When I Was A Kid 1.0

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a great athlete, a baseball player or basketball player, maybe a famous quarterback for an NFL team. Though I knew I would never be any of those, I still had dreams.

One day I had an idea. I placed two cinder blocks (one of them big and thick, the other thin and long), one on top of another, by the brick wall of the house. The big one went on the bottom and became the base for which the thin one sat on in a somewhat leaning manner. This was my ‘strike zone.’ The upper block was what I considered between the knees and chest—the strike zone of the major leagues when I was a kid.

Back then there was a store on State Street in Triangle Plaza called Dodds. It was a dime store (though, trust me, everything was NOT a DIME). They had great things for kids, like a bag of marbles for a buck and slingshots—yeah, you could purchase a slingshot at what amounts to a Dollar General by today’s standards. They also had red rubber balls that were about the size of a baseball. 

My brother and I spent our summers at my grandparents’ house on the Mill Hill near the river. Occasionally, my grandmother would give us a quarter or two and we would go down to Brown’s Grocery (no relation, folks, but if you’ve read any of my work, then you probably recognize the name—I like to pay homage to the mill hill every chance I get) or to the Gamecock Theater (after saving up three quarters, man those flicks were expensive), or to Dodds. Whenever we went to Dodds I would pick up a couple of red rubber balls for less than a quarter. I had to buy two at a time, not because they came in packs of two, but because, after a while of smashing the ball against a wall or the block ‘strike zone,’ the rubber would crack and the ball would split in half. There’s nothing more disappointing than pitching a no-hitter against the Yankees only to have the game end in a rain delay because the ball split in half. 

On days where we stayed home instead of going to my grandparents’ house, I would get one of my dad’s tape measures and mark off sixty feet, six inches from wall to where the pitcher’s mound would be in a baseball game. I would take a thin board and put it at the end of that measurement. This would be my pitcher’s rubber, where my foot would go before each pitch.

I spent hours on end, glove in hand, looking in at invisible batters (usually the hated Yankees or Dodgers), shaking off a nonexistent catcher until I got the pitch I wanted to throw. I had a curve ball, knuckle ball, a not-so-fast fast ball, a two seam fastball, a slider that wasn’t very good, and a straight fastball. Yeah, I had a bunch of so-so pitches. I even had a Dan Quisenberry-esque sidearm pitch that rose on the invisible batters, causing them to flail uselessly at it. 

The way it worked was simple: If the ball hit the upper block, then it was a strike. If it nipped the side of the top block, it was a foul ball. If the ball hit the wall and not the blocks, it was a ball. If the ball hit the bottom block, I would consider that a ball in play and field it. I’d have to glove the ball and make the throw to first (which was nothing more than the same two blocks by the house) before the runner got there. If I bobbled the ball, it was an error. If i didn’t hit the blocks with the throw, it was an error. 

Though I did this for hours and hours, I never became a great pitcher. You see, the imagination is an amazing thing, and though I struck out a lot of nonexistent batters and took my team to a World Series championship (beating the hated Yankees in the process), facing live batters was completely different. 

Now, I will say this, I learned how to throw and throw hard by doing that. I could play a mean third base and ended up playing fifteen or sixteen years of third base in softball. Sadly, I was not a great hitter in either baseball or softball.

My dreams of being a big leaguer ended truly before they got started. I left baseball behind for basketball, a sport I was extremely good at. But for a couple of summers, I was a big league pitcher, and a good one, at least in my imagination. 

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J. 

He Said, “I’ve Had A Good Life.”

1/15/2018

Let me tell you a quick story for context’s sake:

Back in August of 2017, a longtime friend of mine went to the hospital for heart surgery. During surgery, he had a stroke and went into a coma. I saw this on his social media page. His lady friend (my buddy never married) posted about it and then updated everyone on his condition over the course of three days. I contacted her directly, seeing how I had known this guy since I was six-years-old. She and I PM’d back and forth for the next several days with her giving me more detailed information than what she posted on social media. 

Three days after my friend had his stroke, he passed away. His lady friend sent me a message before she posted it on social media stating simply, He’s Gone. One of the friends I had had for over forty years of my life was now gone from it forever. 

A couple days passed and I contacted the lady, wanting to see how she was, how she was handling the death of our mutual friend. She was struggling, but she said something that has stuck with me: “He said before he went into surgery, ‘If I don’t make it, I had a good life.’”

My friend did have a good life. He did well for himself, having gone into the military and then being successful when he got out of the military. He had a good life. He did the things he wanted to do with his life. He enjoyed his life. 

a-good-life-is-whenI. Had. A. Good. Life.

Recently, I talked to another friend of mine. I asked him how he was.

