Category Archives: Personal Stories

Advice to Young Writers

I was asked by an administrator of a middle school in my county (grades seven and eight) if I would speak at their Career Day. Adults from about 50 careers from soldiering to farming would speak that day about their careers for twenty minutes each to five classes of students thirteen and fourteen years old. I would be the writer. I was told by a very sincere and enthusiastic woman that it would be fun and rewarding. My first thought, as would be the first classroom-510228_640thought of any conscientious writer, was, “It would mean giving up an entire day of writing,” so I said I’d have to think it over. My wife is a writing teacher/tutor of some reputation, so she said what I knew she would: “You should really do it, you know,” and of course I knew I should—it’s important to nurture the young—I know that. (I have two adult sons who write and I nurtured them, didn’t I?)–and if your wife’s tone says, “How can you not think of doing it; what kind of man are you?”–the issue is more or less settled. So I did research and wrote notes (sacrificing another half day), and rehearsed my talk (another two hours), and a few weeks later appeared at Career Day.

I opened by asking if they knew what the author of a book means by royalties, and they knew. I talked about “The opportunities available for a person who wants to make a living writing” and gave them figures on writer’s incomes and the demand for writers, telling them that opportunities are good and that there are writers who own private jets and others who have a hard time making a living, and that the quality of the actual writing sometimes (but not always) has an inverse relationship to the income—writers of trash who own the jets and authors of masterpieces who have the tough times. (At the same time Nobel Prize novelist William Faulkner’s picture appeared on the cover of Time magazine, he couldn’t afford to pay his electric bill, while every atrociously written (but exciting) thing Mickey Spillane wrote about his rugged gumshoe Mike Hammer topped the best seller lists). But that statistically, on average, professional writers, including freelancers, can make a decent living. They didn’t have much faith in statistics and wanted to know how much dough I made.

Even the students who were not especially interested in becoming writers were kind of curious because the life of a writer is romantic to most people, including the young. When I was a boy planning on being a writer, I thought all male novelists—the only kind of writer I thought at the time a man should be—wore cool green corduroy sport coats with leather patches on the elbows, were automatically remarkably handsome, and beautiful women with long legs and dangling earrings that glittered thought them uncommonly sensual, and couldn’t help themselves, and fell in love with them right and left. Popular novelist of the fifties John O’Hara wrote, “How nice, people say, to be a writer and be your own boss, work when you please and don’t have to punch a time clock, knock off whenever you feel like it, and go to Sun Valley or Hobe Sound or Placid or Bermuda” and later said, “I’m afraid that one illusion is responsible for more brief writing careers than any other single factor.” But I told them Flaubert, who sweated and moaned over every word and comma, said “It is a delicious thing to write.”

hand-299675_640(1)They found it appealing that if you write at home, as many writers do, you have tremendous freedom, can break for lunch whenever you want,( but, I cautioned, need equally tremendous discipline so as not to slough off and miss deadlines and get editors furious with you), and can work in your underwear if you’re in an underwear sort of mood. And if you’re a man, since you’re not planning to see anyone, you don’t have to shave every day if you’re not inclined to, which the average nine-to-five man would give an arm and a leg not to have to do.

They asked was I famous, and that gave me a chance to tell my famous story. Someone in a Canada was trying to get hold of me and didn’t have my phone number, but knew I lived in Chicago, a city of three and a half million. So they called Chicago Directory Assistance and asked for the number of David J. Rogers. Now there are scores of David J, Rogers in Chicago. Rogers is the seventeenth most common name in the U.S. But without a moment’s hesitation the operator said casually, “You must mean the author” and put them right through to me. The Canadian said to me, “Wow, you must really be famous” and I thought, “Somewhere here in this city is at least one operator who read my book.”

Then we got into:

What the life of a professional writer is like; what a professional writer is like

What a professional writer does

The skills and abilities a writer needs

How a writer prepares for a writing career

I told them that “all writers take pride in their writing and are always trying to get better. It’s important to them to improve and that happens the more you write and the more you study how to write. Making it a point to improve your writing all the time is important. Ask yourself today, “Am I improving,” and tomorrow and the next day ask, “Am I improving?” You are learning how to write here and will in high school and college, if you choose to go there. There are many books and magazines and web sites about how to get better. Just try to get better and better and learn as much as you can about writing. Many famous writers were more or less self-made and pretty much self-taught. Good writers are reading and learning all the time because who knows what they might have to write about? Writers are craftsman. Words and language are their tools—the sounds of language, the rhythms of language, the meanings. Words are at the center of a writer’s existence. Writers have the strongest appreciation of words, the largest vocabularies, and a highly sensitive ear for speech. Build up your vocabulary every day. not to impress people—who cares about that–but because the more words you know, the more you can express, and a goal of a good writer is to be able to express anything he/she has ever experienced or can imagine.”

When I was in business I hired only English majors not business majors because English majors can express themselves and they can also think clearly. If you can’t think clearly, you can’t write clearly. To me, clarity is the most important thing. And I believe it is to the reader too.”

“Also, you’d better like working alone in solitude at least a few hours every day. If you like working with other people go into sales or acting.”

The day ended. I was exhausted. I thought, “How do teachers do it?”

A Writer’s Cork Board of Inspiration

A girl named Hannah in one of the classes whose ambition was to be a writer sent me some quotes by writers about Girl writingwriting (she could tell I loved writer’s quotes), and I sent her a letter thanking her. She wrote me another letter thanking me for what I had said in my letter. I had merely asked her what kind of writer she would be: “Will you be writing novels?” She wrote: “I really enjoyed writing those quotes and I’m glad you like them. It’s really inspiring to hear them and think how true they are. The quotes, along with the letter I have received from you are going on my cork board of inspiration. I’ll have it in front of my desk to motivate me and spark my imagination.”

What had happened I could see was that I had taken her seriously–possibly in a way no one else had yet–and given her a vote of confidence. I just assumed that what she wanted to have happen would in fact happen: sure as I’d followed the writer’s path, one day she would follow it—and in fact was already following it. I was acknowledging that, and that acknowledgement in that one sentence of my letter—“Will you be writing novels?”—would be on her cork board of inspiration and would be there for her to see and gain encouragement from every day. How glorious that made me feel.

Who knows what treasures one day Hannah will write?

© 2015 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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Filed under Becoming an Artist, Creativity Self-Improvement, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Expectations, Goals and Purposes, Inspiring Young People, Motivation, Personal Stories, The Writer's Path, Writers

Writer and Artist Warriors

sunset-190922_640My younger sister Sharon died of bone cancer at the age of thirty-seven in a hospital in Honolulu, where she lived. She was a small, delicate woman who had the will of a warrior. When a doctor came to see her as she lay in her bed, he jumped back as though he had been pushed. He said to her, “I feel your power coming out to me.” But she was dying. There was no hope. Once she had been beautiful. I prayed, “Dear God, give me her pain so she will be free of it.”

I told her that I’d had writing a book in mind for a long time, but that I was very busy running the business I had started and really had no time, and that even if I did write it, it would take years to research and more years to write, and I wasn’t sure it would ever be published—the odds were against that as they are against any book being published–and I had a wife and four children to support and couldn’t afford to take a chance. And I was afraid I wouldn’t succeed, that I didn’t have what it took. But I didn’t tell her that.

She was in such pain that even the slightest, even the lightest, touch of another person on her was agony. So when I left to fly back home, knowing I would never see her again, I couldn’t kiss her. The pressure of my lips would bring her pain. I leaned over her and rested my head next to hers on the pillow. She whispered in my ear, “Dave, you write that book. I have faith in you. Write it for me.”

I returned home and organized my work space and set to work, thinking of her “Write it for me.” I told my wife, “I’ll close the business and I’ll finish the book in one year, and during that year we will have no income.” My wife said, “I understand. Go ahead. It’s important.” Nothing could stop me. What before had been a vague dream now became a purpose to devote myself to, to write a book, a good book for my little sister. It became my wife’s purpose and my children’s too. Whenever I was discouraged that purpose made me return to the book and to work till dawn, to sleep a few hours and get back to work for a year until the book was done. While I was working on it I thought, “I’m making a book Sharon would be proud of.”

I dedicated it to her with the inscription: “In memory of my sister Sharon. Just one word—courage,” and that word meant a lot to me because in this life everyday courage is so important.

