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Music Makes Me Feel Things

Music makes you feel things, you know?

Sometimes I wonder if it’s just my exhaustion. Or some impossible-to-detect brain abnormality that’ll cause my sudden death next week.

But I think it’s just music. I can be sitting at my desk, working on this week’s graduate assignment, perfectly content. The feeling of satisfaction in knowing I’m working towards my life goals sits warm in my stomach, a comfortable reassurance that it’ll all be okay.

I turn on some instrumental music to help myself concentrate. I think I have a touch of ADHD and find it increasingly difficult to concentrate on one specific thing, no matter how much I want to do it. I’ve had some success concentrating on my homework/writing if I listen to instrumental music. So I turn on my trusty Calming Instrumental Music playlist on Spotify.

And suddenly I’m transported to a rainy day in mid-October. The breeze blows outside the window, leaves twirling in the air as if they existed carefree, unburdened by the ground falling away beneath them and unconscious of the dangers presented by the breeze, enjoying only the feeling of weightlessness and the anticipation of what comes next. I smell cinnamon-infused coffee and feel the rough softness of the wool blanket wrapped around me, the firm arms of my love holding me close. I’m drowning in the nostalgia of a moment that has yet to happen, drunk on the love and warmth I feel but aching for it to stay, rather than fulfill its fleeting nature.

Maybe I am crazy. Maybe I am exhausted. Or maybe music truly is magic, and our hearts and our minds yearn for the escape it can provide, if only we would allow it.

BTD Reviews: Bird by Bird

In my MFA program, each course is accompanied by a mentor text. This term, I chose to read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Through the course of the term, it has become not only one of the most influential books on writing I’ve had the pleasure to read, but it has greatly influenced the way I view life in general. Lamott’s approach to the task of writing is honest and encouraging without overpromising. She comes beside you and nudges you in the right direction, like a good friend that bears a slight resemblance to your mother. I will always remember this book and the wisdom it contains.

            Early in the book, Lamott discusses the idea of perfectionism as one of the main roadblocks to successful writing. She writes, “perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here – and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing” (Lamott 30). Through most of my schooling, the teacher would always remind us to check our work. “I will know if you didn’t,” she would chime. I took pride in never checking my work yet never receiving a lower grade. “I never check my work,” I would brag to my friends. I guess we know why I had a lonely childhood. I have always had this standard I’ve set up for myself that my writing needs to always be perfect from the start. “I never check my work” I tell myself, my pride causing me to give in quicker than I started. I’m always afraid to write what Lamott refers to as a “shitty first draft” because, if I do, then I will have to go back and check it (26). What will I have to gloat over then? Reminding myself of the grace that comes with writing freely without concern of quality has allowed me to write with so much more abandon and passion.

            Another technique that I’ve taken to heart is Lamott’s idea of carrying around index cards so we can make sure to capture the fleeting breakthroughs that happen at the worst possible times. Rather than all our best ideas coming to us when we’re sitting at our computer writing, they seem to come out when we’re driving 70 miles an hour on our 55-minute commute. We think we’ll remember, but we don’t. Of these fleeting thoughts, Lamott writes, “they’re often so rich, these unbidden thoughts, and so clear they feel indelible. But I say write them down anyway” (128). She goes on to say, “for any number of reasons, it’s only fair to let yourself take notes” (129). Even within the last 48 hours there have been three opportunities in which I’ve had a fleeting thought and written it down in my journal. Two of them have been small breakthroughs for my novel. Another was this random gem that I may or may not use someday: “Her haircut resembled the well-groomed tail of a prize AKC collie.” All that to say, there are a plethora of stories happening constantly around us and noticing them through the eyes of a writer will only make my writing better. So what if I have shitty memory? I will just write it all down on index cards.

