Does What You Do Matter?

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If you’re like me, you probably stop to look around once in a while and wonder if your actions are noticed, if the decisions you make affect the world in any remotely measurable way. After all, you’re only one individual, just so much flotsam floating around in a boundless roiling sea of people who will never know your name.

When you try to help out a friend, when you give food to a homeless person, when you do anything at all to show the people around you that you care, have you really contributed to the health and well-being of the world? When you’re frustrated and you choose to take it out on others, when you steal a few dollars when you think no one’s looking, when you indulge in idle gossip or slander, are you really a significant part of the world’s problems? Does what you do matter, or are all of your deeds just statistical anomalies, a series of dead-end choices that are drowned out by the deafening noise of a densely populated world?

If you’re a celebrity or world leader, your role is obvious. You have a large sphere of influence, and your actions directly impact thousands or even millions of people. But if you’re just an average Joe, it’s easy to believe that what you do is meaningless, that however you choose to act, your deeds won’t ever touch the world in a significant way.

The problem with this belief is that it’s born of a limited vision. You can only sense what stands immediately before you, and unless you can witness the impact your choices have on the rest of the world, you’re going to dismiss the things you do as insignificant. This narrow perception blinds you to the bigger picture and makes it impossible for you to understand how connected you are to everyone else, to how much good and how much evil you’re capable of inflicting on the world through the simple act of making choices, which on the surface appear mundane and insignificant.

In reality, everything you do has vast far-reaching consequences, not just for your immediate family and friends, but for your whole community, your nation, even the world. The things you do aren’t isolated events. Your choices influence others. On a normal day, you might only interact with ten people, but all ten of those people will interact with  others, and each of those will interact with yet others. Like the surface of a lake when it’s disturbed, your actions ripple outward, propagating through the social layers of the world, their reach magnified with distance.

A rude gesture is like a match applied to dry kindling; it seems so trivial, until the fire spreads, consuming the world, leaving those who’ve lost everything in its wake to wonder how the fire could have been started in the first place.

An act of love, on the other hand, sparks a different kind of fire, one that has its genesis in a smile, a hug, or a word of encouragement, one that consumes hearts, until the world is a conflagration of kindness, empathy and compassion.

Most of us dream about changing the world, about making the world better. It’s only when faced with the apparent worthlessness of our existence that we become jaded, that we give up on our dream because we can’t see any reasonable way to achieve it.

Our dream of a better world can be realized. But to make it happen, we must first extend our vision beyond what we can see with our eyes. We must be capable of comprehending the far-reaching consequences of our actions. We might not be able to see how those outside our spheres of influence will be affected, but we can use our imagination to paint a larger picture, to see how the things we do might grow and spread beyond our local communities.

Reading fiction is one way to accomplish this. Fiction lets us witness firsthand not only the actions of individuals, but all the many ways in which those actions affect others. It’s a fantastic mental exercise that breeds a profound awareness of the human condition. There’s a reason we’ve been telling stories for millennia.

While it’s important to recognize our individuality and to value the many ways in which we’re unique, it’s equally important to recognize that we’re not just a loosely bound collection of disconnected beings, but a societal organism whose body is the composition of the entire human population. What happens to one part of the body affects the others. Evil deeds spread like cancer, until they metastasize and begin to destroy. Good deeds, on the other hand, are healing forces, which fight the malignant tumors even as they sustain and uplift everything else, rejuvenating the world.

Understanding that your actions do in fact leave a lasting impression on the planet, you shouldn’t ask yourself if what you do matters. Instead, you should decide if you desire to be a part of the cancer or a part of the cure.

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Steady As She Goes

“Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” Ludolf Backhuysen, 1695.

Writing and I have had a tumultuous relationship, and throughout the course of our affair, I’ve had the tendency to oscillate between emotional extremes. One moment, I’ll obsess over something I’ve just written, convinced in the most private chambers of my heart that I’m the next William Shakespeare. The next, I’ll regard whatever project I happen to be working on with contempt, convinced I’m nothing but a fraud, that it’s only a matter of time before the world sees me for the hack I truly am and it’s all over.

It turns out that many writers, as well as artists of every other discipline, exhibit this curious emotional duality. We love our projects, our children of the mind, with all of their many quirks and imperfections, and for a time we have eyes only for their potential. But then we scrutinize them more closely, become increasingly sensitive to their flaws, magnified so that they blot out everything else, and soon we wonder how we could have ever considered our work “good.”