Fighting to win Amazon

My book Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life came out and has been called “an underground bestseller” because with almost no advertising it swept the country and my life was changed in so many ways. The book became known in my family as FTW. It went through multiple printings, and appeared on bestseller lists; the cover price rose and rose. FTW discussion groups took shape in big cities and remote towns in America and Europe. Articles about this strange book with the Japanese symbol “spirit” on its cover appeared in scholarly journals and popular magazines alike. The book was read by generals, governors, and dancers, writers, artists, and riveters, heart surgeons, business executives, retirees, and sales clerks. It began being included on university required reading lists. It was not about Anthropology, Physics, or Botany, but about how to live. This little book is about musha-shugyo, “training in warriorship.” It teaches the skills and passes on the insights of samurai warriors adapted to everyday life.

It is an optimistic and encouraging book. That’s how I intended it. It is full of promise, full of hope. It teaches strength and makes you strong. It says we have but one life, but this one life can be changed in an instant. It can become two lives. The life before the changes and the richer, more fulfilled and stunning life after them. We can renew ourselves and start fresh at will on a new creative course, a more fruitful course, a better course any moment we wish, putting aside disappointments, discouragements, false starts, and failures and emerging as full-blown, skilled, exceptional artists or writers. Every living thing, every artist, every writer, has an urge to grow, to realize its full potential. My life tells me that. I believe it more every day.

Warrior symbol

“Warrior” by tiseb

The book teaches us to persevere, to be brave and not hide from difficulties, but to race forward to meet them so we may overcome them all the more quickly, maintaining high spirits and complete faith in ourselves. It teaches that we must never be stationary, but must be always moving at a good clip toward a better life, never slowing down because we’re too lazy, or afraid, or self-doubting, or discouraged, or have been set back by circumstances. “When you meet calamities and rough situations, it isn’t enough simply to say you’re not flustered. Whenever you meet difficult situations dash forward bravely and joyfully.”

Readers started contacting me, and I was happy to get to know them and listen to the stories they told me. In the revised E-book edition I mention a few of their stories.

A Hollywood movie director called me and said he felt that people in that aggressive film industry had been “eating him alive.” A successful opera singer wrote me and told me she had been overwhelmed by a sudden and inexplicable fear of performing. She felt helpless. She didn’t know what to do and stopped singing. They read FTW. He became more assertive, self-confident, and successful; she overcame her fear and went back on stage and resumed her career.

A newspaper was having serious financial problems. Its existence was in jeopardy. And so the publisher was going to launch a five-day intense telephone subscription sales campaign using 100 sales people. The publisher, who was also a playwright, was confident that exposure to FTW ideas would inspire them, and had me speak to them for an hour. Following the campaign, he called me and said that the campaign had been a huge success–the staff was fired up and the result was thousands of new subscriptions. He said, “You and FTW saved the paper.”

The book teaches us the samurai concept of mo chih ch’u, “going ahead without hesitation.” It’s not looking back once you have decided on your course of action. Once you can say to yourself “This is what I want to do”—“Write the novel I’ve been talking about so long;” “Rent a studio;” “Move”– then be on your way immediately, mo chih ch ’u. Why delay when life is so brief and the most important time of your entire life is this present moment?

I shouldn’t have to ask where you intend to go in your career. I should be able to tell by watching you and hearing and reading about you. Your undeviating aim should be to reach the fulfillment of the creator’s life you can envision, letting no impediments keep you from it. You know that in this life you’ve chosen rather than the other 5,000 easier lives you could have chosen, courage is a necessity, that there really is nothing to be afraid of and no reason to hold anything back in reserve, and that the whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Getting closer each day to a more fulfilled creator’s life, becoming extraordinary, your energy and strength will be boundless. Others will let go of their dreams, but you never will. You’ll draw from deeper inside and be willing to exhaust yourself for the sake of your happiness.

You must never lose the expectation that no matter what, you will succeed. Your art will work out. Your book will be published. Your skills will get better and better, equipping you for your craft in ways you haven’t dreamed of yet. Knocked down, maintain your confidence that all will go well as long as you get up. Knocked down seven times, get up eight. For that is how a better creator’s life is reached. Like a warrior, you must only “take care that your spirit is never broken.” Never let disappointment and discouragement “penetrate to the depths.” “Wear your existence light as a feather.”

The samurai warrior spoke of internal “dragons” and “striking through the dragon’s mask.” The samurai was taught what we should take to heart: “When all psychological blocks are removed the swordsman will move without conscious effort.” When your blocks are removed you will write, paint, sculpt, or perform without conscious effort. “Success will always come if your heart is without disturbance.”The meaning of all things is within, in your mind, not something that exists ‘out there.’” After reading the book people ask themselves, or ask their friends, “What is holding me back? What are my dragons? How can I overcome them?”

dragon-149393_150Ask any small child what a dragon is and you’ll get an earful of terror and horror. You and I both believed in fire-breathing dragons until we discovered that the only place they existed was in our minds, that they were merely products of our imagination. They only “lived” and had the power to frighten us because we granted them license to. They died and no longer troubled us when we revoked their license. All obstacles inside us—in our minds–are dragons. They are no longer of the fire-breathing variety. They are now a different species entirely. But the effect of scaring us and making us draw back in horror is precisely the same. The goal of the warrior writer and artist is to strike through dragon’s masks and free himself/herself of obstacles so the mind is “free to function according to its own true nature.”

The five most powerful dragons samurai—there were women samurai too–were trained to strike through, and artists, writers and performers must train themselves to strike through, are any kind of fear, the fear of taking risks, thinking too much of what might go wrong, doubting yourself, and hesitating, particularly when that golden but fleeting opportunity appears. If the samurai was afraid, didn’t take risks, thought too much, doubted himself, or hesitated, he would lose—possibly his life–because of fear most of all. A creative person must be bold; fear cripples her: “Fear is the true enemy, the only enemy. Overcome fear and nothing can stop you.”

The one constant factor in warfare as well as a writer’s and artist’s life is uncertainty. Half the things you try to accomplish are obscured by it. Risk and danger and fear and self-doubt are always partners. You do not go into the arts if you want a secure, uneventful life of ease. In samurai swordsmanship there is a move that requires you to take two leaping steps forward and to come within a hairsbreadth of your opponent’s sword. It is not a difficult move and can bring quick and total victory, but it is rarely used. Why? Because taking the risk of coming so close to the foes blade terrifies most swordsmen. In a creator’s life, as with that sword move, it is only by edging yourself in close to danger and living more dangerously that you approach great success. Who are those artists and writers who are least satisfied with their lives? Precisely those gloomy writers and artists—and actors and dancers– who regret, now when it’s too late, being timid and playing it safe all their lives.

bird-226700_640As an artist or writer, you must have an immovable mind—a mind totally committed to facing with calmness and composure any fate, circumstance, or challenge a creator’s life throws at you. An artist’s or writer’s life is often filled with troubles. But you must never let them disable you: “Forget about death, forget about the enemy, forget about yourself, keep your thoughts motionless.” Then you will “flow with whatever may happen.” Then your craft will blossom and you will reach your destiny.

Unless you have mastered your mind and body, you cannot beat your enemies on the battlefield.” Take up one idea. Make that idea your life, recalling,  “No matter what it is, there is no hardship you can’t overcome.” Like a warrior “When crossing marshes, your only concern should be to get over them quickly.”

© 2015 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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or

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Order Waging Business Warfare: Lessons From the Military Masters in Achieving Competitive Superiority

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Filed under Artists, Becoming an Artist, Blocks to Action, Boldness, Creativity Self-Improvement, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Eastern Philosophy, Goals and Purposes, Motivation, Personal Stories, Samurai Techniques, Success, Warriors, Work Production, Writers

Angie

woman-259004_640(Appeared previously under a different title in East on Central)

A few afternoons a week when I was twelve I performed odd jobs for a small neighborhood grocery store with a creaky wood floor and a big bay window called Angie’s.

When I had a delivery to make I brought my red, hand-painted-by-my-father wagon around front and put the load in. Then I would charge, bound straight for glory down the narrow little streets whose every bump my wagon was friends with and had crisscrossed a thousand times, until I had turned a corner or was otherwise out of sight of Angie’s husband Mr. Costello, who spied like a penitentiary guard from the top step of the store to see if I was slacking off.

I treasured my escapes to my happiest world that waited as loyally as a dog outside the store for me. I loved being out on the familiar streets alone, on my own, free, with no adults to burden or restrain me, and there like a person entering a garden after a long illness, relished being reunited with the hallowed fresh air and sunlight, the glorious shades and shapes that festooned this, the tiny patch of the earth that Fortune had so generously allocated to me, and the sights that pleased my eyes, and sounds beyond number that sang in the streets like minstrels.

