The Way To Be: Abnormally

Expectations and standards encourage us to be better, stronger, and continually determined to achieve more in life. Whether we place them on ourselves or are burdened with the hopes and anticipations of others, there’s no doubt that expectations can be beneficial for the growth of our character and the strengthening of personal dogmas. But what exactly is the criterion that goes into these expectations? Is there some basic set of guidelines we must meet or exceed in order to feel good about our accomplishments? Or to feel we’ve made those around us proud?

Far too often these expectations are compared to what some would consider ‘normal’ or ‘conventional’ in the collective norm. You’re expected to try as hard as you can in school for a better opportunity for acceptance to a top-notch university. Once you get there, you must continue to apply yourself to the fullest in order to obtain a job with a good starting base salary. But wait, the whole time you’ve been working towards those goals you’re supposed to maintain good hygiene, a proper diet, and regular exercise habits to put yourself in an ample place at find a suitable fitting mate.  My point is that there is an endless list of everyday expectations placed on each of us by our parents, our friends, our siblings, our society, and, most importantly, ourselves.

There is unquestionable importance in having goals, ambitions, and desires. But I often think that these expectations are too equivalent to what we are told is normal. In a world immersed in media, we always aspire to be the people we respect the most. The masters of our given craft. Generally, we want to be the ‘next’ whoever that is. These feelings are mutually shared between almost all people and, if not held in a very tight check, can be much more detrimental than they are constructive.

The people we hold in such high regard have successfully risen far above any of the ‘normal’ constraints and expectations that life gave them to achieve something great, something they wanted. They refused to be run of the mill grocers, desk jockeys, or car salesmen and, instead, opted to make their reality a virtually untouchable spectacle of their choosing. They were able to accomplish such greatness by rejecting these communal expectations and allocating the majority dedication and focus to their uncommon assets and personal rarities. Why do you think so many brilliant artists, writers, musicians, athletes, and visionaries embrace and encourage the abnormal, the “be weird” mentality, and being the strangeness standing out amongst the normal?

I completely understand that the tools and resources given to some outnumber, outweigh, and overshadow the ones given to others. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. If you want something bad enough, you can overcome just about any obstacle in your way or barrier holding you in the uncomfortably cramped box to get what you want most. It’s all about embracing that special thing you do that no one else can, regardless if someone has done something similar in the past. No one can do that distinctive thing you love like you can. If you set out to accomplish something, you must first do it for yourself. Be selfish in this regard. Write the book you want to read, record the music you’d listen to first on Spotify, film an internet web series you’d tell your friends to check out.

I promise that if you loosen the death grip that ‘regularity’ has on your creative spirit and artistic inclinations, you’ll produce results that you never, in a bazillion years, imagined possible.

Your Reflection

Most of us have points during our day where we question just about everything we do in this life. Doesn’t matter if it’s in regards to your spouse, your job, your hobbies, your house, your religion, or whatever. We all do it. We daydream and wonder how our lives might be different is we did x instead of y, chose a instead of c, or took the red pill instead of the blue. It’s more or less an inevitable part of the human life experience not to think and consider these things on a daily basis. In fact, it’s downright unhealthy if you don’t do this every once in a while because if you aren’t than that basically indicates that you are completely satisfied with every piece of your life.

Which is extremely rare, if not downright impossible.

Although it’s not a beneficial practice to dwell on any of these facets or fixate on them completely, it’s very rewarding and courageous to constantly want more out of life. Always striving to get ahead, without compromising the life of another in any way, is a sign of a tenacious winner and, in my opinion, a bold genius. It’s the moments in life when you’re the most comfortable that you stop growing, achieving, and vindicating positivity in yourself and others.

But this persistent go-getter’s attitude and lifestyle can ware on us after a while. This can promote pessimism, negativity, and a defeatist’s attitude about your overall hopes, dreams, and well wishes. It happens to anyone who’s ever done something great. I can assure you. I’d like to offer a practice that I’ve found is very helpful on those infrequent days where life pushes me down and keeps me there for a while.

It’s called “Your [My] Reflection”. How you do this is simple and feel free to alternate it in any way that may be advantageous and valuable to you. When you begin to feel unhappy, put down everything you’re doing (with the exception of open heart surgery) and close your eyes for just a few moments. Take intermittent ‘meaningful’ deep breaths to clear the mind. After you do so, walk to the mirror and look at yourself. For 10 minutes forget about your perceived self-image or, perhaps, how much you despise your own reflection.

Look directly into your own eyes and try to think about your life one year ago today. On today’s exact calendar date. Ponder all the events that transpired, the people you’ve met, the situations you’ve been in, or the places you’ve seen. You’ve been working the whole last year? Then think about how closer you are to retirement or to that ‘special reward’ of a comedy show, rock concert, professional sports game, or new car.  If eloquently take the time and make a deliberate attempt to do this, I think you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come in the last year as a person.

