The Saint of Augustine

The Saint of Augustine

I don’t care if people like me or if people think I’m wise

Writing is the only place that I can go without disguise

The ink that my quill writes with are the tears that pour down from my eyes

I pulled it’s feather from my wing because the other’s feather lies

Searching for a solace that’s serene is something that I seek

And I will fly and paint the sky until I find the things I speak

Unknown doorways open up revealing all that is unique

I soar through all the stars at night in wonder and such grand mystique

Home is here inside this world of words and all the things between

I once was lost but now am found by things I never thought I’d mean

Pen and pad are wed tonight under the Saint of Augustine

Kings are rarely righteous rulers when they’re left without a Queen

Mr. Puggle Fish

Quietly swimming, all alone

Through a sea of madness and blue

A tiny creature sighs to itself

And wishes it’s dreams would come true
“What’s wrong?” You might ask

“What makes this fish sad?”

“Oh why does this creature feel blue?”

It’s simple, my friend

This fish is alone

Just one, out looking for two
Struggling, searching, with tears in its eyes

The creature has only one wish

To someday be whole, to one day be loved

To find it a Miss Puggle Fish
“How sad!” You will say

“This cannot be so!”

“We must find a two to his one”

You’re right, I would add

So what do we do?

Oh what can be did or be done?
Well while he was swimming, just darting about

Our Puggle swam into a girl

Who stopped on the spot, and lovingly thought

“He’s cute, let’s give him a whirl”
“At last!” We all cheer

The fish has found love

He’s filled that small void in his soul

Alas, all my friends

This Puggle Fish tale

Illuminates life’s greatest goal

Brock Keckler: Full Interview

Millennials Making a Difference: Brock Keckler

What is a general description and title of what you do? 

I am the Marketing Director for the Edwards Porter Group Wealth Management. We do financial planning, investment strategies, retirement, 401k plans, life insurance, and estate planning.  My job is to help my firm be the premier financial institution in Wilson County.

What do you enjoy about your job?

Helping people with their financial future. Everyone has to start somewhere and its awesome to make an impact in people’s lives.

What things do you do/have you done to benefit the community?  

I am leading the MJYP [Mt. Juliet Young Professionals]. The Edwards Porter Group is extremely involved with local networking groups and events. We are always open to helping the community in any way.

What made you decide to chair the MJYP?

Joining this firm in my hometown, I wanted to find an additional avenue to help the city. The Young Professional population is growing exponentially in MJ and I want to be someone who gets them connected within the community. MJ is a special place to me and my family, so I want to do my part to help it succeed. As the city gets bigger, this group could be best professionals group in the mid-state.

What events does the MJYP have planned for 2017?

We have speakers lined up for the entire year along with some local tours and social events to promote networking. One thing we are focusing on is getting together at all of the local restaurants for some social time to get to know people outside of the business setting. New people and new connections are the foundation to our city and we look forward to all of the events we have planned for the year!

As always, I like to find out the “why” behind the “what”. Why do you enjoy the aforementioned career choices/extracurricular activities?

I worked for several years for a big corporation and I have seen what it takes to grow a business, and having the opportunity to grow an amazing  local company, in the city I grew up in, is a dream come true. I work with lifelong friendships, to people that just moved here, and I get to share my MJ experience with them. I enjoy playing golf, Basketball in our local rec leagues, and running the trails in providence.  My wife, Michelle, and I are expecting our first son, Carson, in the Spring.  We spend a lot of time at the local events and restaurants. We look forward to raising our family in Mj and helping this community flourish.

Did you enjoy this article? If so, please check out some of my other work at How the World Should Work

I Want to Play a Game

I’d like to try a thought experiment.

This might be weird; but just bear with me. You’ll need to pay very close attention to the things you’re about to read. More importantly, you’ll need to truly, truly, visualize and imagine what I’m going to say.

I want you to imagine yourself plugging your ears. Sound strange? Well it shouldn’t, because if you did it right you wouldn’t be able to hear it. Your ears are plugged, remember? Step one, imagine all the sound around you is gone. 

Step two. Think of the smells you’re experiencing. Then, imagine them going away. Close your nostrils if it helps. You can no longer smell.

Three. Cut your tongue out. Not literally! But imagine it disappearing into the same realm your other senses have traveled to. You can taste no more.

Four. You no longer feel anything. Your sense of touch is gone. Poof. Out the door. No more feel.

And last. Five. If you did it right, the only thing you have left….is this. You can see. You can read the words you’re reading right this very moment.

Now – close your eyes. Nothing. You should see, hear, smell, taste, feel….nothing. You should be nothing.

