A More Perfect Union

In the 2d decade of the 21st Century, it’s difficult to remember a time when bipartisan cooperation at some level was not simply accepted it was expected. There’s a temptation to blame the deterioration of political courtesy on Fox News or Breitbart or MSNBC & CNN. All of those points have merit, but there’s no missing the deeper truth. It doesn’t sell if no one is buying.

There are a host of factors that are at play in the political polarization here in the United States and more broadly, across the world. It’s ironic that this should come at a time when we can least afford it. The posts under this sub-heading are intended to contribute in some small way to the recognition that at our core, we are still one.

The essential kinship of Americans and in the even broader sense, humanity writ large, is something we all recognize most profoundly in moments of crisis. But when we take the time to look beyond our own daily grinds to acknowledge the struggles of others in that same grind, we are (or should be) reminded that we all face those same challenges and ultimately, the same outcome. In the grand scheme of things, while the details of our individual ends are uncertain, the end itself is not.

At our very best, we face each other with love and kindness, and our shared, inevitable end with courage and grace. In these things, the very best of what it is to be human finds its highest expressions.

A Lucid Eye

From the artist's perspective...

An author sees life a little differently. Not necessarily better…just differently. What follows is Dirk’s take on a lot of things in the event you might be interested. In the last analysis, living is an art form and if we do it right, life IS art!

For the engaged, living is a dance. As a long-time surfer, I can assure you, there are days when the sun goes down too soon. At the same time, the transition between day and night is every bit as dramatic and lovely as the transition between our mother ocean and the our mother Earth.

And there are also days when cooler weather and the siren song of skis slicing through the snow is as (or more) appealing. One of the great things about life is it’s your call.

Common Ground

In the end, we are one...

On another forum I’ve been known to frequent, someone asked a question that’s been on my mind for a while. Rarely at a loss for an opinion, I weighed in and I’m going to share both the question and my response. Before I get into it, I’m going to offer a disclaimer. 

I don’t labor under the notion that the following answer is the only thoughtful take on this one, but I do think it may be one of the better takes if we’d like to salvage the nation so many of us love.

The question asked, was: “How can we find the common ground in such a polarized political environment?”

I wonder if there’s an argument for starting with desired end-state? What do we mean by “common ground and common ground on whose terms? In the second decade of the 21st Century, what would common ground look like?

Is not a huge part of the problem with polarization today the language we use to describe each other? As long as conservatives characterize liberals or progressives as libtards…or liberals characterize conservatives as casino capitalists or white nationalists, are we likely to find common ground?

I think not, because we’ll never get close enough to each other to find that common ground. It’s that common ground isn’t there. If you’ve done much travelling, as I have, you know it’s there. It’s just that we have a number of organizations driving the political narrative in America whose best interests aren’t served by us seeing each others’ essential humanity.

And we know who these organizations are. An incomplete list follows.

The two major political parties whose life blood is money. Money obtained (for the most part) by donations. So their rhetoric is targeted at keeping those donations flowing from the most politically motivated. Do you need a PhD in political science to puzzle out where that leads? Not in the America I know. They’ll pander to the folks who have and are willing to cough up the greens.

The paid media (mainstream and otherwise) who spend a lot of time, money and effort in figuring out who their viewers are and what trips their emotional triggers. Perceptive readers are already way ahead of me, on this I suspect, but I’ll say it anyway. If we persist in buying what they’re selling, they’ll keep selling it and we’ll never set foot on the emotional common ground to which our questioner refers. Put another way, we’ll never recall when we recognized we were one, irrespective of the differences of opinion that are a natural part of being. At core, America is still America in all it’s lovely breathtaking variety.

America in all it's variety

As long as the purpose of political parties and the media is to sell an agenda rather than arrive at the truth, we’ll allow wit masquerade as wisdom & the policies of this nation writ large will remain the prisoner of motivated cognition. We used to know better. For the same reason biodiversity leads to a more robust, resilient ecosystem a diverse society is much more resilient to the change that is the lei motif of life.

