Acknowledging Ms. Rule-Maker.

Ms. Rule-Maker.JPG

Today I felt like a slug.

I took one nighttime sinus pill last night to help with a lingering headache and the effects seem to weigh me down. I laid on the couch until it felt like I was melting into it.

Finally, I hauled myself off of it and into the shower. Got myself dressed. Came to the bookstore. Ordered a chai (hoping the caffeine would help jumpstart me out of this energetic stupor) then began to write my morning pages (even though it was two o’clock in the afternoon.)

One of the first things to come out was this so-called rule that if I had to go to the bookstore to write rather than sit in the perfectly lovely writing space I created at home, then I wasn’t a real writer.

Wait, what?

I recently unearthed a bunch of rules I have absorbed over the years about food. It was a long list.

So, I decided to do the same with this. What other rules were lurking around?

I should have a degree to be a real writer.

I should have a book published to be a real writer.

I should write a certain amount of words or for a certain length of time on my current WIP to be a real writer. (The amounts are always totally unrealistic.)

I should work on my WIP and not the ten other kinds of writing I may do on any given day.

I picture this rule-maker as an older woman, dressed in black, with a tight severe bun, pacing around, slapping a ruler against her palm.Once I have a visual it is easier to remember that her job is create rules. She thinks she is helping me. Just like it is my mind’s job to churn out thoughts. My job isn’t to stop either one. My job is to observe and then move on.

Meditating doesn’t mean not thinking. That happen when we die. Meditation is about observing the thoughts, becoming intimate with the mind while not getting swept away by the current.

Same with Ms. Rule-Maker. Once I acknowledge her, I can give her a brief nod that says, “Thank you for your input, I’ll keep that in mind” then go on my way.

That is exactly what I did today. And I managed to get everything on my writing agenda done:

Morning Pages 

Writing Practice

Read and do exercises from “You Are a Badass at Making Money”

Work on WIP

New rule: Writing anywhere, on anything for any length of time makes me a writer.

 

 

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Don’t Be Tossed Away.

Don't Be Tossed Away

“Don’t be tossed away by your monkey mind. You say you want to do something—“I really want to be a writer”—then that little voice comes along, “but I might not make enough money as a writer.” “Oh, okay, then I won’t write.” That’s being tossed away. These little voices are constantly going to be nagging us. If you make a decision to do something, you do it. Don’t be tossed away. But part of not being tossed away is understanding your mind, not believing it so much when it comes up with all these objections and then loads you with all these insecurities and reasons not to do something.”               ~ Natalie Goldberg

 

This is one of the first lessons I learned from Natalie Goldberg when I read her books then studied with her. But it is only recently that I feel I have really absorbed that lesson. It is only recently that I feel that I live that lesson.

I rarely allow myself to be tossed away now that I have decided to show up daily to my writing, to my mind through meditation. She is right. We must become intimate with the way our minds work and see monkey mind for what it is.

Part of me deeply regrets that I resisted meditating for SO long. At the retreat with Goldberg, she basically said it is the one true secret to writing and that while she din’t make it mandatory, she highly encouraged us to show up to the early morning meditation before the activities began for the day.

I blew off the meditation. I slept instead.

And as I write that, I realize I mean it literally ( I slept in) and figuratively. I slept through much of my life, allowing monkey mind to be in charge. Believing the stories it churned out and boy, did it churn out some doozies.

Those stories tossed me away.

Tossed me away from the page.

From the stories I yearned to tell..

From my goals.

From my dreams.

Now, I am not staying that I no longer have that voice taunting me, trying to derail me. Nope. Not at all. But now that I write every damn day, now that I meditate every damn day, I no longer care so much what money mind has to say.

I no longer wait for the perfect circumstances or the perfect beam of inspiration or the perfect feeling that that will propel me effortlessly to my desk or meditation cushion. If I waited for that, I’d be waiting forever. There’s always a reason not to write, always a reason not to meditate.

Instead I show up no matter what.

Being tossed away is no longer a thing I need to constantly fight against.

I just show up.

 

 

 

No Place to Hide.

 

No Place to Hide

I like to keep track of things. Things I do and for how long.