Okay, experiment over! If I had to guess, you’re probably thinking I’m a freaking nutcase right now. I, however, would say no; this is a thought process that has plagued me from the first time I considered it. I really, really want to know if there’s life after death. And no, I don’t want a feelgood story to make myself sleep better at night. I want to actually consider what really happens when we die. 

The above exercise is what I think about. Why don’t I remember anything before I was born? Seriously. Doesn’t this seem sort of obvious? When I was created, I gained the ability, through biological synapses and impulses that I won’t ever understand, to perceive reality. I was given hands, eyes, a nose, tongue, and so on to then be able to process the stimuli that is the universe. 

And you know what? When I’m dead, I bet I lose that ability to sense things. I bet I go right back to the blackness that was before I was born.

Now. Please. If there exists an individual who can tell me, in any logical manner why I should think otherwise, I’m begging you to do so. Because I’m going to be one hundred percent, completely real here: that scares the shit out of me. Wanna know why I quit insurance and write now? Well, here’s why folks. It doesn’t get any more real than this. I honestly believe that when I’m dead, that’s it. I don’t get another go around. So each and every second of my life, I want to make meaningful. And the worst part about this, believe me – the part that hurts the most, is thinking about Mom. That she may not be out there anymore. And that’s why I’m so torn, because the easy thing would be to say yeah of course she’s still there and so on. I really, really, can’t stand thinking this way. 

So. In summation. If someone can give me a rational, real explanation other than “faith” or “you just have to believe” or anything, please for the love of the ironic god I’m trying to find, tell me. 

That is all.

Dream Always

The last seventeen months of my life have been an absolute whirlwind.

Ever since my Mom passed away, I’ve been relentlessly committed to accomplishing my dream of becoming an author. To the point where I’ve honestly questioned my own sanity. 

Now, all this time later, I find myself so tantalizingly close to fulfilling that dream that I think I’m honestly getting a stomach ulcer. That’s not a joke by any stretch of the word; I’m dead serious.

I spoke to a literary agent today. I was fortunate enough to attend college with her and she responded to a message I’d sent. Our conversation was very encouraging. Basically, I need to gain a somewhat solid following before a big agent or publisher will market me. 

So if you happen to stumble upon this, I would vastly appreciate any support and honest feedback of my writing. 

Much love to you all. And never give up, whatever you want to do. Life is far too short. 

Here is the Amazon link to my book. It is also available if you search “Matt Shao” on Apple iBooks, Google Play, and barnesandnoble.com

Love & Loss: 10

They’re coming.

We don’t know when, but we know. The Germans are launching a counter offensive. We’ve been expecting this for weeks, as it’s crucial that we maintain control of the supply lines. Sicily is too valuable a target, and we should have known they would defend it to the very last man.

Our intelligence officer has intercepted a telegram that we are to be assaulted in the coming days.

My time in this war has given me so much perspective. Some of the things I’ve seen are nightmarishly horrific. Seeing the atrocious ways a human being can treat another human being when under the guise of war is the most terrifying observation I’ve had. This isn’t a world that anyone deserves. I feel the heaviest weight on my heart when I see a little girl be saved from debris, only to find her parents dead from shelling. I feel the weight of the farmers who are being forced to provide rations to the Nazis against their will.

It hurts to think about these things. I must protect Adalasia. That’s the only thing I can hold on to in this world of chaos. She gives me purpose. I love her for that.

Why am I fighting this war? That was a question searing in my head for the longest time. But now I know. I’m fighting this war to preserve the short glimmers of happiness that my Adalasia provides. It’s what were all fighting for.

I love her so much.

What do you care about? How to literally change everything.

I don’t know why what I’m about to tell you is the case. I can’t explain the strange, even eerie, shifts in my frame of mind that I’ve experienced recently. What I do know, however, is that what I’m about to type is 100% legitimate, real and deadly serious. This is not something I am making up.

I’ve put more thought into what life is all about than ever, as of late. I’ve questioned what my purpose is, and why I’m even here to begin with. Now, for some inexplicable reason, I think I know the answer to that most meaningful, profound question.

That answer is to change the world.

Now understandably, I assume your first reaction to that statement is the thought that this guy’s ego is out of hand, or perhaps that I need to get over myself. And a month ago, I would even agree. But something in my mind has changed. This isn’t even about me. Not at all. On the contrary, it’s about you. 

You see, I no longer care what people’s perception of me is anymore. Because I know, internally, that my only purpose is to make the world one that rewards good, and kindness. Before my Mom died, I admit that I don’t think I was a good person. I was selfish. But now, I know better. My priorities have changed, and I can now consider myself good. And that assured self-awareness completely shields me from having to concern myself with others’ opinion of me. I know who I am. And ultimately, that’s really all that matters. Because caring about people caring about what people think of you are two very different things. 

