Guest blogger: Paul K. Swardstrom

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When we create, it has an effect on us, on our friends and family, on our relationships. The impact can be positive, it can be negative, it can even be relatively neutral, but there is an impact nonetheless. I knew this when I began my writing my first novel last year and because of it, I didn’t even tell any of my family for months. When I did, the admission was made with a lot of self-doubt and humility. Not because I was guaranteed success; no — because I was simply fulfilling a dream when some of my friends and family had let their dreams run off long ago. Me as a writer reminded them of the ruts we fall into in life, but even with some, it took some time to really work itself out. 

That impact eventually turned positive. Over the past few months, I’ve really learned to treasure my relationships with my family even more. In doing so, my brother Paul, and my sister, Betsy, have collaborated with me on a short story collection we are calling Baking With Swords, to be released soon. I’m really proud of the work we’ve put together and am excited to see their names on a book for the first time. 

In anticipation of that, I opened my blog up to Paul and Betsy to share some of themselves and their motivations for writing. This is Paul’s entry: 


 

Choices. We all make them – well, not all. I suppose if you’re in a coma, you’re not making choices, but then you’re not reading this either.

Let’s start over. My name is Paul K. Swardstrom. If that name sounds familiar, then you’re right. I am the son of Paul D. Swardstrom, the son of Paul W. Swardstrom…

 

Paul told me to just take a picture from his Facebook page, so here is one with a bird on his head.  - Will

Paul told me to just take a picture from his Facebook page, so here is one with a bird on his head. – Will

What? Oh. Will. Yeah, He’s my little taller than me and eight years younger than me brother. Ok, back to the subject at hand….

Choices. They are like rubber bands. When we make them we never know when one will snap us in the katookus. What will we do today? Will we use our time wisely? When confronted with a difficult situation, how will we react? Do I brush my teeth after a meal with lots of garlic and onion?

I’ve made my share of choices – some good, a lot bad.

Excuse me, I have to go brush my teeth…. and, back.

I think that for me I think too much. I always have. I think if I were in the debate club in school I would always have been in last place, but by the next day, I would probably have 5 good zingers. That’s my deal with choices, and life, and my place in the world and well, everything. I analyze, and sort, and reanalyze and try to place meaning, and pray and pray and rail angrily, and …. shrug.

When I was seventeen-nearly eighteen and had to make choices for college, I had no idea what I wanted in life. I decided to take music classes in college and become a music major because I had taken private lessons on my instrument in high school and didn’t want to waste it (the responsible attitude of a first-born child) and since I enjoyed marching band so much as a teenager I thought the best thing I could do with my life would be to associate myself with it by becoming a band director – I suppose that’s a moderately acceptable as a reason for wanting to become a band director.

By the time I was in my early twenties, I wanted to be one of the best band directors in the state – Arizona at the time.

Well, life has a way of going sideways. I was a young man with not a very clear head on my shoulders. I’m a good thinker, but again those in-the-moment things are hard for me. Additionally, I was quite a right-brained thinker back in the early 90’s. Its taken nearly two decades for me to train my left brain to be able to do some heavy lifting.

I was never the success I wanted to be back then – partly because I wasn’t ready for it, partly because I didn’t properly prepare myself for it, and partly because life just went sideways… a couple of times.

Malcolm Gladwell has a theory in one of his books, The Tipping Point that it takes about 10,000 hours working on something before you attain expert status at something. For me, I calculated my hours teaching band a few years ago and it came out somewhere north of 9,000. You could say I was approaching my tipping point, and I knew it. I also felt it. Things I did were making sense, I had quite a few instinctual reactions to situations that I knew were simply because I had been in that role for so long. However, I read The Tipping Point and made this calculation one year after I had been shifted into a different teaching role in my school district. It would be two more years before I would be back in front of a band again. It was the most professionally frustrated as I’ve been, and it has been going on for the last four years.

I’ve had a lot of soul searching in the last few years. Do I try something else? If I do, what would it be? I had an opportunity to go into financial planning, but I know the right brain side of me is too dominant for that to work. Do I go back to school and find something else to do? Do I move to be able to find other opportunities? Whatever I’ve been faced with, it always seemed that the best option was to stay right where I was – which only continued the frustration.

When Will began to write, I didn’t take it very well. I wanted to be supportive, but it hit pretty close to home. My brother. Doing something that he loves. While I felt unable to do the thing I felt I was made for? It was tough for me at the time. Will and I hashed it out some months back, which I think was a major step for me. Strangely enough, I think that was a block in my own head that kept me from being free to explore other ideas. That… well, let’s name it here…. petty jealousy…. kept me locked up and once I was able to let it go I was then able to make something of some ideas that have been floating in my own head for a long long time. By the way, Will was extremely gracious about the whole thing. Another thing he’s good at, hmmm.

