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Posts Tagged ‘Hollywood’

Welcome to Southern California. Contrary to popular belief, we DO have four seasons here: earthquake, fire, flood, and riot. Presently it is heading into fire season, otherwise known as summer to the rest of the northern hemisphere. Though, like with all seasonal transitions, earthquake still has a few last kicks to it, giving us a M3.2 burp as I write this, only a few miles from my house. At least, according to the news it happened. Anything less than books flopping off shelves I tend to not notice. The jaded laissez-faire reality of living here most of my life.

This transitional period is affectionately called shake and bake by us locals. All the heat without the flavor. Instead of getting mouth-watering pork chops, you just run outside because your house is collapsing, and get fried by the giant bug zapper in the sky. The end.

 

california-the-original-shake-n-bake-eartquakes-wildfires-he-demotivational-posters-1466693472

Do you want fries with that?

 

It’s not that I’m unafraid of such things. I’ve been through several significant temblors in my time, including Ferndale (Cape Mendocino) in 1992, and Whittier Narrows in 1987, the latter of which caught me driving into downtown L.A. on the Hollywood Freeway. You’ve not lived until you’ve seen a skyscraper ripple. But there’s not a lot you can do about earthquakes except ride them out and be prepared for afterwards. They offer almost no warning and cover huge swaths of geography, making them almost impossible to avoid. And the bulk of the shifting is done in a matter of seconds. It may take days, months, or even years to clean up and rebuild, but the sheer terror is over pretty quickly, allowing us to shake our fists at the government for their lack of instantaneous and perfect response all the quicker.

Wildfires, on the other hand, scare the fuck out of me. Part of that, I’m sure, is the primal lizard brain and its programming to fear fire just ‘cause. But the majority is because I’ve seen what they do. Wild, often unpredictable, they can mosey along at ground level keeping down the underbrush while a herd of elk graze nearby. Or they can blast flaming tornadoes a hundred feet tall, incinerating just about everything in the way in seconds.

We’ve been lucky in that we’ve never been directly affected by wildfires. Fires have teased the borders of where we live, leaving the air thick with smoke. But we haven’t had it any worse. Unfortunately, we do know many people who have. From being evacuated as a precaution and then returning to a house largely unscathed, to mad-dashing to the car with child/animal/laptop in hand as the raging inferno engulfs everything they ever owned mere seconds behind them. It may be fascinating to watch on the news, until you recognize the house of your friend going up in smoke. And then it is just heartbreaking.

 

fire-danger-wmrk

Off the chart takes on a whole new meaning.

 

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, there are thirty large wildfires active in the US right now. The majority of them are in western states. Arizona leads the way with seven. Right behind them is California, with four. And these numbers are considered light for this time of year. After the wet winter we had, which encouraged all sorts of wild flora to spring up just about everywhere, the dry summer will cook it all to crispy tinder just waiting for something to spark off the flames until flood season returns and mudslides put out the fires still not fully contained after days – and even weeks – of effort.

A study by the University of Colorado, Boulder’s Earth Lab revealed over 80% of wildfires during the period 1992 to 2012 were caused by humans. Over one-fifth were directly attributed to arsonists. Because, like Alfred said in The Dark Knight, some men just like to watch the world burn. And the study also found that more fires were started on the 4th of July than on any other day of the year. Maybe it’s not such a good idea to have a holiday at the height of summer feature fireworks and alcohol.

 

4th-july-alcohol

Or maybe just stay inside and have ice cream.

 

With climate change bringing about longer and warmer springs and summers, as well as increasing the range and duration of drought, fire season will only grow longer and more dangerous. We as stewards to this fine little blue marble need to take better care of her. The danger isn’t that the planet will be destroyed if we don’t’, it’s that WE will be destroyed. Short of being blown completely apart, Earth will be around long after we’ve led ourselves to oblivion. Just maybe not in a form we would recognize.

So, in the long term, doing something about pollution and renewable energy will serve to give us a nice place to keep living. We have the technology to have our toys and live WITH the planet at the same time. It’s just a matter of will. We need to put the planet and its people before profits. Which means getting the politicians out of the mix and handing things back to the scientists before it’s too late.