E Pluribus Unum

We don’t have to love each other (though that would be nice) but we do have to live together, and we’ll never get there if we’re inclined to argue from a starting point that demands us to think the worst of each other.

Just one broken-down baggy-eyed retired Marine officer’s opinion.

The Times are a Changin’

Zat Rana is a writer who is a frequent contributor on Medium a forum to which I subscribe. In late September of this year, he posted an article on Medium in his Personal Growth series that I found thought-provoking and at the same time, just the tiniest bit frustrating. I’m going to link to it, in case you want to read all of it, but I’m going to quote the (IMHO) pivotal points and take things a little further.

Campus collage

As Rana suggests in his Medium post:

“Growing up in a generation even as recent as the mid-20th century meant that your sense of self was mostly shaped by a combination of your local cultures, popular media culture, your education, and whatever life experiences you accumulated living in the real world. Today…the internet has not only completely shattered and broken what we think of as popular culture into million little pieces, incapable of making a coherent whole, but it has also equipped us with all of humanity’s knowledge…too much information and too many cultures and too much knowledge only overwhelm, and given how the human mind works, leading us to confusion.”

If you’re like me, at this point you’re thinking “shhh-yeah!” It’s hard to imagine anyone with a modicum of “pay attention” not nodding their heads in agreement. Confusion, along with change seems to be the lei motif of your age. And if you have as much runway behind you as I do, you’re also probably thinking, “But this is not news. It’s not like we didn’t see this coming.”

Future Shock the Book

The Tofflers gave the phenomenon Zat is referring to a name. The called it “future shock,” in their their book of the same name. In essence, Future Shock is the exposure to too much information too fast. If you’re interested in a really thoughtful, way ahead of it’s time look at it, just follow the link. 

 

 

I should note (parenthetically), that the Alvin and Heidi had a specific take on what “too much information” was. To them, it wasn’t simply a lot of new, random information. It was new information that (at first) cracked and (later) broke, existing paradigms.

In the simpler time in which I grew up, I had a built-in break from the bombarding we take from the world. I had my swimming work-outs, chores and homework to do and a couple of hours of leisure in the evening to align (or reject) the information with which I had been bombarded with my (admittedly flawed) sense of self and place.

But in the Internet age, as Mr. Rana points out, breaks have to be engineered into our lives. Compulsive learners in particular need help with this. 

“In the global village created by the internet, on the other hand, the node of your digital self is constantly bombarded by the larger network, which is itself shaped by hidden algorithms, mostly manipulated by those who happen to shout the loudest. For the average person, the amount of consumption far exceeds the amount of time they have to rationally make sense of it. And when they can’t rationally make sense of it, they take shortcuts, which is clearly apparent in the rampant and blind tribalism on most social media networks.”

Mr. Rana goes on to conclude:

“The most effective people learn to close the gap between what makes sense and what is right. What makes sense is what is coherent only if you ignore anything that doesn’t suit your existing narrative. Rightness, on the other hand, is the willingness to embrace temporary incoherence — or a state of confusion and nonsense — long enough that a broader and more honest mental model of the world can be created.”

I’m personally aligned with the drift of his post, as far as he took it. But as someone who spent the first 20-some years of his life in uniform, hypothetically defending these United States, I find myself missing the other half of the equation in Mr. Rana’s post. Cohering our individual model of the world with what’s happening around us is certainly part of personal growth.

But it is only half the job we humans sharing this world with other humans and other species must accomplish. The other half of the job is finding a way to coexist harmoniously with the other inhabitants of our biosphere. We are of and part of, the world in general. Our place in it is as much about contribution as it is about clarity, comfort and fit.

Fire jumping the road in CA
Photo courtesy of ABC News.

Whether we are referring to dovetailing the scientific reality of anthropogenic climate change with the needs of a complex society, simple personal disagreements or the overarching priorities of our governance, our personal growth is (or should be) in part about contribution. It borders on cliché to quote (possibly) JFK’s most famous line from inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask rather what you can do for your country,” quote.

