Be Grateful While You Still Have The Time To Be

Where else to start but from the beginning. Here goes.

I’m S.E. and I’m a husband, a father, a brother, an uncle, a writer, and a veteran among other roles I’ve taken up.

I grew up on a small island country in the Pacific called the Republic of Palau, population just over 18,000. It’s a great place to grow up for many reasons, including year-round tropical weather and a tight-knit community.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

However, like most places, it’s not all sunsets and palm trees like you see in the photo. There are social and economic classes, and rules and norms that we either abide by or get treated as outsiders.

High School Years

Ironically, “Outsiders” was my name of my high school’s basketball and volleyball team. Also, in junior varsity, the word “Shasta” was printed on the back of our basketball shorts—across the buttocks area. I’m not exactly sure why, but the soft drink Shasta was pretty popular back then. My favorite flavor was Dr. Shasta. What’s yours?

Along with basketball, I played volleyball and tennis during my youth. I was pretty good at all three. During junior year I was selected to play for the junior national basketball team; unfortunately, the games were canceled because of a typhoon. I also represented my country in tennis from 7th grade until sophomore year.

I attended a private Christian academy from kindergarten until my junior year. In 2004, I transferred to the local public high school where I finished up my last year. I had literally grown up with many of my classmates from the Christian academy and I was very sad when I realized I had to change schools. The reason I transferred is a whole ‘nother story in itself.

After High School Years

After graduation, I impregnated my future wife, lost my mother to an illness she’d been battling for many years, and moved in with my grandma. I had actually been moving back and forth from my dad’s and my grandma’s during senior year.

I washed and vacuumed rental cars for money, worked as an assistant tour guide for money, sold fish for money, hunted for money. I pretty much tried to hustle my way through life, unsuccessfully.

I was becoming a drain on my father’s bank account and was taking advantage of my grandma’s maternal instincts. Basically, I was a grown-a** child with a baby on the way. He, my baby, was born 5 months after my mom passed.

Photo via Good Free Photos

Uncle Sam Comes A-Knocking

Enter Uncle Sam and the U.S. Army. I was the perfect target for the Army recruiters. Jobless. Broke. And desperate. The $1,000 signing bonus was all it took for me to put my signature on the enlistment contract. Yes. $1,000!

I felt like an idiot when I arrived at basic combat training and realized that some of my fellow soldiers got up to $10,000 and got to choose their duty stations after completing training—but I digress.

I made it through basic combat training and advance individual training and ended up stationed at Fort Lewis, WA (now called Joint Base Lewis-McChord or JBLM). My wife and son joined me here in the Pacific Northwest in 2007, followed by my little sister in 2008. My beautiful daughters joined our family in 2008 and 2011.

I was medically discharged from the Army in 2009. I spent the following 10+ years raising a family, making memories (both good and bad), learning from mistakes after making them multiple times, fighting past demons (I’m still fighting by the way), on top of dealing with an illness of my own.

Photo by Kim Stiver on Pexels.com

Time is the Ultimate Present

Just over a year ago, I received the gift of life from a generous stranger. The ultimate “Good Samaritan” who made the ultimate sacrifice to give the ultimate gift. I keep this gift in my lower right abdomen and it reminds me everyday to be grateful.

I face the ultimate dilemma, however. I’m sure you would agree that it’s quite rude to not thank someone who has given you a gift, especially one that has saved your life. So, how do I go about doing this?

Well, that’s one of the main reasons I’ve decided to do this blog. I’ve come to realize that (cliche warning) life is short and the most valuable currency is time. I will honor my benefactor by honoring the time I’ve been gifted.

I feel like the movie “In Time” starring Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried, encapsulates my life almost perfectly. For many years, while struggling with my illness, I would fall in and out of depression and self loathing while I watched the countdown clock of my life tick down. Believe me, it’s no way to live. Then one day a perfect stranger gifted me all this extra time before they “timed out.”

