Archive for March, 2011

Writing For Me

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

For me, writing is not merely an instrument of communication. It goes far deeper than that. Writing is the bridge between my internal life and the outside world, both the means to an end as well as the end itself. Sometimes I wish I could make up amazing stories, but honestly, I find reality much more compelling. Thus the plot is ordinary, but my thoughts and attitudes about what exists around me can be complex, deep-seated, and ever-changing.  And hopefully evocative to some readers to see the mundane in the light of their own inner uniqueness. All becomes so much more precious and beautiful that way.

Words are my paint, paper my canvas. Sometimes I see something so striking and appealing, or ugly and disturbing, that I simply must talk about it pen-in-hand. This I try to do in my way, using language to basically describe and clarify first, then to embellish. It’s not much different from the painter who builds a picture, using white and pastels to highlight and draw the eye’s attention, darker colors to subdue or convey a mood. It is all art, which seeks to affect in some way the people that can appreciate its message.

Yes, I write for a living, so my skill with words and language also has many practical applications. Creativity is one trait I claim, but I also crave organization, so my business report and marketing writing allows me the opportunity to exercise that. Or exorcise, as I’m often like one possessed when it comes to correct grammar, spelling, and word usage. I don’t know many people who proofread their text messages before hitting “send,” but I admit I am one of them.

Making a clear picture from ideas, paragraphs, sentences, and words fulfills me the way it does when I clean out a drawer. I throw out the things that are worthless and unnecessary, and try to put the valuable items in their proper place. Writing for business is a form requiring directness, with less need for description and creative embellishment. In this respect, it can be easier to compose. On the other hand, some business writing, such as marketing or resumes, necessitates specific and at times subtle use of language to glorify the subject and persuade the reader that they need to procure it no matter the cost.

But by far the most personal and necessary use of writing in my life has been to express my mental, emotional, and spiritual condition. Perhaps it is because I’ve been doing this for so long – I’ve kept a journal since I was in my teens – that writing has become almost inseparable from who I am. There have been times, and still are, when my notebook is my always-available confidante, one that doesn’t judge what I reveal nor how I say it. Generally, the only descriptive verbiage I use in this writing is four-letter words. And lots of exclamation points.

Honestly, writing in my journal is a spiritual experience for me, because when I’m spilling my guts on paper, I’m aware that God is reading it. (Duh! Who do I think put the feelings and expressive words there in the first place?) Although I don’t understand how this happens, I get greater acceptance of all those feelings, both difficult and joyful, after I write about them. And if God and I can stomach all that crowds my head, it becomes more likely to me that other people will not be put off by it either.

Considering all the above, writing helps me to survive on many levels: financially, artistically, emotionally, and spiritually. A means not only to survive, but to thrive and grow. Although it has its challenges and frustrations, writing gives back to me according to the effort I put into it. Like so many things in life, practice is the key. Thankfully, I love to practice!

Proven over and over to me, however, is that my life is better the more I write. Or perhaps the better my life is, the more I am writing. At this point, it doesn’t matter because it is all good. And I want to write all about it.

Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say

Monday, March 14th, 2011

Most of us talk – or write – a pretty good game, but where do you stand when it comes to matching what you say with what you do? The consistency between my words and behavior, or lack thereof, has been on my mind in the aftermath of a few recent, poignant experiences where insincere talk left me disappointed, disillusioned, and dismayed.

Meaningless, feel-good words flung glibly from mouths like gunfire; noble gestures made only for show; self-interest masquerading as virtue… This confusing duplicity surrounds us everyday! Consider the chart-topping singer/songwriter who croons about love, life, and peace, then makes the news ranting at the manager of a Hollywood club who can’t accommodate him with the best table in the house. Or the best-selling author who writes about successful relationship strategies, but meanwhile has been divorced twice and is still single. More than once I have put people on pedestals because of the ideas they seem to espouse, only to feel let down when I find out how they actually lead their lives.

