Friday, December 28, 2012

Which Road Will You Take?

We should never blame others for our failed goals.  Not even if they are the ones who planted the seeds of negativity.  They may have put the seeds there, but we are the ones who allowed them to grow.  Excuses are a cop out.  If something failed the first time, pick yourself up, dust off the dirt and mud, and start again.  Keep trying.  Persevere.

Nothing irks me more than seeing others point fingers of blame and allow themselves to be satisfied with their present position in life.  The blame game is easy, if you want to accept failure and be lazy.  Perseverance demands that you keep fighting your way to victory.  You never stop trying.

Cards of life are dealt, but that doesn’t always mean you have to accept the hand before you.  You can trade some of them in for new cards.  We make the choices in our lives.  Sometimes the choice doesn’t end the best way possible.  Sometimes we take a wrong turn and it takes a while to get back on the right path.

I have taken wrong turns in life.  Lots of them.  I dropped out of college in 1986 and seven years passed before I made the decision to go back.  I learned a lot from that experience, but I also learned that my future depended upon what I decided to do next.

I now have a MFA in Creative Writing and teach at a junior college.  But this occurred only because I chose this path.  I could have copped out years ago, and wallowed in self-pity that others were responsible for my failure, but I didn’t.  I discovered whom I wanted to be, aimed for that goal, and only after jumping the hurdles in the race did I finally achieve it.  Was it easy?  No.  Not everything worth pursuing comes easily.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Nightmare of Reality

Nightmares are not something that I experience too often.  One of the most vivid nightmares I ever had occurred when I was about three years old.  I had the same horrid dream three or four times.  Each time I awakened, I was terrified and afraid to go back to sleep.

Even though I was that young, the dream had a lot of symbolism and had I been keen on this later in life, I might have spared myself a lot of heartache and grief.  Call it a vision or a dreamlike premonition, but this is what I dreamt:

The room was dark and dim.  The walls were covered with light blue wallpaper.  A small cushioned chair rested against the wall.  Beside this chair was a table with a lamp turned on.  The heavy lampshade prevented the light bulb from brightening the room.  Standing in the room was a girl with blonde hair.  She was probably around eleven years old.

The girl held a large flower in her hand and plucked away pedals with the other.  Although she said no words, her action was like, “He loves me, he loves me not . . .”

I don’t know why but the girl frightened me.  Something about her told me to get away.  To run.  I remember being afraid and running as hard as I could to escape from the room, but there wasn’t a door.  I hit the wall and tore at the wallpaper, but I couldn’t get away.  The girl never moved.  She just plucked flower pedals.

I had this nightmare three or four nights in a row.  Always the same feeling.  Get away from her.

The last time I dreamt this, I hit the wall, ripped through the wallpaper, busted out bricks, and escaped.  I never had the dream again.  Off and on over my childhood, I thought about the dream but never made any sense of why it lingered in my mind.  Eventually, I forgot about it.

When I started dating my first wife, I knew that she had been married twice before.  I brought her over to my cousin’s house to meet him and his wife.  My cousin was the pastor of a church.  After he and his wife met her, he called me a few days later.

He said, “Leonard, I don’t think you should marry her.  God has kept me awake all week about this.  I’ve prayed and prayed over the situation.  The same answer keeps coming.  I really don’t think she’s the one.”

I was stunned but “being in love,” I came to her defense.  So, he countered with, “Ask her this.  Ask her about the men in her past, etc.”  So I did.  And she lied about it all without flinching and with a straight face.  But the truth slowly began to unbury itself not long after we married.  Over time, I discovered lots of things that my cousin had warned me about.  The warning given to him should have jarred my memory of the nightmare, but I was too blinded by my emotions for it to register.

Her past wasn’t the real problem.  Her pathological nature to lie about everything under the sun was.  She suffered extreme bipolar disorder and refused to take her medication.  She’d rather lie than tell the truth.  She stole from people.  She cheated on all the men in her life, including me.  She was verbally and physically violent.  Twice she tried to stab me.  Once with a knife and another time with a jagged piece of glass from a picture frame she smashed.

After two years, I finally left the marriage, but I was a shell of the person I had been previously.  My self-esteem was in shambles.  I had allowed my mind to shut down in order to protect myself.  I worked, ate, and slept. It was all I did during the last months of the relationship and it was how I survived, functioning at a bare minimum.

Only one time during that marriage did I come close to remembering the nightmare.  Once at her grandmother’s house I saw a picture of her when she was about eleven or twelve and thought, “That girl looks familiar.  Had I seen her when I was little?”

