Jacki Kellum

Juxtapositions: Read My Mind

Category: Be Real (page 1 of 2)

Pulling Back the Veil on Illusions, Denial, & Narcissism

“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

I am 67-years-old now, and as I look back through the string of events that have been woven together to create my life, I can see that much of my past behavior was  based on partial or cloudy bits of information–the illusions that I allowed to pose as truths to myself and that have often blinded me.

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My problem with illusions or delusions does not lie in my lack of thinking, however. I think constantly, and I strive to piece things together in a way that makes sense to me at the time. But in retrospect, I now realize that some of the things that I had long reasoned to be true were not actually true at all. In some cases, I have swallowed half-truths and have jumped into pits of denial and have floated there for a long while, only to figure things out later. What alarms me is that on some issues, I am probably still in denial. That is the nature of denial. When we are in denial, we do not realize that what we are thinking and believing is merely self-deception.
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In 1968, I graduated from high school. In the above photo, I am the second from the top left. I have long, blond hair. A young Joni Mitchell released the song Both Sides Now in October of 1968, and the young Jacki Kellum thought, “Yes. Joni Mitchell is brilliant. She has looked at life from every side imaginable. Her lyrics are inspired.”
Bows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air
and feather canyons everywhere, I’ve looked at clouds that way.
But now they only block the sun, they rain and snow on everyone.
So many things I would have done but clouds got in my way

In the year 2000, I watched a fabulous All-Star Tribute to Joni Mithcell. Joni sang Both Sides Now again, and I was struck by the difference in the two recordings. I may have been reading too much into her latter performance, but to me, it seemed as though the much older Joni Mitchell was admitting that in 1968, she truly had not seen life from all sides and that it was only in the living of life that greater truth was revealed. In the latter performance, Mitchell had been sobered. It was obvious in Mitchell’s demeanor and in her voice, that thirty years after Joni Mitchell had seemed to see life from all sides, she had finally begun to truly see.

Once more, the contrast between what we think we know when we are young and what we actually do know is cliché. Unfortunately, there is no way to become older and wiser without becoming older and wiser.

If You Are Not a Liberal at 25, You Have No Heart. If You Are Not a Conservative at 35 You Have No Brain – Author Unknown

When we are living within cloud’s illusions, we do not know it. We have fooled ourselves and we often fool everyone around us, too. Ultimately, however, our denials become the masks that we wear–the false personas that we adopt, and at the very least, our masks blind us and force us to miss opportunities.

The Mask

“She had blue skin,
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by-
And never knew.” – Shel Silverstein

At times, denial is a type of defense mechanism that prevents us from realizing things that we cannot fully fathom–things that would cause us so very much emotional pain that we could not bear it. Yet, sometimes our denials are ways that we allow ourselves to misbehave–to allow ourselves to do things that we should not be doing.
“She did not know yet how sometimes people keep parts of themselves hidden and secret, sometimes wicked and unkind parts, but often brave or wild or colorful parts, cunning or powerful or even marvelous, beautiful parts, just locked up away at the bottom of their hearts. They do this because they are afraid of the world and of being stared at, or relied upon to do feats of bravery or boldness. And all of those brave and wild and cunning and marvelous and beautiful parts they hid away and left in the dark to grow strange mushrooms—and yes, sometimes those wicked and unkind parts, too—end up in their shadow.”
― Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

Perhaps we want to elevate ourselves in our businesses, but we perceive that the others ahead of us are preventing our ascensions. We might do things to discredit those other people with the administration or with other clients. If we do that and KNOW that we are doing it, we are not in denial–we are merely mean. This type of mean manipulator has probably devised an invisibility cloak that allows him to slip in and out of people’s views. Thus, the very skillful manipulator can be greedy without appearing to others to be so. The most deceitful people are masters of disguise.

Great politicians often fall into this group of people. Salespersons also often fall into this group of people. When people can behave selfishly without being detected by others, they are excellent schemers. That type of person is probably not in denial at all. That type of person may have compartmentalized himself away from having to deal with anything that he does not want to acknowledge, but this is less a case of denial than it is a case of narcissism. Narcissists simply do not care about the people that they hurt or about how many people that they have forced off the road, to jockey themselves to the fronts of the lines. Narcissists may also be in denial, but a narcissist’s denial has evolved into a state of evil treachery. People can be in denial without being narcissists.

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In 1968, I was valedictorian of my high school graduating class, and by most standards, I was quite bright. At the time, I believed that my valedictory address was inspired but fifty years later, I now realize that in 1968, “It’s cloud’s illusions I recall. I really did not know life–at all.”

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In the above photo, Jacki Kellum is on the far right playing the guitar in 1970

Some people seem to skip through life. They seem to scurry about, dodging all the bullets. As though living were an enormous belt line, some people seem to reach the end, without being scathed at all. Those people would not understand how and why Joni Mitchell had literally changed her tune over time. But I do. I have also begun to push back the veil on some of my own delusions, and in doing so, my voice has also changed.

Fifty years after I delivered my valedictory address, this Jacki Kellum would also sing a different song than she sang in 1968. If I knew then what life has taught me since 1968, I would merely stand before the crowd almost speechless. Breathless, bruised, scarred, hoarse, and with a cracking and trembling voice, I would simply bow my head and whisper, “I surrender.”

