Tag Archives: choice

Discovering Character

Character: The mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual; a person in a novel, play or movie.

Photo by Nick Grappone on Unsplash

I’m fascinated with the places between. All the places between. Threshold places. Edge-of-chaos places. Here-there-be-dragons places off the edges of maps. It’s in the gaps, fissures, cracks and edges that I mine for the characters that inhabit my writing. It’s in the between places my own character is shaped, and I gain the clearest understanding of the characters around me.

I’ve written about labels before. Discovering characters is not about labels. Labels aren’t people. We’ve had a lot of reminders recently that talent, success, money and power fail to fully define character. Ours is a culture of texts and tweets, acronyms and jargon like “neoliberal” and “postmodernism.” We’ve become skilled at reducing ourselves and others to one-dimensional paper dolls with the application of a label. It’s an all-or-nothing kind of culture. We’ve no time or interest to invest in understanding complexity.

But what lies between the enormously talented actor and his serial sexually abusive behavior? What is the untold story of the “perfect” mother who drives into a lake with her kids in an act of murder and self-destruction? How do we think about the extraordinarily gifted writer who is also homophobic, or a child abuser? Who are we in the gap between what we believe ourselves to be, what we define ourselves to be, what we want ourselves to be, what we’re afraid we are, and how we actually show up in the world in the experience of others?

In that space between lies real character. That’s where I’m at work, listening, taking notes, asking questions and observing. As a writer, I must know my characters. What are they afraid of? What’s their worst memory? What’s their ideal vacation? What motivates them? What does their sock drawer look like? What’s in their car? What’s on their desk? How do they treat a service person? How many unopened emails squat in their inbox? Where do they want to be in five years? In ten years?

Defining ourselves or others by a single characteristic, choice or ideology doesn’t build connection, understanding or empathy. We can spend hours online, commenting, facebooking, blogging and interacting with others about every issue from sexual politics to diet, but none of it defines our character as honestly as how we treat a real live co-worker who identifies as transgender, or what kind of food we actually have in our refrigerator.

Those tantalizing, fertile, often concealed places between! Interestingly, words obscure the places between. Words are capable of seductive lies, but action, especially action taken in the stress of an unexpected moment, points unfailingly to true character.

Another problem with labels is their inflexibility. We each perform hundreds and hundreds of actions a day, and some are notable for how well they don’t work out. Labels imply that we don’t change, we don’t grow, we don’t adapt and adjust and learn, when in fact the opposite is true.

The Johari Window is a concept created by a couple of psychologists in the 1950s to help people understand their relationships with themselves and others. The window suggests that we cannot see ourselves or others entirely, and there is always a space of possibility to discover. Fully defining character becomes a community project. Even so, the unknown or hidden parts of character can and do appear suddenly and overwhelmingly, often resulting in some kind of heinous act and leaving us struggling with what we missed, what we didn’t know or what we didn’t want to admit.

It’s so fatally easy to misunderstand and underestimate others, especially when we can’t observe, talk and interact face-to-face with someone and compare their actions with their words over the long term. Complexity takes time. Making judgements based on labels does not.

As a writer, I’ve learned to look at myself and others with a more interested and less judgemental eye. I’ve learned to set up camp in the places between, look and listen carefully, observe keenly and ask a lot of questions. I’ve concluded that people who toss labels around are often in too much of a hurry to achieve power over others and silence challenge or dissent to engage in thoughtful dialog or discussion. Label users reveal far more about themselves than whoever they’re labeling. It’s a diversionary tactic.

Who is that character hiding behind all the labels they’re slinging left, right and center? What’s really going on with them? What kind of fear, uncertainty, insecurity, pain or lust for power motivates them? Who taught them to use labels so carelessly and unhelpfully? What needs are they trying to meet?

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

An engaging character is one who defies labels, one who challenges preconceptions, one we empathize with and even care about in spite of the abhorrent choices they make. A well-written character is complex and dynamic.

This week is one of those between places. We’re swinging between Christmas and the New Year, between 2017 and 2018. The holiday season has stirred up our memories, our family situations, our nostalgia, grief, gratitude, financial fears and resentments. We’ve traveled, abandoned our usual diet and routines, gotten worn out and indulged in sugar and alcohol. The flu is abroad. The package was stolen off the porch. The dog bit Santa when he came down the chimney.

Here, my friends, is the between place of authentic character. Not who we wish to be. Not who we say we are. Not who we present ourselves as on Facebook or pretend to be for our families and coworkers or resolve to become in the New Year, but who we are today, with our blind spots, our secrets, our fears, our greasy oven, our favorite coffee cup, indigestion, bills to pay, snow to shovel, our comfy sagging chair and what we choose to do with this in-between time.

Powerful characters. May we create them. May we discover, foster and celebrate them in others. May we honor our own.

Our daily crime.

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Abundance or Scarcity?

Last week, I explored the meaning and experience of anxiety. In doing so, I realized that all my anxiety has a common root in scarcity, which gave me the subject for this week’s blog. Scarcity and abundance. What could be more perfect for Thanksgiving week?