It’s important to strive to get better everyday. But it’s also important to reflect on how far you’ve come and the results of your hard work. It’s essential not to fixate on either, though. This, like all areas of life, is simply a beautiful balance.

Wash: Act 2

1st of June, 2046

The whole state of Florida and the larger part of the west coast is now completely submerged underwater. People are abandoning their homes in droves in hopes of finding refuge in the hills and plains of Middle America. Much like the rain, the arguing, raiding, and senseless homicides show no promising signs of stopping any time soon. Although Why is still remotely uninhabited by these coastal immigrants, I’m all but certain they will eventually pour in much like the water that forcibly took their homes without asking first.

Through this entire mess I can’t help but wonder why humans attempt to prolong the inevitable. The desperate cling to foolish hopes of immortality or successfully outsmarting fate and outrunning time is preposterously arrogant. I’m no genius of any sort, but I don’t think anybody has won that battle yet. I beg to ask the few sane people left: whats the point?

The rancid stench of wet garbage and smug remorse hung in the air like the stale fog of an early September afternoon as my father and I sped down Wildmoss Street towards the corner store to pick up some extra doomsday preparations.

I really hoped there would be a blowout sale on intolerance and paranoia.

No more than 2 miles away from the grocery store, we passed by a pack of deranged teenagers beating what appeared to be an older man absolutely senseless. Within an inch of his life, this man was beaten to an almost unrecognizable paste-like mush. The concrete below him was the color of crimson. When considering that crime is now rarely noticed and never punished, I had a hunch that this heinous act was one of pure entertainment to these ravenous ruffians. My father slowed the vehicle momentarily and, in the better half of my brain, I thought he might try to help this soon to be dead man by demanding the children stop at once. Suddenly, the head of one of these hoodlums shot up through the frenzy of wailing arms and fists. Once my father saw him, he stomped on the gas as if we were being chased by a horde of the living dead.

“Why didn’t you stop?!” I pleaded with him.

“You want to be at the next one to get pummeled, Bella?”

There’s nothing I despise more in this world than when my father calls me Bella. Bella. That name reminds me of a dime store vagabond destined to walk this earth forever alone spending the majority of my time sexually seducing men and a select few women. Plus, that was what people called my mother. No matter. He’s called me this since the first day I got here.

My visibly bothered and borderline schizophrenic father continued to race down the damp, one-way road like it was the final lap at some motor speedway in Kentucky, which was probably almost completely under water as well. I must admit that this ongoing liquid submergence does make me wonder but it’s the cautiousness inside me that continues to grow as opposed to paralyzing fear manifested in others.

To our left, as we neared the market, we both noticed a leathery skinned and bearded man resting in a hammock while the wind thrashed and threw him about like lint coated loose change in a tumble dryer. He gave us a friendly salute as we passed by and didn’t seem to notice the inclement weather.

“What’s that lunatic doing in a storm like this?” my father asked.

“He must want to die.”

We squawked to a sudden standstill in front of the store. From the outside, it seemed to be eerily unoccupied and all the lights appeared to be turned off. Yet, some sort of reddish glow flickered towards the back of the citrine yellow colored shop.

Annabelle Pinser

Free As a Bird, A Glance at Indie Publishing: Sunday Showcase with Courtney Pierce (P.2)

Anyone who has a strong desire to become a published author understands that there are multiple ways to get your ideas from the confines of your head into tangible print. No longer are you required to seek an agent for representation or spend countless months waiting to hear responses from publication houses to know if you’re dream concept will come to life. In this new age of technology, eBooks, apps, and DIY options labeled  ‘independent (self) publishing’ has become a widely used and effective means for getting your work to the general public. Proponents of this option argue that it offers the author more control and much higher royalties (payout) than sharing a piece of your income pie with an agent or publishing house. Opponents of this method argue that the author incurs more upfront risk in the publication of their own book and that it’s much harder to market to the public beyond your friends and family members.

This argument has been an ongoing hot topic over the past few years in the book publishing world. As those who are serious about trying to make a career in any artistic medium will find, there is no magic formula to immediate success and public recognition. In this sense, writing is no different. While some would be better served by the traditional publishing route, there have been countless success stories from people who self published or used another form of DIY writing.

In our second part of the Sunday Showcase with Courtney Pierce, we delve a bit deeper into this route of publication. We will also discuss the Northwest Independent Writers Association (NIWA), which is an organization that serves writers looking to achieve professional standards in independent writing, publishing, and marketing. More information about NIWA will be listed at the end of this feature.