“Let’s burn our masks at midnight
and as flickering flames ascend,
under the witness of star-clouds,
let us vow to reclaim our true selves.
Done with hiding and weary of lying,
we’ll reconcile without and within.
Then, like naked squint-eyed newborns,
we’ll greet the glorious birth of dawn;
blinking at the blazing, wondrous colors
we somehow failed to notice before.”
― John Mark Green

©Jacki Kellum June 24, 2017

 

Illusion

Traffic and Other Exhausting Problems with Living

No doubt, traffic is the worst thing about living in the Northeast, and the traffic in northeastern cities is unfathomable. To make matters worse, almost all of the city streets are one-way. When I am driving in the city, I am constantly circling the blocks, trying to find an arrow pointed in the direction that I want to go, and at least once per day, I make a mistake and pull into an alley or begin to edge down the wrong passage.

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When I finally get on the right street, I have to dodge the jaywalkers and then suddenly, without warning, some kook will stop and park–right in the middle of the street, and I am the car right behind him. Working myself out of that kind of buttonhole is definitely a challenge, and I have discovered that my life is filled with traffic, and I am continuously faced with the challenge of having to sort out my next best move.

Not long after I moved to the North, I accidentally got into the lines of traffic that were headed into the Holland Tunnel, and of course, that traffic only goes one way. I had driven to North Jersey to take my son to a camp, and I thought that I was headed back to South Jersey. I began to notice that the cars were moving slower and were edging closer and closer toward me. They had gotten uncomfortably close, and I realized that this was not the team huddle at the beginning of the football game. I sensed danger. I had never driven in New York City, and at that time, I hadn’t even driven much in Philadelphia. City traffic scared me to death. I reached a toll booth, and I am sure that fear was scrawled across my face and I timidly asked the lady at the booth, “Is this the way to Atlantic City?”

“Oh, No, Honey,” she chortled “This is the Holland Tunnel. You’re heading into New York City.”

I nearly cried. “Please, can you do anything to get me out of here?”

That saintly lady literally stopped the traffic and got me turned around. Just before I darted away, I explained, “I’m from Mississippi. We have cows, not cars,” and she laughed. The entire freeway rang with her laughter.

That was a close call, and unfortunately, I often find myself tangled in the webs of my own mistakes. The upside of this scenario, however, is that until now [knock on wood], I have always managed to survive. All of my life, I have heard that when cats fall, they always land on their feet. I never tested the theory, but I wonder if it is true, and I wonder whether this tidbit about cats is part of understanding a greater truth about life. Regardless of how wildly I spin through my own universe–regardless of how many times I flip and flail through the air–and regardless of how far I manage to fall, I always seem to land on my feet, too. When I finally learned to believe that things in life do tend to work out, I became calmer in simply living.

Worry is like a rocking chair. It requires a lot of work, and it gets you nowhere.

At times in my life, I have been a worrier. In fact, I still find myself being anxious too much of the time, but I am getting better. In my observation, worriers are afraid. While some people mask their emotions, I believe that beneath a control freak’s facade, there often lies a fear that at any moment, his entire world is going to implode.

Among other things, control freaks are perfectionists and are afraid of making mistakes, and because of that, they are terrified at the prospect of loosening the reins with which they control everything about themselves, including the people that surround them, and they tend to limit the amount of risks that they take.

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein

Years ago, I was more of a perfectionist and I was more concerned with control than I am now. Controlling is an exhausting lifestyle.  In fact, mere survival can be fatiguing.  At times, I become exhausted by the energy it takes to simply persevere. I’m not fond of the idea of shooting myself or slicing my wrists and slowly bleeding out, but there have been times that I have thought that just maybe it would be nice if I could go to sleep peacefully one night and simply not re-awaken. But I always come back to the realization that living–even if it is only surviving–is a good thing.

“I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.” – Agatha Christie

The good news is that we don’t have to be perfect. Absolute control is not necessary. It is not even good. A little chaos is actually a better thing than absolute control. Because of my creative nature, I have never been completely in control. Einstein makes me feel better about my being chaotic.

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign? ” – Einstein

The control freak would look down upon the creative’s chaos, thinking that the chaotic is weaker than he, the one in control. In reality, it is the creative [his chaos and all] who should question those who cannot function without absolute order. I wonder about the strength of a person who can only function in limited, controlled environments.

“Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.” – Albert Einstein

While the orderly are excellent at attending to facts in their limited constructs, the creatives are the ones who invent those constructs. Without the inventiveness of the chaotic creative, the orderly businessman would have nothing to sell.

“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” – Albert Einstein

Inventing is a chaotic business.

“Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos.” ― Mary Shelley

And inventing requires a process of free-fall during which ideas spin and twist and contort, and sometimes, the ideas finally land on their feet. Yet, sometimes, they do not. Hear me: that is ok. It is ok that some of our ideas work and that others do not. Fear of making mistakes causes a painter to quit painting and it causes writer’s block. The victor is the person who can re-examine what he has done, toss some things away, and save the better stuff to polish into a pearl. This is an artist’s life and it is a writer’s life. Embrace the challenge. Face the traffic within your own life, and let yourself flow.

