Thursday, August 29, 2013

It Is the Way It Is

We, people, walk around every day in a world where we assume everyone around us functions the same way we do.

We, people, assume that everyone around us knows right from wrong. Not just any right from any wrong, but my right from my wrong.

We, people, assume that those around us know what is real and what is not. We also assume that something not real to me means that something isn't real to someone else--or that whatever the not-real thing is, it is not scary, annoying, frustrating, familiar, or lovely.

We, people, assume we are safe. We assume we are civilized. We assume that safety and civility are not up for interpretation. Safety and civility are like right and wrong, real and not real.

I know a person who sees the way I park my car without checking around the corner to see if anyone is lurking there. He tells me the truth. "You are not safe," he says, this man who lives outside with no doors to lock and endless corners for looking around.

I know a person who looks at the people walking up and down the streets in business suits, in designer jeans, in any old thing that is clean and pressed. My friend smiles and tips his head, he tries to meet their eyes. Nobody looks back, not the business suit, not the designer jeans, not a single clean, pressed person. "I thought we were civilized people around here," he says, shaking his head, all by himself.

We, people, are living different-shaped lives on uncharted planets. If your planet looks like mine, cheers. We can compare our sameness and sit comfortable in our rights and our wrongs, our reals and not-reals, and opine the loss of the safety and civility our planets once knew.

If your planet doesn't look like mine, I want to meet your eyes. I want you to tell me what you see so that I can learn something I don't already know, maybe question something I thought I knew.

Live and let live, because we, people, do not know what the person next to us is going through.

Live and let live, because we, people, can't know what the person next to us is going through.

Live and let live, because we.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Book Review: The Fifty Year Sword by Mark Z. Danielewski

The Fifty Year Sword by Mark Z. Danielewski

Brief Synopsis: A mysterious storyteller regales a group of orphans and some adult birthday party-goers with the tale of an invisible sword that always finds its mark, but which reveals no wound until the victim reaches his or her fiftieth year of life. The back of the book gets to the point better than I can.

Published: Trick question! This book was first published in 2005 as a VERY limited edition of 1,000 copies. It was then published commercially in 2012.

Format Read: Hardcover

Comparison: It is rare that I can compare anyone to the inimitable Walter Moers at all, much less cross-genre, but if there was such a thing as a horror version of The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear, Mark Z. Danielewski would be the guy to write it. Both Danielewski and Moers have declared war on the plain page, attacking it from angles and avenues that must make their typesetters put extra bottles of Tums in their desks. Moers is darkly funny, while Danielewski is just dark, but they both employ a kind of artful whimsy that makes me gape at each new storytelling device like the kid from A Christmas Story staring down his Red Ryder bee-bee gun: "Whoa!" followed by a mind-clearing headshake and a solid nod of respect for these new kind of authors, these word-artists. Of course, in calling them a new breed, I've got to give a nod to a notable progenitor: e.e. cummings. His poetry pushed the envelope in a number of ways, but his unconventional use of word placement on the page to add dimension to his work changed the game.

Review: The next time you're sitting around and trying to decide if you should rewatch the last episode of Game of Thrones or flip through that last issue of Entertainment Weekly you forgot to cancel, just don't. Go to a bookstore (indies rule!) and get this book. You will be able to read it in the same amount of time as it takes your food to arrive at a nice restaurant, and it is so much better for you.

Before I dive into the story, I have to point out the beauty of the book itself. This book, maybe more than any other I can readily think of, makes use of its very form as a way to suck you into the narrative world. It manipulates the third dimension, of which you, reader, are a part, and does not allow you to be a passive consumer. Of course, you won't know that until you read the book, but it's still a darn nice package. The dust jacket is pricked with pinholes, a nod to the photographic stitched illustrations in the book and the "protagonist" (if there is one, besides the sword), Chintana the seamstress. Beneath the dust jacket, the book itself carries the theme with tangled blobs of red stitching enfolding it.

The total package, including the glossy pages and unusual illustrations, is as much art book as novella, and will have you staring at it with new eyes once you've read the final pages. If you want to know how blobs of thread pictured on a bookcover can be a spoiler, you need to experience Danielewski.

The book is narrated by five rotating narrators, identified only by different colored quotation marks. The story itself is told as if it is a children's tale, a simple hero's journey that grows in tension and terror with every page turn.

