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Simplicity of kindness

I’ve been in a slump lately. I think it’s some kind of writer’s postpartum. Now that On the Shoulders of Giants is complete and in the editing phase, I don’t know what to do with myself. Without a working project, I feel adrift. Anchorless. And my old diversions only leave me hollow and unfulfilled.

So I was already grumpy when I sat down with the blind man this morning, but the USA Today Sports Weekly doesn’t come in Braille and I gave him my word. (Dude is a die-hard Braves fan. He listens to their games every night on AM radio. He’s also a baseball historian. Pretty amazing, really. Born blind and can still see the game in vivid detail. I never knew the difference between a sinker and a slider until he broke it down for me.)

I’m usually in awe of the blind man. Just the sound of his stick tapping the concrete will make me smile. He’s a good guy with good energy. Both are rarities in here. But today I wasn’t feeling it. I was wrapped up in my own problems. No book to consume me, no woman to love me, no rec yard, no mail, and a release date that is still thousands of days away. Me and my problems. Me me me.

But something happened as I began rattling off batting averages, OBPs, and ERAs to this guy who’s been in prison since 1986 and blind since birth. When I glanced up from the magazine and saw his unseeing eyes darting right and left, processing the information I was relaying, relishing it, I realized I was no longer annoyed. My heart was suddenly wide open, my troubles were forgotten, and in that moment, I was happy.

Why do I always forget this simple truth until it sneaks up on me? Nothing feels better than kindness. I need to practice it more often.

[This post originally appeared on malcolmivey.com in June 2016.]

10% happier

I just finished reading an amazing book, 10% Happier by Dan Harris. Mr. Harris is the ABC news correspondent who had a nationally televised panic attack on Good Morning America in 2004.  10% Happier is the hilarious account of his journey as both skeptic and seeker. It centers largely on the benefits of meditation. (I can almost see the five people reading this page rolling their eyes simultaneously.) While there is a definite unearned stigma attached to meditation, I’ll leave that for the holy men and gurus to sort out. No sermon here. Promise. I just want to touch on the parallel between meditation and writing.

If there’s such a thing as A.D.D., I’ve got it. I have the attention span of a butterfly which makes the discipline of writing a daily battle. I’ll be one or two sentences into a scene when something hooks my attention – a bird on a window, a voice in the hall, the smell of food – and I’m off “chasing the wishes from dandelions” as my friend Sheena says.

As one distraction leads to the next, it’s sometimes hours before I remember the project, only to find it right where I left it, suspended in mid-sentence – sometimes mid-word – so I grab my pen, search for the mental thread of the story and begin again. It’s the coming back that’s the thing.

Meditation is similar in that you focus on the breath flowing in and out of your nostrils, the expansion and contraction of your lungs. When thoughts arise and you notice yourself being swept away on that tidal wave of mental chatter, you return to your breath. Every time. Notice and return, over and over.

I’ve mentioned before that the discipline of writing saved me. Up until the year I began writing Consider the Dragonfly, life was all about drugs, gambling and adrenaline. The tendency to drift toward the extremes is scribbled in the helix of my DNA. But the written word is my anchor. It’s what centers me. The words on the page are the meditative breath that I keep returning to. My om.

I’m not claiming enlightenment or even rehabilitation. The distractions still come like Craig Kimbrel fastballs. All it takes is a Sophia Vergara commercial, a Black Crowes song or Miami Dolphins breaking news and I hit the ground running. But once I regain awareness and realize that yet again, I’ve been lured down the hallways of always, I shake my head and return to my work, to the open notebook that awaits me.

It’s the coming back that’s the thing.

[This post originally appeared on malcolmivey.com in June 2014.]

Magical No. 9

I’ve always had a thing for the number 9. When I was a kid, there was a local graffiti artist who used to tag it all over South Miami. I remember riding in the back of our family car and seeing it spray-painted on bus stops and the sides of businesses. Once I was conditioned to look for it, the number began popping up everywhere. Highlighted on taxicabs, gas station price signs, and math homework assignments.

When I was 18 (1+8=9), I came to prison and discovered Coast to Coast with Art Bell on AM radio. One of his guests was a numerologist who spent an entire segment on the number 9, pointing out its unique properties, relating it to the Mayans and ancient mathematicians. It was like he was talking about my childhood friend.

My life is full of 9s. My mom had me when she was 27 (2+7=9). Her mom had her when she was 18 (1+8=9). When the universe blesses me with a love interest and I find out her birthday, my mind instantly begins its calculations (“7/5/1984: 7+5+1+9+8+4=34 and 3+4=7. Damn. Almost. If only she’d been born in September.”). When my nieces and nephews turn 9, they get a long, rambling card from me pointing out the magic of the age and encouraging them to make the most of it. Many of the cell numbers and dates that appear in Consider the Dragonfly and With Arms Unbound are nods to 9. There’s a full-blown tribute to the number via the character Scarlett McGhee in On the Shoulders of Giants.

