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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Thank you, Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali courtesy of Brett Jordan

Muhammad Ali courtesy of Brett Jordan

Imagine showing up to grad school, embarking on a journey toward that thing you love, chasing after your passion, and in the process moving closer to your deep down self . . .

Imagine being in the lobby of the historic hotel that will be your dorm for the next ten days, downtown Louisville . . . and you’re standing at the elevator between lectures, just standing by yourself, waiting, when this man shuffles by, slightly stoop-shouldered, moving slower than you might imagine him to move, and you think, is that . . . no, it can’t be . . .

and the man who has passed now, stops, shuffles back . . . he stops his own journey, pauses, and shuffles back to see you. This man who is somehow older than he is, somehow larger than he is, as if he is able to swell up out of himself just by being . . .

and he smiles, then puts both trembling hands up, thick fingers balled into fists and there is no doubt, frail as he almost seems, there is no doubt he has the strength to do whatever his soul wishes . . .
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Making Time for Our Passion

Flower in Sunlight on Island

Flower in Sunlight on Island

“Absence diminishes mediocre passions and increases great ones,
as the wind extinguishes candles and fans fires.” – Francois de La Rouchefoucauld

I think this is one of the reasons so many people get to the middle of life and feel unsatisfied, disillusioned, restless . . . as if something is missing. Because something is missing.

We tend to learn to put our passions aside. We learn to quiet them, to ignore them.

And for those “mediocre” interests, the ones that may have caught our interest, but haven’t come from the soul, this absence does seem to diminish them.

Fence Textures

Fence Textures

For those passions that are part of who we are, however, the going without, the denial, actually fans the fire consuming us sometimes from within.
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Live With Intention

Lafayette Wattles Writing

Lafayette Wattles At The Page

“Lean forward into your life. Begin each day
as if it were on purpose.” – Mary Anne Radmacher

I am starting a new trend for myself this very moment. From now on, I intend to begin each day as if it were on purpose. With INTENTION!

And that intention is to write . . .

I’m sitting in a hotel room in West Virginia waiting for my dinner to arrive via room service and I’ve been driving most of the day so I’m too tired to work on poetry right now, but I thought it might be time to return to Write Side Up.

When I got home from WOTM 2014 last June, I immediately started work for a new job and, as a result, I have only written 2-3 blogs posts in the past year. But the past four weeks in particular have been rather illuminating for me in a variety of ways, all of which keep echoing the same thing – I NEED TO BE AT THE PAGE!

Here’s why:

  1. When I spend even a brief amount of time at the page, I write – write – write!
  2. When I’m writing, I’m breathing. It’s that simple. Words are a different sort of air and I feel healthier and more energized and more alive when I’m writing.
  3. Look, I smile . . . all the time. Not for effect, but because that is what comes out of me. But there’s something different about a smile that comes from the heart and one that comes from the depths of your soul. I’m a genuinely happy guy. And I have been told my joy is contagious. In part, I believe, because it is genuine. But the way I feel inside when I’m honoring my soul and writing, that takes my typical happiness to a whole other level. Right now, as I sit here typing, I feel so incredible thanks to the past 10 days in New Harmony.
New Harmony

Roofless Church in New Harmony

Let me explain.
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Under The Bus

Jules Verne by mac.rj

Jules Verne by mac.rj

“Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed
when what you’re reading was written for children.” – Ruth Graham

That was the subtitle to the piece published in Slate back in June titled “Against YA.” In the piece, Ms. Graham doesn’t just throw YA fiction under the bus. She stops and backs the bus up and throws any adult who reads YA under it as well.

According to her, if you’re an adult who reads YA, you should feel ashamed.

I guess you might want to find some secret, special, hideaway place to do your reading where no one will find you (like the image above).

What a bunch of hooey!
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What To Do When Feeling Lost, Stuck, or Lacking Motivation

Stricken With Self-Doubt by Just.Luc

Stricken With Self-Doubt by Just.Luc

“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”  – Sylvia Plath

Of course, as discussed before, there are several other enemies including a lack of motivation. In my experience, a lack of motivation often stems from one or more of the following things: doubt, fear, an inability to focus and/or to concentrate due to anxiety or feeling overwhelmed from too many responsibilities/distraction, or lost interest.

I’ve written some about fear and anxiety and about self-doubt. A lack of interest seems to explain itself – find the thing that interests you, about which you are truly passionate. Being overwhelmed often requires us to break our tasks into smaller steps and to set intentions for each of our essential responsibilities and then remind ourselves of those intentions.


One thing that helps me with all these challenges appears below (hint, it has to do with other people).

There are times in most people’s lives when they feel doubt – about a relationship, a sport, a college (major, class, career direction), a job, some other pursuit. Anything that requires a choice brings with it the potential for doubt. And we can doubt just about anything related to those decisions we make . . . or have to make . . . or want to make (before, during, and after we make the decision).

That doesn’t even take into account the doubt some people have about themselves.

At various points in our lives, questions arise. Do they really like me for who I am? Who the heck am I? Am I fooling myself? Do I have the ability needed? Is it done? How do I know?

Writers, artists, and other people chasing their creative dreams occasionally encounter various forms of doubt, fear, lack of motivation, and other obstacles. As a matter of fact, among many creatives I know, self-doubt is one of the biggest obstacles they have to overcome.

I’m not going to pretend one thing works for all forms of doubt. But I will say this, one thing I’ve learned that helps me regardless of the reason behind the doubt is the knowledge that each step taken gets me closer to my goals.

Another thing, that helps me even more than that, is reminding myself what my intention is for chasing those goals in the first place.

What Am I Writing For?

Answering that question (and reminding myself of the answer whenever I feel stuck, unsure) has helped me more than anything.

A third thing that helps me stay inspired . . . that reminds me that those obstacles can be overcome . . . is the accomplishments of my friends and colleagues.
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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.


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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