Delivering groceries was my favorite chore because it liberated me from Mr. Costello, whom I considered diabolical. Otherwise I would have to sweep the floors or shelve cans while Mr. Costello hovered menacingly over me, scowling and cursing, “Don’t do it like that kid, damn it, do it like this,” or, “Boy, turn the friggin cans so the customer can see the nice picture of peas on the front.” I didn’t think Mr. Costello despised me any more than he did anyone else since he treated everyone so miserably, without discriminating, including Angie–especially Angie.

Almost all the people I delivered to were feeble old widows, worn to weariness by a long life and loneliness. They led quiet, solitary lives, having years before given up hope of leaving their apartment for fear of falling and being hospitalized and dying there alone. They had thin, emaciated hands with long fingers and translucent skin that was traversed by long knotted blue veins. They walked with backs bowed and in a slow shuffle—despondent women in perpetual mourning. Their slippers made shy whispering sounds on the carpet, and in the air about their apartments hung the stale and unmistakable odor of a human life approaching its end.

Most every afternoon Mr. Costello, who had committed so many wrongs that it was impossible to remember a fraction of them, would go into the bathroom in the rear by the freezer and come out gussied up in dark silk shirts and two-tone shoes and brilliant yellow or pink ties. Smelling of sweet cologne, he would leave the store, walking in an arrogant strut. Then I would stand behind the shelves and watch Angie—singing softly to herself, swaying, dancing–as she glided, a seraph, through the narrow aisles. She was young and lithe; Mr. Costello was so old.

Beautiful, Angie had such fire in her spirit that I felt it flaming out to me when I approached her. It singed me like molten tongs. She smiled with such sweetness, gentleness, guilessness, and goodness that it broke my heart. She was to me an Egyptian queen, and her hair, her voice, her hands, her presence, brought something into my life which I knew to be love.

Because of her my life was purer and more beautiful, and when I stood close to her I could not breathe. When I dreamed, it was of her. When she was left alone by her husband, those were her hours of splendor, when she was set free and her spirit soared and she became the woman she truly was. But when he returned at sundown the day seemed to die and she surrendered and was transformed into a captive again.

One afternoon after he had chastised me for being a dime short on a customer payment, and I had accepted his wrath wordlessly, terrified to speak, Mr. Costello left the store. Angie came down the stairs to the basement where I was weighing potatoes. In the dim half-light of the single overhead bulb, I looked at her lovely face and her large round breasts confined in a green cotton blouse.

“Don’t let him scare you,” she said.

I longed to ask, “Why don’t you run away?” and to thank her for her kindness. But being a child uncomfortable with both adults and words, I said nothing. She came close and held my face between her soft palms and kissed my lips. Then she touched my shoulder with her finger and turned and went upstairs. Soon I heard the little chime on the front door and Mr. Costello returning early and grousing that Angie had been sloughing off. The bread racks, the cases of produce, and soup cartons hadn’t been touched.

pull-25799_640Out on the street on a delivery one afternoon I met Red Martin. In the air was a hot, summery, sleepy, syrupy feeling. The cicadas were out in great, noisy numbers and the neighborhood panhandler dozed contentedly in the shadows in a doorway. Red was a tough boy with hair of fire. We stopped on the sidewalk for just a few minutes, maybe only seconds, only long enough for Red to say, “Going to the playground. Feel like coming along?” and for me to reply, “Gotta work.”

“See ya,” Red said, and hustled up the street, tossing a baseball in the air that he raced to catch in his mitt.

“See you, Red,” I called after him.

On the way back to the store after the delivery, my wagon rattling noisily without a load, I realized that what meant so much to me–Angie’s kiss–was meaningless to her. She would surely forget it as quickly and completely as she would had she petted a kitten.

I didn’t know then that my memory of that one moment would accompany me through all my life like a medallion that I would take out from time to time to admire, that once in a while something would remind me and I would wonder whatever had become of her, would wonder if we are ever granted a reprieve from our mistakes or must spend the rest of our lives paying for them.

Billy Henson came running down the street and stopped me just about where Red and I had talked ten minutes before.

“Did you hear what happened?” Billy said.

“What?”

“Red Martin died.”

“Red Martin,” I said. “I just talked to him. How could he be dead?”

“All I know is he started running out by the pitcher’s mound and fell down. His head hit a rock or something and he was dead. They say he died when he hit the ground. Anyway, he just died. He’s dead.”

Red Martin, I thought as I walked back to Angie’s, Red Martin. I had never really liked him that much, though I didn’t remember why. But I was remorseful and reproached myself now that he was dead. The realization that life was so uncertain and that for the first time death had come near to me and would again filled me with awe.

Somehow, I thought, approaching the store, a death should be a more momentous event, something should change as a result, something should be different; the world should take note. But everything in my world of those streets, those sounds, those sights, those people, was the way it had been before. Everything the same–except for Red.

Those same familiar streets shaded by the same cool poplars and elms, same cars slowly passing, same neighbors coming and going, same pungent smells of bubbling tar where muscular shirtless sweating workers with colorful bandanas toiled in the torrid sun, same red wagon buffeting noisily behind me; my returning again to Angie’s where cruel cologne-smelling Mr. Costello with his afternoon girlfriends and two-tone shoes and string ties would continue the daily torture of his wife. And where Angie would slowly metamorphose into one of the decrepit dying women I delivered to, and would sing gaily in the aisles of that little store like a bird lovely in its cage until the last end of her days came, as Red’s had come, and mine would come, and everyone’s would come.

© 2014 David J. Rogers

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Aligning Your Past, Present, and Future

eiffel-tower-417962_640Even at the age of eight Sarah dreamed of visiting far-away places. She would lie in bed and imagine lush, exotic islands, and grand cities with great cathedrals and towering spires. Her favorite subject in school was world geography, and she would press the pages of her texts open and study the pictures of nomadic Laplanders, ocean-liners, snow-capped mountains, and South Sea Islands. She would stand in front of the family globe, and spinning it, would watch the world race by.

After working in a large department store until she was twenty-two she married and in ten years had four children, two boys and two girls. She was a stay-at-home mother, and was wonderful at raising the children who loved her dearly. For the first twenty-five years of her marriage she was never gainfully employed outside the house. She and her husband were never able to save enough money to travel very far, as she still dreamed of one day doing. She came into her own and found fulfillment as a wife and mother, but when the youngest child reached his teens she realized it was time to change her life and venture outside the home to start a career.

She suffered the same fears and insecurities most people would who had been out of the job market for a quarter of a century, and didn’t know what to do to find a job. One day, on a whim, while passing a travel agency she had driven past hundreds of times on the way to and from errands, she went in and applied for a job. She was hired and now, in her late-forties organizes and accompanies group tours to Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific. She is doing what she dreamed of as a child, and is happy. Life offered her the opportunity for a fresh start, a new life path, a second birth, and she took it.

aircraft-74020_640The Wright brothers–Wilbur and Orville–were the first to demonstrate controlled, mechanical flight. But their insatiable interest in building a machine that flew began when they were children. Their father, Wilton, went on frequent business trips, and made it a point to bring home from each trip something for his children. He brought home from one trip–when Wilbur was eleven and Orville seven–a small toy helicopter made from bamboo paddles and a rubber band that when the rubber band was wound and released could lift off the ground. The brothers fell in love with the toy and played with it constantly, until it broke.

Then they disassembled it to see how it was made, and then built endless copies of it, even getting in trouble in school for playing with them. The toy made an indelible mark on them, got them started on aeronautical design, and they never forgot it. Even as older men, long after they had invented the flying machine and were world renowned, they would make helicopter toys for their nieces and nephews.

I asked my nurse in the hospital why she had gone into nursing and she said, “When I was a young girl I was sickly and I had to have a nurse. We were together night and day, and she was a good woman who seemed very happy. We became close, and it was then I decided that when I grew up I would be a nurse too. I’ve had such a wonderful life, and nursing has been so rewarding, that I’ve never regretted that decision.”

When Harry Truman was a boy, while he and his father worked together in the corn fields of Missouri, his father entertained him with exciting stories of the great ancient Greek and Roman orators and statesman, stories which Harry vividly recalled when he went into politics and when he had to make critical war-time decisions as President of the United States. Many times he called those stories his father told the most beneficial education he had ever received and an important reason he pursued the career he did.

woman-304812_640When my friend Rebecca was a young girl she would play “office.” She would pretend to be the president of a company and would have her younger brother play her assistant. She would spread papers every which way in front of her on the kitchen table as if it were her desk and she was very busy. She would call to her assistant-brother, “Bring me my pen” and he would bring it and she would then scribble her signature on papers. In her mid-thirties she founded and is president of what is now one of the most successful mid-size advertising agencies in the Midwest. She still signs papers all day long.

