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Don't Put Me In That Writer's Trap

Please don’t put me in this trap. This “black author” trap. This is no way disrespecting either side, and I hate that we’re still living in an age where I have to mention this, but this is where we are so it must be said. Yes I am black. Yes I am a writer and an author. But NO this doesn’t mean that my books need to be about some kind of racial issue that myself or other black people have faced in the past or are currently facing.

I don’t want to write about those things. If you are one of my readers and you’re of colour and want to read about slavery, black struggle, or some kind of racism or marginalization, I can refer you to some amazing books or literature.

But you’re not going to get that from me. Of course those stories are significant. Their significant to history and to our present culture. I would never dispute that and I don’t think anyone else would either.

But my stories are my stories. They are based on what inspires me, what moves me, what calls me to write. My stories are and will be about culture and characters within that culture that endure real world shit. That can be anything, not just “black” things.

I’ve just heard that question time and time again. People ask me if my first novella “Thoughts of a Fractured Soul,” is about race. They ask if the novel I’m working on now will touch on race.

NO! NO! NO! In fact, my first book doesn’t even mention the race of any of the main characters. And the manuscript I’m working on now is taking that same path. I’m just not interested in telling those stories and guess what, IT’S MY CHOICE.

So again, just please don’t try to lead me to that trap. I’m a writer, and artist, and I am and will always express myself through my words however I want to. All artists regardless of colour should have the freedom to do the same.

#HistoryOrNothing

image by David

 

Me First

Yea, just like that. Me first. Selfish, yes. Necessary, unfortunately it is sometimes. And that doesn’t make it any easier for someone like me who has a hard time saying no to people I care about. I remember years ago, before I was a full time writer, telling my girlfriend at the time that she’s going to have to make a decision. I told her that my time, effort, and energy will be primarily on building my career, and that wasn’t going to change until those career goals were reached.

If you’ve read all of my posts, you know how that ends. And I don’t blame her at all for eventually leaving. But now that I’ve gotten to phase one of my career, I guess it’s only normal to wonder if the sacrifice was worth it.

To be honest, even in my weakest moments I say yes it was worth it. In my strongest moments I say I had no choice. But that’s not true. I did have a choice, and I made it. And she made hers.

Was I selfish? Is it possible to make a “me first” decision without being thought of as selfish? Either within your own mind or by everyone around you?

My mom retired on January 1st of this year. I threw her a retirement party and invited all of her friends. Near the end of the night, I asked some of them to come say a few words.

They all had their own special and unique experiences with my mom, but one message was consistent among everyone. And that was how giving my mom had been to each of them. How she had sacrificed in some small way to better their lives.

And when they spoke that night, each of them told her it’s her turn to now be selfish. To live her life in retirement for herself.

After over 40 years of giving, they gave her a pass to be selfish.

I guess it’s one of the characteristics of me being a Millennial that I don’t want to wait that long to get a selfish pass. I live my life the way I want to live it right now. And I’m working everyday to keep creating my ultimate vision of how I want my life to be.

“At what cost” is probably one of the first questions that comes to mind. And the closer I get to that dream life, the more I realize the parallel between sacrifice and success. So as you see me grow, see me write more books, see my fan base expand, know that I gave up a lot along the way.

#PassionAndPaper

Read "Thoughts of a Fractured Soul." 

What a Great Time to Be Young and Creative

  What an amazing day. I couldn’t be more thankful. A group of high school students from two different art schools came together to celebrate their work towards my Beauty Scars Book Cover contest.

First off, ALL of the submissions were incredible. All of them are still up on my website so head over to the Beauty Scars tab and take a look. You’ll be just as impressed as I was with these pieces.

And all from high school students!! Young, enthusiastic, gifted art students who created these cover images with very limited information. Yet they worked with what they were given, and over a six week period were able to design images that in some way match the theme of my story. They did this with no certainty of anything other than the opportunity to be part of my future novel.

But that’s art right. Creating without promise of any appreciation, or monetary gain, or even without the guarantee that it will ever be seen. Artists dedicate their lives to ideas, and bringing those ideas to life. For many, the accomplishment from that alone is enough to nurture their souls. I have to thank 50 of these souls for being so willing to put their work up for ridicule. The excitement inside of Artscape was electric.