I studied the text at first, trying to discern which speaker might be which. I didn't want to miss anything hidden between the lines, and there's no DOUBT Mr. Danielewski hid stuff between these lines. Before long, I lost the point of the story by thinking too hard about it and trying to diagram the narrative like it was rocket science.

It isn't. Just read the book. Don't worry about the quotation marks, don't worry about anything. Just read the book and it will do its job.

And it is quite a job.

I love books like this. I love them. This book had me using every one of my five senses to experience a story with less actual words in it than some Facebook posts, and it impacted me. It made me PROUD of the author. He exercised such planning and restraint, creativity that seemed to simultaneously run wild and hold its margins to create a complete, concise story to sock you in your gut. It gives me prickles in my darkest creative parts, the places that need waking up sometimes to provide shadow and highlight to my work and ideas.

I love it.

In the end, this book is not for everyone. I had trouble even writing a decent synopsis for it because I don't know where to start. It's hard to review because I don't know how to describe it. Is it a short story? Novella? Poem? Art-piece? Who is the main character, really? Who is who in those blasted colored quotation marks?

I'm okay still having those questions left in me after having read the whole book. A lot of people aren't. I haven't read tons of other reviews on this book, but I know it was divisive among Danielewski's fans. Personally, I didn't feel gypped or dissatisfied, I felt challenged. Then I felt silly for feeling challenged by something so straightforward and simple at its core.

Then I just shut up and enjoyed it.

You enjoy it, too.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tools of the Trade: Ink Review - Noodler's Old Manhattan Blackest Black

When I started writing long fiction seriously, I bought myself a Moleskine pocket notebook and filled every page with black ink. When every line on every page was full, I flipped back through that book and admired it. I admired it for not getting lost in the washing machine, not getting chewed up by my dog, and for holding all my words in tight (even the misfits). I admired it most of all for the work of art I saw in every filled page of steady black handwriting. I loved that book like a painting, and even though I chase after fun, interesting inks, I will always love best the romantic steadfastness of a good black ink.

I guess that's why I'm so picky.

I have more bottles of black ink than any other color, and I can tell them all apart on the page. (Yes, I know that's weird, but when you look at as many pages of your own handwriting as I do, you develop useless superpowers such as these. I am also impervious to papercuts.) I've been on a quest for years to find the blackest blackety black ink on the planet. I'm talking about an ink so dark that it would strike fear in the heart of this guy:

Pennywise the Clown from It
Noodler's Old Manhattan Blackest Black is the closest I've found so far. It's not particularly warm or cool hued and doesn't run much to gray even in thin spots. That's an ink I can get behind.

Not only is this ink the good, soul-shattering black I love, it also has some other special properties that bump it high on my list of favorites. This is one of Noodler's "bulletproof" series of inks, which means that it is waterproof, UV-proof, bleach-proof, and some other "proofs" (probably even evil-clown-proof). This means that if my inky black cat drools on my inky black ink (this has happened!), my writing will stay right where I put it. I guess that means it is cat-proof, too.

Noodler's has quite a few inks with these special properties, including several other blacks. I have tried most of them, but Old Manhattan Blackest Black has been the best combination of color, behavior, and properties out of the ones I've sampled so far. It even behaves extremely well on cheap paper, which is a plus for using at work.

One important thing to note: if you ever buy a Noodler's ink, ESPECIALLY one with "bulletproof" properties, do NOT open it on your favorite imported rug or while wearing your favorite imported pajamas or your fancy party gloves. The bottles are FULL. I mean to the very utmost there-is-a-meniscus-on-there-oh-crap-my-fancy-pajamas-are-ruined tippy-top. If you order a 3 oz. bottle of ink, you will GET a 3 oz. bottle of ink, even if the bottle itself is around 2.9 oz. That's a good amount of ink and should last a good while...unless you spill it, that is.

This ink is exclusive to the Fountain Pen Hospital, so if you're interested, you can purchase it there.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Inspiration Monday: Blast From the Past

I have a guilty pleasure. Okay, truth be told, I have several, but the one I'm speaking of is my addiction to classic TV.

I'm not talking about catching up on the early seasons of Breaking Bad (which I seriously need to do). I'm talking about the really old stuff: black and white, cars with fins, laugh tracks, twin beds, talking horses, and kids named after beavers.

