beauty out of sorrow

beauty out of sorrow

beauty out of sorrow

I stood in a coffee shop in lower Manhattan this morning people watching as I waited for a colleague. Lower Manhattan is an interesting place to people watch. The crowd is diverse but they have one thing in common – everyone is in a rush.

This morning there was one exception.

A young lady, nicely dressed, obviously on her way to her nearby job. Except at the moment she looked like she couldn’t care less about her job or anything else except the very intense phone conversation she was having.

At first, she spoke in an urgent whisper, but after a couple of minutes she gave up on subtlety. But even if she hadn’t it was obvious from her slumped shoulders, her downcast eyes and her defeated body language that she was distraught. A relationship was over, and she was on the phone pleading her case. Honestly, I felt like a creep watching her, but even if I hadn’t I would have known, I would have felt the pain and the despair that permeated the whole place. My heart went out to her, and I silently sent good vibes her way as I looked away, hoping her love would reconsider and take her back.

My colleague arrived at the coffee shop shortly after and as I walked out with him I overheard her say one thing.

“Don’t leave me. Please.”

I walked outside, but as I left I stole one last look at the young lady. Her conversation was over and she stood, phone in hand, crushed and crying openly, her shoulders bowed in grief.

I felt her pain, and I know I will be haunted by the look of loss on her face for years to come. Why? Because I am a writer.

As writers, we are blessed and we are cursed.

Cursed because we feel deeply. Cursed because we dig deep into not only our feelings but also into those of the ones who love us and who hurt us. Sometimes, we dig into the hurt of people we don’t even know. We hold onto those feelings like a Terrier with a bone until they are worn and ragged and chewed up. Until WE are worn and ragged and chewed up.

Blessed, because we take the curse, the feelings, the pain, the intense longing and heartbreak and we turn them into something else. We sweat and we bleed and we push and we give birth to the child of our pain.

I wrote my first book, Willows, overcome with grief and heartbreak. It’s about a man who’s lost his love and feels he has nothing left. I felt the same way and I put it all on the page. It won’t win any prizes, it’s not my best work by a long shot but I’m damned if it isn’t my most heartfelt.

It was my first, emotional, imperfect child.

And then, I took that child and turned her out into the world. I handed her to you, the reader, hoping that you would feel some of my pain and wish me well. I handed her to you and hoped that you understood, as you turned the page, that I know what you feel but you will survive. You will come out on the other side okay.

I’m still sad for that young lady. At this moment, I imagine she is at her desk trying holding back tears. She will attend meetings today and talk on the phone and hand in reports with her tears still drying on them. She will take the train home later, trying not to cry. Maybe she’ll succeed, maybe she won’t, but either way the floodgates are sure to open as soon as she closes her door behind her. She will have no appetite but she might force down a lonely meal and then lay in bed and sob, later to fall asleep clutching something that reminds her of her lost love.

Tomorrow will be awful. So damn bad. So will the next day, and the next and the one after that. But soon, there will be a day that won’t be quite as bad, then another then another. Soon, she will see the sun again and taste food again. She will pet puppies, laugh at silly jokes, and go out with her friends again. Her lost love will always be an ache in her heart but an ache that grows duller with each day. Then, if she is very, very, fortunate she will meet someone who makes the ache a distant memory.

Or maybe, if the world is lucky, she will write about it.

 

 


Candyland

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why your talent may be holding you back

why your talent may be holding you back

why your talent may be holding you back or what a cartoon frog taught me about the nature of creativity.

One of my favorite cartoons from back in the day is One Froggy Evening. You know the one, it’s where a construction worker finds a metal box hidden in the cornerstone of a building he’s demolishing. He opens the box and out jumps a frog who immediately grabs a top hat and cane and begins dancing and singing. The worker never considers how the frog survived in the cornerstone of a building or how it can possibly sing and dance.  Instead, he immediately sees dollar signs and sneaks off with his find to make his fortune. He devises scheme after scheme to showcase the frog’s singing ability but each time the frog falls silent, so no one ever sees him perform except the man. Failing every time, the man becomes homeless and in frustration abandons the frog in the foundation of another building being built. Fifty years later another construction worker finds the frog and the cartoon ends with the future man sneaking away with the frog, his head filled with dollar signs to begin the process all over again.

