Get Comfortable Being Different: A New Year’s Wish for 2020

Well, it’s that time again. Time to put another year to rest and look forward to the coming twelve months with hope and ambition. I know a lot of people for whom 2019 was a bad year and they’re anxious to deep-six it and move on. For me, 2019 was about the same as 2018 and the year before that…an equal mix of good and bad. I had plenty of challenges to face; I had enemies emerge who made up outrageous lies about me and tried to hurt me. (Spoiler alert: They failed in spectacular fashion, lol.) I had any number of high points as well. I turned 50 this year; the first male Merz to do so in generations. I’m pretty happy about that.

Inevitably, my social media feed is clogged with bold proclamations about the coming year and how folks are going to change in one way or another to accomplish this goal or that goal. And I always root for them – I want the people I know and care for to always be happy. It’s an unrealistic hope; life is never always up or always down, but being an optimist, I still want the best for the people I love.

However, if I could make one suggestion to everyone who is planning to make big moves in 2020, it would be this: before you start enacting that bold plan, before you start tomorrow by taking a huge bite out of the next dream; before you dive in because it’s “the thing to do,” do one thing first:

Get comfortable being different.

Because right now, as you plan your 2020, you’re doing what 90% of the rest of humanity is doing. All of you are making plans, setting goals, making resolutions. You’re part of the “we’re all in this together” mindset. And it’s a fun place to be, frankly. You’re surrounded (either literally or virtually) by swarms of people who want to change, do more, be more, etc. It’s almost like a community. The excitement is ramping up as the clock moves toward 2020. “We’re gonna do this!”

But here’s the simple truth: 95% of that 90% will not realize their dreams and goals for 2020.

Don’t get me wrong, for the first few days of the new year, you’ll have plenty of company on your quest for a better 2020. Your social media feed will be filled with posts about how things have changed. But as the month wears on, those posts will become less frequent. For one reason or another, the other members of your “new year community” will falter, they’ll fall by the wayside, and they’ll stop. Some of those reasons might be entirely in their control. Perhaps they simply don’t have the willpower necessary, or the endurance, to see their goals to fruition. Still others will stop because of circumstances outside of their control. Through no fault of theirs, things will happen and upset the schedule they had planned to follow. It happens. All of this happens.

But when it does, if you are one of the few who keeps going, you will now be different from everyone else who stopped.

And instead of being part of that “community,” you are now in the company of very few.

Perhaps you’re even alone.

Humans are naturally drawn to a hive mindset; we like being surrounded by people like us, who reinforce what we say, what we think, what we do. It’s comfortable; it’s easy. We know the territory; it feels like an old friend. And so we tend to stay there.

When you step outside of that, when you walk a path that few others walk, when you do things few others dare, then you are different. And unless you are comfortable with being so, you will experience a lot of heartache.

Some people will resent you for doing what they cannot; some people will hate you for having the ability to reach your goals; some people will be jealous of what they perceive to be an easier life than the one they have; and some will wish for your failure with all of their energy and intent.

Because you are different.

This has nothing to do with obvious factors like your sexuality, your gender, gender identity, race, or anything that is more physically apparent (side note: this is exactly why there is more that binds us in commonality than most people realize; the real differences between people aren’t any of the above – they are differences of mindset and attitude.)

It has everything to do with what you are prepared to do to accomplish your dreams and goals and ambitions – what you are willing to do to create the best possible truth in your own life.

Can you endure being different? Can you tolerate the passive-aggressive snipes that people make without necessarily even realizing they’re doing it? (Although there will definitely be malicious souls as well) Can you stand keeping your family and friends at arm’s length because their constant negativity affects you? Can you stand being an outcast? Can you put up with someone else being celebrated while you toil away in obscurity toward your goal? Can you quiet the voices inside you that question your decision to walk the path you’re on? Can you do all of this and more in the quest for what you really want?

If you cannot, then the likelihood is that you will fail in your resolutions. And that then sets up a vicious circle of disappointment that leads to resentment that leads to eventual hope that the future will be better. But nothing will ever change unless you have the ability to be different – and stay different.

This isn’t a one-off; you aren’t different until you accomplish a goal and then go back to being like everyone else. You stay different because you accomplish that goal and then realize others. Each goal you reach leads to others; the path is never-ending. And the challenges will always be there, no matter how many times you defeat them.

Being different isn’t for everyone, and that’s fine. But for those who want to make a change, then the time to understand the consequences of that is now, rather than later.

