Sunday, August 12, 2012

Fighting the "Yabbuts"

I guess I have blogged about this before a couple of times, and recently, but I ran smack into it again today and felt like saying something. Again.

I am tired of hearing "Yabbuts," okay? "Yabbuts" can save your life - keep you from forgetting your keys or tickets or making a left turn too soon. And sometimes "Yabbuts" are necessary. But they can also keep you from making choices about your life and actually living it! Can you imagine the first hominids who discovered fire if they'd done nothing but listen to their "Yabbuts"? Or what about the first hominids or humans to think it was a good idea to bang together some creaky old wood to float on the water to use as transportation? What would have happened if they'd decided NOT to try to do that? Or what if all those scientists at NASA had listened to their "Yabbuts" - do you think we'd ever have made it to the moon or Mars?


The Perseids are supposed to be in the sky tonight - a meteor shower. They're supposed to be in the sky tonight, tomorrow night and Monday night. I like this stuff and always want to try to see it, but sometimes I miss it for various reasons. Thought I'd try to see them again tonight. You are supposed to view them in the night sky between say 11 pm and 3 am. So, I made a commitment to try to see them.

And then the "Yabbuts" started. You know, there are too many lights in the sky in LA. Where will you go to see them? Which part of the sky is it in?  What if there's cloud cover? Some of the "Yabbuts" were internal (me) and some were external (others).

But, you know, you have a choice in this life. You can either listen to the "Yabbuts" or you can do what you meant to do in the first place. I could have chosen to stay in my stuffy little apartment, where I've been all day in 90-100 degree heat that's barely cooled down, and watched Star Trek and Creature from the Black Lagoon (III) whilst sweating and trying to concentrate on proofreading a book for a client - OR -

I could chose to pour some of the the last of the homemade limoncello into a pretty glass with ice, put my glasses on and gone up to the roof where I sat in the cool breeze, sipped on my little cocktail and enjoyed watching the clouds change from a sleeping cat to a stretching cat to a dragon to a whale and thence to seafoam. I didn't see any meteor showers, but I saw some stars and some airplanes and I'm pretty sure a satellite (I waved) and I had a good time.

All because I didn't listen to the "Yabbuts."

If I had listened to the "Yabbuts" I wouldn't have gone to China the first or second time. I wouldn't have moved to Los Angeles or San Francisco or back to Los Angeles. I wouldn't have kept trying with my writing or submitted any of my work to places to publish. Sure, I'm not in big magazines or with traditional publishers, but my work has been published. And it wouldn't have been published at all if I hadn't tried in the first place. Hell, my father wouldn't have made it to the U.S. as a young immigrant if he'd listened to the "Yabbuts." And then where would I be?

In my interview with Bewildering Stories, I was asked what inspires me. I said at the time - and I still hold to this - other people inspire me. My friends and family inspire me.

I have friends who deal with a lot. Some have kids who are physically disabled or developmentally disabled or are some of the few Latino, Asian or black kids in the classroom or are part of a large family or very small with only one parent. Some have aging or dying parents or partners going through serious sh*t. Some have all of the above. Many are trying to put their kids through college against a lot of odds. Some are taking classes themselves to improve their circumstances. Some are the sole breadwinner for their families. Some are small business owners. Some immigrated to the U.S. for a better life. Some have been fighting unemployment for an inordinate amount of time. Some are the sole advocate when it comes to healthcare and education for their families. Some have physical and emotional and mental and socio-economic battles of their own. Some had to leave California just to get married.

And these friends of mine inspire me because one of the things they have in common is a strong, adventurous spirit. Most of the time when it comes to choices, instead of dwelling on the "Yabbuts" and what they can't do, they look at what they can do. And while the "Yabbuts" are still there to be taken into consideration, they will ultimately choose to look to what they can do instead of focusing on what they can't do. Then, without nattering on about things they can't do anything about, they do.

That's inspiring. That's OLYMPIAN inspiring. You think those athletes sit around all day thinking about what they can't do and what's holding them back? No. They look at what they can do and then they do it.

When I was in grade school my mom sent me to YMCA day camp, and later on sleepover camp, every year. The sleepover camp was called YOLC - or Youth Outdoor Leadership Camp. The motto: "Can't is not a word because it's not in the dictionary." Maybe I was indoctrinated by them. Maybe it was my dad, my mom, and my gramma actually telling me what I could do rather than what I couldn't do. (My grampa was definitely part of the "Yabbuts" school and was more about what you can't do when I knew him - but when he was younger - he was all about what he could do.) I don't know.

I just know that whenever I run into a bunch of "Yabbuts" I get suspicious, impatient and pissed. And it makes me determined to do what I set out to do that much more and leave the "Naysayers" and "Yabbuts" far far behind.