I still remember starting my own writing journey. I was so confident in my abilities, and even as feelings of doubt, fear, and hesitance emerged, I was still able to endure and put out a high quality, creative piece of fiction. I'd go as far as to say that it was the fear that partially motivated me. There was no way I was going to let it win! 

I’m still very much on that journey, enjoying each and every step. This was a good day!

#PassionAndPaper

#HistoryOrNothing

Read my fictional novella “Thoughts of a Fractured Soul.”  

(Image shot by Robert Young)

Pain Doesn't Change Anything

15 is when I first lost someone close to me, stabbed 7 times in his own apartment building. I got a phone call from my cousin at 5:00 in the morning, and when he broke the news it was like I couldn’t breath. I remember thinking that the pain from having our friend taken from us would change everything. That everyone close to him would change their ways, that they would realize that nothing positive comes from their lifestyle, only death. But after a few blunts and even more rounds of dark rum, everything went back to how it was before; everyone went back to how they were before. Nothing changed.

That lesson always stuck with me, though I’m not sure how well I’ve practiced what I learned so many years back. Fast forward to a few weeks ago and I’m laying in a hospital bed, two bags of morphine being pumped through my veins. Another bout with migraines, a condition I’ve suffered with since I was 16. It happens only once a year, but lasts for about a month each time, and every time I go see my doctor he tells me that something needs to change.

This go round was the worst, like the absolute worst, and when I could finally open my eyes, the doctor looked at me and said, “Kern, you need to rest your brain, you need to feed your brain, you need to hydrate your brain. Something needs to change.”

16 years of going through this year after year, and it took being hospitalized for a day for me to finally accept that sleeping four hours a night and working and partying the rest of the time isn’t going to work. I needed to change.

What I’m getting at is that pain doesn’t actually change anything. Only extreme pain does. 15 years of yearly migraine pain didn’t force me to change my lifestyle, one time laying on that bed not able to move is what’s finally getting me to sleep 6 hours a night (getting closer to Thriving, Arianna). Having a friend murdered not change anyone around him, is the same mindset that keeps people in marriages for years and years even though their partner treats them like shit. Being treated like shit just isn’t enough pain to make the change from marriage to starting a new life on their own.

It’s like being an addict. Change only happens when you reach bottom, when you’re at your absolute lowest and literally can’t deal with the pain anymore. Similarly, I think success is achieved in the same way. You don’t truly begin the sustained road to success till you feel that burning pain, that hospital bed, hate my life, hate my wife/husband, need something to be different or I’m going to die kind of pain. Once you experience that level of pain in your current life, then and only then does the urgency to change become real.

I’m happy to say that I’ve reached that pain point. That hunger for ultimate success was always there, but I had to figure out how to balance it out so it doesn’t kill me before I’m able to fully realize and enjoy it. It took a few years and some drugs through the bloodstream, but hopefully you all can learn from me when I say it shouldn’t take nearly that much.    

#PassionAndPaper

Purchase your copy of Thoughts of a Fractured Soul here.

Let Success Be Your New Life

I'm blessed to have some intelligent friends around me who can hold some truly insightful conversations. The convo I'm talking about this time, though, was short, simple, and sent in the form of a text you see in the feature picture. If you notice the time on that message it's almost 2:00am, so it's like my friend had a sudden epiphany. We've had a few conversations about this in person after his message, and debated the validity of this statement. I mean, is that what "ultimate" success takes? Does it truly take sacrificing your entire life? If you read the end of his message, he actually gives very specific examples of how he's had to change his life if he wants to stay on the path he's currently on.

"Missing family engagement parties and bachelor parties and barbecues. Cuz you gotta focus on basketball or workouts or work or meetings."

For my friend, those other things take precedence in his life right now. More precedence than engagement or bachelor parties or anywhere else he's been invited. I think what get's scary for most people, like the vast majority of people, is that if they sustain that level of focus, that level of discipline, will it all work out the way they want?

That's the struggle, isn't it. You actually don't know everything is going to go your way. You don't know if working overtime is actually going to get you that promotion, or if you quit your job and start your own business that it will actually be successful. And the next question you ask yourself is just how long will you have to put in all this work before you get the payoff?