But that line became a cliché for a reason. Embedded in that single line is the fundamental, understanding that however diverse we become, we are nevertheless one body. In time, we must as a biosphere come recognize that truth on a global scale. Our place is not simply in our nation. It is our place in the world writ large.

Long term, there is no other sustainable perspective and we all know this. Recognition of a non-egocentric membership in that global community is perhaps one of the prime indicators of personal growth. This is not a denial of self. It is a declaration of a kinship and the ultimate reflection of the best we can be.

West of Tomorrow and the Meaning of Life

Woman seeking meaning in the desert

To be honest, I don’t remember where I first blundered across this statement, but I remember vividly the oddly conflicted sensation of being @ once energized and enervated by it. Yeah, I know…logically inconsistent. Guilty as charged Welcome to my oft-conflicted world of tail-swallowing paradox. A little explanation may just be in order.

Like a lot of aphorisms, it is evocative. In a sense, it feels self-proving on its face and at some level, empowering. For someone like me, it’s a bit of a charge to think I get a vote with respect to the meaning of life. And if we could track down the original author and wake him/her up to ask them what they intended, my guess is it’s probably meant to be empowering.

At the same time, it’s also a kick in the Gluteus Maximus. Empowerment is meaningless unless it’s actionable and acted upon. So this while this aphorism is a declaration of empowerment, it’s also a call to action. With power comes responsibility, not simply for action, but the consequences thereof.

Photo courtesy of Alexander Hafennanum and Unsplash

The longer I pondered this simple statement, the more it reminded me of an iceberg. There’s so much more going on, beneath the surface. If we are to internalize this statement and render it actionable, then we are called not only to take action to give our lives meaning, but to express that meaning in ways that we find moral in principle and ethical in practice.

But in order to do that, we must know ourselves well enough to know by which moral principles we wish to be bound and how, specifically, we can give meaning to our lives within those constructs. It’s difficult for me to see anyone actually living this aphorism to its fullest logical extent, without a lot of thought put into who we are, how we wish to live, and how we will define success.

Storm front at sunset
Photo courtesy of Yannos Papanostsopolous & Unsplash

In West of Tomorrow, Clay Conover is midway through his life, plus or minus. He has long-term plan that reflects how he defines both success and meaning. But in common with all of us, he’s not pursuing those dreams of success and meaning in a vacuum. And in common most of us, he doesn’t have anything like omniscience.

Sheera Prasad, a newly hired trainer at the contract training firm in which he is the lead trainer looks a lot like part of the vision of success he has in his mind. Sheera appears to be of the same mind. But Clay has spent his first career looking for ambushes and his usually sharp instincts are whispering warnings. Will he listen to them? If not and he’s wrong, will he ever recover?

West of Tomorrow is a tale of corporate intrigue, betrayal, misplaced love and the phoenix that lives in all of us. West of Tomorrow is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.

We Own Tomorrow, for Better, for Worse

A Nation (or world) Divided...

Streets on Fire
A riot in France (Courtesy Randy Colas-Unsplash)

Divisiveness, political, racial, religious and cultural has become such a platitude that it is now accepted as the deplorable but inevitable truth of the 21st Century. Driven in part by increasing diversity and where diversity is clustered, (the argument goes), it’s inevitable.

There’s the left and right coasts and there’s “fly over” country. There’s the haves and the have nots. There’s the “liberal” north and the “conservative” south and you can follow those socio-economic fissures by simply looking at the political breakdowns in those same regions and those facts all pretty much speak for themselves.

Dem-Republican Vote Dist.

Moreover, the pundits are quick to tell us, this is not simply a U.S. phenomenon. It’s global and like the experiences we’re currently having here in our country, it’s happening for similar reasons, and for those similar reasons, it’s inevitable “over there,” just as it is “over here.” And those changes are catalysts of still more change.

 

But isn't it up to us?