This is my second chance and I’m determined not to waste it. Some people have asked me what I plan to do post-transplant. Some have suggested getting a job or going back to college to pursue a career. Job? No thank you. College? Why not, but not in pursuit of a career though.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

Writing My Next Chapter

I’ve decided to pursue what I loved as a child—art, writing, music. Pretty much all the creative things that fascinated my much younger self. After a bunch of college classes, online classes, and YouTube videos, I’ve discovered that writing is what makes me excited to get out of bed every morning. No more snoozing that alarm.

Sometimes we spend too much time longing for the past or looking to the future when we should be focused on the present. Steps we take right now will determine our #future. #BeGrateful

If it leads to a career, great! But I prefer to look at it as my calling. Think about it. Now I may be wrong, but, doesn’t it seem at times like most of our happiest memories are behind us. Sometimes we spend too much time longing for the past or looking to the future when we should be focused on the present. Steps we take right now will determine our future.

Somewhere along the way many of us decided that our childhood dreams are just fantasies, so we have to be realistic because this is the “real world.”

Featured Image by Pexels

Sharing Writing Advice: Choosing a Point of View in Narrative Writing

Point of view is the perspective that a writer uses to narrate a story or any particular scene in the story. Most narrative writing employ either a first person or a third person point of view. Another point of view—second person—is less common but has begun to gain more popularity recently.

Along with other main elements of narrative, point of view works in concert to allow for an enjoyable and immersive experience for a reader. It has helped breathe life into static blocks of text, sparking millions of imaginations throughout time and space.

Choosing a point of view may seem arbitrary, but it’s best to understand the differences before a writer begins drafting their next short story or novel. This article will deal exclusively with the two main points of view—first person and third person.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

First Person Point of View

Today my Professor assigned a comparison essay worth fifty points. “Choose any topic you please,” she had said. After the online lecture, I launched Microsoft Word and opened a new document. Sitting in front of the screen—brain blank as the page before me—I wondered what in the hell to write about as the pulsating cursor mocked me.

In first person, the reader sees through the eyes of the perspective character. The writer will use first-person pronouns such as “my,” “I,” and “me,” as the above passage demonstrates. A writer, and in turn, the reader, is limited to one perspective. This means that the entire story is narrated by the perspective character and the reader effectively inhabits the character’s body and mind.

In most narratives, particularly in creative nonfiction, the perspective character is almost always the protagonist; however, there are times when the narrator takes a backseat. They become a secondary character who tells the story of a protagonist from their perspective. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is one such example of a narrative written this way.

Advantages of First Person

There are numerous advantages of writing a narrative in first person. Because of the use of first-person pronouns, a close and personal connection can develop between the reader and the perspective character. The reader has direct access to all of the character’s senses, including thoughts and emotions.

A skilled writer is able to use this reader-narrator intimacy to manipulate the reader’s emotions and make the story, or any particular scene, more impactful. In other words, although a reader can try to anticipate what is going to happen next, he never quite knows what will actually happen.

This becomes a useful tool for a writer. If he wants his reader to feel a certain emotion, he can create an event that directly or indirectly affects the character and it will evoke the desired emotion.

If the narrator is a secondary character, the reader is challenged to interpret everything happening around the protagonist instead of being spoon-fed the events.

This can be enjoyable for a writer because he can hide “Easter eggs” and allow a reader to hunt for clues. Many readers and writers delight in this subtle rapport that plays out with each word, sentence, and paragraph.

Disadvantages of First Person

As with most things, first person has its downsides and disadvantages. The writer must be aware and resist these pitfalls or risk losing the reader’s interest.

The most obvious one is the limitation of being stuck inside one perspective. The writer must remember that the perspective character cannot know what he doesn’t know. This means that the English student cannot know what his professor is thinking. The narrative can lose authenticity for the reader if this rule is broken. He can only guess by their words, actions, and hearsay.

Another potential trap in first person is the overuse of filtering language—I saw, I heard, I thought, etc. These phrases can detach the reader from the perspective character. They’re fine if used in moderation or dialogue but can be jarring for a reader otherwise. For example:

I was about to give up when I saw the seductive eyes on the hardcover of The Great Gatsby, which lay quietly, staring from the left corner of my cherrywood desk. I could write about POV, I thought to myself, suddenly excited.

