The Endless Phase

There are 12 commonly accepted phases (or stages) of life, and they’re laid out something like this:

1.Prebirth:  Potential
2.Birth:  Hope
3.Infancy (Ages 0-3) Vitality
4.Early Childhood (Ages 3-6):  Playfulness
5.Middle Childhood (Ages 6-8):  Imagination  
6.Late Childhood (Ages 9-11):  Ingenuity
7.Adolescence (Ages 12-20):  Passion
8.Early Adulthood (Ages 20-35):  Enterprise   
9.Midlife (Ages 35-50):  Contemplation
10.Mature Adulthood (Ages 50-80): Benevolence
11.Late Adulthood (Age 80+):  Wisdom
12.Death & Dying:  Life

Intellectually I understand what that list is trying to tell me…that a phase represents a distinct stage of development, or a temporary pattern of behavior that follows a natural progression…but emotionally I tend to believe otherwise.  I can’t help but flashback to my youth where I’d frequently overhear my parents discussing how my infatuation with comic books, or action figures, or wanting to be a forest ranger (that was in college) was just a passing phase.  How many times have you heard something similar?  How many times have you said something similar?  You tell me…at what point does a fixation – a passion – normally manifested during a particular phase of the developmental process…become more than that?

Take my brother (older by one year) for example. He goes through phases like I go through clean underwear.  One month his phase is souping up old cars, the next its scuba diving, the next its dirt bikes, the next its gun collecting.  And when he goes through a phase, HE GOES THROUGH A PHASE, meaning that he becomes totally wrapped up in it and commits all of his time (and a lot of his money). But when he moves on to his next compulsion, he loses interest in the previous (which means they’ll be a flurry of activity on Ebay soon).

Seeing this behavior in my brother I’ve been asked by family members – and frankly I’ve poised the same question to myself – if my writing (and all that entails) was just a phase?  I bet a few of you have even asked the same question of yourself.  For my part, I’m going to do my best to answer that question here today.   

The seed that led to my infatuation with the written word and the roots that subsequently spouted from it were planted in junior high, blossomed with school newspaper in high school, and continued spreading as I moved into college majoring in Journalism. But this passion went dormant shortly thereafter, with only an occasional flash of life, as I was forced to confront the realities of GPA’s, school loans, early morning alarms and cold dinners, heart-stopping love, dirty diapers, mortgages, coaching clinics, scholarship applications and everything else that tend to induce follicle disembarkation and enlarged prostrates. It wasn’t until two of my three children had flown the coop that I found myself with spare time I was unaccustomed to. All it took was a sprinkle of attention and the warmth of my interest to rekindle a decades old love. That was almost eight years ago, and the funny thing is…I feel like I’m just now hitting my stride.

Is this a phase?  Though I may stop writing for a while…which I’ve done several times…that doesn’t mean I’ve moved on or that anything has ended.  This may be a phase…but if it is, it’s an endless one…with multiple levels to mark my continued development. I consider myself a work in progress, and that means the definition of ME is open-ended, but a piece that will always be part of that answer will be…writer.


My post last week was actually a re-post, and truth be told, it was a re-re-post.  I originally wrote that piece in April of 2010, and then I used it again for one of my Déjà vu Blogfest entries, and the third time was last week.  I’m not sure why it bothers me when I do that because most of my current readers weren’t following me back then, so the piece is actually new to them, but it feels a bit like cheating anyway. So today I resolved myself to making sure I wrote something original…and guess where that leads me for a topic.  Talk about putting pressure on myself.  How can I write something original…about being original?

Originality is... a by-product of sincerity. ~Marianne Moore

It’s a common notion – original ideas are a thing of the past – everything we see now are simply masterfully conceived derivatives of a unique (at the time) concept. Fine. Let’s deal with that head-on.  Who cares? I have one word for you – Vampires.  Here’s another – Zombies.  Shall I go on?  Lost love.  Unfulfilled prophecies.  Revenge.  These are all stories that revolve around the same idea…but handled very differently…and more importantly…successfully.

I may not be different, but I'm definitely not the same. ~William J. Dybus

I’m a 5’9” tall Caucasian with hazel eyes, a shaven head and a pudgy nose.  How many guys (and maybe a few women) do you think there are in this world who look like me? I’m also right-handed, have a gap in my two front teeth and a lazy eye when I’m tired.  That probably narrows it down some more, but the truth is there are still thousands of guys who look just like me – but you know what, I’m still unique. My education, life experiences, and moral values help others to put me in categories with people who are similar, but still -- I’m unique.  Why? Because what sets me apart from the 7.2 billion others…is my mind…and the way I express what’s in it.

