Wednesday, November 30, 2011

In the Palm of my Hand

Just in my lifetime, technology has developed in incredible leaps and bounds. Even now, I'm enjoying the fresh, Christmas-y air as I type this entry on my iPhone.

There's no denying that the technological advances that have become commonplace have added tremendous convenience to our everyday routine. However, more intriguing (to this writer, at least) is how devices such as smartphones and satellites, Netflix and Facebook have changed social politics and the industries they purport to develop.

Certainly, having the ability to stay connected all the time and access virtually any little bit of information and/or entertainment without ever having to step foot out of your home is a remarkable feat. But, as comic book aficionados know, with great power comes great responsibility.

Often, we are so busy being inundated with data and chatting with our so-called "friends" online that no one ever stops to contemplate how all this accessibility is affecting the course of history.

With social media, increasingly elaborate video games and instant streaming of your favorite show or movie, there's no longer a need for children to go out and play, no reason to put all that electronic equipment aside and, y'know, connect with an actual human being. And then we wonder why obesity - both childhood and adult - has become an ever-worsening point of discussion.

While the eventual parent in me shudders to think of a world so overrun with technology that human contact becomes obsolete, I find myself struggling with the over-availability of information and distraction on a daily basis.

Am I saying we should deactivate our Twitter accounts and toss our laptops out the window? Of course not. I merely advocate a little more mindfulness of this growing reliance and, in many cases, addiction to technology.

Convenience it may be, but from my perspective, one that needs to be tempered with more moderation and self-awareness to keep humanity connected, happy and balance. Don't get caught in the World Wide Web.


Monday, May 23, 2011

The People Who Matter

"Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter
and those who matter don't mind."

-- Dr. Seuss

In today's world, it's easy to get caught up in superficiality.

I mean, we live in a land rife with social media, where networking and connections are an integral - and often indispensable - part of our personal and professional lives. In fact, it's not uncommon for the average person to have hundreds - if not thousands - of online "friends" or followers on either Facebook and/or Twitter, respectively.

But does this quantity over quality mentality really make any sense? Are we as individuals really gaining anything (other than meaningless bragging rights) when we establish such loose and virtually nonexistent ties with people whom we, to be perfectly honest, barely know?

I used to think so. Perhaps it's a side effect of living a school and family-centric adolescence, one devoid of close, personal friendships outside of my immediate family, but when I had my so-called awakening in my early 20s, I knew that one of the areas I most needed to work on was my social skills.

So I put myself out there, albeit gradually, and began to go out drinking or just plain old hanging out with friends, co-workers, etc., despite the fact that the activities and their company often left me feeling empty inside. Having consumed varying amounts of alcohol and spending needless cash to do so, I would ultimately return home feeling like I had been bamboozled.

The whole point of my attempts to build a social life was to try and fill that emptiness I felt within, and while I have on occasion managed to conduct close, meaningful conversations with those I consider my friends, it seems that society's general idea of "friendship" relies largely on pointless small talk and artificial incarnations of our true selves, as if socializing is nothing more than the world's most widespread and elaborate costume party.

No one really gets to know the people around them because no one is secure and confident in themselves to drop the charade and be who they truly are. And, with everyone flashing their masks of perfection and unaffectedness, how can we ever hope to achieve those deep connections with people? How can we ever realize our desire to fill that lingering emptiness inside with people in our lives who truly care about us and invoke within us the desire to open ourselves up to them in return?

I've been just as guilty of this as anyone, as I spent at least half of my years on this planet hiding in the shadows... terrified of the judging eyes all around me... simultaneously yearning for their approval and resenting myself for not being more vigilant about seeking it.

So while I half-heartedly attempted to build a social circle in the real world, I settled for what I suspect many other people in a similar position do as well. I relied on the faux-friendships of Facebook, even knowing that the impersonal nature of the medium would not slake my hunger for close relationships.

In my heart, I had only my family and a handful of reliable friends, and this simply wasn't enough.

I can't say if this was caused mostly by my own insecurities or simply the societal pressure to be popular (which usually starts around the time of high school and often stays with us throughout our lives). Whatever the case may be, I was consistently seeking attention online and otherwise... looking for someone... anyone to show they care.

However, as I've grown weary of making attempts to contact and foster friendships with people who showed little to no interest in reciprocating and getting to know me, my perspective has shifted irreversibly to the other side.