They are professional guitarists who as children were given an old battered guitar by an uncle and taught themselves to play. Or they are accountants who have always loved working with numbers, or a movie director whose parents loved movies and took their child to the show along with them, or a car dealer whose parents owned a dealership.

Innumerable artists–writers, musicians, composers, dancers, painters, architects, performers, and professional people, particularly engineers and physicians–became seriously interested in what would be their adult pursuit as young children.

 Foreshadowing

A distinctive quality of many people leading fulfilled lives is that quite early in life they became interested in the subject matter they later pursued as a vocation. The continual deepening of their interest and the development of appropriate skills was what guided them to their careers and that largely accounts for their success. They find their greatest achievements in occupations which build on their childhood interests.

From the earliest years on, patterns of choices show remarkable consistency, even over long periods of many years. Our lives of today often were foreshadowed and our intended destiny laid out for us years ago. Foreshadowing is a clue to our life’s most important purposes, though at times the path to fulfillment is not direct, but roundabout, with many side-trips, delays, and false starts.

Many highly accomplished people in varied fields find fulfillment pursuing their childhood interests in avocations–parallel careers.

A strategy when you are confused and don’t know which career direction to go in is to remember what excited you as a child, for it may be that in what comes to mind then is the most promising and most fulfilling direction.

********

One warm afternoon when I was five or six I was playing on the floor in front of the television that my mother had left on while she went away to vacuum in another room. I was playing with my fleet of toy trucks, and as poet Dylan Thomas would say, I was “As happy as the day is long.”

But from time to time I found myself glancing up at the screen and then after while found myself putting my trucks aside completely and getting closer to the screen and folding my arms in front of me and watching an old black and white movie very intently. I realize now that the semi-strange language the actors were speaking was British English.

One person in particular on that screen mesmerized me. I wanted to watch him and listen forever—the way he moved, the way he spoke, his voice, how he gestured, everything about him. What was happening to me was beyond me to describe. I was young; I didn’t have the vocabulary. But I still do not have the vocabulary, not because my vocabulary is deficient, but because when you see or read or hear something that is so out of the ordinary, you are unprepared for it and no words in all the lexicons, even the most expressive, are sufficient. You are mute.

All you know is that what you are feeling is jubilation; is joy. In my little child’s way I knew that on that screen before my eyes a performance that was not commonplace, but extraordinary was occurring, and it was because of that man’s skills and his presence, his being. My mother walked by and I touched the screen with my finger and said, “Who is that man?” And she answered. “That is Laurence Olivier. He’s the greatest actor in the world.”

How did I know that? How could I tell? What in my little boy’s mind was responding to an artistic achievement of the very best? I was so young. But even when you are so little, true art has a way of breaking through to you and declaring its power, and as you can see, you remember it all your life and cannot forget.

 ********

One day in the third grade my favorite teacher (at any level), Miss Gross, standing in the front of the room, started reading aloud an essay I had written. She had had us describe something that had happened to us, and because I loved to run and could run like the wind and ran whenever I could, I wrote about running while playing football.

I heard her read (very dramatically as only Miss Gross could) my words: “The boys tackled me and I fell to the ground like a blob of jelly coming out of a jar.” Then I heard Miss Gross say, “That is poetic language. That is an image. David has made a simile.”

So, I’ve made a simile, I thought. Isn’t that something?

Then running home under the maple trees after school, I got to thinking that if I wanted I could make similes all the rest of my life. So, why do I write, and why do I try so hard, and why have I been doing it with extreme passion and happiness and commitment these years, and why do I find that there is nothing I would rather do than study and learn and write about artists—Debussy, Cassatt, Faulkner, Graham, Baryshnikov, Hepburn Gershwin, Stravinsky, Wright, the Beatles, Satie, Calder, O’Neill, Chekhov, Chagall–any artists at all, and fill my life with their desires and aspirations, their capacity for hard, sustained work, their sacrifices, their single-mindedness and persistence, their devastating setbacks and colossal achievements, their strengths as human beings, and their frailties that all contributed and made possible works that I can actually hear, and look at, and read, and touch?

Because, you see, the glorious experience of that pleasant afternoon in front of that screen—the finest actor of his era and I alone together in my living room–had somehow made a tribute to other creators of such beauty seem necessary and inevitable. And because of my need to make similes, I can’t help myself.

 Let Me Know

These are childhood stories of human destinies being set in motion—a direction, a future–taking shape. I would like to hear your story. I would like to know about the experiences that set you on the right course and led you to what has consumed you most. What key events from your youth led you to becoming what you’ve become?

© 2014 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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Order Waging Business Warfare: Lessons From the Military Masters in Achieving Competitive Superiority

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Writers and Other Artists and Their Audience: A Very Personal Relationship

IMG_0240_David Pic copyEvery Tuesday or Wednesday I have lunch with a friend, a professor of philosophy, at a deli near my home and everything is fair game for our talks but sports. I am interested in sports, having grown up in Chicago—the slap-happiest sports town in the world. But he grew up somewhere else and thinks a basketball is something you hit with a bat.

A few weeks ago I mentioned that very important to my wife, who teaches writing, is the relationship the author establishes with the reader. I said I agree with her that the personality of the author shines all through the words and that as you read you respond to that personality, and that it accounts for much of the value we find in the work. Just as you make judgments about the work itself, such as to answer the question, “Do I like this and should I continue reading,” you also make judgments about the author such as, “Do I like and respect the person behind the words, and do I want to spend more time with him?” That happens whatever you’re reading—novel, blog, short story, play, poem, email, essay, memo, or letter.

And something similar happens whenever you look at a work of art, or see an actor act, or a dancer dance.

My friend said, “There is no relationship. There is no personality. There are only words.” Then I said, “I was reading a book recently and the information was useful—the author knew what he was talking about– but he was so arrogant and smug and self-satisfied that I couldn’t go on reading. But now James Agee, for example, is to me so likable and gentle and right-minded and has such compassion that I always enjoy his company.”

And then I thought: There are millions of people on earth who consider themselves serious writers, and many millions more who are engaged in other arts, and to whom the relationship between themselves and their audience has to be a major concern (2.5 million people in the U.S. alone consider themselves artists); so it would be worthwhile to give that relationship the attention it deserves.

The True Center

The true center of our experience with any kind of narrative writing in any language on earth is the sense that someone with a mind, a personality, and a background of experience is talking to us. That sense accounts—if it is favorable– for much of the pleasure we derive from reading, and it is that sense that a good writer will develop in the reader, consciously or not. What a writer is intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally radiates in the work and can’t be hidden from the discriminating reader.

Herman Melville said, “No man can read a fine author, and relish him to his very bones, while he reads, without subsequently“ forming “some ideal image of the man and his mind. And if you look…you’ll find the author has furnished you with his own picture.” Literary critic Georges Poulet wrote, “ (As I read) “I am aware of a rational being, of a consciousness, the consciousness of another opens to me, welcomes me, lets me deep inside itself, and even allows me, with unheard of license, to think what it thinks and feel what it feels. I am thinking the thought of another, but I am thinking it as my very own.”

Energy, Sincerity, and Other Qualities

The author’s qualities we connect with are those we respond to in any person we meet face to face. They include humor, energy, vitality, seriousness, playfulness, friendliness, originality, boldness, glibness, sensitivity, sensuality, elegance, flexibility of mind, intelligence, tenderness, objectivity, flippancy, etc. We become aware of the author’s interests, preoccupations, even obsessions, and how involved the author is in the subject, including her attitude toward her characters. Even the most objective and dispassionate writing, as in the short stories of Chekov, the master of understatement, conveys the personality of the author—his control and self-restraint.

We make judgments about the degree of ability the author has, and say, “That man is so skilled that he can do anything he wants with language. He’s so self-confident that he breaks the rules whenever he wants. He has courage; he takes chances.” We look at a great actor performing or Baryshnikov leaping and we say “Their skill is breathtaking; they are very disciplined and have worked hard to develop themselves.” It’s been said that painter and tortured genius Jackson Pollock had no natural talent. He was always aware that he was an artist that could not draw. But the guts he had appears in his every work, and in painting his groundbreaking way he changed the course of western art and the definition of what we mean by art.