So of course, 2016 was destined to be a gigantic year (2+0+1+6=9) and after a sluggish start, it is now surpassing expectations. My third novel is in the pipeline, the Miami Dolphins drafted Laremy Tunsil, With Arms Unbound received Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest magazine novel competition, and a recent Supreme Court ruling may reduce my release date from 2032 (don’t bother, it’s 7) to 2025 (2+0+2+5=9) and it’s only May! Good ‘ol 9. What’s your favorite number?

[This post originally appeared on malcolmivey.com in May 2016.]

Make a real difference

There is something unsustainable going on in this country. It’s happening in every project building and trailer park across the nation. Babies are being born into poverty, if they are lucky enough to make it that far, as many are discarded with the trash.

These kids grow up like weeds, forgotten by incarcerated or addicted parents — many of whom are still kids themselves — ignored by society, bouncing around state foster care systems and juvenile detention centers, raised by the streets.

When I was smoking crack, I remember driving to my local ghetto to score some dope one morning. I was amazed by how many kids mobbed my car. Eleven and twelve-year-olds, pushing and shoving each other outside my window, holding out baggies of the rock cocaine I sought, vying to make the coveted sell. Even in my drug-addled mind, I remember wondering why these kids weren’t in school.

Now, ten years into a 30-year prison sentence, I see those same kids moving into the neighboring bunks in my dorm; 18-year-old boys with 50- and 60-year sentences, their lives already over. I know people will say they made their own choices, but when a child grows up unraised and unloved, when he has to hustle and scrap for everything he gets, when the only environment he knows is one of crime and violence, when the heroes of his community are gangsters and criminals, when the music he’s been listening to his entire life trumpets murder, robbery, and dope-dealing as a realistic, viable life path … it’s difficult to wake up one day and decide to get a GED. Maybe in Hollywood, rarely in real life.

The newspapers say crime is down 4 percent in this country. Somebody is skewing those numbers. With the rise of physically addictive prescription drugs, and heroin rearing its ugly head, there is no way the crime rate is dropping. The problem is not going to go away. It is a festering sore on the face of society that is expanding exponentially. And there’s only one way to stop it: Love.

Naïve as it may sound, if every child in this country were loved and nurtured, there would be a lot less violent crime in America 15 years from now. So let’s set aside the whales and the trees and the ozone for a minute. If we really want to make a difference, we need to save the kids.

Because there is no them; only us.

[This post first appeared on malcolmivey.com in September 2014.]

 

E = mc2

My father’s father was a writer and the son of a philanthropist. His name was E. Malcolm Collins, II. I never met him but his novel, Angel Blood, was a permanent fixture on the bookshelf in our apartment when I was growing up.

The story passed down through the family was that he was an alcoholic and drug abuser, and in December 1971, he ran a bath of scalding hot water, stepped in, slipped and banged his head. He died in the tub. He left behind one daughter, my Aunt Carole, who also struggled with alcoholism and depression, and one son, my father “Mac,” E. M. Collins, III, who had his own issues with drug abuse and compulsive behavior.

In 1990, Aunt Carole checked into a hotel room and shot herself in the heart. Three and a half years later, my father died of congestive heart failure, a lifetime of Camel non-filters and horrible eating habits finally caught up with him. Aunt Carole had two daughters: Kelly and Ginger. Mac had four sons: Scott, Keith, Jeff, and me.

Not to air any dirty family laundry, but I think deep down my brothers and cousins would agree that there’s a little crazy swimming in our DNA; a compulsive gene, a predisposition to addiction, maybe even a touch of psychosis. But there’s also an overwhelming amount of love and music and laughter.

September 5th is the 21st anniversary of my father’s death. It’s hard to believe that over two decades have passed since the prison chaplain gave me the news. At age 40, I can see the evidence of his genetic fingerprints all over my life, and not just in my evaporating hairline or the blue eyes staring back at me in the mirror. I recognize him in my passion for sports, my own struggles with drug abuse, my love for the Blackjack tables in Biloxi, my affinity for cheesecake. There are signs of E. M. Collins II, in me too, and his father, and the echoes of countless generations before them.

When I began writing novels, I took on the pseudonym Malcolm Ivey as a nod to those men: Malcolm I, II, and III, the philanthropist, the writer and the banker. The “Ivey” represents the Roman numeral IV, Malcolm the fourth, my father’s son to the bone and the youngest of four brothers. Ivey.

On September 5th, I will raise a bottle of water to my reflection and salute the Malcolms in me, blemishes and all. As the brilliant Albert Einstein put it, “Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.” I drink to that.

[This post first appeared on malcolmivey.com in September 2014.]