Monthly Archives: July 2011

Why We Don’t Need To Be Forgiven

(Warning: you probably don’t want to read this if you often find yourself disagreeing with people who don’t consider scripture a legitimate source reference)

I don’t know when it happened, but when I was very young I became determined that no matter what I did, good or bad, or what the results might be, I would never regret a single choice I made. The idea of regret seemed a lot like a scapegoat–like guilt.

The logic is something like this: “If you feel bad enough, or regret it enough, it will earn you (some kind of) forgiveness.” There are two things wrong with that statement: 1) It’s not true, remorse doesn’t earn forgiveness, but 2) Who says we need to be forgiven?

The idea of requiring forgiveness is something that is deeply embedded in our own lacking sense of self-worth and -empowerment, and a long-standing belief that whatever divinity exists is outside of ourselves, and therefore Greater and Better than us. But what is divinity besides unconditional love? If God really hangs out judging us 24/7, he’s not much better than the people who bullied you in high school because you didn’t have the right brand logo on your t-shirt.

A human’s life is inherently a selfish, self-centered, self-obsessed existence. We cannot be or know other than ourselves, and even the most selfless person sifts all decisions and actions and musings through the filter of their own mind and identity, even in countries less individualistic than the US. It’s an inescapable thing, and it’s a thing that makes us all forever seperate, forever alone. < /emo-ness>

But the good news from this is that we always do what is best for ourselves, even when we think we’re being self-sacrificing. That might seem counter-intuitive, but think about it: why on earth would anyone sacrifice him or herself if she gained absolutely nothing from it? (I think there was an episode of Friends about this) I can selflessly work from dawn till dusk for the betterment of my family, my friends, my world, but ultimately my motivation is not the betterment of another, but of myself, because I am made happy by some convoluted idea that my actions are more meaningful than their output because I’m demonstrating devotion to others, or God, or a reward in my afterlife/reincarnation. (In theory. I’m not actually much of a martyr. I like to give, but by that I mean I like to buy people gifts, or bake them things, or throw parties for them, or give my books away for free… I’m not one for toiling, though)

THE POINT BEING we cannot be selfless. Everything, everything we do, we do because we believe we will be happier at some point for having done so. And everything we want, we want because we believe having it will make us happy.

At the root of every action is the desire for happiness. Nothing wrong with that. Even if you think your desire is to hurt another, it is only because you think that hurting them will make you happy (and I have news for you, it won’t, and even serial killers and psychopaths who claim it does are only experiencing a temporary relief of their consistent feeling of helplessness by taking an action that puts them in a vague position of power, but that is not happiness).

So why regret? Why do we ever think we require forgiveness, from others or ourselves?

Here’s the thing about life: It’s one-way. We can look back, but we can’t go back. Would you–could you have chosen differently? Because you obviously made the choice that you thought was best, even if it was a “weak” moment. You yelled at your kids because you wanted to get your point across, not because you’re a terrible father. You had one too many drinks probably because you were feeling good and wanted to feel even better. You ate that chocolate bar because you thought the sensory satisfaction would be a happiness worth sabotaging your diet for. You slept with someone because it seemed right in the moment, it made you feel free, and wanted.

There’s nothing wrong with any of those decisions. There are a lot of things attached to those decisions, and a lot of things we can learn from making them, or seeing other people make them. But to regret them? So you woke up with a hangover, or your kids were mad, or you didn’t lose weight, or you feel like a slut (or not, everyone is different–just use protection!). Realizing you might have made a “poor” decision is part of the learning process of life, and doesn’t mean we have to mentally (or physically) flog ourselves in reparation for “mistakes,” or “sins,” or “weaknesses.” And why not? Because guilt and punishment doesn’t change or solve anything. You might have murdered someone, but no amount of guilt or regret will change that fact, and forgiveness from yourself or others certainly does not.

But beyond all of the psychology of motivation, id vs. ego, etc., is this: if there is a god? It is unconditional love. And unconditional love means that forgiveness is inherent, so inherent that it will never judge us in the fist place.

Life is not about feeling terrible about the past, but about loving now, and finding ways to make now better. And by focusing our energy in that way, we pave a path for a better future.

(The irony of realizing all of this? It makes it that much easier to forgive everyone.)

