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- Book Review by Clifford Brooks at Cutthroat Magazine (2/6/2016) - A Review by Clifford Brooks The Blue Demon Chad Prevost The Wing & The Wheel Press, Chattanooga, TN, 2014 ISBN-13: 978-1936196845 86 pages Chad Prevost’s thoughtful and dynamic use of ...
- Noetic: “Brown Penny” by William Butler Yeats (Analysis by Clifford Brooks III) (6/21/2018) - Please follow and like us:
- All Things Write Program (7/27/2018) - “Writing is a symphony when written right; a wonderland with enough wonder.” Join Clifford Brooks III and Celeste Duckworth, for All Things Write, where we will decipher the mysteries of ...
Poet | Writer | Teacher
Your magazine will only be as good as the quality of company you keep.
How do you create a successful literary journal? Today’s art scene is not short of magazines devoted to them. The internet opened the floodgates for a deluge of new ones. The cost to produce a print magazine is staggering. To publish one online, the startup fee is the price of a domain. The secret to staying in the game is a mix of traditional framework and innovative thinking.
Print magazines carry prestige. They’ve earned it. Online magazines, or ezines, must raise the bar with content and design if they hope to play the game. To gain momentum, the vision must be concise. Leave some room to grow and adapt. Teamwork is essential for true inclusion. Do not get mired in ego.
Five years ago The Blue Mountain Review walked into the world. After the Southern Collective Experience gained traction, Peter Ristuccia, an excellent friend of mine, suggested we create a literary journal. He’s the one who name the gorgeous beast. The two of us spoke for hours with an excitement kids enjoy on Christmas morning. That joy of art for itself alone is tantamount to breaking above mediocrity.
Here are 5 suggestions to follow to build a literary magazine that works:
- Ask Yourself, Why am I doing this?: Is this a vanity project, or a desire to elevate the quality of art? Be honest with yourself and check your heart. The intent behind anything eventually rears its head. If a genuine desire for creative inclusion doesn’t exist, the project won’t make it above room temperature.
- Hone Your Vision and Incorporate Teammates: What are you trying to accomplish with your idea? What genres to you plan to incorporate. The wider you cast your net artistically, the greater your potential audience. Choose editors that are experts in their field. Pick people who share your vision, but stay open to their suggestions. When you pull the right folks together for the right reason you’ll rarely hear a bad idea.
- Do Not Budge on Quality: Your magazine will only be as good as the quality of company you keep. If you set the standard, do not dip below it for any reason. When your primary goal is to publish the best, the best will come from all walks of life. It is better to have a few poems of exceptional quality than massive collection of fair-to-middling efforts.
- Do a Line-by-Line Edit: Go through every line before you release the final product. Mistakes happen, but integrity is built on proper grammar. If you strive for perfection, you’ll never get the goods to market. However, rushing creates a hasty end. Sometimes formatting is lost from acceptance of the submission to its arrival on the designer’s desk. Those whose work you accept deserve to have their work displayed as they penned it. It’s your job to see it’s printed that way.
- Put Time into Design: If the design chosen to showcase that work is sloppy it cheapens the overall product. This is where hiring a professional graphic designer is the best call and money spent. Find a designer who, like the editors, sees your endgame. Ask to see examples of their work and a resume. Let their imagination run with your energy. Listen to their aesthetic suggestions.
Creating a successful literary magazine is a titanic endeavor. Patience, people skills, eye for detail, and commitment to your vision are essential tools for this kind of literary construction. We decided to go with Issuu.com because it mimics the tactile experience of reading. Submittable is a great way to generate funding for design. Once you gain traction consider selling advertising.
Our decision to incorporate interviews with creatives from the art world as well as life experience came from adding an innovative spin on a traditional standby. Landscapers are artists. Booksellers are artists. Engineers are artists, and all of these people bring a fresh perspective and inspiration. These interviews reached outside the norm to define the BMR as a “journal of culture”.
I pray that these suggestions help you flesh out your dreams to create a successful literary journal. If you have any questions, please let me know. In the meantime, keep an eye out for the new Blue Mountain Review, and feel free to submit at any time.