In the mean time, we do our part in our own little neck of the world. And we stay prepared. Because no matter where you are, so is Mother Nature. And she’ll get you sooner or later…

 

http://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/make-a-plan

https://emergency.cdc.gov/preparedness/kit/disasters/index.asp

https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/general-pet-care/disaster-preparedness

https://www.ready.gov/

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We’ve all seen it. The nick-of-time rescue. The bomb diffused with one second left. The suspect bolting when the cops show up, resulting in a parkour-style chase around the city. These, and many others, are standard tropes in film and television. Sadly, they and their ilk show up a lot in fiction writing as well. I’ve even poked fun at some of them before (“Attack of the Killer Clichés”, “Return of the Killer Clichés”).

It’s time for them to die. Really. NOW.

They used to have their place on (rare) occasion. But speaking as someone who watches a lot of streaming video while playing with string, I’m sick of seeing them EVERYWHERE. And, with the crush of indie publishing, fan fic, and writer’s “critique” sites, I’m seeing it more and more in fiction as well.

That’s just lazy writing, people.

Not that I haven’t done my fair share of tropes and stereotypes. Part of my reason for doing this piece is to remind myself of all the bad writing habits I have, and possibly figure out how to fix/avoid them. As opposed to just avoiding my writing all together…

 

Minion tea[4]

…and dark chocolate…

 

So, why do we have such tropes in the first place? One word: drama. We’re trying to up the drama quotient. For a story to be successful we need to have tension and consequences and challenges for our characters to wade through. If there’s no risk for the character(s), there’s no reward for the reader(s).

But there’s a bazillion ways to cause trouble for our characters. It’s time to get inventive. We writers are really evil geniuses channeling our Dr. No selves onto the page, so let loose your inner demons and give the world you’ve created something to REALLY worry about. And I don’t mean turning that bomb they’ll need to diffuse at the last second into a dirty bomb, or a bio-bomb. Been there, done that, played the video game.

No, if you need to blow shit up, do it metaphorically instead of literally. If your characters are well developed (see “It’s Made of People”), it should be easy to come up with stuff to throw in their way. What’s the worse possible thing (or person) that could happen to them? Why does it need to happen? How will it advance the story or the character’s development? Everything you do on the page needs to keep things moving forward, in some fashion, for the overall arc of your writing.

That doesn’t mean leaving out things that can add depth to the world you’re creating, though, just because it doesn’t directly affect what’s happening. Black-clad mercenaries are a dime-a-dozen. But mercenaries who collect butterflies and read Harry Potter are something else again. Now you have some depth you can dive into. Will any of that be pertinent to your story later? Maybe. Maybe not. Right now, though, it gives me-the-reader something interesting about your character I can latch on to. There’s more there than black leather and a gun. That could mean there’s more to your story than the usual revenge/redemption/killer rampage most mercenaries inhabit.

 

Dominatrix Minion

That’s not the kind of black leather I meant. Now I need the eye bleach…

 

But what if I REALLY want to blow something up?

Then blow it the fuck up. Make it spectacular. Make it a surprise. Make it heart-rending. Make it anything but the usual. I don’t want to see your hero rushing in at the last second, huffing about how the bomb squad won’t get there in time and is it the red wire or the blue wire as he bites through both with his teeth to save the day. I want to see him crushed by defeat because he DIDN’T get there in time. Or horrified because he didn’t know the bomb even existed. Or secretly elated because now he has the perfect excuse to go on a murderous rampage.

Okay, yeah, that’s another trope, too. Sorry.

The point is, do something DIFFERENT. If you’re finding yourself falling into the same old comfortable ruts for plot points and character development, get out. Pretend it’s Opposite Day and you’re playing a game of Calvinball. Be wicked. Be absurd. Be outrageous. Kill the hero, because he’s not really the hero, his female sidekick is – psych! Don’t kill anybody, because the bomb was really a dud! The bomb DOES go off, but the entire city is coated in glitter! Anything but the usual.