Oh now we're getting somewhere. We're all willing to put in the work if we knew for sure it will lead to something better. But only the people who are "ultimately" successful put in the work already KNOWING it will lead to something better, and with the understanding that the journey is part of the payoff.

Tough pill to swallow, tough lesson to learn. Hard to move forward without security, right? Without some kind of assurance. But it goes back to the title of this article: Are you willing to let success be your new life?

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#PassionAndPaper

 

 

Just A Millennial Looking for Validation

I’ve had some really amazing conversations this week. Some have been 3 hour marathons on multiple subjects, others have been simple text messages that have sparked powerful realizations. The one conversation that has stayed with me centered around my friend asking me to verbalize in one word why I do what I do. Essentially, why do I write. After dancing around the question and talking about how I want to touch as many people with my words as possible, and impact lives blah blah blah, he turned to me and said “one word, Kern. Scream it.”

I looked at him and said I want to “impress.”

He nodded his head and chuckled. “I sense some need for validation, Kern. Am I right?”

I thought about it for a while and up till now still haven’t responded. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how right he is. I can’t escape being a Millennial and in fact embrace it to the fullest. But when I think about many of my friends or people I know who rather take photos than work retail, or live with their parents so they can build their freelance careers. When I think of all of the amazing Millennials I have met through social media who have a voice or are looking to be heard, I have to say that we are a generation who more than anything are looking for validation.

And no I haven’t done any case studies or conducted any research polls. But I interact with my generation every day. I see them moving from job to job till what they do actually matters, I read their blogs and follow their posts on social media and hear them all screaming their own "one word." I can feel their emotions when they don’t want to settle for this now mythical 9-5 lifestyle.

Through the criticisms of laziness, self entitlement, being overly ambitious, all we want is validation. We want to know that people are taking notice of what we do and that what we do actually matters. That we actually matter.

When I think of myself, I want to be considered one of the best writers of this generation. Yes I want to touch as many people as I can with my words and incite new thoughts, visions, questions, or perspectives in my readers, but at the core of all of my ambition, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I just really want them to be impressed.

It’s funny how simple this notion truly is. But we are a generation of endless noise, constant clutter, and a neverending stream of content. And though we’re birthed from a past generation whose goals were more aligned with doing a job and ensuring the security of those directly around them, it’s not hard to see why being validated through all of the mayhem becomes important to us Millennials. It means more to make a ripple in the ocean than it does to make a splash in a pool.

#PassionAndPaper

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Do or Die - The Middleground is No Place For Winners

  My daughter’s been in art school going on nine months now. Our goal is to try and get her into Etobicoke School of the Arts, one of the top art schools in all of Canada and definitely the hardest to get into in Toronto. We have this thing when every once in a while I say to her “what school are you going to,” and she’ll say “Etobicoke School of the Arts.” Then I ask her “what’s your next option,” and she’ll say “there is no other option.”

See, people have all these “secrets” to success; business leaders or life coaches write hundreds of pages and sell millions of books to tell you a very simple remedy to achieving your ULTIMATE dreams. The secret is there is no secret, you just need to create a situation, real or perceived, where you don’t give yourself any other option but success. You either do it or don't.

Urgency

I watched an interview the other day with Birdman who is the CEO of Cash Money Records. Angie Martinez, who was conducting the interview, asked him how he was able to build what is the most successful independent (hip hop) label ever. Birdman replied by saying he didn’t want to end up like everyone else around him, which meant dead or in jail. He said he had a vision and used the urgency of wanting to escape his environment and carried that energy all the way through to where he is now.

Nowhere in his response did he say he read every self help book out there, or he followed the “7 habits of all successful people,” or any other so called secret. Birdman simply wanted to succeed more than he wanted to fail, and here’s the key: this ambition would not allow him to settle for the in between, the middleground many of us find ourselves trapped.

But settling is where most of us end up. We educate ourselves somehow, push ourselves through school or some kind of training, feel good that we’ve been able to rise up just enough to feel comfortable, then we stop. It’s like there’s a huge gate so many of us get to that convinces us to say “that’s enough for me,” and we settle.