Either extreme left unchecked will wreak havoc on an artist’s creative aspirations, and could even shipwreck them altogether. Excess pride leads toward stagnation and a refusal to acknowledge thoughtful criticism, for how can one perfect something if, in their eyes, it’s already perfect? On the opposite end of the spectrum, excess despair leaves one feeling as if there’s no point, that they might as well give up while they’re still ahead.

Over the years, I’ve come to understand that emotions are fickle, that there’s no logical reason for why one moment you should feel one thing and the next something else entirely. Amidst the billowing gale of conflicting desires, passions and the ever-shifting perceptions of my artistic value, I’ve realized that in the end, how I feel is really rather pointless. All that matters is whether or not I write.

When I’m feeling haughty, high and mighty, I acknowledge the emotion, set it aside and continue writing. When I’m feeling dejected, depressed and full of despair, I acknowledge the emotion, set it aside and continue writing. I write, I write and I write. I write through the good feelings. I write through the bad. The willful choice to act regardless of this transient passion or that becomes a moderating force, a lighthouse that illumines the way forward in a dark and unstable sea. I have no control over how I feel. But I do have control over how I act in spite of how I feel.

If you’re an artist of any stripe, do what you love to do. Do you believe that you’re invincible, that you and the vision you carry around inside your head have the capacity to transform the world? Recognize the feeling, let it go and make art. Do you believe that you’re a hack, that you have nothing of value to share with the world and that you might as well not even try? Recognize the feeling, let it go and make art.

Emotions will come and emotions will go. Like the explosive gusts of a hurricane or a typhoon, they’ll buffet you from every side, threaten to bowl you over where you stand. Fine. Let them come. Do what you love to do anyway. Stand your ground.

Do what you were made to do, always do what you were made to do, and even in the midst of chaos, you’ll find peace.

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California Bookstore Day, 2014 (and How I Came To Acquire a Standalone Copy of Neil Gaiman’s “The Sleeper & The Spindle”)

Bookstore Day, 2014

What is Bookstore Day?

Bookstore Day was a state-wide celebration that took place in California on Saturday, May 3, 2014 to honor the relationship between readers and the independent bookstores who support them. 93 shops participated, hosting various events such as readings and author signings. Special books and other items were sold in limited quantities, merchandise that was only available on that day and from those sellers.

I heard about this the day before it happened on Twitter, and decided that I had to be a part of it. I went online, found two indie bookstores that were relatively close and set out on a quest for literary adventure. This is where my tale begins.

Mysterious Galaxy

My first stop was Mysterious Galaxy in Redondo Beach, CA.

Mysterious Galaxy in Redondo Beach, CA
Mysterious Galaxy in Redondo Beach, CA

I arrived at 10:40am, twenty minutes before the store opened. Because of Bookstore Day (along with the limited edition copy of Neil Gaiman’s short story The Sleeper & The Spindle to be had inside), I was anxiously anticipating hordes of book-hunting vikings, and braced myself to do battle with traffic and long lines. I was therefore pleasantly surprised when I arrived to plenty of parking, and doubly surprised to discover that there was no wait outside the front door.

Though the store itself hadn’t opened yet, there was an attached coffee shop that was already doing business, so I went inside and bought a cup of peppermint tea to pass the time.

I asked if I could take it with me into the store, and they told me I could carry it wherever I went as long as it remained inside the building. I thought that an odd answer, until they gave me my drink in a clay mug. What does it say about the world we live in that I would be confounded by a non-disposable cup?

Peppermint Tea
My peppermint tea

Tea in hand, I sat down at a long wooden table and pulled out my notebook to do some freewriting, resolved to enjoy the atmosphere. I let my eyes meander about the room, and observed that there were enough people present to make me feel that I was a part of something special, but not so many that they began to feel like a crowd. I was anxious to see the treasures that awaited (and thus sipped my tea with perhaps a bit more enthusiasm than was strictly proper), but because I wasn’t competing with a bunch of other strangers for floor space, I never once felt that I had to spring from my seat and fly like a bat out of hell the moment they opened.

When the gate that separated the coffee shop from the rest of the building was finally pulled back, I polished off the remainder of my peppermint tea and set off to explore.

Inside Mysterious Galaxy.
Inside Mysterious Galaxy shortly after they opened

As soon as I walked inside, a nice gentleman from behind the counter approached and asked if there was anything he could do to help me.