A Distinctive Style

The first quality we notice about a master, or a truly excellent writer—or painter, or dancer, or actor, or any other artist– is a distinctive style. All great artists are concerned not only with communicating their vision and expressing their talent, but are preoccupied with the most effective way to do that. And style, which is anything but a minor afterthought, is the artist’s signature and as individual and as much a part of the writer’s, sculptor’s, actor’s, or architect’s, etc., personality and life experience as DNA. There was only one Marlon Brando and only one Frank Lloyd Wright.

Possibly the first requirement of a good style for a writer is the ability to put the reader into what is being written about and the writer’s presence right away, from the very beginning, and all the way through the work. Using a first-person “I” voice as in Hemingway’s autobiographical novel The Sun Also Rises invites the reader to share in the writer’s and narrator’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and can be tremendously effective. With the second person “you” the writer is addressing the reader directly, and that too, can have a strong effect.

How We Want To Be Treated

There is a sharp difference between authors who treat us as essentially their equals and those that (like political candidates) imply we’re their inferiors. That author I couldn’t stand and couldn’t go on reading had no respect for the reader. He had no concept of the fundamental truths that artists must have an understanding of their audience and what will please them, excite them, and hold their attention, and what will “lose” them, including the author’s own personality. Authors we have friendships with are those who share interests with us and respect us, never underestimating us, never talking down to us.

The Author’s Mind; the Artist’s Mind

We respond very much to the author’s mind in action, and whether we’ll go on reading or not and how attentive or respectful we’ll be depends on how interesting and stimulating we find that mind. I was reading a true story about a man who was having trouble getting to sleep, and his mind was so active trying to figure out how to do that that I just sat back and laughed and marveled at his ingenuity. We are involved with the author’s mind from the first word, and the skilled author will let you know immediately that his mind is active and sharp. Even a nice metaphor or a perfect sentence or clear writing give us the reality of entering the author’s mind.

We could just as easily be talking about the painter’s mind, or the ballet dancer’s mind, or the movie director’s mind. Whatever the art, the audience responds to that mind one way if it is interesting and another if it’s not.

Intimacy and Integrity

The particularly effective writer—the particularly effective artist of any kind—will develop a relationship that goes beyond liking and beyond friendship to intimacy, and that comes from above all else the sincerity we find in the work. Sincerity is what I sense in Agee, for example. Anyone who can write so beautifully and so sensitively, honestly, and intensely must be trying to communicate to me something that he cares deeply about. The intimate writer invites us in to his inner life and says “Here I am.” I sense utmost sincerity too in Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”—a poem in which the writer actually speaks to the reader and tells us that as he is writing the poem he is thinking about us. And I find it in all the work of van Gogh, and some blogs I read. The artist is sincerely trying to connect with me and communicate something directly to me as well as he or she is able, and I respond.

Good writing has integrity—our being whole and authentic with no division between who we are and what we write, or paint, or how we perform on stage. We guarantee that we aren’t faking, or deceiving, or compromising. Hemingway referred to integrity as the built-in “bullshit detector” that every real artist possesses.

No Place to Hide

It is futile to think we can hide ourselves from an audience for very long or fool it into believing we’re something we’re not. The voice that comes through is not something that is imposed artificially from the outside, but is the genuine, the authentic, the true, the real person. Even when we write about a character that is nothing like us, the person we are—with our history and our points of view and our opinions comes through clearly. The very images we use and the very vocabulary tell a great deal about us.

Addition by Subtraction

An authentic voice is not achieved by adding something, but by the opposite process—by subtracting what is pretentious or not genuine. Every artist is unique and different from every other. There are no duplicates. But whatever she is like, we are trying to locate her and understand her.

Coming Out of the Shadows

So if we are looking for prescriptions, the first would be: “Whatever your art, come out of the shadows and reveal yourself. Let your true personality permeate all through your work—your sincerity, your honesty, your mind in action, your originality and uniqueness, the ‘I’ who you are–for it is that, above and beyond the other content, that your audience will respond to. Be interesting, be clever, be skilled, be alive, be true, and be authentic.

© 2014 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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Order Waging Business Warfare: Lessons From the Military Masters in Achieving Competitive Superiority

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Days End: A Story of Courage and Love

sunset-190922_640Far below me, a woman as tan as tree bark lay on her back on the sand. White-tipped frothing waves came in from the ocean, and life went on down there.

I was looking down from the high balcony of my sister Sharon’s hospital room. Sharon was in bed in the room behind me–not asleep, yet not fully awake, but in a dazed state between because of the morphine they gave her all through the day and when she called for it at night. Her pain was very bad.

I watched as a few hundred feet away people in white outfits played tennis on green courts on the roof of a tall pink hotel. I knew they should not be blamed for their happiness, any more than Sharon for her misery. But I was thinking that somehow it was unfair that they were running so, graceful and strong, close enough to wave and smile at me while her disease had spread through everything. Everything was gone.

I had seen on the floor of her kitchen the scale that was there to measure the dwindling of her existence, and sheets of paper on a clipboard hanging from a nail on the wall that recorded it: ninety-eight pounds, ninety, eighty-eight…, and a calendar that had Xs on days she wasn’t healthy enough to work that in recent months had become all Xs. Against a wall was a full-length gold-framed mirror that had once held her face and her shape as she turned to adjust a blouse or straighten a skirt. The mirror was dusty.

All that remained now was the steady withering of her small, faltering body, the daily indignities, the terror and inconceivable loneliness of dying, the sorrow of leaving this world. When I stood over her bed that late afternoon she looked at me with shamed eyes and said, “I’m a mess aren’t I,” and my heart broke. What could I do but tell her she was still beautiful? How will I ever remember without pain her looking up at me so gratefully and saying “Thank you brother,” as I handed her a glass of water?

Her mind was in a tangle because of the morphine–sensations and floating dreams blended together like a band of swallows swooping and falling and words from the voices of people slipping in sideways, echoes of words, as words spoken in a museum closed for the night might sound, or a murmur, or just splinters of sound descending like coins in a pool. Images were loose in her mind of such memories as that of an ironing board, a dress with a faded floral pattern, a photograph of her sitting at a desk smiling, then the suddenly remembered sensation in her finger tips of peeling an orange or pulling strands of hair out of a brush. And all the while she was a sponge soaked with emotion: love and despair and courage and fear.

At times she felt she was merely a body beyond repair, but there were moments of great clarity when she realized she was truly a person. Then she became suddenly proud and triumphant: “I am alive. I am a human being. I am still of value.” And then shortly the dreaded thought returned: It will end; soon it’ll end. It was all so sad, she thought: the sun would last, the earth would last, and there would always be stars, but not she. She was greedy for life–another day, another hour–but didn’t a person so young have a right to be? Only thirty-seven. There should be more shouldn’t there? Above all she mustn’t lapse into self-pity, mustn’t wail, “Help me please, I am suffering.” That was all there was to it, she thought, the only victory, as outside in the priceless world flamingo clouds drifted by.

The room was regaled in yellow chrysanthemums. Sunlight spread across the balcony and the warm breeze thronged in as visitors arrived to pay their respects. Sharon wasn’t resentful or jealous of their good health, that irresistible glow they had, that incandescence, and looked forward very much to their bringing their good cheer and love, smiling like children, she knew, to keep her spirits up. Someone told a joke that was followed by laughter. How hungrily a person’s thoughts swarm over joy among sorrow.

When visitors were talking among themselves she lay back, listened, and felt one of those hundreds of emotions for which there are no words. She knew some people thought compassion was a useless emotion, but she thought it the kindest. It didn’t alter the fact that soon her life would end, but yet there were glimmers of light just knowing that one person could care so much for another, asking nothing in return, opening a secret door and entering on the private island on which the other person lived, and then you and they weren’t so lonely, if only for that time. A nurse slid a thermometer between Sharon’s lips business-like, glanced at her briefly and impersonally and with cold, gray, restless eyes gazed out at the sky while she waited for the thermometer, took it out, looked at it, and said, “One o one, not bad at all.”

How do you explain life? What does a person live for? Sharon wondered as she was turned over, grimaced, and was sponged. You expected the answer to become clear if you lived long enough, and to be profound: the meaning of life was X or Y, perhaps Z. It was a question worth asking. It was probably joy. Yes, that was it all the time: the joy one feels. And she had known joy. No one could say she hadn’t known exquisite joy.

A doctor she didn’t know then came into the room to see her, and looked at her, looked at her eyes, and jumped back as though he had been punched, and said, “I feel your power coming out to me. You have a very strong will.”