            Perhaps because I am still a new writer with little wisdom to share, or perhaps because I am an Enneagram 9 who instantly merges with new opinions in order to avoid inner conflict, there was not a single technique in this book that made me think “nah, that’s not for me.” I saw Lamott’s passion and talent rushing through the pages like a river breaking a dam, and I stood with my arms outstretched to catch as much as I could. There are a few parts that I struggled with, however. One quote that halted my reading and instituted a bit of a mental meltdown was “you probably won’t be able to present a character that recognizable if you do not first have self-compassion” (Lamott 92). Once I recovered a bit from my shock and panic, I did what every great writer did and tweeted about it. Then I went back to my reading. In all seriousness, I struggle the most with giving myself a break. Even outside of the confines of writing, I never see myself as worthy of anything. I question all praise and fear that my relationships are based on pity and obligation, rather than a mutual desire to be around each other. Once again, we’ve brought ourselves to the necessity for therapy. While difficult, I can perform my current career in pretty much any mental state without a glaring lack in quality. With writing, however, I fear that if I don’t take an honest approach towards better mental health and love for myself, and a bit of self-compassion, then I will never be able to write effectively. I suppose it’s time I get into therapy.

            At the risk of sounding cliché, I would say the main takeaway from this novel, even to the extent of potentially inspiring my next tattoo, is Lamott’s main sentiment of taking writing “bird by bird.” In the very beginning of the book, Lamott tells the story of her brother struggling to write a report on birds. She ends the chapter with the encouragement that, as we approach writing a novel, “we are just going to take this bird by bird” (19). This short mantra encompasses all of Lamott’s advice. We’re going to take this shitty first draft one shitty page at a time. We’re going to work on defining our characters one at a time. We’re going to take a peek at the secrets and hushed details of life around us and reveal them in our writing, one by one. We will accomplish this task, we will write this report, bird by bird. To end with my own sort of mantra, I will write a novel and be a writer, and I will take it bird by bird.

Works Cited

Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird. Anchor Books, 1994.

My Motivations – Thanks to Nina George

One thing I’ve always struggled with as a writer was the motivations that I have for writing. Coming from a background in Christian ministry, I felt that it was always my responsibility to have some large world-changing reason behind absolutely everything of value I did in life. At the beginning of my deconstruction, I began to flounder without this larger purpose and it led to a very dark time in my life. The church has a way of making you feel like you’re nothing without God and his call on your life, so once I walked away from all of that, I struggled to find anything left to rely on. I felt empty and aimless.

It had been a long time since I’d really lost myself in a novel. I spent so much time reading theology books and studying scriptures that I’d forgotten how much I love getting lost in fictional worlds and being charmed by fictional characters. What was the point in reading for pleasure if I was supposed to be serving God every minute of every day? It was exhausting.

Maybe someday I’ll write a blog post about the severe levels of psychological and emotional damage that occurred as a result of my faith, but that’s not what this is about. After deconstructing, I still had the notion that all of my work had to have a large cosmological meaning that would change the world for the better. I couldn’t just write a story; it had to inspire global change. Needless to say, this motivation was very overwhelming and led to burnout even before I was able to begin.

It wasn’t until I read The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George that I really began to understand the beauty of novels. I wasn’t in the best part of my life. I was overwhelmed, exhausted, stressed, and coming out of one of the most challenging places I’ve been personally. I found a home in the romantic streets of Paris and was charmed by the bookseller protagonist on his book barge. I didn’t figure out how to change the world. Nations aren’t being brought to their knees over the words on the pages. But I found myself lost in a beautiful world, cognizant for the first time in years of the power of novels to remind us of the beauty of life and the presence of love. So instead of seeking to change the world, instead I am seeking to bring a little bit of a reprieve to my reader’s lives. Provide an escape from their stressful lives that reminds them of the beauty of life and the prevalence of love. Charm them with words of passion and romance.

I think that’s a noble enough motivation.