I’m going to make an assumption here based on how I view things, but for people like Birdman and the other mega successful women and men out there, stopping at that gate just isn’t going to cut it. In their mind, they’ve created enough urgency in themselves to where finding a way to the other side of that gate is the only option possible. Settling for a position that isn’t part of their vision was just never going to happen, and in their mind’s the thought of not getting to the other side is so scary that they literally create a reality similar to my daughter saying “there is no other option.”

No Escape

Creating a reality where there’s no option means you don’t give yourself any excuse for an escape. Popular (ex) blogger Necole Bitchie said she was sleeping on her aunt’s couch and working on her website when everyone around her begged her to get a “real” job. Soon her aunt’s couch turned into her own couch and she became one of the more popular celebrity bloggers out there.

Even getting shot in the head by the Taliban couldn't stop Malala Yousafzai from her quest to make a difference. Not only did she have the entire deck stacked against her being a female in a country that oppressed the gender, but she could have literally lost her life, a possibility that still exists, and that still wasn't enough from stopping her from entering that gate. Now she's a Nobel Peace prize winner and one of the most influential people in the world, male or female.

But it’s hard to create that urgency on your own. It’s hard to make yourself believe that ultimate success is dire and if you don’t achieve the level of success you’re seeking, then everything inside you will die. And for those who live in situations that are truly urgent and they really do need a way out, sometimes it’s difficult to actually escape.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, for me it’s a pretty simple formula. If you want to succeed more than anything, then you have to prove it. With urgency comes actions, so logically the more urgency you feel the more actions you should take to alleviate those feelings and replace them with feelings of fulfillment and appreciation.

I can’t tell you how great it feels to be witnessing all of my dreams happen everyday. My vision is clear, my work ethic is sound, and I take steps everyday to keep creating the reality I’ve dreamed of for so long.

#PassionAndPaper

 

Acceptance vs Ambition - Where Do We Draw The Line

Talk about thrilling. I was sitting in my seat waiting for the hit play “Secrets of a Black Boy” to start and I could literally feel the energy and the buzz of anticipation all around me. People were genuinely excited about this show, and after seeing it myself for the first time, I shared their excitement. secretsI was invited out by the writer of the play, Darren Anthony, whom I had just met a couple weeks earlier. We had a chance to chat when we first met, and he was excited about his show’s upcoming road-trip to DC and Baltimore after first debuting just over five years ago here in Toronto. We also spoke about commitment and perseverance, an d the courage to take that final leap of faith and do whatever it takes to follow what you know is your calling.

He was admittedly a bit nervous about making that jump, and we got into a discussion about where to draw the line between accepting where you are in life, accepting what you’ve accomplished and where you’ve come, and balancing that with the ambition you feel to do more? How do you stop when you know in your heart there’s so much more to for you to do, so many more lives to touch and people to inspire?

We spoke about how our loved ones play a role in those decisions, how maybe having a child or long term relationship changes the outlook of what we thought would be our future. And that may be true, and many people can substitute “child” or “relationship” with any other external influence - family, work, time - and have that be their scapegoat of choice.

But anyone who’s been reading my blog for the past year, anyone who knows me personally and understands what I stand for knows scapegoats don’t exist in my world. Teenage parent, so what. I still graduated from university. High school dropout, no problem. Now I’m a successful writer and first time author with readers and fans all over the world.

I create my own reality, I dictate what’s possible, I dictate my present and my future. A few years ago I pictured my life as it is right now, and right now I’m busy creating more mental molds of what my life will be during the next five years. I don’t know how wrong or how right this is, but there is no line for me. My balance is weighted completely on the side of ambition, squarely one sided on the scale of not accepting anything less than what I know I am meant to do, on what I am doing right now. chess-316658_640

I’m not a dreamer because I live this reality everyday. I am not delusional because I set goals and continue to shatter them. I play without a lifeline, without any boundaries to how far I can go. My life is my life.

I was invited as a special guest speaker at my old high school’s graduation. Seeing the excitement of all those young people ready to take on the world, still believing anything is possible, those few hours were inspirational for me and reminded me of how naivete can sometimes be a powerful perspective. All of those students still operate from the belief that nothing is impossible, that they can be or do anything. And really, who’s to tell them any different?

