Thursday, August 30

The True Meaning of Happiness

Lately, I made a conscious effort to pay attention to the people around me in order for me to understand what made them happy or sad. I was particularly interested in their facial expressions, their topics of conversation, and their overall mood--was there a smile, a droop of the brow, or a reminiscing gaze. Those were but a few of the things I looked for in everyone I talked to and saw.

My finding, though inconclusive (since I was not performing a professional research), suggested to me that happiness had much to do with the material possession of the individual. In other words, our happiness could very well be directly correlated with how much money we earn or have.

People who smiled more often were those who had little or no financial worries. Those who furrowed were mostly from people who were trying their best to make ends meet. Occasionally they would feign a smile for their children or at church, but the truth was, behind closed doors, they were pulling their hair trying to figure out how to pay the next bill and feed the kids.

But that was mere observation, nothing more. So, I decided to look into my past. I flipped open my photo albums and studied every one of my pictures. I wanted to see my own facial expressions during the course of my life. Here's what I found:

  1. During my college years when I was poorest, I looked skinny and malnutrition. I smiled but my eyes seemed to wander elsewhere. I appeared to be hollow, figuratively. 
  2. Then I got married, things went well because my wife became my anchor. My smiles turned into laughter, open-mouthed, teeth glaring. I looked a little healthier, my hair was full and my eyes bright. 
  3. But the financial problems did not go away. The honeymoon period was over, we spent all of our wedding gifts (monetary ones), and reality sank in. My photos now showed a more tired version of me, always holding a baby or a feeding bottle. My eyes wondered a little more now--off camera somewhere my little boy was probably trying to destroy the kitchen or the Christmas tree. The late nights of thesis-writing and a full-time job with minimum wage were quite apparent in my expression. The bags under the eyes seemed a little more obvious, even under the bright flashlight.
  4. Then I graduated and got a job in the publishing industry. Life took a new turn, and we were able to pay more of our bills and move to a better apartment--the previous one being the basement of a funeral house. My pictures were now usually at dinner settings around food or some kind of celebration. The smiles were brighter and the eyes had a glint of shimmer. I also noticed that there were more friends in my photos, some I could not even remember their names. But friends nonetheless. I was also spotting more colors in my attire.
  5. Then I got promoted to a better position, which meant more pay. Oh, talk about the backdrop of my photos. Now they were either taken in Vegas or somewhere in California where roller coasters and big Mickey Mouse signs appeared in neon and glitter. My arms were now more fluid in movement, oftentimes frozen amid some kind of action. My mouth appeared to be talking more, and there was a sure sense of confidence and glow in my expressions--although many close to me might argue that the glow was actually from my greasy forehead. But no matter, the change in expression and colors and settings was obvious enough.
  6. I can proudly conclude that financial stability influences, one way or another, the way we think, talk, and live. Our wealth--or the lack of it--has a huge bearing on our mood and emotion. 
For all that I know, I am happiest when I have money--the extra cash to take the family out for a movie, to buy a few good friends dinner, and to sleep soundly at night without having to worry about the next bill. Some may regard their religion or spirituality as the main source of their happiness; I do not contest that. To each its own.

But to me, it is definitely money. With money, I can take care of the people I love--my family and close friends; I can reach out to the poor and buy a bum a drink. With money, I can pay for my son's piano and swimming lessons and eventually his college tuition, I can buy pretty clothes for my wife and take everyone on an awesome road trip. I can afford to turn on my A/C or my heater a bit longer, I can make sure the next meal isn't a hit-and-miss. With money I can breathe a little better and smile a little broader.

But the most important thing about money is that it has the power to put a genuine smile on someone's face--whether it is a smile of relief or of contentment--and more often than not, those smiles are all I need to be happy.

Friday, August 24

Guest Blogger Jennifer Griffith Dissects the Comedic Elements in Her Latest Novel in One Serving

Okay, I have to admit, I was half-kidding when I told Griffith what I'd like her to blog about. Though the mere idea of it was lengthy, it was something I'd always wanted to read or write about when I was in graduate school, but didn't. 