Scarcity, according to a quick internet search, is “the state of being in short supply; especially want of provisions for the support of life; unlimited wants in a world of limited resources.”

In spite of the fact that I come from a middle-class background, I’ve always lived with the bony specter of scarcity. As a child, I constantly feared there wasn’t enough, even though there was enough. We always had a home, and food, and clothing. The house was full of books and music. We had pets. We had cars. We even took vacations, a thing I was certainly never able to do with my own children. Still, I was always afraid we’d run out of money. The worst thing I could imagine was not being able to afford to feed and care for the animals! I was continually waiting for it all to disappear.

My insecurity around physical resource was not the biggest anxiety producer. What really ensnared me was emotional scarcity. It never seemed to me there was enough love, or patience, or joy. There wasn’t enough time, enough energy, enough hope. My feeling of emotional hunger led me to conclude that the problem was me. I was greedy and selfish. I wanted too much.

Most painful of all was my belief that I wasn’t enough. Not smart enough, not strong enough, not quick enough, not wise enough, not loving enough, not adult enough. I could see no cure for my inadequacies, no hope that I could ever be fixed, and, employing the heartbreaking logic of children, my conclusion was I didn’t deserve anything but scarcity.

Unsurprisingly, my experience since I formed that belief has been of scarcity on every level.

It’s important to note that in some significant ways this frame of scarcity has been useful. I don’t have “unlimited wants,” for example. In fact, I’ll rarely admit to wanting anything at all, which is a problem on the other end of the spectrum. I’ve never enjoyed shopping. I’m a reluctant consumer. I don’t long for gems or cruises, fine wines, luxury cars or elegant homes.

Living with restricted financial resource has taught me a lot about the limited power of money. What I value and want most, as well as what I most want to contribute, can’t be bought or sold. I’ve also learned unfulfilled wanting and longing can be lived with.

On the other hand, living from a position of scarcity has not only kept my anxiety fat and happy, it’s impoverished my courage, my ability to love, and my self-confidence. My belief in scarcity has sucked away a lot of my power.

Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

What about abundance? Abundance is “a very large quantity of something; plentifulness of the good things of life; prosperity.”

When I started thinking about anxiety in the last couple of weeks, I began to notice its presence or absence during activities of my daily life. For example, when I deal with household needs and wants, bills, the grocery list, and think about jobs, I feel anxious. When I’m out walking, gathering cones, cutting greens for holiday wreaths, collecting the beautiful little Sensitive fern pods for crafting, I feel no anxiety and have no experience of scarcity. The fields, the woods, the river, the trees, the fall bracken and naked branches and twigs all speak to me of plenty, and plenty, and plenty again. Abundance is everywhere. There is enough. I am enough.

I wrote last week about my suspicion that my anxiety is a bad habit as much as anything. I wasn’t consciously choosing to haul around such a dreadful burden, but dredging it up from my subconscious into the daylight, specifically defining it and shining a light on it allowed me to realize I don’t have to allow anxiety to run me. I can choose to disengage with it.

What if the frames of abundance and scarcity are also choices? What if I decide scarcity is no longer a useful label for my experience or self-definition, and I choose instead to believe in enough, or even in more than enough? Imagine it. Enough resources. Enough water and silence and time. An abundance of arms strong enough to hold me through the deepest hours of the night. A river of tenderness. A roomful of dancers. A strong, resourceful, wise, creative self.

Photo by Roderico Y. Díaz on Unsplash

Abundance is everywhere I look this morning, in the glowing wood stove, in the cartons of eggs stacked in the refrigerator, in boxes of wreaths I’m loading into the car to take to my friend’s farm store. Abundance is in writing these words, and when I glance from them I see, out the window, the infinite beauty of the November landscape.

It’s also true that we’re nearly out of bacon, and I know there are other items on the current grocery list. We’re heading into winter and haven’t been able to fix the leaky roof, but I suppose one could say there’s more roof than hole, so that’s a good thing!

Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

Isn’t it really all just a cosmic balance? We can’t possibly take in everything at once in life, so we narrow our focus, and invariably find what we’re looking for. Changing our focus changes what we see. Perhaps abundance has always been hand-in-hand with scarcity and I’ve just never looked beyond what I knew and expected. How can these two concepts be separated? They make each other possible.

My anxiety is currently sulking and on a starvation diet. Scarcity is what it thrives on, but I’m kind of bored with that tired old goblin. I’m enjoying my new focus and filter of abundance. I like the way it makes me feel. It doesn’t make all the challenges go away, but it certainly balances them with a peaceful, satisfied feeling of enough, and I’m grateful.

It’s Thanksgiving Day as I post this. I wish everyone the abundance of the season in food, loved ones and joy.

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Rules For Success

I’ve been blogging now for a year.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

I remember the first time I stood on a high diving board as a kid. The safe haven of the water was impossibly far away. I did eventually jump, but I stood, hesitating, for a long time.

