Bound To Change

I have written here from time to time about raising our son, who was diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum when he was eight. Last year, we began working with Anat Baniel and one of her local colleagues after I interviewed Anat for Author. This was the same year we began homeschooling Sawyer, it having become unavoidably clear that the public schools could simply not accommodate his particular needs.

It was a year of dramatic growth for our son. The combination of the Anat Baniel Method and the calm of homeschooling saw many old and useless habits fall away. Both the homeschooling and the Anat Baniel Method shared precisely the same goal: to free up what we had all long believed was waiting expression. So it indeed began.

Yet even as we watched this tree of a person bloom, there was the great temptation, a temptation to which we frequently yielded, to comment to one another, “Look. Look. He’s actually changing. This is not the same boy who we knew six months or a year ago.” We could hardly be blamed for this. Changes within humans usually occur steadily and minutely, like the growing of hair, and so you look up one day and need your bangs trimmed.

But I came to understand that we were never talking about Sawyer; we were always talking about ourselves. If he failed to grow, to change, to adapt, to expand, to evolve – why would this not be so for us as well? When Sawyer changed, when Sawyer dropped a habit, we were all heaving sigh of relief for collective future, for maybe we too could change what we had long felt unable to change.

Because no matter how much you love your life, you want it to change. No matter how rich you are, in love you are, slim and fit and happy you are, you still want change. You crave it and seek it even as you fear it like death itself. This is how we are literally bound to change, as a snowflake is bound within the earth for the gravity.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
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The Poison

When I was still living in Providence my father and I went to play tennis one afternoon at my high school. There were two men playing on the court adjacent to ours, and as my father and I began warming up I witnessed the following:

Both the men were serious tennis players and evenly matched. They played at full speed, and their serves and groundstrokes had the compact intensity that only comes from regular practice and regular competition. One of the men was a bit heavy, a detail I might not have taken any notice of were it not for a kind of exterior monologue that ran throughout his game.

“Come on now, you fat bastard!” he shouted as he prepared to receive a serve. “Hit it this time. Hit it! Oh! How could you have missed that? Is it because you’re a fat lazy bastard? All right! Now that’s how to hit it! McEnroe!” (This was his patron saint). “Come on, McEnroe. Oh, you fat, lazy, stupid, bastard. How could you have missed that?”

It was incredible. My father and I cut our game short.

It has been my observation that the people most likely to beat the drum of evolution – which is the drum of change, of the ceaseless, creative, expansive impulse within all of known life – are the very same people to sing the sad song of human wretchedness. No verse is sadder in this song than the one that cries humanity will never change. All of life evolves, apparently, except us.

Unless, of course, we all admit we are fat, ugly bastards. We must admit our wretchedness or risk remaining so forever – forever racist, forever at war, forever corrupt. Without this constant reminder, evolution will apparently not visit us. And yet it does despite this song. It visits us despite the inverted perception that by some magic we might swallow the poison of self-loathing and see it transformed within us to the nourishment of self-love.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

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A Good Plan

I spent last week in the Bay Area so that my son could have the opportunity to work with Anat Baniel. Anat is the creator of the Anat Baniel Method, which is used across the United States to help children who have brain damage, cerebral palsy, or register on the autism spectrum, as well as adults with various physical challenges.

Watching Anat work is immensely instructive and strangely entertaining. Her expertise and comfort with her method is akin to that of a concert pianist’s relationship to the keyboard. While working she is love and intelligence in motion, something I can never see often enough, whether in a concert hall of a therapy room.

Her work has helped thousands of people, including my son now. These results are due in large part to the brilliant simplicity of her method, which works with the brain’s ability to adapt and change. She does a better job of explaining this method in our interview than I could on this page, and I encourage you to watch that video if you are curious.

However, as brilliant as her method is, I felt that her first and greatest gift – beyond her intelligence, beyond her intuition, beyond even her experience – was her optimism. No, not optimism: faith. She has faith in fundamental human potential. This is extremely important when working with children who cannot walk or talk or look you in the eye. This is also extremely important when starting a book or querying and agent. Belief in potential is where all projects must begin.