Being happy isn't about deception. It's about being honest with yourself.
Honesty: It works, honestly.
Honesty is a brackish tack to swallow. Love is patient. Truth is not kind. Truth doesn’t care who’s right. Love and truth aren’t always in agreement. Love is a farce without honesty. How honest can you be without becoming brutal? Is it possible to poetry-speak something to death?
But seriously, this is how I think love works:
- Be Open: Don’t keep secrets. Do not compartmentalize. Personal space is essential, but a mental and emotional closeness/honesty keeps communication easier. The things you feel like can’t be discussed, need to be discussed. Be open to your partner and yourself.
- Keep Friendships Clean: We all know what talk is appropriate for “friends,” and talk for those “more than friends.” Men and women can be friends with zero fuss. A goal of all involved is to keep boundaries strong.
- Leave Fantasy to Itself: Reality is not a burden. At least, it shouldn’t be. It is a fist-fight often lost, sure. Throwing caution to the wind for a fantastic world where all troubles are immediately eased by one person – that’s a dumpster fire waiting to happen. Never put your faith in a human being. Never go to war with a noun.
- Learn What Makes Them Laugh: Laughter is medicine. In the pursuit of love, missteps are inevitable. An appropriate salve is equal parts humility and humor. Good time or bad, their laugh is music. Make it play often.
- Bring Up Issues Immediately: Do not bring issues up immediately hot. First evaluate why this event or individual hits a nerve. It’s a bad idea to let it linger. Once you understand yourself, be honest and lay it out for your partner.
These are a few ideas gleaned from the last year of my life. I am vocal about who I cherish, but private in our affairs. Too much on social media leaves too little for those in love. The backbone of love is balance, and balance is not a word often found on my lips.
God keeps all in perspective. Fallible creatures will fail. Putting anyone on a pedestal is an injustice to all-involved. I thank heaven every day for the understanding and calm I experience. A wonderful person to share it with is a tremendous blessing.
An interview is a keyhole into your life. Take it seriously.
There are many pitfalls on the creative road to success. How you beat these odds to gain respect and notoriety in the writing world is a herculean feat. Invariably others will want to know how you did it. This curiosity could come from a magazine with a desire to put your story in print.
I’m here today to give you a few tips on how you can take the misery out of your interview.
- Stay within the Guidelines: Often your Q&A will come with a set of instructions to follow when you return it. Read-them-closely. Follow them to the letter. If you need guidance, don’t be afraid to ask.
- Be succinct: Less is more. It is easy to go on and on and on in undigestable blocks of text. Feel free to gush out every thought in the draft process, but then go over every word to leave only those essential to your meaning. What one thinks is the whole truth and nothing but the truth, to the reader sounds windy and self-absorbed.
- Edit: It doesn’t cast you in the best light when bad grammar and misspellings litter every response. Do not depend on the one interviewing to comb through, correct errors, and follow up to make sure they guessed the correct intent. Submitting tightly-written and properly edited pieces will earn the undying gratitude of that journal, and others hoping for your input.
- Submit Only High-Quality Photos: You want this interview to snap. The flash will dull with photos of you and/or your book when the pictures are poor. It’s not the personal taste of the interviewer but if the graphic designer can use them. The specifications needed are listed in the guidelines. If you are unsure, ask.
- Be Brave and Fill in the Blanks: The interviewer is not in your head. If there was a particular person, trial, triumph, or epiphany that created the person you are today, but they fail to ask about it – ask them if you can fill in the blank. I urge those I interview to do that. Not only does it give their audience a full view of its subject, you don’t go away feeling something vital is missing.
- Abandon Ego: Do-not-take-everything-personally. If more information is needed, oblige. If the interviewer sees where fat needs to be trimmed, don’t take it as an insult. If the magazine needs better photos, it’s the quality of the photos – not your face. The journal you’re working with has an image and standard to uphold. All they want is to show you in the best possible light, and look professional doing it.