Inform us a little bit about the indie book publishing route you’ve chosen to take? What are the perks it has over traditional publishing? What do you think it will do for the future of books?

The traditional publishing world has changed—drastically. I’m not against it, but old-school publishing hasn’t quite caught up to the fact that authors are not at their mercy anymore. Book publishing is a New York centric business, and New York doesn’t embrace change quickly. The Broadway business is not any different in that regard. As publishing houses scaled back on resources, shrunk their advances, and shifted their marketing responsibilities to be on the shoulders of the author, it’s never been harder for an unknown author’s book to be published. Publishers want proven entities with a strong name to push big sales. (Think George Clooney memoir or what recently happened to Philip Seymour Hoffman only last week.) And personalities are not writers!!!

So after a new author asks herself after jumping up and down for a request of their manuscript: “Why would I give 90% of the money away, all of my rights, and then have to do all of my own marketing? The piddley advance doesn’t even cover the cost of setting up a professional website and the creation of book promotion materials!” And then there are the rights . . .

Writers continue to query and pitch agents because they think the publisher does all the icky stuff—fix the problems with an editor and do all the marketing and publicity. Not so. Surprise! You still have to do all those things after you’ve sold your rights away for pennies on the dollar. The only reason to go traditional is to get placement in bookstores, receive reviews by major publications, possibly get promoted on Oprah Winfrey’s show/website, negotiate international rights, and cut a movie deal. All of these points are valid, but an Indie author can do most of that on their own with a good lawyer. All right, maybe not Oprah. But I’ve talked to a host of traditionally published authors who are trying to exit from their contracts and get their rights back in order to self-publish. That has caused some deep surface cracks in the traditional shell. Publishers are scrambling to create hybrid contracts that allow new authors to keep their digital rights. That’s a big deal because the majority of hardbound books (unless you’re Stephen King or Dan Brown) lose money. Agents are beginning to shift their focus to become marketing representatives to Indie authors who sell in significant numbers (5,000+ copies). To supplement their shrinking incomes, agents are now selling their advice through workshops to—guess who—Indie authors!

As soon as an author could publish their book, both in print and e-book, utilizing digital software tools for little or no cost while retaining 100% of the rights…well…the odds of the writing game shifted almost overnight. Traditional publishers and agents have historically maintained a sacred gatekeeper position about which books came to market. But they could no longer hold back the throngs of writers breezing by them to get their books published on their own. Indie writers stood at the finish line, jumping up and down and laughing their heads off.

An industry in chaos provides huge opportunities to fix what’s wrong. Should I repeat that statement for emphasis? All but a few authors have been squashed under an impenetrable ceiling . . . until now.

Enter little ‘ole me into the publishing fray in 2012, batting her eyes with a finished manuscript in her hand. I stepped right into the brown grass of a dog park without a baggie on my hand. The choice to go Indie was a cathartic and timely moment for an obsessive-compulsive, control-freakish, and impatient writer like me who was completely emotional about her work. Just think—I can have the cover I want; no one’s going to change my story; I can keep nearly 70% of the profits instead of 10%; And, I can get my book on the market within a week of finalizing and formatting my manuscript instead of two years. Sounds like heaven, right? That was the fantasy for over 225,000 Indie book writers who published last year. But even with all those souped-up benefits, only a handful made decent money. The gateway to getting in major bookstores was blocked for unknown Indie authors. I was in the middle of the war between booksellers and Amazon. But that’s a whole other story for another day.

Self-publishing, at the time, also had another downside. Along with some fine yarns in the Indie pipeline, there were a ton of books that flooded the social networks and book websites that were unedited, unproofed, and not even of the writing quality of a first draft. Indie books had developed a reputation for being dreck (re-shouted by the traditional publishers and agents in self-defense). And the critics were right.

Enter now into 2014, a new era of Indie publishing. Bad writing and their writers are falling by the wayside. The drecky noise will go away in time. Quality writers who understand good storytelling have educated themselves, hired professional editors and cover designers, formed marketing cooperatives, set up their marketing platforms, and have developed direct relationships with their readers. Good writing will be the future focus that will bubble any writer to the top because of their reader base. This last point is HUGE! Owning the relationship with the customer is what will make any company, entity, or creator of something special a rousing success. That’s why I’m an Indie author. I love my readers and I can write what they want to read.

If you ask me this question again next year, Kyle, I’m sure the Indie writing world will look quite different from today. I predict that traditional literary agents will seek out Indie authors, eager to represent them with hybrid consultancy deals for a percentage commission. No matter what the politics are in the back room, the industry will follow the money . . . always follow the money. Foes quickly become friends when there’s money to be made. The stigma of Indie publishing will be gone in time. When that happens, Indie writers will be sitting in front of Oprah and signing their books in Barnes and Noble and Powell’s on a regular basis . . . with all their rights tucked in their pockets.