A few tough questions might clarify how well your actions demonstrate what you profess to others. When you tell a friend or a business acquaintance you’ll “get back to him” in a couple days, how often do you actually follow through within two days, or even within a week or two? Or after accepting an invitation for a party that’s more than a few days away, how often do you wind up as a no-show when something better comes along in the meantime? Ever promise a good friend you’ll help her with some big task she’s working on, and then somehow “forget” you ever offered? The variations on this modus operandi are endless, but they all add up to one thing: lack of consistency and follow-through.

Don’t get me wrong, I have been as guilty as anyone of these type of misdemeanors. Another word for it is lying, if I want to cut through the denial and actually call this what it is. My aim here is not to provoke guilt (well, maybe a tiny bit of guilt might be in order) or point fingers, but to raise awareness of how often and easy it becomes to say things we don’t really mean.

Sometimes, making rash and thoughtless remarks or promises to others in the moment is a convenient panacea, bridging the gap of what otherwise might be filled with awkward, uncomfortable truth. Satisfying our immediate compulsion to people-please, we move on with little or no further consideration given to what we said. Later, we conveniently avoid having to put in the effort required to follow through, all the while patting ourselves on the back for being so diplomatic and smooth in our dealings with others.

The problem is, those suave statements turn into hurtful weapons unless we use them responsibly. If you are one of those who adhere to the Golden Rule, how can you justify this form of dishonesty? Have you ever been at the receiving end of this treatment, feeling disappointed because someone didn’t keep a promise? If you have, you are likely familiar with the pain of having others plant an expectation within you, then feeling hurt and disillusioned when no action follows. Resentment naturally rears its ugly head at this point, presenting another troubling emotion we are left to handle. What a mess! And a self-serving tactic for those who speak frivolously, because the resultant pain is felt by the recipient, not by the speaker.

The worst offenders are the ones who use careless words so often, they are not even consciously aware they are doing it! It has become an ingrained and comfortable habit. I would venture to guess these same people also make promises to themselves – such as vowing to stay on a diet, exercise more, spend less money, etc. – that are revered for a short time before being forgotten or abandoned. To be honest, my experience is that the people who actually say what they mean and mean what they say are far outnumbered by those who do not. It’s sad to think that perhaps this tendency is so prevalent in society, it is no longer regarded as the victimizing behavior that it is.

To make matters worse, the payoff from saying things we don’t mean reinforces our continuing to do so. After all, as humans we know that it’s generally easier to not take responsibility. And perhaps people around us, maybe even our parents, were talkers-not-doers, so we merely modeled this trait as “normal.”

Whatever the reason for it, being disingenuous is best addressed by examining ourselves, not others. It is far easier to complain about people that don’t act in accordance with their words, than to look closely at our own culpability in this regard. Obviously, becoming honest with ourselves about our own inconsistencies requires that we be willing, since facing our defects is humbling and somewhat painful. However, the aftereffect is priceless: a surge in our self-esteem, development of greater emotional maturity, and higher-quality, more honest relationships with others. A note of caution, though – the more sincere you try to be in your dealings with others, the greater will be your awareness of others who cannot or will not demonstrate this quality. You may even find yourself choosing to hang around a new group of more trustworthy friends and acquaintances.

As with any personal growth work we do, we always want to remember to praise ourselves for making attempts, and give ourselves credit for even small improvements.

As I stumble through this journey myself, falling now and again into the pit of escaping discomfort with meaningless niceties, I also learn to feel a bit more compassion for all the infuriating hypocrites I have to deal with.

Um. Guess I still have some work to do.

Charity

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

“Perhaps the greatest charity comes when we are kind to each other, when we don’t judge or categorize someone else, when we simply give each other the benefit of the doubt and remain quiet. Charity is accepting one’s differences, weaknesses and shortcomings; having patience with someone who has let us down; or resisting the impulse to become offended when someone doesn’t handle something the way we hoped. Charity is expecting the best of each other. None of us needs one more person bashing or pointing out where we have failed. Most of us are already well aware of the area we are weak. What each of us does need is a friend who believes in us, and believes we are doing the best we can in spite of our weakness. Whatever happened to hoping another person would succeed or achieve? Whatever happened to rooting for each other?”

~ Marvin Ashton