Other good tips are to stay on deadline. If an unforeseen event causes you to fall behind, immediately tell the magazine. We are all human, and in many cases, more time can be allowed. If you see an error in the interview once it’s published, politely send one email with the issue stated. It will be corrected if the Q&A is online. If it’s a print journal, I suggest more read-throughs and peers enlisted to fish out mistakes before it’s submitted. In the end both parties want a human appeal to an interview. Take the misery out of your interview by adding care and common sense to your creative mix.
Expect difficult people, but expect more of yourself.
Difficult people are a close third with death and taxes as unavoidable forces in life. The brighter you burn, the harder you work, the closer you come to your purpose – the chance you’ll encounter difficult people leaps exponentially. I’ve met a few difficult people, and I’ve been difficult more than once. The place I write from is one where I’ve been on both sides of the argument.
Manipulative individuals don’t like paperwork. The more someone urges you not to worry about a written agreement, the faster you should run away. Protect your investment. It’s good business. Publications, speaking engagements, advances on new projects, artwork commissions, and copyrights all require a contract. Keep your grip tight and legit from square one.
A quality attorney is quintessential to avoiding costly headaches. My dad told me, “Cliff, contracts save family and friendships.” True friends and real family will agree. Difficult people change the rules to suit their comfort level. Contracts keep everything clean. Signatures cannot be argued. Your art is your child. Contracts act as the kid’s health insurance.
Be empathetic, but not a pushover. Stand firm. Do not not be ashamed to say, “No.” If you get that “U-Oh Feeling,” something Greater is suggesting you take a moment to reflect. If it is a pain in your ass, and the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, you owe it to yourself to decline.
The best way to avoid difficult people is to surround yourself with good ones. Choose friends that keep your ego in check, understand your moods, gifts, foibles, and in spite of it all – loyal to the cause. There’s a natural, easy flow in relationships unburdened by pettiness. If a relationship is work, that’s to be expected. If it’s a chore, then you need to lighten the load.
Don’t let people rattle your cage. Don’t let the bastards get you down. I’ve written extensively on the chinks in my armor of self-esteem. If you can’t grow stronger, you’ll grow jagged – or give up. I try every day to be better than my mistakes. I fill my time with good works. Difficult people fill their emptiness with your anxiety. Why that’s true has no good answer. The only answer they deserve is, “No.”
Often the easiest way for a rebel to get in print is by following the rules.
To increase your chances of getting published, just follow the rules and use good manners. This is not a trick. This is proven effective. I cannot tell you where inspiration comes from, but I can tell you what will increase your chances of getting published.
- Follow the Submission Guidelines: Really. Submission guidelines are there to streamline the process. Read them carefully. Accept them as gospel truths. If you do, you can be sure the submission gets a fair shake. If you don’t, the work is immediately dismissed.
- Less is More with Your Bio: Keep bios short and sweet. Some mystery is good. Add three-to-five previous publication credits, one sentence that describes you outside of letters, and the link to your website.
- Make Cover Letters Professionally Unique: Again, less means more. A genuine greeting, note of gratitude, and specific reasons you enjoy a publication and/or what drew you to their door are good ideas. “Genuine” is the word of the day. A succinct show of respect goes far.
- Let Us Know if It’s Published Elsewhere: Simultaneous submissions can be a headache for magazines. If your submission is accepted elsewhere, immediately tell the others. Magazines often plug in content as it’s accepted. If failure to communicate prior publication requires editors to redesign the next issue, that leaves a bad taste.
- Be Patient: Patience is a super power, and appealing to – everyone. Editors make effort to respond to you in good time. Don’t follow up about the status of your submission until the specified time frame is past. Getting fussy or rude does no favors, and may eliminate any chance of acceptance now, or in the future.
Make sure the magazines you choose to submit publish material in your wheel house. If there’s a theme they want, be sure to match it. If you see an error in formatting once the issue comes out, kindly let the journal know, and they’ll be happy to make it right. In the event they pass on your work, do not take it personally, and do not rage on the editors. Good manners and an eye for detail will do wonders for your submissions. It’s an art form unto itself. I hope this helps you navigate creatively choppy waters.
The name of the game is quality poetry.