And how do you know if it’s the usual? Just ask yourself: have I seen/read/heard this before? If you have, how important is it to keep it “normal?” What happens if you do THIS instead? If the ticking time bomb is integral to your story, what are you doing around that to make your characters and story different?

 

minion-emergency-helpame

Read a book, they said. It’ll be fun, they said…

 

There are occasions when we depend on tropes and stereotypes as a kind of shorthand for the reader. It can make for less explanation/exposition, and allow us to get on with the real reason this story needs to be told. But we should never depend on them. The world is comforted by formula – the tried and true (see Hollywood) – but we writers need to constantly rail against the expected, the normal, the usual, and really dig into exploring our worlds to the fullest. Whatever your genre, whether fiction or non-fiction, we want the reader to be entertained, enthralled, surprised – not bored or disappointed. Give them predictable and they’ll give you the cold shoulder. Writing is lonely enough – we don’t need to chase off any readers in the process.

Turn the formulae on their heads. Find the peculiar, the wretched, the dangerous, and let us have it. Always challenge yourself. You’ll be a better writer, and I’ll have more cool things to read.

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You know that point you hit; when you’re so tired you get silly? The kind of silly where you start giggling at all the wrong things, which leads to laughing at the even worse things, to down right pee-your-pants hysteria when something truly awful happens? Well, I think I’m there now.

Looking back at all the crap that my husband and I have gone through over the last two years, it’s a wonder I lasted this long. Were it not for my husband, I would very likely be writing this blog from the psych ward. On toilet paper. In crayon.

Some days it seems like a good idea. Three hots and a cot, and I don’t have to deal with the bullshit of the outside world for a while. I wouldn’t have to watch Congress implode with all their junior high school cliquishness and petty finger pointing as the weight of their indecisions drags a once fine nation into the abyss. I wouldn’t have to read about all the people shot while they were playing basketball in a local park, or while they were sitting at their desk at work, or while they were shopping at the mall. I wouldn’t have to experience the erosion of rights disseminated by our own Supreme Court. I wouldn’t have to suffer the indignities an entire generation of self-centered brats broadcasts on those around them while stumbling through the world glued to their electronic pabulum. It would be so peaceful…

Wait, I think I’m talking myself into a rubber room far too willingly. Just goes to show how tired I really am.

Everybody deserves a break now and then. Even if it means spending some time at a lovely country facility where all the staff wear white. But most of us eventually have to come back to the real world, and somewhere along the line we have to develop the skills and coping mechanisms to function in that dystopian reality.

I’m by no means an expert, but I’ve been around the block a few times, running on the fumes of my will just to get by. Below are some of the things that have helped me stay in my own home and not have to wait for visiting hours. Maybe some of them can help you.

1)                   Hugs: I’m lucky in that I live with a fabulous hugger. I know not everyone has that advantage, but somewhere in your life there’s someone you can hug. Studies have shown (“Embrace Hugging”) that even as little as ten seconds a day can increase oxytocin levels (the “feel-good” hormone), while reducing the cortisol levels (the “stress” hormone). We humans need physical contact, so go get a hug as soon as you can.

2)                   Pets: We’re down to just one animal in our household, a crotchety old cat. But he’s been sitting in my lap more often lately, probably because of his own need for warmth on his arthritic bones. Petting him helps relax me and is another one of those simple acts that has shown to have health benefits (“5 Ways Pets Can Improve Your Health”). Even just watching the goldfish swim around has a positive effect.

3)                   Hollywood: Music, movies, TV, video games – the entertainment industry specializes in providing all manners of escapes from our daily drudgeries. It’s okay to take a side trip there on occasion. Just don’t stay long. Use it as a tool to help you refresh your reserves, not as a retreat to forever disappear into. (“When Escapism is Good”)

4)                   Exercise: Yeah, not one I’m too fond of, nor that I do all that often (though I would, if that bright thing weren’t in the sky all the time trying to microwave me. I miss walking in the redwoods on a foggy morning). But exercise releases endorphins; more “feel-good” hormones that also have analgesic properties (“Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity”). You don’t have to kill yourself at the gym, just go for a walk. Even if it’s just in circles around your kitchen table.