 It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation. ~Herman Melville

As a writer I see aspects of my work that bear a resemblance to other authors, especially those I’ve read and admire.  Does that mean I’m imitating them?  Was Hank Aaron imitating Babe Ruth when he broke the all-time home run hitting record? They both used a bat…and swung at a ball to try and send it off as far as they could. Was that imitation? Heck no. In the writing world an author’s distinctive voice typically comes from a myriad of influences that have pooled over time into personalized expression.  Sure some elements may stand out more than others, but it’s still as unique as a fingerprint.

The fastest way to succeed is to look as if you're playing by other people's rules, while quietly playing by your own. ~Michael Korda

Ever heard of a game called Telephone (or Chinese whispers)? It’s a game played around the world, in which one person whispers a message to another, which is passed through a line of people until the last player announces the message to the entire group. Teachers and instructors use the game to demonstrate how errors typically accumulate in the retellings, so the statement announced by the last player differs significantly, and often amusingly, from the one uttered by the first. What are usually emphasized by these exercises are the reasons for the breakdown like anxiousness or impatience, leading to erroneous corrections. But what about the other reason, the one that’s overlooked?  Some players deliberately alter what is being said because they are reinterpreting the information and passing it along in their own unique fashion. Are they to blame because the message came out of the chain different then it started…or should they be celebrated?

In a society that rewards originality…but depends on conformity…isn’t it nice to know that we can do both? :)

Black Ice

I’m in Chicago again this week, me and the temperatures that can’t seem to find double digits. Something that I’ve heard a lot of on the news and from co-workers who have firsthand experience, is Black Ice. It made me think of one of my older post that is still relevant today (and will always be that way) that bears the same name, so I thought I'd post it for you today.  Hope you enjoy it.


Anyone from a predominantly cold climate is intimately familiar with the term Black Ice.  For those of you lucky enough to claim ignorance, it refers to a type of hazardous road condition that occurs when ice with few air bubbles cover the throughways, making it virtually transparent.  Many an accident has been caused by drivers cruising along until they hit a patch of the slick coating and find themselves suddenly fighting to maintain control of their vehicle.


What you may not be aware of, we as writers have our own sort of Black Ice to guard against.  Moreover, this is a peril of our own making.   


There’s your reader, traveling down the road you’ve paved for him with your eloquent prose, losing themselves within the world you’ve created, when suddenly it happens.  Their attention wavers and they lose traction.  They begin to do something universally feared by writers of all content, they begin to skim.  Forced to jump ahead, searching for stable footing, an attempt to re-connect with the story line that had become abruptly burdensome.  Why? What happened?  The author failed to detect the Black Ice he unknowingly allowed to creep into his work.  It’s the material that bogs down exposition by including too much descriptive detail, mundane character interactions, or a plot contrivance that over-stretches the limits of believability.  It could even be the result of sagging momentum (see The Scooter Method). Consequently, the reader becomes distracted, or even worse, annoyed because they find themselves slipping through paragraphs or even whole pages.  Whatever the reason, the reader goes on the alert and the author’s reputation has taken a hit.


So how can we as writers prevent Black Ice from sabotaging our own work?  By its very definition, it’s extremely hard to detect by ourselves.  We re-read our stuff so many times its hard not to skim.  This is an area where our beta readers and critique groups are so crucial.  Consider them the salt or sand preventing the ice from taking hold in the final draft.  Used properly they can highlight sections where they feel themselves being taken out of the flow of the story, especially useful for first time authors. 


To be fair, skimming is just as much about the make-up of the reader as it is the intent of the writer.   That is why we have to work twice as hard to make sure we don’t give them any reason to slip.  Glue them to the page.  Clear away anything where ice can form.  Some of our most prolific authors would do well to remember this particular hazard.  It is our responsibility and shouldn’t be shirked in the name of we can’t please everyone. 


Let’s face it, no matter how hard we try and the measures we employ, some amount of Black Ice will probably sneak in anyway.  The occasional slip and slide can be forgiven.  But continually turning a blind eye to the problem will eventually impact readership, and status.


What about you?  Do you have a method for spotting Black Ice?  Care to share?   