And my conclusion now is... I don't need hundreds of "friends." I don't want to establish superficial, substanceless relationships with friends, co-workers, significant others or family members. If I'm going to get to know someone, they're going to get to know me.

Perhaps it's just the fact that time has made me a much wiser man than my younger self, but my time is too valuable to piss away going out drinking, getting caught up in mindless conversation and meeting random strangers who have little relevance to my life and possess no genuine desire to hear my story.
Unlike those people still trapped on that carousel of meaningless relationships and phoniness, I have come to realize that I'm far luckier than they are. Yes, I don't have a thousand "friends" on Facebook. I don't have a million followers on Twitter. Hell, I'm not even the life of the party in my real life.

My gift is far greater. I know - without the shadow of a doubt - who I can count on to be there for me. I know that my infinitely supportive family, my amazing girlfriend and a handful of reliable friends accept and love me for who I am with no reservation. They've seen the good and bad in me and have decided to stick by me.

So, while others might spend their days searching in vain for that sense of belonging, I've had mine all along. Now, it's simply up to me to show appreciation to the people in my life who love me by showing my love in return. They're the only ones I need. In short, they're the people who matter.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Playing for Passion

"Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion."
-- Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

It's no mistake that the above quote adorns the wall of the bathroom in my apartment. It seems to me that so many people meander through life so determined on simply surviving... on getting through school, making it to the end of each oncoming work week, even suffering through that awkward family get-together... that they entirely miss the point of life: to live it. I should know. I used to be one of those people.

The truly unfortunate thing about being both socially awkward and a natural introvert is that you spend so much time locked away in the confines of your own mind that the years slip by seemingly without notice.

One minute, you're a carefree 12-year-old devoid of the emotional burdens that cause most people to conduct themselves in a manner totally at odds with their true identity. The next minute, you're in your early 20s, befuddled and confused, wondering where the time went and searching in vain for whatever it is you have to show for it.

The problem - at least, in my case - was a lack of enthusiasm and direction in my life. While I went about my daily activities (school, work, time with family), I had invested little of myself in my own life. In short, I had no passion.

Following the epiphany that accompanied my 21st birthday, I steadily began to take hold of my destiny, and a large part of that was the discovery of my passion for writing. Within two or three years, I began to write advertorials for a local community publication, became an active contributor to my college newspaper and even started this very blog.

Slowly but surely, my life began to take shape, and its the miraculous empowerment of passion that made that possible. Whereas most people may simply strive for surviving their life, I began to hope for something better, a life which I can be proud of. The one I was destined for.

But passion doesn't extend strictly to your professional calling. It's far deeper than that. It's about the people in your life as well, the connections you make. It's about the company you keep at work, with family... friends... even your romantic relationship. It's that feeling you get that everyone and everything in your life is exactly as it should be, and you can't imagine it any other way.

It's about having strong feelings of interconnectedness with the people and places around you and finding an element of excitement in even the most prosaic things you do. Waking up in the morning and feeling like you belong.

For so many years, I spent my life feeling like a stranger in my own skin. I would stop and reflect on who I was, how the world saw me and how I saw the world... and it disgusted me. I knew that I wasn't being true to myself, that I wasn't living the life I should be.

But, like many people currently meandering through their years with little room in their hearts and minds for joy or even amusement, I was too weak and too afraid to change my circumstances.

And therein lies the true tragedy. Because most people caught in this never-ending cycle of disenchantment will never take the time to search within themselves and explore the desires of their heart. Whether crippled by circumstance or fear, they may never be able to confront the difficult questions that plague us all. The big, underlying mystery that underscores each individual's journey.

It's never been "Why are we here?" but rather "Why am I here?" "What makes me the happiest? What is my calling? Who truly holds my heart? What the hell do I want in life?"

Shakespeare once wrote, "All the world's a stage. And all the men and women only players."

Which begs the question: What're you playing for? Without that driving force... without finding where you belong and who you belong with... you're squandering your time in the spotlight.

So, follow my advice, take five and re-evaluate if you're truly giving your all out on that stage. Because, if you're not, the only one you're doing a disservice to... is yourself. You only have one chance to deliver the performance of your life.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Pianist Envy

"Sing us a song, you're the piano man. Sing us a song tonight. Well, we're all in the mood for a melody, and you've got us feeling all right."

- Billy Joel

Have you ever been inexplicably drawn to something? Something you couldn't quite explain? Something that somehow spoke to you... and only you... as if there was some hidden language between you and your source of inspiration?