5)                   Meditation: Sometimes just sitting quietly with a cup of tea can do wonders. No, meditation doesn’t have to mean sitting cross-legged humming monosyllabic words. It certainly can, if that’s what you want, but the variations are nearly endless (“Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress”), and can return you to that calm center you thought you’d lost while dealing with the kids at the grocery store the other day.

6)                   Faith: This one can fall under the above because prayer can often be considered a form of meditation. But there’s more to faith than prayer (“The Benefits of Church”). And you don’t have to be Christian or Muslim or Jewish to have faith. Being a pagan, I have used essential oils, crystals and cleansing rituals to connect with the Greater Forces and help clear my head and heart of all the crap. I have friends who pray the rosary, sit in a drum circle, or chant for the same reasons. Whatever your Greater Force may be, maybe it’s time to reconnect.

7)                   Hobbies: I play with string a lot. Lately I’ve been weaving belts in preparation for merchanting at our next historical event. I also do cross stitch and embroidery and hand sewing. It takes me away from the day-to-day, allowing my brain to go somewhere else on its own little vacation (“21st Century Family: Hobbies Help”). It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, but if you don’t have a hobby, I’d recommend getting one as soon as possible.

8)                   Friends: I know, coming from a loner this one might seem strange. But I’ve learned (slowly, and stubbornly) that having friends makes a difference (“Friends With Health Benefits”), and could actually help you live longer. It’s okay to ask for help. No, really, it is.

9)                   Write: I’m not one to keep a journal. I’ve had to for classwork or when I was working with a counselor, but it was never something I really relished doing. I’m a fiction writer. My problems are worked out through the lives of my characters. But writing down thoughts and feelings is a time-tested method to help you clear your head (“Writing – for health and happiness?”). It doesn’t even have to be complete sentences. Just get the words out and see what happens.

I’m sure there are many more things that people can do to help them get through their dark periods, but these are what I came up with tonight. Whatever works for you, do it. It’s worth it. And so are you.

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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The zombie apocalypse has already started. Most of you probably haven’t noticed yet because it is far more insidious than anyone could have possibly imagined. The shambling flesh eaters of Hollywood are just the cover story to throw us off the truth.

I noticed the first signs a few years ago. The blank expressions on the pale faces of the afflicted. The awkward steps as the newly turned tried to maneuver through the world. The loss of their ability to communicate in full sentences. I realized then the plague was already well under way. It was just a matter of time before we all succumbed…

As I dug deeper into my research, I found that the infection hadn’t started because of some CDC accident, or aliens, or even the likes of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.” And the vector for spreading this new mutation was like nothing I had ever seen. It wasn’t airborne, blood borne or even in our water. No, it was far worse, far sneakier than even my demented mind could have thought up. The latest incarnation of the zombie infection is spread via electronics.

You read that right. Whoever told you that viruses couldn’t be spread from machine to human obviously has never read any science fiction. The zombification of the Western World started with the invention of the television. There were some minor advances after that, but the next big jump in infections came with computer gaming. I’m sure all of us know someone who has been sucked into the alternate universe of an electronic game. At first it seems like an addiction, with the hapless infectee playing more and more to attain that high associated with leveling up or unlocking achievements. Then the poor sap looses all sense of time, doesn’t bother to bathe, eats sporadically, refuses to make eye contact. I know you’ve seen someone like this, some pale, smelly, grunting zombie incapable of connecting to the real world any longer.

From there the next major level of the infection went to smart phones.  Now the zombies can shamble around the streets of our hometowns, blank eyes locked on tiny screens, only the thumbs of their hands able to move anymore. They are oblivious to everything around them. They walk into traffic. They stumble into fountains. They trip down stairs. Our cities are filled with the Walking Dead. Go ahead, try to talk to one. You’ll see what I mean.

Sadly, I have many of the very early symptoms myself. I check the weather with my app, instead of looking out the window. I play Solitaire with electronic cards. I can’t even remember my own mother’s phone number anymore. If it weren’t programmed into the phone, I’d have to look in Contacts.

