The Voice of the Heart

Calling: Voice of the HeartWhen I drive on the highway, I do math problems in my head. Road signs conveniently list the distance to the next town, so I calculate speed and arrival times with variances for fuel stops and traffic. I’m quite accurate, even though, outside the car, I turn into the typical English major who stares at numbers as if they’re a foreign language—because they are.

Driving in town, you know I do my best thinking, foregoing the math for imaginative wanderings. In the car yesterday I thought over Goodbye, Old Friend that I had just posted, and decided I would change the line that reads, “Oh, love” to “O, love.”

It’s not a big change, mind you, in terms of letters. But I wanted to use the Latin vocative case, giving me that nice “O” and allowing me to call attention to the way the speaker is crying out, literally invoking love. After that decision, I played mentally with the words invoke and vocative, calling on an old memory from Latin class with the sentence, “Labor me vocat,” or “Work summons me,” or loosely, “Duty calls.” From there, I added vocal and voice to the mental call mix, and landed at vocation. And it startled me to the point that I suddenly said out loud, “Well, we lost that one, didn’t we?” Meaning that the word vocation has been overused to mean a trade, and has perhaps lost its original meaning of calling.

I remember in high school that the Vocational-Technical kids would leave after the morning classes to attend their “Vo-Tech” training off site. Vo-Tech arts taught auto mechanics, cosmetology, agriculture, metal work, etc. These trades are specialized and lucrative, so I never really thought of them as a “calling.” And worse, we sometimes refer to dead-end jobs as “simple vocations.” I always thought a calling was something that, no matter what you did, you couldn’t avoid. It was meant to be.

And typically, a calling is one that will be a financial risk, a starving-artist type of job, something that you believe in and can’t help but be drawn to do. You’re called. You, and you alone, hear the voice calling you to do something beautiful that always risks the heart.

I do think that we, the English-speaking world, dropped the ball on the word vocation and that we let go of all of its best, inherent qualities. The brain does wonders with mathematical relations to be sure, but while the voice of the heart is quiet, it’s also strong, and worthy of our attention.

~
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

10 Childlike Ways to a Better Me

Better Me postKids are messy. Small, mobile ones need constant attention. And yet, they remind you of all the best that life has to offer. I spent some time with my nephew this week, who is 3, and I made some observations:

  • I emphasize my pleases and thank yous so he learns them.
  • I constantly pick up toys off the floor so no one trips on them. The toys on the table, kitchen counter, and couch can stay where they are. That’s perspective.
  • When he arrives, I light up. During my time with him, I remind him that I love him. When he leaves, I let him know how much he’ll be missed. I can’t say these things enough.
  • I hug often.
  • It’s not embarrassing to wear my heart on my sleeve.
  • I sing a silly song in public, and I don’t worry about anyone overhearing it. And don’t get me started on the dancing.
  • I hold my tongue when I get cut off in traffic, reminding my nephew one who saw it that, “It’s okay, we’re sharing the road.”
  • Tiny hurts become my hurts. And they mean the world.
  • Laughter is infectious, and warms the heart.
  • Accomplishments are cause for glory, things like putting on his shoes himself, finding his shoes himself (he takes after his mother), and figuring out how to zip up his hoodie. Life is stopped so we can mark the occasion in celebration.

I’m not a different person around my nephew. I’m just living out loud, absorbing all the good and protecting from the bad. I’m me, supersized.

And I think, simply put, that we’re better people because of these tiny humans.

~
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 Path to Supernatural

PathSome people are naturals. Everything they touch turns to gold. They walk into a situation, take charge, and without breaking a sweat, everything turns up roses. When they swing into action, they nail it every time. Sure, behind every beautiful feat, catch, save, poem, and twirl is countless hours of practice and repetition. That’s not the path I’m walking today. We’re going the other direction.

I am not a natural. My first effort is typically messy, bungling, and an opportunity to learn what not to do for next time. Whether I’m in a kitchen, a classroom, on a stage, or sitting down with a pen and paper, I make a mess. And then I work at the mess.

This used to bother me in life. I wanted to appear polished, shiny, unwrinkled, knowledgeable, poised, and graceful, straight out of the gate. I wanted to land on my feet and catch all the flying objects and balance them with one hand in a tall stack while angels sang and the sun emerged from behind the clouds. I’m not asking for the moon, here.

But I have learned that my way has some advantages. For one thing, it’s funny. Humor has a wonderful way of bringing people together. Nine times out of ten, it’s not the end of the world, so have a chuckle, lower your blood pressure a little, and take hold of the fresh perspective that comes from laughter. Secondly, messing up is human. That’s relatable. And that leads us to the third advantage: What we’ll do about it.

Making a mess is an opportunity to show your stuff in admitting it’s yours, containing it, cleaning it up, finding a new way of doing so, and even in learning to ask for help when you need it. The best on-the-job training comes on the day when everything falls apart and you have to think on your feet to set it all right again. This is what separates the gutsy from the faint-hearted. It’s what makes heroes out of us ordinary folk.