“No thanks. Just looking around,” I replied. Then, remembering one of the reasons I’d decided to make the trip, I amended my answer and asked if he could get me a copy of The The Sleeper & The Spindle. I would have waited until I was ready to check out, but despite the lack of a crowd, I still had the irrational fear that it would sell out before I had the chance to buy it.

He dashed off to retrieve it, and a moment later I was holding on to something unspeakably beautiful. I thanked him, and before he left to help other customers, he told me to let him know if there was anything else he could do. It was the kind of prompt and enthusiastic service that you just won’t find at a large corporate chain like Barnes & Noble.

"The Serpent of Venice," by Christopher Moore.
“The Serpent of Venice,” by Christopher Moore

I discovered lots of interesting books as I walked around. They were all titles you could find online, of course; I didn’t notice anything that was obviously independently published or put out by a local press. But it was good just to be inside a bookstore again, to discover new stories the old fashioned way, by perusing shelves, waiting for something random to catch my eye and demand a closer look.

Among the interesting titles I encountered were The Serpent of Venice, by Christopher Moore; William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, episodes four and five, by Ian Doescher (real Shakespearean plays, written in iambic pentameter!); and The Onion Book of Knowledge (from America’s “finest news source.”)

I ultimately decided on William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, as well as my one-of-a-kind Neil Gaiman book, and headed toward the register to pay. I thought that that would be the end of my experience, but there was one surprise left.

Second installment to "William Shakespeare's Star Wars," by Ian Doescher.
Second installment to “William Shakespeare’s Star Wars,” by Ian Doescher

When I’d handed the cashier my credit card and was waiting for a receipt, the man pointed to a rack of books and informed me that I could pick one out for free in celebration of Bookstore Day. There weren’t a lot of items to choose from, but I did stumble across a hardcover copy of Will in Scarlet, by Mathew Cody, a retelling of the classic legend of Robin Hood. I thought, “why not,” and wound up exiting the store toting an extra book to read.

My whole experience was fraught with friendliness and smiles, and I left resolved to return as soon as I was in the market for more physical books, even if it meant that I’d have to drive thirty minutes out of the way to get there. The service, as well as the knowledge that I could be a part of a community instead of just another tick on a corporate ledger, was worth the extra effort.

{Pages}

Next in my tour was {Pages}, also located in Redondo Beach.

{Pages} A Bookstire, Redondo Beach, CA.
{Pages}, Redondo Beach, CA

{Pages} is a tiny street-side store backed up against the coast. Parking here was limited to what you could find on the street, and as anyone from Southern California knows, you have about as much luck parking on the street at the beach as you do winning the lottery. Nevertheless, after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I was strolling along a narrow road stacked from one end to the other with small independent shops, and was soon standing outside my destination.

Inside {Pages} A Bookstore
Inside {Pages}

{Pages} was smaller than Mysterious Galaxy, but that only made the shop feel cozy and inviting. By the time I’d gotten there, there wasn’t much of a crowd, but one of the workers informed me that there’d been a line that’d snaked outside the shop before they’d opened, and that they’d sold out of Neil Gaiman’s short story in their first half hour. Good thing I’d purchased my own copy at Mysterious Galaxy first!

I don’t have too much to report about {Pages} that I haven’t already said about Mysterious Galaxy, and I’d imagine that most of the same would apply to any good indie bookstore. I received prompt and cheerful service and had an overall experience that was very positive.

I wound up purchasing a hardcover copy of The Museum of Extraordinary Things, by Alice Hoffman, even though I was planning to spend less money by buying the e-book instead, because I wanted to support {Pages}.

After checking out, I returned to my car, noting that I’d left five minutes on the meter for the person behind me (there was no end to my generosity that day), and embarked on the journey home with a newfound awareness of all the options available to me whenever I might feel like going to a bookstore instead of purchasing e-books online.

Some Final Thoughts

"The Sleeper & The Spindle," by Neil Gaiman.
My copy of “The Sleeper & The Spindle,” by Neil Gaiman. Are you jealous? 😉

Bookstore day was a great way for me to discover the thriving community of indie bookstores in my area. Until hearing about the event, I’d always assumed that they were a dying breed and that there weren’t very many places left to go unless you were willing to visit one of the many Barnes & Noble replicants. Once I examined the event’s website, I realized just how many open shops were within driving distance, not just in Redondo Beach, but also in San Diego, Pasadena, Los Angeles, West Hollywood and Santa Monica. It was a great introduction to indie bookstore culture, and I hope that Bookstore Day will become an annual event that spreads beyond the borders of California.