At the end of our first session, Anat sat my wife and me down and discussed her plan for Sawyer. “I don’t make guarantees,” she explained. “I never know what exactly will happen with any child. But he will change,” she said. “He will change. That is our plan. That is God’s plan.”

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!

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The Crooked Course

Funny how we sometimes find the things we’re looking for. The spring I turned 18 I felt it was time for some changes. I would be leaving high school and my hometown of Providence in a few months, and many of my old habits were no longer serving me.

Like many teenagers, my life required a soundtrack. For two years, that soundtrack had been provided primarily by the band Pink Floyd (see my recent entry: The Wall). What I had once found profound I now experienced as maudlin and melodramatic. I needed something both brighter and deeper. Blaming the world for all your troubles simply wouldn’t do. I needed new music.

I don’t remember how I landed on the song “The Court of the Crimson King,” by the band King Crimson. I can’t even be sure I’d ever listened to it. Yet, all the same, I found myself ducking into Goldie Records with the sole purpose of buying an album that contained that song. I didn’t ask for help, though I could have. Goldie Records was run by the sort of goatee-wearing audiophiles that love to point you to obscure albums. No need, I would find it myself.

By going straight to the B’s. Remember the song was “The Court of the Crimson King” by the band King Crimson. You will not find one B anywhere in the song or band name. Yet some part of me was thinking, “It’s here somewhere.” Soon I came upon the album, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars,” by David Bowie. I liked the cover of the album very much. It was a kind of doctored color photograph of Bowie on a street corner in full glam-rock regalia. I didn’t check the song list; I didn’t look for the words “Crimson” or “King” or “Court”; instead I thought, “Yes, this must be it.” I couldn’t wait to get home and listen at last to “The Court of the Crimson King.”

Unfortunately, when I got home I discovered that “Ziggy Stardust” did not in fact include the song I had been looking for. I felt strangely duped. I felt like I was always making these sorts of bizarre and easily avoidable mistakes. But I still liked the cover, so I decided to give it a listen.

You must understand the importance music played in my life at that time. I would clamp headphones over my ears and project myself into the emotional world of the songs. It was as if I was teaching myself how I wanted to live through the music’s reality. If I listened and listened and listened to it, maybe I could carry that feeling with me into the real world and live as if I were still in the songs.

So when the song “Five Years,” the album’s first track, began, and when I heard it’s lovely piano, and Bowie’s distinct voice, and the particular poetry of the lyrics, I leaned close to the speakers, and for the first and only time in my life, said aloud to whatever was listening, “Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.”

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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Old Wisdom

One of the advantages of writing a daily column is that it challenges me to avoid what I think of as the Old Man Story-Telling Syndrome. This is the habit of using certain stories so often that you end up spinning the same allegorical yarn to the same listener again and then again and then again. If you’re a really cranky old man, you think, “I doubt they were paying close attention the first time, so I’ll just forge ahead for their own good.” Since I’m not that old nor nearly that cranky, I’d rather come up with something new.

The OMSTS is not an indicator of deterioration, however; were it so, I would already be showing signs of the onset of senility. But certain stories so encapsulate a lesson we’ve learned that it seems a shame look elsewhere only to do the job half as well in the name of freshness. But I think it’s best not to get too attached to any stories, no matter how good they may be. They can turn you out of habit into a museum exhibit: an interesting and well-executed dust collector.

A writer I interviewed recently told me, “Your first novel is always your best.” She said it in a way that suggested this was old and accepted wisdom. It may be old, but I do no accept it as wisdom. The temptation to end our lives while we still walk and breathe follows us forever. No matter how far the light of our learning shines there remains that horizon of darkness for old and young alike. To stand at the precipice of the unknown and turn back is the path of fear, only made noble, as we grow older, with an irrefutable resume of experience.