Robot Pony

“Robot Pony” is a short story I wrote after hearing a strange song on a Canadian radio station that involved space-age toys and was played entirely on a thumb piano.

I hope you like it.

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If you have any comments or feedback, please contact me using the tab to the left! Enjoy!

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ROBOT PONY

Amanda didn’t want another stupid doll for Christmas. She had too many dolls as it was— hundreds, maybe thousands, each with their own pair of un-seeing eyes that stared at her from their perch on her shelves or from inside of her toy chests or peeking out from her closet. And she never played with them— had never even asked for them for that matter. They were eerie, unnatural things that did nothing to stimulate any latent motherly tendencies hidden in the nooks of her heart.

Still, year after year, the dolls poured into her bedroom as unwelcome guests that she shoved farther and farther back into the recesses of her wardrobe. It was simply assumed that, because she was a young and proper girl, she would want to play with dolls. How plain— how ignorant the adults could be.

What she really wanted, and what she had asked for and prayed for and begged for and wished for all year long, was a pony. There was no excuse not to give it to her. They had the land, the space, and the money. Her family could not hide those facts from her— not with the clothes they wore and the food they ate, and the gadgets her father brought home from work to play with: new readers, pocket computers, wireless technology surpassing all that had come before. People on the streets would pay thousands of credits for those things, and her father handed them out to his children all year long as if they were nothing more than tin soldiers.

Her little sister Jennifer loved the strange gadgets their father gave them. It was all she ever asked for at Christmas, those new technological wonders that no one at school would have until late in the year. And father always came through for her. He always got Jenn what she wanted for Christmas, but never Amanda. It was always dolls for her. Boring, annoying, scary, robotic dolls with eyes that blinked and mouths that spoke. Why on earth would anyone want such terrifying mimicries of life?

So, for the past year she had made it very clear that she wanted a pony for Christmas. And here it was, Christmas morning, and there they all were, with a pile of sparkling gifts wrapped before them in ribbons of silver and gold. She did not see a pony.

And later, while Jenn was rolling in glee through a mass of shredded paper and bows, playing with some new game that sounded horrifically violent, Amanda’s parents pointed her in the direction of one last box, hidden behind the tree. It was rather large, and for a moment her heart contemplated skipping a beat, wondering if perhaps, inside, there was a leather saddle— or riding gear— or something to prove that there was a stable and pony being brought to their yard at that very moment.

She tore the wrapping from the box, paper crumpling beneath her frenzied hands as a fire burned in her eyes… A fire that was quickly extinguished when she realized what it was.

There was a picture of a pony on the box, and the picture looked as real as life. It was a picture of the pony that was inside the box, in mechanical bits and programmable pieces. It was just another doll.

“Not a doll,” her father explained, pointing to the diagrams on the back. “It’s a pony. A robot pony. You can ride it, and brush it. But it doesn’t need a stable, and it doesn’t need to be fed.”

The horror of such an unnatural thing, an incomprehensible, unfair imitation of her simple Christmas wish, made Amanda burst into tears and run up the stairs to her bedroom. She was inconsolable.

But Jenn tore her eyes away from her new things, and saw the box. She looked it over with glee and offered: “I can put it together for her. We’ll see if she doesn’t change her mind when she sees it come to life.”

#

Amanda didn’t change her mind. Even when all of its robot organs and robot limbs were in place, and it was covered with fake skin and nylon, dapple gray fur, and it was flicking its tail and following her around the room with its bold brown eyes, she wanted nothing to do with it. “You can have it, sister. It is an abomination,” she sobbed, hand to forehead, and quitted the room immediately.

Jenn quite liked the robot, though. It was soft and interesting, and smelled so real. And, it seemed to have become fond of her, if robots could become fond of their owners. She read the manual from front to back, and tried pushing all kinds of buttons on the control panel hidden beneath the fur on the pony’s chest. There was a second control panel hidden on the back of its neck, for when you are riding, but Jenn did not feel like riding. She felt like learning.

“What shall I call you?” she asked.

The pony tilted its head in a smooth imitation of life. “Whatever you wish, Mistress.”

Jenn frowned. “I wish to call you by your name. Do you not have one?”

“Not until I am given one, Mistress.”

“Call me Jenn, please.”

“Yes, Jenn.”