Over time, I’ve learned that my initial disasters can give way to equally large [and eventual] successes. For the casual onlooker, the initial stage looks like a colossal failure. And that’s just what I need.

~
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

A Writer’s Day

Day's quotesForgive me. This blog has been in my pocket all day. We’ll see how much I can make out…

In this writer brain, poetry and prose pop into mind to get me through the day, as opposed to the music mantras that don’t come as often to me.

This morning, I was looking uphill at the mountain of things I needed to get done this day. (Some days feel like a battle.) And I started thinking, [S]he’ll remember with advantages what feats [s]he did that day… We few, we happy few… –Shakespeare’s Henry V

After that, what else could I do? I dove into the writing. But soon enough, I had to go punch my timecard, away from the writing desk. On my way, I got stuck in some traffic, and I thought about all the things waiting back home for me to write them. As ideas popped into my head—some of them overwhelming in their demand on my bitty time, I thought them through and decided they were important enough that I would find the time. And I thought, Hop into the boat, Richard Parker. That’s not a direct quote from Life of Pi, just something I say to myself when I’ve just taken on more than I think I can handle.

In the afternoon, I found myself treading the same path, over and over again. And I thought of myself as a caged animal, dreaming of freedom, dreaming of the world. –Upside Down Kingdom

As the day turned into night, I wondered why on earth I was still there, not at my writing desk doing what I love. And I thought, The world was always yours; you would not take it. –Archibald MacLeish (I love this quote because it makes me think the world is possible, if only I change my thinking a bit.)

On the way home, I mentally tried to walk myself through the code issue on my website. (Anyone want to add a slideshow for me?) I imagined my lack of understanding as a series of doors slamming shut around me. And then I thought, You were not given a spirit of timidity, but one of power. –2 Timothy 1:9

That quote never fails to bolster my hopes.

And finally, back home again to my work, my love, my solace, I type and think about all the things I’ll write tomorrow, from Zombie Sonnets (Zombies at the Vineyard!) to a chase scene for John Baker to scrutinizing my outline for my next book of historical fiction.

I sit here, typing, looking back at my day and thinking about Our Town. Yes, Our Town. Emily asks the question, Does anyone ever realize life as they live it? Every minute?

And the answer comes: The saints and poets maybe, they do some.

I want to thank Thornton Wilder for putting that into words. Tomorrow, my words and I will spend a lot more time together.

Then again, perhaps tomorrow is too far away to wait. Let’s get to it.

~
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 Challenges to Expanding Personal Convictions

convictions post When I traveled to Israel, immigration officials asked if I wanted a landing card stamped instead of a stamp in my passport, as the passport stamp might have made it more difficult to travel in other countries.

A German friend of mine said that, even in growing up after WWII, her experience was that the rest of Europe looked down on her country. Like countless others from the town of Dachau, when she was born, her parents drove to nearby Munich to make sure her birth records showed nothing of Dachau or its Concentration Camp that could follow her in life.

Last month in the U.S., basic civil rights were again called into question when a man was shot and killed, because he and his shooter had different skin colors.

In the U.S. currently, 29 states allow a gay person to be legally fired from employment just for being gay.

Yesterday marks the 75th anniversary of Hitler’s invasion of Poland that sparked WWII.

In our ability to conceive and defend human rights, we’ve come a long way. But how much do we really understand?

We’re a world of communicators, and yet we don’t listen—least of all to anything that we don’t want to hear. Not every problem will be easily solved just by listening. But we don’t typically start a difficult conversation that we already don’t know, from inception, how to finish.

With applied understanding to blot out the petty squabbles, it’s conceivable that we could stand, brother to brother, against the bigger challenges.

The will to build comes from the same internal place as the will to destroy. We all have convictions, which aren’t just guilt sentences handed out, but are beliefs firmly held.

There is so much more to learn, especially from each other. When you break down ice bucket challenges and daily gratitude challenges, what you get is one person’s effort to do something good. Today’s your day.

~
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

Who Died and Made You King?

charge postWhy is it that people with no real authority in life always seem to get a bee in their bonnet and decide to pick on the lives of others?

Sometimes they’re coworkers, other times neighbors, friends, or family, but regardless of the form they take, they always appear out of nowhere and try to wreck someone else’s day. This is not, “Hey, watch where you’re walking, there’s a pit ahead,” this is, “You’ll do what I say, starting right now, because I’ve had enough and I’m taking over this ship.”

The problem is that self-appointed, angry people don’t really make good leaders. Life isn’t Designing Women, where one sharp-tongued woman steps onto a new scene and suddenly decides she’s taken all she can from “the way it’s always been done before” people. When this happens in real life, it’s from the loudest person in the room, the one who focuses on his or her own voice so much that they overlook everything else at stake. Imagine: There’s a piece of trash sitting on the ground next to the can and it needs to be picked up, but beyond the trash can there’s a three-car pileup and people are injured, so do we scream about the trash, or do we help the injured? To a non-leader, all that matters is making that big voice boom and they’ll yell about trash all day long as the injured attempt to crawl from their cars.