All through the 1990's, I lulled myself to sleep in front of the parent-approved, comforting glow of Nick-at-Nite. I remember every single one of these promos, and even now they make me smile. (I guess that's how nostalgia works, huh.)

Who doesn't want a friend like Ethel?
Sadly, Nick-at-Nite is a shadow of its former self, but I still love these old shows and have DVDs of them crammed in any nooks and crannies not already taken up by books. I've done some thinking about what makes them stick to the inside of my brain so well. They were made decades before I was born. Lord knows that they're not exactly the most complex storylines ever conceived. I've seen them a billion times, enough to quote them. The context is getting farther away from my personal experience and culture every single day.

And yet I can't get enough of them. I continue to enjoy them, I continue to belly-laugh at the same old jokes, cringe along with the protagonists when their schemes go sour, and get my heart warmed over and over again.

The Dick Van Dyke Show NEVER gets old.
I don't just like the comedies. I learned early on that I had a penchant for twist endings when I got hooked on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone. Watching Dragnet and The White Shadow I figured out that times were tough all over...and they probably always had been. Of course, I usually followed those shows up with a chaser of Get Smart or Green Acres and that evened things out. Sort of.

I think the key to re-watchability, and what I'm trying to cram into my writing process, is in these shows' simplicity. It keeps them fresh and relatable. I don't actually think that life was, is, or ever will be as simple as it is portrayed on those old shows, but I think we all wish it could be, and that is something I can build on in my work. These shows, whether comedy or drama, were designed to be accessible to their audiences, which is an important point some authors seem to overlook. The formula for these old shows repeatedly demonstrates the absurdity in life, both the silly and the sinister, and how easy it is to flip a plot if you drop the right breadcrumbs along the way. It doesn't matter what you write, those elements can strengthen almost any project.

Here are some links to a few of my favorite shows. If you can carve out a few minutes, give them a look and see what works about them. Yes, most of them have silly, simple plots, but so do most things if you carve all the meat off and take only the bones. In the end, everything, even the most complex plot, has to have its bones. We recognize them, we see them holding up the stories as we see them holding up ourselves. Borrow a few, see how they fit in a different time and a different place. Put the meat back on them and shape them up. You might find that the good old days still have a lot of good to give.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Miles (of Ink) to Go Before I Rest

Having a goal to work toward in life is not optional. It is SO not optional that it is a requirement of every person experiencing homelessness that goes through the program where I work. We don't tell them what their goals have to be--it could be a goal to become a rock star or to own a vineyard in France or to go grocery shopping all alone--but they have to think up a goal of some sort. It isn't my place, even as a most eager and helpful helper, to tell them whether I think their goal is achievable or not. I'm no judge, and I'm no psychic. It's my job to dig at the meat of why they set their goals, find out and remind them of how much their goals mean to them, and help uncover avenues to achieve them.

Bella the Pseudo-Intellectual Puppy keeps me on my toes.
Everyone should have some kind of goal to work toward, and they should have support to help uncover those pesky achievement-avenues. I am a writer...or a person who writes...or I have set my most beloved, juicy yearly goals around how many words I'm going to crank out and shove out my door. I'm lucky enough to have my husband and some fellow writers to kick me in the pants as needed to keep my eyes turned the right way.

Without boring you with the details (i.e. I'm too chicken to type out my goals and be held accountable by my own loud and pointy blog-words if I fail), I have managed to achieve one goal.

Okay, fine. I submitted a short story. My goal is to submit two before my (dread, fast-approaching) birthday. And I may or may not also have a goal of finishing at least one novel manuscript by the end of the year.

There. I said it. It is a true thing and it exists and now you know.

I can already hear the sound of one-third victory, like the tone in the episode of Bewitched that plays when they get a guy to do three ridiculous things to break a curse.  (1:04 in video)  One down, two to go.

I'm happy to have reached one goal, but if I'm being honest, it was a small goal, something that was simple and reachable and shouldn't have been nearly as difficult as it was. Ray Bradbury, one of my literary heroes, probably wrote two or three stories every day while waiting for his toast to pop up.

I can't blame time. I don't have a lot of extra, but what time I do have, I usually spend with a pen in hand. Who needs that much sleep, anyway?

I can't blame ideas. I have way too many of those, and I have more half-finished short stories spread out in my notebooks than there are marshmallows in Lucky Charms.

