Promises

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I sometimes find myself getting annoyed with my fellow drivers who roll through stop signs as if they were optional. Even after I tell myself not to take it personal it’s hard to let go of the idea that they are putting people’s safety at risk.

When I was seventeen years old two friends and I planned to go camping and target shooting in the wilds north of Victorville. I had graduated from Lawndale High School when I was sixteen but my two friends were still students at Villa Park High School. The night before we were to leave on our Spring Break camping trip a group of us decided to go to the drive-in in Huntington Beach to catch a long forgotten movie in my pickup truck. My friends were all in the bed of the truck while I drove to the drive-in and where I would back into the last row of the theater where all the pickups and vans got parked. The oldest of us was twenty-one and while I was still parking he pulled a six-pack from his duffel bag and opened a beer. Even before I was out of the cab we were descended upon by two undercover Huntington Beach police officers. To make a long story short we were all arrested, placed overnight in a drunk tank, and released the following morning, that is all but the twenty-one year old who had possession of the beer and the only one drinking.

Once I paid the fifty dollars to get my pickup out of the impound my two friends and I were on our way to my favorite camping spot in a secluded canyon north of Victorville. I rolled through a stop sign and onto a lonely country highway and was immediately pursued by a Highway Patrolman who came out of nowhere.

I rolled down the window and expected the worst but instead was greeted by the saddest face on that Officer. He explained to me that what I had done was known as a California Stop. He further told the three of us that earlier that morning, at the very same stop sign, a man had rolled through but had failed to take notice of the oncoming eighteen-wheeler who was unable to stop in time. In the resulting collision the man, his wife, and their three children were all killed. We had already noticed and commented on the debris from what must have been a terrible collision and so of course we believed him without question.

In a completely unexpected turn the Highway Patrolman said that if I were to give him my word of honor that I would never do another California Stop and be vigilant with my traffic checks he would not write me a ticket. I did, and then we shook hands and went our separate ways. Forty-three years later I still keep that promise and I suppose that may have something to do with why I get annoyed.

Drive safely and live long.


For news about my novels as well as access to free stories and poems please visit my growing website at: www.samuelthomasnichols.com.

Tragedy & Creativity

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I usually do not have difficulty with my writing once I sit down to do it. That is, until a tragedy beset our family and the import of it has left me emotionally drained. I had been working on revising the draft of my novel entitled Tears in the Morning when the news reached me that two very close members of my extended family have been arrested for that crime most foul – in the vein of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.

When I was in graduate school my master’s thesis was titled: The Creative Process: An Organizational Perspective. I spent a lot of time reading about creativity from a wide range of interdisciplinary perspectives including; management, sociobiology, anthropology, psychology, sociology, biology, ethnology, and more. I was after all a social science major with a degree in anthropology, which included a behavioral science minor that emphasized the psychology and sociology of deviance. And so, after pursuing a second bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and transferring into an MBA program I simply wanted to look at creativity from the perspective of someone tasked with the management of the Creative Process within an organization.

One of my primary conclusions was that the Creative Process was manageable inside of an organization. The one thing I did not address with any great depth in my thesis was the management of creativity within the individual contributor or to what extent individual creativity can be hindered. And, as it appears, creativity may be stifled by many different factors including all sorts of emotional trauma including things like grief, post traumatic stress syndrome, depression, fear, and rejection, just to name a few.

Grief is a significant part of my novel The Seventh Stage and is also a theme within the novel mentioned earlier: Tears in the Morning. It is something I have dealt with too often and it is something that simply cannot be escaped from in a natural world wherein the direct consequence of birth is death. What a cruel jester is this thing we call life.

I have been dealing with this for several days and I have been studying it once again with the eye of a researcher but this time I am my own subject. So, can the Creative Process be managed within the individual? The conclusion of my less than scientific process is: Yes, it can, but it has to come from deep within. My father was fond of the old adage that went something like: “A real man sometimes has to pull himself up by his own bootstraps.” Which, I think is to say, that you need to find that place where the creative spark still burns and lift it out from under all of the trauma and let it shine.