“I want a do over,” he said.

“Today’s been that bad?”

“No. I want a do over and go back to high school. I would have paid more attention in class. I wouldn’t have given up on what I wanted to do with my life.”

“What did you want to do with your life?”

“I wanted to be a graphic designer.”

“My friend, just because you are older now doesn’t mean you can’t still be what you want to be.”

He shrugged his shoulders at this. “I wish I had the discipline back then to just pursue it.”

“That was then. Who says you don’t have the discipline now?”

My best friend went to college at forty-five (the same age as the friend I talked to recently) and graduated in October of 2018 with a Masters in Business. I know a woman who went to law school at forty because she wanted a change in careers. She became a very successful attorney.

My friend shrugged several times during our conversation. That has always struck me as the universal sign for ‘I give up,’ or ‘I can’t do that.’ It’s the sign for ‘I don’t want to put the effort into it.’ (Let me state that this is a generalization and this is my observation. You may not see things the same way.)

I relayed the story to him of my deceased friend, going into a little more detail than I have here. I looked him in the eyes and stated, “He had a good life. We have one shot at this game called life. For me, I want no regrets. When I get to the end, I want to say, I had a good life.”

Isn’t that what we all want? To say we had a good life? To say I lived the best I could? To say I experienced life?

I’ve been known to say to people when they say “I can’t do something” the following: “You can’t or you won’t?”

Wait. Before you get offended, understand something. There is a vast difference between can’t and won’t. Some people physically can’t do things. They may want to do something, but it is an impossibility because of a physical or mental limitation. That is not a won’t, but an actual can’t. What I mean is there are folks out there who will say ‘I can’t’ because they don’t want to try or they feel like they won’t succeed, so why bother? Can’t verses Won’t. 

Here’s the thing: I’m guilty of this very thing. I’ve said I can’t do something because I thought I would fail at it. So, I didn’t try. I regret those decisions. I don’t want others to regret not trying because they … are afraid they won’t succeed, or maybe they don’t think it is worth the effort. What do you have to lose? An experience you might never forget is one thing. Success at something you never thought you could do, is another. 

I’m at the point in my life where I would rather try and fail than wonder if I would have ever succeeded at something I didn’t attempt. 

Each person has to live their life according to how they see fit. I don’t fault anyone for being how or who they are. You and I have to do what is best for ourselves. For me, the options are simple and there are really only two of them: you go after life like you want it, or you sit by and watch it pass you by. At the end of life, I want to be one who went after it. What if I got to lose? What do you have to lose? 

Go back to school. Chase a dream you let go. Ask that lady or man out that you have had your eye on. Go after life. Go after it and live it and enjoy it.

Until we meet again my friends, have a good life, and be kind to one another.

A.J. 

Keep That Pilot Burning

“The man who says he can, and the man who says he can not … are both correct.”

—Confucius

Some people will always believe they can do anything. Others, however, will always believe they can’t do anything. The difference between the two is one word: Belief. One type of person believes he can and one type of person believes he cannot. Both beliefs are correct.

The person who believes he can do something will try and try and try until he accomplishes his goal. He has confidence in himself, in his abilities. He has absolute faith that he will succeed. He believes himself. Though he may fail, he won’t give up. Determination is a strong suit.

(Huh … this reads like a horoscope.)

The person who believes he can’t do something might still try to do it and might even try earnestly. He might fail, maybe even spectacularly. It is in failing where he loses steam, where he thinks ‘why did I even try this?’ He may not even try at all. “I can’t do that,” more than likely will come from his lips and once he has spoken it aloud, it is cemented in his psyche. His resolution is fairly strong, not in his ability to do something, but in his inability.

Let me stop here and switch gears. When I was coming up there was a television show called The Facts of Life. I loved this show (actually, I was totally in love with Blaire Warner). I’m not going to go into details about what this show was about, because that is not the point. One actress, outside the main cast, who made several appearances on the show was Geri Jewell. This lady has cerebral palsy.

As described by CerbralPalsy.org: Cerebral Palsy is caused by brain damage. The brain damage is caused by brain injury or abnormal development of the brain that occurs while a child’s brain is still developing — before birth, during birth, or immediately after birth. Cerebral Palsy affects body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance. It can also impact fine motor skills, gross motor skills and oral motor functioning.

Geri Jewell went on to become an actress and a stand up comedian.

