The Expense of Today

The Expense of TodayMy local bank has put up signs this summer next to each teller as some kind of financial promotion. Basically, each has teller was supposed to write what she (they’re all women) is looking forward to in life. Each and every one of them, without fail, wrote “Retirement.”

So now every time I walk into the bank I’m met with these “I want to retire, I want to retire” signs. It’s odd. The boss man’s is slightly different; he wrote something about cabin trips and margaritas, which is still an escape from the daily grind.

I’m sure this is just a way to get the bank customers to think about saving more or to think about our financial future. But I think about how this promotion is backfiring for me. I think about how the “weird” way I live my life–without paid vacation or designated sick days or financial security of any kind—and all in the name of art, is exactly where I need to be.

Sure, I should save more. But it seems the moment I have some monetary substance to my life, I find that that’s the exact sum I need to go see a remote part of the world, or to take a class with a Master on a topic, or even just to buy a book and some tools so I can fix it myself. I buy experience. And it all finds its way into the writing.

It’s not an easy life, and that’s why I put heart and soul into the writing I do, because those are the things for which I’ve saved and spent: heart and soul.

Don’t get me wrong; planning for the future is important. I still plan. But not at the expense of today. At the age of 24 I declared myself semi-retired because I didn’t want to wait until I was 65 (or, these days, 70) to make time for what I love.

The last thing I ever wanted was to seek tomorrow at the expense of today.

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Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a blogger, poet, and traveler. To learn more about her current writing projects, or for ways to donate toward their completion, see JodyBrown.com/writing.

Class of 19-Somethin’-Somethin’

Class of 19...There was a time when I realized there were only so many tough decisions I could make in a day. I started a mantra then that went, “Today is not the day.” I would say it to myself when I’d done all I could and yet another painful decision would appear in the distance. And I learned that the distance to the horizon can really be a necessary journey of preparation.

This particular journey brings me to today, the day of my high school reunion. My mother says that at your 10-year reunion, everyone is just trying to impress each other. Then at your 20, everyone has calmed down about impressions, and is busy sharing photos about kids and information about careers. At the 30 mark, you really start taking a good look at who no longer walks the earth, because they’re numbers are increasing. And so on, and so on, until your class starts to combine its reunions with the classes ahead and behind you, making it a group thing of sometimes strangers and sometimes whole families.

I went to one my mom’s reunions, about ten years ago. It involved ten classes at once, so basically the entire town and their spouses showed up. My friend and I crashed the party and no one seemed to notice. (Incidentally, I once crashed a wedding, but that’s a different story entirely.)

Today I go to my reunion, and I’m excited about it. It seems silly that we’ve waited a decade since the last one to run into each other again, but life takes over sometimes.

I remember, at the last one, that it didn’t matter who you were or what you did, we were all nervous. I’ve talked with some of others since then, and the same sentiment rang true: We all walked into the reunion transformed into our awkward high school selves. Whether we were the football player or the science nerd—and in my school, that person was probably one and the same—we walked in feeling like kids again. And even though that’s not necessarily the best feeling, even though it can feel a good bit downrightly oppressive, I must say I’m really looking forward to it. (You know I am!)

It’s not every day you get to step back in time. It’s not every day you get to say, “If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t be afraid this time” and then actually get to prove it. Today is the day to enjoy one another’s company, because we’re all in the same boat. We’ve all had successes and failures, triumphs and low times. We’ve all done the wrong thing and we’re learning how to spot the right thing when we see it. We’ve all made hard decisions. Now it’s time again to face the overwhelming teenage fear that’s buried deep within all of us. This time, to make it better.

Today’s the day.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. To learn more about her current writing projects, or for ways to donate toward their completion, see JodyBrown.com/writing.

Vantage Point

Vantage Point LightsThis time of year, we drive through neighborhoods decorated with lights and blown-up animals all over the yards. During the day, I see all the extension cords running power to the lights and the various woodland, cartoon, holiday, and sports characters are deflated and lying flat on the lawns like neglected children’s toys.

Such a difference between day and night when these same lawns and houses are transformed into twinkle lights and smiling, bright creatures.

A friend of mine who lives out of state likes to tell me how sunny it is where he lives. I like to tell him how cloudy it is here and he says to me, “Well, good! We both get what we want.” Yes, indeed.

It’s important not to rule out the dark places simply because they’re not chock full of light. There are still some things better seen from the darkness. Things like stars.

Things like lights.

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Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. To learn more about her current writing projects, or for ways to donate toward their completion, see JodyBrown.com/writing.

Cement on a Ring

Cement on a RingDuring my cross-country move, I lost a stone in a ring I wear all the time. Who knew after years of waiting tables, cleaning, and polishing glassware that it would take hauling furniture to knock a stone loose?