It would be naive to claim that the contextual reality in which we find ourselves is an illusion. It isn’t. But at the philosophical level, there’s a problem with in my humble opinion. The hard core, self-appointed “realists” may feel obliged to disagree with me and that’s fine. By your very right to differ, if you’re comfortable with a paradigm that postulates conflict as inevitable, you can stop reading now, or if you’re so inclined, or feel free to read, dissent and comment accordingly.

But I wonder if we can agree, that conflict is a choice? Can we not disagree respectfully, without being disagreeable? Surely, somewhere between extremes of meta-ethical relativism and unyielding moral universalism there is a place where we can coexist? Irrespective of your preferred socio-political or economic model, can we not agree that what makes us alike is greater than what divides us? In the words of Rilke, living in another time of tectonic change:

“Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn’t necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again…”

Rainer Maria Rilke

Change is literally the lei motif of our age. At the personal level, it’s as individual as our fingerprint. More generally, our reaction to the changes around us But we defined in part by the form our change and that inevitable friction that disagreement takes. If you’re riled up and expostulating based on something you read on a website no one’s ever heard of or a FB post without links to the source, you’re probably being pulled to one extreme or the other. Honest men and women, even opinionated ones, aren’t ashamed of the sources upon which they base their opinions. The necessary accomplice of learning is perspective, often perspectives that do not dovetail with our own. That said, the ability of those perspectives to alter our own depend on verifiable, credible information.

We are one...

Man holding a sign I'm here for my 3 year old grand daughter
Its up to us...Courtesy Roya-Ann Miller & Unsplash

But beyond the formation of our opinions—hopefully the result of conscientious pursuit of truth—there is the fundamental truth underpinning all others, if we’re human. We are human and one. For better or worse, we are the dominant specie on this planet, collectively responsible for not only what we do, but for the outcome.

We are the stewards of our fate and the generations following us. I can’t imagine anyone with children not appreciating this and recognizing (if belatedly) that we do not inherit the Earth from our parents. We borrow it from our children.

 

The Truth Hiding in Plain Sight

Tomorrow is here...

From where I am at this point in my life, I see our time as a blink world of paradigm shifts, all happening at once and often working at cross-purposes with each other and humanity. It is partly the incessant bombardment of things to think about. Not that we weren’t warned. The Tofflers predicted this when they published Future Shock, in 1970. In the nearly fifty years since, most of us who have been paying attention are painfully aware the Tofflers were mostly right.

But you’d never know it, from listening to many of today’s “thought leaders.” Whether it’s anodyne corporate talking points drafted by some nameless HR functionary, or the sage advice of the self-help gurus and life coaches, I can’t help feeling that something’s missing. And don’t even get me started on most of the politicians already stumping for our vote in 2020. There are exceptions in all three of the aforementioned groups. But even the best of them gloss over or dance around the truth hiding in plain sight.

The old order is dying. Representative democracy as we have known it, capitalism and the self-absorbed American way of life are all sinking of their own weight. The political thinking grounded in the time before the Industrial Revolution was never intended to cope with the 21st Century in which instantaneous communications and could disseminate simple, seductive lies faster than the ponderous, nuanced truths of a more complicated world.

The underpinnings of laissez-faire capitalism will never adapt to a world in which unbridled greed, unlimited growth and minimal regulation are now literally the most direct paths to extinction. A society of 330 million people in which average voter turn out hovers between the low 40s in mid-term election cycles and the mid-50s during presidential election cycles does not bode well for sustaining a vibrant democracy. (See chart below excerpted from Pew Research).

The "back-button doesn't work...

As a purely practical matter, the indicators noted above need to change. Extracting a meaningful consensus from America seems unlikely if almost half the eligible voting population doesn’t vote, even in a presidential election. If these metrics continue, understanding how democracy might die without a whimper gets pretty easy. 

If you buy much of the foregoing, it should be obvious that what worked in the past won’t work going forward. For the same reason we can’t build tomorrow’s fire with yesterday’s ashes, we can’t build a sustainable tomorrow from the ruins of yesterday. Change is the natural order of things. The “back button” doesn’t work on history and deep down, most of us know it. We need to stop looking in our rearview mirror for anything like a promising future.