Poetry is a finicky game. Write what you know. Make it accessible. Treat it like a job. If you don’t love what you’re writing, no one else will. Show, don’t tell. Think about you audience, but not too much. All of these rules are true, and a few seem to conflict with one another. Feeling your way along in the dark can often feel like you are left on a dock without a mentor to help you along. Never feel you’re an orphan of words. Creativity doesn’t have to be a one-player sport.
Folks say, “I don’t know how to play well with others. I am an introvert.” I believe artists are all introverts to some degree. A majority of our time involves us in a room alone, or insulated in a crowded room, by our imagination, playing pretend with invisible people. This vivid internal world is crucial for a believable work of art that connects with other people. To balance the internal with a foothold in accessibility, it behooves the artist to adopt a workshop. The key to success is picking teammates who both challenge and support you.
Do not begin any project concerned about how your work will be received. That heavy priority will either daunt you from starting, or force out something so bland that it appeals to no one. Write it for you, keep your eye on the ball, and hunker down every day with excitement for the craft. Abandon fear, and live by the mantra: If I am the only one who reads this, that’s okay. If leafing back through the pages of your hard work gives you peace, you’ve achieved more than most people will in a lifetime.
Visit a few writing groups and online resources for a group that appeals to you personally and professionally. If you get that “uh-oh feeling” of negativity with any part of a group, walk away. Don’t huff off if you hear something other than, “You’re a genius!” Yet, don’t suffer envy, spite, or bullying. Think of your art as your child. Do you want the kid handed everything and blindly coddled? No. Do you want the youngster pushed around by their peers? Also no. Be patient. There’s a team out there perfect for you.
Like all games whether in football, the boardroom, or writing group there will be oodles of men and women who will not like you. Healthy competition breeds better material. Constructive criticism fleshes out your foibles and soft spots in a safe environment to increase your skill. On the other hand, unfair play is everywhere, and if you feel your work is bashed for the reason of keeping you insecure on the sidelines, calmly move on. It is not important for a jerk to know why you bounced from their negativity.
I suggest you meet at least once every two weeks to stay on-point and focused. Email each member you work for the next meeting well ahead of time to allow them an opportunity to study your material. Make sure each session is started with talk about life in general, laugh a little, but be sure to huddle up for the first round of edits before your creative energy is melted away in small talk. The product is the point. Don’t lose sight of the prize.
Set rules for the group that all agree upon. A time limit for each member’s work is helpful, but be flexible if one needs more attention. Understanding and patience goes a long way. Breakthroughs take time, and epiphanies can come out of nowhere. There is an alchemy to creative writing that makes our ball club mystical above-and-beyond eye-and-hand coordination. Yet, we need to bring the same dedication that an NFL player possesses, and wear a thick skin to process criticism without emotional bruising.
The game of poetry is an arduous, prophetic, and profitable. Do not let solitude lose you in the process of writing your first draft. Have faith. Be brave. Forgive yourself, but don’t cow down to anyone – including yourself. A rugged determination is one cornerstone of any successful player. Be your own quarterback, but be sure to build a solid team around you.
With understanding, "odd" becomes "unique."
Living with autism is unique. Like all diagnosis, there is a wide spectrum of varying degrees of those with autism. I am “high-functioning autistic.” It is a condition that today allows me the focus, tenacity, and attention to detail I require to succeed as a writer. It’s toughened me up without evicting my artist’s childlike wonder.
Autistic people are not close-talkers or big-hug-giving folk. Personal space is a big deal. For us: The smaller the party, the better. Our brains translate the external world in shock waves. As people move around the room, various conversations, the smell of awful cologne, lights intensely florescent, someone’s high-pitched laugh- autistic people ingest it all at once, all the time. However, sensory overload can be purged through writing. That’s exactly what I do with poetry.
Social cues are frustratingly hard to translate. The way a person’s tone clashes with their body language will linger as confusion long after the conversation is over. Prolonged eye contact is unnerving. If a sudden sound shocks someone with autism, it pisses us off – bad. We are far more sensitive to smells, the texture of food, the fabric of our clothes, a change in daily routine.