Choosing the Indie or traditional track is a personal decision that should be based on career goals. Are you a long-term thinker who wants to control your career? Do you have several books in your pipeline, or one book that is your crowning masterpiece? How much money do you want to make? Is your goal to be famous? Do you need someone to tell you what to write to be saleable? There are no wrong answers, only personal ones.

But either track you choose, it takes courage to believe in your work and believe in yourself.

That’s what publishing is all about; the quest to put yourself and your work out into the world for everyone to see. You must believe your work is the best it can be. If not, sign up for another workshop and keep practicing your craft until you feel ready. For me, I conquer the hill of self-doubt by continuing to get inspiration from classes and seminars. They keep my writing fresh. And when I upload my professionally edited and formatted manuscript, I’m in control of my fate and my career. Quite liberating to be a big business of one.

Rumors tell me that you’re the newest Vice Present of NIWA. What does this job entail? What exactly is NIWA? What are you hoping to achieve in the next year during your vice presidency?

NIWA

I’m thrilled about my involvement with NIWA. Being active in the writing community is just as important as spinning a good story. The world of independent writers is an open and welcoming one to those who want to get involved. Anyone can be a leader and initiate change and growth just by showing up! NIWA is a young organization whose mission is to make the quality of independently published books equal to, if not better than, traditionally published ones. The publishing business has changed in the digital age, just like movies and music. Anyone can write a book now, but not everyone can write a good book and sell it successfully.  That’s our mission: teach, lead, and support the craft of writing and distributing a good book.

NIWA is a non-profit organization that supports independent authors. Over the past two years, it has blossomed to represent all genres, exploded its membership base, created relationships with independent bookstores, conducted workshops, organized events for Indie authors to sell their books, and developed the NIWA Seal of Quality Program (NSQ) to shepherd books through an objective vetting process for good storytelling, physical quality, and professional presentation.

My position as Vice President for 2014 will be to help take all of these programs to the next level. An important component of being a successful writer is offering to support to others. Every success helps the rest. As a group we can do so much more than an individual writer can do on their own. One author trying to set up a successful signing will have a challenge, but when there are thirty authors pulling together the event will attract a crowd.  That’s the idea. Get attention and be better than the crowd. Each good book has its audience. The goal is to get in front of that audience.

See for yourself what NIWA is all about:

Websitehttp://www.niwawriters.com/

Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/NIWA.Writers

Twitterhttps://twitter.com/niwa_writers

Ascending

Revisited From: 5-20-13

Briskly antagonized by blinding light, I found myself mildly confused and ascending a slowly creeping elevator. My company was an atypical array of people I didn’t know. They ranged from newborns to the elderly and they seemed to be traveling alone.  Glancing around the crowded area inquisitively, I couldn’t help but notice a sense of inaudible uncertainty and uneasy anxiety amongst these people.  Not entirely restless, but very expectant to reach a final destination.

Where ever or whatever that may be.

The doors started to gently open and instructions were blared over the loud-speaker commanding the mass to exit the cramped silo and join the long line straight ahead. Although my whole being was engulfed by requests and curiousness, I couldn’t help but feel the pleasant comfort of serenity and ease.

The line inched forward every few minutes as several unhappy and dejected individuals made their way back towards our initiation point at the elevator. Finally, I was able to recognize a splendid silver door as I reached the head of the line. I expected my heart to hysterically race due to the enigmatic possibilities laying behind the entrance but it did not in the slightest. The door slowly crept open and as I grabbed the handle.  A strange euphoria consumed every sensory organ in my body. Glancing keenly around the room, I realize I am in the charming office of a very handsome individual.

Please sit.

Summoning the only chair available and gracefully resting on it, I noticed its genuinely snug and cloud-like properties.

Who are you? And where exactly am I?

The gorgeous man chuckled loudly with the identical muster I imaged Santa Claus had when he recited his infamous festive chant of Ho! Ho! Ho!

I am what some deem God. But I’ve also accepted other names as the years continue to pass, from Allah to Zeus. You see, I am the entity which offers them direction and guidance. I am what has carefully placed each of them in situations and times for them to prosper and guide the masses. I’ve gifted them with the ability to teach, to learn, to preach, and to escort my people into what is the “greater good”. Kyle, my son, I am the beginning, the middle, and the end. I am the only constant entity that will ever exist in the cosmos. I have not only concentrated my efforts on Earth, either. For I have also been deploying martyrs, philosophers, theologies, immortals, and other beings of higher and influential power on other planets housed within other solar systems you couldn’t even begin to fathom.