 

It was the silence that settled as softly as pollen on the hospital room when toward evening everyone went home that I will recall. “I remember once when,” Sharon said, thumbing through her stack of memories. Suddenly she said, “Do you remember that summer day at the lake the wind was so wild and the waves were as tall as buildings, the library when I was looking for a book?”

That day when as children—she eight, I ten–we inhabited our bodies with inexpressible joy, she on the sand holding my hand, laughing. Suddenly a wind picked up and into the air flew a thousand birds. Clouds raced each other headlong across the black sky, and wave upon wave –a procession of liquid walls—rose and rose and rose majestically, ascending one after another like great hills of water that then lunged and plunged like a field of gray-green wheat bowing under the wind, shattering on the shore into a multitude of broken stars. Hills of water that seemed to pause for a long moment at their fullest height and then to crash to earth with the sound of artillery, our hearts beating with excitement, with awe, with fear, with terror. Just a moment before there had been not a breeze, not a breath of wind, but now all the wind in the world seemed to be concentrated on that strip of earth– a lion of a wind, unleashed, untamed, cool, cold, with a bite and sting, bringing–pouring in to us–the odors of water, of fish, and of the wind itself, the steady hoarse roar of the foaming waves filling the air like thunder, my losing then all sense of physical existence, being liberated and free. Behind us bathers took their children’s hands and dashed for the shelter of the beach house, and strong men dragged rowboats higher up onto the beach away from the surging water, leaving behind ruts in the sand. Nothing was the same; everything in motion, everything in flux, everything changing: wind, waves, sky, everything. That same day she stood on tip-toes on a stool down the aisle in the stacks at the library, reaching for Little Women, and watching her I realized in that instant that she was irreplaceable; I could not do without her.

How fast life goes” she whispered weakly. “It isn’t much longer than a mosquito’s life. Why does it go so fast?” The world is such a huge, well-traveled place; yet when the end of a life nears, all distances collapse and it comes to that: a little room, a little bed, a pair of eyes looking on, someone weeping.

The pain had flecked Sharon’s black hair with white and it was short from the treatment and no longer long and flowing. Her once-pretty face was gaunt, her cheeks gray, her body tired of suffering. Her long pianist’s fingers were so thin that her ring had slipped off and was lost. But there in her gray, lonely, fading beauty there was still about her that same gentleness you could ruffle with your breath, the same fury in her fierce eyes, the same poise, and the same mystical elegance.

Night came; the day was gone. Over the city shone a blue light and the chrysanthemums stood in a black vase on the table. Beyond the glass door and beyond the stars was darkness upon darkness. The faintest light lay on her face, and on that face was neither pain nor resignation nor fear nor sorrow, but peace. I placed my hand flat on her chest–she could feel pain no more–and she opened her eyes and looked into my face with a gentle sweetness. And then looked down at my hand and placed her left hand lovingly upon it.

 

I only regret that I was helpless to shape into words all that I was thinking of her and hoped she understood how I loved her and how I would carry with me and cherish the memories I have of her, that every year I would commemorate her birthday; that whether I am bending to tie my shoelace or asking for a fork she never leaves my thoughts. In my mind all my life I will see her long black hair flaring in the wind that day with the wild waves bursting, our lives passing, changing, and flowing like those waves; her dying young.

I felt such tenderness toward her that could I, I would have died for her and was so regretful that I could not suffer her pain for her, and was powerless to help her, and that she is now gone entirely from my life and from this world. Until I die I will feel the immense weight of grief for her and now I ask her forgiveness for any sadness I ever caused her through thoughtlessness or selfishness; and wish her somehow to know that I intended no harm and am so terribly sorry.

 

In the parking lot I saw Sharon’s favorite nurse and called to her and caught up with her and told her of my gratitude to her for the great gentleness and goodness she had shown my sister. I told her I would never forget her kindliness and thoughtfulness, and that I would think about her in the future and would never forget her. She told me what a good patient Sharon had been, how she had never complained and was always so nice and had good manners, and how it made her very sad to say goodbye to her.

I did not know as a boy that memories of that day at the lake, though intangible, would persist through all the successive years, nothing as real. Or that our lives would change so immeasurably as had those waves under that wind.

© 2014 David J. Rogers

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Days and Nights of Youth: An evening in August, years ago

“And if I were standing in the middle of my people
Age would go from me and I would be young again.”
(Translated from the Irish by Lady Gregory)

Days and Nights pic_copyChicago’s Sheridan Road ran parallel to Lake Michigan, as it does today, and when you walked down it in those days you heard the sounds of the traffic mingling with the lapping of the waves on the beaches. From the beaches on clear days you could see on the horizon’s edge the western shore of Michigan to the east, and out on the lake low in the water turgidly-moving barges carrying loads of ore down from Minnesota to the steel mills of northern Indiana.

On certain afternoons in July and August the sun bore down on the sand so intensely that it was painful to walk on it, so men dashed to and from the tumbling waves carrying their squealing little children in their arms. One by one all the great industrialists’ mansions that lined the street were torn down and the beaches were filled in and replaced by closely-packed massive and towering apartment buildings with hundreds of verandas which were far more impressive architecturally, but far less beautiful.

Few people remember the mansions or the beaches, but most believe that the high-rises have stood there forever. Now when you walk down Sheridan Road, the traffic is so heavy and the water so far away behind the buildings that you can no longer hear the waves.

Three blocks to the west was Edgewater, a miniscule street slung like a hammock between a quiet street to the east and a busy street to the west. There I lived quite happily in a moderately dilapidated apartment which I shared with my parents, two sisters, one brother, two blue parakeets, and a dog.

Along the street stood nearly identical sturdy brown brick two and three-flats with large, clean lace-curtained windows in the front and small open porticos decorated with terra cotta flower pots of various sizes. Inside the apartments the ceilings were high and the rooms were laid out more or less the same as ours. Those buildings were interspersed with squat, frail but fearless homes of families of two, five, or eight children and were concealed from the late morning or afternoon sun by tall trees. In the back yards and on the front lawns stood shady poplars and towering American elms whose profusion of leaves, singed and curled by the blistering summer sun, hung parched and brittle, and shook like tinsel when the leaves fluttered in the wind.

The morning sun revealed rectangular lawns that, except when snow obscured them, were always closely cropped and tidily trimmed as though meticulous angels appeared every night to care for them. The hedges that hid modestly in the shadows were as neatly shorn as boys’ fresh haircuts, and the flowers in the beds were tall and brightly-colored. In late autumn the brilliant orange, crimson, and yellow leaves that had been liberated from the trees by westerly winds scampered wildly, crisply, and noisily along the pavement and adorned the lawns like jewels.

On no particular schedule—or none we were aware of—from down the alley emerged the gray rag man sitting high atop a complaining horse-drawn, creaking wagon, his voice preceding him as he called “Rags, old iron.” As the wagon neared, you heard, faintly at first, and then more purely, the rhythmic, hollow clomp, clomp, clomp, clomp of the shod hooves of the old gray horse whose head hung low and swayed slowly to the rhythm of its gait. Then you heard it snort as it struggled futilely with its bit, and saw its huge protruding brown eyes glazed with an expression of weariness and sorrow, and the sunlight shimmering off the sweat that coated its flanks.

In the early evenings as though all in unison, the regiments of gray, strong, working men, pensive, plain, godly men—the fathers—passed down the street in orderly array, returning to those of us whose entire universe extended no further than the ends of that block. After dinner when the weather was good the fathers–some in gaudy suspenders, to a man seeking peace–left their families and went alone outside in the yard to smoke. The glowing tips of their cigarettes or bowls of their pipes hovered like red ornaments suspended from invisible strings in the darkness. The men nodded cordially to one another, but only rarely went to their fences to speak.

They stood stationary and solitary in the middle of the yard gazing up at the dazzling field of glinting stars, being reminded of their own inadequacy, their own insignificance, feeling in themselves the overwhelming rapture and wonderment of being alive on this earth on this night that they would try to convey to another person, but would forever be unable to. After a little they shredded their cigarettes or tapped out their pipes on the soles of their shoes and watched the tiny embers drift to the ground. Then they went back inside where the light was bright and the rooms were noisy with happy children.

On especially sweltering summer nights one by one my family evacuated the stifling apartment and sat together in a little cluster on the wooden front stairs. There every summer evening without exception I fell under the spell of our little street. I watched the flight of night hawks circling high above chimneys and sweeping down like kites. My eyes settled too on the entwined strands of ivy on the trellis next door, on the blinking traffic lights and long beams of headlights spread like cream on Ridge Avenue, the yellow-glowing lamp lights in the windows of neighbors, and the demented boy who rode the street at nights with his little dog in a paper bag in the basket of his bicycle. And if our luck was good, down the street came what we were all wishing for: a breeze. Then the multitude of closely assembled leaves trembled on the trees that were tinged with moonlight.