Currently I am keeping track of how many days in a row I have not had a drink. (68) I track how many days in a row I have meditated. (426) And I keep track of how many days in a row I have written something. (1,337)

And what does this add up to? That is such a left-brain, ego-based question. Because the things we do must add up to something. To some goal, some achievement. Right?

Why can’t the achievement be in the doing. Or in the case of drinking, in the not doing?

These things may not have added up to something but they have certainly added to the quality of my life.

I am more present. I feel things more, which is challenging. There was a reason that I often poured one, two or three glasses of wine on a random night. I didn’t want to feel those pesky, uncomfortable feelings.

Meditating helps me to see how those feelings and thoughts just come and go. I know it will change so I can sit with it for now.

Writing helps me to process all those feelings. I get them out of the dark, knotted twisty space of my head, onto the page and into the light of day where they lose much of their power.

Doing things everyday, like writing, builds momentum. This is huge for me. I can become so easily stuck. Stuck in my head, stuck in this tendency to overthink every single thing and end up immobilized on the couch binge-watching Netflix. But writing something every day, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant is not insignificant at all. It builds momentum and the muscle of showing up.

Showing up when I am happy and inspired.

Showing up when I am sad and thoroughly uninspired.

Showing up when I know what happens next in my story.

Showing up when I have no idea at all what happens next.

Showing up after all these years. It’s obviously not for monetary reasons. Sure, that would be nice and I haven’t given up on that. But what keeps me coming back to the page again and again is this desire and habit to be there for the stories that want to be told. To be there for the deepest parts of my self that want to remain hidden but also want to be seen and heard.

There is nowhere to hide on the page. It’s like I tell my students, no matter what prompt I provide, whatever you need to write will find its way out.

I see now that each of these daily practices are spaces where I can no longer hide. I can’t hide from myself, my desires, my fears.

These daily practices allow me to see myself with clarity and compassion. And I can then turn that that clarity and compassion back out into the world around me.

 

The Heart of the World.

heart of the world

Image found via Pinterest.

I read to slip into other worlds. To escape the world I am living in. While writing is solitary and it isolates me, it doesn’t allow me to escape the world. I don’t escape my life. If anything, writing slams me smack into my life. It slips into the crevices ands corners, hiding in the shadows that I’ve overlooked, taking me deeper into what I think, feel, believe at any given moment. 

Meditation, yoga and writing all allow me to slip deeper into myself, rather than away from myself. In each practice, I meet myself exactly where I am. I sit on my meditation cushion, set a timer and just observe my thoughts, observe my breath. Some days it is easier than others but it is never easy. I step on my mat and meet my body where it is that day. Rather than just moving through the poses, I try to drop deeper, connecting with my breath and my mind. Writing brings all of these together. It’s a practice I’ve been showing up for for over 30 years when I first picked up “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg. I began filling notebooks with timed writings, not expecting them to lead me to a destination such as a story or a published book, for once just being content on the journey.

Once my girls were in school and Pre-K, I used my precious alone time to go to the Starbucks around the corner from the school to write. I didn’t call myself a writer. I just wrote. Sitting there with my soy chai latte and pumpkin scone I picked up a pen, opened my notebook and let the words spill out of me. Being a stay-at-home mom, I had a lot of pent up words.

I began to use writing as a way of untangling the knot of thoughts in my head. Stories that were guiding my actions—and reactions—but that were rarely based in reality. Once I found yoga, I learned that those stories have a word: samskara. Things that happened in the past that we don’t process and they get stuck in the body as energy. 

No matter what I write—fiction, memoir, personal essays or a blog post—there is no hiding from the world, from myself. Everything I write reveals my obsessions, reveals a piece of me that I may have been avoiding or was completely unaware of. Natalie Goldberg says, “Wild Mind isn’t just your mind; it’s the whole world moving through you.”

Reading allows me to go into other worlds; writing takes me straight into the messy, pulsing heart of the world.

Owning my Dream.

I REALLY REALLY WANT

My jaw has been clenched a lot lately.

Usually I write it off as stress. But in my Poses, Pens + Inner Peace class last night, I wrote this:

I wonder what I’m trying to hold back by clamping my  mouth shut.

