Tag Archives: inspiration

Walking by Starlight

Happy Easter, dear readers!

While picking up some old, nostalgic Hillsongs praise & worship albums off iTunes, I spotted the latest release from Bethel Music:

Starlight

Since I’ve started playing music for the base chapel again, I decided it might be worthwhile to get some current music.

While I have my concerns about the praise & worship industry and the seeming endless stream of albums it churns forth, I admit I like finding powerful music that conveys an age-old truth in a fresh way.

I picked one of the song titles to get an idea of some of the album’s music, and went with “Catch the Wind.” The keys caught my attention at once, airy and flighty but energetic and driving. The message of the chorus hit home as exactly what I wanted:

Your faithfulness will never let me down

I’m confident I’ll see Your goodness now

I know You hear my heart, I’m singing out

There’s nothing that can stop Your goodness now

The song has flowing, rhythmic verses and a deliberate, declarative chorus on the beat, a nice contrast that I enjoy both musically and spiritually. It’s not really a “sing this in church with the congregation” song in my mind, but it’s a great meditative song I’ll listen to in the car or in my personal quiet time.

I also listened to “There’s No Other Name” and discovered a favorite in
“Take Courage.” To read about those two (and catch a video of the latter), check out my original post here at my new website address and give it a follow for more.

The Finest Spirits #BlogBattle entry

Genre: Fantasy

Word prompt: Liquid

On the jagged, winding road that slopes down into the Pit of Hell, inside a little dim-lit crevice nestled between the lost souls begging for someone to drag them out and the angelic patrols enforcing the justice of Heaven, there’s this hole-in-the-wall dive that’s worth a pit-stop.

Pit stop, get it? I kill me… which is part of why I’m here. 

Being a shade stuck in Limbo ain’t so bad as it sounds. I got skills from my time in the flesh–after twenty-three years on the beat with a badge, I know how to find what people are looking for, whether it’s a rogue demon giving the angels trouble or a way back for a vengeful victim.

I don’t know the name of the joint. It’s got some kinda Japaneezy scribbles on account of the Oni that runs the place. I try to steer clear of him and his goons. But I keep visiting because they got the best spirits anywhere –above, on the earth, or below, there’s no place like it.

Plus there’s a girl. Of course there is.

The bouncers know me, but I still get a quiver in what used to be my spine when they look at me with those blood red eyes and sharp black horns. They wave me on, but entrance is never free. Just inside the door sits a gangly, rat-faced creature, all done up in a hooded robe and ornate jewelry. He’s the Oni’s info-broker, a dealer in secrets, the only currency that’s any value in this establishment.

I know things, stuff that people would like to think they kept hidden in life. Like I said, decades of detective work. Half my mind is full of tidbits the Oni would accept. The info somehow gives him leverage over people this side of the grave–I don’t know how it works and I don’t need to.

I just need to see her.

The music is thumping inside–sounds like a busy night. After scrawling my offering in the air with flaming glyphs that vanish a second later, Rat-face waves me on and I step through the thick obsidian doors.

The atmosphere is like a swank club back upstairs, with a dance floor and plenty of private seating booths. Some back rooms support larger groups, like the revenants and emo types, the vampires and ghosts that can’t talk about anything other than how much they’re suffering and loathing the crushing burden of their deathless existence. I can’t stand their type. At least when I offed myself, I didn’t make some big, long show of it, and I didn’t spend the rest of eternity talking about it down here.

The real attraction is the bar, of course, and plenty of uglies are clustered around it putting in their orders. The barkeep, Jimmy Two-Claws, spots me beyond the sea of faces and pulls a bright bottle off the shelf. “The usual, Dom?”

“Nothing but.”

They got some kind of tracking system worked out, where Rat-face notifies the bar how much you got on your account based on the value of the secret. Mine should get me twenty minutes.

I find an empty booth and pop the cork. Radiant steam curls out of the bottle, expanding into a humanoid cloud. Then it solidifies in the seat next to me, and Innova appears. Her hair shimmers a rainbow like mother-of-pearl. The embodiment of Inspiration, her skin illuminates the booth with fluorescence like a human lightbulb. She stretches her perfect form and cocks her head like she’s loosening stiff joints in her neck. The sight of her fills me with energy, makes me feel alive again, like I could do anything I want.

That’s how it works. The Oni serves up spirits. You pay a secret, you get to spend some time with whatever you like. Creativity, Adventure, Love, Happiness and the like for the good-hearted. Strife, Jealousy, Avarice, Wrath and such for the rougher crowd. Bottles of every color adorn the shelf behind the bar, every one of them holding spirits trapped by the Oni, earning their freedom night by night depending on how many customers they can bring in.