The Struggles of Novel Writing

As a 25-year-old late Millennial diagnosed by Tik-Tok with ADHD, sitting down and writing out my first novel has not been the most fruitful of my efforts. I know, it sounds crazy, right? I love to write. I sit and dream of the romantic scenes playing out in my head and I can feel the inspiration surging through me. But the second I sit down to type something out? I lose it. I’m aware of the student debt that I like to pretend doesn’t exist and the embarrassing anecdote I shared at work the other day even though my brain screamed at me to stop, but the story that was just a second ago streaming across my brain like a new 4K movie in an IMAX theater (that’s a thing, right?) is now lost forever. The words that I type lose all meaning and become mere rambles.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m anywhere near an expert on anything, except maybe the Art of Procrastination. I won’t throw out advice that I haven’t found to work in my own life, and even the advice that I do provide will come with the caveat that NOT EVERYTHING WORKS FOR EVERYONE. But the one thing I’ve learned holds true for just about anyone trying to write?

You have to write.

Get that shitty first draft out on paper. Vomit the emotions and the thoughts, spill the scents and sights all over the page. Let the gnawing feelings of inspiration come out, not caring how much of a mess it is when it’s first released. Write something that has no part in the final product because maybe you will learn something about your characters that you might not have otherwise known. There’s magic in the shitty mess we start with.

So here I am, reviving a blog that started years ago and has been dangling by a thread for longer than I’ve had that one jar of pickles stuffed to the back of the fridge. I thought about changing the name. I thought about creating a whole new site altogether. But the name Between the Days really seems to apply to my habits as a writer. Most of my day is either at work, driving to work, or working on my Master’s degree. I don’t have enough time during the day to crank out a romance novel, especially with my trademarked Procrastination™ techniques. But I find the time to write because I have to write. It’s who I am. I find time to write the words that are threatening to drive me mad, and the only time I have is Between the Days.

Come along with me. I can’t promise that this journey will be life changing or inspiring. But I would certainly love the company.

Yours,

Thomas

My Last Plea

As the election draws nearer, an issue very close to home for me is once again being brought into the spotlight. With the confirmation hearings of Amy Coney Barrett bringing the count to 6 Republican Justices and 3 Democratic Justices making up the 9 Justice Supreme Court, headlines are flying about the fate of the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision ensuring marriage equality in the United States. With the Court so heavily stacked to the Right, the future of this decision is more in the air than it has been since it was passed in 2015.

Let me say this: this is not going to be some politically or ethically heavy study in which I lay out the intricacies of judicial process. Frankly, I’m not smart enough nor do I have enough mental energy to attempt something like that. Rather, I intend to humanize a topic that otherwise might be written off due to the lack of one’s pure and honest look at their own inherited worldview. One thing I can say with certainty, I’m very tired of my life and my relationship being a point of political argument.

As most of you know, I’m in a relationship with someone of the same sex as myself. We met a little less than a year ago and have actually recently moved in together. Suffice it to say, I’m supremely happy. If you had told 18 year old me, or even 20 year old me that I would someday be living everyday life with the love of my life (a man), I would have thought you had hit your head really hard at some point that morning. But to wake up every morning and look into the eyes of someone that you love so deeply and so honestly is the most fulfilling thing I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. This part of my life was not the direct result of the 2015 decision to allow for same-sex marriage. But it certainly allowed for the circumstances to exist.

Growing up, I didn’t really have an understanding of what a healthy same-sex relationship would look like. I didn’t know they existed. The few same-sex couples that I did know didn’t express that they were together in any sort of way that it would click in my naïve brain. Growing up in that environment, I was staunchly against same-sex marriage and thought that it was a direct attack on “Good Christian Values” and it was my responsibility as a good Christian boy poised to become a pastor to fight against the institution. It wasn’t until 2015, when the highest Court of our land ruled to legalize same-sex marriage, that I began to realize that maybe people just wanted to marry the person they fell in love with. For the first time, I could envision a future in which I was able to build a life with someone that I not only cared deeply for, but that I was actually, truly in love with. It took me another couple years to realize how much this ruling actually affected me personally as a gay man, but I knew that it was an important one that I shouldn’t immediately dismiss.