Jenn stroked her chin as she had often seen her father do while deep in thought. “I think I will name you Po. Because I like it. Do you like it?”

“I like it, if you like it, Jenn.”

“Po.”

“Jenn.”

Jenn smiled and laughed. “I like you very much.”

“And I like you, Jenn.”

And from then on, they were friends.

#

The ponies were a big hit that Christmas, an expensive gift for the child who has everything (except a real pony). But real ponies were not practical— they required too much care for the demographic that generally asked for one, and had no real use in the world that Jenn and Amanda lived in. They lived in a world of technology, where everything was automated and digitized and operated on wavelengths and wires. There were robots for farming, robots for cleaning, robots for plowing the streets after snow and robots for cleaning the air around factories. And at their father’s company, they figured there might as well be robots for pets as well.

Amanda immediately regretted letting her little sister have Po when she realized that all of her friends had robot ponies now, and enjoyed riding them around their manicured gardens together. She couldn’t join them when they went on expeditions to the corner market or through the woods. She was invited once or twice for pony-drawn sleigh rides, but those only happened every so often.

“I want it back,” she tried one day, a sharpness in her voice that let Jenn know she was prepared to fight for what she wanted.

Jenn had grown very attached to Po by then, and would have hated to give him up completely. But she loved her sister, and could not refuse her. “We can share him, Amanda. You can have him today, and I shall have him tomorrow.”

Po whinnied his consent, for he was programmed to always be quite amicable.

“Fine,” Amanda rolled her eyes. “Show me how to use him.”

Jenn pursed her lips. It was uncomfortable to hear her sister refer to time spent with Po as “using him.” But was it uncomfortable because it was wrong, or because it was true?

Po learned from Jenn to speak softly and with animation, especially when they read from books on adventure and peril. Sometimes they curled up together at night on the floor of Jenn’s bedroom, and she would fall asleep against Po’s hide, listening to the whir of the gears in his heart, talking about all the different things she wanted to be when she grew up. Po wondered if he could grow up at all. They walked together in the snow, and took turns reading stories, and theorized about the origins of stars. But that did not mean Jenn was not using him.

With Amanda, it was different. Po was a slave to her more than anything else. She rode him with her friends, and never bothered to brush him down or clean him when his fur became caked with mud or wet with slush and snow. She left him outdoors with the other ponies when she and her friends came inside for hot chocolate, and though robots were not said to be able to feel cold other than through their thermostats, Jenn did not like the idea.

“Watch this!” Meredith called out to her friends one day, riding strong and fast on her pony’s back. Her name was Sugar, and she was black as night. They galloped across the yard and in a single, swift leap, Sugar took Meredith all the way over the fence.

The other girls clapped and cheered, and Amanda, feeling that her pony should be able to do all that and more, pried open the top control panel with her gloved fingers and wondered at the buttons staring up at her.

“How do I do that, Po?” she asked the pony quietly.

“I’m sure I cannot tell you, Mistress,” Po replied, for Amanda had never given him permission to use her name.

“Silly thing,” she spat, and tested a few buttons.

Before she knew it, the horse was racing across the yard and Amanda was clinging to the reins for dear life. She punched the buttons furiously, screaming bloody murder, until Po came to an abrupt stop and she somersaulted over his head, landing on her back in a snow bank.

Po looked down at her with dead eyes, and whirred as his circuit board shut down.

The other girls laughed and pointed. Amanda, stifling her tears, growled “I hate you!” at the robot pony, before jumping to her feet and running home.

#

Jenn came with her father later that night to bring Po home. Together they reset his programming, and he came back to life. Po seemed happy to see Jenn.

“How was your day?” Jenn asked.

“My memory recall is imperfect, Jenn. I spent it with Mistress Amanda, is that correct?”

“You did. I think she mashed up your control board.” Jenn smirked and whispered. “She probably won’t be taking you away from me for some time.”

“I am delighted, Jenn.” Po whinnied. He pawed at the ground with his stainless steel hoof in a pre-programmed display of joy. There were no pre-programmed displays of unhappiness in that line of ponies.

Jenn spent the long winter with her friend, and together they enjoyed many adventures through the overcast, snowy days. They explored the woods behind Jenn’s home, and fought imaginary villains hiding in snow drifts. They raced the other neighborhood girls and their robot ponies, and with Jenn’s gentle urging and tender caresses, Po always won in the face of the other girls’ shouting and kicking. Po’s eyes were always brighter after a race, Jenn thought. In fact, the other ponies often looked quite dejected, if it was even possible for a robot to show emotion in its eyes.