The six of us were frugal with words on those evenings, parceling them out sparingly, as though they were precious things that needed protecting. When we spoke among ourselves it was not of topics momentous or memorable. Serious subjects were best saved for visits to our stairs of my father’s family–Welsh of course, with musical accents and exotic names, all of them worldly enough to speak on most any subject with some professed expertise. They always came bearing a vast stock of stories and bits of song and strong opinions that differed markedly from one another and were bickered over turbulently, but in a generally agreeable and forgiving manner. Sometimes too, other visitors came to sit with us.

Whenever anyone on those stairs spoke, I listened intently to the words, the silences, and the breaking of the silence, the short sentences and the longer, the soliloquies, the jokes, comments, stories, exaggerations and wild tales of utterly impossible events that there was an unspoken agreement to play along with but not for a minute believe. Sometimes I understood what was being discussed or commented on or observed, but often I did not. When I did not, my attention drifted and the words dissolved into a hum and became merely sounds.

Then I thought that perhaps when I was older and my time had come I would understand everything or most everything of which these people spoke, that meanings to which I, as a little child, was not privy, would then become clear to me, and I too would be able to speak fervently of them. At times the words the adults uttered came accompanied by a gravity or sadness that frightened me—talk of war and defeats and death and deepest sorrows. But soon someone usually said something that brought laughter all around, and I laughed with them, not knowing what brought them that flash of joy. But I shared in it, knowing that it was good and that when they were happy I was happy.

Too soon the deepest darkness arrived–imperceptibly, as if we had been inattentive and without our knowing it had descended stealthily from its source or risen from the earth to wrap itself around us. Street lights, old and sunken into the ground and standing precariously like drunken sentinels wearing metal caps, then lit and cast yellow cones all down the street. Swarms of flitting fireflies carrying their little lanterns behind them appeared and hovered like tiny intermittent airborne embers that speckled the night like the amber tips of matches. Once aloft on their nocturnal flight like winged magnets the fireflies drew their tormentors–my brother and other giddy children and me. Powerless against our quick hands, soon they were assembled like congregants in a glass jar which glowed like a church in the night.

 

The twilight sinks and the evening wanes and the intense heat cools and the street becomes warm and peaceful. Soon from our visitors emerge the end-of-evening yawns and “oh-my-goodness-how-time-flies,” and they pack up and leave for home. We say goodbye and they are gone. My family is alone now, all of us speaking in drowsy tones. We hear the nightly chants of the sleepless crickets from under the porch and in the hedges and see neighbors hurrying home. It is the end of this day.

My mother flutters her fingers and says, “Well, it’s getting late” with a sigh that conveys that she is weary, and my father says, “Now heed your mother children.” While still able to, I cast one last long look at the people who share this place with me. Somehow out of God’s grace and for reasons I will never fathom, they have been sent to dwell in this house for a time and to be the objects of my love forever. We children moan as pathetically as we can to be granted a few minutes more of wakefulness, but despite our protests we are ushered inside.

I lift the window shade slightly and see, overhead, a splinter of a moon and protective stars attending us. There with me in that bedroom is my brother sleeping, and there are my sisters sleeping. I am sheltered there in that sanctuary of my youth, safe in the protective hands of my parents and the Lord. My life will never be as free of complications and contradictions as then. There is no need yet to try to muddle through a life I do not fully understand.

It is now a time of resplendent picnics and sunny beaches, a blessed period of my life when pain is a stranger to me and I am immune from suffering. I lie remembering the day as I will remember it forever–a blistering journey to the cool of evening. And trying to peer forward into time and see how I will be as a man, I wonder what this life holds in store for me and if I will live mine creditably enough. I study my hand suspended in air like a gray and familiar bird. I whisper, “That is me, me,” and with that thought something stirs deeply in me that all my life will be inexpressible. And then I make a wish that things will never change, but will stay as they are forever.

 I am told that my mother and father are deathless, my brother and sisters are deathless, and that I am deathless too; that there really is no death and we endure everlastingly and that time is an illusion. But I know that my life as it is now will end. I know that we in my family are seeds that will be cast on separate earths, that we will be drawn apart to live our lives there to the end. And that too soon those people I intend well toward will pass away and leave no trace but in my memory. That the day will come when I will never again sit on those stairs with my beloved family on an evening in the heat of summer.

After a while the faint sounds of spoons against coffee cups and the low drone of speech floating from the kitchen cease and my parents go to bed. Of my family I think in my child’s way–they are all of them–each of them–good people, devoid of malice, and I am blessed to be among them. Why, I wonder, have I been so favored? “Dear Lord, keep these people safe, and please treat them kindly. Spare us please from pain or so apportion it so that none of us is asked to bear more than one should be required to.”

Silently I pray, as always fast, “God bless Mom and Dad and…” and I fall to sleep beseeching God. The day ends then, and I dream, and in a moment another dawn breaks.

© 2014 David J. Rogers

 

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A Strange and Perplexing Disorder: My Mother and Emily Dickinson

MomScan_20140825 (3)Sometimes we are oblivious to the serious problems people we know are having. And when we learn about them sometimes we’re shocked. As shocked as some people reading this post, one of my growing up memories, will be.

In high school I won an award and there was an assembly. Sitting on the stage, I looked down at the faces in the audience and there in the third row was my mother. My eyes stung with tears, I was so touched by her being there. I thought of the courage it had taken for her to come alone. Under my breath I whispered, “Good going Mom.”

When you are an agoraphobic you are one of a minuscule portion of the world’s population, and you seem terribly odd because the simple act of leaving your home alone fills you with helpless terror and requires great bravery on your part. And so you are odd, and that is no secret to you. But you try to hide the fact.

You are a person of considerable mystery. Your problem is the least talked about and least understood psychiatric disorder. And the most difficult to treat.

“You’re afraid to leave the house? What do you mean?” (They are stupefied. You really can’t mean that.)“It is very hard for me.” (You are understating.)

“Yes, a person can get hit over the head or robbed these days.”

“Those things don’t scare me in the least. I can take care of myself.”

“Then what are you afraid of?”

“Do you really want to know?”

“Very much.” (Because it seems so weird to me.)

“Most of all of the space out there—the immensity of it.”

“But I’ve known you for years and I’ve seen you outside your house many times.”

“But have you noticed that I’m never alone?” (My husband is with me, or my wife, or a close friend—someone I can put all my trust in.)

When you are out alone in that immensity you sweat, you worry, you feel faint, and you have difficulty breathing. At times the tension builds and you feel that any moment you will scream. All that’s being asked of you is that you go alone down the familiar street to the familiar train station and catch a familiar train and go to the doctor, and then return home again in two hours. You go over and over meticulously in your mind the details—the steps–you must carry out before you can open your front door again and set foot into the sanctuary you feel you never should have left. First walk down the street to the station, (That’s not so bad, is it?), then sit in the waiting room (Be ready; you will be afraid), then sit in the train looking out the window, then…Then on the way back, everything in reverse.

The problem is the mind. The mind is the trap. How can you master the mind when there is nothing to master it with but that same mind that is not perfectly well?

It is now time to leave. The door opens—the assault of the open air–and you mutter to yourself, Be strong. Then, hours later when you have completed the dreaded journey and are safely home again, everything in that domain welcomes you back—the refrigerator, the dining room furniture, the light fixtures.

My mother never as an adult saw the interior of a grocery store or a butcher shop, but called in the family orders item by item and had everything delivered, did not shop for clothes for herself or us except by mail order, did not take her children to doctors or dentists, but had them go alone, never walked down one flight of stairs to do the laundry in the basement, avoided crowds and never went to circuses, zoos, ballparks, libraries, playgrounds, beaches, concerts, or museums, and avoided elevators and all other enclosed places.

When you are as she, you often say after sleepless nights of anticipating opening the door and leaving, “I would give anything not to have to go. Can you please come with me?”

“NO (a stern voice), you must go alone. You have to master this thing. You have to do what you don’t want to do. That’s the only solution, the lone treatment. Do what you don’t want to do.”

I’m sure my mother never realized she was sick. My father never expected her to be any different than she was, and never all his life mentioned her affliction, nor did she ever speak of it, nor did we, her children. It was no less a part of her than her arm, and if a person’s arm is deformed, you never bring it up. When my father took her outside and stayed close to her–as though they were attached by a string–no one would have known that were he to leave her side– absentmindedly in a parking lot, for example–she would to some extent have lost her mind.

