August 31

A Trick of Light

I find it interesting how two people can see the same thing but come away with different perspectives on what happened. For example, studies have shown that when investigators interview witnesses to a crime, they often end up with wildly different explanations of the event. And it’s not that the witnesses are purposely trying to cause confusion. It’s all in how they interpreted what they saw.

It’s the same when people watch movies, listen to music, read books. We all get something different from the experience. Our takeaways may be similar or decidedly different, but no two people experience the same things in the same ways. It’s personal taste.

That’s what makes us individuals. If we all reacted and felt the exact same way about the exact same things, well, I think life would be boring. Nothing to discuss, debate, or defend. It would also be the death of creativity and art.

Try this sometime: When there’s something happening, a big event, watch the faces in the crowd. Let your eyes scan across the masses, watch to see how people react. You’ll probably see a lot of similar expressions – shock, awe, fear, surprise, wonder, depending on the event, but you’ll also see outliers. For example, when there’s a wreck during an Indy 500 auto race, you’ll see some people cover their mouths in shock, some will turn away, but there will be others who smile, laugh, maybe even cheer. The variances of human nature.

Or on a smaller scale, I occasionally like to watch a movie with my partner – one that I’ve seen but she hasn’t – so I can watch her face during certain scenes to see how she reacts. Sometimes she does what I expect, but there are occasions where she reacts unexpectedly, laughing when I expect her to cringe, or cry when I thought she’d simply frown. I think it gives me a little more insight into her feelings and how she interprets the world around us.

I’m not saying that any one way is right or wrong. It’s just human nature, who we are, the culmination of our lives up to that point in time. You and I may both look at an abstract painting and I’ll see something wonderful, a display of emotion, while you may simply see paint on a canvas. We are neither right nor wrong. But it will make for some interesting discussion afterwards.

I think of this phenomenon as a trick of light. We both see something, experience something, but depending on how the light hits our eyes, I may see it much differently than you do. When it comes to creativity, we are all going to see the images differently, hear the music differently, interpret the words differently.

We have to keep that in mind when we create something. We may have an intention, but that doesn’t mean the audience will see it the same way. We can’t take offense at that. Once we complete a piece of art – song, story, painting – and release it into the world, well, it’s no longer ours. It belongs to the viewer, the reader, the listener. And how they respond to it depends on things we can’t control.

RB

August 26

Recipe – Lentil Stew

I try my best to eat healthy, and that includes eating vegan at least once a week. I’ll admit, it took some getting used to, but now I actually look forward to it.

So yesterday I decided to make a big pot of lentil stew. I ended up with enough for my partner and I to have dinner, provide some to my in-laws, and still have enough to store in the freezer. Efficient AND healthy.

So here’s what I did: First, I made a batch of vegetable broth using the scraps I keep in the freezer (carrot, onion, celery, bell pepper, mushroom stems, salt, bay leaf, and pepper kernals). That took about two hours and turned out fantastic.

After that was done, I chopped up some fresh carrot, celery, onion, and red bell pepper (the scraps helped to refill the freezer bag for next time) and sautéed them in a pot with some olive oil. A little salt and pepper helped to soften and season them.

While that was cooking, I picked through and washed 16 ounces of brown lentils. Super cheap at the grocery store. I think I paid a dollar for bag. Luckily, not much debris to speak of. Just one tiny pebble.

Once the veggies were glistening and the onion was looking opaque, I added the lentils and the stock, along with a can of diced tomatoes, a little more salt and pepper, garlic powder, yellow curry powder, a bay leaf, and a bit of thyme. After that, I brought it up to a boil, put the lid on, then dropped the heat to low. I let it cook for about 30 minutes.

Viola’!

Pot of lentil stew

So a meat-free dish, ridiculously healthy, and probably cost less than eight dollars (US) to make. If you’re interested in giving it a try, here’s the recipe:

3 large carrots, cleaned and chopped
3 ribs celery, cleaned and chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic (I was out, so I added garlic powder)
1 14oz can diced tomatoes
6 – 8 cups of vegetable broth
16 oz lentils, cleaned and picked through
Seasoning – salt, pepper, thyme, garlic powder (if no garlic), curry powder, etc.

Sauté the veggies in oil until softened. Add the lentils, broth, and seasonings. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer over low heat for about thirty minutes.

One final note: You can make this with meat if that’s your preference. I’ve previously made this with smoked sausage, turkey sausage, and kielbasa (because why not?).

And there you have it! If you do try this, please let me know how it turns out.