With a lump forming in my throat and trepidation in my spirit, I stared at him with a blank expression. An enormity of questions, concerns, and thoughts contested valiantly to be the first to escape from my mouth. I had a difficult time breaking eye contact but I was completely sedated and comfortable. All the while he continued to smile and his non-verbal qualities left me completely soothed yet elevated at the same time. Sitting upright in the chair, I took a deep and courageous breath while deciding which perplexing question I was to rebut with.

So who exactly is destined for eternal greatness? Are there strict qualifications?

Softly resting his hand on his jaw line, he volleyed the question right back to me without reluctance or hesitation.

Do you think you deserve eternal greatness, Kyle?

Tears began to well behind my blackened hazel eyes, although not a single one had yet descended. Fear began to engulf my soul and subsequently paralyze my tongue. I knew exactly what I was going to say word for word, but was terrified of the reaction it would evoke from this immaculate divinity.

Well.

I paused.

I have treated every individual I came in contact with on a daily basis with the same reverence, admiration, and love. Regardless if they were my best friend or my worst enemy, if they were black or white, if they were Catholic or Atheist, if they were a servant or master. No matter if they spoke the same language I did or they spoke in tongues, if they were a transient or owned the mansion on the hill. If someone needed a place to sleep, I did my absolute best to accommodate all of your creations. Sure, there have been countless times were I have done severe wrongs to people, or treated them poorly out of immaturity or an unintentional nature. Upon realization of these wrongdoings, I can honestly remark that I attempted to correct them through my actions and words of love and compassion. I always offered a listening ear and an open heart to those who needed it; irrespective if it was the co-worker I’ve known for a week or the best friend who grew up with me. It didn’t matter to me who they were, sir.

During my explanation, I observed his facial expression transform from one of jubilance to quizzical ambiguity.

My heart sank even lower into my stomach, as I slightly feared an eternal sentence of hostility and agony.

Did you ever worship me, son?

I found this question to be both bewildering and bothering wrapped into an already opened gift of pure chance.

Although I never held true a proper Sabbath defined by any religion, nor did I find sanctuary in a large gathering structure on designated days, I still believed whole heartedly in you. I simply didn’t subject myself to be secluded and restricted to one practice or belief. My surveillance of those who follow extremely close the teachings of certain religions has indirectly influenced them to alienate others for their opposing ideas. For some, it was impossible to set aside certain facets of our lives to attempt to connect with another person. Things not only restricted to religious discrepancies, but also to monetary status, sexual orientation, race, language, and endless other barriers people exhaustively build and stubbornly protect. For these reasons, I opted to shun traditional ways of worship and trade them for self-teaching techniques. I researched myself the characteristics and criteria of various religions. Additionally, I was blessed with many friends and family members of strong religious connection who were accepting of my questions and provided answers corresponding with their worship of choice. Although I was not able to learn everything about every religion, I thoroughly enjoyed learning as much as I could during my earthly existence. Further, my acceptance and yearning for learning developed incalculable amounts of new networks, friends, ideas, and appreciations. I always believed that some form of higher being existed. I believed that it was idiotic for me to suppose that after our time in mere flesh expires there aren’t more chapters to be scribed in each of our souls. 

A smirk was subpoenaed once again to his faultlessly formed face as he looked upon me with encouragement and acceptance. Our eyes now meeting again, he seemed to telepathically explain that my way of life, although slightly obscure and non traditional, he treasured and admired greatly.

Do you have any more questions for me?

Indeed, I had many. But to my surprise they were not the clichéd lines so many mentally shackle themselves and obsess with on Earth. Rather, I was far more interested in my current situation and it’s fascinating features.

I have two, if I may. The first: I died much later in my life than my appearance is currently as I am seated before you. Why is that?

His head began to subtly nod as the proper words were forming for a response.

Perhaps you noticed that with you in the elevator were folks of all ages, ethnicities, and appearances. You see, what many regard as ‘heaven’ is a place where each occupant experiences steady and regular euphoric happiness in perpetual paradise. Although their outside appearances needn’t much matter any longer, their soul and all its wisdom is housed comfortably in a body reflecting a favorable and enjoyable year for each person. For some, age 2 was significant enough for them to spend the rest of eternity in. For others, that magical year is in their 50’s, 60’s, or 70’s. For example, you subconsciously chose the age of 22 to spend the rest of your timeless life in this cloud vatican. Did something substantial or impactful happen at that age for you, Kyle?

Thoughts of far too many circumstances to list came to mind instantaneously.

Indeed, it was. It was the starting gun blast of limitless beginnings of transformation and unity.

His smile grew incrementally larger by the second.

And your second question..?

I grin.

I saw several men and women heading away from your door and back towards the elevator during my wait in line. Why was that?

His melancholy sigh was hinted with tones of sorrow.