Together they safely explored the streets of Jenn’s village, saying hello to the grown-ups she recognized in their cars as they passed. She went to the grocer for her mother, and he would give her two extra sweets, one for Jenn “and one for Po,” he said with a wink.

Po would thank him, and give it to his friend instead.

When winter melted into spring and small bright flowers began to burst from the thawing earth, Po and Jenn clip-clopped through the neighborhood together to meet and greet her other friends, many of which had recently returned from their winter homes.

“Oh Jenn, whatever are you doing with that toy?” Bethany wondered when the two of them came calling. “My oldest sister got one for Christmas, and she had to send it to be melted down. Those things are dangerous, and not to mention so last year.”

“Po isn’t dangerous, are you, Po?” Jenn insisted, looking up at her friend from her place beside him.

“No, Jenn. I’m your friend. Friends are kind.” Po cocked his head.

The gesture was eerily human. Bethany shrank back. “Well what are you going to do, Jenn? You will look silly with that pony now. No one has kept on with theirs. And in the Fall we will be starting junior high— you won’t be able to walk around with a toy pony then. And what about when he finally breaks down? Will you cry? It’s not as if he is alive, you know.”

Jenn flushed under the pressure of these remarks and gripped Po’s mane. He whinnied, short and low, and it almost seemed to Jenn as if he was sad.

“I won’t give you up,” Jenn told him on their way home, her hand laid safely on Po’s thick neck. “Maybe I can’t bring you around so much when I’m older, but I can still have you at home.”

Po took a moment before he responded. When he did, his voice was modulated to an unusually soft volume. “Do not worry about me, Jenn. I am only a toy.”

“Only a toy?” Jenn repeated. She supposed, if she set her imagination and her heart aside, that was true. But such could be said for anything when the heart is set aside: a mother is just a caregiver; a lover is just a body; a friend is just a way to pass the time.

“Oh, Po, I do not believe that, even for a second.” Jenn had made up her mind.

“But you must,” Po replied evenly, but too soon after she had spoken, telling of his own distress.

“Po?”

“I am a machine, Jenn. And machines cannot be like that which is alive.”

Jenn’s cheeks flushed. She didn’t like this, not at all. Had he taken Bethany’s words to heart? “Don’t you enjoy being my friend, Po?”

“I do.”

“And I enjoy your friendship. How can I think of you as a toy when we are so clearly friends?” She stroked Po’s mane.

Po could not find the correct words with which to respond. He whinnied instead.

#

The days wore on, warming by degrees to bring their small village out from under the muddy, frosty heel of March. Po had become quiet after the encounter with Bethany, but sometimes, in moments of mirth with his beloved Jenn, he would forget his contemplations and remember what it was to be among the living. But his computer brain was too fast to be out-thought, and inevitably his logic caught up and overran his emotion. He knew he was not living. And no matter how much he felt he loved Jenn, and knew that she loved him, Po could not ignore the fact that it was only a matter of time before his circuits failed, or his hard drive crashed, and he abandoned Jenn forever.

He did not want her to hurt when that day came.

But day after day they heard rumors of other robot ponies, ponies who threw their owners and were sent to be melted down, and ponies who were left to themselves after their mistresses and masters had grown weary of them, falling into a stupor before their hydraulic limbs squealed and locked, freezing up forever while their circuit boards fizzled and died. It sounded to Jenn that they had died of broken hearts— but to everyone else, they were just defective.

 

#

When Jenn and Po came home one afternoon that spring, her father was waiting for her with her mother.

“Jenn, we need to speak to you about Po,” father said, hat in hand.

Jenn did not like the look on his face— at once pained and firm, the face of a father who knows that his decision is what’s best, and that’s all the solace he may have for some time.

She left Po in the atrium with a gentle stroke of his nose, and walked into the drawing room where a fire was burning the last of the winter chill from the house. Her father stood by the mantle; mother rested in a chair, hands folded in her lap, smiling absent-mindedly.

“Yes, father?” Jenn ventured, clasping her hands before her.