I’ve seen this cartoon literally hundreds of times before but this time it didn’t seem so funny because it made me think. That frog is like the talent we were born with. When we realize we have it, many of us hang our hopes and dreams on it, without doing any of the hard work required to grow and nurture it into a form good enough to share with the world. We think the raw ability we were born with is enough, but when the time comes to show it to the world it’s not good enough. Eventually, like the man in the cartoon, we get sick of failing and abandon out talent.

I spoke with a writer friend of mine the other day… I use the term writer loosely, she hasn’t written anything but TPS reports for a year. She wakes up every day with the intention to write but takes no action. Still, the burning need to put the words on paper is there.

It haunts her.

Is she that construction worker?

My friend is quite talented, but she wished she didn’t have this talent and wanted it gone, since she felt that it was wasted on her.

Sometimes, so do I.

I go to put the words down but the empty screen laughs at me. When I do fill the screen, the words never flow as they do in my head.

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” —George Orwell

So instead, I concentrate on other things. I worry about marketing, I worry about Amazon bestseller lists, I worry about Facebook ads, I worry about budgets, I worry I worry I worry and the writing doesn’t get done near as much as it should.

Am I that construction worker?

Talent is a funny thing.

Those without it yearn for it. Those with it are often tormented by it. You can have all the talent in the world, when you’re by yourself. When it comes time to display it…nothing, or, when it comes time to do the work to nurture that talent, you do everything but. Or, maybe you’re one of those, “I’m shy about people hearing/seeing/reading my work” people.

Doesn’t matter.

Either way, no one but you sees anything you do. In your head, you’re the next Elmore Leonard, Lee Child, Pablo Neruda, but the only thing your work does it take up hard drive space.

Are you that construction worker?

Screw that. Put that frog back in the box where he belongs, and get to work so that the next time he comes out EVERYONE will be able to hear his song.

Later,

Hugh.

 

 



Candyland

Click the button below to get Hugh’s latest thriller – Candyland, from Amazon, or click HERE to download an excerpt.

 

 

Get Candyland from Amazon
Just Write Something

Just Write Something

When I was very young, my dad, brother and I left Jamaica and moved to New York. My parents were divorced for about a year and a half but the wounds were as fresh as if it had happened the day before. My dad tried his best, but his meals couldn’t compare. Way too much of this or not enough of that. Homework wasn’t checked. Christmas morning was spent pretending to like poorly thought out and terribly wrapped gifts and for Christmas dinner, we separated the burnt parts from the under cooked and washed them down with tears. In our family, mom was the glue. She was the cook and the organizer and the shopper and the clothes layer-outer. She was the homework warden and the did you brush your teeth checker, the Christmas dinner fixer, and the present wrapper.

Then, one day, we were in a new country. In Jamaica, I was a husky, slightly nerdy bookworm with lots of friends. I had a big yard to play in, bikes to ride, trees to climb, rivers and beaches to swim in. In Queens, I was a fat nerd, living with his dad and brother in an attic, sleeping on a box spring. We were three men together, lonely and licking our wounds. Where we should have come together as a unit to face our adopted city, we stayed apart, battling our individual demons alone, each coming to terms with our new surroundings in our own way.

On my first day at Andrew Jackson High School, I met my new music teacher, a short, stout Italian man with the most pronounced New Yawk accent I’d heard up to that point. It was the first day of school and at a loss for something for us to do, he gave us the assignment to write out the words to the Star Spangled Banner. My stomach fell. I’d been in New York for all of a week and was ashamed that I didn’t yet know the words. I stared at my paper and at my classmates happily scribbling away and I fought the tears as I wished that I were anywhere else but in this strange school, in this strange city, in this strange country. The teacher must have noticed my distress because he came over and quietly asked what the matter was.

I cried when he asked, although I tried not to. I tried so hard, but it hit me all at once. I was the new kid. I had a weird accent, I didn’t have cool clothes, I hated where we lived, our landlady was mean, I didn’t understand this new school with its tough-talking kids and gangs and police helicopters overhead every afternoon. And I missed my mother. I didn’t say any of that. All I said, in my Jamaican accent was, “I don’t know the words.”