©Jacki Kellum May 25, 2017

“Inside myself is a place where I live all alone and that is where I renew my springs that never dry up.” Pearl S. Buck

 

Survive

I Love Color – There Is Nothing Gray about Me

In addition to writing and painting, I am also a gardener, and I frequently shop at my local plant market which sells a huge variety of flowers, and the prices are very reasonable.

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I love it when they have a new shipment of Gerbera Daisies. It is a spectacle. Like a magnet, the brilliant display pulls me from across the room. I always want to buy all of the daisies for my garden. One plant will not do. One color will not do. To emulate the riot of colors in the display, I want and need the entire bunch. Of course, I can never buy that many flowers at once, but I love color, and when my garden is in perfect form, it is a kaleidoscope.

Jacki’s Garden July of 2015

I like it when my garden screams! There is nothing subtle or subdued about me. When I paint, I celebrate color in another way. Even when I paint the green areas around my florals, I often flood them with color.

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In the Pink – Jacki Kellum Watercolor

I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles. – Audrey Hepburn

I use the brighter colors to add punch to the green areas of my paintings. Too many people only see black and white — right or wrong. In my experience, that type of life-view is terribly narrow, and the people who cannot stretch themselves to see more of the variances of living are missing a great deal. Like Audrey Hepburn, I believe in Pink, and I also believe in Red and Yellow and Orange and Blue.

I am also suspcious of people who are always gray. If you will look carefully, you will see that there are no gray flowers. Gray is a neutral. Gray is a lack of color, and while I am guilty of other weaknesses, I do not lack color. I have definite opinions. Some of my opinions are red. They are loud and they shout. Other of my opinions are softer and more like lilac. Some of my opinions, are bright and sunny yellow and others are cooler, like green, but when I am asked how I feel about something or what I think about something, I say what I honestly believe. I don’t weigh whether I am speaking to a group of people who prefer red or who prefer gray or green or black or white. I simply say things the way that I see them–to the best of my ability.

For people whose primary concern is that of finding approval, honesty is not always the best policy. The safer route is to ride the fence, but in my opinion, fence riders are gray. They are like piles of mashed potatoes.  Mashed-Potato-People have had the life boiled and whipped completely out of themselves. They have no color at all.

Life is not lived on the fence. We must have opinions.  We must take a stand in life.  In taking a stand, our lives can be differentiated from the gray, faceless mob. The only way to be meaningful in life is to let your life mean–to let it actually stand–to let it stand out, and to let it stand for something.

  1. In taking a stand, our lives can be differentiated.
  2. In taking stands in life, we do more than exist–we mean.
  3. The only way to be meaningful in life is to allow your life to mean.

When we begin to take a stand in life, there will people who absolutely hate us for our opinions; but in being real about who we are and about what we believe, we offer other people something real and tangible to love–we offer people an authentic mind, words with meaning, and color.

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Social media has several limitations, and one of those limitations is that people might easily be controlled by a desire to be “liked” or disliked because of what they have said or posted. If contributors are not careful, they might begin to write to be” liked.” and they might quit writing what is real. The same thing can happen to bloggers. Simply to be liked–or at least not disliked, writers may begin standing in the middle of the road.

Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous; you get knocked down by the traffic from both sides. – Margaret Thatcher

If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.– Margaret Thatcher

Herein lies the key: If you try to please all of the people all of the time, you have elected to stand for nothing concrete. To stand for something is to get off the fence and to get out of the middle of the road.

“You can please some of the people some of the time all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.” –  Abraham Lincoln

 

I agree with Abraham Lincoln. Regardless of how we play the game, we will never please everyone. Selling our souls to try to please everyone doesn’t really work. When we write and say what we actually think, we do allow ourselves to move out of the gray, to be colorful, and to be real.

©Jacki Kellum April 26, 2017

Gray

The Blind Leading the Blind – Learning to Atually See and to Say What We See

Have you looked carefully at Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s painting The Blind Leading the Blind? It was painted in 1568, and yet, it still speaks clearly to humanity’s goat-like tendency to thoughtlessly follow the crowd. Following the crowd can have severe adverse effects upon any of us who would like to create.

In most cases, we follow the crowd because, for one reason or another, the crowd seems to offer us some kind of security. Perhaps we like the crowd because it seems to be the popular place to be and has the seeming safeness of numbers. We think, “There are more of them than there are of me; therefore, ‘they’ must be right.”

When we create, the crowd becomes part of what Julia Cameron calls the Censor in her book the Artist’s Way, where she said that people have logical and linear behaviors embedded within them. She says that this logical behavior is part of one’s survival instinct, and she says that the part of ourselves that tries to discourage us from creating is part of this logical behavior that makes us believe that we need to be the same–or part of the crowd.

“Logic brain was and is our survival brain. It works on known principles. Anything unknown is perceived as wrong and possibly dangerous.  … Logic brain is the brain we usually listen to, especially when we are telling ourselves to be sensible.

“Logic brain is our Censor….Faced with an original sentence, phrase, paint squiggle, it says, ‘What… is that?

. . .

“Any original thought can look pretty dangerous to our Censor.