One could simply rewrite the sentence without the filters as:

I was about to give up when the seductive eyes on the hardcover of The Great Gatsby caught mine. It lay quietly, staring from the left corner of my cherrywood desk. I could write about POV!

Because the reader should already be seeing through the English student’s eyes, he should’ve just seen the book cover, not be told that he did. Also, instead of writing “I thought,” one should just write down the thought by itself without the dialogue tag. Filter language increases the narrative distance and decreases the intimacy that is crucial when writing in first person.

Image by Sephelonor from Pixabay

Third Person Point of View

Today his Professor assigned a comparison essay worth fifty points. “Choose any topic you please,” she had said. After the online lecture, he launched Microsoft Word and opened a new document. Sitting in front of the screen—brain blank as the page before him—he wondered what in the hell to write about as the pulsating cursor mocked him.

The same passage written in third person pulls the reader out of the character’s perspective and into an observer viewpoint. Instead of sitting and wondering and staring at a computer screen, the reader feels like they are standing over the character’s shoulder and witnessing things unfold.

The point of view goes from first person to third person with a change of pronouns. The writer replaces “my,” “I,” and “me” with “his,” “he,” and “him.”

A writer has more freedom because he is no longer trapped inside one character. He can use this freedom to zoom in on other characters or things that the protagonist isn’t even aware of.

Many successful writers have even written from the point of view of a narrator who can zoom out and give a birds-eye view of the world around the protagonist.

Advantages of Third Person

Similarly to first person, but to a varying degree, third person also has its own advantages. Probably the most helpful is the freedom and flexibility that is afforded to a writer. He can choose to narrate the story from one or more perspectives with a little or a lot of distance separating the reader and the characters.

The writer can choose to detach from the characters and be purely objective, or he can pick a character to follow closely and show the story unfold from that character’s viewpoint.

He can jump between characters and transport the reader from one place to another whenever he pleases. Third person is analogous to watching a movie on television. The writer is the movie director, the reader is the camera’s perspective, and the protagonist acts out the narrative.

In direct contrast to first person, the writer can choose to reveal information that the protagonist isn’t even privy to. This means that even though the English student is the protagonist, the writer can leave him in his office and show the reader what other characters are up to.

Disadvantages of Third Person

Writing a narrative in third person has its own drawbacks as well. Although it allows the writer more leeway in his storytelling, it can actually hinder the story if the writer goes overboard.

The reader can become overwhelmed with too many characters, plots, and subplots. This can make the story hard to follow and cause the reader to constantly backtrack or just give up entirely. It requires some control and finesse.

Another snare that can trip up a writer is that the narrator can become too detached. For a reader, it can come off as cold and unemotional, making it hard for them to connect with the story and its characters.

A writer must also be careful not to get carried away with describing every single detail of a setting or a character. Using the example from the previous paragraph, a writer who over-describes might write:

He was about to give up when he saw the white eyes on the blue hardcover of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 classic, The Great Gatsby, staring back at him. It lay quietly blanketed by scribbled and half-crumpled paper, staring seductively from the left corner of his scratched up cherrywood desk. “I could write my comparison essay on first person and third person point of view,” he thought, suddenly excited.

It’s actually common practice for writers to overwrite—detail and describe meticulously—during their first draft and then edit afterwards. Others prefer to edit as they go.

Conclusion

Choosing a point of view all depends on how a writer plans to tell his story. He would need to decide how much freedom and flexibility are needed to accomplish his storytelling goals.

One might argue that first person is too limited in its scope while another finds that the same limitation pushes his creativity to another level. It’s hard to imagine The Great Gatsby written in third person or even from Jay Gatsby’s perspective. Some have said that it’s not the writer, but the narrative that chooses the point of view.

Maybe a writer is working on a dystopian novel that requires him to zoom out and let the reader grasp the post apocalyptic landscape. Or, maybe it’s a short story about an English student struggling to juggle schoolwork and other responsibilities.

Although first person and third person are as distinct as a full-length novel and a five-thousand-word short story, they do share one thing. They are tools at the writer’s disposal that are used to create a narrative—with the reader’s experience in mind.

