Archive for September, 2011

Self Care Isn’t Necessarily Selfish

Posted in Uncategorized on September 14, 2011 by michaelcogdill

Comedian Steven Wright said, “I bought some batteries. But they weren’t included. So I had to buy ’em again.”
As you laugh at that, draw this truth from it. Joy, like batteries, will wear out, need some recharging. Likewise with hope. We’re called to care for others, but also ourselves.

Escape. Retreat to the places — and the souls — that bring you joy. It’s not selfish. It’s necessary. Doing so recharges us all to serve humanity. To answer our highest calling.

And, yes, souls can become an oasis.  Remember a conversation, maybe lasting only a moment or two, that renewed you, pulled your heart to its feet again, just as you needed it?  Our lives are made of relationships.

Which brings me to this.  If any relationship in your life is toxic, flee it.  Go, now.  Escape.    No one is called to live under the tyranny of another.  Nation building revolutions are made of people fed up with such a way of life.  Individuals are called to the same force of revolution — a true evolution.  Each of us is a sovereign individual.  We’re not made for repression.  We’re made for liberty. 

Which brings this whole thing full circle, around to the truth that caring for yourself is liberating not only to you, but to those who surround you.  As a writer and a journalist, I meet up with countless stories of people who tried to give themselves a proverbial hug and shoulder much more weight than an individual can take.  It has a way not only of shortening lives, but stunting the legacy of a human life, and often worse.  Too often police end up working dreadful domestic crimes when people refuse to retreat and care for themselves. 

In the wake of the suicide of a friend we shared, a speaker and blogger, Erin Weed, blogged out a mighty eloquent caveat about the violence people inflict on themselves.  Think about those words.  Let the expression “self violence” stand before you, then filter your recent thoughts through it.   Stunning, isn’t it, how often we convince ourselves that we can’t achieve some great thing?  It’s easy to slip, indoctrinated, into the pessimism others have about themselves, letting it go viral to ourselves.  To carry burdens of relentless guilt, self-loathing, self-doubt, even hatred, is a form of violence against our own spirits.  Too often self violence erupts in the kind of violence that makes the worst news.

In She-Rain, I plunge every reader deep into this reality.  I call my protagonist, and many of the people around him, “the chronically underestimated.”  They take to heart dreadful and truly filthy words that make them feel like human trash.  From childhood, they become commiters of self violence.  These people, born to the middle of nowhere, consider themselves less than nothing.  Self care is a thought as distant as the stars.

Yet even a slight encouragement transforms one of them, who transforms another.  In She-Rain, people so easily underestimated defy self violence.  They allow themselves to believe in themselves.  Doing so, they begin to carry themselves well, off to a new shore, a place of retreat, renewal, from which a thriving life goes vertical.  Such a life forms a tower others may climb.  It becomes a retreat all its own, a cathedral of love, true sanctuary, a place of peace, fit for the spirit of God.  Often, only from your well-lived, well-cared-for life can others see the best of their own.  You, well cared for, become another’s sanctuary.

Self care, always selfish?  Nonsense.  Try it. To borrow that simpler and more joyous little metaphor,  see if it doesn’t turn you into Steven Wright’s set of batteries included — empowered to outshine the dark.

An Open Letter To Rick Bragg

Posted in Uncategorized on September 1, 2011 by michaelcogdill

Some letters beg to get written.  Others beg on for the writer to share them.   So here,  I’m letting all of you in on a letter of literary praise I sent to writer Rick Bragg, a chronically underestimated Alabama boy who defied those who underestimated him.  Rick Bragg won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing at the New York Times.  He’s an inkwell hero of mine.  I just want him and the world to know. 

Dear Mr. Bragg,

Thank you for taking time to read this.  I’m sure you’ve grown used to riding high tides of praise.  So I’ll try to make something new of this one.
I thought I was a pretty decent writer — of television journalism and fiction.  Then, I read All Over But The Shoutin’. 
Rick Bragg, that book will shade every sentence I write, every book I read, for the remainder of my time.  Many have tried — and keep trying — to write with the very life blood of the human heart.  Instead of finding that rare inkwell, plenty of them — even the celebrated poets — too often spray around prose that amounts to the swamp water of too much, not enough, or who cares.  
You, on the other hand, have taught me more about the art of prose than I’ve learned in all my 50 years.  More than another 50 are bound to grant to me.
And though this note may tempt you to think so, I’m not just a cream-rinsed TV wonk — at least I strive not to live as one.  I’ve managed to win 27 Emmy Awards (most of them for feature writing) and the National Edward R. Murrow for feature in a career spanning 25 years.   Had I experienced your work sooner in my career, I’d have not only more hardware, I might have gotten nearer the vicinity of writing such a line as, “A swagger is a silly walk for someone with so far to go.”  (I hope that’s close enough to the exact quote.)  BRAVO, Rick Bragg.  Bravo!! 
You and I share some history of the South:  Poverty, alcoholism, a junk yard dog sensibility in our lore, perhaps our DNA.  We were also raised by mothers who worked themselves into near break down to make sure their boys do without less.  You and I have shown the pompous that they underestimate what they see as trash at their own risk.  We have shone on the world the magic of rising above the worst of our raising and DNA while staying tethered to them at once.  There’s a priceless inspiration in that.  You have certainly inspired me.
I wrote my novel, She-Rain, in the voice of a hardscrabble, lint-headed boy who jumped the fences of the Tarheel cotton mill culture to grow into a hell-raising beauty of a federal judge.  I wrote it to entertain, of course, but also to caution the world against underestimating a human life, no matter its place and time.  All Over But The Shoutin’ achieves this with a depth, a beauty, a wisdom and spirit that ought to have drawn you another Pulitizer Prize.  You should have one for each hand.  That’s my opinion.
But enough of my opinions.  I leave you with a vow that I will travel a long way to shake your hand sometime.  Simply to congratulate you on living as one of the finest writers I will ever read.  Neither of us knew it at the time, but we covered the Susan Smith tragedy quite near one another in little Union, South Carolina.  Perhaps we ran into one another during the trial.  Maybe I got in your way at least once during that sweltering time.  I wish I had read you then.  I would be a better writer and a better man now.
Wishing you peace and a fine pig tripe burrito.  We’re boys of the South, but I must say our paths diverge on pig tripe.  Yet this boy raised on soup beans has to say — you are my literary hero!  I’m sure the spirit of Scott Fitzgerald will understand.
I’d love to hear from you if you have the time.  As I read you further, you will certainly hear from me, and so will every future Rick Bragg reader I can find.
Warm tides,

P.S.  A reader of She-Rain gave me All Over But The Shoutin’  because she claimed she loved the two in much the same way.  That’s the highest compliment of my literary life.  And all this comes with echoes of my wife, Jill, who read your book before I did and, as I do, shouted praise out loud!