A Culinary Failure

Warning: This post contains images that might be disturbing for some readers. 

For my 38th birthday, my mom surprised me with a three week subscription to Purple Carrot.

Purple Carrot is a vegan, meal-in-a-box company that delivers-to-your-door all the necessary ingredients for preparing and cooking a nutritious, plant-based meals.

You simply unpack the food from the box, follow the easy 6-step instructions and in 30 to 40 you have a fresh, restaurant quality meal.

When I married my wife I assumed the role of cook.

I learned how to cook a variety of meals, most involving meat: beef sliders, steak fajitas, zesty barbecue chicken, roasted chicken, ham and noodle casserole and rustic pork chops.

(For health reasons, 8 months ago I baptized myself in coconut milk and converted to veganism. My family are not vegans, so most nights I have to cook two dinners– one for them, one for me.)

I stake myself as a good cook. I’m fairly confident in the kitchen. Yet what I do lack in culinary flair, I make up in my ability to uncanny ability to read a recipe.

On this night I attempted to cook Purple Carrot’s “crunchy and lightly-browned” Eggplant Mousakka.

Mousakka is a Greek dish. A casserole layered with eggplant, crushed tomatoes and topped with a creamy tofu spread.

The picture looked delicious. 

I went to work.

I peeled and sliced the eggplant into 12 silver dollars pieces. I then dropped the tufu brick along with finely chopped garlic, smoked paprika, dried oregano, a pinch of salt, a dash of pepper into a blender and blended until it was all one smooth dream.

Next, I browned the eggplant in a hot sea of olive oil. When the eggplant was crisp, I removed the eggplant with a pair of tongs, layered the bottom of a Pyrex baking dish with the eggplant, added a layer of crushed tomatoes, added another layer of eggplant and topped it with a smooth layer of the tofu blend. 

I popped it in the oven, set the timer and waited. 

It smelled good.

Real good. So good that my chicken tender children remarked how good it smelled.

“Dad, it smells like a restaurant in here!”

Twenty minutes later, when the timer sounded, I slipped on an oven mitt,  opened the oven, retrieved the Pyrex dish, removed the foil and found this:

Before anyone could catch a glimpse, I threw the tinfoil back over the Pyrex, cuffed the edges and forced the monstrosity back into the dark oven for another 5 minutes.

For the next 5 minutes I guarded the oven, spatula in hand.

I was there to prevent anyone from looking the big oven window and, god forbid, if the eggplant monster smashed through that big oven window I was there, like a Royal Guardsman, armed and willing to protect my family.  

When the timer sounded, I slid on the oven mitt, removed the dish from the oven, uncuffed the foil and found this:

I tried to convinced myself–“Maybe it tastes better than it looks?”

Because it looked awful. So awful, the kids remarked, “That looks awful.”

I read the recipe out loud and as my index finger drew imaginary lines under each word.

I went outside to the trashcan and fished out the original box the meal came in, looking for an ingredient, the one I clearly forgot to add.  The one that would surely make my Eggplant Moussaka look like the one in the picture.

The box was empty.

I moved back inside, to the kitchen, to the counter, looked down at my eggplant abomination, took a deep breath and concluded that I did something wrong.

I scooped out an eggplant wheel and dropped it on a plate. Feeling the eyes of my family on me, I forked a wedge the eggplant, said a quick prayer and slid it into my mouth.

They watched as I chewed, then swallowed.

“How is it dad? Is it good?”

I ran a napkin across my lips, leveled my eyes and said, “No. It’s awful. It’s really awful kids.”

It’s such a sobering moment, especially for us adults, when our final product fails incredibly short of our imagination.

When we Ziploc creativity, vacuum-seal boldness, tritely follow directions and yet still we fail.

It’s as if everything we learned about achieving success, whether in the kitchen or in life, was suddenly compromised.

I did what I was told, followed the instructions and still I failed. 

And in the end, you can only stand over the kitchen sink, force Dr. Frankenstein’s Eggplant Moussaka down the drain with a kitchen brush, listen to your stomach growl and realize you’re not as good as you once believed.

Be well,

Jay

When Your Child Realizes How Cruel The World Can Be

Hours before my daughter’s 10th birthday I committed murder.