Anyway, sometime soon after Will and I had our hashing out, he posted a blog post called I Am Inadequate, where he went and described a lot of inadequacies, hangups, choices, lazinesses (is that a word?) and such that I also struggle with (we are related after all). For some reason, the genesis of an idea popped into my head after reading that, and combined with the struggle you see noted above, a story idea was born.

Concept 3Over the next few days, I popped in on that story every time I had a break and had draft one finished pretty quickly and showed it to my author-brother. With his encouragement, the story expanded, shifted some focuses and refined. What resulted was a story that is called The Price of Greatness, which will be part of the forthcoming collection Baking with Swords.

It feels as if the story of this blog post is unfinished, but I suppose that is as life goes. Life is unfinished, and to borrow a phrase, my story is still unwritten. I found it quite interesting that Twitterverse had two things to say about this today (5/23/2014), which I in turn found inspiring enough to write a blog post about. I will leave you with them.

Oswald Chambers @myutmost ·

“Ambition means a set purpose for the attainment of our own ideal, and as such it is excluded from the Kingdom of Our Lord.” –Chambers

 

kulturhack ‏@kulturhack

The Odd Wisdom Of Brian Eno: “Craft is what enables you to be successful when you’re not inspired.”

 

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I am Inadequate

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I am Inadequate. 

As a teacher, a writer, a friend, a husband, a father, a Christian, a son, and a brother. I will never live up to the standards the world has set up for me. I’ll never look like Channing Tatum. Shoot, I’ll never look like Jonah Hill for that matter. Even Charles Barkley has outdone me in terms of weight loss. 

I waste time like nobody’s business. Candy Crush? Oh yeah…totally killed that game. Until it stopped me on Level 275. Bejeweled Blitz is my weakness right now. I got time for a one-minute game…and then it turns into 5 and then 10. Television sucks me in and suddenly I’ve wasted an hour sitting watching something I really didn’t care about. 

I purposefully limit TV shows I record on my DVR and I have intentionally NOT subscribed to Netflix. I know I could burn through seasons of a TV series in a few days’ time, so I stay away. 

I am Inadequate. 

I’m a pretty good teacher. My last few evaluations have come back with some pretty good marks, but at the same time, I know of my weaknesses. I am great teaching out of a book. I am not great with classroom conversations. 

As a writer, I wish I had the ability to weave words like others. I find myself reading certain books and becoming jealous of the amazing writing ability of other writers. Why can’t I write like that? 

I am Inadequate. 

As a child, my family moved around a few times. I was lucky enough to experience life in a few different places in this great nation, but at the same time, I left friends behind. Friends I never got back. Facebook and email didn’t exist then. I didn’t call. I didn’t write letters. I lost those friends. Even years later when I met up with them again, there was something gone. Something missing. I failed as a friend. 

I am Inadequate. 

I live in an area now where a lot of the people I know have family nearby. My best friend lives across the street from his parents. (like Everybody Loves Raymond. Seriously.) Another friend has his grandmother at his house nearly every day. The closest family member to me is almost 6 hours away. I sometimes don’t call my mother for weeks at a time and the time between calls for my brothers and sister can be even longer. 

I am Inadequate. 

Everyday on Facebook, I find links to blogs for “simple solutions” and “life hacks” to make your life a better place. I see recipes and parenting blogs. Recipes I can’t possibly master and parenting advice I probably won’t remember when the time is right. Every link is a link to make your life better. A link to your perfect life. 

I am Inadequate. 

…But that’s Okay. Life is full of inadequacies. Life is full of failure. We shouldn’t accept it, but we shouldn’t obsess about it, either. 

I came to the conclusion long ago that I wouldn’t ever be a master carpenter. I would love to fix plumbing and carpentry problems myself, but I just can’t. It isn’t a failure on my part, as much as HGTV and Bob Vila would make me think so. I could be the best teacher in all of Southern Illinois, but I wouldn’t be married for long. I wouldn’t have a family because I would spend all my free time consumed with the desire to be the best teacher I could possibly be. I’m a good teacher and that’s got to be good enough. 

I am Inadequate and that is just fine. I can’t possibly be perfect in all phases of life, but I can be the best person I can be. It might mean failing from time to time. It might mean admitting I can’t do something. But, getting up each day, aware of those failures and striving to overcome them is the goal. Being the best teacher…the best writer…the best father, brother, husband, son…all key to accepting my inadequacies and moving forward. 

When I go to bed each night, I take with me the failures and regrets of each day. I could have spent a few more minutes editing my book…writing a lesson plan…cooking supper…paying attention to my wife and children. What I do with that regret is to put it to bed with me and let it go. When I wake up the next day, that regret has slithered off into the hole it belongs in. I have enough regret and failures tomorrow. 

I am Inadequate. And that’s just fine.