Wow! Such a tiny yet huge shift in perspective. So, today in my Morning Pages I explored that question. I was stunned by what I discovered:

What else? I don’t say how badly I want to be published. I focus on how much I love the process and even if I never published another word I would still write. And that is true. But this is also true:

I REALLY REALLY REALLY WANT TO HAVE MY BOOKS PUBLISHED.

There I said it. I declared it. I owned it. It’s scary because now I can fail by not getting published. It was safer the other way, just dipping my toe into publishing here and there but focusing more on the process. I could hang out in that limbo forever. 

But that is not what I want.

And I am uncomfortable with wants. I’ve usually focused more on needs. Wants felt self-indulgent. Frivolous. Dangerous. Because then not getting what I want feels like a failure. Feels like I am a failure.

No wonder I’ve stayed away from wanting this, from declaring I want this.

But no longer. I want this and I am willing to work my ass off to make it happen.

What dream have you been afraid to own? What goal have you kept your enthusiasm tepid about in case it revealed how badly you truly want it to happen? Share it in the comments.

Want it badly enough to declare it to the Universe.

Onward!

 

 

Showing my Writer-Self Some Love.

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I am learning how to show my writer-self some love every day, not just on Valentine’s Day.

My Writer-Self works hard. She struggles with rejection, with doubts, anxiety. She is constantly honing her craft through intense reading and writing. Even when she isn’t writing, she is thinking about writing. Every experience that crosses her consciousness becomes fodder for her work.

She battles with my inner mean girl and harsh critic constantly so she definitely deserves some love.

Here is what I do:

I’ve created a writing sanctuary. It is a room of my own that when I enter my writer-self sighs with relief. Ah, I am home she says.

I get enough sleep because a tired writer-self is not creative or productive.

I move my body because a cranky body makes for a cranky writer.

I treat her to hot chocolate or chai tea at the local bookstore at her favorite table.

I read books that nourish her heart, mind and soul.

I slow down because life is lived, experienced and written about in the details.

I meditate because a calm mind has room to wander and explore.

I buy colorful pens because she loves to spill colored ink onto page and after page. It makes her heart happy.

I buy beautiful journals because her words are worth it.

I commit time to daily writing because she requires daily attention. It tells her I am serious. It shows her how devoted I am to her.

How do you how your writer-self some love?

 

Writing into the Deep.

welcome 2019

Image found via Pinterest.

After a session with a psychic (something I’ve always wanted to do), I’ve changed the focus of my blog to, well, focus more on writing. I realized I was trying to cover everything that interests me: writing, reading, yoga, marriage, family, being vegan, politics. And by trying to cover everything, it all became a bit too diffuse. Nothing was getting the attention it deserved.

By streamlining my focus here, I am finding my focus more streamlined in real life as well. I am currently reading “Rapt” by Winifred Gallagher and she writes about how the quality of our lives depends on where we put our attention. And, just as importantly, where we don’t. (Yeah, social media I’m looking at you.)

In 2019, I am pouring my attention and devotion into writing. Into writing daily. Into submitting my work to magazines. Into finally finding an agent. Into publishing the novel-in-stories that is already done. Into finishing a draft of my current novel. Into finishing a draft of book one in my YA fantasy trilogy. 

Writing into the Deep means writing with deep focus, deep passion. It means writing and stepping into the unknown. It means staying afloat when I don’t know what happens next in a scene or in the submission process. It means writing far past first thoughts into what Natalie Goldberg calls “wild mind” where all the juiciness lives and thrives. 

So, here’s to 2019 and all that it may bring and all that I will bring to it!

What are your 2019 writing intentions/focus/plans/goals? I’d love to hear. 

Books Read in November + December

Michelle Obama and me

“Shrill” by Lindy WestShrill

I am writing this two weeks after the 2016 presidential election, and in case you don’t remember what that was like, because things have gotten either better or worse—the world feels concussed.

When a writer writes with such clarity, such precision, such honesty I hesitate to add my own feeble words into the mix. All I can say is: read this book. There is not a subject she will shy away from. In fact, she runs head long into each and every subject she takes on including being fat, abortion, her marriage, career, trolls, the internet, death. Each chapter is an artful dance with and dissection of topics that need to come out of the shadows. West shines a light on each one with humor, truth and (to take a phrase from the back jacket copy) “vulnerability and vicious charm.”