Yet, she was in love with the world–the glitter of lights and the sunsets and the dawns; the shades and shapes. Her absence from it made it all the more beautiful to her. She marveled at people; how they seemed so blasé and reckless out on the streets–as impervious as rocks.

I think to her the apartment in which she sought refuge and dwelled so happily was a garden glittering with precious stones. In it, keeping her company when everyone was gone, might just as well have been hummingbirds and blue jays and lilies of the valley and Roses of Sharon– bird baths and white columns and caterpillars. Utensils were rubies, chairs diamonds, books emeralds, toys on the floor scattered sapphires.

In that tiny domain she darted like a thrush among the five rooms, lifting, sorting, storing, repairing, pushing, sweeping, mopping, cleaning, wiping, washing, drying, folding, spreading, fluffing, rushing, straightening, puttering, submerging dishes in bubbly water–working, working, working–confident, capable, efficient, masterful–the queen of our lives. She was the center of the family about whom everything orbited and whose sweetness, gentleness, caring, affection, and kindliness she shared equally among us, and which filled every crevice of our home.

Everything she needed to exist contentedly was within reach–a tiny, perfect world—we, her family, walking through rooms, or sitting, or coming in or going out the doors. It was clear that on certain days each moment in that apartment and whatever happened therein filled her with inestimable joy. Then she might have thought:

If all the griefs I am to have
Would only come today,
I am so happy I believe
They’d laugh and run away.

If all the joys I am to have
Would only come today
They could not be so big as this
That happens to me now.

It was very near her thirtieth year that Emily Dickinson deliberately decided never willingly to leave her home again. She had been a prolific letter-writer since childhood, but letters subsequent to that year became more important to her than they are to most people because they were her “letters to the world,” and the replies she received were her sole means of escape from the imprisonment she had chosen.

She was as out-of-touch with the world as my mother. The news from “out there” came second hand to them. It was not something they experienced directly. Dickinson had no interest in the Civil War—the period of her flowering– and no interest in contemporary writers. It is doubtful she read a single poem of the other living American poetic genius, Walt Whitman. Eventually, Dickinson refused to be in the same room as visitors, her isolation now complete.

Were my mother a poet, she too might have written:

The soul selects her own society.
Then shuts the door.

© 2014 David J. Rogers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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First Crisis, Then Recovery

Man sitting on a bench looking at the waterWhen crossing marshes, your only concern should be to get over them quickly, without delay”.                                 (Sonshi/Sun Tzu)

I was cheated out of a great deal of money in business by people I had trusted.

I had worked hard an entire year on a handshake, and now I had nothing to show for it. I had a wife and four children to support, and now there was no money with which to pay the bills. Devastated, I quickly fell into a depression; it was almost impossible for me to get up in the morning and I couldn’t sleep at night. I had not only lost the money, I had lost my faith in mankind. Is man’s greed so complete and is he so hopelessly selfish and that he will take the food out of another man’s mouth? I could not fathom such cruelty.

In that dark mood those dreary days, I could not make myself spend time with the family I love so much, didn’t feel like seeing friends, didn’t feel like leaving the house at all, didn’t want to talk, didn’t want to walk my dear dog, didn’t want to water my plants, didn’t  feel like getting dressed.

I am a reader, so one day I left the house and went searching for a book that would help me resurrect my damaged spirit and get me back on my feet and fully functioning again. All my life I have had what I call my “Research Angel”–some unknown factor that I trust to guide me to the solutions to my problems. When I need something, my Research Angel takes me to it.

I went downtown to a book store where I had once been a sales clerk and walked around from floor to floor, looking at book covers, reading titles, and thumbing through book after book until I found one that seemed almost to glow with a bright light there on the shelf. I picked it up and it seems to me now that simply holding it was the start of a new energy, a new focus, a new purpose.

I bought it, took it home, went upstairs to my office, turned on the desk light, and read it. Immediately I knew that book would lead me to writing the book I had been dreaming of writing for some time but could not clearly conceptualize in my mind–and it was.

I have written about how my sister Sharon’s death fueled my purpose and made me indefatigable until I had achieved it.

I wrote my book–Fighting to Win–and it changed everything about my life. After its success a major publisher told me, “We will give you a contract to write your next book.”

I asked, “What do you want me to write about?” and I heard the words every author dreams of hearing: “Write about anything you want to write about.”

And so I wrote another book that became popular: Waging Business Warfare.

That led to public speaking engagements in North America and Europe–and the realization that standing at a podium speaking to a thousand people or two or three thousand or five had been my destiny–shinjin in Japanese–the real me, the true person.

So you see, if I hadn’t been cheated by unscrupulous men I might never have gotten on the path that I was designed to follow all along.

The Research Angel

I think many people have discovered during their lives—particularly when going through tough, discouraging times–that they too have a Research Angel, whatever they call it.  A Research Angel is, I think, a powerful and undeniable intuition, a kind of unshakable knowing what’s best for you–most healthy for you–that comes from within, and an internal compass leading you over, around, or through obstacles, and out of difficulty. All that’s necessary is to relax and free your mind and have trust in your Research Angel. And to follow where it leads.

Two Questions for You

Do you have some kind of what I call a Research Angel that helps you out of crises? What difficulties has it led you out of? I would love to hear your story.

© 2014 David J. Rogers

 

Please follow this “Starting Your Life Fresh” blog. It will feature topics I think will be of value to you.

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

 

How to Get The Books

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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or

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/fighting-to-win-samurai-techniques-for-your-work-and-life-david-rogers/1119303640?ean=2940149174379

 

Order Waging Business Warfare: Lessons From the Military Masters in Achieving Competitive Superiority

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or

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/waging-business-warfare-lessons-from-the-military-masters-in-achieving-competetive-superiority-revised-edition-david-rogers/1119079991?ean=2940149284030

 

or

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/waging-business-warfare-lessons-from-the-military-masters-in-achieving-competetive-superiority-revised-edition-david-rogers/1119079991?ean=2940149284030

 

 

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Origins of My Growing Up Stories

 

The Decision to Plumb My Childhood

David in a leather jacket_copy2We set the dead aside as if we have no use for them. But I wanted to pluck my people out of time, to borrow them from eternity for a little while, to explore their worlds and to finally understand them. I had lived among them, knew their every gesture, had heard them speak so many times, and wondered greatly about them. But I didn’t know who they really were.

I longed to walk through the house in which I grew up and to look out on the street and see the wealth of familiar things that were before me every day in my youth, no sights as dear to me as what I saw from the kingdom of my porch.

I hoped to find as they had been, the people who had populated my world–to be among them again, to feel for them tenderness and pity and regret. I knew that time hadn’t disappeared, but had remained inside me. I realized that if I wanted to be with them, though most had died, I would have to discover them in myself where they still lived.

I wanted to see things as they were before my memories faded, or I died; to recapture the enchanted past; to walk the streets and beaches of my youth whose minutest detail I knew I would find waiting for me. I wanted to hold my father’s hand again, to look into his kind eyes. I wanted to revel in everything–the sounds of familiar voices, the smells of night air, the traces of my mother’s dinner in my mouth, the sight of her trying on a hat; my dead sister Sharon coming up the stairs–all from a time that was so happy.

I wanted to reconstruct my life by traveling backwards in time. I hoped to find there the origins of my mistakes, some indications of why I was now a person alone in a house by a field. I wanted my memory to rescue me from this house; to reveal lessons I had forgotten and must learn again that would help sustain me.

And so hour after hour, again and again, I remembered the days and nights of childhood. I remembered what I had experienced myself and what had been told to me. When I came upon something that didn’t make sense to me, and I couldn’t explain, or didn’t remember clearly, or couldn’t possibly know I used my imagination.

At first my remembering was over in a few minutes and was very general. But then I slowed down and remembered in finer and finer detail. Detail is the secret I discovered– details and details of details. Over and over, hour after hour, moving in ever closer, backing up and rethinking until I was satisfied and could say, “Yes, that is how it was when I was young. I have gotten it right.”

I wanted to do this very carefully; to take my time and not be in a hurry. My whole life had been a battle with time, but time doesn’t die absolutely, but remains in memory. The recreation by memory of impressions which later must be transformed is the essence of every work of art.

When my mind was free in time I had the impression that I had entered eternity.

© 2014 David J. Rogers

 

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Filed under Becoming an Artist, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Personal Stories