In my nightmare, yes.  She was the girl in that dream.  Only it was still a few years after the divorce before I put those pieces together.  Eerie but it’s the truth.

Ever wondered why I write dark themed novels?  This is part of the reason.  I say it a lot, but writing has been my therapy.  But since I’ve been writing dark novels, I seldom have a nightmare.  Of course, I’d rather dream an imaginary nightmare than to be living in one.  At least you can leave the one by waking up.  The other takes longer to escape.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Living in the Now

Finding inspiration for success isn’t as hard as one might believe.  Reading autobiographies or biographies about successful people often is a good start.  Whether we like it or not, our lives are role models for others, either good or bad, so our decisions and how we conduct ourselves are judged by those watching us.  And trust me, someone is watching you and your behavior.

When I lost over thirty pounds last year, which only happened because I took self-inventory and realized that I had a problem to address in my life.  Losing the weight became easier once I understood the bad habits I had allowed to sneak into my life.  Self-evaluation was key to seeing a new me.  Once I visualized shedding the pounds and eliminated the bad foods, and dedicated myself to cardio twice a day, the rest came easy.  But I had to make those changes.  Otherwise, I never would have gotten healthier.

That is both mental and physical.  Creating a better self-image is the first step.

Visit the past and learn from it.  Don’t live in the past.  Plan your future and where you plan to be starting today.  You have to live in the now.  Today.  Tomorrow never comes.  Today is the tomorrow you promised yourself yesterday that you’d change.  Right?  Well, it’s here.  Do everything you can to bring a smile to those living around you.  That’s the first step in making the world and our environment a brighter place.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Overcoming Odds

Actually several factors in my early life almost stopped me from being an author.  I wrote my first novel when I was around eleven years old.  My mother and father were students at Northeast State Junior College at the time.  One of their English instructors read part of my novel when they showed it to her.  She really liked it and said that I had the potential to be an author.  I was happy at those remarks and continued working on my book.

Then, during the summer when my brothers and sister came to visit, my father told me to go get the book I was writing.  I brought it into the living room, and he started reading it out loud.  At first I was proud that others were hearing what I had written.  That is, until my father capitalized on any misspelled words and made jokes about them.

One word in particular was ogre, and I had spelled it orge, which my father promptly pronounced, “Orgy.”  He hammered the mistake over and over, making everyone laugh.  Well, after the sixth or seventh time it stopped being funny to everyone listening.  But when you’re eleven, you feel like everyone is laughing at you.  It was humiliating, and for a long time, I stopped writing.  (Remember: Manual typewriters didn’t have spellcheck).

After my mother and father divorced, I started writing again.  Only now, I faced a new obstacle.  The church my sister and I attended taught against fantasy and using our imaginations.  Anything that wasn’t in the Bible was frowned upon.  So I struggled with this and stopped writing.

It wouldn’t be until many years later that a thought hit me.  To believe in God, don’t you have to use your imagination?  To visualize Heaven and Hell, places you’ve never seen . . . doesn’t that require imagination?  But still I lingered and wondered what to do.

In 1993, I met my wife-to-be, Christal.  While at a bookstore, she showed me a collection of Dean Koontz novels and that he was her favorite author.  The huge book was a three-in-one novel collection.  Since she didn’t have the set, I went back to the bookstore later and bought it for her as a surprise.  Little did I know the surprise would be my own.  I took the book back to my dorm room and thought, “I wonder why she likes his books so much.”

I started reading and four chapters later, I was hooked!  Suddenly, the desire to write that I had buried rekindled.  I knew what I truly wanted to do with my life.  This is why the dedication in my first novel reads:  “For my wife, Christal, who reignited my desire to write again.  Without her this book would not have been written.  And you?  You would not be reading this.”

So, if you’re a fan, she’s a big part of why I started writing again.  Without her I doubt I would have rediscovered my creative direction.

As I’ve mentioned several times this week, you have to ignore the negativity and accentuate the positive.  Otherwise, you’ve already failed.  Progress only comes if you push past the obstacles and follow your heart and dreams.  If you never try, you never know what you can achieve.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Five Years From Now

A couple years ago I applied for a job at a brickyard.  The pay and benefits were better than anything I had before.  To diminish a flood of applicants, each person applying for the position had to take the GED at the employment-testing center.  At the time I had a B.S. in biology, and that alone, should have been enough to exempt me from taking this test.  Nope.  Still had to take it.  Four hours of my life lost.

After finishing the test, the staff graded it and said, “Looks like you passed it.  You did great.”

To which, I thought, “God, I sure would hope so.”