And my grip strength isn’t what it used to be. My fingers just don’t seem to work as well as they used to, while my concentration lacks any… SQUIRREL!

You see the problem. The only real cure is to get rid of any and all electronics in our lives. Some hardy, dedicated survivalists might be able to pull that off, but the vast majority of us are trapped. Even Zulu tribesmen out herding their cattle have smart phones these days. Doomed with the rest of us.

It is possible to resist, if only to delay the inevitable. But the longer we can delay, the longer we can maintain our independence, the longer Skynet has to wait before it can terminate us. Or we get plugged into the Matrix, depending on which version of zombie hell you’d like to follow.

Just because the phone makes noise doesn’t mean you have to immediately respond. That’s what They want you to do, to become little Pavlovian dogs panting at Their every whim. It’s okay to turn it off sometimes. Yes, really. And use full sentences. That really bugs Them. The fewer letters you use, the less you have to think, and the more infected you become. If one of your friends starts writing in thumb-speak, you’ll know it’s close to the end for them. When “Why are you sad?” becomes “Y r u :(” just go ahead and plan their wake. Their time as a fully functional human is over.

Read real books. I mean the heavy paper things in which you have to manually turn the pages, with that indescribable smell of wonder when you open it. Get a fountain pen and really nice paper and practice your handwriting, with every curly Q and dot and cross, listening to the metal nib of the pen softly scratching across the page, feeling the texture beneath your fingertips. Go for a walk in the park. And I don’t mean the virtual kind on your treadmill, but a real one, outside, with the trees and the sun and the sky and the pollen and the dog poo. Stand at the bay and smell that moist, salty smell of the fog rolling in. Careen down a mountain on a sled and revel in the cold snow making its way into your boots. Paddle a kayak down raging waters with slippery fish jumping all around. Go to the theater and laugh or cry or cheer. Hold hands with that special someone. Dance.

In our world of ever-growing technological advancements, we have inadvertently created a monster. We are losing touch with what truly makes us human and becoming more dependent on the machines as we ourselves become more robotic. It’s our fault. But resistance is not futile. We may all be infected, but we don’t all have to succumb so quickly.  Hopefully we can find a balance before our children no longer read and write, or even lose their ability to speak because they are wired directly into the computers. The more brains we can keep in our control, the less the zombies will have to eat. Only you can prevent zombification.

I think it’s time to go camping now…

PS: This was supposed to have been published last week. I did indeed go camping, and had this article all drafted and ready to go before I left. Because I’m trying to maintain a regular schedule, and because my little OCD self couldn’t bare the thought of publishing EARLY, I planned to make the final post from my sleeping bag in the wilds of Arizona. Once there, I and my smart phone and the WordPress app didn’t seem to be agreeing on what I wanted to do, despite having a decent connection (wi-fi is everywhere, it seems), so I gave up, cringing at my failure to provide my followers with their weekly dose of madness. Then I realized the hypocrisy of my real crime, succumbing to the electronic demons even as I rail against them. Me – 0. Zombies – 1. *sigh*

 

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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It’s done.  The monster that has haunted me for so long found its end with the closing of January.  It was a bitter fight, but I managed to prevail, if only by the barest of margins.  It took me a while to recover from that marathon.  After sweating about it for so long, it left me empty.  My husband opined that I was suffering postpartum depression, having birthed my baby and handed it off to the real world.  Sometimes he just annoys the hell out of me with his insights.

I’m talking about the novel, of course.  Finally finished the writing after fifteen months and now it’s off to several people for critique.  Once those comments come back, I’ll do a final polish on it and start sending off query letters to agents.  If I’m repped I have a better chance of getting published at one of the “better” publishing houses, not to mention probably a better advance and overall contract.  Yeah, there’s a growing market with print-on-demand and self-publishing, but, despite the struggles the publishing industry is suffering, it’s still the gold standard.  I figure I’ll start at the top and work my way down.  You only get to the moon if you actually shoot for it.