Once a psychiatrist explained autism to me, the peace it gave me still goes strong today. Diagnosed in my 40s, I do not see the years before misspent or maligned. Life is life, and far more of my years have been happy. Today I use appropriate coping skills. I pray. I connected with Autism Speaks and work to educate people. When something “odd” is understood, it becomes “unique.”
Here’s a list of men and women throughout history who thrived, or thrive, with autism.
- Dan Aykroyd – Comedic Actor
- Hans Christian Andersen – Children’s Author
- Benjamin Banneker – African American almanac author, surveyor, naturalist, and farmer
- Tim Burton – Movie Director
- Lewis Carroll – Author of “Alice in Wonderland”
- Henry Cavendish – Scientist
- Charles Darwin – Naturalist, Geologist, and Biologist
- Emily Dickinson – Poet
- Paul Dirac – Physicist
- Albert Einstein – Scientist & Mathematician
- Bobby Fischer – Chess Grandmaster`
- Bill Gates – Co-founder of the Microsoft Corporation
- Temple Grandin – Animal Scientist
- Daryl Hannah – Actress & Environmental Activist
- Thomas Jefferson – Early American Politician
- Steve Jobs – Former CEO of Apple
- James Joyce – Author of “Ulysses”
- Alfred Kinsey – Sexologist & Biologist
- Stanley Kubrick – Film Director
- Barbara McClintock – Scientist and Cytogeneticist
- Michelangelo – Sculptor, Painter, Architect, Poet
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Classical Composer
- Sir Isaac Newton – Mathematician, Astronomer, & Physicist
- Jerry Seinfeld – Comedian
- Satoshi Tajiri – Creator of Nintendo’s Pokémon
- Nikola Tesla – Inventor
- Andy Warhol – Artist
- Ludwig Wittgenstein – Philosopher
- William Butler Yeats – Poet
I use the idea of an accordion to illustrate my style of editing.
The Accordion Principle of Poetry is the literary philosophy I use to polish my work. I never consider a poem finished after I wrap up the first draft. Instead, I hustle words on the page, let it breathe, and then return to it later with fresh eyes. It is time to edit. This is when my accordion comes into play.
I use the idea of an accordion to illustrate my style of editing. First, remove words (compress) without losing the lyrical essence. Take time to look at each line, then slide it over to a friend or colleague for their impression. Does the condensed version say everything you feel? Remember, it takes greater skill to say it with fewer words than with many.
Next, use free association to dash out (decompress) and attach new ideas, descriptions, references, or whole stanzas. Again, relax and take a moment to read the new product. Often surprises await that hide beneath the surface. Let the same individual/editor as before read what you built for feedback.
Repeat this process allowing time to whistle out of you the true meaning. Like learning the accordion, never rush your composition. Let it find you. Forcing a point will stunt your poem’s growth. Never limit yourself.
Here is a poem of mine I recently used as practice:
Breaking the Steady Bender
I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity. During these fits of absolute unconsciousness, I drank – God only knows how often or how much. As a matter of course, my enemies referred the insanity to the drink, rather than the drink to the insanity.
Edgar Allan Poe
It is not romantic,
nor necessary dark magic,
to be a drunk.
friends fear your
late-night phone calls.
They do not fear you.
You, a callus next-of-kin,
foul – father, brother, son,
the family sees their tree
has another apple
into a stupor.
You, the causality
of moral torpor.
An alcoholic apathy
was my altar,
a fetid womb.
God and the poet’s
pulled me out
of that tomb.
It is true.
I didn’t expire
in the addled
by and by
is the worst way
I set out to create a poem as a bookend to “Judas Noose Tavern” in my first book. The tone of “Judas” left a forlorn feeling that addiction can’t be overcome. The idea of closing the circle never occurred to me until I cleared my head for inspiration. After I looked at the finished product I:
- Felt that the title and quote only worsened the hopeless feeling achieved in “Judas.” I didn’t like that.
- There was a judgmental tone towards the “you” at the beginning I found unattractive and counterproductive.
- My beating my demons by the end speaks from a haughty place not true in me or constructive for the reader.