Friday, August 10, 2012

Lessons in Volunteerism

Lessons in Volunteerism

Every August the Larchmont Chronicle publishes the Women of Larchmont, a pull out section that highlights women who are active in our neighborhood. It also holds the Directory of Who’s Who for non-profits where women in our neighborhood have served. Over the years it has grown from a small “round-up” type section to being several pages long. In order to keep it updated, we start calling these organizations at the end of May (working off the previous year’s list and any that have been sent in in the meantime) to verify that all the information is correct. Since it’s summer, people are on vacation and sometimes it takes several calls to track someone down to make sure that what we print will be accurate. We try not to depend on websites too often since smaller organizations don’t have websites, and they are sometimes not up to date. Deadline for the August paper is usually July 15 or so, and sometimes we have people still getting back to us after that.
Every year when I start with the phone calls I dread it and I grumble about it. Every year the same woman hangs up on me before I can get my request in and I have to call back or email and tell her assistant who I am and why I am calling. And then the assistant makes sure I have the relevant information. Every year I get someone who is suspicious of why I’m calling and wants to make sure I’m not going to sell the information to anyone. But also every year I run into story after story about the type of volunteering that is available out there. From reading to kids at the library to helping sell used books to keep the library going to putting on events for disabled kids to fundraising for music and the arts to advocacy and political organizations. I speak to one woman every year who works with a group of people who advocate for women in the military overseas. I speak to another woman every year who is involved in an academic scholarship program for people studying the Greek Orthodox faith. Sure, there’s the Junior League, the DAR, the Debutante Ball, the Hilltoppers and the Ebell, but there’s also Planned Parenthood, KCET, several parent/teacher organizations, the Music Center, Good Samaritan Hospital, Hope-Net and the Barnsdall Arts program. And that’s just in my neck of the woods.
I am a haphazard volunteer at best. I don’t have a car and am adverse to “joining” anything. But if I ever decided to volunteer, there would be no way I could say “there’s no place to volunteer” or “I have nothing to do.” There is plenty to do.
Anyway, every year, despite all my grumbling, I am amazed at the men and women, from all walks of life, who I speak to who are involved in these organizations – at all that they do and put their hearts into. I just wanted to say thank you to all those volunteers out there who make our world a little better place.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

It’s About the Work – Getting Closer to a Better World

(In which I take a while to get to the point, but if you follow the winding road with me, you will get there. Though whether or not you agree with me is another story.)

This weekend there was a movie on ThisTV called Paris Blues (1961) with Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, Louis Armstrong, Joanne Woodward and Diahann Carol. In it, two ex-pat jazz musicians in Paris meet up with a couple of American tourists, fall in love and end up having to make decisions about which parts of their heart (art) they are going to follow.

The jazz musicians were in Paris because it was more straightforward there, at the time, to follow their art (that part of their heart) in Paris where race was less of an issue at the time than it was in the U.S. As Sidney Poitier’s character tries to explain to Diahann Carol’s character, in Paris they weren’t white musicians or black musicians or Italian, French or Gypsy musicians. They were just musicians, defined only by their music genre, their instrument and their skill. Race, religion and gender did not come into it. They were in Paris to do the work, to follow their art.

Galatians 3:28 says: There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. I used to daydream about a world where all were one. When I though about that world, I would draw pictures of it. I was a kid at the time so in my small world that meant an ecumenical church where we all just got along and loved each other and everyone had a house to live in, clothes and food. I couldn’t even conceive of the complications inherent in such an undertaking.

No matter how idealistic we are, no matter what visions we have of the world, we all have to run smack into ourselves and our differences with others, as well as our commonalities. Someone who went to bed hungry every night is going to see the world differently from someone who never had to worry about hunger. And they both might be the same gender, race and religion. Someone who was separated and treated less-than due to gender or race or religion is going to have a different perspective on the world than someone who was embraced because of their gender, race or religion.

My little girl self saw lots of hurt in all those differences and just wanted it healed and thought it could be healed in sameness. My adult self understands that those differences make our experiences on this planet much richer. If we open ourselves to the differences as well as the commonalities we’re able to have much more full life experience. Opening yourselves up to the differences means, well, as my gramma would put it, “listening, honey, just listening.” It means not assuming that the man in the turban ahead of you in line is a Muslim terrorist or that the white kid with tattoos on the skateboard is a juvenile delinquent or that the black woman leading the seminar grew up in the inner-city projects, or that the Asian mom at the grocery store is a “tiger mom.”

Listening. Paying attention. Turning that attention both inward and outward at the same time and in a way that is both objective and subjective, again at the same time. Being all things – the observer and the participator. Then using that upside/downside/inside/outside energy to create: to paint, write, draw, compose, play music, do the high jump, garden, or put the car back together using duct tape, rubber bands and paperclips, or whatever.

In my experience, creativity brings me closer to the Divine (or whatever that equates to for those who don’t believe in a Divine – Love perhaps?). And most of the people I have met in my life have that drive to create something. It might be the perfect strawberry rhubarb pie, the best financial presentation, the best commercial, the reconstruction of the automobile, growing the best organic corn ever, or writing the long, lost Great American Novel. Again – Whatever that is for you.