I think also that ingrained habits may have something to do with being able to manage your own Creative Process. I have been writing significantly and creatively now for about eight years. Novels, plays, musical compositions and songs, stories, poetry, and finally blogs. It now seems easier to return back to these endeavors since they have become a habit. When I first got the news I was stunned and did not seem to know how to continue with my writing. After two days I forced myself to sit at my piano and play some favorite 70’s songs. Then I followed that with my guitar and a selection of hits from the 60’s and 70’s. Today I sat at my computer and wrote this.

Life is notorious for throwing us spitballs. We never know when they’re coming or whether we’ll fly out or hit them back for a base hit. I think my latest spitball hit me in the shoulder and I took the walk. At least I’m back on base now.

Rock Climbing

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When I was all of thirteen my cousin, her boyfriend, and I went rock climbing in the Santa Monica Mountains. At one particular gap I decided to cross by leaping over rather than struggling the long way around. Unfortunately, from my perspective, due the manner in which the light and shadows played off the ledge below, I did not perceive the unevenness of the shelf. I leapt and landed with my weight entirely on my left foot, which caused it to twist painfully. I was unable to put any weight on the sprained ankle and my companions were not able to support or carry me so the two of them went for help thereby leaving me alone on the mountainside.

I do not recall how long I had been left alone before I heard the most terrifying scream. I turned in the direction of the scream and saw that I had been joined by a Mountain Lion who stood seven or eight feet above me on another ledge. I immediately thought I was a goner as the two of us eyed each other. It seemed like an eternity, but in reality was probably less then a minute, the Mountain Lion apparently decided I was neither a threat or lunch because it turned away and left.

It did not take anytime at all for me to decide to do the exact same thing, which for me was to turn and crawl down that mountainside before my new acquaintance had a change of mind and decided I might just be lunch after all.

I met my cousin, her boyfriend, and the posse of rescuers at the bottom near the parking lot where the car was parked. I was promptly scolded for not waiting and taking such a risky chance. After they sufficiently got over their disappointment at not being able to rescue me I told them about my encounter with the Mountain Lion and the fear that gave me the incentive to crawl down. I think they were all a little bit jealous of my up close and personal encounter with one of the Santa Monica Mountains shy but magnificent residents.

I do not like to be afraid and I do not put myself into fearful situations, like roller coasters and horror films. However, I would not exchange that terrifying encounter with the Mountain Lion, for when the fear dissolves into awe it is truly an amazing experience.

Remembering Rachel Joy Scott

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Rachel Joy Scott

This morning I was researching nonfiction reading materials to use with our high school curriculum in the spirit of the Common Core Standards when I happened across a sidebar that indicated Susan Klebold received a book deal to write a memoir regarding her experiences following the Columbine Tragedy. I can well imagine how difficult a process this will be for her to go back in time in order to recount what had to have been the most painful experience of her life but the first thing that came to mind for me was that now iconic image of Rachel Joy Scott sitting peacefully upon a boulder beside a lake in a purple blouse and blue jeans.

The Columbine Tragedy took place more than fifteen years ago and yet if often seems as if only days have passed by and even 9/11 sometimes seems to pale beside the horror of those two troubled boys turning their wrath and weapons upon their classmates, some of whom they once called friends.

One of the more touching books I have read was Rachel’s Tears and I continue to refuse to part with it. It was a book I stumbled upon many years ago in a Deseret Industries Thrift Store and it truly served to personalize the Tragedy of April 20, 1999.

I have been troubled with the stance that some of my A Course in Miracles friends take when they insist that all of the bad that goes on out there is only an illusion that we have manufactured in our ego consciousness and means nothing at all. I don’t buy it.

Now I understand that we human beings have a limit to our perceptions and, as such, can never truly appreciate the true and complete nature of anything but that doesn’t mean the out there is illusory. Yes it’s true that we may not see it all but what we sense is real and the pain and suffering of our sisters, brothers, and cousins around this planet of ours is as real as Rachel’s disbelief when Eric walked to where she was sitting and shot her dead.