I let the discomfort settle over me, and for weeks I stared at the poem. One day it hit me to go back to the spark that lit my inspiration – I wanted to bookend “Judas.” To do that I used the sobriety and poetic growth of the last twenty years since “Judas Noose Tavern” came into existence, and the storyteller perked up. I thought, “What if this poem is written by Bacchus? What if he got tired of the boozy, party-fueled scene and retired? What would he remember, and what warning/hope for others would he impart?”
The childlike wonder sat up, my fingers sped ahead, and this is what I created:
Bacchus sits back with his dignity intact
and reminisces about good luck:
“It isn’t romantic, instead sadly tragic,
to waste one’s life as a drunk.”
Sour consequences and fictitious offenses,
the Lord of Libations speaks of regret,
“Dashell Hammett wrote well. Joplin sang true.
a blacklisted falcon and screeching brunette.”
“Barrooms breed black eyes, and a fool’s folklore,”
taps his smoke growing dour,
“Shotgun claimed Cobain; needles Bird’s ‘nevermore’.”
Bacchus detaches from the past to this hour.
“A family sees their tree has another apple
watering itself into a stupor.”
No good reason except bad timing,
the fate of a slack-faced interloper.
Rock back, rock forward, “An alcoholic apathy
was my altar. Kerouac shared that fetid womb.”
Bacchus blew smoke rings around lost chastity.
“Jesus and the Mary Chain
coaxed me out of that tomb.”
Blue eyes hovered over his ocean view.
Peaceful, humble, healthy, subdued,
a respite being rescued enjoyed by too few.
Do you miss it? Not the women? Not the old crew?
The decommissioned deity is asked every day.
“Not a bit. I got a good one. Good company was overdue.”
Bacchus listens to Bach, breathes deep, then smiles.
No one to argue or harangue over mountains for miles,
and he whispers before a nap, “Good folks, I didn’t expire
in the addled by and by because death-by-cliché
is the worst way to die.”
As you can see:
- I dropped the title and drudgery of Poe’s quote.
- The scene is far more panoramic, and the judgmental over/undertones are removed.
- I brought back the spirit of “Judas Noose Tavern” by highlighting folks who succumbed to alcoholism and drug addiction.
- There are bits salvaged from the original.
Is the poem a done deal? No, but it’s close. Some of my thoughts are to clean up some of the loose rhymes, add people in the last stanza who did face down their demons, and tinker with the title. Am I unhappy with the original? No, it’s an opportunity do improve.
A cool gift to give your reader is a poem that shows your internal machinery. Do not change a poem from a magazine publication to book “just because.” However, never feel locked-in to a poem because it’s been published. Poetry breathes. Let it breathe.
Few poems in my experience end up expressing what I initially set out to say. There is an ethereal quality to poetry more song than prose. Channel the spirit of Weird Al Yankovic, and accordion your poetry to life.
The toolbox of constructive thinking and healthy living includes both religion and philosophy,
Carl Jung said that everything before 40 is practice. I believe it. Through trial and error I think I’ve collected the proper tools to steer clear of chaos. At 44-years-old my main objective is to stay on a positive path of productivity and self-improvement. God is my guiding light. Stoic philosophy is my steady companion. Clear self-awareness is my compass. I believe a firm foundation for right living begins in a marriage of philosophy and religion.
It’s a tricky business to claim a philosophy. Like picking a faith, philosophy comes with countless options, flavors, and accessories. My combination platter of sanity contains generous helpings of the Stoics and the Episcopal church. As a fan of the Stoics, my philosophical footing is firmly in their camp. In 2018, I converted to the Episcopal church. Yes, there are points of historical and ideological contention between the two. So there is between people. So there is within ourselves.