“It’s about Po,” Father began. “As you know, the robot ponies that came from our factory this year were the first of their kind.”

Jenn nodded.

“Well, there seem to be some kinks to work out,” he continued. “There have been too many reports of the ponies breaking down, or throwing their owners, or turning on them. I’m afraid my company has no choice but to recall the ponies.”

Jenn’s heart didn’t sink, as she had read hearts were wont to do at the revelation of a great disappointment. Instead, it seemed to swell, to fill her chest until she could hardly breathe.

“But,” she gasped. “But, father, Po has done no such thing!”

“Sweetheart—” her mother tried, revealing her position as damage control.

“Po has never been anything but gentle,” Jenn went on. “The only time he reared was after Amanda smashed his control panel, and you can’t blame him for that, he was only following the orders she input. Oh please, father, please!”

“I’m sorry, Jenn,” Father said. There was true compassion in his voice, but there was also a sternness that Jenn knew meant she could not argue him down. “Go on, you still have today. Tomorrow I will have to take him back to the lab.” The firelight cast grim shadows over his features as he frowned. He hated to see his daughters cry.

Jenn rushed out of the drawing room in tears. She grabbed Po’s reins and he followed her, out the back door, into their yard, into the woods, down to the creek, swollen and rushing with melted snow that cut them off from the woods.

Po wanted to nuzzle his friend, to cheer her up in any way he could. But it would only make things worse, he knew. So instead, he stood cold and aloof while she buried her face in his hide and bawled.

“Oh, Po,” Jenn sobbed. “It’s not fair, it’s not fair!”

“Do not cry, Mistress,” Po replied.

Jenn sniffled, and looked up. “Mistress?” she wondered.

“I am only a toy,” he went on. “And you will be a young lady soon, with no need for such a thing as me.”

Jenn shook her head. “No, it’s not true, Po!”

“I am mechanical, robotic, computerized. I have been shaped by engineers, programmed for many things: to be kind, to please, to preserve myself. But the engineers say my programming is flawed, and I need to be destroyed. It is just like any of the gadgets your father has brought home, only to return later.”

Jenn’s lower lip quivered, and she stepped away from Po, towards the creek. “No,” she whispered. “You can’t mean that.” She frowned. “Do you mean to say that these past months you have not been my friend? That you were only following your programming?”

Po’s programming refused to let him lie, but his logic card knew that a robot could not feel friendship. “I have not been your friend, Mistress. I have been your robot. I am sorry if I have confused you.”

Jenn took another step back, closer to the water. “Don’t say that, Po,” she murmured, heartbroken.

“I am sorry, Mistress.”

Jenn closed her eyes, tears leaking despite the fact, and moved to rub her eyes and turn away. But she did not see where she was stepping, and suddenly she found herself falling backwards into the icy water.

Po stared at Jenn, watched her slip and tumble into the creek, watched the water slosh up around her, and swallow her into its depths. Power surged through his circuits and he fully intended to dive in to save her, but for a moment he was frozen.

His programmers had designed him to preserve himself, and submersion in water would certainly be his end. But his end was coming either way, was it not? And so would Jenn’s, if he did not do something to stop it.

Something warm and swift flew through Po, as if the gears in his heart had burst into flames, and the blaze had caught in his circuits. The safety mechanism programmed to protect him from inflicting harm to himself dissolved in the heat of his intention, and Po jolted forward. He leapt, and plunked into the creek nearly twenty feet down from where they had stood, sinking like a rock.

Jenn collided with Po as the creek tried to drag her downstream. She clung to him, small fingers wrapping around his soggy mane. Po reached around with his massive head and bit her jacket, picking her up with his tremendous jaws, and put her on his back where she would be safe from the current. She was shaking wildly, shivering with cold and fear and the weightlessness of adrenaline trying to force her mind from her body, but she managed to lock her arms around Po’s neck as he climbed out of the creek and back onto dry land.

When the rushing sound of water was no longer filling their ears, a new sound had come to fill the space: the hissing and popping of Po’s circuits as water mixed with electrical input and began to fry his circuit boards. Jenn climbed down and looked him in the face.

“Po?” she asked.

Yesss,” he replied. His voice was tinny and… robotic.

“You saved me,” she said. “A toy would not have saved me.”

Po cocked his head.