The fact that the influences of the world have not fractured their ambitions is what makes them special, what sparks evolution and leads to revolutions. And we should encourage this behaviour, so long as it is backed by a comparable work ethic and determination to follow through on these passions.

Secrets of a Black Boy received a standing ovation. I saw tears in Darren Anthony’s eyes as he hugged his sister Trey Anthony, an accomplished writer and producer, herself, with The Kink in My Hair as her launching pad. Our chance meeting suddenly ran through my mind, and somehow I feel his decision was already made.

#PassionAndPaper

Get your copy "Thoughts of a Fractured Soul" here.

 

Find Success in the Process

It was my biggest flaw, and probably still is to some degree. Always hungry, never satisfied, always wanting more, pushing towards that next milestone with my eyes fixed like I was driving down a two way without any headlights. It's tough being ambitious, and no I'm not saying that playfully, I'm being really serious here. It's not easy living day to day with the weight of the expectations I put on myself. It's not easy having all these visions of success and literally seeing exactly where I want to be, who I want to be, how I want to live; being able to see that everyday but have it be just out of my grasp. And I feel myself getting closer, feel the energy of the people I'm touching, can actually see real results; measurable, real life progress.

But it still isn't enough.

At least it still wasn't enough.

Over the better part of the last 12 months, I've made a conscious effort to stop chasing. I've realized that everything I want I already have, and I mean that. Maybe not in the abundance that I want, but it's all right here, right now. So the last year I've let go, taken chances I normally wouldn't take, opened myself up to other people more than I ever have, forged some amazing new friendships, lost some amazing friends, saw some amazing friends lose themselves, made more money than ever before in my life, then faultered and struggled a little bit with managing that money. And I haven't even touched on my book which has brought me the most joy in my career thus far.

But I was there for it all. Conscious. Aware.

I found success in my journey.

And I don't mean this in a philosophical kind of way, I mean I truly appreciated and recognized all of my successes with friendships and my writing career during this time period. I realized that I don't have to keep waiting for this grand moment when all of a sudden I'm going to feel like I finally "made it." I don't know where "it" is and everything I'm trying to make I already have.

Ghandi has a saying that goes something like this:

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are all the same.

I can't say I'm all the way there yet, but I'm damn close!

#PassionAndPaper

Visualize, Execute, and Learn to Let Go - Lessons for Life

When I took a seasonal position at Chapters-Indigo a couple years ago, I did so with a purpose. Yeah it was nice to have some extra cash in my pocket, but my goal was to get one step closer to realizing my vision of one day having "Thoughts of a Fractured Soul" on the shelves of Canada's biggest bookstore. My book wasn't even published yet, but I knew I had to take steps to assure its success and make good on what I had been visualizing for years before that, and if that meant taking the opportunity to literally immerse myself in the very venue I hoped my book would one day occupy, then it's an opportunity I couldn't pass up, despite my aversion to 9-5 work.  Over a year now after releasing my first novella, I was not surprised when just last week Chapters sent me an email saying they will purchase 10 copies of my book for one of its stores. In other words, I will be on the shelves, a fulfillment of my visualization.

I say I wasn't surprised not to be arrogant, I only mean that I had a goal I believed in whole heartily, took all the steps I felt necessary to achieve that goal, then let it go. I think the final step is worth some detail. Being able to visualize is crucial, if you can't see where you want to be you'll never get there. Executing is just as important because without action there can be no results. But what has helped me not only to be more productive, but to also see through some of my goals is actually moving on from them; letting them go.

Before getting into this practice, I would obsess over things, check back in over and over again, make revisions that were ultimately unnecessary, think of new strategies even after I had executed the original strategy top to bottom. It lead to me being overly stressed out, affected my progress on other projects I should have been working on, and when I reflect back on these instances, I don't ever remember it working out to my benefit, not moreso than if I had just let everything work itself out on its own.

Now don't mistake what I'm saying, it's perfectly OK and actually necessary that you be thorough. What I'm saying is you have to reach a point where you know within yourself that you've done everything you can to make that particular goal work, and once that point is recognized you need to move on to other matters.

Learning to let go has been the final step to my success, the one small change in my psychology that has had a significant impact on my well being and on the my results. Give it a try and see what happens.

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