“The only sentences/paintings/sculptures/photographs it likes are ones that it has seen many times before. Safe sentences. Safe paintings.” Cameron, Julia. the Artist’s Way, pgs. 12-13.

While our logical tendencies seem to be safe, they are an enemy to creativity, and logic is the haven for the Censor. The Censor wants to scare us into editing the very life out of everything that we would otherwise like to create.

When I was a kid, a teacher questioned crowd behavior, asking: “If the crowd was jumping off the cliff, would you do the same thing?”

In Bruegel’s painting, the blind man seems to be leading the blinded crowd behind him off the edge of a cliff. What if the blinded crowd were actually a bunch of sighted people who refused to see? What if those who seem to be blindly following along are a  bunch of minds with their lights turned off? If those who refuse to see and those who deliberately dull their minds are desperate enough for acceptance, they may very well turn off their own lamps–simply to follow the crowd. Those people will have difficulty creating something original.

Before we can begin to be authentic creators, we must dare to step away from the crowd, and we must dare to see and to think and to create from what is true to our own selves. While being an individual can be scary, it is the only way to create something new. Furthermore, creation, by its very definition MUST be about something new–the scary, the unproven, the unsafe, and the different.

A couple of days ago, I began to question whether I truly wanted to create or whether I was merely playing at creating. I was tallying all of the excuses we make for not wanting to go out on the limb with our writing and our other creating. While we are great at finding excuses for not taking risks, the bottom line is that we love to live in denial. We love to be safe. We resist change, and we love speaking in code so that others may not guess too much of what we actually are–so that even we don’t see too much of who we really are.

Image result for kids drawing of a house

When we were very young, someone that we accepted as authority told us the “correct” way to draw a house and a sun and clouds and trees and flowers. Afterward, we learned those images and accepted them as symbols to represent the simple things in our lives. in the same way that the letters “H-o-u-s-e” spells “house,” we learned to draw boxes with triangles to say “house” in another way. Our simple little drawing says nothing about how we feel about the house, it simply says “house–the house that everyone in the crowd accepts to be a house.” If we want to write about a house or to paint our feelings about the house, we must move away from the code that the crowd has taught us. We must dig deeply within ourselves and find a way to say something that actually is deeper than words. We must move beneath the external and into our own internals, and sometimes that journey is scary.

As we mature, we tend to find more and more complex codes to reference things that we have difficulty saying, and that we have difficulty acknowledging to ourselves. As we become better and better with language, our codification grows complex, but any time that we reach within our tricky selves and pull out a pretty phrase or groups of paragraphs to replace the act of digging deeper for true meaning, we are still using code. Creating requires of us that we remove our own blinders and to shine a bright light on who we actually are and to speak from what we see–and not from the pretty phrases that we have banked to keep us from saying what we truly see.

©Jacki Kellum April 10, 2015

Blindly

Is It Time to Rearrange Your Priorities?

“In Japan, they fill the cracks of broken pottery with gold and marvel at the beauty of its scars.”

We need to learn to scrutinize our priorities. When a person’s priority is that of looking good, he may spend more time working on the upkeep of his external appearances than he does to monitoring his inner character and the quality of his emotions. When a person’s priority is about appearance, he might become superficial. If a person is driven toward owning expensive things and toward wealth, he might be prone to lie and to cheat and to back-stab to enable himself to have that wealth or to be able to buy the expensive jewels that he covets so that he can wear them around himself, reflecting his worth. On the other hand, if a person places value in the quality of his thoughts and in his peace of mind and heart and is not driven by the acquisition of more and more things, a person has a different kind of drive.

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“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” – Mark Twain

We might chuckle at Mark Twain’s seemingly silly words that naked people have no influence on society, but perhaps Twain was talking about more than a person’s garments. Perhaps Twain was alluding to the structure of the entire person. Perhaps in saying “clothes,” Twain is saying “what a man stands for makes the man.” If a person stands for nothing, he has little or no value. Perhaps Twain was talking about what drives a person. On a literal level, what a person drives says much about a person. My old, worn Honda Element, which is 13-years-old, and I have become the same.

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A Limerick for My Old Honda Element
by Jacki Kellum

My Honda is tall, wide, and black.
We’ve traveled to heaven and back.
But now she is old,
I still have no gold.
I think I’ll ignore one more crack. Smack!

When people in my town see my Honda coming, they know that I am coming, too. People in my area associate me with my car, and my car and I are very much alike. Like me, my car is not fancy or frilly. When I went car shopping and bought my Honda, I said that I did not want carpet and that I wanted vinyl seats. My car and I go painting, and I often carry messy art supplies in my car. I also carry garden plants and dirt in it. I wanted my car to be like me–not afraid to get her hands dirty and not too proud to work and to sweat. Both my car and I have grown older and are cracked now. As lines have begun to scrawl across my face and neck, my car’s seats have become webbed from wear. But my car and I are not ashamed of our wrinkles and cracks. We are not pretentious. We are not embarrassed that we are not shiny, new Mercedes Benzes, and we do not even want to be Porsches. My car and I are not showy or flashy at all, but we have value. Our values lie on a different level than mere show and price tag.