I took the ring to the jeweler here in Pennsylvania, and he spent some time tracking down another green stone for me. When I picked it up recently, I immediately noticed how clean it was. In fact, I think the first thing I said was, “Wow, you got the cement to come off!”

The cement was really some plaster from when I rehabilitated my office space in a 130-year-old building two years ago. There was a lot of plasterwork to be done in there, which I did, slowly, over the course of a few months. The office turned out magnificently, matching the vision I’d had in my mind for quite some time. And in the process, I carried a bit of plaster in my ring, everywhere I went. No matter what I did to clean it, the plaster had hardened around some of the facets of the ring to the point that it seemed permanent. Yes, this is a lot of thought about plaster and a ring, but when writing, it’s random details like this that let readers know the hearts of characters.

When I discovered the mess I’d made of the ring and that cleaning didn’t work, I was disappointed. In almost all of the work I’d done, I’d worn gloves—two sets, usually—and eye protection and even a respirator at times. (The office was a bit of a disaster zone for a while there.) But I must have allowed myself to get sloppy at some point–in fact, I’m sure of it–and that’s when the plaster caked my ring.

But from that initial disappointment, I grew to like the plaster, truth be told. It was a reminder, like a scar, of the work I’d done and the life I’d lived. I wore it proudly.

And now that it’s clean again? Well, it says to me, “Clean slate.” And it also says, “Time to get your hands dirty again.”

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Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. To learn more about her current writing projects, or for ways to donate toward their completion, see JodyBrown.com/writing.

Another Pretty Face

Another Pretty FaceAt a restaurant where I worked, there was a husband and wife who liked to come in every Friday for dinner, sometimes with their daughter and grandkids, sometimes just the two of them. One Friday, when the whole lot was there, the man tells me he’s not above doing the dishes and he joked, “See there? And you probably thought I was just another pretty face.”

“You got me there, Sir,” I said. “When you came in I thought to myself, ‘He’s so pretty he must be useless.’” Luckily for me, this family liked a dry sense of humor, and we all laughed.

With blog writing, there are days when I walk through life and think, “I may not be an expert, but I do all right, as a matter of fact…” and other days when I think, “Wow, I know just enough about a random smathering of things to be dangerous.”

Yes, the whole blog (i.e. web log) craze started as the Internet version of a diary. And in a way, it still is. But from those humble beginnings, blogging expanded when businesses latched on to them to impart information to customers in an informal way, showing their human side via cyberspace. Today’s blogger suddenly became not just another pretty face, but someone willing to put in time, effort, and research in addition to knowing how to string sentences together.

Through this writing life, I’ve become privy to information like the differences between straw versus hay, the liquid science behind resting meat before you cut into it, and I know why we look for the groundhog’s shadow in early February. (I also know that smathering is not a word, though I love to use it anyway.) It’s amazing the random stuff floating around in my head, and all because of blogs I’ve written.

In my daily life, I don’t mind when others talk amongst themselves around me because I’m usually caught up in my own thoughts. But if specifically asked a question, I’ll state what I’ve learned. Usually, this random knowledge is met with wide-eyed stares or eyebrow raises, to which I get to shrug and say, “I’m a blog writer.”

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Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. To learn more about her current writing projects, or for ways to donate toward their completion, see JodyBrown.com/writing.

“So, you want to be a writer?” Heh, heh, heh…

The Artist in Three Parts

So, You Want to be a Writer? Heh, Heh, Heh...Creative writing seems to be unique. I don’t know of any other profession that has as many support groups. And yet, there is that question that we face, maybe not daily, but sometimes monthly that goes: Do I want to be a writer?

If you’re following the blogs this week, you know that the title question (just the question, I added the “heh, heh” in my mind at the time) was posed to me as polite conversation recently when I was introduced to someone new. And the question itself filled my head with questions of my own:

Is being published the mark of being a writer? Why do artists feel the need to defend their art in order to sound legitimate? And finally today: Why do artists re-choose their professions all the time when non-artists seem to choose once and for all?

Artists, let’s face it, just think differently. In the artist mind, things are rarely set in stone. Everything is fluid. Everything can be changed, enhanced, or started again because life to an artist is a big work-in-progress. This goes for college degrees, relationships, major purchases, travel, and even the very conversations we engage in on a daily basis. I don’t know of any writer who doesn’t come home after a meeting or dinner party and reimagine everyone saying the words they could have said but didn’t. I don’t know of any artist who simply takes the floor upon which we stand for granted. The artists I know absorb every detail around them as if to memorize it all and change it later via paint, chalk, glue, or other media.