“Please, tell me the truth,” Jenn begged, shivering terribly. Her lips were blue, and her brown hair hung in strings plastered to her pale, pale face. “Tell me if our friendship was real.”

Po’s eyes flared and went out. He could no longer see his friend, and his joints and gears were losing power. His memory was crackling, blackening, turning to fragments. He did not remember who he was, or what she was, or what it meant to be real. He did not know what he would have said even if he could have mustered enough power to his sound cards before his motherboard fizzled out forever.

But what he did say was: “Jenn.”

 

~*~

If you enjoyed this work, please consider leaving a review on ROBOT PONY’s Goodreads.com page, or donating what you think it’s worth with the button below :)

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Announcing my new short story ROBOT PONY

The jist:

When her older sister doesn’t get the kind of pony she asked for on Christmas morning, Jenn and her father assemble the rejected gift that soon becomes one of Jenn’s best friends: a robotic pony named Po.

But when their friendship is threatened by a factory recall of the robot ponies, Po has to decide how he wants his friend to remember him: by shrugging off the loss of a defective toy, or by grieving the death of a true friend…

Read it here for FREE

Download the eBook here for free, or set-your-own-price

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(Can I just say? I’m really proud of this cover. I think I might be more impressed with my cover design skills than my writing in this case. Wait, no, forget I said that, that’s my crazy inner-editor talking XP)

Turning Water to DNA

So here is one of these personal entries that I share with the public, presumably because I have some buried tendancy towards emotional exhibitionism, or because, as the youngest of my family, I’m acting off of a long-established understanding-through-experience that most people don’t pay attention to things that I say, so whatever I post here is likely not to be read. (Jk, jk!)

Anyway. Some of you might know about this, and now the rest of you will too: for Christmas 2010 my brothers and I got something I refer to as the LLHB. That stands for our Long-Lost Half Brother. Yup. Dad laid it out for us, how it went down years before he knew our mother, how she’s known too–don’t worry–, and how he finally tracked the kid down. “Kid” meaning 36-year-old successful tattoo artist in San Diego.

So, needless to say, this is a Big Deal. It takes some time to digest. There were a lot of questions, a lot of “dang, I guess if I ever have a secret I know who I can tell.” And also a lot of “Well, why is this a big deal?” Why does it matter if there is another person out there half-comprised of my father’s DNA? A big part of the shock was that, well, my family is as nuclear as it gets, and I just would have never expected this from my father. It makes you wonder, makes you look back, makes you imagine the turmoil he must have felt all these years looking for his son, wondering what his other kids and the world would think if they knew…

But meanwhile, here we are now, and I have an older half brother that I’ve emailed a little bit with, skyped with once. And on Friday, I’m going to meet him face-to-face.

So, yeah, big deals all aside, let’s get back to that awkward question of “Why does it matter?” Because here’s the thing: you can’t pick your relatives, but you do create your family. My family hasn’t always gotten along well, but we made an effort because we’d shared a lifetime together, and we had that familial bond thing going on. But this new guy is just DNA.

I don’t say this to be cold. I’m excited to meet him, and for the potential of a cool new family member. But I’m nervous, I guess, about not getting along with him. Sounds silly, I know. But meeting someone who is going to be a part of our lives in one way or another for years to come–someone who we will potentially be sharing my father’s love with (to be dramatic)–is kind of important.

So what is family? Is it the people you share DNA with? Is it the people you share your life with? Is it the people that you, for some reason, think are worth making an effort to get along with and stay in touch with? Is family the people who will be there for you when every one else deserts you? Or is it something else? When do people stop being just related to you, and actually become family?

These are some thinky thoughts, people. Very thinky thoughts. In the meantime, I’m going to try to take things lightly, and hope we have a great time this weekend. If anything, it’s just another kind of adventure.

Independence Day

For those of you in the US, you know that Independence Day is coming up on July 4th, this coming Monday. Historically, that’s the day we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the day we rose up as a people and cried out for our freedom from the British crown and over-taxation, and declared ourselves, well, independent. If you’ve taken American History you know that our first few tries at independence didn’t go so well. We were a disorganized lump of idealism, trying to rise from the ashes of a broken system to create something better, something new. The Articles of Confederation got us through the American Revolution (the part of History class that made me feel briefly patriotic), but ultimately were too weak, too loose to be the foundation of a great nation. And so it was replaced with The Constitution, which even today stands as one of the most forward-thinking, progressive blueprints for a government that ever was.