Go forward understanding what you are embarking upon; things don’t ever change unless you are willing to take bold steps, to dare where others will not; and to endure with every atom of your being until you reach what you aspire to reach.

And then?

Then you keep going, keep climbing, keep striving…because you are different.

And that is most definitely a good thing.

Happy New Year everyone!

The Myth of Motivation

One of the things that motivational speakers, self-help gurus, and ordinary well-meaning individuals always seem to espouse is this notion that motivation springs from a place of positivity.

But the simple truth is, motivation can come from anywhere. Good, bad, dark, light, a well-spring of happiness or a font of misery. Motivation can be all unicorns and rainbows or it can be the deepest, darkest part of your soul filled with rage and bitterness.

And problems arise when people hear only about it coming from the positive and thereby think that if they aren’t always happy or upbeat, there must be something wrong with them. That is not necessarily true. Although extended periods of darkness and depression can definitely be a sign that you may want to look into talking to someone, darkness – like light – can also be useful.

Imagine bumping into an old high school friend and they happen to look fit, trim, and happy. Maybe you’ve been slacking on the workout front so seeing them fills you with jealousy or resentment. Instead of tamping that down and chastising yourself for being “bad,” use it to motivate you to get back to your fitness regimen. Take the so-called “bad” and use it to create something “good.”

Frankly, as we’ve discussed before, negative energy is always easier to generate than positive. All biological systems left to their own devices without some form of discipline will naturally devolve into chaos. It’s always easier to go negative than positive, so if generating positive energy is too hard, i.e., “Brenda looks great! Good for her. I want to look like that, too, so I’ll get back to working out.” then simply use negative energy to drive you forward, i.e., “Ugh, That bitch looks good. I hate her for looking so good so I’m gonna show her. I’ll look even better once I start getting back to the gym.”

Using the negative to generate something positive is an intriguing idea that you can use in any area of your life.

The key to motivation is knowing how to handle it and direct it once you have it in-hand. Being truthful about where your motivation is coming from is also key. If you lie to yourself about its source, then that simply sets you up for failure. There will be plenty of times throughout the course of your life when anger motivates you to do something; resentment, jealousy, bitterness – all of these are inherent and natural aspects of our mood and spirit. True power comes from being honest with yourself and recognizing these aspects just as readily as you recognize all the positive: happiness, pride, joy, ecstasy, satisfaction, etc.

Too many self-help gurus like to only focus on the positive and for good reason: a lot of them have never been honest about admitting that humans are made up of every emotion on the entire spectrum, just not the happy go-lucky side. Denying one side in favor of the other is a recipe for disaster, because when those darker emotions hit, the person who has spent too much time denying them will be ill-prepared to deal with their presence and influence. Whereas someone who acknowledges the complexities of their entire psyche in an honest, forthright fashion will always have a better idea of how to deal with any and all aspects of their being.

Even when it seems like there is nothing within you to help motivate, there is always something. The key is simply acknowledging that some of the parts of yourself that society tells you not to employ, are, in fact, things you can use to help.

The Bakeneko: A Lawson Vampire Short Story by Jon F. Merz – Part Twenty-One

The Bakeneko: A Lawson Vampire Short Story
By Jon F. Merz

Part Twenty-One

I stood and looked over my shoulder at Higashi.  He shook his head, and then walked out on the verandah to light a cigarette.  I joined him.

“Giant cats,” he said after taking a long drag on the butt.

“The world is a crazy place.  Full of strange things.”

He blew out a trail of smoke.  “Cats in Japanese history…we’ve always believed they had magical abilities.  Split-tail cats, shape-shifting cats…you name it, we’ve got them embedded in our culture.  But I never thought I’d see it become a reality.”

“Maybe you could just write it up as something else.”

“Like what?”

I shrugged.  “A bear attack?”

Higashi eyed me.  “That would be lying.”

“Think of it more as keeping a secret that people don’t want to know about anyway.”

He took another drag on his cigarette.  “What about you?  What will you tell the parents of the Canadian man who was murdered?”

I looked out into the night.  The rain continued to fall.  “We understand bears back home a whole lot better than we understand shape-shifting cats.  It’s probably a lot easier to just let them think one thing over the other.”

Higashi nodded.  “That seems to be the case with a lot these days.”

“Oh?”

Higashi smiled and sucked on his cigarette.  “You’ll be leaving soon?”

“Nothing more for me to do here.”

Higashi finished his butt, turned, and shook my hand.  “In that case, it’s been a pleasure meeting you.  I’d better get back to the station and summon some help to get this cleaned up.”  He started to walk down the gravel path.  “Oh, by the way…”. He looked back at me.  “Be sure to say hello to your colleague.”

