The Power of Art to Stay Awake.

I’ve been watching “The Handmaid’s Tale” on Hulu with equal parts fascination, fear and fury.

For those who don’t know the premise, it is based on the 1985 dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood. The former United States is now The Republic of Gilead. After extreme environmental devastation has left many women barren and men sterile, the new order steps in, sorting women into categories: young fertile women become Handmaids, some become Martha’s or maids, some are Aunts who are in charge of grooming the Handmaids for their new duties, while the rest are sent to work in the toxic camps where death is imminent. Cheery, so far, yes?

Handmaids are placed with a commander and his barren wife. Most of the commanders are sterile but that fact is no longer allowed in this society. (Dismissing of facts, sound familiar?) Only women are blamed for not being able to procreate. Their duty is to produce a child for the couple through The Ceremony which I find myself cringing through as I watch it.

One of the most disturbing aspects are the flashbacks which also greatly disturbed my 23-year-old daughter. In our current climate, setting the flashbacks in our time just makes the scenario seem not only possible but, at times, chillingly inevitable. Through the flashbacks we learn how women’s right were methodically stripped: firing them for their jobs, freezing their bank accounts so that only a husband or father could manage their money.

These are extreme actions that may, on the surface, feel completely unrealistic. We like to tell ourselves that would never happen here. But it already is. It comes down to how we value women and as a society we aren’t valued as much as men. We literally make less money for the same job just because are women. We are at the crux of a constant fight for control over our own bodies. We may be heading back to a time where our gender is considered a pre-existing condition and be charged more for our health insurance.

Beyond the issues of gender, another chilling scene was a brief flashback where men dressed in black with guns were throwing books and art into a fire. Why go after art? It is straight out of the dictator’s handbook. Go after the artists who use their voices to speak truth to power. Artists hold up a mirror to society—the good, the bad and the ugly. Once we see ourselves, we can’t unseen it. Therefore, it behooves a regime to not allow it to be seen or heard in the first place.

I’ve been watching as many artists struggle to find their voice in this new era of government where rights are threatened on an almost daily basis. Before the election, writer Julianna Baggott started a site inviting people to dedicate their no-Trump vote, sharing their stories about why they were not voting for him.

More than 600 American writers, including Stephen King, Dave Eggers, and Cheryl Strayed, penned an open letter against Trump.

Michael Moore reveals that he has been on a “creative tear” since last summer when he saw the inevitable train wreck coming at us. He encourages the use of satire and humor because it has been shown to get under the President’s extremely thin skin. What is a weakness in him becomes a strength for the resistance.

Many visual artists are turning to their work in this era of Trump to motivate action and educate the public on issues they are passionate about. As always, art is in the eyes of the beholder and there are consequences of expressing your views in such a public forum. For example, Ilma Gore’s painting of a nude Trump sporting a micropenis is currently on display at the Maddox gallery in London. She has been threatened not only by his lawyers but has received thousands of death and rape threats after posting the image online where it was shared over 260,000 times.

I find myself turning more to my writing than ever before. It soothes my anxiety, it helps me make sense of the chaos and it helps me discern what I think and how I feel within the chaos. Working on my novel five days week is often the one time of the day when I can block out the news and lose myself in another world. But I also find myself writing more political content in my journal, on social media and on my blog. I considered whether that would offend potential readers of my work and chose to use my voice. It is a gift I have and to not use it seems wrong. My audience is not huge but I have had people tell me over and over again how much they appreciate my words so I will keep sending them out into the world.

Ultimately, this election has been about waking up. Waking up to reality, to political action, to making myself heard whether through marches, town halls, calling and faxing my representatives or writing. Artists are awake to reality and they wake the rest of us up which is critical in these times.

I will leave you with the most chilling words from “The Handmaid’s Tale” so far:

Now I’m awake to the world. I was asleep before. That’s how we let it happen. When they slaughtered Congress, we didn’t wake up. When they blamed terrorists and suspended the Consitution, we didn’t wake up then, either. Nothing changes instantaneously. In a gradually heating bathtub, you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.

~ Offred

Let’s stay awake.

 

A Book I Love. #TBT

Each Thursday in honor of #TBT, I feature a book that I truly love, that helped shape me as a writer, as a woman, as a human.

41DTOzISUVL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_

“Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life” by Anne Lamott became my writing bible for a while. Her simple advice, her passion, her authentic, messy real self appealed to me on a deep level. She wasn’t afraid to admit to the hard parts of writing. She didn’t pretend that she sat down easily everyday as the words just flowed from her fingertips from some muse on high. In fact, the only muse she endorsed was the work. Showing up was the muse. To this day, I still use her advice: one-inch picture frame to write the next scene, shitty first drafts to write the thing at all and taking it all one word at a time.

The Practice of Tapas.

17022416_10209842569075667_2501385995637702065_n

“Life without tapas is like a heart without love.” ~ BKS Iyengar

One of the stories I’ve told myself over the years is that I am lazy. I’ve lugged that word around throughout high school, college all the way up to the present. Nothing I did was enough (according to me).

Then I discovered tapas. Not the delicious appetizers but the third niyama that calls on me to stoke my inner fire. Literally it comes from the root sanskrit word “tap” which means “to burn.” I take it to mean to burn away everything that holds me back from achieving what I want and being who I want to be. That means burning away the story that I am lazy.

As a writer, I’ve struggled with procrastination on an almost daily basis. My shelves are lined with books promising the secret to being a productive writer. I’ve tried many different tips from waking up early to writing late at night, from focusing on word counts to time spent writing, writing at home to writing in coffee shops.They all worked, for a while. Then I’d drift back into this wishy-washy limbo of wanting to write but never quite committing to it.

Last year I embarked on a year-long writing challenge based on Jerry Seinfeld’s “Don’t Break The Chain” advice. The theory is that you set up a system of marking an x for each day you  show up to write, the goal being to not break the chain. I sat up a dry erase board with 365 boxes for each day of the year. Dutifully, I showed up each day to write something, anything, no word count, no minimum time required and once I did that I could make my x. I did it. Every single day .

This year I decided to require a little more from myself. I still must write every single day but Monday -Friday I need to write at least 500 words on my current WIP. Saturday and Sunday can be for the WIP or Morning Pages or blog posts. I am using the same dry erase board as last year only I am coloring in the top triangle blue for the days I write at least 500 words, red for the weekends.

It’s working. I am up to almost 50,00 words on my novel. I wrote on days when I was crazy busy, when I wasn’t feeling well, even when we had a 72-hour power outage.The story is finding its way, the characters are finding their way and I am finding mine.

What I’m discovering is that practicing tapas in one area of my life is spilling into other areas. I’ve meditated every day since November 9. Some days it’s just been two minutes. Others it’s been thirty. I find myself with more confidence as I continually meet these goals I set for myself that nobody but me cares if I meet. If I can do this, what else can I do?

With this fire ignited, anything is possible.

The Practice of Contentment.

I saw the documentary “Embrace” recently. To say that it changed my life is not an exaggeration.

It’s about female body image.

It started when Taryn Brumfitt posted before and after pix on Facebook and they went viral, not because of how stunning her transformation was (though it was) but because of how real it was.

taryn-brumfitt-before-and-after

Image found via Pinterest.

It went viral because she went against the norm. The before pic “should’ve” been the after and the after the before. She received thousands of responses. Some hateful and nasty because some people are just hateful and nasty. But most were beautiful and vulnerable and most were grateful to see somebody embracing their real body rather than shunning it and they wanted to know how they could do the same.

So, Taryn embarked on a journey and documented it to see how women around the world view their bodies. It was illuminating and heartbreaking. A word often uttered when asked to describe their body was “disgusting.” Not one woman liked one thing about her body.

Not one thing.

I don’t remember the first time I realized my body wasn’t good enough. I do remember a friend telling me to stop doing the locomotion in her basement because each time I hopped it felt like an elephant shaking the floor. I was twelve.

I remember a boy in the stands at a high school basketball game where I was a cheerleader calling me “thunder thighs.”

I remember pouring over issues of “Seventeen” yearning for the long, straight blonde hair that I saw. The thin thighs, slender calves and ankles.

I remember never feeling quite comfortable in my skin. Not only because of being bombarded constantly by media telling me that I needed to change my body but also because I think a part of me believed that it would be “conceited” to think I was enough just as I am. That I would be full of myself.

Since I’ve been practicing yoga, I’ve become much more comfortable in my own skin. I’ve grown to accept the way my body and energy fluctuate day to day, month to month, year to year. Because I try to practice yoga as a way of life, I’ve learned to practice santosha or contentment. It’s not about being happy all the time but being content in each moment as it arises, not needing to change it or fix it or resist it.

When it comes to my 51-year-old body, santosha is a blessing. It helps me to not merely accept my body (which I think implies that it is less than and I am just settling) but to embrace my body exactly as it is day to day, moment to moment.

Some days I feel strong and confident and head off my mat after a sweaty vinyasa ready to kick ass. Other days I curl up on the couch  and that’s it. Santosha allows me to ride the waves of hormones as my body shifts, my mood meanders and my ability to sleep suddenly falls off a cliff.

Santosha allows me to feel content no matter what is happening in my body, to my body and around my body. It allows me to recognize that, contrary to decades of false beliefs and advertising saturation, I am not essentially lacking. It allows me to embrace and rejoice in all that I do, all that I am.

lao-tzu-contentment

 

Books Read in January.

january-books

“Talking As Fast As I Can” a memoir by Lauren Graham

Some of the most exciting things that happened in my life took place before I turn six years old.

I don’t generally read celebrity memoirs, or any books really written by a celebrity. When Snookie came out with a novel? Well, let’s just say that might’ve been the last straw. I don’t believe in books as brands. Books are breathing entities filled with hope and they lessen the burden of loneliness. Before reading Graham’s book, the only other celebrity book I read was the story collection by Molly Ringwald and it blew me away. As I read I could tell it wasn’t just a piece of her brand puzzle. And she could really write. What she has in common with Graham is that they were both English majors. So, maybe I’m a bit of a snob but if you took time to study literature then I have a certain amount of respect for you and enough curiosity to see what you own writing is like.

I am a huge “Gilmore Girls” fan. I’m a huge Lauren Graham fan, I mean…”Parenthood”…right?I’ve already watched the Netflix revival “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” twice and still wanted more. So, her book. Well, books, actually and I bought both.

This memoir is how I imagine she is when she’s not playing Lorelai or Sarah, but I feel there’s a lot of her in both characters. This book is funny, warm, charming and fast-paced (maybe the quick dialogue thing wasn’t completely Amy Sherman-Palladino’s call).

Not only do we get a glimpse of her childhood and her road to Hollywood success, she gives us a peek behind the scenes of each season of Gilmore Girls as well as the revival! Squee!!! I love seeing behind the scenes of anything, but two of my favorite shows? Well, it was heaven.

She also talks about writing and how she found it. Or, how it found her. And her timer trick to get the actual writing done? I can totally relate to that and it pretty much combines by own process that I’ve pieced together over the years through trial and error. It kind of combines the shitty first draft with a timer. It’s a way of getting and keeping your butt in the chair to get the work done.

So grateful that Graham (although I feel like I can call her Lauren after reading her book) found a process that worked for her to get this book written.

A sentence I love (and made me laugh out loud):

On  being a guest judge on Project Runway

“I can’t even stand giving feedback to the potato peeler I bought on Amazon—what made me think this would be any different?”

“Someday, Someday. Maybe” a novel by Lauren Graham

“Begin whenever you’re ready,” comes the voice from the back of the house.