So, acting on sheer whim, I pulled this dissertation title off the top of my head when her publicist asked if she could guest-blog on my site, half-elated that I'd finally found a great author to write on the subjectGriffith's latest novel BIG IN JAPAN is one of the funniest and most heart-warming books I've read so far, and I was thinking to myself, who's more fit to write on the subject than her. But at the same time, I fear that she might pass out upon learning about her topic. Thank goodness she didn't. On the contrary, she braved it so well that I was very impressed. 

Griffith is one of the most brilliant and funny writers of our decade. Her narrative is simply clever, humorous, and filled with l'amour. It's definitely one book worth talking about. Women will love it, girls will swoon, and men will learn a thing or two about love.

So, without much ado, let's give our very talented Ms. Jennifer Griffith a big round of applause. Take it away, Jennifer!

Thanks so much for letting me guest-write on this great blog, Christopher. It’s an honor.

First, I have to say that when Chris asked me to blog, he gave me the following topic: “Juxtaposing Dramatic Sequences with Comedic Narrative Appropriately through Effective Pacing and Character Mapping.”

No, really.

It scared me too, and at first I thought it was a joke, like someone assumed I had somehow morphed into a different person and was being given an assignment in the graduate level courses in the English Department.

But he wasn’t kidding.

So, I’ve been trying to pick away at this for about a month, break it down in my mind.

Unfortunately, my mind keeps wandering to its lowest common denominator, the place it always seems to go when things get too complex: food.

As it floats through my mind, this topic seems to always trigger … The Sizzler. Of all things! You know, that steak restaurant with the salad bar bigger than my living room by a factor of five. And you’d think I might be making some kind of analogy here between making a great plot just like piling on the fixings for a perfect salad. But that would be for someone who eats healthy food.

Not me.

I’m all about the Malibu Chicken. If you haven’t tried it, turn on your Smartie Phone and locate the Sizzler nearest you and get your hungry gut down there and order it. It’s a breaded chicken patty with a slice of ham and a slice of Swiss cheese melted on top. And as delicious as it is on its own, hot and juicy with the saltiness of the ham and the melting tang of the aged Swiss, the thing that makes it the ultimate delicious treat is the dipping sauce, some kind of mustardy creamy frothy heaven that comes in a 2-tablespoon cup on the side and makes me wish it came in a one-cup bowl, and keep that cheesy Texas toast coming. (Because it serves as a great dip for the toast, too.)

The great thing about this meal is the alternating flavors in the mouth. There’s the crisp chicken, the meat of the meal, with great other meat added atop it.

Ready for the analogy? That’s the PLOT and the strong SUBPLOTS that give the reader the satisfaction only a protein-strong meal can give.

The next flavor is the tangy cheese. That’d be the CONFLICTS. They give depth to the plot, a contrast and bring out the best of the PLOT.

Then there’s that frothy, cool sauce on the side. It’s the joy of the meal. That’d be the humor that keeps the whole thing delightful.

In my new release, BIG IN JAPAN, I tried to make the perfect Malibu Chicken. (Although in Japanese it might be pronounced mah-ree-boo chik-ken.)

The big chicken patty is Buck Cooper, a 400-plus pound Texan good-guy with a lame job and a lame life and no girl, who goes to Japan and accidentally falls into a new life in the sumo arena. The changes he undergoes, from the beginning where he’s floundering and totally invisible in his cocoon of fat to the end of the story—this is the character-mapping part, btw—are the crispy, filling chicken in the Malibu Chicken.

The slice of ham would be the subplot—Buck’s inexorable attraction to a girl who is waaaaaay out of his league. Romance isn’t the main bulk of the menu, but it adds such good flavor. (Ham is a close cousin to bacon, and bacon makes everything better.) I tried to craft the romantic elements so they coincide with Buck’s character growth, and bring the strengths of the heroine out little by little.