RB

August 25

Richard’s Kitchen – Beer Bread Recipe

I’ll admit that I’m not much of a baker, but lately I’ve been trying my hand at making bread. One of the easiest recipes I’ve found is for beer bread. Simple, fun, and you can toss in some additional ingredients if you’re feeling creative. The recipe is posted under the video on YouTube.

If you like the cooking show, please give it a ‘like’ and leave a comment.

 

August 23

The Prometheus Project Podcast – Ep 36 – Making Music

I think we all have music inside us, but we may not know how to tap into it. Join me as I talk about making music, about finding your inner rhythm, about expressing yourself with sound. It doesn’t matter if you have a talent for it, all that matters is that you make yourself heard.

The podcast is available at iTunes, GooglePlay, Spotify, and PodBean. If you prefer, I also have a YouTube channel.

Or you can simply listen to it here!

August 21

Don’t Give Up

Why is it so difficult to keep oneself motivated, but so easy to simply give up?

I think it’s because we’re often wired to take the easier path. I get it. Obstacles can be difficult to overcome. It’s much less trouble to simply say, “the hell with it”, and move on to something else.

Now, it’s one thing to take a break from a creative project when you run into an issue. I’ve been stuck on stories and set them aside for a few days or months, then come back to them later with a fresh set of eyes and new ideas. Nothing wrong with that. But I find it sad when I hear someone say that they’ve run into a problem on their project, they’re frustrated, and they’re giving up on it.

I understand where they’re coming from. I’ve been there myself. It’s not always easy to keep your motivation up. Stubbornness helps, but that’s not in everyone’s nature.

So how do we deal with it? I think it’s a mind game we have to play with ourselves. What I do is distract myself with something else. For example, if I’m stuck on a story or feel I can’t write, then I work on some other creative project. I’ll practice guitar, look through my pantry to find something interesting to cook, maybe pull out my sketch pad and doodle for a bit. I also keep a couple of coloring books and colored pencils in a drawer on my coffee table to use when I feel frustrated.

What I find is that this distracts me from my frustrations. I can focus on coloring between the lines, or getting my finger-picking just right, or finding the right combination of seasoning for a big pot of chili. In the back of my mind I’m still thinking about that frustrating project, but in my conscious mind I’m doing something different, something fun. Plus, I’m still using my creativity.

Sneaky, right?

I used to be the type of person who would give up at the first obstacle. You know, get to some part of a story I was writing, unsure of what to do next, then scrap it. I think that was the result of immaturity and inexperience. I finally learned that I don’t have to completely give up, I can simply move on to another project. And it works. There’s no reason for me to abandon something completely just because I run into a little difficulty.

Of course, it’s not an instant fix. I’ve set aside stories with the intent to return to them in a few days or weeks, but instead they sat for months, even years. But that’s okay. Whatever time it takes for me to get back to it is fine. The story will be told eventually.

It’s perfectly normal to get caught up inside our own heads, to lose perspective on something we’re trying to create. That’s just human nature. But you can work through it, or around it, or simply set it off to the side and come back to it later. The point is to never give up. Ever. Our stories, our thoughts, our ideas, our voices, they all deserve to be heard, read, seen. Don’t forget that.

RB

 

August 19

Being Different

Growing up, I heard a lot of “why can’t you be more like your brothers”, “why can’t you just act normal”, and “what’s wrong with you.” I was the creative one in a family of athletes. Obviously, I was the odd one out.

For the longest time that bothered me. I didn’t want to be different. I wanted to be accepted, to be part of the crowd, to be included. The only sport I was good at was soccer, but unfortunately, when my father was transferred to Texas I discovered they really didn’t have an established program where we were going to live, so that pursuit died with a whimper.

So I continued to be pulled between two opposing forces. On one hand were the people I looked up to who told me that being different was wrong, that I needed to focus on pursuits that would land me a good job, allow me to make money. Writing and drawing were fine hobbies, but they were best kept to myself. I needed to a man. And apparently, men weren’t supposed to be creative.

I tried to kick creativity to the curb. Well, I didn’t try THAT hard, but I made an attempt to be who everyone thought I was supposed to be. There were a few people in my life who privately supported my endeavors. That kept me going. But still, I mostly kept my writing to myself, along with my sketches. A combination of embarrassment and fear, I suppose. So instead of writing in the light of day, I stayed up late at night writing by the light of a desk lamp next to my bed and kept my notebooks safely tucked between the mattress and boxspring.

It took a long time for me to finally shrug off those expectations that were put on me when I was young. It took a lot of work, introspection, and pages and pages of journal writing to sort it out, to figure out who I was, who I wanted to be. In fact, I’m still working on that. I feel I’m closer to who I want to be – a good person, empathetic, compassionate, fearless, unashamed – but there’s still a lot of work to do, quite a few rough edges that still need polishing.

However, I’m proud of the progress I’ve made. I’m not the same person I was five, ten, twenty years ago. We should never step into the same river twice…the water should always be flowing, the shoreline constantly adjusting in response to the current. In other words, we should always be adapting and evolving. We should be changing the things we don’t like about ourselves (it can be done) and building up the good qualities we want to embrace.

I like to say that the past is the reason we are who we are, but it’s not an excuse for us to be the way we are. We are in control of our lives, of our personalities, of our strengths and weaknesses.

At the moment, I’m as closer to contentment than I’ve ever been. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been worth it.

RB

August 17

Review – A Quiet Rebellion: Restitution

This is the second book in M.H. Thaung’s Numoeath trilogy, the first being Guilt. Oftentimes, the middle book of a trilogy is the weakest. Not that the stories aren’t good or well-written, but they’re usually used as a stepping stone to move the story along to the third book. I don’t think it’s done on purpose, but I find that many authors focus on the first and third books, treating the middle volume as a neglected child.

That’s not the case here. Ms. Thaung does an amazing job of keeping the story moving and weaving the various storylines together into a surprising ending. But ‘ending’ is quite the right word here. Several plot points seem to be resolved at the end of the book, but there are still more questions pending for the third book. So maybe I should refer to it as a ‘semi-resolution’.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this series is the characterization. The characters are all unique and well-rounded. There’s a bit of backstory for each of them, which helps to provide context for their actions and reactions. No one does anything out of character. I understood their views and perspectives, and that helped to immerse me in the story.

And yes, I was immersed. In the last third of the book I found myself reading faster and faster because the story was building so wonderfully. I actually had to make myself stop, back up a few pages, and reread because I was going along so fast I know I was missing some little details. And that’s not a bug…it’s a feature.

I was also pleasantly surprised by how the book ended. In a good way. As I mentioned above there is some resolution to a couple of story lines, one was completely unexpected but satisfying. However, there are still a few mysteries remaining, along with a few new questions that need to be answered. I wish I could go into more detail here, but I know I’d end up spilling a few spoilers. The story is just too damn good for me to take a chance of ruining even a small part of it for you.

However, I do have a few ideas when it comes to the unresolved questions. Ms. Thaung leaves a few breadcrumbs throughout the story in regards to the cursed beasts and their origins. Not enough to give anything away, but enough to get the attentive reader thinking…and I am!

I’m looking forward to the next – and last? – book in the series, Posterity. I’ve gotten to the point where I care about these characters – warts and all – and I’m itching to know more about this world.

I highly recommend the Numoeath trilogy for fans of fantasy, or even sci-fi. It’s well-written, well-plotted, and a great adventure.

RB

August 14

The Struggle is Real

Being creative can be fun, exciting, and entertaining, but it can also be a struggle. I know first-hand how hard it is to sit down in front of a blank screen (or blank sheet of paper), have it all planned out in the brain, but trying to get the words from your head to the page just doesn’t work out.

It’s not the fabled Writer’s Block. It’s basically the struggle to get started, to actually begin the process. I have more story ideas than I’ll ever be able to write, and many of them are fleshed out in my head. Meaning, the entire story is there – or mostly there – so all I need to do is write.

So why the hesitation when getting started? I know I’m not the only one who deals with this. I’ve seen posts on social media from other writers who go through it, as well. It’s like there’s a plug in the drain. If we could just tug the chain hard enough, the plug will pop free and the words will gush out onto the page. In theory.

It’s not procrastination. It’s not a block. It’s…weird.

I’ve thought about this quite a bit over the years. Funny thing is, it doesn’t happen on every story I sit down to write. Some just flow right on out, hit the page, and keep on running. Those are the magic moments for a writer. Many other stories, however, seem to be clinging to the rails, refusing to step into the light. Of course, I can’t blame the story. I know it wants to be told. The issue is with me.

I can only speak for myself here, but I think it comes down to fear. Not shivering, sweating, panicky fear. It’s more of a fear of not doing a good job with the story, that I’m going to let it down in the transfer from my brain to the page. Those magical moments I mentioned above, those stories come out almost exactly like I see them in my head. Not word for word or scene for scene, but damn close to it. The other ones, though, those stubborn buggers make me doubt myself.

Maybe I don’t have them planned out as well as the others. That might have something to do with it. Or maybe it’s moments of self-doubt. Like, will I do this story justice? Or maybe it’s that the story isn’t quite ready to be told. If you’ve followed my blog or creativity podcast, you know that I believe a story should dictate how it should be told. We can’t overthink it or try to force it to go in a certain direction. You may want it to go here, but in the end the story is going to go where it needs to.