I am and always will be a fan of online outlets like Amazon. Big business with a strong online presence fills a critical niche. But indie bookstores are also an important part of the literary ecosystem. I believe in a healthy balance between big and small business. I’ll always rely on Amazon for my e-books and for purchasing titles that I can’t find at a brick and mortar store. But when I’m in the market for a physical book, I think I’m going to make more of an effort to shop locally. There’s a whole social experience that’s missed online, especially when the seller is a small independent business as opposed to a large corporate entity. It’s nice to walk into a store and chat with a friendly face, and the warm relationships that blossom between local vendors and their regular customers is priceless.

It’s with a heavy heart that I report I was unable to stay for any of the events hosted by the bookstores. I thought about returning to Mysterious Galaxy in the afternoon, and maybe even driving out to Pasadena to check out some more stores, but the demands of the day got the better of me and I was forced to stay home. Fortunately, I’ve discovered through social media and the stores’ websites that there will be other events to look forward to. So I’ll just have to use my regret as motivation to check out more of what’s going on in the future.

I’ve got a lot more exploring to do; there are so many stores left that I wasn’t able to see. Here’s hoping for more positive experiences, and that public awareness of independent booksellers and their contributions to the world of literature will continue to grow and thrive long into the next century.

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Can I Hear the Voices of the Dead?

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Humans have long been fascinated by the idea that they could somehow speak with the dead. Most of us feel connected to them in one way or another, and we often ache for the chance to reunite. There are grieved lovers who want another chance to say goodbye; students who seek advice from deceased mentors; family members who yearn to make amends for past wrongs. Whatever our reasons, this craving for a continued relationship with our predecessors seems to be built into our DNA.

More than once, I’m sure you’ve thought, “if only I could hear the voices of the dead.” Well, what if I told you that you could?

Books are the answer.

When we read, our ancestors speak to us once more. Though death may have taken them, their voices remain with us in all that they’ve written, indelibly etched into the edifice of time. Books are the means by which we learn from our genealogical, intellectual and spiritual progenitors, as well as how we ourselves communicate with future generations, ensuring that whatever we learn during our ephemeral Earthly existence will never be lost.

They’re the voices of wise parents and teachers, telling us that our struggles were once theirs. They give us advice, and they teach us how to deal with our problems so that we won’t have to suffer the same mistakes.

They’re the voices of friends and lovers, who bestow comfort and hope in times of distress. They remind us through their stories — some joyful and others tragic — of how to love and how to feel. They teach us how to weather the storm of life, and in the midst of a world that often seems harsh, cold and uncaring, they help us understand that life is always worth living, and that everything happens for a reason.

They’re the voices of scientists, poets and philosophers, perpetuating beauty and knowledge from age to age so that both might never be lost. They whisper to us in the dark corners of our bedrooms and offices after hours, so that we too might be privy to whatever secrets they discovered before their Earthly journeys were complete.

In death, you too can speak to the living.

Just as your ancestors left behind their own voices, so too can you leave yours, so that when your appointed time comes, future generations will still be able to learn from the wisdom you attained in life.

Don’t have time to write a book? Don’t worry about it. Keep a journal. Freewrite for five minutes about your thoughts and feelings. Write letters to friends and family. Your words need not be formally compiled, edited and published by a major press. Some of our most treasured literary artifacts were those that were penned or spoken informally, passed down from teachers to students, parents to children or between friends and lovers.

Our ancestors will always be with us.

In books, we discover that the voices of those who’ve died persist, teaching, exorting, comforting, encouraging, continuing to dwell among each and every one of us. They give us hope for the future, and when we have hope for the future, we feel compelled to offer up our own wisdom, which we pray will be useful to those who come after us.

The next time you want to reconnect with someone from the past, don’t wait until your own demise to be with them. Just pick up a book and read.

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What Am I Working On?

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I’ve been blogging once a week for half a year now. In that time, I’ve written about all sorts of things. But I rarely talk about my projects.

One reason is that I don’t want to come off as salesy or spammy. Though my blog does exist in part to help me build an audience for my work, I want that to be the by-product of what I hope are meaningful thought-provoking articles and stories that resonate with hearts and enrich my readers.

Another reason is that I don’t have a whole lot to show for myself, not yet anyway. There’s my short story, The Sign, but that’s pretty much it. Though I’ve been writing in some form or another since at least the third grade, it wasn’t until early 2013 that I began to take it seriously, and writing good books (and then publishing them) takes an insanely long time.