Second verse . . . same as the first.

Let’s face it, most of us don’t sit down and dream up these wild pledges to ourselves at the first of the year.  Instead, they get re-cycled from year to year or from points within the year.  At least that’s the way it is for me.  Changes I contemplate are either on-going struggles or transformations I’ve temporarily abandoned or neglected.  Shrink my body (Lose weight . . . eat healthier . . . exercise more).  Expand my brain (read more . . . write more . . . take a class).  Invigorate my being (be a better person . . . come out of my shell . . . strive to become more involved).  Goals are a necessary tool for change, and just because we don’t achieve them as often as we’d like is no reason to abandon them…or stop creating them.

What’s different . . . and the key to realizing these desired changes . . . is your resolve.  The obstacles, lying in wait to trip us up, are numerous.  Expect them.  Plan for them.  Fortify yourself by remembering that stumbling across one does not end the journey.  That’s what life is all about, overcoming barriers and adapting.  I see far too many people who give up on themselves because of one simple slip.  Sometimes I think that they secretly welcome it, using their perceived failure to escape the burden of trying.  But if they just saw for what it is, a setback, one that they could have even anticipated, then they wouldn’t have to settle for “maybe next year”.  And when those unforeseeable complications (major medical issues, loss, financial crisis, etc.) raise their ugly heads, be patient. Time is a healer that abides no short-cuts. 

Enough of the soapbox. 

I have seen my fair share of obstacles, but I’m resolute in the belief that 2015 will see one of my novels published, or represented by an agent, one or the other.  I now have years of writing under my belt…multiple books and short stories in my repertoire…and I’m part of a wonderful CP group. My confidence is higher than ever.

And I’m going to continue to grow this blog.  How do I do that?  Not by pulling in followers by offering contests or give-a-ways (although I’m not saying I’ll totally against that), but rather by being entertaining and having interesting things to say.  There are hundreds of aspiring author blogs out here, all documenting their own quest for publication, and if I can’t stand out amongst them then what hope can I have of achieving my own dream?

2015 starts Thursday…but it is not the beginning.   

Let’s go!  What do you say?

Deja Vu Post - God Bless You

Today is the day where we re-post one of our blogs from 2014.  It can be your favorite, or one that you wrote during a busy time (A-Z Challenge, WRiTE CLUB, NaNoMo, etc.), or just one that you feel deserved more attention.  Whatever the reason, this is your chance for a do-over.  If you wish to see who else is participating in this awesome event...HERE is where the linky list is located.  It's not too late to sign up either.

My Deja Vu post originally aired on January 30th, and you'll soon see why I chose it.  Enjoy!

Over the last year or so my dad’s health has slowly deteriorated and he finally ran out of fight early in the morning, January 22nd. We held the funeral services this past Monday and I have to say it was wonderful ceremony. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law both stood up to share some beautiful words of remembrance, and I offered a few thoughts myself.  I wanted to share them with you here today so you might help me in honoring what were both a wonderful man…and father.
I hope to be back amongst you soon.  Until then, be safe and secure. :)

I want to start off by thanking everyone for coming out today.  I know that Dad…as modest as he was…would be surprised to see this kind of turn out. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m one the quiet one in the family - but somehow I keep finding myself up here.  After our mom passed, dad came to me and asked if I wouldn’t mind saying a few words for her at the funeral.  As strong as he was, I guess he knew he wouldn’t be able to remain composed enough to do it, but somehow he thought I could.  So here we are again, but this time he’s not around to ask me…but it seems right.  Hopefully I won’t disappoint him.

What’s been great over the last several days, especially last night, was hearing all of the stories about dad and how much he genuinely affected the people he came in contact with.  As I listened to everyone, two distinct themes kept recurring over and over.  One was CARS…and the other was how people’s impression of him changed once they got to know him better.  Dad could be quite an imposing figure…downright scary when it comes down to it…but all it took was just a little time with him to discover the teddy bear just below the surface.  Don’t get me wrong…dad could be dominating force when he needed to be.  As one of three boys growing up…believe me…I can attest to that.  But once you got by that gruff exterior you couldn’t ask for a better brother, father, son, and friend.    