Ironically enough, I finish the writing and the job market starts to open up.  I’ve actually had a real interview for one job, and finally got a top-tier placement company to notice me, after I-don’t-know-how-many applications I sent in for jobs they had listed.  Got to talk to an actual person face-to-face.  Blew the doors of their tests and left the placement counselor baffled as to why I was still unemployed.  Right there with you, sister.

But it also opened up a whole ‘nother can-o-worms:  I don’t wanna.

The thought of going back to the land of 9-5, power suits, office politics, thermostat wars, and whiny execs who can’t find their own butts in the dark has actually made me nauseous.  It is a visceral, physical response the likes of which I have never experienced.  The logical mind understands it for the anxiety attack it is and tries to work past it.  But the emotional mind just bull-dozes it all and I find myself wondering how to get my big fat ass under the bed to hide with the cats.

I was side-tracked for so long in cubicle-ville and so unhappy for most of that time.  Yes, I’m good at being an administrator.  Damn good, in fact.  And I can partition myself so those at work will never know just how much I don’t want to be there.  Once given a job, I don’t know how to do it half-assed:  I can only give it the best I can all the time because that’s the work ethic that was instilled in me from my parents.  But it’s a good thing the average person can’t read minds, ‘cause some of the evil fantasies I’ve had about some of the people I’ve worked with would scare the likes of Stephen King.

All those years I was a good little soldier in the fight for the American Dream, I was miserable.  My bills were paid, my chores were done, I kept up with the Joneses, but I was crippled creatively.  I was so mentally exhausted from dealing with the office bullshit and the sheeple that perpetuated it I couldn’t do anything that entailed tapping into that right brain stuff.  I found myself rotting away from the inside out, losing more and more of who and what I really was and turning into another empty shell just going through the motions.

Two years ago I had a good job with a well-respected firm.  I actually liked most of the people I worked with, and I enjoyed being financially stable enough to not have to worry about how the bills were going to be paid or if we could afford to hop out to the movies one night.  But I was dead inside.  A putrid cancer rotted my soul and I realized that had happened because I had stifled the real heart of me.  I found myself having a serious conversation with the Goddess, wondering where I needed to go, asking for guidance, a hint, a bat up-side the head, something.  A week later I was let go.

It was oddly liberating.

The logical, practical side was scared to death, even with the nice severance package and the coming unemployment.  But the creative, intuitive side was overjoyed at the opportunity.  Within a few weeks I had returned to my natural state, up until the wee hours of the morning and sleeping until noon and doing all those creative things that had been so hard before.  For those two years, and despite the perpetual fight with my chronic depression, I’ve actually been more at peace and happier than I’ve been in a long time.  I know it probably sounds oxymoronic to be a happy depressive, but trust me on that one.

But now it looks like I’ve been told my time is up.  The unemployment is ending, I’m not making any money as a writer yet, and my husband can’t carry the bills by himself.  I have to get back to The Office.  Not that I haven’t been trying for the last two years, but now it has become a red-alert imperative.  It means shelving the creativity and hoping the metaphorical cancer that has been in remission doesn’t explode into full bloom again.

And then there’s waiting for the commentary to come back on my novel.  The wonder at what the readers will say.  This is the first time anyone outside of family and class mates (and a couple Hollywood types) has read any of my stuff and I find myself worried.  Not if they hate it or love it.  Those extremes can be dealt with in their own ways.  But what if it’s just okay?  What if it’s just ordinary?  What if there’s not anything really special about it?  It’s not failure or success I fear:  it’s mediocrity.

For awhile I had my dream, but now it looks like the nightmare is back.  I just want to know who I pissed off in one of those past lives, that keeps me from being one of those people who gets to make good money at something they love.

Damned if I do and damned if I don’t.

I was hoping I deserved better than that.

(c) 2011  Cheri K. Endsley.  All Rights Reserved.