But I’ve decided I owe you some kind of update, if for no other reason than to let you know that yes, I am writing and yes, there are books on the way, even if it’s going to take me a while to get them to you. I’m not ready to reveal detailed information about titles, plot or characters, but I do want to give you a brief taste of things to come.

1. Middle Grade Fantasy

In March, 2013, shortly after I published The Sign, I began work on a middle grade fantasy about a boy who accidentally makes his sister disappear. The funny thing is that my target audience has always been adults; I never set out to write a book for kids.

It started as a simple novella. I had the idea while I was out for a walk. It wasn’t until after I’d completed the first draft and started showing it to my critique group that I realized I’d unwittingly stumbled onto a children’s book. In the process, I discovered that writing for kids is a delight, and I’ve since decided that, no matter how difficult it is to write for more than one audience, I want to make books for children as well as for adults.

Books are often difficult to write. It doesn’t matter how powerful an idea is or how inspired you might feel. Most of the time, writing is hard. There are of course those moments of pure unadulterated joy that every writer lives for, when the story flows out of you like a babbling stream, and your only job is to sit there and catch as much of it as you can before it stops. But as a serious writer who’s committed to creating stories come Hell or high water, I’ve discovered how rare those moments are. But writing this one was a dream. I sat down each night to one fiery burst of ideas after another. I usually have to outline at least some of the books I set out to write, but this one was completely off the cuff. It simply came to me, a wandering orphaned idea in need of form and expression. I completed the first draft in two months.

I’ve since been revising like crazy. I’ve gone through every chapter of the book with my critique group, have had my first round of beta readers provide me with their detailed thoughts and have almost completed my final initial revisions. Once that’s done, the manuscript goes off to a developmental editor for further refinement. I’m still deciding if I’m going to query agents and try to get this published traditionally or if I’m going to self-publish. Either way, I hope it won’t be too much longer before you start reading about the experiences of characters who’ve become very dear to me.

I actually plan to make this a series, because the characters and the story grew so large that to confine them to just a single book would be a crime. I’m excited to see how this story will evolve in the next few years.

2. Dark Fantasy Novel for Adults

I started this one in July, 2013, a little while after completing my middle grade fantasy.

Inspired by films like “The Neverending Story” and “Stranger than Fiction,” this book chronicles the life of an isolated and socially anxious writer with an unusual gift, whose stories are more than they appear to be at first glance. This tale, which is as much a symbolic reflection on the nature of art and writing as it is a modern fantasy, is very dark, and is intended for an adult audience.

The initial draft is only about 20% complete. It’s a full-length novel, and I anticipate that it’ll be a little while longer before it’s done. That’s fine with me, as I’m happy to let it ferment slowly over time. I care deeply about this story and want to take the time to tell it right.

3. Other Novellas and Short Stories

While alternating between the two above-mentioned projects, I’ve indulged in a few unrelated novellas and short stories. It’s difficult working on the same two projects day in and day out. Exploring fresh original ideas allows me the breath of fresh air that I so desperately need. Unlike the two books above, which I may try to sell to a traditional publishing house through an agent, these I plan to publish myself, since the traditional market for short fiction seems to have dried up.

That’s it.

I don’t mean that this is all that I plan to write (I’ll create stories until the day I die.) But that’s a pretty complete rundown of what I’m working on right now. I hope to have the middle grade fantasy out in a year or two (but don’t quote me on that, particularly if I do get it traditionally published, which would make it subject to someone else’s schedule instead of my own), and the dark fantasy a year or two after that. Along the way, expect more short stories and novellas.

Want to keep up with what I’m doing?

Then you should seriously consider joining my mailing list 🙂

I only plan to send out an email once a month to keep people abreast of what’s going on with my writing, to share the occasional piece of flash fiction that you won’t find anywhere else and to let you know when I publish something new. I want to connect with my readers and to make new friends. Highly personal emails that people can directly reply to is the best way I can think of to do that. If you change your mind later, it’s easy to unsubscribe.

As a thank you for caring enough about what I’m doing to sign up, I’ll send you a free copy of my short story The Sign.

You can sign up by clicking here.

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Choose Fiction For The Perfect Vacation

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Hello, and welcome to the Jeff Coleman Travel Agency.

Please, pull up a chair and have a seat. There’s nothing like getting away from it all, is there? I’m excited for you! What’s that? There’s a problem? Well, tell me more about it and we’ll see if we can accommodate you.