Beginning to blog was like that. Could I manage the technological learning curve? Would I have time to do a good job? Did I have anything to say? Would I have to deal with spammers, hackers, hecklers and hate mail? Would anyone read it? And, the biggest Boogeyman of all, what would people think when I revealed who I really am?

I researched. I read dozens of articles on blogging. I made lists of do’s and don’ts. I bought a book on blogging.

I hesitated. I worried. I doubted myself. I clung to limits, obstacles and fears.

Then, in the middle of a personal and emotional catastrophe, the very last time I would have chosen or planned such a risky, frightening new endeavor, I suddenly started. I suppose I felt I had nothing more to lose.

This summer I’ve been taking stock of what I’ve created, what I’ve learned, my long list of mistakes and my intentions for the future. Now I’m a member of She Writes  and Medium . I follow several other bloggers. I went into my Favorites and deleted most of my Blogging folder and then started filling it up again with new articles on Intermediate blogging.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of articles about blogging on the web. What I notice is that 19 out of 20 are geared to successful blogging, which is to say blogging with the most possible likes, looks, shares, clicks, referrers, subscribers, advertising and side bar businesses, all of which can translate directly into income for the blogger. The Holy Grail is to go viral with your blog. To this end, the advice is repetitive. Use sentences of five words or less. Use short paragraphs of two or three sentences. Use a lot of images, video, bullet points, colors, fonts and section titles. Keep your blog short and to the point. Carefully construct a title that will result in as many clicks as possible. Convince the reader you have something of value that they need. Don’t be emotional or personal. You can’t be successful unless you have several active social media accounts.

I read, saved, took a few notes, and then realized I didn’t want to do most of what these articles said I should do. I paused and thought about that for a couple of days. I looked at my stats. I talked with my partner. I groped for a bottom line.

I absolutely love blogging/writing.

Why?

Because when I do it I’m real. Every single week I write about something real. Most weeks I struggle with what other people might think, but at the end of the struggle I again chose to be seen. I stare down that fear of using my voice and speaking up. I’m taking my power back, week by week, post by post, line by line.

It’s my hug, my love letter to the world, my kiss of peace. 

Blogging and writing are my way of building bridges and fostering connection, to myself, to others and to life. It’s the medicine I can offer to aid in healing. It’s my hug, my love letter to the world, my kiss of peace. It’s my outstretched hand, regardless of whether or not others choose to clasp it, ignore it or spit on it.

Photo by Alona Kraft on Unsplash

My feeling of success about writing a book and creating a blog isn’t attached to any of the general markers of success among bloggers. We have all kinds of programs that help us gather statistics on the web, but my heart doesn’t thrill to hundreds of clicks or fall if there are only five. None of these stats tell me anything about the quality of my contribution to my readers, and that’s the only stat that interests me. I don’t have anything to sell you. I don’t assume I have anything of value to you. I never expected to make money on my blog.

I just am. Myself is all I have to give, and what I really want from you is just … you.

I’ve been honored to achieve that simple connection with others through Our Daily Crime. Some I know about, because people comment. I may be making other connections that are invisible to me. Contrary to the best advice, I don’t have social media accounts. I don’t have a Facebook page. If a reader connects with my words or finds some kind of value in the experience I share and doesn’t comment or email me, I don’t know anything about it, but I have faith. I believe there are others out there who think about relationships, empowerment, being a woman and what it means to be alive on Earth today. I think there are readers who can deal with sentences more complex than five words and read a paragraph of several sentences. I think a blog about rules for success should be titled, clearly and honestly, Rules For Success. I’m not a click bait engineer.

I don’t regret a minute of research or reading I’ve done about writing and blogging, and I wish those writers the success they seek. They’ve helped, especially their content that I couldn’t use. All those rules set off a lot of feelings. I hardly ever met a rule I didn’t want to challenge, and my feelings showed me the way into my own definition of success.

I find it useful to have goals and intentions, to know what kind of outcome I want, but the fact is I don’t always know. Some things are so unknown and such a personal leap of courage or faith that to insist on exactly defined goals before beginning is to never take action. Jumping inelegantly off the high dive into blogging was all I could manage last summer. I couldn’t define an audience, a goal or an intention, except that I was damned if I would let fear stop me from trying. It’s only now, 50 posts later, that I begin to understand what I’m up to, and it’s not necessarily the same as what other bloggers are up to.

Here’s my favorite story about success. This version is from One Bird One Stone by Sean Murphy.

For 40 years, a fisherman in China used a straight needle to fish. When someone asked him, “Why don’t you use a bent hook to fish with?” he replied, “You can catch ordinary fish with a bent hook, but I will catch an extraordinary fish with my straight needle.”

Word of this came to the ear of the Emperor, and he went to see this fool of a fisherman for himself. Laughing at the sight of the fisherman’s straight pin, the Emperor asked, “What are you fishing for?”

The fisherman said, “I’m fishing for you, Emperor.”

Photo by Steinar Engeland on Unsplash

Thank you for reading my blog. You’ve helped make it a success.

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted