How to Get What You Want

One of the greatest obstacles to creative expression is denial. Lying to myself about who I am, what I am doing, and what I am capable of becoming. The truly heinous thing about lying to myself is that it is an almost automatic response to life. Over the years that I have been sober, decades actually, I have worked very hard to combat this tendency. I have watched my behavior like a hawk, swooping down on the smallest untruth, correcting it and moving on. There will be periods when I have no problem with life as it is, but then, as recently, I have to learn the lesson all over again.

For me, it came to a head when I stepped on the scale this morning. I was 2 lbs over my absolute "don't go beyond this" weight. For a moment, I was affronted. How dare the scale claim that I had reached this point! Hadn't I been being scrupulous about my eating habits? It must have been a fluke, a result of a recent infection, the end game of having started to exercise more. Actually, it is probably because I ate a big bowl of ice cream before bed last night and I haven't yet eliminated today. 

But I started to think about other symptoms of my not telling myself the truth. I had spent money on Christmas gifts and writing contests despite the fact that my husband had asked me not to spend money this week. I had told myself, it would be alright. He would make it work. Worse yet, in a form of unknowing self-sabotage, almost as a way to punish myself for using the funds in the first place, I sent my manuscript off with a huge flaw, one that I did not notice until I had pressed 'submit.' What a waste of $20. This attitude about money, like my attitude about food, confuses me. And yet it is so obvious. I want what I want when I want it. And I will blot out all vestiges of reality in order to get that result.

So what does this have to do with creative expression? with writing? One of the earliest obstacles I encountered as a writer was my inability to see my writing for what it was. Instead, I played this 'push-me, pull-you' game of 1. assuming that my writing was brilliant, flawless and 2. judging it as mediocre, bad. I would fall in love with the words that appeared on the page as if by magic, and then rub dirt in their face, and mine, cursing their banality. Nothing got done.

I needed to stop lying to myself about what my writing was, and was not. I needed to go to the experts who could take an objective look and point out both the assets and flaws of my writing. I needed to develop a willingness to stop judging my books and poems and to start looking at them as works in progress who needed a little trimming here, a little embellishment there. I needed to let go of the idea that once I had put it on paper it was either perfect or nothing at all. I needed to lift the wool from my eyes and get to work, for without work there is no desired outcome. There is only the repetition of bad results.

This is true of everything in life, not just creative work. If I don't do my lunges and squats, my knees will never get stronger, and I will have a hard time hiking down into the Grand Canyon next August. If I don't track what I eat, my weight will continue to climb, and I won't fit into my red pants at Christmastime. If I don't share my poetry with my poetry group, my poems will remain shadows of what they could become. If I don't type my pages, the book I am working on will not be finished by its March deadline.

Life is about action. Sure, it is about stillness too, but that is another topic. Life is about moving in the face of laziness and wishful thinking. We have not yet developed, as sentient beings, to the point where we can think a thought and it appears on paper. We still have to pick up a pen, or dictate into a machine, or type on a keyboard. And yet, we have these amazing minds that create miracles! I firmly believe in the power of the subconscious mind to manifest new realities. But those realities don't come about through wishful thinking. They come from hard work and sticking to the task at hand.

If you want something, yes, visualize it. And then work for it. Don't lie to yourself about what you are doing, or blame others for the fact that you are not achieving your goals. Take the stick that you have been beating yourself with and break it into a thousand pencils, and get creating. 

The best way to pull yourself out of denial and deceit, is to speak with another person. If I am struggling with my weight, I go to my Weight Watchers group leader. I listen to what she suggests, and I try it. If I am caught in the heap of thinking my writing is either too or no good, and I convince myself their is no point in working at all, I find a mentor who can guide me. I have to get the mess out of my head and onto the table in front of me (sorry, bad image) so we can sort through it. 

Does this mean I am weak? Ineffectual? A cop out? A lost cause? Untalented? Not at all. It means I am humble. Humility, you will notice, is not a four-letter word. Humility is the key to becoming an honest human being who is willing to see things as they are and go from there. That's what I think, anyway. 


Does anybody read these things?

For the past weeks, I have been mentoring a high school student on his Senior Project.  He has chosen to make Creative Writing his topic and is slogging away at short stories as we speak. For part of our time together every day, I have been sharing with him bits and pieces of Lawrence Block's useful text Writing the Novel: from Plot to Print to Pixel. Today we read about the weird reality of writing as an art form. Unlike other arts and artistic endeavors - painting, music, pottery - writers expect something from their end product. They strive to be published and suffer depression if they are not.  I can certainly relate to this.  It isn't enough that I write a poem most days. I have to share that poem with my husband, my daughters, and sometimes even on Facebook, though that is not advised as it limits future publication. The point is, I want to be heard. Sure, I have plenty of work tucked away that will never see the light of day, but my preference is to share what I have written with the world. Is this ego? Somewhat. It is nice when people say pleasant things about what I have written.  And since publishing my novels, I have felt just a little bit special that I appeared on tv. But I don't think it is all ego. It is money too. Though seldom do writers make much on their craft, still the illusive windfall reverberates in my ears. I dream of a time when I can live off of what I love doing. the question is 'What do I expect?" If I expect fame and fortune, all the fun is sucked out of my creativity. Suddenly there is an anxious frenzy to get what I think I want. Think is the operative word. It's not what I really want. What I want is what I have. A comfortable life, a loving family, a healthy body, time to create and time to work with others who want to create. It is enough to write poems that bring me delight. Really? Really, though I love sharing them with others. I don't think the way to get what I truly want is to chase fame and fortune, to round up hoards of admirers and keep a busy schedule. To get what I want is to sit in my chair in the morning and feel connected to that power that made me a writer in the first place. To give thanks for my gift and to share it not because I have anything to get but because everything I have is to be given in turn. That is what makes me happy. So if no one ever reads this, oh well. If someone reads it and is moved, thank God! I am so grateful when anyone takes the time to read what I have put on paper. I am so grateful when the Universe inspires me to write.  


Instead of a nap

I woke this morning at 4 a.m. with one of those muffled headaches that makes the prospect of opening eyes, brushing teeth, and making coffee seem impossible. But I soldiered on. As I sat in my cozy armchair, the twinkling Christmas lights at my back and my marble journal in my lap, I breathed a cleansing breath and asked God to remove my headache. Then I moved on as if it were done. I wrote my morning pages, said my happiness prayer, worked a little on a poem to take to group and before you know it, the headache was well and truly gone. 

My day progressed. Every time I looked at the clock, it read 4:44, 5:55; 2:22, 3:33. I walked on feathers. My life is filled with angels. Some people would call me naive, even delusional. Some see my life for what it is and what I know. A life blessed by Grace. So what about that?

Grace only works in my life to the extent that I share my life with others. Helping. Caring. Appearing. Forgiving. I spent today working with others on their writing, having worked on my own. I’m off tomorrow for my oldest sister’s birthday party and though she doesn’t much like me, I’ll be there for her. Also will attend the funeral of a dear friend, possibly to meet more people who don’t approve. I’ll love them all because I know my life is blessed I wish everyone could know the freedom I know  

God has given his angels charge over me. So when headaches erupt or squabbles ensue, when life has the potential to shatter my peace, I breathe and connect with my Source within instead of taking a nap. 


Instead of a nap

I woke this morning at 4 a.m. with one of those muffled headaches that makes the prospect of opening eyes, brushing teeth, and making coffee seem impossible. But I soldiered on. As I sat in my cozy armchair, the twinkling Christmas lights at my back and my marble journal in my lap, I breathed a cleansing breath and asked God to remove my headache. Then I moved on as if it were done. I wrote my morning pages, said my happiness prayer, worked a little on a poem to take to group and before you know it, the headache was well and truly gone. 

My day progressed. Every time I looked at the clock, it read 4:44, 5:55; 2:22, 3:33. I walked on feathers. My life is filled with angels. Some people would call me naive, even delusional. Some see my life for what it is and what I know. A life blessed by Grace. So what about that?

Grace only works in my life to the extent that I share my life with others. Helping. Caring. Appearing. Forgiving. I spent today working with others on their writing, having worked on my own. I’m off tomorrow for my oldest sister’s birthday party and though she doesn’t much like me, I’ll be there for her. Also will attend the funeral of a dear friend, possibly to meet more people who don’t approve. I’ll love them all because I know my life is blessed I wish everyone could know the freedom I know  

God has given his angels charge over me. So when headaches erupt or squabbles ensue, when life has the potential to shatter my peace, I breathe and connect with my Source within instead of taking a nap. 


Anticipation

Some friends of ours are relocating from the mainland to Hawaii. For the past months, they have chronicled their journey - making the decision to follow a dream. We have watched them sell furniture and cars, obtain licenses to work on the island, say goodbye to friends and coworkers at parties, post pictures of glorious sunsets at their new destination. It all boils down to four suitcases in an otherwise empty front hall. Tomorrow they catch a plane. The anticipation for them and for all of us left behind has been acute. It has enabled a smooth transition from one world to the next. If that sounds morbid, it’s not meant to. Anticipation has allowed them to peel off an old skin while putting on a new one. That is a good thing  

I have my own experience with anticipation though  While my friends have been setting their sails for Hawaii, I have been preparing for a trip to England  This is no radical life change, it is only a week-long trip, a response to an invitation to share some of my poems at an international poetry festival  That said, it could be life-altering  So this is where my anticipation enters  

Anticipation is a complex thing  It takes me out of the moment while, simultaneously, submerses me in reality  I become so myopic that I do not see the world around me- forget to blow out candles, neglect healthy meals, read books without seeing the words on the page, walk mindlessly  Is that anticipation or is it anxiety? They are kissin’ cousins, after all But no, I don’t think I have anxiety over my trip  I have surrendered every step of the way and left God with the outcomes  

Anticipation, the looking forward, breeds both delightful excitement and expectations - the demon child that turns an adventure into a prison sentence and robs time of its ability to just have fun.

People have remarked about me that I think too much  This is an interesting assessment  I believe that I think just enough to make my life interesting  Wouldn’t my life be tedious without wonder? Without the little word games - anticipation/anxiety, excitement/expectation ? Combing through my tangled thoughts, the way my grandmother combed my tangled hair, smoothing the ideas out,makes my experiences easier to engage in  Mindfully - literally mind-full - I embark on each new adventure with curiosity, reaching for new growth  

So, sing on, Carole King! And Bon Voyage to all happy travelers whose hearts are filled with the mixed bag of emotions as we anticipate what is to come!

 

 

 


At my recent signing events for my new book When the Moon Winks, people have asked me "What is the most important thing you did to write this book?" My answer: I showed up. Every day, until the book was done, and through the process of editing and rewrite, I showed up at my desk, ready to work. Initially, my goal was to write between 5-7 pages a day, a tip I learned from the wonderful author Lawrence Block. When the drafts were done and I was dealing with rewrite, much the same effort was made, only then I was dealing with larger chunks of work. I took time off in the middle of the process to write and publish another novel, The Book Sisters, and to publish a book of poems, Taking in Air. But three and a half years later, When the Moon Winks was released by Warren Publishing. I couldn't be happier.
The practice of showing up can be applied to any area of life. There are the obvious ones: our employment - bosses like me to show up on time, to be prepared to work, and to put in a good effort. That is how I keep a job and get promoted, garner great reference letters and support myself. Exercise and nutrition is another obvious area. If I want to improve my health, I need to eat healthy meals every day. I need to engage in some sort of exercise for 30 minutes or more daily. What works for me is writing down, in the morning, what I am going to eat and following that plan. I also include in my journaling the exercise I am going to engage in that day. Today, for example, I am eating: breakfast- 2 eggs; berries; I cup skim milk lunch - sushi
dinner - mahi ; stir fry broccoli and carrots with ginger; pineapple snack- White Cheddar popcorn For exercise, I will do an hour of yin yoga.
Showing up isn't just about the obvious physical things. Showing up is about relationships with myself and others. Over the years, I have changed from someone who didn't, couldn't, trust herself to a woman in whom I have the greatest trust. Through practice , I have learned that I can count on myself to keep my word, to pay what is owed, to keep my hands off what is not mine, and more. I can count on myself to take care of myself, not to engage in unhealthy activities, everything from gossip to lust. Because I can count on myself, I am a better friend and coworker. People in my life can count on me to show up, listen, work hard, love harder.
Showing up means not playing the victim, not playing the King or Queen either. It means that blaming others is out, while having compassion for those who suffer in one way or another (and we all do). Showing up means putting Me First, but Not Me Only. Or, as the Dalai Lama states, practicing wise selfishness.
Showing up, ultimately, means turning my day, my life over to the care of a loving deity whom I call God, but you can call it anything you like. When I place my life in the care of that boundless energy, I am assured that my day, though it may have bumps and bleeps, will be full of miracles, if I just stay open.
My intention today is to show up for life and see what lies in store. What do you plan to do with this amazing 24-hours?

Mystery

In my morning meditation I read a quotation from the Dalai Lama.  It goes like this: what science finds to be nonexistent, we must accept  as nonexistent, but what science merely does not find is a completely different matter. It is quite clear that there are many, many, mysterious things.

The concept of mystery has been with me all week long. Someone, and now I can’t remember who, remarked that the greatest part of writing is its mystery. I am often asked, “Where did you get the idea for that book? that character?” Nine times out of ten, my response is “It’s a mystery to me.”And it is. Ideas come to me like manna from Heaven. It is my job to scoop them up, put them in a wheelbarrow, and cart them off to be planted. 

But what of non-artistic mysteries? These, I find, abound. Of course there is the natural world, filled with the diversity of flora and fauna, of weather and stars and sky. There are, too, feelings and emotions that surprise and elude us. But I’m talking about the mysteries of change and surprise. How crazy is it that I have evolved into someone who no longer pushes. An Uncarved block. How did that happen? What brought about the change? Attitudes toward people are different now. I bless my adversaries and pray for them. Resentment has morphed into acceptance and anger into compassion. I feel so free and baffled. What power is working through me?