Anyway, back to changing the world. I doubt anyone would disagree that we live in very corrupt, evil times. So many of the people at the top of society are manipulative, ego-driven monsters that will literally do anything to fuel their status and power. And the ironic part of this is that we have allowed these people to dominate because in all honesty, they’re basically smarter and played their pieces with ingenuous precision.

Now here’s the part that I’m going to try really, really hard to articulate in a way that people understand, because its an extremely deep rooted thought.

We literally have to change our entire value systems if the world is ever going to change. 

Now what do I mean by that? I mean that all of those corrupt people, all of those incredibly smart psychopaths who lack remorse and empathy, have risen to the top because they are playing the game we have created. We have created a society in which money, materials, and otherwise needless luxuries is the key to being perceived as successful. Think about that. The reason people manipulate and deceive is to climb above the rest and appeal to their ego. These people will always exist. They will never go away.

So we have to change the rules. We have to act, behave, and truly believe that real self-worth and happiness is ones ability to be compassionate. To be good. That has to become the currency for how big ones ego can be. After all, these people only desire to be better than others. So if being better means you donated more to charity, or helped the most people, or acted most ethically, then these people will do those things simply because the more they do, the more respected and powerful they will become. After all, why do oil companies, or big pharma, or corporate industries, or anyone for that matter do the things they do? They do it for money. If they couldn’t get rich by doing those things, they wouldn’t do them. They do it because they know people value money, and those with the most money are viewed at as the best. Thus, they do whatever it takes to obtain more of it.

Simply put, we have to control and direct the actions of these people into something that betters the world. Which, funny as it may be since these people think they’re smarter than everyone, is basically outsmarting them and getting them to do what we want – not vice versa like it currently stands today. 

We have to change things, folks. We have to change ourselves, and stop judging people by money, or possessions, or power. We have to all start valuing benevolence, so if you’re truly better than someone, all it means is that you’re a better person and less selfish than they are. Once we change our ways of thinking, it’ll be a fight to who’s the kindest…not the richest.

I really, really hope people get my point here. Because there is nothing in this universe I care more about than making the world a better place, and I will do absolutely whatever it takes to do that. And I think most will understand what I said. I just hope it sparks action. Because the change we all want has to begin with us.

Good & Evil: Chapter 27

I’ve done it.

I’ve been called the Office of the Overseers.They intend to evaluate me for the first Refiling ever. This is my chance. This is my opportunity to return to Estellla. The others have told me how misguided it was to conform to their system, to show appreciation for the hardened conditions we are put under. But I have resisted. I have maintained my strength. My Love. The desire to share my life with that of Estella.I have made history. And I’ve done it for the heart of my one true love. I knew I was capable. I knew it. I just had to persevere. I had to be patient. Now, all my work and sacrifice has paid off. I have controlled my inner thoughts to fool the technology of the Overseers. Now I can take my place on the Right, which has been justifiably earned.

I have outsmarted them, and it is a grand feeling. Tomorrow cannot come too soon.

Good & Evil: Chapter 25

I’ve decided to go through with the wedding ceremony. With Donovan.

Father tells me that there is no better match for me. That Donovan is in a highly respected position, and is of Pure thought. And while that may be so, I dearly miss my Mikal. They continue to tell me that he misled me, that he only wanted to control me, but I cannot cleanse him from my mind. Mikal and I were friends. We loved one another dearly. I remember, as a child, imagining the day when we would join hands in our own wedding ceremonies. 

But now that image is gone. I am left with but one option; that of Donovan. He is a sweet boy, and there are no doubts to his intentions. But there is so much missing, so much more that I long for that my Mikal could provide. We had adventures! We took risks. Walks, runs. There was no obstacle we could not overcome. Until the Filing. That awful Filing.

Oh, Mikal…how I miss you.

Good & Evil: Chapter 23

He came into my office again today.  

This Mikal, I am sure we have failed him. His attitude deviates so much from that of his peers. He displays behaviors clearly indicative of one who should have been Filed Right. Upon entering, he promptly informed me that the quartermaster of his block was not rationing food properly. At first, I was admittedly tired of the accusation as I assumed it was a ploy to obtain more rations. But what struck me was the fact that once leveled, he was afforded less than before, were he not to bring the mishap to my attention. 

Why did he do this? The commissarie’s oversight was to his benefit. There was nothing to be gained for his exposure of this error. It is most puzzling. I find myself tempted to submit a revaluation request to this ward’s Governor. I believe our system has failed us, and if we are to accept this society in which we live, we must act when we see egregious errors such as this. 

