No Silly Fears

The other day, I came across an advertisement, for GEICO no less, which stated "Do you have a fear that seems a little Silly?" Writer that I am, I read that comment two ways. The first way, "Do you have a Fear that seems a little Silly?" is actually rather playful, non-judgmental.  It's just posing the question and poking a little fun. But that is not the way that I read it, initially. I read it "Do you have a Fear? GIANT PAUSE That seems a little Silly." Here is where the judgement comes in, and I begin to take things apart.

First off, there are some fears that are good to have. They work for our survival. The fear of walking into a bad neighborhood on a dark night, or swimming in shark-infested waters, or drinking too much and climbing in behind the wheel. These fears cause us (the best of us, anyway) to avoid such situations. Author Gavin de Becker  has recently released a book titled "The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence." Thich Naht Hanh contributes to the discussion in his book "Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting through the Storm." Fear seems to be on everyone's minds, and not just fear that we run away from but fear that we run toward as a way to grow and change.

Is fear Silly? Not to the person who is experiencing it. I speak from experience. There was a time in my life, not all that long ago, when I was riddled by Fear. I woke in the morning dreading the day ahead, afraid of what it might, or might not, bring. I was petrified when I sent the kids off the school, afraid that I might not ever see them again. I waited until they walked out the door before I melted into tears. I was scared to the point of immobilization of driving - not only on the interstate but anywhere that I had not been before. I smothered my husband with my demands, which led to the terrifying thought that he might leave me. I was afraid of so much, everything, that I felt suffocated by my anxiety.

The turning point came for me when I accompanied my sister to her home in Florida. At the end of my visit, I had to take a flight back home. The trip would be a short one - Orlando to Charlotte is just a hop. But I was convinced to my very core that the plane would crash and that I would never see my husband and children again. I had a major meltdown in the airport. But I made it on board, the flight was smooth, and I was back soon enough packing lunches and folding laundry. I knew that something had to be done, but I did not know what. I just said "Please, help me," and surrendered my difficulty to the Universe.

Shortly thereafter, I was in our public library scouring the shelves when one book stood out to me. It was Dale Carnegie's "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living." I leafed through and immediately knew it was the book for me. I checked it out, read it, and my life has never been the same. I won't say that all my fears dissipated on the spot, but with Carnegie's wise, soothing words I was able to put into effect in my life a new way of thinking. And perceiving.  Spiders are no longer monsters waiting to chomp down on me, but rather lovely web-weaving insects that are sorely misunderstood. Deluges didn't signify sheer death on the road, but rather were cautionary events urging us to slow down. Rejection from publishers doesn't mean that I was a hopeless failure, simply that someone has a different point of view. Life has taken on a new lightness and a new joy that continues to this day.

Do I think all those years of being so afraid of everything were silly, a waste? Not at all. They brought me to my knees. They renewed my reliance on a power greater than myself. They humbled me. And humility is not a four-letter word; it is a gift that allows us to keep on growing.

 

 

 

 


The Cheap Retreat, or how to chill out without breaking the bank

My husband and I are going on a retreat. We both need a break from the demands of a busy life, he working as a Certified Personal Trainer and Livestrong facilitator at the Y , and I as a writer, writing novels and poetry books; launching memoirs and online courses; attending events and book groups. The holidays are coming. It is only going to get – more. I was going to say ‘ worse’ but there is nothing worse about our lives, it’s just that they are so full. Our cups are literally overflowing. We need to sit back, take a sip, and bring the levels down. So, we are going on retreat.

The deal is, though, we don’t have a lot to spend. We have allocated funds elsewhere, on trips abroad and to the Southwest, and until another ship comes in, well let’s just say our lifebelts are about as tight as they can be. But is that going to stop us? No, why should it? Serenity and peace of mind are not for sale. With a little creativity you can have a Canyon Ranch Spa experience right in your own home, without the hassle of travel or the stress of so much money spent. Here is how we plan to do it:

  1. Block out a number of days on our calendars when we will schedule no outside visits, calls, or appointments. This is our sacred time. We picked four days. November 10-13. That seemed like it would be just enough without getting to be too much.
  2. Tell our friends and family that we are going to be off the grid for those days. Leave one option for emergencies only. ( You can even go so far as to stop the mail for a week if you choose to.)
  3. The day or two before beginning the retreat, we will do all the laundry in the house and straighten up so there are no chores waiting to be done. Just act as if we are going out of the country. Create a clean, tidy environment.
  4. Plan our meals ahead and do all the shopping we need for the duration. Make packages in the freezer that we can pull out when we need them. If you don’t want to cook over the retreat, prepare several meals ahead. I am going to make a giant pot of white bean and chicken chili that we can eat with salad from a bag. Cheap. Satisfying. Delicious. Above all, easy. If you enjoy cooking, let that be a part of your retreat experience.
  5. If it is seasonal, bring in firewood and prepare a fire to be lit at a later time. No fireplace? Bring on the pillar candles and votives. Create atmosphere. We happen to have both a hearth and a plethora of candles. The key will be not to burn the house down!
  6. On the day the retreat starts, turn off our cell phones. Period. Leave them off for the duration of the retreat. Once the momentary panic over missing something has left, I imagine that a delicious sense of freedom will descend. I can feel it already. My senses perk up. We will find yourself interested in new things. Or, if you can’t bear the thought of that long without your phone, turn it on for one hour during the day, to check all those vital messages you have missed.
  7. Ditto laptops or tablet.
  8. As you float through the day, allow yourself to listen to calming music, read an engaging book, knit, nap, make love with your partner. The idea is to not force yourself to do anything. Just float. If it is hot and you have access to water, literally float on the pool. If you desire to be outside, sit or walk, but gently, without purpose. Simply be walking, not exercising. These are days of rest. Another soothing activity is taking photographs. The action of photographing keeps you in the moment and can be very relaxing. One thing I intend to do is to straighten my son’s room. At the moment, it is not tidy. That disturbs my serenity. As an exercise in meditation, I will straighten his room. I can only imagine how good that will feel when I am done! And then I will take a bubble bath, the perfect end to a perfect day.
  9. Above all else, let this be a time when the ‘shoulds’ are muted and you listen only to your inner voice guiding you. Be mindful. Stay in touch with the way your body feels, the way your mind is going. No judgement, just observation. Be gentle with yourself, and kind.
  10. I, personally, am going to journal during my retreat, not as work but as a way to be present in what I am doing. I’m sure that my husband won’t, and you might elect not to do so either. I am just saying, for me, journaling is a way take photographs with words, to notice my inner and outer landscape. Above all, journaling will give me something to look back on and reflect where I have been for four days, like a travel log.

I have no expectations for this retreat, but I am looking forward to some smooth, uninterrupted time, some quiet days to simply breathe and be. So, friends, please consider us checked out from November 10-13. We haven’t gone to Disney. We didn’t hop a plane to St. John’s. We aren’t on the slopes in Austria enjoying early snow, though it sounds like snow here with the quiet simply sifting down. We are in our living room, sitting in front of the fire, reading books and dozing as the dogs snore at our feet. We are gathering stamina for the holidays ahead and for the new year that, by all rights, promises to be a very full.

So, I'll let you know how it went when we "get back."  Happy peace and serenity to you!


The Necessity of Hope or How Pandora Screwed with Us

Most everyone is familiar with the myth of Pandora's Box. If you are not, here is a brief summary: In Greek mythology, Pandora was the first woman. (Like our Judeo Christian Eve.) When Prometheus improved the lot of man by stealing fire (and other tricks), Zeus avenged himself on the human race by inventing Pandora. Hephaestus, the god of fire and metalworking, made this new woman , which the other gods gave a variety of wicked traits. Hermes took her to Epimetheus, who had been forewarned by his brother Prometheus not to take gifts from the gods, but nonetheless accepted the gift and married her. Pandora, whose name means "all gifts", brought with her as a dowry a jar filled with evils, which she released on earth, keeping only Hope inside.

For many years, decades, I have pondered that myth as my name is Hope, and I wondered what lesson it might teach me. At first glance, it would appear that saving Hope at the bottom of the jar was both a prudent and fortuitous thing to do. Like saving a falling star for a rainy day. But as I have aged and experienced the mounting chaos in the world, I feel that it would have been far better had Hope escaped with all the evils. She could at least have acted as a buffer to the negativity swirling around.  Instead, Hope has been treated like a precious commodity.

Is Hope a thing with feathers that nestles in the soul? Am I stuck like a dope on a thing called Hope? These images make Hope seem so light and precious. Yes, I use that word once again. And in my mind's eye I hear Gollum hissing "my precious," as if Hope is like a gold ring which does, in fact, have infinite capabilities but which we clutch to our breasts, not always willing to share the bounty. The poet Mary Oliver wrote "Tell me, what is it you plan to do/ with your one wild and precious life?" Are you going to hold Hope next to your heart, treat it with kid gloves, never take risks, never go out on a limb, never fight for a worthy cause? If so, you are only living a half life and experiencing only a part of what Hope means.

Hope is a warrior, not an angel. Or maybe an angel with a sword and shield. Hope doesn't stand by in the corner and wish for circumstances to change. Hope is the change as she sees through the current circumstances, moving forward into a better future. If you think I am talking about politics, think again. Though my words may apply there, they are equally relevant for the child who watches one parent abuse another, or for the addict who cannot dismount the cycle of malfunction, or for the housewife who dreams of being an artist. The list could go on.

When Pandora put the lid on Hope, she thought that she had doomed mankind forever. Certain, she was, that we would all devour each other with Hate, Greed, Envy, Malice, and Regret. She may have been right. As individuals, we have the proclivity to do just that, eat ourselves alive as we compete and compare, lie and steal. We have lost, many of us, the ability to listen to our true voices. All we hear is the cacophony of negative sounds. But when some of us, for some inexplicable moment, experience Hope emerging, life changes. What was impossible becomes possible, what was loud becomes calm. Hope is the sound of no sound. It is made of things we cannot see.

 "What is it you plan to do with your wild and precious life?" Want to change your world? Open the jar. Let Hope out.   


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.