You see, son, not every person has matured in his or her time nor are they appropriately ready to pass through the gates of ecstasy. Therefore, those who need further development are sent back to earth and birthed with a fresh start. 

My breath lingered tranquilly in my lungs for a moment as I was suspended by his every word.

There is no such thing as a ‘hell’ or sweltering in everlasting damnation. What kind of savage creator would I be if I fashioned these beautiful creatures only to curse their souls to burn forever? 

He hesitated for a moment expectant of my reply, which there was none.

Now, Kyle, we’ll have an endless amount of time to chat with you in the future. However I still have many, many people who are desiring the same thing as you and are currently plagued with the identical confusion you had moments ago. I thank you for your kind service to my people and the valiant life you lead each day. Calmly stand, gather yourself, and exit the door from which you entered. 

Panic.

You are sending me back to Earth?!

He remained calm.

Just trust me, friend.

I firmly clutched the knob and began to twist, eager and petrified for what waited behind. As I pushed it open, I was drawn swiftly to my knees as wells of tears cascade to the ground below. In front of me was a magnificent dining table contentedly placed in the midst of a beautiful cathedral. As tears continued to dispense from my eyes, I glanced left to right in absolute astonishment. Seated in deeply passionate camaraderie are those who hold a very special place in my heart. Some of which were idols I hadn’t met, family members, my loving parents, closest friends, and beloved pets of which had all perished years prior. There were also several incubus , angels, and religious figures sprinkled intermittently with them, all staring at me with the utmost sympathy and care, patiently waiting for me to take my rightful seat at the head of the table. Remaining amazed and awestruck, I felt completely crippled with rapture.

Finally, after moments of silence, a daring soul in the very left corner of the seemingly endless table rose with his glass in hand.

And as our eyes met and I was able to decipher who it was, I began to unobtrusively giggle.

Sampson looked on and stated beautifully:

We’ve been waiting for you.

 

Mastering ‘You’

Opinions aside, there are a handful of exemplary masters of any given skill or field. Be it Muhammad Ali to boxing, Steve Martin to stand up comedy, or Harriet Tubman to revolutionaries, there is always someone, or several people, who are thought of towering above others in their respective craft. These people went far above and beyond normality to make their names and legacies not easily forgotten.  We, as dedicated dreamers chasing our own self-defined slice of greatness, can learn a valuable lesson that all these people had in common, whether they are still living or dead.

While there is no doubt these quintessential figures looked up to and revered their predecessors and peers, I have a difficult time believing that they wished to imitate them extensively or thought of their productions as a roadblock or standard to live up to. What I mean by this is that, although they respected and enjoyed the work of others, they did not try to replicate it or let it hinder their desires to be their personal best.

They only desired to be the best they could be. The majesty and excellence that was spewing from the lips, pens, television screens, or offices of the highest talents did not make them inherently jealous, discouraged, or envious. Rather, it made them try even harder and this unintentional encouragement propelled them to new opportunities, a few inevitable failures, and, eventually, they left their mark on humanity forever.

Sometimes we let the devil on our shoulder and the pessimistic parrot in our brain be the loudest voices driving our action, or inaction for that matter. It can be difficult to consume the work of others and not be melancholy about your own abilities and skills. It is challenging to read an insanely good news article or science fiction novel and not look to your own work as barely worthy to pick up the neighbors dog doo off your front lawn after it rained all night. It is hard to listen to a flawless album and not think your garage band is more a painful experience than one of blissful pleasure.

The question I ask you, which I also ask myself in situations like these, is why I am comparing my own capabilities to the work of others? Or seeing their creations as the golden standard? Why fixate on how phenomenal the inventions of others are in loathing when instead we can use it to metaphorically start a raging fire under our behinds to produce at our highest quality?

The real shame with all of this is that we all have a tendency to compare ourselves and our abilities to those we admire most. Why can’t I hoop like Michael Jordan? Why can’t I write like Kurt Vonnegut? Why can’t I act like Bryan Cranston? What’s more, we then go around imitating these people in a hope to be more like them. We often think that if we be like them, we will be able to obtain their large level of genius. Unfortunately, this disposition can cause us to sprint further away from our full potential and what we’re truly capable of.

What I am suggesting we do from here forth is to continue appreciating, indulging, and loving the conceptions and constructions of others but utilize it mindfully towards the transformation and refinement of our own proficiencies.

You, The Individual

Close friends, a loving family, and sincere support acts as a buttress for your dreams and well wishes. They tirelessly motivate, encourage, and sustain our deepest desires. They never run or cower in when confronted with adversity or failure and are the first to offer a helping hand when we land squarely on our faces.  There’s no sense in debating the importance of these people in our lives and their ability to make us shine a whole lot brighter. I can safely assume that I speak for all of us when I say, ‘I don’t know where I would be without them and I’m forever indebted to the impact they have on my life every day.’