I underlined SO many lines but here is just one on the significance of the title:

“‘Shrill’ is a gendered insult; calling a man ‘shrill’ makes as much sense as calling a smell ‘tall.’ To be shrill is to reach above your station; to abandon your duty to soothe and please; in short, to be heard.”

Amen, sistah!

His Favorites“His Favorites”  novel by Kate Walbert

This is not a story I have told before.

Looking back on her girlhood, Jo shares the incident that sent her life and that of her family into a complete different trajectory. She end ups needing to escape her hometown after the tragedy that she caused so she enrolls in a prestigious boarding school. Looking for freedom from that tragedy, for a second chance she tries to navigate this new life the best she can. There are cliques and roommates and the hierarchy of classmates as well as a teacher who grooms selected girls, his favorites, by first inviting them into his coveted Modern Lit class. 

Reading this in this new era of #MeToo reiterates the need for such movement. This slim but powerful novel explores boundaries, time, memory as well as the narrative choices used to be able to tell the story at all. As Jo says, “Someone once told me that memory  is just another draft of a story.”

And this is one of the most beautifully written and satisfying endings of a novel I have ever read.

A description of a golf course (and an exquisite bit of foreshadowing) I love:

“Only sounds of nature and maintenance, dark expanses of expertly mowed grass and hills, sand traps banked against shorn greens with ramrod-straight flags dead in the no-breeze and still water. The all of it designed for entrapment.”

“When Breath Becomes Air” a memoir by Paul KalanithiWhen breath Becoomes Air

I flipped through the CT scan images, the diagnosis obvious: the lungs were matted with innumerable tumors, the spine deformed, a full lobe of the liver obliterated. Cancer.

This book has been on my radar for quite a while. I just love the title. There’s a simple beauty and grace to the words and that same beauty and grace made illuminated the entire book. Despite the heaviness of the topic (cancer, death) there was a lightness to his story. It helped that not only was Kalanithi a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist but hr also studied literature and turned back to literature as a doctor looking for guidance soon the human condition, on loving and dying. His compassion, curiosity and exquisite observation of self and the world around him made him a beautiful writer.

I close the book with sadness. Sadness at the loss of such light in the world but so grateful that he used his precious time to write his story, to share it with us, to illuminate this dance between life and death. But I also closed the book with a sense of peace. He made dying just the tiniest bit less terrifying to me because he lived his life so fully and with such depth. 

A sentence I love:

I had come to see language as an almost supernatural force, existing between people, bringing our brains, shielded in centimeter-thick souls, into communion.

Becoming“Becoming” by Michelle Obama

I spent much of my childhood listening to the sound of striving.

I’ve bought several books that have emerged from these political times and this is the first one I’ve finished, reading it cover to cover, not wanting it to end.

I admit, I was sightly nervous before I began reading it. I’ve admired her immensely for so long and I didn’t want to judge her writing but I also wanted it to not suck. One of my pet peeve is shoddy writing by celebrities.

Well, I needn’t have worried. She is a beautiful writer. She writes of her life and experience with depth and grace. I have several friends who are listening to her read the audio version, and honestly, it felt like she she was sitting next to me, talking like girlfriends. She is fierce and compassionate, intelligent and funny. I admired how she mined her life, looking for the threads that wove together to allow her to become who she was meant to be.

But it is not only about she became Michelle Obama. It is how we each have the ability to rise up and become who we are meant to be.It is about how how our country is still in the midst of becoming who we are meant to be.

A passage I love:

“Becoming requires equal parts patience and rigor. Becoming is never giving up on the idea that there’s more growing to be done.”

“Hazards of Time Travel” a novel by Joyce Carol OatesHazards of Time Travel

They would not have come for me, naively I drew their attention to me.

In a not too distant future, Ariadne pushes the boundaries imposed on the citizens of NAS (Reconstituted North American States). A valedictorian speech brings unwanted attention by those in charge and the consequences are swift and severe. She is transported back to 1950’s Wisconsin to complete four years of college. Ripped from her family, her friends, her time in history, she is left to manage a life alone. It could’ve been worse. She could’v been deleted. Given strict instructions to not travel far from her epicenter and not to get intimate with anyone else from this time, Ariadne, now going by the name Mary Ellen tries to forge a life in this completely different world than the one she knows. What she knows of this one she learned from history books and stories from her parents. When a professor catches her attention, Ariadne is convinced he is an Exile, like her. A relationship is forbidden, but her loneliness is deep and raw. In a love story that looks ahead as well as back in time, JCO has created a mesmerizing world that is really two worlds reflect that who we were, who we are and who we become.