Where the future is...

But in the midst of the angst, denial and motivated cognition, it’s worth remembering we’ve been here before. We’ve survived ice ages, volcanic eruptions, huricanes, earthquakes and fratricidal wars over religion, and the Industrical Revolution. We should also remember that progress is rarely linear. Sometimes it meanders, sometimes it even regresses.

One of the daunting things about our time is the uncertainty that comes with it. In a way, perhaps  the most underappreciated spinoffs of the future shock as outlined in the Tofflers’ book is it’s paralytic effect. There’s no lack of uncertainty confronting us in the second decade of the 21st Century. But looking back at the history of man in general and America in particular, uncertainty has never stopped us before. The future does not belong to the timid or despairing, it belongs to the thoughtful men and women with a fresh vision and a hopeful, innovative spirit that dares. And to the intelligent followers willing to accept the risks while focusing on the pay off.

Tomorrow does not come with unconditional guarantees or even with a promise. It comes with a challenge, a smile and only the faintest whiff of a “maybe.” I can’t tell you what will happen if we smile back. I can only tell you what will happen if we don’t. So maybe smile with me as we together embrace our tomorrow.

Dirk Sayers is the author of West of Tomorrow, a contemporary literary romance and Best Case Scenario, Act I of Nyra’s Journey, the first volume in a new-adult series about one young woman’s search for her most authentic self. Through the Windshield, Drive-by Lives, a collection of Dirk’s short stories, is now also available and Tier Zero, Volume I of the Knolan Cycle a science fiction tale of first contact is due out in November 2019.

At the Intersection of Memory and Emotion

Sense and Memory

Borne on the wind, a familiar scent teases up a memory, and your heart spikes involuntarily to emotions you welcome—or not. A sound you haven’t heard for a while (or just haven’t noticed), resonates through your auditory pathways, awakening feelings usually buried in the daily avalanche we call life in the 21st Century. Or maybe it’s a sight, familiar or not, that reminds you of something from a significant “then,” and for just an instant, you’re achingly aware of the next breath you draw.

If only for an instant, you are “back there,” willingly or inspite of yourself, reliving some sliver of the life journey that brought you here. Pleasant or painful, you’re neck-deep in one of your yesterdays—for better or worse. As Ms. Streisand sings in the theme vocal to The Way We Were,”

 “Memories, can be beautiful and yet, what’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget,

“But it’s the laughter, we will remember, whenever we remember, the way we were”

From the Title Track of Columbia Picture’s “The Way We Were,” sung by the incomparable Barbara Streisand.

Sometimes, it isn't obvious why you remember, but remember you do... Photo from the author's yesterday.

Memory: Spoiler of Tomorrow?

In West of Tomorrow, you are immersed in a contemporary second-chance romance woven into a tale of corporate intrigue and betrayal and misplaced love. In Chapter 25, entitled The Last High Tide, Clay Conover finds himself at a crossroads. After a difficult night, scent and sound borne on the early morning breezes conjure his past.

Clay awakened the second time with a stiff neck, still in his recliner in the living room, his heart thundering to yet another dream he hadn’t wanted to have. Our past finds us no matter where we go, he thought.

Raging thirst drove him to his refrigerator, where he squinted against the interior light to remove a bottle of water. He cracked the seal on his way to the balcony outside his living room and opened the slider. The sparsely-clothed trees around his condo danced in the light of a quarter moon to strong offshore winds. Each time the wind subsided, he heard the distant percussion of surf.

As he listened, yesterdays awash with memory tied his stomach in knots—the scent of sage and wild licorice in autumn carried by hot, dry Santana’s—the dusty drive to Trestles to surf the evening glass-off.

“And I thought I heard the sea as I used to,” he whispered, “each time as the first time; far off, new.” The unselfconscious joy of youth surged through him, only to swirl like fallen leaves spinning out of sight down the river of his life. The subdued thunder of distant surf pulled him back to his present. There’s nothing to stop you now, it seemed to say.

