A Tale of Two Questions

It has been a while since I have blogged, so I thought I would jump in. This would explain my return to Dickensian titles. Also, there was the hacking of a Facebook account belonging to one of my favorite authors. While it was a surreal thing to think for a reason why Steven Barnes would be trying to sell me Air Jordans, it did make me think back to something that was said by him at a recent convention. Basically his statement that was in all things, be it life or your writing, there are two questions that need to be asked. Thus the title and focus of the article.

The two questions which would relate to your story, your life as a writer, (anything really) were simple.

Who am I?

What is the Truth?

I know. More philosophical than you’d expect out of me. Consider that they came from an author I read, not from my own wrinkled grey mass. Of course there is relating those two questions to my life and how they relate to the overall stance of “Make Good Art.” Let’s ignore for the purposes of this piece the fact that I have regurgitated the advice of two influential authors, thus making me the literary equivalent of the younger sibling idolizing the big brother and mimicking what he does. Humor me, it’s my blog.

Nearly twenty years ago, after my son was born I was faced with a decision. I had left college to enter the work force. I figured I could be a writer without a degree. My family needed money right then. (Keep in mind I was 21 years old with a wife and three kids, my stepson entering into preteen years.) I was working at a CompUSA during the day and a Big Apple Bagels at night. Roughly about 80-85 hours a week. In an effort to appeal as a manager more than a simple floor worker at the computer store, I decided to grab onto another piece of advice many of you have heard. “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”

This led to me looking to pick up more dress shirts and ties. Probably a pair or two of pants as well, so I wasn’t using the pants from my single suit to work in. Coming into Madison (I had still been living in Waukesha at the time) I made my way to the mall. I had determined that I could use some help from my father. After all, he wore a tie to work every day. Even jackets. What stands out the most to me about the day is that it was raining. Not open downpour, but a nice gentle rain. The kind I am likely to go walking in.

Keep in mind that nearly twenty years ago not all places were set with automatic opening doors. At the set of doors leading into the mall people were popping in and out going about their business. I was as well. At the corner door there was a person in a wheelchair having problems getting in. She was stuck out in the rain, crying because she couldn’t manuever the doors to get in. What happened then is something I have only ever told my wife.

I almost went into the store without stopping. Almost. I wouldn’t have the words to explain what went through my head in a rush as I backed up, went to the woman and asked if she could use some help. But as I opened up the door and helped wheel her in I thought about what I was doing. After asking if there was anything else I could do for her I had made a decision. I didn’t need a whole new wardrobe. I would get a new tie that day, but not the one I had intended to at the start of the day.

All these years later I have identified what I knew back then. Who am I and what is the Truth? While my father would be proud to see me become the manager of a computer sales department or the store manager of a chain store, he wouldn’t want to see that if I became the kind of person who was blind to the efforts and needs of others. The Truth is that I wasn’t a retail lifer. Though I was good at it, I wasn’t meant to be staffing a store for the rest of my life.

After my day off, I showed back up at the store wearing a new pair of black dockers and my red CompUSA shirt. My manager who gave me the advice didn’t ask, and I didn’t offer. I didn’t need to explain anything to him. Besides, he was one of the people that wouldn’t notice the person in need of help on the way going about his business. I come from a family that is taught not to put ambition before compassion.

Fast forward twenty years. I am considering this story from my past again. Technological attacks having reminded me of the Two Questions that Steven Barnes had urged us all to ask at OddCon this year. I was formulating this blog in my head as I shopped for the last minute things I would need for my upcoming trip to New Orleans for Authors After Dark. Twenty years and I am finally progressing towards my dream of being an author. In some ways, I already am one. You know, the “if a tree falls in the woods” gambit.

Going through the checkout at Target I watch the items being rung up. Quietly. Usually the cashier will give you a statement of some sort. Ask you if you found everything okay. Something. As I swiped my card and waited for the reciept, I noticed the woman mouth the words thanking me. Without a thought I signed “thank you” to her. Her eyes brightened and she signed “you’re welcome” to me. Before I had made my way up to check out she’d been running through the sales. After I left she had a bit of a smile to her face.

