive, as in ran out of time, as in the end, finito . . . I’m talking from the perspective of a boy who had absolutely no desire to be off pursuing evidence of an afterlife or a lack there of . . . not as a youthful resistance to the concepts of heaven or hell or purgatory, but simply as an I-just-got-here reaction to the whole idea of shuffling off this mortal coil)
STAGE FRIGHT/PUBLIC SPEAKING (being the center of attention might be a more apt name for this one)
HEIGHTS (a fear of falling, really . . . not of climbing, not of being UP, for UP was one of my favorite places to be – as Xero says, being there often allows you to see what everyone else can see, but in a totally different way . . . okay, so I guess maybe I did sort of morph into a misfit on my own)
DOGS (that’s right, man’s best friend . . . although I have a genuine affinity for dogs, I was attacked by two of them when I was in first grade so every canine interaction I’ve had since then has begun/begins with all out fear)

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A Different Point Of View

A Different Point of View

A Different Point of View by Simon Daniel Photography

“It’s not denial. I’m just selective about the reality I accept.” ~ Calvin and Hobbes

I guess you could say this is a post about truth, whatever that might be, which makes it about fact and reality (double ditto whatevers), which makes it a post about perception, really, a post about point of view.

And what does that even mean?

Sure, point of view is a way of considering a thing, not limited merely to our sensing the thing, but involving an attitude as well (about the thing being sensed, yes, and often about ourselves).

Cold Hard Fact: sometimes the words we least want to hear are the words we need to hear most. Sometimes they provide us (or force us to take) a different point of view.

I suppose a resistance to the words we don’t want to hear might be a form of self-preservation (of the ego, at least, and maybe of one’s dreams). I mean, giving up on our dreams seems to be more common than chasing them once we reach a certain age (that sort of cynicism seems to be taking hold in adolescence these days which is such a terrible shame).

If you’ve somehow found a way to hold onto those dreams, to chase them, your dream-preservation response is probably heightened.

Given the myriad pressures on us from so many directions to put aside the dream (you know, to let go of the “fanciful”), for the pursuit of the practical, I get the inherent need to defend our pursuit, but not at the sacrifice of reason. After all, sometimes the perceived criticism, sometimes the feedback, the insight, the advice, the idea being shared with us (wanted or not) has merit.

Sometimes it bears, at the very least, a seed of truth.
Which is often also a seed for growth.
If we recognize it, that is. If we allow ourselves to perceive it, to consider it, to weigh it, to examine it from various points of view.

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The Thing About Being Misunderstood

Bully by S. Babikovs

Bully by S. Babikovs

The first time, there were just three of them, my used-to-be-friends, with their wild hands latched onto my arms like vines imbued with dark magic, pulling me down to the earth; their fists turned into impossibly hard knots of bone, like so many dead stars crashing down from the sky against my head, shoulders, chest, gut; their feet stomping breath from my lungs, as if they were boys suddenly reduced to nothing more than steel toe, steel toe, steel toe.

It was the darkest three-foot section of the school, just outside the gym doors, where the hallway zig-zagged back into the locker room. . . .

That’s how my memoir would begin. If, you know, I started at fifth grade. Actually, I’m in the process of writing a fictionalized account of that very story.

I’m not sure if all writers have been through a “bad childhood or a good childhood interrupted by several years of badness” as Piers Anthony suggests, but there’s a good chance they write, to some degree at least, to better understand things they’ve either lived through or witnessed.

I know that’s true for me. I write to make sense of things that, at least when they occur, just don’t deem to make any sense sometimes, like bullying, but I also write to have a voice, as I’ve mentioned before, as a way of expressing myself in the hopes of being understood.

In looking back on my life, I’m pretty sure my need for understanding and, especially, for being understood started during those dark days of fifth grade or became magnified then.
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