Clay Conover, exiting the zen zone... Photo courtesy of Jeremy Bishop and Unsplash.com.

Still numb from the events of the really bad last 24 hours, Clay seeks to avoid, just for today, the decisions he must make and the profound sense of loss and disconnection he feels. When going gets tough, the tough go surfing.

It’s not all bad, of course. The overpowering sense of freedom and oneness with something larger than self is as life-affirming as it always was. But Clay’s past doesn’t give up so easily. It triggers memory and a bittersweet recognition that another door is closing. 

Back at his car, Clay shrugged out of his wet suit and pulled on his sweat pants and t-shirt. After locking his board in the car, he walked back to the beach to watch.     

They’re better than I was at their age, he admitted. And as he watched, the off shores subsided, reversed, and conditions deteriorated quickly.

Thirty years ago, he’d spent many weekends here—first alone, later with his wife, and later still with his daughter. Jayna had learned to surf half a mile down the beach at Old Man’s and Dog Patch. Mesmerized, he watched the outrunning tide expose more of the red algae-coated rocks.

Clay lingered, reluctant to leave—sensing that when he left this time, he might never return. The incoming afternoon tide would erase his footprints and all memory of him. He’d become just one more of countless others who surfed here, once. What does it matter? he wondered. He had no answer—but it did matter.

Are we more than footprints in the sand?

On the horizon, a hazy bank of silver-gray clouds heralded an impending change in the weather. It would rain tomorrow, or the next day, as the low that had spawned the waves moved south. The sea breeze stirred up an eddy of sand around his feet as he turned, heading for his car, his silent home and whatever might be left of his life.

At the Junction of Past, Present and Possible

In common with most of us, Clay’s past feels a lot like who he is. “Everywhere I go, there I am,” he notes. But is his past a life sentence? Or is it all more nuanced, more susceptible to some mystical balance of who we were, and are and who we might become?

For most of us, we eventually realize that our past is both a spoiler and a hopeful whisper of potential. Clay’s past has hung on, as it does for many of us. It affects our feelings about ourselves now and (like it or not), our possibilities. Can Clay move beyond his disappointments and his failures and find if not happiness, at least contentment? The answer, for Clay…and for all of us…lies half an hour west of tomorrow.

Staring into possible. Photo courtesy of Oliver Roos and Unsplash.com

Dirk is a retired Marine officer, turned corporate trainer/manager, turned author. West of Tomorrow is his second book. He is also the author of Best Case Scenario, a coming of age story and the first in the Nyra Westensee journey and Through the Windshield, Drive-by Lives, a collection of evocative short stories that stand alone and also introduce readers to Dirk’s longer works. All three volumes are available in paperback and Kindle formats.

Dirk is also working on three additional full length novels in various stages of completion. Tier Zero, Volume I of the Knolan Cycle is a science fiction epic of first contact is do out in the latter months of 2019. To stay up to date on Dirk’s work, subscribe to Dirk’s Updates, below.

Through the Windshield: Drive-by Lives (A Collage of Change)

Theme and the Power of Story

Storytelling is among the oldest and (most important) forms of communication. From their crude beginnings as a series of sounds and gestures, they graduated to speech, then (perhaps) cave paintings. These likely evolved to petroglyphs before the first system of written foms of communication.

The truths shared in stories are foundational to life. (Photo Courtesy of Siddarth Singh and Unsplash)

Common to all those forms is purpose or intent. A theme. We communicate to connect with each other at our most basic human level. The unconscious heirs of our inventive ancestors, we connect and communicate with each other  through stories to enrich our lives and ensure our collective survival.