I wonder how much longer it’ll take my girl to escape this hole.

“You look good, Innova. As always.”

“And what dreams can I inspire within you tonight, Dom?”

“Come on. You know you don’t have to keep up the act with me, babe.”

Innova laughs. “Maybe with you it’s not an act,” she purrs.

“We’ve shared too many last calls for that. I’m here for you, not your spiel.”

She smiles, then slouches in the seat and watches the crowd, the sign that she’s finally being herself instead of what people expect.

One of the staff approaches a couple in a secluded booth with an unopened bottle on the table, the contents a deep crimson, glowing from within. Romance, I’m guessing, or maybe Lust. Probably hoped to rekindle something, but neither one made a move to pop the cork. 

“Doesn’t look good for those two,” I say, and Innova nods. 

This is how we pass the time together–watching the desperate slobs that come in, guessing at what drives the choices they make, wondering what choices led them here in the first place.

“Check out these idiots,” Innova says, pointing to the dark room full of emo kids. A waitress brings them another round of black bottles–spirits of despair.

I listen close and hear a woman’s voice, gritty like a smoker, reading over a soft-tapped rhythm. “Shadows swirl and roll, a collision in my glass-imprisoned soul, this vessel can’t hold the full measure of my sorrow, pour it out tonight, tomorrow there’s more there. One day I’ll be free… what place waits for me? Nowhere.

“Oh god. Are they doing beat poetry?”

“I tried to offer Despra some tips once,” Innova says of the other spirit. “But she and I aren’t on speaking terms since that ill-fated Karaoke contest last month.” She shakes her head and mutters, “Despra should not sing Disney songs, like, ever.”

“Bet that was a wreck.”

Innova shifts and glances at the hell spawn near the bar. He’s glaring at me, his yellow eyes watching like a predator in the wild. 

“Time’s almost up, Dom.” She’s nervous, eying her bottle-prison with displeasure.

“I’ll pay for more, no problem.”

The second the words leave my mouth, Rat-face is at my side, a toothy grin splitting his lips, his rotting breath leaking out with a hiss. Between my need to avoid him as long as possible and my desire to give Innova a reason to keep smiling, I dig up a really good secret from the back of my mind. Juicy details on the intimate indiscretions of certain angelic patrols that aren’t coming down this way for duty.

Once Rat-face is gone, Innova relaxes and puts her hand in mine. “You didn’t have to pay that much,” she says.

“Just helping work off your debt to the Oni.”

Innova brushes her hand through her hair. “Do you realize how much you just put on your account? You couldn’t spend it all tonight.”

I shrug. “I’ll be by tomorrow, then.”

“I know you will.” She hesitates, then leans close. “Or… do you see that violet bottle on the top shelf?”

“The dusty one? Looks like it hasn’t been touched in years.”

She nods. “Generosity isn’t a common companion this side of the pearly gates. Would you do me a favor?”

I already know what she’s getting at. “Sure. I’ll by a shot. Hey Jimmy!”

A moment later, Innova and I work together to pop the cork. A wave of giddiness hits me as it launches across the booth, and we collapse in laughter. 

Then I hear myself talking like an idiot. “Jimmy, you know what? Get everyone another round of whatever they’re having–on me!”

The bar erupts with cheers and applause. Even the hardest toughs give me a nod or raised glass in respect. And I’m sitting here wondering what the heck just happened. 

Several bottles get passed throughout the crowd. Spirits appear at the bar, in booths, on the dance floor, at pool tables… all across the place, their grateful, liberated faces flash me and Innova a smile. 

I jam the cork into the bottle of Generosity before I say anything else stupid. Then I shoot Innova a glare. She gives me a sheepish grin. “Think of how many you just released,” she says. “How much closer they are to freedom. Do you feel the positive energy in the room right now?”

“You knew that would happen.”

Innova shrugs, feigning innocence. “What can I say? It’s my job to inspire others.”

When I finally leave, just before what passes for dawn in this hellhole, I pause to consider if I’m coming back tomorrow. Then I realize, who am I kidding?

I walk up the slope, picturing Innova’s smile and running down the list of secrets bouncing around in my head.

Bullet Journal Part 2: Personalization

In my first Bullet Journal post, I talked about the results I tracked during the first month testing out how I liked the system.

In this post, I wanted to share a few of the personal touches from my journal. 

A look through social media or Google Images for anything “bullet journal” might return wild results that look more like a scrapbooking site than some quick and easy system for tracking tasks.