Call me heartless, call me a bastard but since I don’t own a gun or crossbow–I did it with a hammer.

Trust me, I didn’t want to do it. But, as life teaches, sometimes you have to do things you never thought you would do.

I did it minutes before midnight, when I assume most murders are committed.

I did it in the shadows behind my house, near the trashcans. So the body could be easily disposed.

Before dinner, Haley was eyeing the evening news. She stood petrified before the television, like a child summoned to the blackboard trying to solve some hand-scratched equation in front of the entire class.

Haley is coming into her own now, realizing that the vague, glittery conceptions she once held of the world, a world of painted in rainbows, frolicked by unicorns is tragically wrong.

On this given night, a crazy man plowed a van through a crowd of innocent people in Germany.  A deranged woman shot four people at the YouTube headquarters in San Francisco. And President Trump postured behind a podium, promised to build a wall, promised harsh consequences for any uninvited guest who mouses through cracks of our star-spangled foundation.

Haley frowns at the television. Her little fists tighten to little knots. She looks at me, worried, like she wants to ask big, serious questions–Why are so adults narrow-minded? So bitter? So destructive? What, in God’s rainbowed heaven, is fucking wrong with adults?

Later that night I set traps and went for a beer.

With my elbows on the bar, I received the following text from my wife:

“He’s slowly dying. There’s blood everywhere. He’s still making noises.”

The next day morning, as I drove with Haley tucked in the backseat, we held a conversation:

“Dad, last night, you know how the mouse was still alive in the trap…”

“Yes.”

“…how it was squeaking…”

“I know.”

“… well, did you kill it?”

A child’s youth passes uncomfortably fast for a parent.

Sometimes it’s hard to look at my daughter, like I’m keeping a secret from her. I realize she toes the most difficult years of her life. I know she’ll soon be run off her feet by cruelty– the human cruelty that is the star of the nightly news.

The cruelty that a hammer and I are capable of.

“Yes, Haley. I killed the mouse.”

“Why? He was just a little mouse.”

I eyed Haley through the rear-view mirror. She turned away from me, brought her knees up to her chest and looked beyond her window to find a world scrubbed of glitter, void of unicorns and fanged with adults poised to do monstrous things.

Be well,

Jay

The Air Max 90 (Or The First Time I Learned About Envy)

This week’s publication is dedicated to my friend and fellow writer Deb Dauer, who recently passed away from complications caused by ALS. 

Although my time with Deb was brief, she taught me to live, to write with courage and spirit and that true happiness can only be found in the connections you make. 

Thank you and be well my friend. 

What I’ve found that it is connections with other people that really make me happy. And in turn time and experiences with them.—Deb Dauer 


At 10 years old I learned about envy.

It was 1990 and Nike had just released the Air Max 90 sneaker.

To the uniformed catholic school boys, sporting navy blue slacks, yellow dress shirts, navy blue ties all accented with black pleather shoes, which were sold exclusively at a local mom-and-pop shoe store that resembled a shoe museum rather then a working shoe store, fashion-wise—gym class was a big deal.

A pre-adolescent parade of parent-bought sneakers.

In a corner of the gym, a gym which was actually an oversized classroom,  stood a loose ring of cool boys— all wearing Air Max 90s.

They were fingering their soles, the soles with the little plastic window that might have been windows into their young souls because the boys were outwardly happy—laughing and smiling and worshiping the Made-in-China-Manna stitched with a Swoosh, that fell from Heaven and slid onto their feet.

Picture courtesy of soletheory.com

Across the gym/classroom I stood on my assigned red dot, alone, staring down at my  pedestrian sneakers.

I felt something sour inside. A sudden smallness. An inferiority.  A failure to appreciate what I had.

 It had nothing to do with running faster or jumping higher.

The Nike Air Max 90s were cool. And at 10 years old, I was learning the world was cruelly split into two— the cool and the uncool.

At 38, as a parent and writer I’m constantly comparing myself to others.

Which makes me feel like I’m in gym class all over again—standing outside the circle of well-laced people, hoping for inclusion.

Let me be clear—comparison is not a healthy practice. Comparison will always prevent you from discovering and maintaining lasting happiness.

I teach my children and my students that envy is a corrosive emotion. A cancer that will always lead to dissatisfaction which often trigger destructive behavior. Yet I’m guilty of envy, of comparisons.