But something I have noticed in this creative drive that most of us have is that when we are focused on that creativity, when we are striving to be the best gardener/writer/haiku poet/glass blower/volunteer coordinator/jeweler/dancer/mom/dad/what-have-you ever – when we focus on that creative passion with all of our might – with all our heart, mind and soul – when we fall in love with that creative urge and follow it as far as it will take us – then we appear to reach that vanishing point the musicians found in Paris Blues – where there is “neither Greek nor Jew, no male or female, no slave or free” – in my opinion, then we have found our road to love and the Divine. We reach the point where neither the differences or the commonalities matter and we are all one.

And we didn’t get there through massive discussions deconstructing every little thing we don’t like about our lives or even do like about our lives like Phaedrus did in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. We didn’t get there by yelling at each other about our causes on Facebook or on some blog. We didn’t get there by sitting around talking about writing or painting or composing music. We got there by doing the work. Doing the actual creative work.

It’s not easy. It’s not a smooth path. It’s like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, or any Hero’s Journey for that matter. The road is difficult, rocky and obstacles are tossed in the road or left abandoned by those who went before. It’s uphill in the snow twenty miles each way and you’re barefoot and don’t have a coat and left your keys back home and don’t have enough change to make a phone call cuz your cell phone died and it’s now hailing with sheets of rain in between, and by the way, it’s 90 degrees out and the sun is in your eyes, too. Yes, it is. It’s just like that.

But then you make it. You get to the Celestial City and they let you in. And you know how you find out that you’re in the Celestial City? It could be as simple as getting that one rose bush to bloom a perfect bloom, or watching your kid graduate from high school or college, or it could be getting that landscape you’ve been working on just right, or it could be going to your writers group for a critique and feedback session and knowing that you are right exactly where you need to be. And there is no male or female, no slave or free, no “Greek or Jew.” And the only thing that is important is that creative work, your road or your path to Divine Love, where all are one.

Maybe that’s too idealistic to make a grandiose blog about it, but it’s something I’ve noticed works in my life, for me. When I try to follow what other people think is the right thing for me to do to create a better world, I lose my way. I don’t fit on their path, I get turned around and it gets me no closer to my Celestial City or a better world. Their way to their Celestial City and a better world is not my way. My way is to follow the creative gifts I have been given and not squander them whilst wasting time on discussions that will get me nowhere closer to my Celestial City or my better world. I venture to say that that is the same for most people.

It’s a hard decision to make, to follow what you know to be your true path. We may only be awarded brief and fleeting visits to our City at times, but I believe it is still worth the effort because each time we make that journey, do that work and are faithful to our gifts, we are getting ever closer to the time when the world will be a better place.

At the end of Paris Blues, the musicians have to decide what their true paths are, and that’s not an easy choice to make at the best of times (see above).

Joanne Woodward’s character says, “You know, everybody’s always waiting for everybody else to take a chance because they’re so afraid!”

Henry David Thoreau said: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

If you have a creative gift that gives you peace and joy, or even that annoys the hell out of you but makes your life better when you follow it, then follow it. Don’t talk about it, don’t listen to the “yabbuts,” don’t look left or right or up or down; just do it. Do the work and you will get closer to your better world – to your Celestial City.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Another Lulu Sale! is having another 20% discount this week (through August 10). Just enter the coupon code ASTOUND (case sensitive) to receive the discount. This is good on any purchase on, though if you want to begin by looking at my books, that would be a good start. With the 20% discount, they would go down to $5.58 each.

But, if that doesn't do it for you, you can always check out some of my other books on Sam's Dot Publishing, such as "The G.O.D Factor" in either hardcopy or for Kindle. Or check out my new novella, "Needs Must When the Devil Drives."

For my full list of works, check out the links here.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A Drug Free Life and a Glass of PCP

I got a phone call tonight from someone in my writers club - the Miracle Mile Writers Club. I've been helping him go through his book and fix little bits of things here and there; we're going to meet tomorrow for another session of double checking grammar and syntax.

The name of Jerry's book is A Drug Free Life and a Glass of PCP. Jerry Solomon grew up in Los Angeles in a stable, loving Jewish family. He was a musician and comedian, dating someone and looking forward to getting more into the entertainment industry. He didn't do drugs or drink. One hot day his "friends" gave him some cookies and a glass of cool water. He was grateful and ate the cookies and drank down the water. It tasted funny, but he was taught to be polite, so he didn't say anything.

His "friends" were trying to be "funny" because they wanted Jerry to "relax." It wasn't cool water he was drinking down - it was PCP. And it wasn't funny - it was horrific. His life was forever changed by that awful betrayal by his friends; he has been working and fighting to get it back ever since. We've watched him in our writers group as his manuscript changed from a tangle of loose-leaf handwritten pages to the perfect bound book pictured here. This is his story. You can find it on Amazon here.