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Back in January I was laid out for a couple weeks by what I thought was bronchitis.  I didn’t do a damn thing during that time, and because of that, January was a wholly unproductive month when it comes to just about anything besides killing monsters on my computer.  Then I had a couple weeks where I was feeling okay and tried to get back to normal.  About the second weekend in February, it came back, and with a vengeance.  The doctor said it was “a touch” of pneumonia.  Two urgent care visits, two courses of antibiotics, two bottles of cough syrup with codeine and over three weeks later, I’m finally able to sit for a while without hacking my lungs up.  Stuff is still rattling around in my chest, but I’m not aching like I was and can actually go the whole day without changing my underwear because I coughed so hard I peed my pants.  Yeah, that’s a sexy picture, isn’t it?

During this second bout with the plague, I spent most of my time between cough syrup doses watching the Olympics.  I’m a big fan of both the winter and summer games, so much so that attending them both in person is on my bucket list.  And being able to watch the coverage all day, every day was a real treat.  This not having to go to an office and work thing has its perks.  But it didn’t take long for me to learn the down side of witnessing this grand spectacle of sports achievement.  One of the things the coverage does is give you the back stories of various athletes, their trials and triumphs in their journey to this ultimate pinnacle of the sports world.  Stories that often seem as if they had come right off a Hollywood writer’s desk:  the American men’s biathlon team winning medals in their events for the first time in the history of the games;  a short track speed skater who just six months ago had crashed and sliced his leg so badly he wasn’t expected to walk again, much less compete and ultimately win a medal;  a figure skater who’s mother died suddenly on Sunday, and by Thursday had won a Bronze.  Stories of heroism and perseverance unmatched by mortal men.

Stories that make fat, middle-aged writer-wanna-bes sitting at home tucked into a nap blanket with two cats, a box of Kleenex, and a bag of cough drops feel woefully inadequate.

They also made me open my eyes and really think about what I wanted and what was important to me.  Every Olympian, whether it be the sole member of the Ethiopian team merely hoping to finish, to the medal-winning juggernaut that is China, has a desire beyond what any of us who sit on the sidelines can imagine.  They all are champions in their own right, on their way to crown the champion of champions.  And they will stop at nothing to achieve their goals.  Broken bones, torn ligaments, bruised bodies, food poisoning; all mere annoyances to these super-humans who laugh in the face of Death as they jump off perfectly good hills, careen down icy mountain slopes, or skate across thin ice as if the Devil himself were in pursuit.

And it made me realize that I had seen this kind of drive before, this single-minded focus on that one goal that will fulfill some deep need in each individual.  I’ve seen it in artists and musicians, actors, directors, teachers, parents, professional bowlers and even girl scouts.  We have all had moments of it, however fleeting they may be, when there was nothing to keep us from our goal.  But Olympic athletes are the purest embodiment of it,  living it every day, all day, unflinchingly.

I used to be that way with my writing and music.  I used to live, breath, eat, sleep writing or practicing.  Somewhere along the line, that drive has been diminished.  I got caught up in the world of safe choices and the expectations of a modern world that doesn’t understand what it means to dream.  I did the things that society told me would bring me happiness and prosperity, followed the lead of an unimaginative master into mediocrity, and barricaded that drive behind the locks and chains of fears and doubts and insecurities.  I made the biggest mistake anyone can make – I didn’t follow my own heart.

To paraphrase an old science fiction idiom, fear is the mind-killer.  Once you let it take hold, it will rot through even the strongest hopes, undermining every foundation you have built.  We mortal humans are very good at finding reasons to let the fear keep control.   At first blush you might think the difference between us and Olympians is that they don’t  feel fear, but that isn’t quite true.  While watching the ski jumping, the color announcer was describing all the technical things the athletes were doing to maintain themselves in the air for the longest possible jumps, while all the time their brain is screaming “Suicide!”   The fear is there, but those athletes don’t let it cripple them.  It is used as a motivation to keep doing better, a sign that they are still alive and challenging the world around them.  They live on that fine edge, pushing the envelopes, despite their fears, in defiance of fear.  They have chained the fear to serve them, and in so doing, have proven that any one of us can do the same in our given field of dreams.

Excuse me while I go break some locks and chains and see what it means to have that kind of power.

© 2010  Cheri K. Endsley.  All Rights Reserved.

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