When my car and I pull into the parking lot, we are fairly easy to peg. “What you see is what you get.” By the same token, the people who are compelled to drive the newest and most expensive cars are usually easy to peg. In most cases, they are people who believe that outside appearances are crucial to their existences, and they are usually people who do not place great stock on internal things.

In the Bible, Jesus came upon a Pharisee who was pretentiously cleaning the outside of his plate and cup. In the time of Jesus, that was the thing to do, and even though the Pharisee made a spectacle of his precision in cleaning the outside of his eating implements, he did not clean the inside of his cup and platter; thus, he did not clean the important part, the part that touched the food. He was more interested in the showiness of his behavior than he was in actual cleanliness. Jesus scolded the Pharisee:

Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Matthew 23:26

I believe that most people are driven by something, and I also believe that we need to carefully scrutinize what is driving us, lest we become the things that drive us and not the humans that may be buried inside. Upon scrutiny, we might find it valuable to rearrange our priorities.

The other day, I read that depression is the result of a person’s feeling that he has no future–nothing left to live for–no hope. As Dante said, hell is the place with no hope.

All hope abandon, ye who enter here! – Dante’ Inferno

When we place our priorities on external things, we may find that external things eventually break down or crack. When people must work constantly and must lie and cheat to maintain their wealth, they may be destined to discover that the day will arrive when they are too old to continue to work enough to maintain the lifestyles that they covet. Or perhaps they may reach the point that the younger and slicker person is able to out-finesse them.

Certainly, the person who prioritizes beauty will eventually reach the age that he is no longer the most beautiful person in the room. People who live for externalities are destined to reach the point that they can no longer maintain the externalities that drive them. Those people may sooner or later find themselves hopeless, but the person who prioritizes the more internal things will discover that he will have those things as long as he lives–or at least as long as he is consciously aware.

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“If a man empties his purse into his head, no man can take it away from him.” – Ben Franklin

For most of us, it is not too late to re-prioritize or to rearrange our values.

“In Japan, they fill the cracks of broken pottery with gold and marvel at the beauty of its scars.”

Think about it. How do you feel about things that have aged and cracked? Clothes make the man  we do become the things that drive us.

©Jacki Kellum October 28, 2016

Rearrange

The New Year’s Eve That I Finally Turned Into A Pumpkin

Growing old comes by seasons or degrees. Like the flowers and leaves of nature outside, our bodies and our minds change; and we become different creatures, according to our seasons. Those differences are nowhere more obvious than on New Year’s Eve.

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When I was a child, New Year’s Eve meant shooting fireworks. To this day, I love the smell of firecrackers and sparklers. Holding my wand of hot, twinkling magic, I would write my name and draw stars into the blue-black sky; and shooting Roman candles was the ultimate thrill:

My Roman Candle Minute
by Jacki Kellum

Silent Night, No Moon Light,
I point my wand at space.

I light a match and watch it glow,
I plant my feet in place.

First, an ember gnaws the string.
Boom! Then One! Two! Three!

A Canopy of shooting stars
Arches over me.

Silent Night, No Moon Light,
A twist of smoke puffs now.

I’ve had my fun–
My star-struck gun–
My Sixty-Second Wow!

Copyright My Roman Candle Minute Jacki Kellum December 10, 2015

Soon, I traded my childhood fireworks for New Year’s Eve parties. By the time that I was 17, I was convinced that if I didn’t have a date and someone to kiss at midnight, I should crawl into a cave and hide there until January 2.

By the time that I was 30-years-old, I began having ambiguous feelings about New Year’s Eve and the proper way to celebrate it. My children were babies then. If I wanted to go out and party, I would need to find a babysitter who was willing to work past late, and I was married to someone who didn’t enjoy socializing and parties. I began staying home on New Year’s Eve, but there was an omnipresent, nagging voice telling me that I should be somewhere else–and doing something much more festive.

Those years merged into the days when my children became firework-shooting age. The smells of firecrackers and sparklers returned, and Roman candles arched across my lawn once more. Because my children were widely spaced in years, that period lasted for a while. Meanwhile, my ex-husband and I divorced, and New Year’s traditions and many other ideals went up in smoke. It became simpler to stay home on New Year’s Eve, but I still felt twinges of doubt about missing the party. I already realized that my home is where I preferred to be on New Year’s Eve, but didn’t They–the others around–expect more of me.

Time marched onward, and now, the carousel has spun almost around. By the time that I was 60-years-old, my children have had left home, and my grandchildren were far away. I had not gotten so timeworn that I tucked myself in by 8:00 pm, and I was usually wide awake at midnight. That was the case last New Year’s Eve.

Promptly at midnight, my pre-teen neighbors began shooting their Roman candles. With a boom, a whistle, and a fizz, 2015 became 2016. I was propped up on my pillow, and my soft, cotton sheets were gathered around me. My quilt was pulled across my toes, and my dog was curled by my side. I sipped a glass of wine and smiled. Ahhhh! I had finally realized that the perfect way to celebrate the coming of a new year was when I was safe and snug, at home.

I turned off my light and slept.

The next day would be the beginning of a whole new season.