Some argue there’s a difference between bullet journals (which have little to no complexity, basic subjects, simple uses) versus the “omnijournals” where people are tracking anything and everything, from books to read, to which episodes of Dexter they’ve watched, usually with impressive calligraphy, artwork, colorful inks, and even art supplies like stamps, stencils, and washi tape. It can get expensive if you go all out, but the system can function just as well in a 69 cent memo pad. 

While I think the minimalist version has great usefulness and merit, I’m too artsy and doodle-prone to be content with that. So when I found an article called “The Comic Book Journal” on the bullet journal site blog, I decided that was closer to what I wanted. This allowed me to capture some moments and memories, like a family trip to a restaurant, some time relaxing in the shade of Okinawan banyan trees, and a silly drawing to remind me to avoid superficial garbage and distractions. 

Here’s what worked for me: 

Beyond the basics (index, future log, monthly spread, daily entries), I adopted a more complex monthly format that allows tracking of recurring activities–great for building habits and checking progress toward goals. 

A lot of the purpose of the bullet journal is to serve as a brain dump memo pad which can quickly feed into indexed sections based on the content. Someone recommends a good book? Jot it in the daily notes, so that later you can put it into the “books to read” spread. Hear a line that inspires you? Add it to a motivational quotes spread for mental fuel when you need a pick-me-up or a kick in the procrastination. When the spouse says “We need toilet paper next time we go to the store,” or when you realize the car needs a tune-up next month, put those on financial spreads split for short-term and long-term expenses. 

I loved pictures I found of a bookshelf spread with books you color in as you finish reading them, or popcorn kernels for movies you want to watch.  

Watching movies is clearly easier than reading books…

I have some fitness goals I want to reach, so I set up a tracker for push-ups, sit-ups, planks, and generic strength-focused workouts. I also put in a page for meal plans, so I can easily grab the right ingredients and put together lunches for a few days at a time. For my writing efforts, I put in a year-long word count spread with a color code for how many words I manage on a given day, and space to jot down writing ideas.  

It turns out twelve hour fly days don’t help me get a lot of writing done.

Some of the artistic pages incorporated ways to track or focus on gratitude, which I thought would help me maintain positive energy. I liked the gratitude “sunburst” the most, with rays for each day and then some.  


I viewed that as part of my month-long tracking, so a new sunburst got added for this month right before my February spread. The habit trackers have been great for pushing me toward making better decisions and achieving my goals. For example, last month I tracked whether I logged all my meals in my fitness pal, but this month I added a box for which days I kept below my calorie count. And while I don’t drink alcohol all the time and keep it to a small amount (a couple shots max) whenever I do imbibe, I decided a box for “no alcohol” was a way to force a conscious decision of “do you really want a drink?” The mental reward of checking a box that said I didn’t partake is enough to make me hesitate and actively consider the question rather than drinking just because it’s there. 


The artistic aspect of the way I’m doing my journal lets me capture memories and moments in pictures. Maybe it’s a character’s silly expression or a mindless doodle, but sometimes it’s an attempt to capture the way the sunrise painted amber on the tips of purple clouds, or the hilltop view overlooking the ocean with islands on the horizon. For me, these also break up the monotony of tasks and appointments in my journal, giving me something cool to look at when I flip through the pages.

A drawing of some sunrise clouds with touches of amber on the tips.
A view from a high hill overlooking the sea on the horizon

All of that said (and shown), this is just what I found kept me motivated and engaged in these areas I wanted to track. My format might not work for every reader. 

The personalization makes all the difference. 

I have a co-worker friend of mine who started setting up his Bullet Journal, and he paged through mine to get some ideas. We talked at length about what I used and why, but from the get-go, he proclaimed he wanted the minimalist arrangement, nothing elaborate or frilly. I stopped in his office today and saw a Leuchtturm 1917 opened with a number of familiar spreads–all of them clean and neat, black and white, crisp and sharp. Most of all, I noticed the bright smile on his face as he showed off his work in progress. I recognize that happiness–it’s the same sensation I feel about my Bullet Journal, even though mine is full of varied letter shapes, random doodles, and colored pencils. 

Do you “BuJo” ? (confession: I hate that word and I won’t be using it any more.) What have you found works for your needs? Do you go artistic or minimalist in your journal? Let me know in a comment. I’d love to see how you set up yours–maybe I’ll get a new idea for mine!

Where Did The Family Go?

“Where did you get that idea?”

It’s a question people often ask writers, especially when the writing goes to dark places. My wife worries about where I come up with some of my plot lines, particularly if I’m describing some evil deed or villainous plan a character is going to carry out.