This fresh, charming novel follows Franny Banks’ dream of acting. She gave her self a deadline to “succeed” that is fast approaching. Does she hang in there just a while longer or does she admit defeat and give up?

I became so caught up in the life of Franny that I forgot than one of my favorite actresses wrote it! One of the things I really loved is how the life of an artist, any artist, is explored. What qualifies as success? Once we achieve whatever milestone we set for ourselves, then what? What if you don’t? Then what?

I realized while reading this that I never set the same kind of deadline for myself as  a writer. Maybe because I have other means of income. But I know that even if I never sell a novel, go on book tour, have my novel optioned for a movie, I will still keep writing.

The advice that her agent, barney, gives her at the end about succeeding in show business can be applied to writing as well: Faster, Funnier, Louder. Read the book to get the details.

A sentence I love: 

(Referring to her filofax but it works as sage writing advice.)

“Just keep at it, like the fictional Franny, keep filling up the pages, and something’s bound to happen.”

“The Hidden Messages in Water” by Maseru Emoto

Understanding the fact that we are essentially water is the key to uncovering the mysteries of the universe.

I borrowed this book from a friend but it is so fascinating and life-changing that I will need to buy a copy for myself to re-read at least once a year to remind me how powerful our thoughts are.

The basic premise is that our words and thoughts have power to heal or hurt. By exposing ice crystals to different words then photographing them afterward he was able to show the physical effect words can have, not only on water but on our selves which are 70% water. Filled with beautiful photographs from his studies, this slim but powerful book lays out how essential it is that we take care with our words.

“Our emotions and feelings have an effect on the world moment by moment. If you send out words and images of creativity, then you will be contributing to the creation of a beautiful world. However, emitting messages of destruction, you contribute to the destruction of the universe.”

Once fully understood, it becomes deeply freeing while at the same time a sobering responsibility.

A sentence I love:

The relationship between love and gratitude may be similar to the relationship between sun and shade. If love is the sun, gratitude is the moon.

Today.

img_3963

Today, I changed my profile picture on social media to a black square, symbolizing my grief.

Today, I went to yoga, allowing myself to be both grounded and lifted up by my practice and yoga community.

Today, I chose to not watch the inauguration.

Today, I wrote over 700 more words on my novel. Each day, I show up and add more words and they begin to add up to something substantial. They add up to scenes, to pages, to characters, to stories, eventually to a full novel.

In the days and years ahead of us, showing up each day to what is happening in our communities, states and country will be critical. Each action, no matter how small, adds up to something substantial.

Make that call to your representative voicing your concern about healthcare or education or the environment or whatever cause is dear to your heart.

Join a local political action group.

Write an Op-Ed.

Reach out to somebody in your community who feels afraid, disenfranchised.

Take radical care of yourself.

Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Today, as I grieve at what we’ve lost and are afraid of losing I am also looking at what we have gained.

We have gained an awakening.

People are waking up from complacency.

Waking up to the sobering responsibilities of being a citizen of the great country.

I see people waking up to support each other.

To lift each other up.

To standing up to bullies, misogyny, racism, xenophobia.

Standing up for progress.

Tomorrow I will join many of you as I attend a local progressive rally in my very conservative town before heading to our state capitol for the Sister March.

There will be excitement.

There will be passion.

There will be pussyhats and signs and lots and lots of energy.

But that is only the very first step in a very long journey.

So, yes, today a black square is representing my mourning.

Tomorrow, it will be replaced by my original picture with the words, “When sleeping women wake, mountains move.”

img_3517

Today, I mourn. Tomorrow I take the first of many, many steps to move mountains.

I hope you’ll join me.

The Practice of Core Desired Feelings

cdf-2017

I am a huge fan of using Core Desired Feelings to set intentions for the new year rather than resolutions that are doomed to be broken within a month—if that. If you haven’t checked out “The Desire Map” by Danielle Laporte, I highly suggest you do. It’s a game changer.