I can't blame lack of support. I have an army of writer-reader types who have been so helpful with shaping and editing the work I do crank out. Then there is Husband. They just don't come any better or more supportive. They just don't. I have the best one and you do not, so HA.

I can't blame the muses. Boo and Bella still do a mighty musing job and now I've added a third furry muse to my collection. (Of course, Boo and New Kitty still can't really be in the same room at the same time, but we're working on it.)

I guess I can just blame the pens. It has to be them. One pen or another is always there when I'm trying to write. Darn pens. Look how smug this one is, just laying there on a blank page, taunting me. That pen has been there that way for hours, and that page still doesn't have any words on it. I am never going to meet my goals at that rate! How lazy can you get?

It has to be the pen. If that isn't it, I'm out of options. If it isn't the pen, or the ink, or the paper, or the table, who or what is keeping me from reaching my goals?

It surely can't be me. I want this so much! I set the goals. I made the rules. I gritted my teeth and I wrote them down for you, just today, just now. It has to be that horrible, rude, lazy pen, and if I am ever going to reach my very important goals, I'm going to have to take matters into my own hands.

I'm going to pick UP the pen and WRITE with it.

Take THAT, stubborn pen.

Now nothing can stop me.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tools of the Trade: Ink Review - Diamine Ancient Copper

My quest for interesting writing tools to keep me putting one word after the other winds on, and along the way I snapped up this cool ink.

I first loved the idea of it. My mother is a notorious copper collector, and I really liked the idea of having an ink that could approximate that metallic pink-orange that I so associate with her. Then Diamine had to take it a step cooler by making this particular copper ancient. They must have known that I cannot resist ancient things. Ever. At all.

This is a great multi-tasking ink. I have used it for writing text, editing, and drawing. I tend to appreciate inks that are able to pull double-duty as a writer's ink and an artist's ink. This ink shades great and can be diluted and brushed to a very cool effect. Plus, it's ancient. As noted in the review, it is more on the orange side and misses an element of pinkness that is in real copper.

I really like how this ink looks in a fine nib. Usually the finer a nib you use on your pen, the less an ink's color and shading will be evident, but I like the way the fine letters look in this ink, sharp and dark. When my bottle is empty, I think I'll definitely be going back to the Diamine well for another. Besides, this is a color you'd NEVER find in a ballpoint or rollerball pen, and that alone is enough to keep me writing.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Inspiration Monday: Glass Half Full

I consider myself an optimist.

Some days test my limits to their last little optimistic droplets, but on the whole I can usually convince myself that in some small way or another, the glass is still half full.

Of course, that doesn't mean that I don't get horribly greedy with my half-full glass, hugging it tight to my chest and giving angry eyes to anyone who dares try to suck it dry.

Today was one of those days.

It was one of those, "I was put in traction and it was the best part of my day," days.

I'm not kidding, and the traction didn't even go right, so you know I mean it.

In case you didn't know (like I didn't before today), a traction setup is comprised of a weird table that reminds me of something a magician might use for easy disposal of person-chunks after the sawing-in-half trick, two thick belt thingies that look halfway between my dog's seatbelt harness and a medieval torture device, and a machine with a sole purpose to pull a person's lower portions away from their upper portions.

I'm generally fond of my lower portions being attached to my upper portions, so I was EXTREMELY NERVOUS when my physical therapist strapped me into the thing. She pulled and pulled on the straps with her whole body weight. "Can you breathe?" she asked. I said yes, and that gave her the cue to pull even tighter. "If you can breathe, it isn't tight enough!" she said with a perky smile and gave them another good tug. Then, just in case, she got Husband to give them a few more tugs for good measure.

Satisfied that even a superhero couldn't have pulled those straps any tighter, she turned on the machine.

Let's just say that I know what the pair of jeans in the Levi's logo felt.


Until I slipped out of the straps, that is.

It was my fault. I was breathing all along and I liked doing it so much, I didn't tell her.

Instead of squeezing the marrow out of my rib cage, the upper straps went slipping right on up and over my torso, catching on my arms and slipping up and up until I had to raise my arms over my head and the strap ended up over my mouth.

It was ridiculous. And hilarious. Despite how absolutely stupid I felt, it was still stretching my spine like it was supposed to, so I stayed the course. My PT, who is actually extremely competent and so nice I don't even threaten to kill her off in a novel when she pokes at all my hurt places, stood by the door to keep anyone from seeing how ridiculous I must have looked. She made sure everything was stretching me correctly (and safely) and asked me over and over if I was comfortable, which just made me laugh.