My wife’s grandmother feared death until a few days before she passed, when this old skeptic matter-of-factly reported a visit from her own mother, telling her all was well. You can turn back, but the horizon remains whichever way you face. Even as you walk away, you resume walking toward, a traveler cursed since birth with curiosity, incapable of escaping an encounter with the unknown.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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The New Old World

Jason Pinter recently wrote an interesting essay on the Huffington Post about ebooks. The upshot of it all is that things are changing very quickly. I had a meeting with agent Laurie McLean on Saturday, and again and again we returned to this idea: the publishing world is in for a big shake-up.

I was caught off guard by the speed with which publishing is going digital. I was flatly unmoved by the Kindle and remained convinced for many years that the book is a technology that needs no improvement. Whether this is so or not, publishing has been going about things without significant change for about 100 years. It seems to me it is impossible for this enormous industry to resist the inexorable pull that has reshaped pretty much every other industry on earth.

This change is frightening to a lot of people, as all big changes are. Will authors simply begin e-self-publishing all their work? Will bookstores disappear? Will the world end in 2012? I wish I could tell you. Remember, however, that changes occur to meet the needs of the moment, and the needs of the moment are always driven by humanity’s insatiable desire to grow. I know sometimes this growth is ugly; I know sometimes we cut down forests or perch oil rigs in the open ocean. We are not perfect. We cannot always get it right. But we must grow and we must expand. Asking ourselves not to would be like asking ourselves not to breathe.

After all, are you going to write the same novel over and over again? Will not your next story be an expression of your desire to expand as a writer? And how often have your experiments and writing adventures gone sideways? How often in your desire for the new have you produced draft after draft of dull and formless dreck? But this dreck is always the caterpillar of your coming butterfly. You just can’t see the butterfly yet.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this moment in time that needs fixing. Or that is, nothing would need fixing if human beings never changed. And so this perfect, un-broken moment must change because human beings are change. We are a walking, talking, writing, singing, snoring manifestation of change. We don’t know how to do anything else, and the pain of resisting growth will always far outweigh the fear of the new world we ourselves desire to create.

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A Changing World

A friend of mine told me recently that after many years of trying, he has concluded that he cannot change the world. He will do his best wherever he can, but he has resigned himself to the reality that the world seems stubbornly resistant to changing at the rate and in the direction he desires.

I think this was a wise choice. The world, of course, with its births and deaths, its rising suns and flowing rivers, is changing every single moment of every single day. It can’t help but to do so. But no matter how many fraternities and sororities we join, no matter how many fashion trends we follow, no matter how many doctrines we live by, humans remain bound by the laws of their impregnable autonomy. Like it or not, we have no choice but to make up our own minds, even if we make up our minds to do what someone else tells us to.

Frustrating, I know, but it’s true. No one in the history of the world has ever changed anyone else’s mind—not Jesus, not Gandhi, not M. L. King, not Shakespeare or Toni Morrison or John Lennon. What these people did do was offer attractive alternate realities. That’s all anyone can do, be they writer or diplomat or grandmother. As we offer these realities we must grant our readers, our friends, and our parents the full right of refusal. To do otherwise would not be to offer but to demand, and the quickest way to be rejected is to demand someone accept you.

As writers we often find ourselves believing we must be accepted. It isn’t true. No one in the world must accept anything we offer. What we must accept, however, are those gifts that come to us as we listen for our stories. Once received, we should return them as faithfully and attractively as possible in what we write. There is nothing more to be done but trust that the gift we received could not have been for us alone, and that the world changes not just by tides and seasons, but the simple and continued act of like souls seeking companionship.

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Where Beauty Lies

This one is for my women readers in particular. Whenever I listen to women talk about beauty, I am reminded of the kinds of traps writers fall into when talking about publishing, though with this difference: Whereas writers have a habit of focusing all their attention on a point in the road ahead, an always shifting destination called Published, thereby pulling their attention from the thing that brings them joy and the actual success they believe they crave – i. e. the writing itself – women stop and stare at a fixed point in the mirror, wondering what this exact moment in time means about their value in the world.