From the very beginning, stories have always had themes. Someone, somewhere is reading this and muttering to themselves, “Oh crap. I’m back in sophomore English class.” Nope. You’re safe. But it’s true. Every story worth reading has a theme, even those whose purpose is principally to entertain. Communicating a theme (or themes) is the motive force behind storytelling. I think this is especially true of writers. As one author once wrote:

“It is only when you open your veins and bleed a little onto the page that you connect with your reader…”

As melodramatic as that may sound, most authors will vouch for the (sometimes) excruciating pain of baring their souls for their readers to see. This is true because meaningful truth comes wrapped in authenticity and (often) powerful emotion. Soaring, joy or overwhelming despair, in all good writing there is an inseparable tie between theme, (or purpose) and emotion. That emotion may be the quiet satisfaction of reading a story well told or the soul-shaking flash of satori, but either way, the reader knows when they have read good writing.

Anthologies and Theme.

If by definition, all good stories have a theme, then a collection of them will have them, as well. But do anthologies have a unifying theme? Maybe. Anthologies aren’t necessarily a collection of stories written around a theme. Often, they are a collection of stories unified by genre, as in a collection of coming of age stories, or science fiction yarns.

In the case of Through the Windshield, the stories contained in the anthology are unified by theme rather than genre. In broad terms, Through the Windshield spans several genre from contemporary fiction, to coming of age to science fiction. But what all the stories in this collection have in common is the protagonists, each for different reasons, find themselves balanced on the precipice of life-altering change.

Books are among today's premier storytellers.

The Leitmotif of our Age.

No season typifies change like autumn (Photo courtesy of Eberhard Grosgasteiger & Unsplash)

It’s a commonplace bordering on cliché to observe that life is change. It is implicit in the rhythm of the seasons, in our own growth and that of our siblings. This has always been true. A case could even be made that all literature is dependent upon if not about, change. It is not only the human condition, but the story of all life.

But in the second decade of the 21st Century, change as we know and experience it, is accelerating—and doing so exponentially. It is driven in part by the fusion of instantaneous and non-stop communications and exacerbated by high-end data collection and analysis tools. As a result, our experience of both time and change feels increasingly compressed and for many of us, stressful.

Thematically, all of the stories in Through the Windshield call the readers’ attention to both the promise and the threat of the runaway change and shifting paradigms. It is the leitmotif of our Age and for most of us, at once exhilerating and frightening. It’s hard to be true to ourselves, when there is so much uncertainty about who we are and what our place is or will be.

Art and Change.

In the short run, there’s not much we can do about the inevitable discomfort associated with shifting paradigms, beyond recognizing that they are shifting and recognizing some of the forces driving those shifts. But over the long pull, we need a way to place that change in perspective and to feed our souls as well as our bellies. Existence is not life. We must find time to manage change in ways that work for us, and paradoxically, this is never more difficult or more necessary than when time is at a premium.

We cannot control the world around us, but we own, lock, stock and barrel, our reaction to it. Balance, understanding and to a surprising extent, peace itself is not what is happening around us, it is what we allow ourselves to feel in the face of what the maelstrom that is 21st Century life.

Earlier in this post, I observed that storytelling is one of the earliest ways by which humans connect with each other at the most fundamental level. Stories have survived and will continue to do so as a means of connecting, because we are at our best when we are relating to each other.

Dirk Sayers is the author of three books. West of Tomorrow, Best Case Scenario. Through the Windshield, Drive-by Lives is his third release, a thoughtful anthology of short stories whose principal theme is change.

At the Intersection of Art and Life

The Author's Journey...

The author (left) reading at Lit-Up, Orange County

Starting out...

When I first seriously considered how to go about realizing my life-long ambition of being a published author, I did what most would-be authors do & started writing while concurrently  researching how to get published traditionally. Almost the first thing I ran across in my research was the need to establish a “platform.” In one reputable publication for writers, I learned that a platform was, my visibility as an author, some components of which were:

  1. Who I am
  2. My personal and professional “connections.”
  3. Any media outlets I could utilize to sell books.
  4. Who my likely readers are/where I can find them
  5. What interests them

I can’t speak for other authors, but I found this definition (or more accurately description) something of a buzz-kill. There is clearly a business side to being an author, unless you’re independently wealthy and can afford to publish indefinitely, without a return on the investment of your time and/or the cost of publishing.