Featured Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Native Erasure: CNN Labels Native American Voters as “Something Else”

Just by Googling “Native American vote 2020,” it becomes obvious that the erasure of the Indigenous populations of America is still underway. CNN had a graphic that labeled Natives “Something Else.” The irony of the graphic is that they clearly labeled Asian voters, who are at 3 percent, and neglected to do the same for Native Voters, who made up a higher percentage.

It made me wonder if it was just a simple error or if it was something more nefarious. Maybe it was a mistake by a new intern. Well, after digging a little deeper, it seems that the network hasn’t even apologized for the graphic. The only things I could find that come close to an apology are a Twitter post that doesn’t link anywhere, and an email from a network VP of communications to a Canadian media outlet.

A blatant example of Native Erasure #SomethingElse

Now, why would they issue an apology to Indigenous voters in the U.S. at a Canadian outlet? This is a blatant example of Native erasure. Acknowledging that Indigenous people make up 6% of voters would unravel the idea of the “extinct Indian.” Maybe that’s why they felt the need to label Native voters “Something Else.”

Featured Image from Twitter

Would Socrates and Jesus Be No-Platformed If They Were Alive Today?

I recently read Teresa M. Bejan’s “The Two Clashing Meanings of ‘Free Speech.'” She raises some good questions about the First Amendment, free speech, Facebook and Twitter, and no-platforming. She also makes mention of Diogenes the Cynic, a Greek Philosopher who told Alexander the Great to “get out of his light” and apparently “lived in a barrel [and] masturbated in public.”

My jaw dropped when I read the passage about Diogenes the Cynic. I had to look up and read the conversation for myself. It seems Diogenes only acquired “the Cynic” much later and was actually called Diogenes the Dog at the time of the encounter. He also left quite a positive impression on Alexander the Great. Fascinating stuff. I plan to read, and maybe publish something about this ostentatious and flamboyant character in the future.

For now, I’ll just focus on Teresa Bejan’s article. I encourage you to read it for yourself and make up your own mind. I’ll leave a link at the bottom of the post.

Below is my short reflection on the article, particularly focused on isegoria and parrhesia.

“In theory, isegoria meant … any citizen in good standing had the right to participate in debate and try to persuade his fellow citizens.” This theory sounds good on its face, but who decides if a citizen is in good standing? The majority? Well, the majority of Athenian citizens decided that Socrates, one of the fathers of Western philosophy, was too radical to have a platform. He died for his opinions. Today we know he was right and we’re able to criticize the “mob rule” that got one of the brightest minds back then killed. Another famous figure suffered a similar fate in Jerusalem less than 500 years later. Maybe there’s a lesson here.

It’s sort of like we’d rather be lulled to sleep with soothing half-truths than wake up and face the whole truth.

Parrhesia was about liberty in the sense of license—not a right but an unstable privilege enjoyed at the pleasure of the powerful.” Basically, a license to speak truth to power. The sentence immediately evokes monologues by the late George Carlin. There’s something twisted about having to hear the truth about our society from stand-up comics instead of politicians, the people we expect to lead us. It’s sort of like we’d rather be lulled to sleep with soothing half-truths than wake up and face the whole truth. Maybe that says something about our society.

Read Bejan’s article in The Atlantic.

Here is a link to Diogenes the Cynic’s encounter with Alexander the Great.

Feature Photo by Brian Wangenheim on Unsplash

Balancing Being a Parent and Being an Individual

Self-control, self-awareness, and self-love may be the three most important skills our children can learn from us. And we all know that we cannot teach what we haven’t learned.

When I was much younger, and admittedly, at times throughout my adult life, the phrase “loving myself” has elicited some immature and inappropriate jokes. I’m beginning to think this was just a defense mechanism to laugh away the fact that I didn’t actually love myself. I’ll spare you the jokes.

Being kind and generous to others was always emphasized and drilled into my brain growing up. In fact, as a child, my parents would go out of their way to treat my cousins and their coworkers’ children better than they did me. I remember one time having to give away a new toy I had just gotten to one of my younger cousins.