I told you last week I meet a young woman who was an aspiring fitness blogger.

She had a defined blogging niche and a growing audience. She was 15 years younger than me, had been writing for only a few months and spoke with a confidence and coolness that I was envious of.

After she pulled from our conversation, waited at the bar for another Pinot Grigio, I couldn’t help but feeling like I was back standing on my red dot in gym class, looking down at my unbranded sneakers, feeling small again.

I know self-inflicted comparisons hurt. Yet this knowledge doesn’t stop me.

Like knowing too much tequila triggers  nuclear hangovers and liver disease and bad decisions yet still we fasten our sombrero, throw caution to the wind and drink more than we should.

A year later, in 1991, Nike released the Air Max 91. When my neighbor got the Air Max 91s, I bought his Air Max 90s for $20.

I remember how that night I went home and tried out my new/old shoes in the backyard.

The Air Maxs didn’t make me run faster or jump higher. I didn’t feel cooler or happier with them on my feet. It fact, I was uncomfortable. The shoes were a size too big and insoles were molded to the topography of my neighbor’s feet.

As a father and writing teacher, I want my children and students to be authentic and honest with themselves. Be affable to their dreams. Invest in their uniqueness and voice.

I want them to know no matter what products the world flexes on them, no matter the level of success their competition achieves, sustained happiness is purely a product of authenticity.

Now, like an adult, it’s my responsibility to heed my own advice.

Be well.

Jay

I’m now 38 and finally confident enough to admit I’m lost

I turn 38 this week.

And with official entrance into the late-thirties rodeo, I’ve finally gained enough confidence to admit –I’m lost.

A few weeks ago at a party, I fell into a conversation with a young woman who recently graduated from college.  A mutual friend introduce me as a “writer” and informed me that young woman had started a blog.

“A blog. That’s great.What do you write about?”

“Thanks,” she smiled and nodded, “It’s a fitnesss blog. I’m currently training for my third full marathon and I’ve always enjoyed writing. I feel now I have some experience and knowledge to share with the young adult fitness niche.”

“Sounds great.”

“So, what do you write?”

I smiled, “Words.”

Not amused, she pressed, “Seriously, what do you write? What’s your niche?”

Niche is a popular word in the modern writing community.  Niche is your area of specialization–fitness, parenting, politics, education, drunken knittting.

The internet affords anyone the ability to start a blog and write on absolutely any subject. And any modern writing tutorial will explain the importance of having a clearly defined niche–especially in the hyper-competive internet age. 

Write well about a specific subject, write well for a specific audience,and over time you’ll achieve success.

“I write stories. Mostly personal stories, about… well about a lot subjects.”

“How long have you been writing?”

“Everyday for two years. And I’ve published at least one story each week over that time.”

She took a sip of her Pinot Grigio, “Cool. So…what’s your niche?”

I hesitated, did a quick inventory of the everything I’ve written and said, “You know, I don’t know my niche. I guess…I guess, I’m lost.”

Over the past calendar year,  I have explored a variety of subjects. 

Below you will find 13 excerpts from stories I have written over the last year.

Each on a different niche, each furthering my lostness.

On Marriage

In the throes of life, when life is not romantic as hell, the health of a marriage hinges on those little, private moments that you create for one another.

It’s in those moments where you reconnect, rediscover each other all over again.

(From: How to Save a Marriage, published March 2, 2018)

On Love

A chronically sick man (me) whose hands are shaking, whose body aches, whose teetering on the edge of self-destruction is sitting beside his wife in a Las Vegas ballroom. They’re high school sweethearts. They have three children together. But seven months ago things suddenly got harder.

And yet she still takes notes.

As the professor speaks and the damaged brain that holds the screen looms like a thundercloud over the room with her free hand, she reaches across the table to hold his hand, to ease him, to feel his pain.

(From: Taking Notes: A Love Story, Published on February 16, 2018)

September, 2017

On Masculinity

Young men, like the gods we dress ourselves up to be, often believe we are the sole creators of our success and happiness. So we distance ourselves from others.

We forge fantasies.

We mask our unhappiness and insecurity with false bravado and empty dreams. We puff out our chest, turn our hat backwards and pretend we’re in control of our life and that fate is just a motif found in ancient Greek theater.