So why is it that people with no real authority in life always seem to get a bee in their bonnet and decide to pick on the lives of others? The answer lies in the question: They have no real authority. They don’t see the forest for the trees and they never have. No one should ever give them a true position of power because of it. But think about it from their end for a moment: It’s frustrating to decide to control the world, to march up to the podium donning your bee bonnet, and yell into the microphone only to find the world isn’t listening. The best they can do is make you angry enough to yell back, and that’s what they want. So don’t. Oh, the simplicity of those two words! And yet, for most of us, it can take a lifetime of meditation and love to accomplish something like that. So while we work on it, there may be an interim answer.

When yelled at for something asinine, take five seconds and think to yourself, “Who died and put this person in charge?” It’s childish, but you’re thinking it anyway.

If this person is the boss, then quietly do what they say and explain your position later (and possibly look for another place to work).

If, more likely, this person is not the boss nor ever will be because of that forest-for-the-trees thing, then look them in the eye and calmly point out, “There are bigger things at stake here.”

And go about your business.

~
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

On Being Watched

On Being Watched postJust a couple questions today:
What do you do when no one’s watching?

Is it even possible these days that no one is watching?

And finally:
If we’re always practicing our best behavior, does this mean we will live better lives?

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler.

The Writer Mind: Traversing the Galaxies of Lost Ideas

Galaxy of ideas postSomething suddenly clicks into place, and, for a moment, the whole world makes sense. An idea has arrived. Some ideas land fully formed, and knock a person over upon arrival. This one is the other type, the amorphous, dreamlike idea with hazy details. I know exactly what it is, and yet, to describe it is impossible. When I look away, I can see it fully, but only out of the corner of my eye. The more I focus on it, the more vaporous it becomes. So I try to remember the feeling of the idea, because it’s already sliding away.

And I just can’t accept that the idea is gone, so I wonder: Where do the ideas go? Are they like stars, burning brightly and then dying out, leaving behind a white dwarf for me to find? Or maybe they’re made of energy, thus not destroyed but converted into something else, something that can be located and picked up, like a pebble on a beach, and converted back to the idea itself.

I imagine world-changing ideas originate in a far off place, from which they’re sent on a mission to find the right person who will carry them through. I think this because it’s nothing short of tragic when we fail to catch them. It’s a shame to think about traveling all that distance, just to slip through the fingers of the mind. Sometimes I think the ideas bounce around, from writer to writer, like pinball, until they connect to the right person and light up the board. That would explain why you hear artists lamenting, “I thought of that years ago!” when a new sitcom launches, or a handy gadget hits the store shelves.

I think about the idea I just lost, slipping right on by and traveling out into darkness, like a tiny comet, into the great unknown. I imagine it as a glowing ball of light, small but mighty, hurling itself toward a dark, lonely planet where it can take root, sprout, and grow, eventually creating a lush, colorful terrain that forever changes the planet as a whole.

Conversely, my writer friend says, “Good things come from lonely places.”

If he’s right, and I know he is, then it’s possible for me to access these lush places. Because somewhere out there, if I know where to look, are whole galaxies that I’ve brightened with lost ideas.

For Chris, with thanks

~
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

Spotting Potter

I like to play this game. I see people–on the street, in a restaurant, wherever–and typically, I see someone who reminds me of someone else. I try to recall the remembered person fully, and I especially try to remember what state I lived in when I knew the person.

photo-4It’s an interesting game because some people just have a familiar look. I remember one summer when everyone looked like a fella I knew from college named Potter. And I’d never known Potter directly; I knew his last name was Potter and we had mutual friends. The summer that I kept thinking I saw him, I was living in College Park near the University of Maryland. Apparently Potter looked like College America to me.

But the game made me think of him almost every day. I figured it was sound to send good vibes to someone who didn’t even know it. That’s pretty much the game: trigger a memory, dust off more old memories until you make a connection with time and place, then send a smile to the remembered person in your mind. The ancient map in my head keeps getting smaller and smaller and smaller.

Back in my home state again now, I’m playing this game a lot. Sometimes with memories from right here in Pennsylvania. Other times with people remembered from Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, and Minnesota…

And sometimes, with you. I’m sending a smile your way.

~
Follow the blog! And check out my first book, Upside Down Kingdom, on Amazon.

Bound for Home

photo-7Yesterday I woke up in Milwaukee and fell asleep in Pittsburgh. In between, I said hello and goodbye to family and good friends, took pictures with the Bronze Fonze statue and every state welcome sign on the way, ate at my favorite roadside stops, and battled humidity, lack of sleep, crazy drivers, and sunburn.

It was a long, hard road, but I made the best of every turn, laughed often, and wound up exactly where I wanted to be. Ah, home.

~
My first book, Upside Down Kingdom, is available on Amazon. I’ll sign it for you.