So maybe the story isn’t ready. If that’s the case, then I can live with that. That means it’s not a failing on my part. Whew.

But then the question becomes: what do I do about it? Simply put the story back in the filing cabinet in my unconscious mind and wait until it ripens? Force myself to start on it? I’ve done that a few times, but it usually doesn’t go well. Again, the story isn’t ready to go and I’m poking and prodding it like a stubborn mule. “Git goin’, you dumbass!” I’m luck that mule hasn’t kicked me yet.

Then again, maybe it’s just part of the process. We write the stories when they’re ready to be told. We have to be patient, bide our time, work on other projects until the alarm dings and the story is ready to come out of the oven.

Mmm, fresh-baked fiction. Now that’s satisfying.

RB

August 11

Flawed Heroes

I’m not a fan of perfection. To me, it’s boring. Perfection means never making mistakes, always making the right decision, knowing the answers, always having an elegant solution. I’ve read a fair-share of stories that had these seemingly perfect characters and I usually find them boring and repetitive.

I can give you a good example. There’s a sci-fi series by Harry Harrison that follows the adventures of an anti-hero nicknamed The Stainless Steel Rat. When I was a kid I read a few of them and found them okay, not necessarily memorable, but they entertained me on long plane rides.

A few years ago I remembered the stories and picked up a collection, hoping to relive some childhood adventures. Wow, was I disappointed. I hadn’t remembered how ‘perfect’ the Rat was. I read through two stories in the collection – and it was a struggle – but gave up. When a character gets out of every situation completely unscathed, always makes the right decision, is always one-step ahead of the antagonist…well, like I noted above, it’s repetitive and boring.

For some reason, there are writers who feel their characters need to be larger than life. I don’t think they realize that in doing so they turn their characters into caricatures. Hell, even Sherlock Holmes made mistakes. They were rare, but it happened.

Even the best character needs to have flaws, needs to make mistakes, needs to fall and skin their knees. In other words, they need to be human. Yes, even the aliens in science fiction stories. I mean, they need to be flawed, not necessarily ‘human’.

Flaws are make makes characters unique, just like people. In real life, all the people that are held up as examples of greatness, as icons, as people we should emulate, are all flawed in some way. Micheal Jordan, who was a legend in the National Basketball Association, a good teammate, and a fan favorite, ended up with a gambling problem. Mother Teresa, now sainted, believed that sick people needed to suffer like Christ and apparently withheld medicine and palliative care from those in need.

Just because someone is good and put up on a pedestal doesn’t mean they aren’t broken or damaged in some way. We all make mistakes, and so should our characters. We need them to be flawed, not only to make the story more interesting, but also to make them more relatable.

In my opinion, there are no true heroes. In fact, I think it’s wrong to classify characters into ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. That’s too black and white. We need shades of gray, ambiguity. It’s far more interesting when I have to wonder who I should be rooting for in a conflict. I want to see both sides of the issue, I want to see context, I want to feel sympathy for everyone involved.

Actually, a good example are some of the characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sure, some of the heroes and villains are two-dimensional, but some are incredibly well-rounded. Loki is the first to come to mind. Over the course of the films the character has been in, he’s gone from a stereotypical ‘I want to rule the world’ bad guy to a sympathetic adopted brother with family issues. The big baddy in the films, Thanos, wants to wipe out half the living creatures in the universe. While it sounds horrifying, his reasoning – to restore balance and allow for more resources for those who remain – sort of makes sense in a twisted sort of way.

As far as the heroes are concerns, Tony Stark/Iron Man is another good example. Tony only wants to protect the Earth, but he allows his obsession with peace to overrule his better judgement and he ends up creating Ultron, who almost wipes out humanity. A genius making bad decisions for the right reasons. Flawed hero indeed.

But that’s what makes characters interesting and exciting. We can better relate to a hero who makes mistakes because WE make mistakes, too. I know this will probably annoy some readers, but I find Superman to be a boring character. At least, the early incarnations of the hero. They’ve made him more human over the past couple of decades, but when I was a kid Superman was invincible, always knew what to do, always saved the day. He was too perfect, and that, to me, was boring. What’s the point of reading the comic books if I already know what’s going to happen? Give me some ambiguity and I’m all in. Otherwise, I’ll pass.

I’m sure there are those who will disagree with my sentiments, but I stand by them. I want characters who are realistic, who stub their toes, lose their eyeglasses, say the wrong thing and hurt someone’s feelings. Those are things I can relate to and I think most readers will agree.

Perfection is boring.

RB