(From: The Love Story That Almost Never Happened, published on February 23, 2018)

On Courage

“Do you have any advice on how to cross a threshold?”

“Crossing a threshold is often mental. The initial fear of just transitioning from one place to the next often prevents us from progression. But when you find the nerve to finally cross, you realize there was nothing to fear at all. ”

I stood up, shook his hand, said I was looking forward to seeing him in six months. He smiled, spun away, opened the door and disappeared.

I slipped on my coat and strode through the threshold, from the examination room into the hall and back into life.

A life born of thresholds, waiting patiently for us to simply brave up and cross.

(From: How to Cross a Threshold, published on March 16, 2018)

On Writing

Writing is a contradictory experience.

Writing is more about the reader then the writer. Yet the fate of the relationship is solely the writer’s responsibility. The writer has to sacrifice and bleed and refuse compression for the relationship to work.

There were times in 2017 I didn’t bleed for you. Sometimes I winced. I wrote for clicks and likes and shares. I wrote easy. I was a glory whore.

In 2018 I resolve to do a better job writing for myself. I need to write hard. I need to bleed for me. Not for recognition. And not for you.

This is not to shut you out.

I need to be more selfish, more self-examining to engage you on a more honest, more visceral level.

In 2018 I promise to work on me so that we can work on us.

Together I hope we find better ways to appreciate our lives, to tell our stories so when the time is right–we may find our way back to each other.

(From: She Doesn’t Read Your Blog Anymore: The Most Important Lesson I Learned in 2017, published on December 29, 2017)

May, 2017

On Education in America

These are hard moments.

Every time I learn about another school shooting I recoil and shake my head as if to say this is sad. This is so fucking sad.

What happened to the great American school experience that so many of us knew and enjoyed?

The one where you went to school and lived. The one where you pledge allegiance to a flag that you believed would protect you.

With all these dead children in the news, sometimes I feel guilty thinking about my daughter sitting at her desk, alive.

(From:The Great American School Experience: Hide in the Closet, Stay Quiet, and Hope Not To Die, published on March 23, 2018)

Original artwork by Haley Armstrong

On Health

A chronic illness unnerves you.

For years I endured moral freezes. I couldn’t think, decide. I couldn’t, as my old soccer coach would bark, “get my shit together.”

Like a high stakes game of hide-and-go-seek, success in life is often predicated on our curiosity, our desire to seek until we find what we are looking for.

But what happens when you’re sick and short on energy? What happens  after years of blood tests, biopsies, scans and observations experts still shrug and admit they don’t know?

What happens when you simply can’t find what you’re looking for?

(From: Accepting Uncertainty: The Most Important Question a Chronic Illness Patient Can Ask, Published on January 12, 2018)

On Work

Work is a tricky thing.

Immersing yourself in work for only a paycheck is a soul-sucking existence. Working for personal fulfillment is righteous but doesn’t pay the electric bill.

Maybe, if we look hard enough, we find work that fills a previous void.

(From: Let’s Take A Look At My 11th Grade Report Card, published on October 13, 2017)

On Change

Intuition does not get easier with age.

Self-reliance comes with a real cost.

And a fear of judgement lingers long after high school.

I can only hope that you find the courage to trust yourself, to take the risk to be heard.

You’re impressionable–miles away from figuring out who you are and yet you’re about to change in immense and unknown ways.

Change for yourself and what you believe is right for you.

Trust your change.

(From: Trust Your Change: A Commencement Address, published on June 22, 2017) 

June, 2017

On Being 19

When you’re 19, life gets complicated.

Choices become harder, they have more gravity and greater consequence. Time is suddenly finite. Reality is tangible. You realize you need to do something with your life. And as sad as it is, you realize your on the verge of comprising your dreams to appease the status quo.

(From: A Moment With Tom Petty, published on October 5, 2017)

On Redefining Yourself

Redefining yourself is not easy. It’s scary.

You’re not a kid but you fear judgement and criticism the way you did in high school. And sometimes redefining yourself becomes dangerous work. Drugs, alcohol and other destructive habits become your new definitions.

But I’ve learned that if you redefine yourself positively and purposefully you can tap new potentials.