Art, this thing that you focus all your energy into, sacrificing sleep and friendships and normalcy, these puzzles that require expanding the confines of your mind to solve, the mental turning of the details until you get them right, these things tend to win, so that, while you know that you won’t let go of one another, you and art, you also know that art gets its way. Always. This is a relationship where you choose each other and reaffirm it daily, but not one where you take turns conceding and winning.

A life in art means daily growth and growing pains, and results in the betterment of the artist. It is a tough road with many exits.

But it’s a road I’ve driven, walked, and sometimes crawled for many years, and personally, I don’t feel a dramatically teenage need to write, or need to express myself through my art [there are hand motions to this: the back of the wrist to the forehead]. At this juncture, I tend to think of writing more like a childhood friend. This is the friend who knows me the best, and even though we may not always get along, when anything major (or even minor) happens in my life, writing is first friend I want to tell all about it. It’s, dare I say, a very charmed existence.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing. 

Out of the Rocks

Out of the RocksLast year, I planted sunflowers along the fence in my yard near the berries and grapes. I watered and checked on them, but many of them kept getting dug up. Neighborhood critters were apparently hungry. I replanted. And replanted again. Then I ran out of flowers that I’d started growing indoors and just went straight to planting the seeds outside. Sometimes I covered the seeds with rocks, but I never got any flowers to grow. I did well with all the other plants and flowers around the yard, including the finicky roses, but could not get a batch of sunflowers to grow.

Flash forward to a different house in a different state, where sunflowers not only grow, they grow in October. My friend told me that one flower had grown in the back yard a year ago, and that the seeds must have been carried on the wind to a rocky area of the front yard where it blooms proudly, even on a chilly October morning. And it seems to grow out of the rocks.

I’m not one to think this flower is mocking me. I suppose it all comes down to perspective, but I look at it, and I just shake my head and smile. This sunflower on the rock is crazy and hardy and thriving and precisely where it’s meant to be. I also know that where it began in the backyard is overrun with squirrels, but there are none in the front yard–so this flower knew what it was doing.

Sometimes it’s not up to me where everything should go and how it should all look and how it should all act and get along.

This brings to mind a quote in a bathroom from oh, probably three dwellings ago, that went something like, “Do yourself a favor and resign as general manager of the universe.”

Yeah. The world shines great on its own.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing. 

The Snowball Effect of Cleanup

Snowball EffectSome clothes have found their way into my office, clothes that don’t fit in my closet. And, who am I kidding? They don’t fit. Period.

I sit here typing and looking at them, knowing that, all it takes is to pick up the first item and put it in a pile for this process to begin. I’d love to say I’ll have one big pile for charity, but I know I’ll have multiple categories, like Use as Rags, Not Good Enough to Be Rags, You Kept This Since High School?, and Give to My Nephew Because He’s Tall for a 3-Year Old So It Will Fit Him Better.

From here, I can see the first three items that I would pick up. I also see an area across the room that could serve as a space for piles.

Once these items are gone to charity, trash, or reuse, I can see nothing but possibilities for this room and for the extra closet space. This morning, I woke up and thought, “Christmas is coming,” as if I could use the extra space to make room for nephew gifts, you know, with my unlimited budget that comes as a lofty starving artist. It was a nice thought, anyway, one that made me laugh and a mental step toward this reorganization. More to reality, though, the extra space will feel like a relief. It’s a gift to look at your own baggage and know you don’t need it.

All I have to do is pick up the first item, and I’ll be off and running, categorizing, piling, making decisions on keeping and letting go. Just pick up one item, just one, that’s all. Or sit here typing and thinking about picking up an item. One item… and the snowball effect should take over.

Incidentally, a lot of the snowball effect can be ascribed to a woman typing and eating cookies.

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Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing

Forest for the Trees

Trees postI’ve lived a little bit of everywhere, and each place has had its merits. From the country, the city, the beach, the mountains, and the plains, I’ve enjoyed the different ways of life that are built in to the topography. Now back in my home state again, I’m realizing just how much the landscape of my childhood has shaped my entire life.

Pennsylvania means “Penn’s Woods,” and is named after its founder, William Penn. There are so many trees here it’s astounding. And it’s because of all these trees that the horizon appears closer. Depending on the direction you look, the distance is even walkable.

Growing up in an area like this, that vision of attainability crafts a person. It shapes the way you look at the world, and seemingly, the way you will always look at the world. Everything is possible, because the horizon is always reachable.

The next time you find yourself in the woods, any woods, take a good look around. You’re moments away from that magical place where the earth and the sky meet. It’s all within your reach. Nothing is insurmountable when you put it in the proper perspective.

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Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing