What is Revolution?

keep-calm-and-start-a-revolution-6A few days ago, I saw a bike shop’s billboard whose ad catered to New Year’s resolutions. It had the word “resolution” crossed out. Underneath it was scrawled, “REVOLUTION.” Now, I didn’t exactly go get a bike after that (I already have a pretty sweet Giant Rainier mountain bike), but it got me thinking: Yeah, this year will be a REVOLUTION for my life and my writing. And really, the two are the same. Or, as the passionate teacher, Ms. Clark, says in my upcoming novella, Clay Man, “I do not distinguish between my work and my life.” Think about it. That’s revolutionary, huh?

For me, it is. I came up with some pretty straight-forward resolutions this year:

  • keep working toward my degree
  • write more and continue to publish and get published
  • start a new volunteer youth group
  • get back in shape (always that one, right?)
  • and get married!

I can count those resolutions on five fingers, but they’re way bigger than a simple list. In fact, they’re so big that they jumped out of the “resolution” category and landed smack in the middle of “revolution”. And all these resolutions tie to one thing: my writing.

For a writer, writing is the exploration of himself. It ventures to all the corners of his mind and heart—his knowledge, loves, and fears—and challenges them…to be interesting, to be malleable or to be solid, and to be influential. And everything he does, says, or thinks in life affects his writing. For example, my novella, The Woman Alonesurprised even me as I wrote it. I had no idea I’d be interested in writing a mystery-adventure story about an exotic animal veterinarian, Susan, in Kenya chasing a “dark man” who has released a plague targeting the giraffes. Where did that come from?? Well, my mother always wanted to be an exotic veterinarian and she loves Kenya. My fiancée’s favorite animal is the giraffe. And for myself, I wanted to explore “passion” as a theme. Somehow, all of this converged into one beautiful novella. I see bits of myself and people I love sprinkled in all of the characters. There are even parts of me in the antagonist, the “dark man” that threatens Susan to satisfy his obsession. If I pretend that I don’t empathize with him, I’m lying to myself. I am what I write. How and in what way is a diagnosis best left to myself, my loved ones, and maybe psychologists, as is the case for all of us—but it reveals this important idea: I do not distinguish between my work and my life—between my writing and my life. They’re the same. They serve each other.

This year, my resolutions have become a revolution. I quit my job the beginning of this year to focus on school and writing. In fact, as I write this, my last day of work was yesterday, Jan. 23rd. (Don’t worry, my fiancée and I have squared away our finances, at least for a little while.) This is a big jump, a leap of faith (faith in myself), and an upset to the existing order. It is nothing short, therefore, of a REVOLUTION. And all of my resolutions tie to writing. School teaches me new ways to think and write; being healthy keeps my mind sharp; volunteering with a youth organization helps me empathize with different perspectives; and even getting married is all about feeling like a person who can bring great things to my love’s life, and I feel like that when I’m productively writing.

As the revolution progresses, I’ll be writing more and more. Full-time, in fact. So stay tuned. What’s mine to explore and write about is yours to embrace, to judge, to love, and to condemn, however you see fit. Writing is a solo act. Reading is a solo act. Yet they are probably the most revolutionary acts anyone has ever taken. (Maybe I’ll write about that more in the future.) Writing The Woman Alone showed me that writing is my life, just as animals are Susan’s life. So it’s 2015. Time for revolution!

What are your resolutions this year? Are they revolutionary? Let me know in a comment!

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Dr. King and I

Martin-Luther-King-I-have-a-dream_0 When I was a young man in 7th grade, in 1996, my middle school sponsored an essay contest for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I participated. It was the first contest I’d ever entered, and the first time I’d ever put my writing on display. I’ll always remember it because it was dreamlike…

I was in science class the morning the essay was due. My heart fell when I realized I’d forgotten about it amidst all my other homework. When a teacher asked me about it and I admitted I didn’t have it, she said, “Well, you have about 20 minutes before the next class. Go write.” I didn’t think it was enough time, but she seemed insistent. So I sat down at the computer and opened a blank document. I stared at the screen a few minutes, composing my thoughts. Dr. King… MLK Day… Civil Rights… What’s it mean to me, to America? Then I wrote. It might have been two pages. I hit print and submitted it to my teacher next class…

I won. I don’t know how many students entered, but I know there were second and third place winners with me at the banquet a few weeks later.

The banquet, that’s where it all felt dreamlike. My dad got me a suit. He showed me how to tie a double-windsor. We entered the hallway outside the banquet hall and teachers introduced me to…really, I don’t know who, maybe the city mayor, maybe the head of the local chapter of the NAACP. I remember adults smiling at me, many of whom were African American. They shook my hand. I was told that a chaperone would lead me to the stage when it was time for me to read my essay. A tall, beautiful black woman introduced herself to me. She was my chaperone. She had her hair up. She wore a form-fitting blue dress with diamond sparkles flecked throughout. The sparkles caught all the light. The other two speakers were girls, so their chaperones were men. I spoke last, and the black woman in blue took my arm in hers—or maybe put her arm in mine—and led me to the stage.

I felt too much, too honored. I was too young. I’d written the essay in 15 minutes. I’d won first place. I felt like I’d cheated the guests. The woman guided me to the podium. She may have kissed my cheek. (You see how it’s like a dream?) I looked out over the audience; there were maybe a hundred African Americans dressed in their Sunday best, seated at glimmering tables covered in white table cloths and shining dinner plates, and all of the guests’ eyes were on me. I saw expectant smiles, men and women leaning forward waiting for me to speak. I placed the clean papers of my essay on the podium and began to read. It was the first time I’d ever heard my voice projected through a microphone…

When it was over, the audience applauded long and happily. The beautiful woman returned to the stage, took my arm again, and walked me down the steps and out to the hall. I remember being afraid I’d step on the part of her dress that skirted the floor as she walked…

I don’t remember what I wrote in that essay. If there’s a copy of it, or a video of the speech, or if anyone remembers it, I don’t know. But I recall signing off by looking at the African Americans gathered in the hall and saying, “…and I salute you.” It was the end of my essay. Maybe that’s all I need to remember. I still salute the memory of Dr. King and his Civil Rights Movement. When I find myself in ideological arguments, I remind myself that I don’t need to convince people today. They may seem 100% resistant now, but if I keep my cool and step away from the argument at the right time, they may think about what I said. Tomorrow they might see things anew—they might change their minds. If nothing else, I know that’s how people have changed my mind…

Change is not immediate; influence is not immediately apparent. It’s the fundamental lesson Dr. King has taught me: trust yourself, certainly; and trust other people. Trust that they’re capable of right thinking. Be willing to give them the time needed to make that change. It might mean trouble for you. It might mean very hard times. Keep talking anyway. Keep trusting. Change will come through. That was his dream.

Yes, I remember it was dreamlike…

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

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A Resolution to Express Clear Judgment

Posted on my Facebook page, Jan. 8th, 2015:

Hmm. Okay, new, albeit late, resolution: If I have something to say–like voicing disgust for the Charlie Hebdo murders and the religion that makes them possible–I’ll write a blog post about it. That is, instead of quoting other people, or making half-assed, wannabe intellectual FB posts, I’ll actually do what the people I’m quoting do: meaningfully and thoroughly add to the discussion, rather than serve it to others in chopped-up bits of other people’s intellect and creativity. I see myself doing it…and I see YOU doing it…and you know what? It’s kind of stupid. Time to be smarter. From now on, if I quote something regarding a major issue, it’ll be an addendum to an opinion I’ve already written.