I understand why beauty is seen as static, a quality a person possesses in varying and largely fixed – though perhaps with age, declining – quantities. After all, your nose is your nose, your eyes are your eyes, your body is your body and so on. The roulette wheel of genetics decided your fate, and now it’s just a matter of makeup, and hairstyle, and diets, and Botox to make the best of it.

I have known plenty of women stamped with the Seal of Beauty approval, and I have seen how what these women are thinking at a given moment changes the face called beautiful. In other words, nothing in the world is fixed. One cannot be beautiful anymore than one can be ugly; we can only be. Beauty, like well being, is a balance of thought, not a place on a map.

We are always moving and changing – we cannot stop it. Every thought and gesture changes us in some small way. If the thoughts and gestures you choose are in complete alignment with what you love most, you will be as beautiful not just as it is possible to be, but as you yourself want to be on this planet. You will be beautiful not just because you will be living joy expressed, but because in living what you most want to live, in expressing what you most want to express, all your attention will be on the trajectory of light that is your truest path – not the mirror, not the photographs, not the magazine covers – and you will receive all the attention for your beauty you have ever craved and discover to your own delight you never actually needed it.

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The End Of The World

This morning I read a dire article in the NY Times. Publishers are concerned about the “Napsterizing” of the burgeoning electronic publishing media. For those of you unaware, Napster is a website where users can share files free with one another, a practice that brought about a precipitous decline in the sales of music. In this model, if you have an electronic copy of the latest Dan Brown book, through certain websites you may share the entire novel with anyone else using the site.

The article was not quite apocalyptic, but it had a vague End Times feel about it, which is understandable. But the problem with End Times predictions is that people have been foretelling the end of the world since the world began. And as well they should. The world ends every moment, with the beating of every butterfly wing the world is not what it was the moment before.

Would we want it any differently? In what moment in history should the world be frozen? What moment in your own life do you wish to never leave? The fear of change, of course, is that things will change for the worse, but if all must change, will not that which we call worse itself change again? And then again and again and again?

It does not matter what form our lives actually take. Nothing can happen, nothing can be made or lost to bring the world to a halt. And as long as the world turns on, people will want to make things and share them with each other. We cannot help it. I do not know how many electronic copies of Dan Brown or John Irving will be bought or pirated this year, but I do know that next year if people want to write books they will write them, and if people want to read books they will read them.

And somewhere someone is dreaming of some technology they believe will change the world forever, and somewhere someone believes that their life will never be the same again—and both them are right.

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Changing Weather

The weather is on the move here in Seattle this morning. A moody wind and a sudden skyful of clouds and it feels like autumn. I can’t say I have a favorite time of year except perhaps those cusps where I sense the new season taking hold. It is then when I am most reminded of world’s constant pull toward change, and I much comforted.

There is a particular challenge writers face when they choose to render such details as weather for their readers. Nearly every writer who has ever sat down to tell a story has described snow and rain and wind and sun. Yet as with all things, it remains the job of the writer to tell it new—and not so you might hold or attain the mantle of “good writer” but so that you might allow your reader a chance to see a windstorm or a spring morning as if for the first time.

And this is good news. Your readers are pulling for you. Consciously or unconsciously, your readers crave and believe in the new. Perhaps in the shadows of some worldly despair we might be lured to mutter how nothing has ever changed, how history repeats itself, how if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. This is not a belief; this is a complaint. This is someone crying, “Show me the world is evolving and interesting because I think I am losing interest in it.”

I feel sometimes as if it is this lonely soul to whom I am writing. Every day can feel like its own awakening as I re-believe that life is potential and not repetition, and yet it takes nothing more than a thought to slip, and in a moment we are alone with our doubt. It’s a kind of trance this pessimism, and the gift of art is to jolt the audience out of such dreams. Your readers are asking nothing less than to be reminded that no two sunsets or snowfalls have ever been the same, and that change, while frightening, is the fertile soil for all of life’s potential.

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