Since you're reading this, I sincerely hope the answer is "yes." For, otherwise, the subsequent blog entry will probably be of little use to you. If you're with me - or at least, interested in seeing where all this is going, then welcome aboard... because that mysterious attraction I alluded to in the first paragraph is exactly how I feel about the piano.

There's no way to be sure exactly when or how my love affair with the piano began. As a child, I dismissed it largely as "old person's music" and instead turned to the more pop-tinged MC Hammer and Michael Jackson music that encompassed the bulk of my childhood music collection, before adolescence and a broader approach to the arts set in.

Over the last decade, though, it has been a gradual, ever-growing appreciation for its sweet, simple and yet extremely evocative sound. What started with the radio hits of artists like Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys and John Legend has evolved to touch a bit more on the classical masterpieces that have made the piano one of the most popular and integral instruments of the musical world.

The funny thing is that I only really noticed just how deep my love for the piano goes in the last couple of years. A number of my favorite artists - from those more popular stars mentioned above to more underrated talents such as Jamie Cullum and William Joseph - center their gifts on the piano as their central mode of expression. I've even recently taken a more developed liking to the oeuvre of classic rock/soul artist Billy Joel, whose seminal hit "Piano Man" is quoted atop this post.

Come to think of it, it's interesting to note that Mr. Joel's hits may, in fact, have been the foundation for my love of piano in the first place. I remember being a little kid and listening to his "Greatest Hits, Vol. I and II" album collection (yes, I said "album." I know I'm dating myself here. Lol). Even with my limited exposure to music, there was no denying that songs like "Just the Way You Are," "Only the Good Die Young" and "Uptown Girl" had the ability to make this silly kid come alive in ways few other songs could at that time.

And as I've grown older and wiser, the piano has come to represent something else entirely. In today's musical age, that of Autotune and thumping club beats, it's nice to know that music need not be complicated with layers of adjusted vocals and the artificial tones of synthesized instrumentations.

If nothing else, piano is simple. It's elegant. And it allows the music to speak for itself. No hiding behind an over-produced audio track and no fancy T-Pain-esque vocal stylings designed (let's be honest now) to hide the fact that the "singer" at the mic has little to no vocal talent and/or nothing worthy to say. Mind you, this regards music in very general terms. Some of these tunes are too infectious for words, and I'm not ashamed to admit I have used the "I Am T-Pain" iPhone app. Who doesn't love "Blame It (On the Alcohol)"?

Yet the fact remains that the piano harkens back to a long-gone era, where jazz reined supreme and today's standards were the law of the land. I was fortunate enough to discover a local jazz club recently, and the experience of taking in the piano - coupled with commanding vocals - was not one I'll soon forget.

Armed with my fedora and a lovely lady by my side, it was one of the most memorable nightlife visits in recent memory, and it has played its part in helping me realize that - in my wonderful ways - I am an old-fashioned kind of guy. Yes, I love today's pop culture just as much as the next guy (well, mostly...), but I feel a special connection to the piano's soothing melodies and the timeless songs that it serves as the foundation for.

Yet, despite my pianistic passion, there is one objective I have yet to achieve. For years, I have wanted to learn to play the piano for myself. Much as I have taken to creative writing to satisfy my hunger for storytelling... much as I am drawn to the karaoke mic to showcase my love of music... I desire to be able to translate my reverence into another medium by playing the instrument itself as well.

And, well... I guess that's kind of the point of this blog entry, dear readers. I'm tired of postponing the pursuit of my passion and harboring a secret jealousy for those with the gumption to go for it. Like Billy Joel. Like Elton John. Like Stevie Wonder. These men have an amazing gift, and while I may never (ok, WILL never... lol) reach their level of talent in this respect, I owe it to myself to give it a try.

So, in my typical 11th hour attempt to transform a matter of personal opinion into a life lesson, I urge you all to search your hearts and minds. Surely, there is something in there that you've longed to do, longed to try, but never mustered up the dedication, willpower and/or courage to do so. I know there is something of this nature lurking in your heart. For mine is full to the brim... with pianist envy. ;)

Happy writing and living, all...


Saturday, March 12, 2011

An Agnostic Prayer

"The way I see it, it doesn't matter what you believe just so you're sincere."
-- Charles M. Schulz

The above quote, from "Peanuts" creator Charles M. Schulz, seems pretty harmless, doesn't it? A nice, simple call to accepting people for who they are and entirely in keeping with the positive vibe of The Crooked Table.