I no longer blame my parents for this parenting style because I now understand its value. Long ago, if you lived on a tiny isolated island with limited resources, the most valuable resource became relationships. You couldn’t afford to offend others who had skills that were vital to your family’s survival, so you played nice, even if their children were spoiled brats. Full disclosure, this is just my theory, and the spoiled brats are hypothetical.

Today we can lock ourselves at home, order everything we need to survive from the internet, and have the items delivered to our doorstep within hours. We also don’t have to put up with hypothetical spoiled brats, though I like to think that we’re all adults who are emotionally intelligent enough to handle a child without losing our minds.

If you came here today expecting to read about tips on how to control your child, I’m sorry to say you’ll be greatly disappointed. This article deals with us, the parents. After all, parenting refers to the parent and not the child. Otherwise, it would be called childrening and not parenting, and the children would be required to learn how to do it.

So, how can we become better parents?

Children Imitate Their Parents

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

In today’s world, we have so many responsibilities placed upon us. Along with being parents, we are expected to take on an economic, social, and societal role, among others.

Because it’s our responsibility to provide financially for our children, we take on an economic role. This means we become business owners, teachers, or freelancers. There are expectations that come along with whatever work we decide to pursue: orders to fill, children to teach, articles to write.

At the end of the workday, when we close up shop, finish grading the last quiz, or do a final edit on an article, we return to our children. They get a preview of adulthood by how fulfilled or unfulfilled we are in our work lives.

We are uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters, and members of our local communities. We are friends, coworkers, and activists. Whatever social roles we play, whether we’re thrust into them or we choose for ourselves, we decide how much time and energy we dedicate to each.

Some may be rewarding, others not so much, but we take on these personas anyway. Through observation, our children learn to interact with others inside and outside their own social circles.

If we are to be productive members of society, there are societal norms that we must follow. We can choose to be taxpayers and law-abiding citizens and voters. In these roles, we teach our children the rules they will one day have to follow if they want to be accepted in a modern society. It may not be perfect but it’s hard to deny it’s better than it has been in the past.

Depending on our values and beliefs, our children may one day staunchly defend the society they’ve grown up in or become rebels who seek to destroy and replace it. Either way, there are, and will always be, norms that keep society from eating itself.

3 Individual Skills to Cultivate as a Parent

Everything mentioned above is irrelevant if we don’t know who we really are as individuals. Who’s behind all the masks we wear to fill the roles (including the parenting role) in our lives?

Does Johnny Depp dress up as Jack Sparrow and talk like a pirate to his children? Does Former President Obama speak like a politician at the dinner table?

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

If we don’t know who we are deep inside, all the roles we play only become masks to hide the real person behind them.

Some of us might bury ourselves in our work to avoid confronting our own issues. Others escape by drinking alcohol and using drugs. We even see and hear about helicopter parents. According to Julie Lythcott-Haims, a former Stanford dean of freshmen, this parenting style “robs them [the children] of the chance to learn who they are, what they love and how to navigate the world.” These parents put off their own issues to detriment of their children.

We are the first teachers in our children’s lives, and they notice much more than we think or would care to admit. If we have a bad day at work, they’ll notice. If mom and dad are fighting a lot, they see that. If we engage in self-destructive behavior, what message are we sending to our kids?

Self-Control

Self-control is important both as an individual and as a parent. It’s amazing how much value we place on the aspects of our lives that are out of our control. We need to forget what we cannot control and focus on the things we can.

Take traffic, for example. Traffic is one thing that we hold no control over, yet it still drives people mad. Accepting that we are powerless against traffic, we can begin to look at possible solutions that are within our power. We could plan ahead and leave home earlier. Or better yet, if you are an environmentally conscious individual, use public transportation or carpool with coworkers.

As much as we like to think we control; and, in some cases, own our children, they are individuals not unlike ourselves. Sometimes we must loosen the reigns and let them make and learn from their mistakes. The more authoritarian we are to them, the more they’ll want to rebel against us as they grow.

Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is another skill that’s important to have as a parent. It’s something we cannot outsource, no matter how much money we have. As individuals, we’re often unaware of things that happen around us (and to us) as we’re constantly bombarded with expectations and responsibilities. We forget to take time for ourselves to reflect and reassess.

