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  • J.A.Willoughby

ENCORE / The Last Page is never The End

This Side of Center / Encore by J.A.Willoughby book cover

Time is very important to me. Not just my time, but your time, as well. It is important to me because, despite what will go on for the rest of the universe over the next five billion years or so, our moments are finite. Time, therefore, becomes a precious commodity which stealthily winds its way through each of our lives inherently expending itself by way of what we create, share, watch, listen to, write, sing, tell, and think.

With that in mind, I thank you, the reader, for indulging me in this word play, this admittedly addicting and satisfying form of expression, these allegorical life lessons set to pages. They are important to me because their content is a part of me brought forth, out in the open, exposed and vulnerable, yet I remain unscathed. I am none-the-worse for wear because you have willingly taken that part of me into your thoughts, making what I have done, a memory that will live on.

I sincerely thank you for your valuable and indispensable time and your purchases, support and acceptance now, and in the past.

I have learned quite a few things about myself during this writing process, since the first book in this anthology was written a few years ago.

Foremost, it slows me down. My mind is usually going in many directions all at the same time. When I speak, oftentimes it is a little "trippy"; one thought leap-frogging over another, each trying to catch the other and holding it in place on a focused direction straight ahead. That is difficult for me and I need to be consciously aware at all times, when speaking, to mentally throttle back before opening my mouth. Writing forces me to deal with that mental cascade in a linear process and consequently, directs my thoughts one word at a time, building what I typically read the next day - to see what I wrote - in a continuous form, in real time. It's a ponderous and sometimes laborious process for me but one that, thankfully, flows. That flow is usually non-stop until I make it stop, or fall asleep during the process.

We are all human and share the same basic emotions, some specific life events and possibly have other experiences in common. I feel there may be others who share in this slowly and carefully thought-out dichotomy of what's at work, what is going on "behind the scenes" in these stories. Hopefully, you will find it as interesting to read, as I did to discover about myself and not find it a waste of your - or rather, our - limited time.

"Mari-Time" (2012) Photo by the author

The following is the Preface, in its entirety, from my latest book, THIS SIDE OF CENTER / ENCORE, the second collection of short stories in the anthology, and my third book to date.

"After having written this book, I sat down and read it cover-to-cover. I needed to self-edit, add some things, take some things away, make changes and get a feel for the table of contents – the running order in music production terms – of the feel for ordering the stories. What I did not expect to find was a theme threading its way through many of them.

So far, I have written what I feel. Ideas pop into my head, I make note of them, I develop the story, do research and I write. Internal conflicts, ruminations, and personal pet agendas are all fodder for mental ingestion, digestion and subsequent literary regurgitation. External daily stimuli tends to give it form, always in an unplanned way (I always keep my eyes and brain open to neutral observation), and the next thing I know, I have another collection of stories stored on my hard drive. The thing is, I never know what it is that wants to be let out of my head until I go back and read them. This time it was very obvious.

After reading all that I have written these past two years, it became very apparent that I have crossed a boundary from 'extended youth', to 'early senior citizen'. Oh, I don’t feel that, bemoan or proclaim it daily (unless there is a discount involved at a local restaurant) but my mind is telling me that in a natural sort of way: my unconscious thought is conjuring thoughts of mortality. Simply put, I am physically entering the 'third act' of my Life’s Journey. The last chapter of my life on earth has begun writing itself and it doesn’t need my help.

Rest assured, I am in good mental (you can be the judge of that) and physical health and hope to be around for a long time to come to take you, the reader, on more adventures. Also, the feel or tone of this book isn’t morbid – so please don’t close the cover and send it back for a refund just yet. This latest collection of stories doesn’t dwell on the subject of our finite existence, but rather looks at it (and sometimes only dances around it) through many different eyes – and some of those are not even human. Judicious assessments of my own life experiences shadowed the story lines, making observances of choosing between right and wrong, growing and maturing as an individual, coping with the worst that this world can dish out, and, of course, learning from each mistake made. I don’t ask myself if I’ve made the correct decisions over the years because they can’t be rescinded. I ask myself if I have adequately dealt with the effects or consequences those choices or decisions have rendered. That is living in the moment.

Each life experience, pleasant or unpleasant, had always proved itself in my mind to be enlightening. I always tried to find the positive side of anything that was thrown my way, even with the most grim of happenings, because I felt that experience, any experience, is better remembered and reapplied in a positive way or learned response, than would be a negative memory replayed ad infinitum. In other words, life doesn’t always deal the best of hands. So, even if you have to fold, at least have the presence of mind to know why, and make sure you can apply that lesson in the future, if dealt similar “cards” again. That is what being a human is all about: being confronted with obstacles, evaluating, adapting and overcoming them, and applying that to future similar circumstances. That, when aptly applied, is called 'wisdom'.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to express myself in many different ways. Art, music, writing, photography, all are creative outlets in my Theory Of Immortality. I have been planting a few seeds in each of those fields over the years, hoping that the ideas are sufficient enough to grow and outlive my corporeal shell, leaving something behind. Having felt that way for some time, I wrote the following on a social media post a few years ago. It seemed a fitting summary to this preface.

If immortality exists in any form, I believe it exists by way of what we leave behind to be remembered: the things we create, write, sing, teach, the stories we tell, the very experiences we have had and share with each other. The knowledge gained and the lessons learned by sharing our 'uniqueness' with each other are to be told, absorbed, repeated, enjoyed and to be remembered for generations to come. All of that, added to personal decisions to procreate and pass on our own unique genetics in the form of our descendants, in my belief, is the essence of our human development, evolution and continuation of our existence as the human race and indeed, comprise what is known as the human spirit.

This book is my latest attempt at achieving immortality." ~ JW

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