Let me take a moment here to say that it is not in either my partner or I’s plans to get married any time soon. We’re still pretty new in our relationship as far as living together and navigating the various aspects of it, but we do hope to someday be able to take that next step. The message that was always given to me growing up (at least subconsciously) was that gay marriage was a direct attack on Christian values for the sake of dismantling everything that Christianity has stood for these past 2000 or so years. It was always some malicious thing that needed to be prevented, otherwise our society would fall into some godless anarchy. Take it from someone who is in a serious same-sex relationship, that’s a load of malarky (I’m putting it nicely for the more conservative readers who don’t appreciate strong language).

My partner and I aren’t seeking some diabolical plan to dismantle the Church. You know what we do want? I want a new coffee table so that I can display some books in an artsy way. He wants to get a good grade in his grad school class. I want to make soup for dinner tomorrow, but I’m afraid the chicken won’t thaw in time and it’ll be harder than I’m anticipating. We aren’t working on some big “gay agenda” that will turn the frogs gay (though I have come into contact with a bear that lives outside our apartment and I wouldn’t be upset if he decided to become a vegetarian). We’re living our boring, mundane domestic lifestyle and loving each other through the difficult parts. We’re supporting each other, encouraging each other, crying with each other, and cheering for each other. And some day, we hope to be able to stand up in front of our loved ones and feel their support as well.

So this is my final plea. As the election draws nearer, consider the effects of your votes on those you love. This is more than just a theoretical issue. Sure, we could continue to live our lives together without getting married (and intend to no matter what decisions the Court make). But this is more than just whether or not we can get a legally binding piece of paper that says we are a family. This decision, and decisions surrounding the rights of LGBTQ+ people in our nation, represent the validity of not only our relationships, but our lives. If you have never had to wonder whether or not you’ll be looked down upon, spoken down to, or downright attacked for holding your loved one’s hand while walking down the street, then you won’t understand. Decisions like the 2015 one let people like me know that our country has our backs. We have legal protections from being let go from a job because of our relationships (yes, I have personally faced this one a few times). It lets us know that our lives and our love is valid and has a place in our society.

I have one more thing to say and then I’ll call it a night. Before I gained the courage to begin to accept who I am and confide in my loved ones, I was not in a good place. I was depressed, I was extremely anxious that someone would somehow find out and ruin my life, I was scared for how my friends and family would react if I ever did come out. But mostly, I was lonely. I thought that I would never have true love. I was cursed to be alone and unhappy for the rest of my life, and the thought of having to bear that was too much. I almost took my life multiple times. I can’t express to you how important it is to have a narrative of the mundane, everyday, non-diabolical life of a same-sex couple. We do dishes together and we try to cut down on takeout so we can save for a future. We aren’t out to dismantle your religion. We just ask that you don’t use your religion to invalidate our mundane, yet love-filled lives.

So once again, please consider what your vote on November 3rd (or sooner if you can) means for the people you love. I’m not going to tell you who to vote for because there are a plethora of other issues to take into consideration as well, but I will ask you to please just take a minute, and ponder the effects of your vote.

I love you all. Thanks for reading.

The Carousel

Sometimes I sit in front of my computer, hands on the keyboard, thoughts racing through my mind.
I have to write.
A pressure builds in my chest, feeling like something is going to burst from deep within me, ripping apart the very essence of myself if I don’t get it out onto the screen.
But no words come. I sit and I think and I try to sort through the racing carousel of fleeting thoughts, hoping to grasp onto one long enough to eke out a satisfying thought, but it slips through my fingers like sand.
Pressure builds and I know I must write or spend the night distracted and unable to sleep. It’s been so long. I’ve been scared to open up.
You see, writing is how I process the shit. It’s how I take a step back and think about what is causing me to cry at the most random of times. The thoughts that propel the carousel to spin faster and faster so that I am no longer able to properly function. Writing slows it down, if just for a moment.
So why have I been so hesitant to write?
I think I’m afraid of what I will find when the carousel slows. So I just keep going. Faster and faster. Adding more and more insecurities and fears and “wow I should talk to a therapist about that someday.”
So instead of writing something substantial, I choose to write about writing. It’s been so long that I guess I need a crash course. An ice breaker. Maybe if I write about writing this time, I’ll be able to write about healing the next time.
Until then, I’ll be riding this carousel.