He gave me the look that Americans often gave when they didn’t understand something I’d said and their brains were working to lengthen the vowels and smooth out the rough, bumpy syllables of my Patois. A second later he got it.

“Oh, you don’t know the words,” he repeated.

I thought he was going to be mad. He would kick me out of his class and the big, mean looking security guards would escort me to the Principal’s office, where they would demand to see my papers. None of that happened. Instead, that man did something that I will never forget. He put his hand on my shoulder, gave it a squeeze, and smiled.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said, in that casual American way. “Just write something. Anything.”

Now that I could do.

He smiled and walked away but suddenly turned back to me and said, “I love your accent, by the way, it’s cool.”

I smiled. Then I wrote.

I wrote about a boy who was lonely and fat and had no mother but had powers that no one but he knew about. He kept his power hidden because he thought once he showed them to the world, the people he loved would also leave, just like his mom did. But then one day he had no choice but to reveal his powers and to his surprise people loved him. His dad stopped telling him that he was too fat, and it didn’t matter that he wasn’t as athletic as his brother. They hoisted him up on their shoulders and the kids on his block liked him and didn’t make fun of his accent or his clothes. He made new friends and his mom came back home and they were a family again.

The bell rang for the end of class and I quickly wrote my last sentence. My classmates slapped their single pages down on the desk then spilled out into the hall in a flood. I removed twelve pages from my notebook and handed them to my teacher. His eyes opened wide in surprise.

“Wow, you’re a writer I see.”

It was the very first time anyone had ever called me that and it made my day.

I wanted to thank him for his kindness, but I didn’t have the words. Instead, I nodded and left to go to my locker. A few minutes later, I had to pass the music room on the way to my next class and saw the music teacher at his desk, reading my story with a smile on his face.

His advice stays with me to this day, it’s served me well.

Just write something.

I don’t know what happened to him. I’m sad that I don’t remember his name. Wherever he is, I hope he is happy, and I hope that he’s had the kindness he showed to me returned to him a thousand fold. You see, it’s the little things we do that sometimes have an enormous impact. It’s the hug at just the right time. It’s the reassuring words when someone is at a low point. It’s saying I love you, and meaning it.

I need that.

We all do.

That kid that wrote the story is still here, but he’s older and hopefully wiser. He still sometimes keeps things hidden because he thinks no one would care to read what he feels but he’s getting better at that. One thing will never change, he still misses his mother. She’s passed a few years ago but lives on in his heart and in her granddaughter’s smile. Oh, and the accent is still there. If you listen carefully, you might hear it. It doesn’t show up much but occasionally it creeps out when he’s tired, or upset or he wants to make his little girl laugh or maybe occasionally in the random blog post.

Irie.



Candyland

Click the button below to get Hugh’s latest thriller – Candyland, from Amazon, or click HERE to download an excerpt.

 

 

Get Candyland from Amazon
Big and Tall

Big and Tall

Big and Tall

I recently lost a bunch of weight, a little over thirty pounds in the last few months.

Strange things happen when you go through a transformation like that. You THINK you will be able to handle the changes and you THINK you will be ecstatic about them, and for the most part you are. But, there is a part of you (well, of me) that can’t get quite get fully adjusted to this new person.

For years I’ve shopped in the Big and Tall department of a local store that generally had pretty nice stuff for us Big Guys. All of my clothes, especially pants, are now way too big, so the other day I walked in there, daughter in tow, and did what I always do in that store. I walked over to the big and tall section, picked out a couple of pairs of pants then made my way to the dressing rooms. I tried on the items and they were huge on me.

Duh … dude, you lost weight. You’ve changed.

Strangely enough, instead of being happy, I felt a little anxious. All my life I’ve been a big guy. I still am, I will never be small, but I’m smaller than I was. In that moment, I felt as if part of my identity, the thing that made me who I am, was slowly slipping away.

Scary.

“You didn’t like them dad?” My daughter asked when I emerged from the dressing room with the pants back on their respective hangers.

“No honey, they’re too big.”

I returned the items to the Big and Tall section then looked across the aisle to the “normal” sized section. It would have taken only a step or two to get over there, but venturing into new territory was intimidating. I eventually did and started browsing, a stranger in a strange land. After a few minutes, without even realizing it, I crossed the aisle into the Big and Tall section again.

“Dad, what are you doing over there?” My daughter asked.

I didn’t know what to say, I had wandered back across the aisle by sheer force of habit. Or, more likely, the part of me fearful of losing myself had brought me back into familiar territory.

She took my hand.

“You don’t belong over there, you have to stay over here now,” she said, as she pulled me across the aisle.

She didn’t mean anything deep by her statement, she was bored and just wanted me to stop wasting time so we could get the heck outta there, but I found her words profound nonetheless. I stayed put in the regular section although my eye still wandered over to Big and Tall occasionally. Eventually, I found some stuff that fit my new proportions. They looked good and I was happy to be able to fit into the smaller size, but there was a small part of me that still mourned the loss.

Change is scary. Even a change that you’ve planned for. I guess the key is not to wander back into the aisle of the familiar and comfortable. The new place that you’ve worked hard to get to is well…new but it’s where you should be. It’s where you NEED to be.

You don’t belong over there. You have to stay over here now.



Candyland

Click the button below to get Hugh’s latest thriller – Candyland, from Amazon, or click HERE to download an excerpt.

 

 

Get Candyland from Amazon
Gratitude

Gratitude

The basement of my house is my favorite writing space even though It’s not always the most comfortable. It’s cold in the winter, hot in the summer, and I share it with the spiders who can’t seem to stay away. Artificial light doesn’t do well in the basement, the illumination from bulbs only penetrate so far, giving the room a timeless quality that can play tricks on an overactive imagination, especially when I’m facing an empty page that I can’t seem to fill. I sit in the circle of light, looking out into the semi-darkness and it’s easy to envision a grandmother down here filling shelves with jars of homemade preserves or kids playing hide and seek while the rest of the family is upstairs gathered around a huge transistor radio.

So, more often than not, I turn out the lights when I’m working so the only illumination is from the monitor with the empty page I’m trying to fill. Sometimes the words are there and sometimes they aren’t, like the ten times I sat down to write this post about gratitude. I took walks to think about it, I spoke with a friend about it, I read my favorite books to inspire me, but the grand and eloquent words I wanted to use to express my profound thanks at the many blessings I had been given proved elusive.

So, I sat and let my mind wander, and soon I noticed the sounds.

Water running through pipes.

The rumble of the clothes dryer.

Thump, thumping of my daughter dancing upstairs.

I refocused and tried to concentrate. I have many things to be thankful for and I didn’t want this to be an ordinary post. I wanted the reader to feel the profound feelings that I felt. It needed to be special. But try as I might, the words failed me again and before very long I turned away from the screen and let my mind wander again.

Sounds.

Water running through pipes.

The rumble of the clothes dryer.

Thump, thumping of my daughter dancing upstairs.

I gathered my thoughts and refocused (again) and began to write. About thirty minutes and a frustrating page and a half later, I stopped to read what I’d produced.

Garbage. It was forced and not at all genuine. I was trying way too hard. I deleted the whole thing and leaned back in my chair.

Sounds again, or rather, only one sound. There was no water running and the dryer had completed its cycle.

Thump, thumping of my daughter dancing.

Then the thumping stopped and I heard footsteps running through the kitchen then down the stairs and into the basement where the empty page and I kept each other company.

“Look at this Dad,” she said.

I spend the next ten minutes watching her proudly show me the progress she’d made on the move she was practicing upstairs and discussing the difficulties of handstands and bridges and back walkovers. When she was done, she hugged me and ran back upstairs. In a moment, the thump thumping began again as she’s started to practice the next move.

As I listen to her dance, I realize that I’ve been going about this all wrong. I was like a bull in a china shop, stomping around and looking outwardly for the thing I only needed to be still to find. I would have heard it, the thump, thump, thumping that means that my daughter is dancing. As long as she is dancing everything is fine.

Gratitude.

I am thankful for many things. For health and strength, for Sunshine in the morning, for you reading his post.

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