You don’t have much money? Yes, I can see how that might limit your options. But there are plenty of places to go that won’t cost you an arm or a leg.

There’s something else? You don’t have any time off from work. That’s a shame. But there are plenty of places you can go for just a weekend.

That’s not all? Of course not. No, no. That’s fine. Please, go on. I like a challenge.

You want a thrilling adventure outdoors, but your spouse wants a cozy romantic getaway? And you have kids and there’s no one to sit for you, so you’ll have to bring them along?

Yes, I see your point. I’ll be honest with you. I’m not really sure what we can do, unless… You know what? I think I might have something. Hold on.

I see you’ve helped yourself to some coffee in my absence. No, that’s fine. It’s complimentary. As I was saying, I think I might’ve found something. Take a look at these.

Why are you confused? Yes, those are books. Calm down. I know you said you wanted a vacation. Let me explain.

You don’t have much money, right? Then this is the perfect solution! A book can be yours for just a few dollars. You can tour as many worlds as you’d like. You can quest for buried treasure. You can battle fearsome beasts. You can discover exotic landscapes and architecture, the likes of which you won’t find anywhere else. And you can have all of this for less than the price of a meal at a decent restaurant.

Try booking a hotel, flight and rental car for that little cash!

Yes, I’m aware that you’re quite busy. Wait, what did you say? Sixty plus hours a week? Well, no. I admit my job is a tad cushier than that. But that’s not a problem either. You see, books require very small investments of time. Do you ever have to use the bathroom? Do you eat lunch? What about the drive home? Yes, alright. For the drive, we might have to get you some audiobooks. Still, my point stands.

Traveling by car, train, plane or boat can take hours or even days. But travel by book is always instantaneous, and you can return whenever you’d like. You can slip away for a few minutes when things get too hectic at work and your boss will never know that you’ve gone!

Yeah, that is pretty cool, isn’t it. What was that? Oh, right. Your significant other. Yes, and the kids. That’s not a problem either.

I know you said you wanted an adventure. Yes, I also remember that your spouse prefers a romantic getaway.  I’m aware that you require something child-friendly. I do listen, you know. It’s my job. Why can’t you have all three? No, I’m not crazy. Just hear me out.

See, the great thing about traveling by book is that you need not leave your spouse’s or your childrens’ side. You can go places without ever having to leave. We’ll find you a thriller, a horror, or maybe even a good old fashioned epic fantasy. We’ll book a romance for your spouse, and there are plenty of options for the kids. You can spend time with your family while also enjoying the convenience of your very own private fantasy.

You’ll take it? Great! I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

How can you thank me? Please, your smile is reward enough. Oh, and there’s the matter of my usual fee…

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Getting Up and Trying Again

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Last week was really rough. I fell way behind on my reading and writing. I stopped interacting with people. I just kind of shut down and logged out of the world for a few days.

My dream for some time has been to be a full-time writer. In the past year, I’ve slowly built up a presence online, have shared the little finished work that I have with those who were interested, have made some good friends and have made some significant progress on my novels and short stories. But last week, something happened.

I suddenly got depressed and listless. I took a long look at all the hard work that’s required just for me to maintain what I’ve already created, then took another long look at all the work I have left to do before I ever come close to reaching my goals, and for a few days I just gave up. I stopped reading. I stopped writing. Everything that I’m passionate about came to a sudden grinding halt.

I want to blame this on the fact that I have a full-time career as a backend web developer that demands 40+ hours each week. I want to blame this on the fact that I’m tired when I come home, that the last thing I want to do is work for another couple of hours each night before I go to bed, only to repeat the cycle once more. I want to blame this on the fact that putting in 15-20 hours each week just isn’t enough, that to do my writing justice I need more time. But in the end, those are all just excuses.

I gave up because I chose to despair instead of working even harder to prove to myself that writing is what I really want to do. I made bad choices. There’s nothing I can say in my defense. In fact, I should be counting my blessings, because I have a job that finances what I love in my off hours and a roof over my head, because there are so many people out there who don’t even have jobs, or who work 60-80 hours each week and even then barely manage to make ends meet.

Fortunately, for every bad choice, there’s always an opportunity for another good choice. Even if you’ve spent your entire life turning left, you can always choose to turn right instead. This is my right turn. This is my choice to jump back into the game.

The fact is that writing is my passion. It’s what I was born to do. I can’t see myself doing anything else. If work gets tough and I have to put in extra hours, if I have to push through the pain and find time to write even when my body cries out for sleep, that just means I have an opportunity to prove to myself and to others how much I really want this. And someday, when I find success (whether great or small), I can look back on what I accomplished in spite of the pain and appreciate it all the more.

