Within and Without

Within and WithoutJournalists jump into the who, what, when, where, why, and how of what’s going on. They get into the nitty gritty and organize the details. Creative writers, by great contrast, sit back and watch the big picture.

I’m not sure if the news lately is especially tragic or if, when compared to the beauty of the holiday spirit exhibited across multi-religions all over the world, the bad news looks exceptionally worse simply by comparison.

Regardless, the discrepancy between the good and the bad is obvious, and so is one key factor practiced on the side of good news that is twisted by purveyors of bad. That is the practice of accountability.

What I’m talking about is this: One the side of good, news program after news program has shown in the last few days the stories of people finding a need and filling it, usually in the name of the holidays at hand. People are reaching out to one another, serving dinner to the poor, opening doors to foster children, gathering supplies, building homes, donating, giving, sharing. Kids, even, have entered the mix, organizing the gathering of toys to give to those less fortunate than they are, and singing in hospitals to cheer patients receiving treatments over the holidays. In these feel-good stories, I see self-accountability; I see people who know they can make a difference reaching inside themselves for something greater to give.

On the side of the negative news stories, I see blame, finger pointing, and “I see what’s wrong with you, not me.” This outward approach is not working; it’s not effecting change. That’s because the practice of accountability starts within, not without.

There is much hurt and injustice in the world. It’s all right there, easy to see. And none of us is above reproach. We take chances; we mess up. The little kid in all of us wants to put the blame elsewhere, to keep us out of trouble, to keep us in good favor. The little kid in us runs to Mom and says, “My sister hit me.” And Mom, who watched the entire scene play out, says, “Yes. She shouldn’t have done that. But you hit her first, so you’re both in trouble.”

Mea Culpa is Latin for “It’s my fault.” Latin builds the foundation for dozens of Romance languages, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, just to name a few. It’s pervasive. On the flip side, the psychology revolutions in recent history have taught us to stop blaming ourselves for every little thing. Thus, we live in an age when, to acquire balance, we must admit that it’s not all my fault, but it’s not all your fault, either, which leaves us either tossing blame about, which has not worked, or looking for another solution. Perhaps it’s this: While it’s true the world can be cruel, unfair, and the playing field is rarely level, there is also a lot of good in this world, and it resides inside each of us. We have only to look within, and let it out.

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.

Food for Thought

Food for ThoughtI have food on the brain today, and I like it. When I was pretty young, we’re talking maybe 5 years old, I decided I didn’t like red meat anymore. (I didn’t realize until well into my twenties that it all comes down to food texture for me.) So, one dish after another, I stopped eating most red meat. I say most because I still ate soup with a beef base, I still ate spaghetti sauce with meatballs–picking around the meatballs, of course, because while my pickiness was tolerated at the dinner table, it was not encouraged. (I’ve since learned to tell people I’m not picky; I simply have standards.)

Luckily my mom was always big on making side dishes, but there were many nights that I would eat a peanut butter sandwich as my main course for dinner. A peanut butter sandwich (no jelly) goes well with just about everything, especially au gratin rice. (Carb on carb. I tell myself it was a runner’s diet.)

Growing up, it was difficult to explain that I was “mostly” vegetarian. At the time, the only way to be vegetarian was to denounce all meat and meat eaters, because vegetarians in the ‘80s had agendas. Except for me. I happen to come from a long line of carnivores, and honestly, as long as I didn’t have to eat it I didn’t mind much what others ate. My preference to pig out on cheese was never political.

Picnics and restaurants took a little finesse. At picnics, I could usually pick the meat off of a ready-made sandwich and offer it to someone nearby as I added extra cheese and mustard to the bread. It was a good way to make a fast friend. At restaurants I could manage by making an entire meal out of French fries or a salad. (And lately, fries on salad. Why, yes, I do live in Pittsburgh where fries on salad are standard issue.) Back then, salads usually included bacon bits, and, I know I’m the only one here, but I don’t like bacon. Picking bacon out of a salad is just about impossible. I think if Psyche had a fifth task to win back Cupid, picking bacon out of a salad would have been it.

I did my best, and it never occurred to me to complain. The world was not made for me; I was made for it. So I adapted. And I’ve been adapting ever since. When I come to a roadblock and see others sitting still, shouting about how the world should bend to their will, I look for another way around, happily.

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.

For Richer or Poorer

For Richer or PoorerA friend of mine used to feel he was mistreated at his job, but he stuck it out for years. And when he no longer worked for that employer, he decided to take some money out of his IRA to go have an adventure. My friend knew he would pay a penalty for taking money out early, and he didn’t mind that. His rationale was, “The bulk of the money put into that account came from my employer, so I’m spending their money to do something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.” And with that, he hiked the Appalachian Trail.