But building a “platform” is hard and time-consuming work. Don’t believe me? Try it. I’ll even give you a few of the steps, if you like. Start by developing an editorial calendar. Yeah, I do have one an no, I don’t always stick to it, even though I know I should. (Not sticking to your editorial calendar is one of the things sure to makesbuilding a platform hard, btw).

Once you have that calendar in place, try coming up with something interesting to say, on a regular basis…something at once thoughtful, thought-provoking. Now publish it on several platforms, tailoring it to what you think is the likely audience there also (hopefully) interested in what’s likely to be in your next book. Oh…you don’t know who might read your books? Go back and revisit items 4 & 5, above. (And don’t skip it, next time).

Every day is a winding road...

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash and Peter Danka

By now, I’m sure you getting the message. It’s a tortuous and painful road, fraught with distractions, pitfalls, relative poverty and oceans of angst, when it doesn’t pan out. And it won’t. Over and over again it won’t pan out and you’ll not only question the worthwhile nature of your dream but your ability to realize it and your own worth in consequence. 

And you’ll confront another uncomfortable truth. There are people out there who simply don’t like to read. Or they don’t like to read what you write, or what you write makes them think & deep down, they really don’t want to do that, after working all day. And if you’re serious about promoting yourself, you’re going to be talking about what you do, even when you’d rather not. 

Some people will perk up, at first, when you tell them you’re an author. It isn’t the common answer, so they want to know more. But as soon as you tell them that:

  1. You’re still working on it and aren’t sure when it will be out, or
  2. They’ve never read what you’ve written and won’t.

Some will look at you like you need your skull candled and change the subject. Others won’t say it, but they think “loser who thinks they’re a writer and don’t know any better.” You’re just another failure, who isn’t very good at what they and dismiss you without another thought, even if you’re a “friend.” At first, it hurts. Don’t think it doesn’t. But in the end, it doesn’t matter.

No one starts out with a lot of total strangers (or even close friends or family) believing in you. Get used to it. It will happen almost daily.What does  matter is that you believe in yourself and that’s true whether you’re striving to be an author, a painter or sculptor or poet. You must learn to believe in yourself and this is never more true than when you’re the only one left who does.

That’s not easy. No, that’s not entirely accurate. It’s almost impossibly difficult, after a few years.

Trust me, on this one. Unless you’re one of the almost unbelievably rare individuals who hits the first time, you will at some point, lose faith in yourself and doubt your ability to make whatever it is you’re pursuing stick. And if you happen to hit it the first time, you will forever live in terror that you’ll be a one-hit wonder…that your next work will flop.

Life's what happens while you're making other plans...

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash and Hans Peter Gauster

Meanwhile, the distractions of life and the imperatives of each day will distract you. If you’re an artist, those distractions will be that much stronger. That’s because deep down, most people consume art in any form casually. When they have time. And that, in it’s turn, is because art moves them only rarely or not at all. Few stories or paintings make our hearts souls soar, or put a lump in their throat.

But that is the mission of the artist. To put that empathy, love, insight or epiphany back in the mundane. It’s always been hard, but in our matter of fact, fast-paced world, it has arguably become an almost insurmountable task. Please not the choice of “almost.” That it is hard is precisely the reason we must keep striving for that which fires other souls.

Artists, whether authors, painters, sculptors or dancers strive (or should) to create those rare moments in which life and art intersect. For it is in those moments that we are most profoundly human and most profoundly ourselves. At our best, we are the catalysts of the heart and the birthers of truth. As painful as that may be, it is the life we chose. It is our task to be true to the call.

Dirk is the author of West of Tomorrow, a contemporary tale of corporate intrigue, romance and the phoenix living in all of us. Best Case Scenario is the first volume in a New Adult/coming of Age series, following the growth of Nyra Westensee, millennial college graduate in search of personal and professional identity, and Through the Windshield, a collection of short fiction some previously published, others in print for the first timeAll are currently available on Amazon.