Over time I will check back with blog posts about this process of evolution. Immediate changes are an increase in patience, improved listening ability, and fewer bouts of anger. Seneca says, “All cruelty springs from weakness.” Marcus Aurelius tells us, “You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” James 1:19-20 reads, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for a man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”
There is a portion of one letter from the Apostle Paul I want to highlight: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. (Galatians 5: 13-15)
Belief and logic are not anathema in my mind. They are an inspiring odd couple. Reality is best met straight on with an arsenal of reason in a leap of faith. How can you fail to be fired up to read:
“It’s time you realized that you have something in you more powerful and miraculous than the things that affect you and make you dance like a puppet.” – Marcus Aurelius
“We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more in imagination than in reality.” – Seneca
“How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself?” – Epictetus
“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him.” – Viktor Frankl
I challenge you to do a bit of deconstruction and re-evaluation. Looking outside my two pillars of Stoic thought and Christian faith I pick up other ideas like Rene Descartes‘ bit about, “I think therefore I am,” and, “If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” There’s the good ole standby of Socrates, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Circle back to the Bible, and in 1 Thessalonians 5:21, “but test everything, hold fast to what is good.”
I am not suggesting anyone throw out what they know to be true. Keep what is good. Think about it. Follow your gut. Here I share my baby steps down a peaceful way in the woods that is far from lost.
Faith is the foundation of my new life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.
Faith in God bolts me into reality with a beautiful view of the ocean. I grew up in a Southern Baptist congregation. The preachers of my early and teen years never condemned anyone or shouted about damnation. Both men were brilliant, happy, eloquent storytellers who conveyed a constant message that God is love, not a tyrant. Though my church attendance was insisted upon by my parents, I never disliked the experience.
In college I stopped going to church. No dramatic falling-out event with God caused my absence. Campbell University and later Shorter University surrounded me with the Spirit, even if I failed to notice at the time. I felt too busy for an hour of worship Sunday morning. In retrospect, I know bad decisions, hard times, and rising frustration grew from my soulful alienation. That being said, my life has largely been one of joy. Only in the last few years has the tide turned into a series of unfortunate events.
Last year I hit as close to rock bottom as I care to get. A moment of clarity shed light on the fact that God was the only one left who didn’t deeply distrust me. My mother suggested an Episcopal church ten minutes from my home, and after sitting through one sermon I was hooked. An overwhelming peace engulfs me when I attend, and now it goes with me into the world. Here are the 5 ways faith improves my life:
- The Ability to Accept Forgiveness: I am good at hating myself. Self-loathing locked me into addiction. If I could get high enough to forget the monster in the mirror, that beast didn’t exist. In my chemically-enhanced forgetfulness that creature grew fierce. The love of Jesus Christ gave me permission to retire my Hyde, love myself, and accept not only His forgiveness, but my own.
- The Removal of Doubt: Due to my autism and history of intemperance, I developed a crushing case of doubt. I overthought everything. Prayer, parents, priests, therapist, and trustworthy friends prevent me from losing sleep over situations outside my control. A clear mind provides sound conclusions. In the event a decision collides with confusion, I know God will provide insight.
- An Unmatched Sense of Peace: For a million reasons, I accepted that Drama and its sister Chaos were permanent members of the artistic ideal. They are not. When I got out of the way and let God take the wheel, the relief gave me clarity to abandon bad habits, conviction to walk away from poisonous people, and resolve to protect my newfound peace at all cost. You can be dramatic, or you can be successful. You cannot be both.
- The Cultivation of Patience: If I develop any personality trait as a superpower, please let it be patience. Patience blossomed once I accepted absolution, settled my hobgoblins of doubt, carved out drama, and took up the philosophy of: All good things come to those who wait. That doesn’t mean apathy or inaction. It means keep on keepin’ on and stop thinking the world’s clock runs on my time.
- An Unbelievable Level of Productivity: Spiritual due diligence makes space for productive activity. I move deliberately, confidently through the day with a schedule mapped out with scripture study, quiet meditation, necessary naps, time with friends, dates with my sweetheart, writing assignments, reading hours, and gym visits. I get everything accomplished with minimal interference from my “monkey mind.”
God is good. If I get cocky and topple off my cloud, it is not the Lord’s wrath. Negativity befalls me as a consequence of unwise action. Taking everything personally is vain. People lash out. Stress stems from being alive. Fretting about the next hour, afternoon, or tomorrow solves nothing. I find solace in the lives of saints. Good people in life increase serenity. Striving for perfection is folly. There is great wisdom in the word of God. I sleep deeper knowing Mother Mary is always with me. Jesus is just alright with me.