“My colleague?”

“Yes, the nice man from the Canadian embassy who came here two days ago.  Just before you arrived.  Mister Anderson, I think his name was.”  His smile deepened.  “But I’m sure you know all about him.  Don’t you, Lawson-san?”

I started to say something, but then Higashi merely waved, turned, and walked back down the path.  Back to his world.

And soon enough, I’d be back in mine.

THE END

Note: if you’ve enjoyed THE BAKENEKO, please be sure to check out the other Lawson adventures here!

©2019 All rights reserved

The Bakeneko: A Lawson Vampire Short Story by Jon F. Merz – Part Twenty

The Bakeneko: A Lawson Vampire Short Story
By Jon F. Merz

Part Twenty

I walked over to the white cat and squatted down next to it.It looked like Kiyoko had donned a cat Halloween costume.She looked up at me and smiled as blood ran from her mouth and stained her whiskers.

“Lawson-san.So…you see me as I am…at last.”

I nodded.“But I don’t know what you are.”

“And yet you don’t seem surprised.Perhaps…” Her voice trailed off as she tried to gather the strength.“Perhaps…you are more accustomed to oddities of nature than I thought?”

I glanced around.Higashi stood by the entrance of the house, surveying the scene, a look of disbelief on his face. 

I looked back at Kiyoko quickly and let my fangs extend for the briefest of moments before retracting them again.Her eyes widened and then she merely smiled.

“I wondered.”

I nodded.“I’ve seen many things but nothing like you.”

“We came from India through China and Korea many centuries ago.Japan offered us the isolation we needed.But our numbers have dwindled.Our birth rates plummeted.I never knew why.There are few of us left.The change only begins once you are older.In recent years, more of my kind started falling victim to psychotic episodes.Instead of growing into our abilities, they caused members of my race to lash out and start killing.”She looked over at the striped cat.“That is what befell Saigo.At first it was only blood that he craved.And then tonight…”Her voice trailed off.“Well, you saw the results of his handiwork.I tried to bargain with him.Help him.But he saw it as a threat and attacked me instead.”She glanced down.“And he did a marvelous job of ensuring I won’t live much longer.”

“What can I do?”

She smiled.“Let me die with dignity.I am old anyway…and should have shuffled along years ago.But I was kept here by my promise to look after Saigo.”

“What are you called?”

Kaibyo,” said Kiyoko.“And in the case of my family line, bakeneko…shapeshifters of the cat species.Maybe you’ve heard of werewolves?”

“Maybe.”

“We were always better,” she said with a smile and a sigh.“Now…at last, my time has come.Thank you for listening.”

A paw reached out and covered my hand.It felt warm to the touch and as I looked back up, Kiyoko’s eyes rolled back and she shifted completely into the form of a cat.I watched as her body shrank to half its size, amid the pool of blood and gore, her white fur stained a dark crimson brown.

She was gone.

Click here to go to Part Twenty-One!

©2019 All rights reserved

The Bakeneko: A Lawson Vampire Short Story by Jon F. Merz – Part Nineteen

The Bakeneko: A Lawson Vampire Short Story
By Jon F. Merz

Part Nineteen

As I approached, the light from within threw shadows up against the shoji screens and I paused in mid-step.  There was an image of one creature standing on its hind legs swiping at another creature also stood on its hind legs.

Not one cat.

But two.

I kicked my way through the front door and before me stood the two cats locked in battle.  They circled and swiped the air with vicious claws that looked like they could disembowel a man with one glancing blow.  The cat on the left was covered in white fur tinged with silver while the cat on the right was striped like a tiger.  It was also showing blood on its coat.  Was this the creature that I’d shot in the forest?

I didn’t have time to think because they leapt and crashed all around the house, tearing it apart completely.  Both of them snarled, swiped, and bit at the other.  Spittle and blood stained the air and every wall as the battle increased. 

And then striped cat caught the white one across its belly with a single horrible swipe.  The white cat fell away with a howl that made my ears cringe.

The striped cat then turned to me and hissed.  I saw a mouth full of fangs that dripped with blood.  Its eyes bore into mine and then it leapt right at me.

I fired.

And kept shooting until the magazine was empty and I heard the click of the hammer falling on an empty chamber. 

The striped cat sprawled on the floor, bleeding from all the gunshot wounds.  I watched as its lungs heaved and then finally stopped.

Click here to go to Part Twenty!

©2019 All rights reserved