It is hard to laugh in traction, but it is possible, even with a strap covering half your face. "Yes, I'm fine," I tried to say, though it probably came out a little more like, "Yssmmffnnnn," roughly translated.

"I'm glad you have a good attitude," she said, finally allowing herself a laugh. It spread around the room until all the tension left was in my spine where it belonged.

Until she said that, I hadn't actually thought I did. Until then, I probably hadn't, truthfully. I realized then that a good attitude is a choice, and that I had chosen to laugh when I could have complained, chosen to be easy when I could have been hard. I still got my back stretched out (I'm probably taller now, and skinnier I hope), I can now write very accurately about characters tortured on the rack, and I learned something about purposeful optimism I can save in my pocket for later.

Optimism and pessimism are not polar opposites, they're points on a continuum called Reality. It doesn't matter who you are or where your set-point is on that continuum, it is your Reality. We are all "Realists" from where we sit. Sometimes all it takes to see the good in things is making up your mind that you can and you will. It will surprise you how readily good can appear if you just let go of the reasons not to see it.

If you're a writer, take this to the page, inside and outside. Give your characters a point of view and a purpose--if their glasses are half full, figure out why and test their limits. If their glasses are half empty, figure out why and test their limits. Then, take a look at yourself. See how your own glass is filled, then....figure out why and test your limits.

In the end, maybe it doesn't have to be about half-full and half-empty glasses anyway. Maybe we can withdraw from that debate and change the whole glass system. Take what's left in your glass, whether it be half full or half empty, and pour it into another, smaller glass. Then it is full and there are no two ways about it.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Play Nice and Keep It Above the Belt

I do not like most of my work while I'm working on it. I pick on it, I sneer at it, I hurt its feelings. I tell it that it is ugly and that I do not like the way it is shaping up, no siree, and that it better straighten up and fly right or I am going to be forced to give up writing altogether and take up basket weaving. The world has enough crappy novels, but not near enough artful baskets. Or so I tell myself and my poor, beaten-down writing.

I've learned that when I get like this, it means two things:

1. I'm a normal writer. Apparently this happens to everyone, and you'll never know how happy I was when I realized that Margaret Mitchell was probably ready to throw Scarlett over a banister a time or two, that J.K. Rowling probably has a few napkins covered in scribbles about Harry Potter getting a broomstick up the nose, and for a fact Stephenie Meyer wrote a faux version of Breaking Dawn for a friend called Breaking Down in which all her main characters died hilariously.

2. Normal writers need breaks. This is true of everyone and everything, and as much as I want to sit and poke my novel sore, it won't get written any faster or any better than if I walk away for a while and come back another day when it is more old friend than pushy house-guest. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, after all. If not fonder, at least tolerant.

If I'm hating on my work, then I can't pour any love into it. Good work needs to have the creator's enthusiasm weaved into every fiber. It deserves it. I deserve it. If no one in the world ever reads a word I write, the least I can do is love having written it. I can love it for existing, for the time we spent together. If I can do that, I'll always be proud of my work, lumps and all.

Today, that's what I'm working on. I'm trying to stop punching my work (and myself) in the face long enough to enjoy the fact that I am an artist and I am creating art. Anything much past that takes away from its simple truth, and it is in simple truths that we find the most happiness.

Write on, writers. Create and be fruitful in your art. It is what we were made for.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Inspiration Monday: Rainy Days and Mondays

It is raining. Actually, there is a creepy storm system overhead that looks like something from a made-for-TV-movie with lots of worried folks glaring at the sky and making grave statements about their various and sundry plot points before the inevitable bad CGI storm comes and wreaks havoc with all their well laid plans. (But never their hair or makeup. Never.)

There's always something about a good thunderstorm that wakes up something electric inside of me, maybe my own little jar of lightning, and makes me want to sink my teeth into a good book, a fierce nap, or to write like a mad-person. Maybe it's my introversion. During a thunderstorm, I don't have to look for excuses to stay quiet and be at home. Nobody asks where I am or what I'm doing--I'm at home of course, being quiet. There's a thunderstorm, for crying out loud. I'm where I belong, where everyone belongs.