Who am I? I am a guy who took a class in ASL so that he could more easily communicate with the person he was volunteering for at a Seattle area game company. Albeit I was also the guy would forgot most of what he learned with continued lack of use, but knew enough to say thank you to someone at the store.

The Truth? The Truth is many people know some of the basics. People use ASL to teach their pre-language children to communicate now. Knowing when to pull the trigger on using it with other people is something you’ll never know. At least not until that first time you are faced with it in public. My personal truth is that I am careful when using the sign for the word cookie – long story.

My intention had been to limit the stories to two. It had symmetry and serendipity due to the timing. The Universe wanted to remind me that sometimes these things come in threes. In this I refer back to the friend of mine that I took the ASL class for. Let me introduce you the best I can without getting to into it. We’ll call him Jonas. He has since changed his name, but that is an entire article in itself.

Jonas is one of those people that I find myself drawn to for their nature. Sometimes it can take a bit to get used to people like this, but to me he is a Force of Nature. I have known a few people like this. The woman who is working as a TA in a college but does cartwheels down the hall to her monastic cell of an office because it had to be done. The woman who is older than my parents and has the look about her that she has seen so much and done so much. And has. That alone doesn’t make her a Force of Nature, but the fact that she’s still learning and still acts like those of us in our 30’s and 40’s does. The friend that is so open to new things, she will not only go climb a tree in the rain for the experience, but will learn to turn a person into a zombie in three days time – because it sounds like fun and something she should know.

Some of you may recognize these people. Some of you may be these people. If you are one of my friends, you are likely this way. Not all my friends are like this, but many are. Internally I refer to them as my Elementals. Even when I lose touch with some of them, I am protective of them. I never tell them this as there is no reason. Also, most of my friends probably know that I am protective of them.

Jonas has such a sharp attention to detail and a nature that demands learning. He has trained at the culinary institute, lead the MechWarrior game line along with the volunteers for a gaming company, written novels, and drives a lightning bug. Literally. Ever seen a VW bug with blue lightning bolts all over it?

The night I was finishing this blog he posted to Twitter a charity link. His brother-in-law is in cancer treatment. He has insurance but the other bills aren’t covered that are associated with treatment. This man has taught children and coached wrestling. He led his team to a national championship without telling them about the cancer. He’s walking miles around the hospital while undergoing treatment. Miles. These facts alone make him a unique individual, an Elemental if I knew him. But Jonas, one of my friends who doubles as a Force of Nature marks him as not only his brother in law, but his best friend. Any man that can be the best friend of this friend of mine has to be a unique individual.

Who am I? I am a person who values the opinions of my friends, and wants to be there to pitch in when I can. Not an easy task when you consider how many of my friends don’t even live in the same state as me. I value my friends and my community, whether that be the local Italian community through the Italian Workman’s Club, the local NaNoWriMo writing community (or greater NaNo Community for that matter) or the local published authors group.

What is the Truth? In June a bunch of my friends donated to my story for my chosen charity. They did so to put friends and family members in my story. They did it to have friends mauled by monsters in a novel. They did it to support my art. In all things and all aspects, Make Good Art. And the Truth is that while it didn’t feel right for me to donate to my own pledge page, I can return the favor by siphoning off some money from the monthly budget to put towards the fund to help with the bills for this best friend to one of my people. And my personal truth (like every one of us at this point) is that I have lost someone to cancer. I’ve also had people I know been saved from it.

(For any interested in the full story, or offering some help, here is the charity page link…)

My final thoughts through these people I’ve either encountered or known fairly well is this. Though not friends with them, I have found two new Forces of Nature. A pair of elementals that have given me a path to follow. So I sit in the coffee shop, finishing my blog and being thankful for the opportunity I had to meet Steven Barnes and his wife Tananarive Due at OddCon. I also thank the Internet Dieties for bringing me a speech from Neil Gaiman, another elemental, so that I can remember that not matter what life brings me – gazebo or not – Make Good Art.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to make some art.

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