When you write your new definitions you find new ways to in be strong and empowered and your life is suddenly swirling with exciting possibilities. You discover new energies. New angles. You begin to realize your potential.

(From: The Scary Work of Redefining Yourself, published November 3, 2017)

On Fatherhood

It’s become clear, fatherhood is not about meddling or interjecting or inflicting my will on you or filling your head with fiction.

In fact, fatherhood really isn’t about the father at all. It has and always will be about the livelihood of the child.

In 9 years you’ll be 18 and things will have undoubtedly change.

You’ll be driving yourself. You’ll be standing at the cusp of adulthood and may not need me the way you do now.  But despite my dwindling demand, my job description remains.

You need the dad who drove you and your mother home from the hospital 9 years ago. A dad to remain vigilance and focus.

You’ve entrusted me to listen, eliminate distractions, anticipate danger, embrace the incredible and enjoy the ride.

And my girl, I don’t want to let you down.

(From Defining Fatherhood: A Letter to My Daughter on Her 9th Birthday, published on April 14, 2017)

April, 2017

On Happiness

Happiness and gratitude are a package deal.

You can’t be happy and ungrateful at the same time. Show gratitude and you’ll find happiness.

Chase (my 7 year old son )and Deb (my friend with ALS) confirmed what I already knew, what most of us know — that relationships are the fruits of happiness. A 7 year old boy, a dying woman cemented such truth — we are fragile and finite but in relationships we find strength, we experience forever.

Why is such simplicity so hard to understand? Why do we foolishly think that one more material possession will sprout the happiness we so desperately desire?

And so if growing up is a just matter of perspective, it’s curious to think that we’ll spend so much pain, energy and money trying to realize what we knew all along.

Because real, lasting happiness requires you to do uncomfortable things. Let go. Give up. Be honest. Move on. Admit flaws. Admit mistakes. Accept judgment.

(From: What My 7 Year Old Son and A Friend With A Terminal Illness Said About Happiness, published on December 8, 2017)