While we sometimes have an inkling where and why the inspiration first struck, all too often it’s hard to nail down… hence the superstitious talk of “the Muse” and other ways we describe the inexplicable. 

But oftentimes, characters, dialogue, plots, and details slip into our writing because of something we’ve personally noticed in the real world. It’s one reason why writers go to coffee shops or outdoor cafes to people-watch. There are some real characters in the world auditioning for a role in our books!

So the other day I was on my way to a different base on island, and I got behind a small car with one of those stick-figure decals on the back window. This decal was a woman holding a microphone and singing.

As I looked closer, I realized she wasn’t alone, at least not originally. Where there should normally be a stick dad or stick spouse, some stick kids and maybe a dog or cat, someone instead had placed cut decals of black plastic over the other figures so that it almost seemed like they had never been there.


This made me wonder why, a question for which I couldn’t come up with any good answer. 

At best, perhaps the woman bought some family’s used car on island. It’s not hard to scrape off an unwanted decal, though. I also thought, perhaps she got divorced and covered up the family.

But to be honest, I can’t imagine covering up instead of removing, unless you wanted it to be obvious that at one point these four family members were there, and now they are not. It seemed like a small memorial of sorts, a way of calling attention to the undesired absence.

Then because I’m warped  creative, I began thinking of less uplifting possibilities. 

Could it have been a vicious divorce she didn’t want? Perhaps a husband fought for custody of the kids (and even the dog), and convinced the court she was unfit.

Was there some terrible car accident?

Did the family home burn down, claiming those lives? Most buildings on Okinawa are made to withstand typhoons, and aren’t that likely to go up in flames. What about a collapse due to an earthquake?

What about a Yakuza hit? Maybe she double-crossed a crime boss, and instead of killing her, he took out the family, knowing that living with the loss would be harder than dying. I could have been right behind the main character of an action / revenge story, the Japanese version of an 80s Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal film playing out in real life! Who knows!

So… if you ever purchase a used car that has someone else’s stick figure family on it, do all the writers a favor and remove the remnants. Don’t simply cover it up, because I guarantee the story that gets made up will be way worse than the truth.

Whispers in the Wind

It’s time to write now,

Right now, this moment, create!

A world of options

_
To think that somehow

The prose, the poems that we make

Can last beyond us

_

A word legacy

Waves of rolling syllables

Flowing in our wake

_
“What’s the point,” I ask,

Afraid I know the answer:

Maybe there is none.

_
The question becomes:

If we’re mere whispers in wind

Will we not still speak?

The Chase

I see, from afar,

Fleeting glimpse of her fleeing

Playing hard to get 
This game that we play

Chase sensations and passions

Always reach for more

And she knows that I

I can’t just let her go, no

She knows I’ll chase her

This dance that we do

Cat and mouse meets the tango

She’s at it again

My inspiration

Curls a finger and beckons

Sighing, I follow

– 

I wrote this at a lovely Creative Writing workshop I attended this past weekend. The facilitator sang a series of haiku he had written years ago, accompanied on his acoustic guitar with something like a Spanish sound. I pictured a carousing and carefree pursuit during a fiesta through dusty, packed-earth streets in a Mexican town. He invited us to write our own haiku to show the variety of meanings and thoughts that could still fit the same rhythm and song.

I debated whether to go in the first place. My dance with my writing muse has been far from a cat-and-mouse, let alone something so intimate as a tango. More like “go sleep on the couch while I make an appointment with the divorce lawyer to draft the necessary paperwork.”

About a month’s worth of word count entries read ‘0’ and the status of my current projects remains unchanged. Scheduling a writers’ group has been problematic, and the pace of work only seems likely to increase. 

But the Muse crooks that painted nail at me and flashes that smile, and like it or not, here I go again. 

I’ve been listening to Brandon Sanderson’s recorded lectures on YouTube during down-time, and Stephen King’s On Writing audiobook in my car. Though the base library version is scratched up a bit–“theme is what unifies a novel into a plea- plea- plea- plea- pleasing whole”–there’s still so much down-to-earth insight that I can’t help but enjoy it.

He talks a lot about writer’s block while at the same time talking about–in his own life–putting his nose to the grindstone and pumping out several pages a day, every day, seven days a week, all year ’round, Christmas and the 4th of July included. 

He and his muse must get along a lot better than mine. (Actually he also talks about that, and his muse sounds like quite a jerk.)

The end result of the weekend is my little group of three or four writers can connect with a larger community in the initial forming stages on island. And I wrote a snippet of dialogue for Fantasy Series Book 3 (when book 2 is barely started). And there’s that poem.