There is much to consider.

Good & Evil: Chapter 19

Pain. It’s all I feel. It’s the only thing that keeps me going in this life of Left. Every day I wonder what Estella is doing. Every day I yearn to convince the Overseers that my mind is pure. But how can I? How can I, when they say they have the tools to look into my thoughts? To measure chemicals and observe reactions. It’s a system I cannot overcome. How can they possibly know what I think? Their faith in this technology will be my undoing.

And yet I cannot concede. My life has but one purpose; I must be with my Estella. My love for her shall never cease. I must find a way to break the chains that bind me, to free myself from this lifetime of servitude.

And so I shall.

Good & Evil: Chapter 18

Oh, Estella.

They’re funny things, these journals. The goal was to obtain the unfiltered thoughts of what’s going on in the heads of individuals. What resulted is a treasure trove of deep seeded, unabridged thought. It really helped those pulling the strings, as being able to purloin entries at will gave them a very accurate picture of public perception. 

But it’s the gray area that I’m most concerned with. Why does Estella think Mikal is evil simply for being deceptive? After all, he only wants to return to a life with the one person he truly loves. Is his manipulation indicative of malice? I think not. Sure, misleading others to obtain things we want is an unavoidable component of the human condition that many people frown upon – but in this case, he just wants a life with his love.

Is that evil?

What is this World?

What is this world? This Earth have we

Spinning around, chaotically

I often gaze through tear-dropped eyes

Those bright sparkling lights dotting our skies

 
Wondering if there’s order above

Justice, hope, worlds filled with love

Returning my gaze to all this around

The hatred, the malice, war with no sound

 
Listening to silence, watching as we

Destroy and degrade this “land of the free”

What is this world? What has become?

I ponder it often, my mind becomes numb

 
Around every corner, there’s fear and there’s pain

Children are orphaned, families slain

All in the name of profit and greed

Power they want, compassion they need

 
What is this world? Will it ever be changed?

The death and destruction, so cold and deranged

When will we realize this must not go on?

The hurt and the torture, from dusk until dawn

 
Innocents dying, assailants unknown

Miles away, just guiding a drone

Detached from life, it’s realities

No cause for concern, just more refugees

 
I long for the day we all rise above

We all coalesce, we all join in love

What is this world? We mustn’t let go

What is this world? I shall never know

Continuity – The Most Complex Simple Question I’ve Been Asked

So this morning I spoke to a screenwriter about my story. In my quest to eventually have an adaptation created for viewers (since who reads evidently) these conversations, I hope, will happen more frequently in the near future. After today, though, I realize how much that even I don’t know about my own narrative.

This became evident to me after one of the first questions I was asked – “what is your story about?”

Its perhaps the most fundamental, simple question one should ask. Yet, simple as it may be, becomes so complex the more I think about it. What is my book about? When I wrote it, my head was an absolute tornado in the wake of my mom’s passing. I poured my thoughts on existentialism, religion, society, and morality into the manuscript. So many strong, deep convictions exist in me in regard to these topics. But there are more down to Earth themes in the book as well. Take my protagonist, for example. I wanted to tell a story of his progression in regard to his character – how he, over time, slowly transforms from a somewhat shallow, surface-encounter person into a strongly sentimental, sensitive and compassionate human.

Its also a love story. Not in the traditional sense, mind you. I wanted to use the romance arch to illustrate the finite nature of our existence. Throughout the story, there is a sort of impending doom in the near future for the characters. My goal was to use this to create an elevated sense of urgency, leading to them squeezing as much out of life as possible – which I hope explains how quickly Carson and Jennifer fall for each other. The Catalyst, the rock set to end humanity, creates hysteria – but ironically provides a certain degree of liberation at the same time. Emotions become elevated with the knowledge that tomorrow may never come. More importantly, all of the day to day fuss that we get so caught up on completely vanish, as the focus turns to making the most of the time we have.

I wanted to use this “end-of-world” scenario to provide a reason why the characters experience such vast shifts in their priorities and values. After all, how often do people truly think and put time into what really, really matters in life? Aren’t we all guilty of going through the motions more often than not? More importantly: why? Why do so many people so easily lose sight of the things in their lives that are most vital for a purposeful existence?

I can admit that I often overthink things. Its something that has both helped and hindered me throughout life. In hindsight, if that screenwriter were to ask me that very same question right now, my answer would be simple and concise.

Continuity is about having a purpose in life. Its about happiness, love, morality, and meaning. Its about being good.

Nothing more.