Rachel Joy Scott inspired a legacy and I have had the good fortune to experience several of the Rachel’s Challenge assemblies, both as a teacher and as a private citizen, and found them to be truly inspiring events. In this small way Rachel lives on.

In his poem A Refusal to Mourn the Death, By Fire, Of a Child in London Dylan Thomas concludes with the line: After the first death, there is no other. That line has been a cryptic puzzle for me for sometime and I have tried many times to reason what Thomas meant by it. Now this is a poem that comes to mind whenever the memory of Rachel intrudes and, for some reason, I have subconsciously connected London’s daughter with Columbine’s daughter and it’s likely because Rachel was the first to die on that black Tuesday.

I returned to work after the distraction but my mind wouldn’t let it go and I later recalled that Rachel had developed some strong Christian convictions and it occurred to me how Thomas’s last line might apply to Rachel and that is: After the first death there is the resurrection and eternal life and, if there really is a happily ever after, I believe Rachel has earned her place in it.

Shelly’s Dream

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Shelly's Dream - Cover - 50

Shelly Pearson was secretly in love with and wanted more from her best friend. But, he was married and she was shy, and so nothing happened until one day she discovered a courageous risk-taking side of herself that she had never before known. Enabled by her newfound strength she pursued him and found his love. She was at the zenith of her young life until she discovered that the very thing, which gave her the greatest joy, was also the beginning of her worst nightmare.

 


I am proud to announce that my novel Shelly’s Dream will be available the first of October. It has been a long yet satisfying journey. I am using CreateSpace as the publisher and the novel will be available from the CreateSpace Store as well as from Amazon. Information on Shelly’s Dream, as well as my other novels, is available on my website at: samuelthomasnichols.com.

Appearances

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The other morning, as my wife and I were leaving our over fifty-five community, we were stopped by Ken who let us know that some of the residents were upset that we were allowed into the mobile home park. No, it wasn’t because we threw wild parties, played loud music, or drove much faster than the ten-mile-per-hour speed limit. No, it was because we were clearly not fifty-five and older. My wife and I laughed as Ken explained there was only one real vocal person expressing his discontent. He also explained that the man is quite the complainer anyway.

The truth of it is I will turn sixty on the 21st of this month and my wife is now fifty-five. Both of us were blessed with the genetics that kept us on the youthful side of aging. Both of us were carded well into our thirties and I angered a coworker a while back when he discovered that I was actually five years older than him. He had believed it was the other way around.

Appearances – we’ve all heard it: Don’t judge a book by its cover, and yet, judging people based on their appearances is still a widespread problem. Be it racial profiling or just plain profiling people have been maimed and killed over our little differences let alone hurt or embarrassed. I was in a restaurant this week and two businessmen were talking about some women in the office. You know the tripe; one’s cute and he wants to know her better but the other one is just plain ugly. I just want to scream when I hear that kind of talk but I keep quiet and remember a line from one of my favorite philosophers: Andy Warhol, who once commented that: “If everyone isn’t beautiful then no one is.” I was trained to see the world as an anthropologist but I have also learned to view the world as an artist and I do my best to see the beauty in all things.

The world I am a part of seems to have developed more tolerance for diversity. A whole generation of tattoos and piercings that had people upset hardly seem to turn an eye anymore. The length or color of one’s hair, their gender, their orientation, their ethnicity, and their spiritual preferences are more acceptable. I say the world that I am a part of because I know these advances are not happening everywhere but, like John Lennon, I like to Imagine that maybe some day they may.

Imagine all the people.

Mountain Dreaming

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I grew up on the South End of the Santa Monica Bay, near the Palos Verdes Peninsula and with a view of the Santa Monica and San Gabriel Mountains. The allure of the distant peaks permeated my childhood but I was not to visit them and spend some time getting to know them until my first Boy Scout Summer Camp in August of 1965. The Scout Master of Troop 97 allowed me to don a Boy Scout Uniform a few days early because I would not turn eleven until the middle of that Camping Trip.

In the Summer of 1965 we still gathered firewood from within the forests of the Lake Arrowhead Boy Scout Camps and I was even sent out with an ax to cut wood from the fallen trees. We’ve learned since then that these are not necessarily healthy forest management practices but they seemed perfectly natural at the time.