Now, for the cheese. That’s the conflict in the story. It goes together with the chicken and forms “dramatic sequences.” For Buck, it’s his size at first. Being the elephant in the room that nobody notices has always been his handicap. But in Japan, everything changes. He’s got conflicts like he never faced before—and they pile up—higher than his 6’6” sumo topknot on the crown of his head. It’s the tanginess and the bite that gives it the flavor of something beyond a Chicken McNugget. Sumo has a darker side (most pro sports do, I’d imagine), and Buck must battle his way through—for his very life depends on it.

Now, for my favorite thing: the frothy sauce of happiness on the side. I have the sauce on every single bite of the Malibu. And on the toast. And sometimes I ask for an extra container because it’s just so fabulous.

The sauce is the funny stuff, the light and cool part of the book, the thing that makes the story joyful, a delight to read. Of course, as an author I plunked in stories I thought were funny for Buck’s experience in Japan—like going up to the vending machines and not finding candy bars, but all manner of other things. Not everyone is going to find the same things super funny, but I figured if I threw them in really often (as though I tried to put them on every bite), eventually it would entertain some reader somewhere.

For me, it was important to liberally lace the story with “funny,” since my own experience in Japan had so many humorous things I wanted to fictionalize and share with readers someday—er, now, I guess, since BIG IN JAPAN is now, at LONG LAST!!!, in print, thanks to the incredible support and enthusiasm of the good folks over at Jolly Fish Press (bless their hearts!)

I have to say, it’s been great getting feedback on the story since it’s been in my head and my computer for so long. Reaction has been so fun to see—some readers saying it’s an action story, others resonating with the romance, others with the characters, others with the culture or the exotic sport, and still others with the humor. Now that I’ve broken down Chris’s assignment SO academically (thanks to those gourmet chefs at the local Sizzler!), I can see he’s right—that there’s got to be a juxtaposition of the dramatic sequences and funny stuff. And don’t forget the romance! Otherwise you’ve just got cheesy chicken.

So there you have it, Griffith's clever dissertation written alongside her favorite dish! BIG IN JAPAN is now available where books and ebooks are sold. 

Griffith is currently touring and promoting her latest book. For more information on her events and where to buy her book, please visit her official book site at

Monday, August 6

The Power of Failure

Failure. It's a word that I am quite familiar with. As much as I want to think I've done wonderful things, I'm still forced to face its shadows every day. Naturally, as human, I fear the moment I lose everything I have, falling back to square one. Failing. I've failed before--a million times--and yet, no matter how bad the situation was, no matter how I thought I'd never succeed again or climb out of the hole I was in, I am still here doing everything I love doing. In retrospect, failing has made me stronger, not just because I learn and move on, but because I know it is an inevitable process, and as part of the natural order of the universe, I am made to be resilient and survive. It's evolution at its best. It's the survival of the fittest. And every time I fall, I learn yet another way to rise, each time higher than the past.

So, if failing is something we can conquer and overcome as humans, why do we fear it so much? Why do we not trust in ourselves that we will succeed? Because we live in a society where every part of us is measured against something else. And because when everyone starts measuring, we tend to look at the differences between us instead of our similarities. Only by identifying ourselves with each other through everything that connects us as humans instead of focusing on everything that divides us can we experience the miracles of life. When we know we are not alone, the journey becomes more palatable, more meaningful, and we become more determined to reach our destination no matter the difficulty. Because there is hope.

I've always hated roller coasters. I'm afraid of heights. I'm afraid of the uncertainty of death. I fear the unexpected. Whenever I stand in front of a roller coaster ride, I tremble; my first reaction is to run no matter what, even if the ride is free and the carriage is made of gold. But when a group of friends who've ridden the ride many times before is there, I feel much better. The fear is still there, but it is not as elevated. Because my friends have been on those rides, and they've all survived, and they are willing to ride with me, to give me the assurance that everything will be fine. Because of that, I am more daring to take the first step. I scream as the roller coaster plummets and rises, but as I turn around to see my friends's faces all alit with the same thrill, I smile. The fact that they are next to me going through everything I am going through makes the ride a magical, unforgettable one.

So, the next time we know of someone who is falling, let us each be that person to reach out and say, "I've been through the same thing. You're not alone in this. I'll show you." We may not all fall together, but we can surely all rise together.

Such is the beauty of life.