For a very select few, the winners of life’s lottery, things come easy. But those people rarely accomplish anything great, because they don’t know how to appreciate what’s been handed to them. They don’t realize how precious their finite lives here on Earth are, because they’ve never had to worry about it being taken away from them. I’ve decided I don’t want to win the lottery. I want to earn whatever success I can find, because only then can I appreciate it; only then can I take what I’ve worked hard for and know how to turn it into something even better.

I would appreciate any prayers (if you believe in prayer) and well wishes you choose to send my way. I can’t do this without God, and I also can’t do this without you, my loyal readers. It’s in large part because of you that I find the courage to articulate the stories that are written in the depths of my heart. Without you, none of what I’ve built so far would be possible.

I’ll keep writing, and hopefully you’ll keep reading and we can continue on this long and fruitful journey together.

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Find More Of My Work On Tumblr

Hey guys! This past week at work has been extraordinarily hectic, so unfortunately I haven’t had time to write a full-length blog. But I did want to tell you about my new Tumblr account, as well as what you’ll find there.

For the past six or seven months, I’ve been toting a small leather-bound notebook, jotting down thoughts and ideas as they come. It’s full of writing fragments, freewrites and other personal thoughts. It’s a significant chunk of the raw source material I’ve been drawing on when constructing my blogs, short stories and books. I thought it might be fun to share some of these ideas with others, so I decided to start posting selections from the notebook online.

I considered placing them here, but quickly realized that doing so would significantly deviate from the theme I’ve been cultivating for the blog since last October. I thought about my options and decided that Tumblr, the popular micro-blogging platform, is perfect for what I want to do. I started an account and will now be posting at least one random selection from the notebook everyday.

It’s a chance to see what kinds of thoughts flit about in this crazy head of mine, to explore a few of my imagination’s raw unedited seeds that may or may not germinate and grow into full-length pieces. If you’re into that sort of thing, you can find me at http://jeffcolemanwrites.tumblr.com. You’ll also notice that there’s a widget on the right side of my blog that displays the ten most recent posts.

Check it out, follow me if you feel so inclined and let me know what you think. This is going to be a lot of fun! 🙂

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All You Need is Love

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At the end of all things, when at last you gaze down from the precipice at what was once the vista of your life, you will come to understand that the value of your time here on Earth had nothing to do with material wealth or power, that it had nothing to do with good health, that it had nothing to do with whether or not you accomplished everything you wished to do when you were alive. Instead, you will find that the measure of your worthiness hinges solely on whether or not you loved. The pinnacle of existence, the highest pleasure, is to live a life in communion with others, to love and to be loved. Love is the fulfillment of the human experience.

There are different kinds of love. There’s the love we’re born into, that between a father and a son, a mother and a daughter, a brother and a sister. There’s the love between friends. There’s eros, the uniquely intimate love between two people that culminates in an even greater love, the conception of new life. There are so many ways to love, so many ways to express our need to be close to others.

All the money and health and power in the world can’t buy the simplest kind of happiness that can be purchased for as a little as a smile, a hug or a kiss. With enough money and power, you can move mountains. But what of that? With enough love, you can move souls.

Love can be experienced by the poor as well as the rich, by the sick as well as the healthy, by the foolish as well as the wise. It knows no boundaries. It’s an all-consuming fire that razes the world, burning down the material and ideological divides that separate us, reducing us to our purest essence.

Love has the power to shine into the darkest depths. It provides aid and comfort before the most fearsome powers of Hell, even as death and despair surround you from every side. As long as there’s love, there’s hope. Nothing is more precious.

To love is to be a part of something greater than yourself, to be one with a collective whole that feeds and nourishes the soul even as it sustains and uplifts the body. To be indifferent, to shut yourself away from this life-giving force, is to be cut off from this higher existence, to slowly wither and die, cold and alone, huddling in some obscure corner of the world even as those around you burn with the blinding radiance of a star, with the brilliance of hearts set ablaze by the most powerful force in the universe.

Reading fiction can teach you how to love. It affords you access to the hearts and minds of a variety of characters, and in so doing, helps you to understand others, since well-written characters always reflect real people.

In fact, Research has shown that reading fosters empathy. And it’s precisely this emotional understanding that bursts through the walls that separate us, that bridges hearts so that all who know might come to love, and in so doing save themselves from the only kind of death that man should ever fear.