October, 2017

~~~

“It was nice meeting you,” the young woman smiled, moved to the bar, poured another Pinot Grigio and struck up a conversation with a young woman holding a plate of pita chips.

I don’t have a niche.

I’m not a blogger. I’m not concerned with SEO or affiliate links or popular trends. I’m not here to tell you about 5 easy ways to find romance or 3 foods you must eat before lunch or how to survive a nuclear apocalypse.

And I’m not a fiction writer either. I do not have the patience and imagination to create new worlds for invented characters to get drunk in, have sex in, slay dragons, rob banks, bypass time, build robots, dismantle bombs, dismantle children, befriend tigers and on one fateful afternoon, get shot and tumble into lifelessly into a swimming pool.

I’m 38 now– eight years too old to lie to myself.

I’m lost. I don’t have a niche.

All I have are my experiences, my voice, my conviction to write as truthfully as I can and a growing desire to be found.

Be well,

Jay

The Great American School Experience: Hide In The Closet, Stay Quiet, and Hope Not To Die

They were still bagging up bodies at Stoneman Douglas High School when my 9 year old daughter told me her plan.

“We would hide in the closet.”

“Really? That’s all?”

“Yes, teacher told us that if there is an intruder we are to hide in the closet and stay quiet.”

I didn’t tell her that that plan wouldn’t work. I didn’t tell her if an intruder powered into her school, the first place they would look would be in the closets. No matter how quiet she was.

I also didn’t tell her that, intruder, is too advanced of a word for a 4th grader.

Intruder is a 7th grade word saved for learning about Cesar, the Roman Empire and barbarian migration.

As a parent and a teacher myself, I go to work scared now.

Today, in America, students and teachers pack their lunches, zip their school bags, go to school and die. They’re shot stepping off the bus, eating their Peanut Butter & Jelly, spinning their locker dial, and hiding quietly in closets like they were told.

In April of 1999, when I was 19, I sat in my Pennsylvania living room, watching students sprint out the double-doors of Columbine High School, across the green Colorado grass as police officers stood behind trees with leveled shotguns.

I, like most of America, was naive then. We believed that the massacre at Columbine High School was an isolated incident. An aberration. Two angry boys who slipped through the metaphorical cracks and found an armory of guns.

We said prayers, held hands and vigils and went back to school shaken but confident a tragedy like Columbine would never happen again.

It couldn’t. This was America.

Original artwork by Haley Armstrong

On Tuesday morning a student entered my classroom and announced there was another school shooting–the 17th school shooting in the first 11 weeks of 2018.

“Mr. Armstrong, did you know America now averages 1.5 school shooting a week?”

The closet in my daughter’s classroom is a long, narrow closet in the back of the room where the students hang their coats on little hooks and place their lunch bags on wooden shelves.

The closet has two doorways framed in white yet both are without doors. There’s no furniture inside the closets to hide behind. No bulletproof vests hanging from those little hooks. No trapdoors that drop the fourth graders into an underground tunnel system that mazes through the earth and branches into lite hallways that leads each child safely back to their bedrooms, leaving the booted intruder locked and loaded in an empty closet.

“Can you believe that Mr. Armstrong? Another school shooting.”

My daughter’s name is Haley. Cindy and I picked out the name months before she was born.  There was no debating. No coin flips. Our daughter would be forever Haley. And that was that.

Cindy was in labor with Haley for 16 hours. At one point the doctor peeked over Cindy’s knees and remarked how she refuses come out, “as if she’s hiding.”

As if, even before she was born, she was preparing for life in the American school system.

I cleared my throat, “Do you know where the shooting happened?”

“Somewhere in Maryland I think.”

“You think?”

“I’m sure. It was in Maryland.”

These are hard moments. Every time I learn about another school shooting I recoil and shake my head as if to say this is sad. This is so fucking sad.

What happened to the great American school experience that so many of us knew and enjoyed?

The one where you went to school and lived. The one where you pledge allegiance to a flag that you believed would protect you.

With all these dead children in the news, sometimes I feel guilty thinking about my daughter sitting at her desk, alive.

Right now she’s in math class–her favorite class. The teacher calls attention and spins and writes a multiplication problem on the board and challenges the class to solve it in under 30 seconds.

Haley flashes a smile. A smile that’s missing teeth but is unmistakably hers.

She tucks her blonde hair behind her ears and lets her pencil work the problem in her notebook.

The sun slants through the classroom windows on a fine American morning.

It’s spring outside. And a pair of eager yellow daffodils have pushed through the mulch outside her classroom and sway in the cool breeze.

And inside the classroom it’s warm and encouraging and my daughter is smiling. My daughter is alive and learning.

The way the great American school experience should be–always and forever.

Be well,

Jay

How to Cross a Threshold

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.–Marcus Aurelius

I saw my neurologist today.

After reviewing a recent MRI of my brain, he informed me that the deterioration that plagued my cerebellum appears to have stopped.

“That can happen?”

“Yes. In some cases, brain atrophy can stop.”

“Well, I guess that’s good news.”

He flashed a smile, leaned back in his chair and said, “That’s great news. Four years later…your brain is showing signs of stability.”

Like every previous visit, my neurologist put me thorough a series of tests.

Follow his finger with my eyes. Touch my nose, touch his finger. Open my mouth, stick out my tongue, cluck my tongue. Snap my fingers. Clack my heels on the floor. Stand up, sit down.

He opened the examination room door, turned, “you know the drill,” and I stood up and followed him out into the hallway.