A passage I love:

I felt like a soft, winged thing, a moth that has been batted out of the air. Not hard enough to break its wings, but hard enough to knock it stunned to earth, and the wings slow-moving, wounded and mute in wonderment.

 

1,026 Days in a Row.

1026 days

Image found via Pinterest.

Today marks the 1,026 day in a row that I have written.

I’m kind of bummed that I missed the 1000th day but this is still something to acknowledge and commemorate.

See, I still carry the belief that I am lazy, that I don’t work hard enough, that I don’t follow through enough. But the fact that I have written something every single day for 1,026 days in a row seems to disprove that belief. But beliefs aren’t grounded in facts. They are built on feelings, on those stories we hold in our bones.

When I was first starting out in my twenties, I could not bring myself to say that I am a writer. I didn’t have a degree in english or journalism or communications. I didn’t even have a Bachelor’s degree, much less the much lauded MFA. I had an Associate’s in Fashion Illustration. I also had a love of books and a desire to explore the world through language. I jumped into that yearning and proceeded to fill notebook after notebook with writing practice. I went to classes, attended week-long writing retreats, formed writing groups, even taught writing workshops to moms with young children. Still, I hesitated to call myself a writer.

I’m not sure when that changed. But it did. Not completely. I still take a breath before I say the words, waiting for the inevitable question of where can I find your books? I can list the places I’ve been published. I can declare that I have one completed novel and that I am looking for an agent. That I am halfway through novel number two as well as into writing a YA fantasy trilogy. These are all facts. But they aren’t what matters.

Now, that I am in my fifties, what matters is that  I know that writing is no longer something I do, it’s not even a label or title I need to claim.

It’s who I am.

Books Read in July + August.

Books read in July + August

“Middlesex” a novel by Jeffrey Eugenides

I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.

This book has been on my shelf for years and when I decided to choose a big juicy novel for the book club I facilitate at the yoga studio where I teach, this what I chose. And what an excellent choice it was.

It is a writer’s book because of the beautiful language and stunning sentences. It is a reader’s book because of the story than spans generations.

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, “Middlesex” tells the story of Calliope Stephanides and three generations of her Greek-American family. The story takes us from a tiny village in Asia Minor to Detroit during the Prohibition then into the race riots of the 1970’s. Behind the scenes of all that, Calliope knows she is not like the other girls but it takes unraveling a deep family secret to discover why and discover who she truly is meant to be on her journey from Calliope to Cal.

It goes so far beyond a coming-age-story and immerses us in an epic tale of belonging versus not belonging and finding our place in the word whether in a new county, in tumulus cultural times, in our own family or within our own body.

Breathtaking.  A feast for the heart, for the mind, for the imagination.

A sentence I love: From an early age they knew what little value the world placed in books, and so didn’t waste their time with them. Whereas I, even now, persist in believing that these black marks on white paper bear the greatest significance, that if I keep writing I might be able to catch the rainbow of consciousness in a jar.

“Days of Awe” stories by A.M. Homes

She is on the phone. He can see her reflection in the bathroom mirror, the headset wrapped around her ear as if she were an air-traffic controller or a Secret service Agent.

Homes is a master of the short story, leading us to what we think is one world but we end up in a totally unexpected place. A sense of unease that Americans are feeling runs through many of the stories. In one, a man is lured into running for president while shopping with his family in a bog box store with his family. The title story centers around  a conference on genocide and two old friends meet there and meet themselves in the process.

Each story feels like several stories, what’s happening on the surface and the layers of what is happening beneath the surface. The stories made me laugh, cringe and shimmer with a certain recognition of the human condition that I was able to briefly touch while immersed in her worlds.

A passage I love: The view is limitless, all of Los Angeles spread out below. She takes off her shoes and dips her toes in—hot. The heat is like a physical lozenge, a sedative. There is no edge—she has no body, there are no boundaries; she, the water, and the air are all one.