Copyright Jacki Kellum January 1, 2016

Smoke

Let’s Burn Our Masks at Midnight and Reclaim Our True Selves

“Let’s burn our masks at midnight
and as flickering flames ascend,
under the witness of star-clouds,
let us vow to reclaim our true selves.
Done with hiding and weary of lying,
we’ll reconcile without and within.
Then, like naked squint-eyed newborns,
we’ll greet the glorious birth of dawn;
blinking at the blazing, wondrous colors
we somehow failed to notice before.”
― John Mark Green

Although I have written several blog posts about manifestations of the mask wearers–their tendencies toward denial, their insensitivities to the needs of others, their narcissisms, etc., I am not sure that I have ever simply written about masks; yet, I feel sure that the People of the Lie [as Scott Peck calls them] began by simply putting on a false face–and then, the falseness became the face.

“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

The problem with mask wearers is that they spend an inordinate amount of time looking around, trying to decide what and who are not offensive. Because mask wearers are always looking at others, to find the best masks, they cease to look within. Most people wear masks now, and most of what the person looking outward sees is others who are looking outward themselves. Everything becomes artifical–shells of people model themselves after other shells of people. In no time at all, the mask wearer loses sight of what is real–of what is authentic.

 “Opinion’s but a fool, that makes us scan the outward habit by the inward man.”
― William Shakespeare, Pericles

Kierkegaard says that there will eventually come a time when everyone will be forced to remove their masks:

“Don’t you know that a midnight hour comes when everyone has to take off his mask? Do you think life always lets itself be trifled with? Do you think you can sneak off a little before midnight to escape this?”
― Søren Kierkegaard

Does this suggest that everyone will eventually see their mistakes toward others and will swing back around, righting their wrongs? At one time, I believed that people who have hurt me will one day reconsider their behaviors and regret, but I don’t believe that now. I am quite sure that I will die and there will still be many fences around some of the people from my past–fences that were never mended–gates will that remain locked. Some people have worn masks for such a long time that I am not sure that they can remove them now.

“We understand how dangerous a mask can be. We all become what we pretend to be.” – Patrick Rothfuss

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Oh, What A Dangerous Web We Weave When First We Practice to Deceive–Ourselves!

The true tragedy is that mask wearers opt to function with blinders on. As they are scrutinizing themselves to eradicate anything offensive about themselves that remains there, they begin to remove anything that is unique and colorful, too. “They throw away the baby with the bath water.”

“She did not know yet how sometimes people keep parts of themselves hidden and secret, sometimes wicked and unkind parts, but often brave or wild or colorful parts, cunning or powerful or even marvelous, beautiful parts, just locked up away at the bottom of their hearts. They do this because they are afraid of the world and of being stared at, or relied upon to do feats of bravery or boldness. And all of those brave and wild and cunning and marvelous and beautiful parts they hid away and left in the dark to grow strange mushrooms—and yes, sometimes those wicked and unkind parts, too—end up in their shadow.”
― Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

Eye, Blue, Vision, Iris, Futuristic

The Mask

“She had blue skin,
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by-
And never knew.” – Shel Silverstein

©Jacki Kellum October 23, 2016

Artificial

Don’t Write to be Liked – Write Honestly – Don’t Ride the Fence with Your Writing

“The public wants work which flatters its illusions.” ― Gustave Flaubert

I want to be liked; and I dislike, as much as anyone else, for people to disagree with me.  Last week, I submitted something to a publisher, but before I did so, I asked an editor friend of mine to check the manuscript for errors. I am not a person who enjoys being wrong, and it required more courage for me to ask my friend to correct me than it did to submit the work to a publisher.

“The trouble with most of us is that we’d rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”
― Norman Vincent Peale

Although I don’t enjoy being criticized I have finally learned something somewhere along the way. I have learned to admit it when I am wrong and to be wrong gracefully. I have learned to accept and to even appreciate criticism–especially where my writing is concerned.

“An acquaintance merely enjoys your company, a fair-weather companion flatters when all is well, a true friend has your best interests at heart and the pluck to tell you what you need to hear.” ― E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly

As I said, I do not like being criticized, and I do not even like the conflict of disagreeing with others, but I decided long ago that I would not be the kind of person who has no real opinions. People without opinions are like piles of mashed potatoes.  Mashed-Potato-People have had the life boiled and whipped completely out of themselves, and they tend to ride the fence on every issue.

Life is not lived on the fence. We must have opinions.  We must take a stand in life.  In taking a stand, our lives can be differentiated from the faceless mob. The only way to be meaningful in life is to let your life mean–to let it actually stand–to let it stand out, and to let it stand for something.

  1. In taking a stand, our lives can be differentiated.
  2. In taking stands in life, we do more than exist–we mean.
  3. The only way to be meaningful in life is to allow your life to mean.

When we begin to take a stand in life, there will people who absolutely hate us for our opinions; but in being real about who we are and about what we believe, we offer other people something real and tangible to love–we offer people an authentic mind, words with meaning, and an ability to let people know why and how we care.

Social media has its limitations, and one of those limitations is that people who contribute know fairly quickly whether those around them have “liked” or disliked what they have to say. If contributors are not careful, they might begin to write to be” liked” and quit writing what is real. Or on issues, we begin standing in the middle of the road.

Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous; you get knocked down by the traffic from both sides. – Margaret Thatcher

If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.– Margaret Thatcher

Herein lies the key: If you try to please all of the people all of the time, you have elected to stand for nothing concrete. To stand for something is to get off the fence–to get out of the middle of the road.

“You can please some of the people some of the time all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.” –  Abraham Lincoln

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The jury seems to have decided about social media. I believe that social media will be around for a long time. For me, blogging is preferable to posting on facebook. On facebook, I feel like I’m in 7th grade again and I’m standing in the hallway at school, hoping that my slip is not showing or that I don’t have my breakfast caught between my teeth. Facebook is too cliquey for me. I do still check in on facebook, and WordPress shares what I write with facebook, but facebook is not where I go to attempt any real communication, and I have discovered that very few of my facebook “friends” read my blog posts. The people who read blog posts seem to want to think a little bit more than the people that I see on facebook.

But my main reason for blogging is not to be “liked.” I primarily blog because it is through blogging every day that I keep my own wires straight and I begin to understand and even like myself.

There Are Many Reasons to Blog. Perhaps the Most Important Reason Is That through Blogging, We Discover That We Are Our Own Best Companions.

When you blog, remember these things:  

  1. You are not writing to be liked by the web or to help the web; you are writing to be liked by yourself–to help yourself.  
  2. Spend time with yourself–and Hear Yourself Think.  And then write what you thought. That is truly what blogging is all about.

Yes, I do talk to the web–to the social media, but if the web is not listening–if it is not “liking” me, it does not matter. What really matters is that I am honest with and like myself. Talk to yourself, say what is on your mind, listen to yourself, and then blog. Allow the rest of the chips to fall where they may.

“I believe in getting into hot water; it keeps you clean.” – Gilbert Keith Chesterton

 

©Jacki Kellum October 10, 2016

Flattery

People Become the Things That Drive Them

Every time that we repeat the phrase that clothes make the man, we are indirectly quoting Shakespeare, but Mark Twain also added another level of insight when he said, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.” Regardless of how we say it, however, the reality is that the things that we value tend to define who we are.

Things are much different in the 21st Century than they were at the end of the 19th Century. At this time, I would like to add another amendment to the famous Shakespeare-Twain thoughts: “Men are also made by their automobiles.”

And unfortunately, we begin to look like the people and things that dominate our time.

People in my neighborhood walk their dogs, and over the years, I have begun to notice that many of those people have begun to look like their dogs.

While I am not sure that anyone in my neighborhood will win the next dog-owner look-alike contest, I can definitely see ways that the people around me are like their pets.

In my own life, my car and I have been to merge–we are becoming one.

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Not long ago, I saluted my old Honda Element, and I recounted some of the trips and journeys that my car and I have taken together.

Like me, my car is not fancy or frilly. When I went car shopping and bought my Honda, I said that I did not want carpet and that I wanted vinyl seats. My car and I go painting, and I often carry messy art supplies in her. I also carry garden plants and dirt her. I wanted my car to be like me–not afraid to get her hands dirty and not too proud to work and to sweat.

I have been driving my Honda Element for about fourteen years, and both my car and I have become old and worn now. As lines have begun to scrawl across my face and neck, my car’s seats have become webbed from wear. But my car and  I are not ashamed of our wrinkles and cracks. We are not pretentious. We are not embarrassed that we are not shiny new Mercedes Benzes, and we do not want to be Porsches. My car and I are not showy or flashy at all, but we have value. Our values lie on a different level than mere show and price tag.

People are known by the cars that they drive. When my car and I pull into the parking lot, we are easy to peg. “What you see is what you get.” By the same token, the people who are compelled to drive the newest and most expensive cars are also easy to assess. In most cases, they are the people who believe that outside appearances define them, and they are usually the people who do not place great stock on internal things.

In the Bible, Jesus came upon a  Pharisee who was pretentiously cleaning the outside of his plate and cup. In the time of Jesus, that was the thing to do, and even though the Pharisee made a spectacle of his precision in cleaning the outside of his eating implements, he did not clean the inside of his cup and platter; thus, he did not clean the important part, the part that touched the food. Jesus scolded the Pharisee:

Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Matthew 23:26

As I have already said, people become the clothes that they wear and the vehicles that they drive, but on a much deeper level, people also become what drives them. If a person is more driven toward the upkeep of his external appearances than he is to monitoring his inner character and the quality of his emotions, he becomes his exterior–he becomes a superficial person or a shell. If a person is driven to lie and to cheat and to back-stab to enable himself to buy more and more expensive things that he can wear and drive, a person becomes a liar and cheater. On the other hand, if a person places value in the quality of his thoughts and in his peace of mind and heart, and if he is not driven by the acquisition of more and more things, that person also reflects what drives him.

I believe that most people are driven by something, and I also believe that we need to carefully monitor what is driving us, lest we become those things  and not the humans that lie deep inside.

©Jacki Kellum October 2, 2016

Value

Pretending to Write at Barnes and Noble – Stephen King Says If You Are Serious about Writing, Read More and Write More

I know that you have seen them. They are the people who load all of their writing gadgets and gear into their SUV’s and spread it across one or two of the few available tables at Barnes and Noble. They arm themselves with a Grande Espresso, and then, they begin yet another day of pretending to write at Barnes and Noble.