There would be a second Summer Camp in August of 1967 and a few years later, once I had my motorcycle, there would be numerous day trips up into the mountains. Then more years later, as a father and an uncle, their would be trips to Santa’s Village and to Mt. Baldy so the little ones could play in the snow. Then, in the late 1980’s, I went to work in Greeneville, Tennessee. The inhabitants of the area referred to themselves as Mountain Folk and had a pleasant, kind of laid back and unhurried, life style. I remember an interview with Park Overall, one of Greeneville’s own, in which she spoke quite fondly of her Mountain upbringing. And so, after nearly a year of two weeks there for every week home, often with my wife who worked on the same software development project, we made a decision to move up into the mountains and reset all of our clocks to Mountain Time.

We lived in Running Springs from 1989 to 1997 and continue to miss that lifestyle. It was a number of events and circumstances that made us decide to leave our mountain home for the foothills where we will still see snow once or twice a year when the snowline falls below four-thousand feet.

We just returned from a short visit to the mountains on the occasion of our 26th Wedding Anniversary. It was something we did for our 25th as well and each time I am reacquainted with that old home sickness for Mountain Folk, Mountain Time, and Mountain Hospitality. I would like to think that perhaps someday we will be able to afford a small cabin where we could spend our summers exploring our creative aspects like writing, composing, and painting. Let’s just call it my Mountain Dream.

Missionaries

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Several years ago two young women visited me from Utah on a lazy Saturday afternoon. I had finished my morning chores, showered, and then sat down on the couch with a glass of wine to keep me company while I was reading when the doorbell rang. The spokeswoman for the pair asked if they could come in and talk to me about their Mormon faith and to present me with a copy of The Book of Mormon. As my son and daughter were in their bedrooms I acquiesced and permitted them inside.

I asked if they minded if I sipped upon my wine while we talked and they insured me that it was perfectly fine and we entered into a back-and-forth discussion of their faith and my own particular spiritual bent. Even though, I explained, that I attended church with my family, was a youth group leader, and had spent five years as the Board President, I had never considered myself a religious man although I do consider myself a spiritual one.

I listened to the young women and they listened to me and we genuinely respected each other’s beliefs and could see the value in them. There was once a time when I had trouble with three tenets of the Mormon faith but they demonstrated the value of two of those leaving me issue with only one, which is their idea that the Latter Day Saints practice the one and only true religion. I always figured if there was an infinite God then there must be an infinite number of paths that lead to Him/Her/It.

One of the two young missionaries hailed from Ogden and the other from Salt Lake City continued to visit me once a month or so for the remainder of the Southern California Mission and we spent many pleasant hours learning about each other’s beliefs. They were quite happy to learn that I had visited Palmyra while on a business trip to Rochester, toured the facility there, and was shown the spot where Joseph Smith was said to have retrieved the Golden Plates. They were also pleased to know that I had also been to Joseph Smith’s home in Salt Lake City while on a business trip there.

On their last visit to see me they said their mission was over and they were returning home and that other missionaries would visit me. It was a bittersweet farewell, as if I was seeing old friends for the very last time. I had, after all, truly enjoyed their company, our discussions, and our explorations into faith. Blame the anthropologist in me for being so interested in other’s beliefs.

We said goodbye and sometime later two young men stopped by on a Saturday afternoon. The spokesman for the two introduced them and that asked: “Are we ever going to convince you to visit our church.” When I replied in the negative they said I would not be visited again and left.

I still have The Book of Mormon the young women had presented me with a personalized inscription on the inside directing me to some passages they believed to be of particular import. I read those passages along with others and rarely I’ll pick it up and read a little bit but the truth is I may never finish it, although I should so I can better understand the faith of coworkers, neighbors, and friends although I don’ t know how much of a difference it would make. I suspect very little.

I will always treasure the memories of the two inquisitive young missionaries and of lazy Saturday afternoon discussions and of the fact that we could follow different paths and maintain a relationship that was not only pleasant but also one of mutual respect. It’s something I think our shrinking world could use a little more of.

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