How can we relate this to our own creativity and dreams? Many Americans, and citizens of the world for that matter, are once again enslaved to a distant ruler. We are physically and mentally overtaxed by our unsatisfying work that produces a yield of less value than the things we put into it: our precious time, energy, and attention. And why? Because we need money, and we’re afraid to not have it. Because we want things, and need things, and we’re afraid of being unable to get them. Because we’re afraid that if we don’t do things The Way They Are Done we will probably fail, and not have money, and not be able to live.

Essentially, we allow ourselves to be enslaved because we are afraid of what will happen if we try to be free.

Look at it this way: do you love your job? If you do, then this post isn’t for you. But the overwhelming majority of Americans hate their jobs, and dread going to work each day. So what would drive you to give 40+ hours a week to it? And if you could choose a career, acknowledging that in our economy we do need money to survive, what would you choose? Why haven’t you chosen it already?

Probably because you are afraid you won’t succeed.

I’m not saying to quit your day job and become a painter, or an actor, or a screenwriter. I’m saying that, if you love those things, then you should do them, and become them. When people ask me what I do, I don’t say “I’m a pharmaceutical teledetailer who gets paid a mediocre wage to repeat the same thing 125+ times a day.” (Yes that is a sad truth, I know.) I tell them “I’m a writer. I’ve decided to self publish, and I’m working on building an audience, learning about marketing, etc. In the meantime, I have a day job that pays the bills…”

Am I afraid I won’t succeed? Honestly, no. Because at this point, it doesn’t matter. I’m happy just being able to put my books out there–a handful of years ago it wasn’t so easy. But I do have faith that over time I will make enough from writing and publishing my books that I’ll be able to quit my day job and write full time.

The fact that self publishing has become so easy is a testament to the American desire for freedom–there was a demand, and the market created a service. Sound too patriotic for you? While a lot of our clamoring and blustering for our freedom often comes out across as “freedom at the expense and oppression of others,” in the arts it is rarely so. In the arts, all we want is to make it easier for us to get what we need to produce our vision, be it supplies (paint, fabric, etc.), innovations (digital video and photography, word processing programs), market accessibility (Etsy, Smashwords), or services (Createspace, Lulu etc.). And, yes, would like to be able to turn enough of a profit from our work so that we can survive on it, if not prosper.

Sound familiar? As a writer, we’ve recognized that our art is trying to succeed in an industry motivated by capitalism (publishing is a business, no one will ever deny that), in an over-structured and restrictive system, where our work is judged by distant publishing royalty. So, a lot of use have declared our independence.

The day I decided to self publish? It wasn’t a rash decision. I’d tried my hand at the traditional route, and was sick of people telling me that they loved what I’d written, but didn’t know who would publish it. And I’d looked at self publishing, years ago, and found it was too much to take on as it was. But then things changed–with the advent and rise of ebooks, print-on-demand, and the overwhelming market share of Amazon.com, self published authors were not only turning a profit but making a living, becoming bestsellers, and often finding their way into the major publishing houses because of their success online.

So I’m not a pioneer. I’m not naturally fearless. But I trust my gut, and I trust that a self-determined career is the right path for me, and I trust that I can find success and happiness along that path, despite what a lot of people might say. But do you know what’s interesting? Some of my biggest supporters aren’t people in my field, or even my peers–they are older men and women, people who think what I’m doing is brave, and inspiring, given their many years tied to their own jobs that have been tolerable, but creatively unsatisfying.

We each have our own level of comfort, our own pace at which we can move forward with attaining our goals. Independence isn’t about setting a deadline or quitting your job and investing all your money in one venture. It’s not about packing up and moving halfway across the world. It’s about taking the first step, maybe the first few steps, in the direction of your dreams, and beginning to pave the way for the future you desire. It’s not about fearlessness, but about confidence–enough confidence to decide that happiness, even the possibility of happiness and a full, satisfying life, is worth it to you to face your fears, and cast them aside.

These first steps are often small, but they are powerful. And the day that you declare your indepence, your right to your own pursuit of happiness, is one that you will remember year after year.

What steps can you take this weekend to move closer to your own personal freedom? Take them. Declare your freedom.