There are occasions, though, where we overlook or completely forget the significance of the person in the driver’s seat, the only one who’s in complete control:

You, the individual.

While it’s idiotic to think that anything you deeply desire must be accomplished entirely on your own, it isn’t so out of the question to say that at any given moment, the only one that you can truly rely on is yourself. Every day you are presented with a battle of you against yourself, with a small combination of secondary characters and variables that vary from day-to-day. The only thing that is absolutely in your control is your attitude and your effort, that’s it. There are really no extravagant formulas or complicated bells and whistles that go along with this life theory.

Don’t lose faith or jump to pessimism quite yet, for we can exclusively regulate both of these components in our lives and, if you sprinkle in a pinch of patience and persistence, it will work wonders. In my opinion, the trick to maximizing this ability is to some spend quality time alone. Do this without the temptations of technology, the leisure of books or television, or the convenience of any vices. I challenge you to leave your house one morning without anything but the keys to lock the door behind you. Try it for only an hour. Go for a walk, a run, find the nearest park and go swing on the playground as if you were a child again.

Stand toe to toe with your thoughts, judgments, life views, and those elusive emotions that you avoid or don’t think about on a daily basis. Embrace and revel in the miracle that there’s only one you and trust that we will be tenfold better off trying to get to know that person buried inside of us by any means necessary. I honestly think you’ll be amazed at the things you discover about yourself and the results you’ll find down the road.

  “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

Kurt Vonnegut

Wash: Act 1

16th of May, 2046

This is by far the most excitement my family has experienced since I’ve been here. While a part of me wants to believe that my mother, father, and older brother yearn for tragedy and thrive off this nonsense, the other knows how deeply cynical I’ve become since the move. But as I watch my them sporadically flounder, like a deep-sea fish without a breath in the fresh air, I can’t help but question if the commotion gives them some sort of spiritual fulfillment I don’t quite understand.

I make a point not to watch the news very frequently but I believe that Los Angeles is now completely evacuated from floods and New York is only two or three days away from the same. It wouldn’t surprise me if all the coastal cities, both large and small, were completely emptied and vacant by the end of the month. This craze and obscure situation American’s have found themselves in has further divided the sides of nationalism. The conservatives are convinced that, because this flooding epidemic only seems to be a serious issue only in the United States, that this must be the work of terrorist allies whose only wish is to see us completely self destruct. On the flip side, left-wing liberals believe that this is mother nature’s harsh rebellion for treating her so poorly for so many years. In either case, I feel no inclination towards either side and, instead, will maintain the belief that these downpours and flooding will act as some sort of baptismal transformation for humanity.

As I finger through my wall calendar and old sketchbooks, I realize that this rain has been nonstop for around 4 months now give or take. It shows zero indication of slowing down. This in turn has caused all people, both elephants and donkeys, to adopt a savage doomsday vigilance for only themselves and their kin. Even the people in my small, desolate town of Why, Arizona have resorted to lawless looting, pitiful pilfering, and unjustifiable self-serving agendas. Crime now goes unnoticed and unpunished. Even the local law force member have a back stock of dirt mounds in their backyards to hide the skeletons that no longer have any need to stay hidden in the closet.

No matter, I feel little to little to no anxiety of what is bound to happen as more ocean side dwellers move inland when they come face-to-face with the decision to either swim or run for higher ground.  In the time being, while Why still remains remotely uninhabited, I’ll enjoy watching my neighbors squirm as I listen to the pattering rain on the roof, explaining all the sights it’s seen and the sin it’s survived.

Annabelle Pinser

In Stitches: Sunday Showcase with Courtney Pierce (P. 1)

Courtney Pierce COLOR

I can’t even begin to form the appropriate words explaining my respect and admiration for Courtney Pierce as a writer, a creator, and a person in general. From the first moment I met to Courtney Pierce I felt inspired and privileged to become have the opportunity to become acquainted with such an approachable character with high moral class and a passion for storytelling. In the past few months, our friendship has grown tremendously and continues to be more than a helping hand in my dram to become a published author. Lao-tzu once said “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” In terms of writing and my future hopes in this field, Courtney unselfishly took me by the hand and helped me take that initial step.

I’m graciously humbled to have her join us today in a two-part Sunday Showcase regarding her novel trilogy, independent writing, and the symbolic importance of animals in her writing. As you’ll discover in the questions below, Courtney has self-published the first two books of her trilogy so far and she is constantly entertaining me with her ideas and plans for books to come. Trust me when I say it is more than worth your time to snag a copy of Stitches, pour a cup of your favorite drip coffee, slip into some comfy loafers, and spend the afternoon with Jean and Spence.