Apparently, not everyone thought so.

Upon putting the Schulz quote on my Facebook wall yesterday morning, I received a message from one of my "friends" who clearly took the quote as an affront to the Christian faith and felt that my soul needed salvation... based only on the quote, I suppose.

Of course, me being the experienced communicator of the written word that I am, I crafted a response message. Ultimately, I felt that sending it to this person would be a bit crass so instead... naturally... you can read it below in its entirety, including a pretty thorough description of my thoughts on religion. Enjoy... and feel free to sound off in the feedback section:


I actually do remember you, and while I appreciate your concern for my soul, I do feel that it is harsh, extreme and, frankly, unnecessary.

I fully respect the fact that you are a Christian and it is your right to believe whatever you wish. However, just because you feel so strongly about certain things doesn't mean that you can't remain open-minded to what others believe, even if they directly conflict with your chosen faith.

I was raised Catholic. I was baptized, had my communion and even went to youth group in preparation for my confirmation. But, when all was said and done, my heart wasn't in it.

So a few years ago, I had something of a crisis of faith. I no longer followed the Christian faith, and this led me to feel alienated from the world around me. More specifically, from people like you who think that theirs is the one and only way to see the world.

Ultimately, I realized that I was fully entitled to feel as I do. It wasn't me who had the problem. It was the world that needed to become less obsessed with labels and more accepting of the perspectives of others.

I put that Charles Schultz quote on my wall because I wholeheartedly believe that people should follow their heart and believe what feels right for them. Your message especially shocked me because of just strongly you reacted to a well-intentioned, seemingly innocuous quote from a man who - by all accounts - seemed a very gentle, good-hearted human being.

Holding too tightly to your own personal views on things only fosters hate in people’s hearts, in my opinion. What makes this world so amazing is that everyone has their own unique perspective on things, whether it’s religion, politics, art, etc. A world where anyone who doesn’t agree with your opinion is branded an outcast and shunned from society is a frightening notion to me. Hasn’t our history seen enough persecution, religious or otherwise?

As far as I’m concerned, judging a person based on race, sexual orientation, religion or any other personal matter is just plain wrong. This is not to say that I think you’re a terrible person because I don’t agree with you. I fully understand that – from your perspective – I am in need of being saved or doomed to feel the Lord’s wrath when the end of days does come. And, in some small way, I appreciate that you reached out to me as you did, misguided as your efforts may be.
Let me be clear: just because I don’t consider myself a member of the Christian faith doesn’t mean that I worship Satan, participate in the occult or any such nonsense. I know that I am a good and honest person capable of compassion, generosity and love. In fact, I do prescribe to many Christian ideals, regardless of my dissent with their religious origins. I simply don’t regard religion as the “be all, end all” when it comes to who a person is. It’s simply one aspect of an individual, and as long as that person respects the fact that I have identified myself as an Agnostic, I have no problem respecting their religious views.

Writer Arthur C. Clarke said it best: “The greatest tragedy in mankind’s entire history may be the hijacking of morality by religion.” I don’t judge you for being a Christian nor do I think that the fact that you follow the Bible is a reflection of who you are as a person, either for good or bad. Some of the most dangerous people in history have proclaimed that they were doing God’s work, and some of the kindest, most endearing people lacked affiliation to any particular religious sect.

So my advice to you is not to be so quick as to think that anyone who doesn’t follow the Christian faith needs rescuing. Some of us have merely chosen to follow our hearts down a different path, and it’s not a reflection in any way on who we are or how we go about living our lives. In fact, my morality is one of the qualities I most cherish in myself.

I manage to live my life positively and open-heartedly without judgment or hatred towards others without relying on religion as a foundation. I’m not trying to bash people who are fueled and recharged by the spirituality they receive at church. People should all live moral lives and try to be the best people they can, and if having religion in their life is a necessity or prerequisite for that, that’s perfectly fine and entirely their business. But when they feel that their personal religious conviction entitles them to “educate” the rest of us, that’s where I have a problem.

Regardless of my disagreement with your stance on this, I hope that you don’t harbor any ill will towards me. Again, I fully respect your perspective. I just don’t agree with it. And if that upsets you in any way, I truly am sorry. Perhaps you should take this as a chance to become a bit more open-minded that not everyone shares the same viewpoint as you do. If not, that’s fine too. I just thought I would let you know where I’m coming from and fully respond to your rather explicit, presumptuous message.

I wish you and your family nothing but the best in the future."