I tell you all of that so I can tell you this: there is a video on Youtube (which I hope you will watch) where Jewell does a standup routine. In this particular video she talks about how she was asked to do celebrity sports events, but never got to actually play a sport. She goes on to say how she approached the producer about it and then maybe, possibly told a small lie that she could play tennis. She then states this:

“One of the reasons I have accomplished what I have accomplished in my life is I’ve always seen where I want to go in my mind and I go there. I always create the vision …”

She continues through her routine, then at the end she states after a nice story about how she got a role on Deadwood:

“Life has ebbs and flows, yings and yangs. Life can be very difficult sometimes, but we think we can’t go on. And you know what? You gotta always, always believe in yourself. Because even when I busted my neck and had to start all over, I always had a little pilot light inside of me that I never let out. Don’t ever let your pilot light go out and don’t let somebody put it out. Reach your dreams. Do what my mom always said: you have to try. You never know what you can do unless you try, and never give up on reaching your dreams and never underestimate the power of the human spirit.”

Geri Jewell absolutely refused to let her disability deter her from her dreams. She went after what she wanted. She knew where she wanted to go and she created a vision and she went after it. She tried.

I admit, there have been times I have said, ‘I can’t do that.’ I admit the moment I stated this out loud, or even silently in the vault that is my head, I immediately took the possibility of trying off the table. The moment I refused to try these things I failed, maybe not at the thing I didn’t attempt, but for not even trying, for not even seeing if it was possible.

Things I said I couldn’t do:

  • Write a story
  • Get a story published
  • Write a novel
  • Have a publisher put out one of my books
  • Self publish a book
  • Do a convention/festival
  • Do a live reading
  • Do a video

Those are just a handful of things I told myself I couldn’t do. Because of that mindset, it took me a long time to do any of those things. Here is what was accomplished once the mindset changed:

  • Write a story—Wrote first story on June 29, 1993, titled Chuckie. It was bad.
  • Get a story published—published first story on House-of-Pain website in December, 2002.
  • Write a novel—wrote first novel in 1996, titled Reaper’s Run. It is not very good.
  • Have a publisher put out one of my books—Along the Splintered Path was released by Dark Continents Publishing in January, 2012.
  • Self Publish a book—Southern Bones was released in October 2012. Not many copies sold, but it was a great accomplishment for me.
  • Do a convention/festival—First convention was in April, 2015, at the Cayce Festival of the Arts.
  • Do a live reading—First live reading was in April of 2017 at the Cayce Festival of the Arts. The story was titled, Wilson’s Last Walk.
  • Do a video—First video was of Wilson’s Last Walk at the Cayce Festival of the Arts. My brother in law filmed it.

These things may seem small, but they were huge for me. They were breakthroughs. They were also moments of truth. These were moments where I realized I could do something I previously thought was impossible; they were things I told myself I could never do, so why try? I was wrong.

And here is the point to all of this: if you think you can’t do something and you never try, then you will never be able to do it. You automatically take the ability to do something out of your hands when you say ‘I can’t.’ Negativity will always breed negativity. ‘I can’t’ is one of the worst negatives you can impose on yourself.

Go after your dreams. Don’t let self doubt get in the way of you accomplishing something great. Believe in yourself. If it helps, take baby steps and build your confidence. It’s like climbing a ladder. In order to climb it you have to place one foot on the bottom rung, then the next foot on the second rung. Then you pull yourself up with your hands on the rungs above your head and push with your feet on the rungs below. The more you climb, the higher you go.

There are things I regret never doing because I didn’t believe I could do it, or I was afraid what others might think. Or maybe I was just afraid of failing. This has been steadily going by the wayside with me as I realize I am the obstacle I have been trying to hurdle my entire life.

One more thing and I will let you go. Geri Jewell hit on something I think is very important. It goes right along with believing in yourself. She stated that she had a pilot light on. Never, ever let anyone extinguish that fire, that desire to do something. Those people are not you. Those people do not share in your ambition. Those people who tell you that you can’t accomplish something don’t believe in you … and quite possibly, they don’t believe in themselves. Many people who tell you that you can’t accomplish something also don’t think they can do that very thing either. Their mindset is if they can’t do it, then how can you?

It’s like a mirror. You look in it and you see your reflection. When naysayers look at you and put you down or discourage you from chasing your dream, that accomplishment, they are just looking in the mirror and seeing themselves. And who they see in that mirror is someone who can’t—maybe even won’t—try to do what you want to do.

Don’t let them put out your pilot light.

I’ve struggled my entire writing career with what I should or should not do. Should I change this? Should I listen to this person? Should I try this? Should I submit to this place? Should I be concerned with what others think of me? Should I even continue with this gig? I’m at the point in my life where none of that should matter anymore. A lot of it doesn’t matter. What matters is am I happy? If I am happy with where I am at in life, then what others think really doesn’t matter. If I’m not happy, then it is up to me to make myself happy. It’s my pilot light. How much I turn up the heat in the stove is up to me.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.