But the word count didn’t show zero that day, so I’ll take it.

NaNo Swag!

I’ve got mail!

 

Supplies are limited!
 
An exciting batch of “swag” arrived from the organizers of National Novel Writing Month, a.k.a. NaNoWriMo… a stack of postcard-sized explanations of the event, and a small batch of stickers to give to participants. 

 

This year’s T-shirt design.
 
If you didn’t know, NaNoWriMo is an annual writing challenge where participants attempt to write a novel of at least 50,000 words between November 1st and November 30th.

It was the driving force behind me finishing my first book, Not to the Swift.

I’m a Municipal Liaison this year, which means I get to help organize events and tell people what’s going on so that interested writers can get together to share in the joy and misery. 

Also I got a sweet T-shirt.

 

I always thought NaNoWriMo sounded like the old Batman theme…
 
It’s one month away, and it costs nothing but effort and commitment. Whether you outline and plan every detail in a story, or loose wild characters into a fun setting to see what happens, it’s an exciting time to hone your craft.

And especially if you think, “Well, I can’t do that,” know that plenty of us said the same thing for years. Then we sat down and did it. So you can too, and we’d love to cheer you on along the way. 

There’s plenty of time to sign up.

Your imagination is waiting.

Echoes part 1

WattPad is running a contest / writing challenge for 2015. The goal is to write 10,000 words of a story within 30 days–originally within the month of August, but they’ve extended the deadline to September 30th to allow for those who may have started late. 

After NaNoWriMo last year, 10K seems like nothing!

I’ve posted the first chapter of my Echoes story to the site. I plan to have some fun exploring the world inside Hope’s head, and the interplay between Forsephore and her soon-to-be-revealed nemesis. I’ve already got the climactic confrontation sorted out in my head, more or less… but I feel there’s a lot of winding paths along the way that I can explore.

Care to join me? Check out Echoes

Here’s a glimpse of Hope and the host of Echoes that exist within her.

   

Wasting Time

Today’s been one of those “Why am I even bothering with writing?” days. Maybe none of you have them.

After a lot of moping and video games, then some inspirational videos on YouTube, I’ve come to a conclusion that serves as a good reminder to myself for next time:

Writing is not a waste of time. Worrying over that thought is.

Off to pick up the teen, then I’m getting back to work. These stories won’t write themselves.

Better Stories

I’m walking on my treadmill with my makeshift desk, typing out the broad-brush concept of my Echoes short story, thinking about the beliefs and possibilities we either cling to or cast aside.

“What weakens certain dreams?” I write. “What broke down the belief ‘I am beautiful’ or ‘I can be a writer’ or ‘I will find my true love’ in this fictional character? What breaks that down in each of us?”

Over the last few days, I’ve found new interest in conversations where co-workers discuss the struggles involved in trying to change their lifestyles or develop better, healthier habits. I’ve noted in myself as much as in others the ease with which we settle on the worst possible outcome in certain situations, seemingly assured by past experience that there’s no point in hoping for something better.

Sometimes the stories we tell ourselves really suck.

A muffled voice and motion in my peripheral vision gets my attention, and I pop out an earbud. 

“Daddy,” my wild middle boy asks, “can I go outside and play?”

“Sure, if Mom’s cool with it.”

He darts off, and I notice our 4 year old Dude trailing behind him down the hall. And back again, as his brother heads for the door wearing a sweatshirt hoodie on Okinawa. I call his brother back and tell him to change his shirt into something more appropriate to the humidity and heat. And there goes the Dude, following his brother back down the hall once more like a duckling with its mother.

Who do we follow in life? Who do we look to for inspiration? Whose statements about the world around us hold the most weight in our minds? Whose statements about us do we accept as obviously true?

I have a coworker and friend who is a fitness beast. He does all that CrossFit / TacFit stuff that scares the crap out of me… stuff where you pile a bunch of weights onto some torture device and walk down the street, or you lay out giant tires and pound them with sledgehammers, or you squat untill your legs erupt in fire like volcanoes (and then you squat some more). He and his wife built themselves a gym in the garage, and he posts pictures of their workout efforts fairly often.

He’s also a great photographer with a gift for capturing beautiful moments with his wife and kids. One of his recent pictures came to mind as a perfect example of what I’m writing about here:

 

There are people in your life that you inspire just by being you.
Photograph and copyright – Bryan Holm. Used with permission.
 
Who are we looking up to in life? Whose example are we consciously or unconsciously following?

And who might be looking at us, deciding what stories to believe about themselves based on our words and actions? 

Sometimes the stories we tell ourselves really suck. 

Write better ones.