Even activities like guided meditations, though a good starting point, are counterintuitive. How can we be self-aware and connect to our inner being with someone else’s voice in our head? I have a hard enough time trying to quiet my own inner monologue.

Being self-aware is to know our strengths and flaws. Knowing our flaws allows us to understand what we need to work on to be better. If I’m not aware that I’m failing my children in my duties as a parent, why would I change?

Self-Love

Self-love is probably the hardest thing to do, at least in my case. With all the unrealistic expectations today on how to look, act, and think, it’s even harder than when I was a child. Having the self-control to not be too hard on ourselves when we fall short is crucial in learning to accept and love ourselves.

It’s also just as important that we don’t fool ourselves and become willfully blind to our faults and shortcomings. This could be thought of as tough self-love. Being self-aware, and knowing what to work on, can help in this regard.

How can we be loving parents if we don’t even know how to love ourselves? We cannot truly love and care for our children, or anyone else for that matter, if we cannot love and care for ourselves. We hear it all the time: parents have to set a good example for their children.

Conclusion

If we let people or things outside of ourselves affect our way of being for better or worse, we effectively give what little control we have to that person or thing. We cannot allow a partner or a job determine our value and worth.

In other words, instead of looking outside of ourselves for validation, we should be looking within.

We all want what’s best for our children. That’s why we work so hard and try our best to give them what we didn’t have growing up.

Some day (I hope not anytime soon), we won’t be around for them. It’s just a sad fact of life. I can rest easy, however, if I know they have the individual skills to carry on and have a fulfilling life.

Rumi said it best in one of his poems: “It’s your road, and yours alone. Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you.”

If you’re reading this, we are on the same road. We may not know each other personally, but I’m glad to be walking it with you. One day, I hope our children will walk together.

Feel free to connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn and share any parenting advice or stories.

Featured Image by kalhh from Pixabay

Nancy Mairs “On Being a Cripple” Analysis

Last month my English Professor assigned this heartwarming and inspirational narrative essay for our class to read and write up a short analysis on. I found Mairs’s writing to be honest, accessible, and moving. I look forward to reading more of her work. I’ll leave a link to the essay at the bottom of the page for your reading pleasure.

Here’s the assigned writing prompt:

What are the reasons that Nancy Mairs gives for preferring the word “cripple” to define her condition ? Why, after choosing to define herself as a cripple, does she say on page 88 that she hates being a cripple and that if fills her with “self-loathing”? Explain this in light of her assertion on page 89 that, “like many women, I have always had an uneasy relationship with my body.”

Mairs prefers the word “cripple” because it’s the “straightforward and precise” word that describes her condition, as opposed to “disabled,” which she states “suggests any incapacity, mental or physical,” or “handicapped” which she defines as “… [being] deliberately disadvantage[d].” She also implies, however subtly—and skillfully I might add—that the politically correct terms are more for the comfort of society rather than the crippled themselves.

As a cripple, I swagger. —Nancy Mairs

Instead of using language as an abstract crutch, she fully accepts her condition by stating: “Some realities do not obey the dictates of language.” She uses irony to emphasize this point by writing, “As a cripple, I swagger.” 

The self-loathing she feels stem from her condition limiting her ability to complete everyday tasks that she was once able to do easily. She also writes that she feels shame because the symptoms of her condition, particularly fatigue, cause her to be excluded from many of her community’s social functions, referred to as “puritanical tradition[s] of exceptional venerability.” The passage is a subtle dig at society’s close-mindedness toward “disabled” or “handicapped” people. Society wants to hide “cripples” behind these so-called less derogatory terms instead of acknowledging the reality of their situations. This reinforces Mair’s decision to refer to herself as a cripple. She flaunts it openly, thus bringing more attention to it.

On top of all of that, because she isn’t only a woman, but a crippled woman, she has no way of living up to society’s ideals of what a woman should be, leaving her “feel[ing] ludicrous, even loathsome” when she thinks about how “others, especially men” view her body. She also describes a childhood “sense of self-alienation” that is exacerbated by her diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis as an adult.

Click Here to read the narrative essay. Feel free to share your thoughts on the essay in the comments.

Feature Image by Candid_Shots from Pixabay