Perhaps I am being too harsh, but when I see folks who are trying very hard to play one part or another, I remember the Drugstore Hunters in Mississippi. Until I was 53-years-old, I lived in the Deep South, and hunting is still a great sport in the South. The fall is the time for dove hunting, and people hunt ducks during the winter.  My ex-husband had four brothers and probably had at least ten male cousins. That family was serious about hunting, and they always came home from their hunting trips laughing about this “Drugstore Hunter” or that. A Drugstore Hunter is someone who buys all of the most expensive hunting gadgets and dresses himself beautifully for his hunts, but he is not actually a hunter. In fact, many of the drugstore hunters may never leave the lodge or the hunting camp. They may spend the entire hunt drinking and partying. When I see the people making a great show of writing at Barnes and Noble, I always chuckle and whisper under my breath: “Drugstore Writers.” For many years, I was probably a Drugstore Writer–someone who likes to pretend to write–but now, I am buckling down and actually moving forward a bit. My bedroom is on the top floor of my house, and when I write, I prop myself up on my bed, put my laptop on my lap, and I just write.

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My room isn’t usually this neat, however. In fact, I moved my bed toward the center of the room and I have a bookshelf loaded with books that I am currently reading. That bookshelf is next to my bed.

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I have decided to heed Stephen King’s advice:

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“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, p. 145.

“One learns most clearly what not to do by reading bad prose….
“Good writing, on the other hand, teaches the learning writer about style, graceful narration, plot development, the creations of believable characters, and truth-telling.  A novel like The Grapes of Wrath may fill a new writer with feelings of despair and good old-fashioned jealousy–‘I’ll never be able to write anything that good, not is I live to be a thousand’–but such feelings can also serve as a spur, goading the writer to work harder and aim higher. Being swept away by a combination of great story and great writing–of being flattened, in fact–is part of every writer’s necessary formation. You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you. [p. 146]

“So we read to experience the mediocre and the outright rotten; such experience helps us to recognize those things when they begin to creep into our own work, and to steer clear of them. We also read to measure ourselves against the good and the great, to get a sense of all that can be done. And we read in  order to experience different styles.” King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, pgs. 146-47.

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“It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but ‘didn’t have time to read,’ I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner. Can I be blunt on this subject?

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. – Stephen King

“Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life, I take a book with me everywhere I go, and find there all sorts of opportunities to dip it. The trick is to teach yourself to read in small sips as well as in long swallows. Waiting rooms were made for books–of course! But so are theater lobbies before the show, long and boring checkout lines, and everyone’s [p. 147] the john. You can even read while you’re driving, thanks to the audiobook revolution.

. . .

“Where else can you read? There’s always the treadmill….

“Once weaned from the ephemeral craving for TV, most people will find they enjoy the time they spend reading. I’d like to suggest that turning off that endlessly quacking box is apt to improve the quality of your life as well as the quality of your writing.” King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, pgs. 148-49.

“…when you find something at which you are talented, you do it (whatever it is) until your fingers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head. Even when no one is listening (or reading, or watching), every outing is a bravura performance, because you as the creator are happy. Perhaps even ecstatic. That goes for reading and writing as well as for playing a musical instrument, hitting a baseball, or running the four-forty.

“The sort of strenuous reading and writing program I advocate–four to six hours a day, every day–will not seem strenuous if you really enjoy doing these things and have an aptitude for them….” Stephen King

“the real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing….Constant reading will pull you  into a place (a mind-set, if you like the phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor.” King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, p. 150.

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“…’read a lot, write a lot’ is the Great Commandment….” King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, p. 151.

“I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words. That’s 180,000 words over a three-month span, a goodish length for a book….” King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, p. 155.

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“Like you bedroom, your writing room should be private, a place where you go to dream. Your schedule–in at about the same time every day…exists in order to habituate yourself, to make yourself ready to dream….In both writing and sleeping, we learn to be physically still at the same time we are encouraging our minds to unlock from the humdrum rational thinking of our daytime lives….

“But you need the room, you need the door, and you need the determination to shut the door. You need a concrete goal, as well.

. . .

“Don’t wait for the muse.” – Stephen King

 

. . .

“This isn’t the Ouija board or the spirit-world we’re talking about here, just another job like laying pipe or driving long-haul trucks. Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ’til noon or seven ’til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up, chomping his cigar and making his magic.”  King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, pgs. 156-57.

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Allow me to return to my initial point: if we are serious about writing, we won’t be flittering our days away, making a huge display of our efforts at Bares and Noble or at Starbucks or at any other public place. When I am at Barnes and Noble, I am looking at books or at all of the Drugstore Writers. I am not there to write. When I want to write, I prop up in my bed, and I turn the rest of the world off. Then, I begin to write. I don’t wait for my muse to beat me to my writing spot. I simply show up and write. Try it. It works.

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Yesterday, on jackikellum.com, I posted a great reading list for writers who want to write about their own lives, and honestly, all of us write about our own lives–in one way or another. Mary Karr Reading List Here

©Jacki Kellum September 25, 2016

Pretend

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