That's all... Happy writing and living, folks!


Monday, February 21, 2011

The Power of Perspective

"The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism
by those who have not got it."
-- George Bernard Shaw

I've noticed that Valentine's Day serves as a pretty reliable barometer of people's perception to the world around them.

Typically, there are two philosophies at play: those individuals who see the holiday as a painful reminder that their life is missing that special someone and those that use the opportunity to either celebrate an existing love or rekindle their hope that, as the classic tune goes, the best is yet to come.

At it's most basic level, these opposing views really break down into a question of cynicism versus romanticism.

There are those people that can't shake the suspicious feeling that the world around them is a dark, scary place brimming with greed, disease, corruption and ulterior motives.

And then there are those of us that choose to focus on all the amazing aspects of life, the existence of which can often be clouded by the indisputable, omnipresent darkness. This group retains faith in the inherent goodness of people, appreciates the seemingly ordinary magic of life and generally grips a hopefulness and eternal optimism that they carry with them no matter where life may lead.

Certainly, there are times when viewing the world through a romanticized lens can become a burden, and one may be tempted to give in to the negative peer pressure and adopt a less idealistic perspective.

Personally, I've often struggled with this and have doubted whether or not my romanticized persona was little more than a facade. Did I actually believe the wholly positive attitude I emoted or was I simply doing my damnedest to protect my sensitive, Cancerian nature from harm?

The answer is... A little bit of both. At a certain point, I know I did hide behind a cheerful demeanor - at least in some circles - as a form of self-denial and a way to keep my true misery masked from the judging eyes of the world at large.

However, the older I get, the more I have come to realize that my true Robbie-ness is in reality strikingly close to the enthusiastic behavior I so fervently flaunted in my adolescence. Of course, like anyone else, I have my moments of weakness and doubt, but I still rely on a romanticized foundation.

So often, I see people around me who seem miserable with their stagnant and unfulfilling lives. They get so caught up in the negative parts of life that cynicism begins to overtake their every thought. Who got the promotion I deserve? Why can't I lose weight? Why is my life so f**king terrible?

It reaches a point where they lose all perspective in life... missing out on the people who love them, the little miracles of life and all the good fortune they've seen... until any shred of their child-like sense of wonder and amazement at life, love and all that entails is diminished to nothing more than the tiniest speck of light in an overwhelming darkness.

The more I think about it, the more it saddens me, but in this life, there's really only one spirit we can control: our own. So, despite a million reasons not to, I continue to rely on my light-hearted spirit to guide me, whether or not the people around me accept or recognize it.

Because, when it comes right down to it, that's all I have in life. It's literally taken me years to reclaim this attitude and I have no intention of ever letting go of it again.

And, if my positivity somehow brightens up someone else's soul even a little bit, then I've done my part to make the world a better place, nudging romanticism that much further in it's never-ending struggle to overtake the cynical milieu that has a strangehold on our society.

Happy writing and living,

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Written in the Stars

"Men are not prisoners of Fate, but only prisoners of their own minds."

-Franklin Roosevelt defines "Astrology" as "the study that assumes and attempts to interpret the influence of the heavenly bodies on human affairs."

Take a moment and think about what that means. Essentially, the way that the stars and planets are aligned or misaligned and the various ways they behave over time somehow invariably have a direct impact on who we are and the sequences of events we are destined to expereience during our individual lifetimes.

On the surface, that doesn't really make a whole lot of sense, at least not when taken at its most basic level. After all, how could such cosmic events play an integral role in shaping our earthly trajectories?

For the longest time, this is how I perceived astrology and the "phenomenon" of reading one's horoscope in an interminable search for answers to the big questions in life. Naturally, most people's chief concerns lie with their professional future and, perhaps more importantly, their love life.

I never put much stock in horoscopes and rarely, if ever, took them seriously. I've always preferred the notion that we're in charge of our own destiny vs. the concept that our lives are pre-destined and our personality is largely dependent on which day we're born and other celestial influences.

Part of this undoubtedly results from my decision several years ago not to align myself with organized religion. Though I was raised Catholic, I gradually felt myself growing apart from any established faith and finally decided to take a more open-minded approach to the world, truly giving myself the opportunity to explore what I believe in.

So many events that go on in this world seem haphazard and purposeless that often I've felt it foolish to put faith in the fact that there is some all-encompassing entity, whether a religious deity, the movement of the stars and planets or some all-powerful Force controlling everything (yes, that is a Star Wars reference... lol).