When did you begin your writing career? Was there a certain event, person, or happening that encouraged you to pick up the pen for the first time?

I got a late start. I didn’t start writing professionally until I left my corporate career behind in 2011. Prior to that major shift, the story had been rolling around in my head for two years. It only took fifty-three years and a boatload of courage to take the leap. But the story burning inside me gave me that courage. After a twenty-year corporate career in the Broadway entertainment industry, I’d seen hundreds of stories come alive on the stage. And I knew there was an enormous challenge ahead of me to make my story good. Now I had one of my own.  But I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so I read every book I could get my hands on about the craft of writing fiction, attended writing conferences, joined writing associations, and took workshops to know what I was doing. I started over in a new profession and had to learn an industry from the bottom up. Just because I was successful one career didn’t mean I could cruise into another one without paying my dues. Writing is much harder than I ever dreamed. Story is one thing but turning ideas into a marketable book was another challenge altogether. Twenty-six drafts later I had a finished book.

Tell us a little bit about your first book Stitches. If I’m not mistaken it’s a part of a trilogy, correct?

Stitches didn’t start out as a trilogy, but the story kept growing as my characters’ adventure blossomed. Their story arc is realized over three books. Also, the readers I’d developed STITCHES BOOK NEW COVER BOOK ONEhad become attached to my characters, Jean and Spence Collins, and wanted more . . . and so did I. The characters had become a part of me; I slept, ate, and conversed with them every day. Sounds a little weird, I know, but that’s what happens when a writer creates vivid characters. Stitches is about a couple at life’s mid-point (fifties and sixties) and walk away from their corporate careers. They’re Baby Boomers who want to regain that sense of “anything’s possible” from their childhood in the sixties. Time is running out to realize their dreams and purpose in life.  All Spence wants to do is open a vintage vinyl record store and immerse himself in music trivia; Jean is a bit lost but knows she wants to make a difference in the lives of others. And then they find a piece of magical fabric at the bottom of a trunk purchased from an estate sale. The fabric is ancient and it holds the key to immortality. Not only does the fabric transform for the dying but it transforms this couple’s life from ordinary to extraordinary. They turn into sleuths to get to the bottom of the magic. Of course, in true Hitchcockian form, outside forces stumble into their quest, namely an FBI agent who witnesses the magic.

BRUSHES BOOKCOVER NEW 012814 (1)The second book, Brushes, is about a painting the couple inherits from an elderly woman who they’ve made immortal with the fabric. The magical painting ends up helping the couple and the FBI bring down a Ponzi scheme. Now the couple has a relationship with an immortal family, and even an immortal dog. But it is their relationship with an elderly jazz musician who lost money in the Ponzi scheme that takes them to the next level…and the third book, Riffs.

Riffs will be the final book of the trilogy that I hope to have finished and published by fall of 2014. Then, the story is done. The goal in the final book is for this couple to make the decision of whether they want to become immortal.

The trilogy is funny, heartfelt, and tender.  The magical realism is a metaphor for the internal courage and self-confidence required to overcome fear of failure. That can be ten times more difficult that just being a hero and saving the day.

What are three adjectives you’d use to describe your writing style? Is there a central theme you like to focus on or a general underlying concept you’d like the readers to take away?

Humor-filled, passionate, heartfelt.

At the core of my books is heart. Many readers categorize my work as Baby Boomer Literature because my characters are older and struggle with the life change of aging. I always have an animal in my books that nearly steals the show. That’s quite important to me. Animals are the comic relief, the trickster, and pure emotional reflection of what is happening in the story. The demographic of my readers is overwhelmingly women, aged 40-65. Yep! Baby Boomers. My husband and I are in that age group. The wishes and dreams of Baby Boomers are changing the face of everything: retirement, death, health care, consumer products, technology, philanthropy . . . and drumroll, please . . . books!

The underlying theme of my trilogy is really a question: “What would you do with your life today if you knew you could live forever?” A heady question that makes the reader think about their own life.

My fourth book is a stand-alone novel called The Executrix. Its concept surrounds three middle-aged sisters who have to come together to settle the parents’ estate after their mother dies.  Each has a different view of how they were raised. Is sibling blood thicker than baggage? You bet it is, especially when one is in danger. The claws come out. This book is actually a comedy/thriller for women. It’s a genre-bender.

Follow Courtney through her dream and read her writing at:

Bloghttp://www.stitchesthenovel.blogspot.com/

Amazonhttp://www.amazon.com/Courtney-Pierce/e/B00BGX6WYS

Kobohttp://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/Search?Query=Courtney+Pierce

Windtree Presshttp://windtreepress.com/pages/authors/courtney-pierce/