When I Write

When I’m overwhelmed, overstimulated, and over it, I write. Not necessarily anything of substance, not necessarily anything that will ever be posted. But I write. Sometimes it’s as simple as the Greek alphabet (so I don’t forget that always useful lifeskill), sometimes it’s a random French phrase that finds its home in my head and randomly comes up for air.
I’m not often surprised by what I write. After all, this is my brain it’s coming out of. But sometimes, I notice the words that are traced in half-assed cursive. Sometimes, I notice certain trends that to a third grade literary critic would raise some red flags. Phrases like “j’ai terminé” and “je veux mourir” sometimes spill out. I didn’t intend it. I don’t seek to scare anyone that dares to read my scribbles over my shoulder. I tell myself it’s because they’re easy to write in cursive and I love the way that the J goes so beautifully into the AI to form “j’ai” in what could, with the biggest imagination, be considered calligraphy. Sometimes I tell myself it’s because they’re some of the few French phrases that I still remember. But the patterns are undeniable and the words tattoo themselves onto my forearms and forehead and foresight because I know what’s coming.
So I silently close the notebook, resume my regularly scheduled procrastination, and shove the phrases right back into their home in my head.
Not today.

The Fight

The world is a dark place.

Sometimes you wonder if Thanos was on to something.

Maybe Daenerys was justified.

After all, the evil in this world seems to have pervaded every aspect of humanity. The government oppresses the weak. Leaders of the church abuse those who they swore to protect. Brothers turn on brothers for their own gain. World leaders murder their own people over who they love and call it morality. Political systems are built to increase the power of the few at the detriment of humanity itself.

But just as the dark seems to have won, just as the last few specks of light seem to have flickered out, you see them.

Children rising up and demanding change in the name of a better future.

Women coming forward to testify on the horrors they’ve endured at the hands of men with the hope of gaining an equal ground.

Corporations donating their tax breaks to the protection of our world.

Men with their husbands and women with their wives showing the world that love is love and only light can come from love.

What Thanos didn’t see, what Daenerys was too blinded by her own ambition to realize, was that humanity becomes the strongest when the darkness closes in. We gather together and fight for the lives and dignities of all people in all places of all walks of life. Together, as one species, we stand up and tell the darkness it won’t win. We look in the eyes of the evil and let it know it has met its match.

So even though the powerful voices in our world tell only of the darkness and our powerlessness to defeat it, we rise together and prove that we can.

Humanity is one. And we are bringing light to defeat the dark.

Flashback

My road has diverged in a dying wood. One road leads to the familiar, the plan that was always meant to be. Down that road is familiar faces and the comfort of acceptance from those I love. The me that follows that path is the me I’ve always pretended to be. The me that I wish I could be. The me that I could potentially continue to be for an indefinite amount of time.

But to what end? For how long?

This road of familiarity may seem welcoming now, but it promises far more pain. To continue to deny who I truly am is to fall deeper and deeper into the disease of myself. The woods around me are dying, and to continue down this straight path would be to die with them.

But what if I choose the other path?

I wrote this short journal entry on November 20, 2017. I was beginning to realize that staying in the closet was not going to be an option. The pain of maintaining the status quo in my life was too great. My dad has a saying that I’ve always used to help get through difficult times: “Either it’ll pass or you will.” This is an accurate representation of the dilemma that I faced. I had to either move on to the next chapter, where I was honest with myself and others, or life would become too much to bear.

So why am I sharing this now? Well, for one, I came across this entry on my iPad while reading through some old notes. But the main reason is that there are people that we all know and love, yes, people that YOU know and love, who are still stuck in this dying forest. And it’s up to us to help them know they are loved and accepted, no matter what.

The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and to love your neighbor as yourself. There aren’t stipulations to it. There’s not a footnote that says gay people are to be excluded. Treating someone as less because of their orientation is not loving them. So what will you do?