I walked to the end of the hall, arms by my side, made a controlled turn–as if vying for my driver’s permit– and walked back to him.

“Your gait looks good. You’re walking more confidently then you have in years.”

“Thanks.”

We moved back into his office and sat down. He picked up a microphone that was corded to his computer and began dictating the results of my tests. Despite extensive cerebellum damage, the patient’s gait has shown improvement… . 

I commented how when I first meet him, four years ago, he had to scribble down test results and appointment notes by hand.

He smiled, “Yes, this will definitely stave off carpal tunnel for a few more years. But to be honest, I miss the old-fashion thrill of physical note-taking.  But…things change. Do you have any other questions?”

“I do. This may sound weird…I get a little uneasy around thresholds and doorways. You know, like I’m afraid to transition or something.  Is it normal for people with cerebellar damage to have trouble crossing thresholds?”

He leaned back into his seat and crossed his legs, “The brain is wonderful mystery. Even a healthy brain can find thresholds problematic. It’s something primitive. Like the fear the primitive man must have felt while standing barefoot on some rocky ledge, looking for someplace to go.  Crossing from room to room, from one plane to next has always troubled people. Evolution has ingrained it in our psyche. We’re simply afraid of transitions.”

Of course it wasn’t intentional, but he just conducted an unauthorized, in-office autopsy on my life.

“Do you have any advice on how to cross a threshold?”

“Crossing a threshold is often mental. The initial fear of just transitioning from one place to the next often prevents us from progression. But when you find the nerve to finally cross, you realize there was nothing to fear at all. ”

I stood up, shook his hand, said I was looking forward to seeing him in six months. He smiled, spun away, opened the door and disappeared.

I slipped on my coat and strode through the threshold, from the examination room into the hall and back into life.

A life born of thresholds, waiting patiently for us to simply brave up and cross.

Be well,

Jay

Nobody Cares and Other Truths I Learned During My Two Years of Writing

This week marks two years of showing up, sitting down and writing–everyday.

Some days I pumped out thousands of words. On others, I farted a few foul sentences and went about my day.

But such is the writing life.

When I first committed to writing, I held a secret position that green writers often hold– I wanted everyone to care about my writing as much as I did.

Whether it’s writing a book or losing 20 pounds we want people to acknowledge our efforts with a smile, a hug and the coveted big blue Facebook thumb.

When I launched my website I wanted people to stop what they were doing and care. I wanted people to read and be inspired. I wanted invitations to  guest speak at conferences and wanted strangers to approach me with a nervous smile, offer a compliment and ask for a picture.

Vanity? Absolutely.

But the novice is almost always too vain for their own good.

The novice falls in love with their own fiction. A love affair that, if it doesn’t end in divorce, will certainly pin them to a barstool or a therapist’s couch or sometimes both for quite a while.

Here’s What I’ve Learned

I’ve learned writers are architects.

We want people to slow down, take pictures, tell their friends and admire what we’ve built, brick by brick, word by word.

We want recognition for our ability to craft stories and mortar ideas that stretch into the sky and, if the timing is right, throw some cool shade across the world.

I’ve learned that every subject has already been written about by writers much more talented than myself.

I’ve learned that the novice would rather dream than work. The novice wants achieve maximum results for minimum effort.

Original artwork by Haley Armstrong

There are three phases of the writer: novice, intermediate and professional.

I’m not a professional. Stephen King and Annie Lamont are professionals. They can offer insight on how to gain access to the heavily guarded compound where the professionals work.

However, I’ve graduated from novice to intermediate. My finely matted diploma marred with failures, doubt, fear and marginal successes proves I’m now qualified to reflect on my education.

If you’re thinking of pursuing a writer’s life or striding into the gym later today,  here’s the hard truth– nobody cares.

This is not to demean or passively-aggressively guilt you into caring.

The novice writer thinks everybody cares. The intermediate writer writes as if nobody cares.

The novice writes for attention. The intermediate writes for herself.

The novice writer writes when she’s inspired. The intermediate writes until she’s inspired.

Though she does appreciate them, the intermediate doesn’t write for blue thumbs. She likes praise but knows how dangerous it is to weave definitions from the threads of praise.

The intermediate enjoys the strain of the workout. A gym rat. A library mouse.

The intermediate pumps out 3,000 crappy words just to find 500 good words.

The intermediate is busy learning about truth and doesn’t realize that by learning her own truths she’s helping others discover their own.

The intermediate knows that even though writing is a vanity project– meaningful, enduring writing is always about the reader and always laced humility, sincerity and vulnerability.

She knows that other writers are scratching out posts, articles and books faster than she can and she doesn’t care. When she was a novice she stewed with jealousy. She’s now genuinely happy for other people’s accomplishments, but remains focused on her own goals.

And the intermediate knows there are miles of untraveled truths that need visiting before she can even pull into the parking lot where the professionals work.

This post marks two years of writing everyday and publishing a piece at least once a week.

Tonight, I’ll celebrate with a cold beer and some Charles Dickens. And then, when the 14.9 ounces of self-adoration ends, I will quietly return to my computer write again–as if nobody cares.

Be well,

Jay

PS–Thank you to everyone who has made the journey with me over the years. Thank you to anyone who has shared my work, offered a line of support or gifted me a big blue Facebook thumb. Thank you for welcoming my writing into your life.