Yet, the course of my life in the six years or so since I have really begun to overcome the social anxiety that crippled me in my youth and take control of the direction and shape of my life has caused my firm stance against the concept of fate to loosen somewhat.

I'm still not convinced of the existence of a deity, since I believe that there is absolutely no justifiable reason to have blind faith in any of the thousands of organized approaches to religion that all claim to be the one true way to salvation, nirvana or whatever they decide to call the state of actualization that resolves in a happy ending after death. On the other hand, I do not contend that there isn't some sort of god out there, as such a bold statement would be just as hypocritical as accepting the existence of one without tangible proof.

Instead, I have come to embrace a more spiritual (and decidedly less religious) view on life and how it plays out. The course of events that I've endured throughout my 20s has really helped to open my eyes to the fact that maybe - just maybe, mind you - things happen with a greater purpose. Whether this is the machinations of some incarnation of God or simply the way the planets are orbitting is immaterial at this point.

The bottom line is that I don't see world as a simple, random sequence of events. In many ways, it feels like my life has been building to the point that I'm at now, and many of the struggles and obstacles I've gone through have served to enhance my character and prepare me for what lay ahead.

Astrology has admittedly become a part of the picture too. I proudly identify myself as a Cancer and was astonished to learn just how spot-on my astrological sign describes me ( Which brings me to the events of the last week...

Like many people my age, I spend far too much time entrapped on the Internet addiction commonly known as Facebook, and I found it both humorous and entertaining just how up-in-arms people were over the possibility that the structure of the zodiac calendar might change. It was as if the prospect of shifting to another sign would change the fiber of their being, forcing an involuntary personality transplant.

Most shocking of all, I was surprised that I was among those who jumped at the defense of my own zodiac sign. Why, really, should any of us take the astrological interpretation of ourselves so seriously? When it comes right down to it, we decide who we are and where our lives go, right?

It is this question that led me to select the quote that leads in to this blog entry. Having been on both sides of this belief (that life does and does not have some mysterious master plan), I am slowly reaching the conclusion that it's no so much a question of freedom of choice vs. fate but instead one of perspective.

All of those people (myself included) who were so quick to assert that their zodiac sign has informed the direction of the their life have made a conscious decision to believe. Not in the existence of a God or that the course of their lives is already laid out before them but instead in the idea that their life is heading... somewhere.

The way I see it, we can either accept the fact that life is a meaningless, purposeless, directionless journey.... OR we can view it as a learning experience, a road that's leading us exactly where we're supposed to be. It's up to us to decide where we end up and to learn from the lessons that life consistently places before us.

And yes, sometimes we may turn to outside forces, such as astrology, to give us another perspective on things or simply to to reaffirm that we're on the right path. But I believe, and I believe most of my fellow Facebookers are with me on this, that following something like the zodiac calendar is nothing more than a way to keep ourselves focused on the big picture.

Very few people in this world are completely at peace and happy with where they are in their life, and we can either bitch and moan about how pissed off we are and wallow in the bottomless pit of self-pity, drowning our way throughout the subsequent years of our inconsequential existence OR we can suck it up, adjust our life to the way we want it to be and pick ourselves up when life brings us down.

Like this post's quote above says, we are really not so much bound by fate but by the way we choose to live our lives, and nothing - not God, not astrology, nor any other outside forces - should sway us from remaining on the straight and narrow path towards self-actualization.

Years ago, I received a message (in a fortune cookie of all places) that has always stayed with me: "You cannot love life until you live the life you love." Stay focused on that, and listen to what the world is telling you. Follow the path as such, and you'll be amazed at just how easily the pieces of your life fit together. Almost as if it was fated to be so... ;)


Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Origins of Inspiration

"Genius is 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration"
- Thomas Edison

Wow. Replace the paper and pen with a laptop and I must look exactly like the guy in the above picture to the outside world. Well, we also appear to be different races. And my hair is much cooler. But whatever... You get the idea.

The point is that, although writers (and other creative types, for that matter) are known for their individualism and outside-the-box perspective on the world in which we live, the irony of this is that we all share a number of common traits.

Chief among these is our constant hunger for inspiration. My own personal definition for "inspiration" is whatever motivates you to express yourself through creative means, often spurring the creation of new ideas based on something you've observed or experienced firsthand.