Passing the test put my name into the pot of interviewees.  I received a call for the date and time of my interview.  I promptly arrived on the day and waited in the reception area until a manager came and introduced himself to me.  He stood around six foot four.

“Not to alarm you,” he said.  “But we’re interviewing you in a roundhouse meeting.  All the other managers are there, too.”

I entered the conference room and sat at the table with five managers.  The interview questions weren’t out of the ordinary, and I answered them honestly.  Then one manager looked at me and asked, “Where do you hope to be five years from now?”

This is a normal interview question, but my reply certainly wasn’t one they expected.  I simply stated, “I would hope my novels would be on the bestsellers list.”

They were stunned.  Their mouths actually dropped open at my response.  This opened up a whole new set of questions from them.  A couple of the men seemed amazed and entertained.  The interview ended, and I really believed I had done well.  But two weeks later, I received a letter in the mail (not a phone call) that I had been passed over and “Thanks for doing the interview.”  Really?  Wow.  Four hours taking a test I shouldn’t have had to take, and all I get is a letter telling me I didn’t have the job?

While I should have been angered, I still think a lot about that final question:  “Where do you hope to be five years from now?”

In five years, I will pass the BIG 5-0.  Yes.  Fifty.  Thinking about this makes me want to work even harder on my novels, the screenplays, and starting my editing/proofreading business as well.  Time passes faster than you expect, and if I don’t take the time, right now, today, to set goals, when will I?

Procrastination sets in easily if our minds get sidetracked.  I know.  I’ve allowed games like World of Warcraft to etch away valuable time when I could be doing something far more constructive with my mind.  In five years I want to look back with satisfaction and not regret.  So, it’s time to work harder than ever.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Free Yourself From Negativity

Negativity is like an anchor weighing us down and trying to drown us in this sea of life.  Or, at the very least, it holds us in one spot while we vigorously swim in place and never reach the success we deserve.  Don’t be content living in a pool of despair.  Don’t wallow in self-pity.

“How do I free myself?” You ask.

Remove the negativity that has influenced you to believe you cannot achieve your goals, your dreams, and your compassion.  Somewhere or sometime in your life, someone has seeded your mind into believing you’re not good enough.  Maybe a parent, or a sibling, or bullies that picked on you in school.  Someone has planted the thought and you believed it.  You accepted that as fact.  But you must see the negativity for what it is and what you are allowing it to do in your life.  To break free requires that you understand the problem that is holding you back.  Replace these negative thoughts with positive.  You must believe in yourself.  Strive to be what you visualize.  Picture it in your mind and set yourself to achieve it.  No one else can do this except you.

Once your wrestle free from the weighted negativity anchor, you have a choice to make.  Swim to shore, where you feel comfortable, safe, and not challenged.  Or, swim out to the island of discovery where you originally planned to go before negative influences told you that you couldn’t.

As an author, I have a vast number of ideas for novels.  Great characters and plots come to mind.  But if I don’t set myself down with my laptop and write the book, will I accomplish my goal?  No.  Books do not write themselves.

Negative thoughts bombard us daily.  Just turn on the television news or the radio.  Read the front page of a newspaper.  Negativity abounds.  Blocking out the negative can be difficult, but not impossible.  It’s simply how you choose to view life and your success.

Which would you rather have?  A negative bank balance or a positive one?  If your favorite football team is penalized, they are set back negative yardage.  That’s not how you win.  You want the positive.  To move forward.  Right?  Why shouldn’t you seek the same thing from life?  The positive goals.  Be the best YOU that YOU can be.  Ignore those who seek to hold you back from your goals.  Don’t allow others to put you in a penalty box.  It’s your life.  You deserve better.  We all do.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Get Rid of the Weeds in Your Life

Negative thoughts are like weeds in a garden.  They start out small and hardly noticed, but if you don’t yank them out quickly, they grow and spread.  Soon, before you realize it, they will choke out your self-confidence and destroy your self-esteem.   

Words can be bitter and sting.   They rip to the core if you allow them to.  Cut them out.  Replace them with positive words.  Nothing kills motivation faster than saying, “I’m not good enough.  I can’t do this.”  If you say those things, you’re defeated before you even start.  So why try?   

Instead, let’s say, “I am going to do this.  I am going to succeed.”   

Be positive.  Don’t allow others to dictate your success.  Don’t get caged in by others who want nothing else except your failure.  Sadly, there are people like that.  People you think are friends.  But real friends offer encouragement.  They want you to succeed.  Step out of your comfort zone and take the initiative to achieve your goals.  You’ll be surprised at your success if you believe in yourself.