I think it was fifteen years ago…Mom and Dad were living in Georgia at the time…I wrote them both a letter.  I sent it for no other reason than to thank them for being such wonderful parents.  I couldn’t say it to them in person because I knew I would choke and mess up half of what I was trying to say.  You know what it was?  Have you ever had one of those moments when you figure something out that’s been right there in front of your face the whole time, but for whatever reason it’s eluded you until it finally crystalizes in your mind?  Something that makes you go…HUH!  I had one of those when I realized that you can’t really understand your parents until you have children of your own.  You get part way there when you get married, but you don’t really fully appreciate them until you’ve experienced parenthood for yourself.  My wife Kim was expecting our third child at the time and I was seeing my parents in a whole new light, so I needed to tell them thank you.  At the same time I was beginning to understand something else about dad.  He had a way of teaching, influencing, giving direction without you knowing that’s what he was doing.  He was the master of subtlety and making you believe you’ve figured something out for yourself.        

Let me give you an example.  We’ve already mentioned cars, so let’s use that.  I can remember vividly being with dad underneath one his cars parked in front of our house in Cherry Point.  It was cold outside, a light rain was falling, there were pea-sized gravel boring holes into the back of my head and I wanted to be anywhere but there.  We were trying to remove a starter and there was this one obstinate bolt that was impossible to get to and couldn’t get a ratchet on it.  We worked for hours and hours trying to get that bolt off…me getting angrier and angrier as time went on…when suddenly it came loose and the part was free.  I learned two things that day, the first, there was NO WAY I wanted to have anything to do with repairing cars when I grew up.  But the second thing I learned…without dad saying a word…was determination.  Tenacity.  Sticking with things to the end.  HUH! 

I also learned from him that sometimes it’s what you DON’T say that really matters.  I can’t ever recall dad voicing derogatory remarks about anyone.  I’m sure he had some…don’t we all…but he mostly kept them to himself.  Sometimes I would even try to bait him…ask him a leading question about someone I knew was ripe for ridicule, but he’d just ignore me or change the subject.  HUH!  

He showed me that commitment wasn’t just a goal or something to strive for.  It was a duty.  Twenty-four years in the military.  Twenty years at AT&T.  Married for Fifty years.  The man was a constant…for everybody, but he never once bragged about it or hinted that was what a successful career was all about.  HUH!

I told a story at mom’s funeral about how I came home from college one day…heartbroken from a breakup with a girl…and poured my eyes out to mom who just calmly stroked my head and told me everything would be alright. After a while she said she needed to go to the grocery store and she drove to the nearest gas station and poured her eyes out over the phone to dad.  What I didn’t say then was that there’s a part two to that story.  It wasn’t much longer after mom returned that dad showed up at the house.  I asked him what he was doing home so early and he told me that he had this van he had been tinkering around with and since he heard I was home he’d like to take advantage of that and get me to help him with it.  I said sure…still kind of numb…so he changed his clothes and we set about tearing into the engine.  After a while mom brought us sandwiches and drinks and we ate in silence. When it turned dark and he brought out the flood lamps so we could keep going even longer.  We must have worked on that car until past midnight…and you know what…to this day I have no idea what we did to it.  But during that time dad never said a word about my break up, or asked me probing questions like “so, how’s everything going?”  It wasn’t until years later that I discovered mom had told him, but that night when I finally climbed into bed, I fell right asleep and rested peacefully.  HUH! 

The last few weeks of dad’s life you could tell he was doing his best to put on a brave face, though he was struggling and deeply discouraged.  We all were doing our best to encourage him …convince him that all he needed was to have just a couple good days in a row, that’s all it would take for him to turn the corner and he would eventually be on his way to coming home again.  But we were wrong…and once again dad found a way to show me what was right.  I was with him that last night.  He was having a relatively peaceful evening.  His nurse and I were reconnecting some leads he had pulled loose in his sleep when suddenly he sat up in his bed and sneezed hard, four times.  Instinctively three words popped into my head and before I could say them out loud…he was gone.  Later on I was trying to make sense out of what had happened…that he was truly gone…experiencing a variety of emotions all at once.  Then I thought of how weird it was he sneezed like that…four times…once for my older brother, once for my younger brother, once for my little sister, and once for me.  And those words that were on the tip of my tongue that I never got to say…God Bless You.  HUH! 

Sometimes we tend to associate meaning to things for reasons that make no sense, and I may be guilty of that here, but in my mind dad found a way to put my mind at ease with a little bit of help. 
I love you dad…we all do…and we’ll miss you terribly. Give mom a hug for us.
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