Now depending on who you ask, this was either poor planning or a brilliant idea. Remember the story of the ant and the grasshopper, where the ant worked all summer long and the grasshopper lived it up, and then in the winter, the ant had enough to eat while the grasshopper lamented that storing up for lean times was the way to go all along? The ants of the world (as opposed to the grasshoppers) would tell you that what my friend did was the worst idea ever, that he should be saving for his future, for his retirement, and healthcare costs alone in retirement can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. As a former ant myself, I understand the thinking. But the ant in the story worked so hard all summer that he didn’t even have time to chat because he was so busy stocking up for winter, which makes the whole ant/grasshopper story sound as if the only way to prosper is to sacrifice.

Ask any dreaming artist or any hardworking artist out there and we’ll all tell you my friend’s plan was brilliant. That IRA bought him unrivaled life experience, and in our line of work, these are our riches. Our riches are the experiences that help us make art. We capture time, place, and emotion so well in our work because we’ve been there, done that. It’s not grasshopper, and it’s not ant. It’s somewhere in between. So when rational thought says, “Can’t afford it,” the artist brain says, “I can’t afford not to try.” And we know that disaster may strike, that we’ll be financially behind our peers, that we’ll pay penalties, and we’re willing to take that on, because the life experience of fully knowing the now is worth it every time.

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. 

Seemingly From Nothing

Pssst… Hey. Yes, you.
Remember that idea you had? The one that could change everything? The one you locked away, you say, for safe keeping, when we know really you were thinking you weren’t ready. And you vowed to return to it in the future, when you’re a little wiser or a little better off, but even you know that was just wishful thinking and that an idea like that shouldn’t be kept under wraps.
The thing about that idea, and the reason I bring it up, is that it’s good. We’re talking really good. And the world needs to see it in action, and yours is the voice for it. Yes, yours.
Because it occurred to you, not anyone else, and it came about because of who you are, the life you’ve lived, and the things you know. It came to you at a time when you needed it most and seemingly out of nowhere. And there were even others in the room at the time but they didn’t see it, they didn’t realize the way time slowed as you caught this idea.
The time is now. Unlock the door of your imagination and let the idea brighten the room, the building, the parking lot outside, the street, the next building, the grassy space beyond it, the next town, city, state, country, body of water, expanse of air, planet, stars…
Fueled by inspiration, lighted by hope, and guided by you.
We’ve been waiting for this moment. We’ve been waiting for you.

–Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom.

Seemingly From Nothing post


photo-4I had it all in order; labeled every scrap,
Studied each piece and every memory that triggered
Then I boxed it all up and packed it away
And I never gave it a second thought
until now
the quake in me left nothing undisturbed
the closets all spilled out
and dusty memories now lay underfoot,
old letters scattered across the floor
something is rolling along the upstairs hallway,
rethinking its track, and rolling back again
over and over
things that seemed dead and buried long ago
unearthed themselves and left muddy footprints
on my kitchen floor
and now there’s a faint humming sound,
like the buzzing of bees in a garden,
though these frayed wires
generate no sparks,
for this stuff is old,
old and dead to me,
but making one hellfire mess

And I need you to see exactly what I see,
exactly what is here, all over the place,
spilling out, for you
for you started it,
you caused all this
and I stand here exposed
so I can finally let it go

So look at the puddles, the mud,
the moldy half-eaten chocolates
the dusty phone
the dining room with only one chair
the unburned candles
the empty vases

and yes, I will pack this all up again,
only this time I’ll get it out of my house
and leave it on the curb
for Tuesday’s weekly pickup
These things that I’ve held close,
the protection of them all,
the locks and the keys that don’t unlock them and
the wasted closet space,
housing these things that I tried to shelter
all of it old and lifeless and seemingly harmless
yet I trip on it daily now that it’s out
older than the dirt I buried it under

And yet, even now,
I pick it up and I hold it close

My first book, Upside Down Kingdom, is available on Amazon.

I Like to Think of It as Charmed, Thank You…

photoRecently, I handed out the pens by the dozens to the servers at the downtown restaurants. I’d had them printed with Upside Down Kingdom, my website, and my tagline: Author, Blogger, Poet, Traveler.

One particular night, when it felt as if the world had used me as a punching bag and the construction was still going on at the house, I decided to go out for a quick bite before heading home.

I perked up over my food—I always do. And I had a book to read, so I hardly noticed the group of people seated next to me, other than to hear occasional bits of conversation when they got loud.

At one point, though, I suddenly heard them talking about poets, writers, and travelers. My ears naturally tune in to these words. I looked up to see they were paying their tab, and signing the check with one of my pens.

“Wow,” the check signer said, a man in a very nice business suit. He was eyeing the pen. And then he said to the group, “That’s a great life.”

I didn’t say a word, though the title of this blog is exactly the first thing that came to mind. And that’s when, suddenly, the world made a whole lot more sense to me.

“Yes,” I thought to myself, “Yes, it is.”

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