This year my core desired feelings are: Awake, Vibrant and Courageous.

awaken

Awake: This is such a critical one for me that I will be doing a separate post about it soon. I will awaken to my strengths and weaknesses, to my light and my shadow.To what is happening in the world locally, statewide, nationwide and worldwide. No more looking the other way, assuming that I won’t be personally impacted in my own little privileged bubble. I will awaken too what is happening in my body,mind and emotional and energetic bodies at any given moment. I will awaken to what I desire, what I need, what I need to give and what I need to receive. No more walk-in around with my eyes closed, head turned or numbed out to my feeling say what Glennon Doyle Melton calls my “easy buttons.” For me that are wine, sugar, mindless social media, TV, shopping. Awaken to all of who I am, to all of the world has to offer.

Vibrant: Feeling healthy, energetic. Again, not hiding behind my easy buttons. Allowing myself to shine and sparkle and saying no to anything or anyone who tries to dim my brightness.

courage

Image found via Pinterest.

Courage: I love that courage has its root in the word for “heart.” To me, it mean living, acting and moving from the true space of my heart, Speaking up when I need to. Using my voice politically. Writing the truth as I know it, as I experience it. Being uncomfortable or afraid but staying present and taking action anyway—going to new places, making that phone call, having that difficult conversation with someone or myself. It means being what Brené Brown calls “wholehearted.”

I created the image at the top of my core desired feeling to remind me daily of how I want to feel, then every choice I make is filtered through those feelings. I put it as the screen saver on my phone, printed it out and hung it in my office, in my yoga room.

How do you enter the new year? How do you want to feel? Feel free to leave a comment or a link to your post.

Happy New Year!

happy-new-year

Image found via Pinterest.

#AMonthofFaves201 ~ Reading Outside My Comfort Zone

Surprise Find(s) This Year.

comfort-zone

So, here’s the thing I am realizing—I don’t often venture out of my reading comfort zone. I like the literary stories that I like, the authors I like, the inspiring spiritual stories I like, the memoirs I like, the books about writing that I like.

in 2017, I am going to expand my reading. I am going to venture out of the bubble of my comfort zone. Try genres I usually shy away from (maybe sci-fi, paranormal romance, historical non-fiction, classics) and find authors that aren’t on my amazon suggested list. It’s so easy to become isolated within the things we like, within a community that agrees with everything we believe. Now, more than ever, it is critical that we move beyond those spaces. Books are meant to crack open our world, expand our views but only if we let them, only if we invite them into our lives.

This coming year I am going to do just that.

Check out the challenge here. 

#AMonthofFaves2016 ~ Most Useful Tools For Getting Sh&! Done

get-shit-done

Image found via Pinterest.

I’ve hit a planner dead-end lately. I used to use a simple datebook from One Spirit Book Club. For nine years, I ordered my new one in December. But then, they stopped producing one. Ever since then, I’ve been in planner limbo.

planners

I’ve tried others but they are too much work. Or they don’t lay flat. Or they have each day laid out in 15-minute increment which I don’t need.

I end up feeling like Goldilocks and none of them is just right.

The calendar on my phone gets a lot of use. It took me a while to even start using it but now that I am, it’s working for me. I like the alerts I can set the day before and an hour before. I like that the address pops up, making it easy to get directions to where I need to go.

Mostly though, I’m an old-fashioned, handwritten to-do lis kind of gal. Just the act of writing something down on a list makes it 90% more possible that it will actually get done. I love the satisfaction of crossing things off my list. In fact, I will write something down that I have already done, just to be able to cross it off.

writing-chartThe last tool I use to keep me productive is my writing chart. I got the idea from Jerry Seinfeld who said to make an “X”each day you write (in his case, a joke) and pretty soon you’ll see them all add up and won’t want to break the chain. I created my own on a dry erase board and this year it has worked. My plan is to color in each triangle of the “X” over the next four years and, hopefully, have a five-year daily writing streak.

 

Check out the challenge here.