Now, if this was my blog (and last time I checked, it is... lol), I would like to share a little about where I personally draw my inspiration from (i.e. what makes me want to write and fuels my creative passion with an endless supply of ideas):

1) Personal experience and observation

As the old adage goes, creatives are tasked to "write what you know." If that's the case, then what else could you possibly know better than your own life? Writers, myself included, are known for having an introspective, reflective side, and this often leads to some of our best, most personal work. In fact, it's largely our best work for the very reason that it is our most personal.

In my case, I came up with a story idea years ago that is somewhat inspired by my own life, and that concept has continued to evolve and develop with each passing year. As it currently stands, it is filled to the brim with elements both big and small that are either based on something that I experienced or taken verbatim from conversations that I've had and the like.

You'll find that the older you get and the more you think, feel and experience in life, the more relatable and honest your work will become.

Because I truly believe that writers see the world differently from most people (which is what inspired the name for this very blog site), I feel it is in some way our duty to share what we've learned and witnessed with the people around us. Not only does it give us a better understanding of ourselves as writers and human beings, but it also may even help to inspire our readers to follow their own hearts and enrich their lives. After all, isn't that every writer's dream?

2) The arts

Have you ever walked out of a film or finished listening to an album and felt an overwhelming surge of creative juices flowing through every fiber of your being? I know I have, and oftentimes, the arts help me stay focused on nurturing my creative dreams, even in the face of social and professional obligations.

Whether it's the brilliant meta-universe of Stranger than Fiction, the narrative innovation of Memento or even the cinematic scope of something like The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, films are a major source of inspiration for me. Taking in a story that moves me emotionally or intellectually always gives me a stronger will to muster up the self-discipline to follow my own unique voice.

Likewise, music has a similar effect. For example, I constructed an entire custom playlist of Stevie Wonder songs (he's my favorite singer, btw) to serve as a sort of soundtrack for the story I'm currently writing. Listening to each song and imagining how it would play into what's happening in the story helped me envision the overall story arc, to the point where simply listening to those songs made me eager to return to writing. I have even put a certain song on "repeat" because it put me into the mindset of a character, making the mood of the scene far more accessible.

Whether it's film or music, literature or finger paintings, the arts are a limitless source of inspiration. After all, there's no better way to keep the fires of ambition blazing than to see the finished product of people who saw their dreams through to glorious completion.

3) The "What If" game

Like most writers, I'm known for being a notorious overthinker. While there are many instances in which this can lead to increased inhibition and anxiety towards certain aspects of life, there is an upside.

I have found that simply looking around you can often yield a great number of story ideas and characters. Now, I know what you're thinking. That sounds an often lot like "Personal experience and observation," the first item on this list, right? Wrong.

Whereas drawing from personal experience is a way of documenting and then fictionalizing actual events, the "What If" game is one in which you fill in the blanks with a spontaneously created story.

For example, you might walk down the street and see an old man sitting on a bench, his ruffled hat pulled down and a morose expression on his face. Now, you have no clue who this guy is or what in the world he's doing on this bench. And that's where the "What If" comes into play.

What if this man just lost his job, causing his wife and children to abandon him and he's waiting for the bus to take him to another town, where he will take up a new position working as a school teacher, where he is able to make good use of his misfortune and help his students achieve the success that he himself never managed to achieve?

Granted, it's a bit cliched, but it's a story idea, nonetheless. And all that from just seeing some random dude on a bench.

What makes writers such powerful, high-minded people is their ability to harness the power of their imagination. The "What If" game gives you the perfect venue to exercise this ability and maybe come up with a few so-so story ideas along the way. But, as I so often like to say, there's no such thing as a bad idea, simply works-in-progress.

So step away from your work space or home office for an hour, head down to your nearest mall and just watch the people around you. Imagine what those people's stories are. Ask yourself "What If" and you might just find yourself with seeds for some amazing stories.

Far be it for me to disagree with the above quote from good ol' Tommy, but without that 1 percent of inspiration to jumpstart the creative process, the other 99 percent is doomed to languish forevermore in oblivion. Writers find inspiration all around them, and it's essential to keep our productivity going strong.

I've already attempted to debunk the myth of "writer's block" (see for that post). To me, claiming a bout of writer's block is like saying there's no inspiration left in the world, no ideas to ponder, nothing interesting to comment on and no motivation to express yourself through the written word.

From where I sit in the corner of this Starbucks as I check just how much of my Venti-sized coffee remains, that is unequivocally merde de taureau (pardon my French, ha!).