The Pursuit of Happiness

The title of this post is one with which we’re all familiar. After all, that’s what life is about, right?

We work, we grind, we sacrifice, and we compromise – all with the intention of reaching a point where we can sit back, relax, and say “it was all worth it.”

But do we ever really obtain that goal? Will any of us ever truly be able to come up for air and be content with the position we’ve reached in life? Personally, I have absolutely no idea. That said, I would argue that there’s a certain intrigue and appreciation to the uncertainty – and it makes the journey that much more exciting.

Having aspirations and things to work toward provides a sense of purpose for what is an otherwise chaotic and seemingly random existence, in my humble opinion. We spend so much time asking ourselves what the meaning of all this could be – what are we supposed to do with these lives of ours? Ultimately, I think the answer to that existential question is simple: achieve happiness. Everything we do in life should essentially contribute to creating a fulfilling, happy existence.

I think we lose sight of this far too often. At least I know I certainly do. We get so caught up in day to day stresses and expectations that we focus more on that than we do our own happiness. When I experience these kinds of things – financial pressure, relationship problems, career deadlines – I try to constantly remind myself of the bigger picture. Is it really worth the anxiety? Are these life obstacles more important than my own happiness? Frankly, no – they aren’t. And when I successfully remind myself of this, my focus returns to its right track and my conscience rests in a calm, relaxing solace.

Sadly, and this is something I mention a lot in my writing, but I never thought of things this way until my mother passed away. Death, as the saying goes, changes you. Losing a cherished friend or relative can impact you in a way that no other experience could. I’ve no doubt that many of you can attest to this – that total shift in priorities, personal values, and beliefs. I wish it hadn’t taken the loss of my mother for me to finally realize this, but I’m grateful she had that impact on me nonetheless. It both saddens and inspires me that even in death, she was my most powerful influence.

I end with this: anytime you find yourself in a rut, having a bad day, or feel like you’re drowning in worldly struggles; try to remind yourself of what’s truly relevant in life. Focus on the things that generate happiness.

A positive mentality can change your world, if only you let it.

Choices

Life can seem like many different things at various points throughout our journey. Oftentimes we view it as a randomized collection of chaotic events over which we have little to no control. Other times, when things seem to be going our way, life appears to be a beast that we have worked hard to tame; one of which who’s reigns we think we hold a firm grip.

In my experience, both situations hold true. While personally I don’t believe anyone will ever have true, total control over their life, there is no doubt one thing  which I’m confident is the case.

Our lives play out as the result of a never ending chain of choices. Our happiness, sadness, celebrations, regret, and remorse are all triggered by one or more choices which we ourselves have made. Every smile, every frown, and everything in between is rooted firmly in our choice to respond a particular way to the events of our lives.

Despite how difficult it can be at times, I try to constantly remind myself of this. I fight to maintain awareness that my life is ultimately what I make it – and that my reactions to the tough things thrown my way are completely under my control.

My mental fortitude has strayed as of late, betraying me and my usual peace of mind. I’ve let it cloud my focus on priorities and goals. Knowing this is the first step to overcoming it.

For any who read this, always understand that you control your life. Don’t let things you have no influence over affect your pursuit of happiness – something we all deserve.

Purpose 

In my quest to promote my book, I have to keep something in mind. There was one very specific reason as to why I wrote it.

My original goal was to build my mom a library. After speaking with the city manager of the town which I’m from, I learned that our local library was already dedicated to someone. So he had a different idea. 

That idea was to create a reading sanctuary, where people could temporarily escape the real world and immerse themselves in literature.

There was a reasoning behind this. You see, my mom had two very limiting ailments. COPD, and rhemeutoid arthritis. Both of these things made it very difficult for her to get around. So, appropriately, reading was her avenue of entertainment. 

This is why I enjoy writing so much. Because I know, no matter what situation you’re in, that reading gives you an escape from the reality we experience day to day. And sometimes, we need that. We need an outlet to let our imaginations fly and flitter wherever they want to go.

Reading was my mom’s release. She loved it more than anything. It didn’t hurt, she didn’t have to move around, and it was something she could enjoy and experience without any pain whatsoever. 

That’s my tool, moving forward. Watching how much her world was changed through reading is the exact reason I care so much about writing. The written word really can affect lives. I myself can attest to that, because I witnessed my mother’s reality over the last few years of her life be influenced by simple, written words. 

And that’s why I will continue to promote my book, until I have the means to create this reading sanctuary for her. A small, quiet building with her name on it. That’s what I want to build. Because she deserves it.

I miss you, Mom. More than anything in the world. And I promise I’m going to get this done for you.