Has yours been a life worth living? For the answer, you must only ask yourself one question: “have I loved?”

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What Do Creative People Have That I Don’t?

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“How did you come up with that?”

Artists get questions like this all the time. Those who admire their work marvel at the originality of their ideas, and can’t help but wonder why some people are able to come by such concepts so easily. They often ask themselves, “what do creative people have that I don’t?”

Many believe that creative individuals are special, that they possess some unique gift that’s forever out of reach to the rest of us.

They’re wrong.

The truth is, we’re all creative. If you think there’s not a single creative bone in your entire body, you’re wrong.

We all dream. We all wonder and we all ask questions, questions about the world, about the nature of life and death. We all have profound experiences that move us emotionally, that drive us to love or hate, to laugh or cry. Even in the most ordinary of circumstances, we find from time to time that our minds wander down strange and unfamiliar avenues. We all have a unique perception of the world, a fresh vision that, when expressed, adds value to the human experience as a whole.

So what is it that sets creative people apart from everybody else? Why do some have all the ideas, while others have none? Why are some lives full of wonder and awe, while others are so dull and boring?

Creativity is a way of thinking.

There are four attributes that separate creative people from all the rest.

1. Creative people value the everyday things that most of us think of as boring.

Creative people embrace the mundane, because they know that the exotic, the beautiful and the strange lie just beneath its surface. Many mistakenly believe that creative ideas must come from somewhere a million miles away from home. They think that unless they’ve scaled the heights of Mount Everest, that unless they’ve hiked across the Sahara Desert, that unless they’ve had the kinds of adventures that most of us can only dream of, that they’ll never have an original idea worthy of articulation. They don’t realize that what they’re looking for is and always has been laying right under their noses.

In fact, the best art is that which builds on the ordinary. Art derived from common everyday experience is relatable. It serves as a bridge between the ordinary and the extraordinary, providing ready access to the world of the unknown and reminding us that we can always find the adventures we seek in our own backyards.

2. Creative people listen to their thoughts.

At any given moment, your mind is filled with countless voices, a vast constellation of thoughts and ideas, all chattering away in the background. Most of the time, we’re not aware of them. They’re nothing more than white noise, an ever-present static that we block out so we can focus on our daily tasks.

Creative people take the time to listen to those thoughts. They make an effort to develop mindful awareness, which allows them to be sensitive to what most of us filter out unconsciously. They scan the background chatter, sifting for ideas worthy of expression. Over time, they learn how to integrate this awareness into everyday life, so that not a thought goes by that isn’t consciously registered.

Creative people understand that ideas are not things to be sought after like buried treasure, but that they come and go as they please, that they’re gifts which are given. Instead of endlessly wracking their brains, exhausting themselves in vain, creative people learn to focus their efforts on optimizing the process of discovery, so that when an idea does scurry by amidst the rabble, they’ll be able to identify and snatch it up before it’s gone forever.

3. Creative people indulge in “what-if’s.”

The difference between someone who’s creative and someone who’s not is that the ordinary person’s mind will conjure a random “what-if” and immediately dismiss it, mistaking it as part of the useless banter that flits back and forth between the conscious and the subconscious, while the creative person’s mind will seize it before it’s lost; like all great explorers, the creative person will plumb its depths, and like all great detectives, the creative person will follow its trail faithfully, fleshing out all of its logical conclusions along the way.

4. Creative people understand that there are no “bad ideas.”

Creative people don’t fall for the lie that some ideas are more worthy of consideration than others. They recognize that it’s precisely those thoughts which others find absurd that are most worthy of exploration. Many of the world’s most artistic endeavors started with a thought that many “ordinary” folks would have dismissed as ridiculous.

This is good news for all who have creative aspirations.

This means that creativity is accessible to all. It means that good ideas aren’t reliant on some magical ability that some are born with and others are not. There may be individuals whose creativity is part of their DNA, to whom artistic expression occurs naturally and without much effort. But that doesn’t mean that the rest of us can’t consciously develop those skills later in life, at least to some degree.

Creative people aren’t gods to be set above the rest of us on some lofty pedestal. They’re human beings, like you and me. Some of us may have been born with more artistic skill than others, but that doesn’t mean that those who are less genetically inclined are therefore excluded from the world of wonder and awe that creative people are fortunate enough to be able to explore. It’s a world that’s open to all who wish to share in her secrets.

If you’re human, then you have all the tools you need to be an artist.

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