Take a look around and open your eyes... The world is teeming with never-ending complexities and amazing people, each with incredible stories of their own. Though it is certainly an imperfect one, the world is an awesome place, and inspiration is all around us. Grab a handful of it and see where it takes you! You might just surprise yourself...

Happy writing all,

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Self-Delusion and Resolutions

"Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man." ~Benjamin Franklin

There are few concepts I find as maddeningly frustrating as New Year's resolutions.

Don't get me wrong, I love the idea in theory. With each year that passes, we set certain objectives that we then aim to achieve in the subsequent 12 months. It's definitely a well-intentioned phenomenon. But let's be brutally honest with ourselves for a moment.

You and I both know that the rate of success with New Year's resolutions is nearly non-existent. At this moment, you've probably convinced yourself that you will lose more weight, exercise more, save more money, etc. But beneath this veneer of self-righteousness, you know that you're not going to reach the goals you've set for yourself. In fact, you expect it.

And therein lies the real problem with New Year's resolutions. The very idea has become such a parody of itself that no one - not even those who make the resolutions themselves - really commits to making their goals a reality.

People so often are searching for that instant fix. Whether it's a lingering hope that they'll score millions in the state lottery or that they'll stumble across a magical pill that will shed those extra pounds for them, people by and large are unwilling to stick things out and work for what they want. And so each year, they make a New Year's resolution in the hopes that somehow their wish will be granted when that famous illuminated ball drops in Times Square on New Year's Eve.

We delude ourselves into believing that things will simply happen on their own, that simply wanting and wishing for something hard enough will grant it the power to manifest itself into reality. Then, when that inevitably doesn't come to pass, we view it as a personal failure, taking the disappointment onto ourselves and making ourselves even more powerless to incite any real, tangible changes in our lives.

It's probably pretty apparent in the previous paragraph that I'm speaking (as always) from personal experience here. For years, I used to pin all my hopes and dreams on the bogus notion that all I needed to do was be patient and everything I wanted would simply come to me when the time was right. Even reading that sentence now is a revelation. It's incredible how much we can change over the course of just a few years.

And that's precisely my point (oh yes, I do have one... lol). When we give ourselves a strict deadline of one year to accomplish our goals, we are already effectively shooting ourselves in the foot, so to speak. Jumping on the bandwagon of New Year's resolutions doesn't make you any closer to getting where you want to be in life.

Quite the opposite, in fact. You're setting yourself up for disappointment, often setting unrealistic goals and instilling in yourself from the get-go the self-fulfilling prophecy that you're going to fail.

So, how are you to go about seeking self-improvement without resorting to the useless tradition of making a New Year's resolution? Simple. Take another quick look at the quote I inserted in the top of this post.

Seriously, go ahead. I'll wait. Look, I'll even bold the next statement so you can find where you left off.

Done??? OK... Let's continue.

As Franklin suggests, we should constantly be looking to improve ourselves not for our family, friends or significant others... but for ourselves.

What is it about yourself, your life that you desperately want to change? There's no reason that you can't begin making positive steps towards achieving that this very minute (although I'd appreciate it if you finished reading this post first, hehe).

Goal-setting is a vital ingredient in a successful life. There's no denying that. But the idea of setting a New Year's resolution is too big-picture, and as I said earlier, it is accompanied by the understanding that your likelihood of success is nill. Instead, focus on what you can do today to get the ball rolling and create a list of steps you can tackle over the coming weeks, with a vague outline for a long-term plan.

Don't bother setting any concrete plans at this point because the important thing is simply to shift your focus into one of self-improvement or what Maslow called self-actualization. With every day, every month and yes, every year of our lives, we should always be looking to become the very best version of ourselves.

Granted, we may not be exactly where we want to be at the end of the year. Life has a way of creating an ebb and flow that can sometimes delay progress. As I mentioned in a previous post, the commonly used excuse that "Life got in the way" is definitely a valid point. But this shouldn't stop your focus on self-improvement.

Even if you have to put your personal goals on the backburner for a bit, never forget that life is a journey, and we all want to be able to say, when we look back on our lives, that through it all we've continued to evolve into better, wiser, more developed versions of ourselves.

If you can look back on 2010 feeling like you've emerged a stronger person and have inched ever closer to the life you want and the person you wish to become, then it was a successful year, and you should feel pride in the fact that you're that much nearer to making your dreams a reality, regardless of whether or not you've achieved last year's resolutions.

Good luck out there... and of course, happy writing!