Having a storm going on somehow removes the variables of life. You can't really go for a jog, not unless you want the neighbors staring out their windows and clicking their tongues at you. "Not enough sense to come out of the rain," they'd say, with a solemn headshake. "Poor, sad thing." The same goes for dog walking, bike riding, speed walking, and any other rain-sense requiring activity. But reading and writing? They're famous rainy day/night activities. It makes for a good setting, too. After all, where would the canon of literature be without the good old stand-by, "It was a dark and stormy night"?

It is an ever-fertile scenario, having a set of characters run inside by a storm. Some of them are probably like me, they head straight for a blanket and a bookshelf. Some of them are frustrated joggers, dog-walkers, bike-riders, and speed-walkers. A ruined outdoor barbecue, some streaked mascara, a leaky roof, a creepy drawing room with a raven tapping at the chamber door--one of these scenarios has got to get the creative juices flowing, and what better to do when it is raining both inside and outside your head?

Give a little thought to what a dark and stormy night means to you. Is it an opportunity to slow down, or is it a prison sentence? Would a little thunder and lightning spruce up your story and add a little color? Maybe you just want to be a rebel and walk your dog anyway, literally or figuratively. Either way, take your very own midnight dreary and let it turn you inside out.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Life Marches On and So Do I

After a really fun couple of weeks with a seriously aching back (read: not fun at all), I am on the mend. Kinda.

Even though I'm on desk duty at work, my doctor advised me that I could stave off a relapse by lying on my back with my legs propped up on a chair. Let's just say that I've ended up a few times lately with this as my view:

This end up.
At one point, my boss plopped down in the floor beside me, held up a stack of reports over both our faces, and we managed to have a meeting down there. Don't knock it. I'll bet her back felt better, too.

I have been going to physical therapy for a week now, and it has been an interesting experience. By interesting, I mean painful, mostly, but also rewarding.

One day while I was working on my "sit-stands" (which is exactly what you think it is, 10 reps, 2 sets, and yes, you can do it wrong--trust me), I scanned the room desperately, starving for anything to look at that would tear my mind away from the images of dull steak knives sawing me in half with every sit and every stand. I finally lit on one of the stretching tables where a therapist was working diligently with a determined-looking older man and his new artificial leg.

Suddenly, my sit-stands were a little less tedious. A bit. My PT, way too sweet for all my grumpy growliness, ushered me through my own paces and stretched me out like a stubborn piece of stale taffy. Eventually, she tucked me into a room with a heating pad, strung me up to an electrical thingy (yes, that's a technical term...or a brand name...or it should be) that basically electrocutes you a tiny, tingly bit, and then flipped off the lights so I could relax.

But I didn't. Not really. I thought about the man with the missing leg. I thought about him being my age, when he had two good legs. I wondered if he had appreciated them. I wondered if he wanted to go back in time to when he was four, when he scraped that knee and it bled real blood and pain. Would he tell himself to look close at that knee and that blood and cherish it because he might not always have the privilege? Would he go back to when he was a young man, in his twenties maybe, when he spent all his time on those legs, walking, running, dancing, kicking off the covers in the middle of the night? Did he ever think that there would come a time when he couldn't? Maybe he had played football, a kicker with a golden toe. Maybe he didn't and wished he did, cursing his own leg, which might have had a birthmark just like his father's, and never knowing that he would regret it with all his heart while he lay on a table to stretch a brand new leg that couldn't even bleed.

We were the last ones to leave in the evening, my husband, the nice PT, and me. I was stiff and sore when I hauled up off the table and waddled my way to the door. Just when I felt a self-pitying grumble well up in me, I glanced back to the table where the man had been. He was gone, finished for the day, probably eating his dinner and living his life, laughing to his loved ones about the ignorant people he caught pitying him, he who had two perfectly good legs as far as he and anyone who counted was concerned.

So I didn't pity him. Instead I respected him.

It's a funny thing about respect. It earns you so much more than pity. I did feel sorry for the man who didn't have what I have, what I got for free and didn't earn or especially deserve, but if I stopped there on that thought, it would have been pity. So I didn't.

I thought about what he did in the short time I watched him that I could do, too. He worked hard. He took advantage of opportunity. He went about the business of living his different-shaped life, and he made it look easy.

I could do those things, even with a messed up back. Maybe even better because of it. Anything, even pain, can be a gift if you sit still and get over yourself long enough to unwrap it.