 

A dear friend once told me “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be enjoyed “ so I will sit back and enjoy the moments of synchronicity that come to me. The unasked for blessings. The yellow kettles and trips abroad. I will simply plant those dreams and wishes in my garden and get on with what is in front of me. A mystery is a mystery. A little bit, sometimes a lot, of magic sprinkled on my day. I don’t expect them, but I do because I know that my Creator blesses every day with the opportunity to be amazed. 


Down Time

Pre-school teachers have known for years the necessity  of down time, that precious nap that interrupts an otherwise high voltage day full of creativity, energy and combustible wonder. It isn’t just the kids who need the break. It’s the teachers, too, who crave a little less noise, a little time to breathe. I know how they feel. My life right now is chock full of amazing new ventures. I just launched my third book, was invited to England to read my poetry at a prestigious festival, am appearing on a morning television show next week, have just signed two new book contracts, and am scheduled to appear in a number of signing events. This is all so wonderful and beyond my wildest dreams. It has also made clear to me the necessity of down time. Not because I am tired, on the contrary, I have never been so exhilarated in my life. Running on adrenaline, I find myself sleeping less, pushing more. Which is just what I don’t want to do. I need to remember to breathe. To close my eyes and take time to be grateful for all I have been given. Yes, I have worked hard, but underneath this success, shy in the wings, is the Creative Spirit that has blessed me with abundance. Taking down time reminds me that I am just a very small human. It keeps me right-sized. So when I start to get too big for my britches, I stop. Pause. Breathe. Give thanks and move on. Everything in balance. Everything aligned. Naps aren’t just for toddlers, they help us all gain a new perspective. They are an amazing spiritual tool, if you need to rationalize sleeping in the middle of the day. Or, you can just enjoy, as I do daily, a brief reprieve from all the bustle of the day. 


What does luck have to with it?

Recently, someone remarked to me that "You are so lucky." In truth, luck had very little to do with the fact that since 2015, I have written and published two novels, two feature films, and one poetry chapbook. That in the past year alone I have held multiple readings/signings in North Carolina and beyond. That my books are placed in bookstores and libraries in a number of states. That I have contracts on two new books due out in 2020. That I have met with a number of book groups to discuss my work.  That I have been invited to read my poetry at a festival in England. This all happened not because of luck, but because of hard work, patience and persistence. It is said that the creative process is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Let me tell you, for the past four years I have sweated everyday. And I have loved every minute of it. There is nothing I enjoy more than my chosen work. If I am lucky, it is because I am able to immerse myself in my writing. I know some do not have that option. But make no mistake, writing is a difficult profession which requires the dedication and perseverance of an elite athlete, the soft touch of a nurse, and the focus of a Buddhist monk.

When I ask you to donate to my campaign, I do not do this out of a sense of entitlement or hubris. On the contrary, it is with great humility that I place myself before you and ask for your generosity. Humbling, because, as with so many experiences as a writer, I may get rejected. You may not deem me worthy or my cause large enough. To me, it is everything. It is who I am, who I have worked so hard to become. Each small donation is like a tinkling bell, bringing light into my world, bringing me further forward on my path. I am so grateful for your belief in me, for your appreciation that what I have done, am doing, is really a monumental task: to be who I authentically am.

If my words have moved you, and I hope they have, please visit GoFundMe.com and make a donation to my campaign: Help a Poet Read Her Poems in England. I feel lucky to count you as my friend. 

 

 


New Beginnings with When the Moon Winks

In two days, I will launch my new women's fiction novel. To my thinking, When the Moon Winks is coming out at the perfect time of the year.  I look out my living room window and see the purple and yellow iris swaying in the breeze, the lilacs have been blooming for days and have almost gone by. In my smaller garden, the brilliant orange-yellow coreopsis, the color of my favorite Crayola crayon, carpet the bed, tucking in neatly under the wild blue clematis climbing a wood trellis. Spring is everywhere. In the flowers, in the grass, in the wind, in the sun. Even in the rain, maybe especially in the rain. What does this have to do with my new book? When the Moon Winks is all about rebirth, new beginnings. When 60-year-old Helen Ferry is left by her husband of 30 years on the eve of their wedding anniversary, she feels that her life is lost. Something inside has died, in the words of Carole King. Helen tries to reignite her enthusiasm by turning to past boyfriends but soon discovers that, instead, she needs to focus on her own life. The novel is about Helen's transformation as she becomes true to her self. Advance readers of the book have called it "great fun" and "a perfect beach read." They have remarked on its satisfying happy ending.  When the Moon Winks is a smart book without being heavy; it is a fun book without being inane; it is a love story without the sugar coating. If you are headed for the beach, or looking for a Mother's Day gift, or maybe just want something enjoyable to read, consider When the Moon Winks.  I've been working on this book since 2015, and it still makes me laugh every time I read it!