Life, Love, Death, Dreams, Hope

We Must Ourselves Become The LightI picked up my cell phone just now to text a friend. Then I remembered, she’s gone . . . two weeks already. It’s the fifth time I’ve done that. An idea sparked a laugh, made me think of her, made me want to share a chuckle.

That’s how it was for 28 years, since long before cell phones.

But that’s the thing about the love we have for friends, for family, the way we want to share it, the way we continue to share it . . . even after they’ve gone.

Aside from my mom, Jeannie read more of my writing than anyone. Always supportive. Always reminding me that this thing I love, this thing that is part of who I am, is important. That I need to share my voice. That I owe it to myself, and to others.

Of course, she always added that she’d love to see more happy poems, more happy scenes. She didn’t hesitate to ask, “when are you going to write a poem about love?”

And I would remind her, that is how I try to live my life – full of laughter, of love, of positive thoughts. With my writing, though, that’s me exploring the darkness, the underneath. Trying, at the very least, to understand. To throw light upon it for others to explore.

“Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?”  – Mary Oliver

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Give Yourself Permission

DSC_0710dddblogPermission. To take time. To dedicate that time to oneself, to one’s dream(s). To do.

This seems like such a simple thing. Yet it is quite profound. Giving ourselves permission.

I give myself permission to play, to experiment, to listen . . . to my characters, to myself. I give myself permission to see what happens next.

Some days I just give myself permission to do nothing at all, at least nothing that seems or feels productive in the sense of creating new poems or chapters, or work for my day job. Ironically, however, those are some of the most productive days as they give us back essential parts of ourselves–energy, equanimity, strength, hope.

My good friend Terry and I experienced a week full of bliss recently during West of the Moon from the beautiful birth of his grandson to heartfelt moments of joy shared with our retreaters to a number of moments when those retreaters gave themselves permission . . . to play . . . to just be who they are . . . to create without preconceptions . . . without judgment . . . but mostly to listen (to their souls, their hearts, the deep down parts of themselves).
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Thank you, Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali courtesy of Brett Jordan

Muhammad Ali courtesy of Brett Jordan

Imagine showing up to grad school, embarking on a journey toward that thing you love, chasing after your passion, and in the process moving closer to your deep down self . . .

Imagine being in the lobby of the historic hotel that will be your dorm for the next ten days, downtown Louisville . . . and you’re standing at the elevator between lectures, just standing by yourself, waiting, when this man shuffles by, slightly stoop-shouldered, moving slower than you might imagine him to move, and you think, is that . . . no, it can’t be . . .

and the man who has passed now, stops, shuffles back . . . he stops his own journey, pauses, and shuffles back to see you. This man who is somehow older than he is, somehow larger than he is, as if he is able to swell up out of himself just by being . . .

and he smiles, then puts both trembling hands up, thick fingers balled into fists and there is no doubt, frail as he almost seems, there is no doubt he has the strength to do whatever his soul wishes . . .
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I Love to Write

"Modern Blindness" by Kevin Sloan

“Modern Blindness” by Kevin Sloan

I love to write. To be at the page.

That moment when the conscious self gives way to the subconscious and you are transported to another dimension, one where time seems suspended, where time seems to pass as if you’re in some sci-fi flick where years go by for people on the outside but for those in the wormhole it seems like seconds.

And when you emerge from that, you sometimes see that everyone you know has just kept going, aging the way we do minute-by-minute with our eyes on the future or the past.

Yet somehow in that suspended state you have held on a bit longer to that deep down part of who you are, that essence of your true self . . . which is the real fountain of youth.

Yeah, I love that.
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The Obstacle Is The Path

Boat and Boy by Peter van Straten

“Boy and Boat” by Peter van Straten

There is a Zen saying that sometimes the obstacle in the path is the path.

A friend of mine who is not a writer, though he is a very talented visual artist, shared some insight with me once that has resonated with me quite a bit the past few months.

“Consider this,” he said: “in the Chinese language, there is a word for Crisis. Much like words in English, the word is made up by combining two different words. The first symbol is the Chinese word for Danger. The second symbol is the Chinese word for Opportunity.”

On Leadership by Peter van Straten

“On Leadership” by Peter van Straten

When we consider the duality of all things, and the idea that an obstacle might also be an opportunity . . . when we acknowledge that the unwanted condition has a right to exist; that every conceivable state might have a purpose in the grand scheme (even if only as a “learning experience”), we provide ourselves with the chance to grow.

Back in November and December of last year, I wasn’t writing. From August through the end of the year, I was working nearly every day and was utterly exhausted those meager hours each week I wasn’t working.

I was frustrated, but believed that things would slow down in the new year. After all, my job is busiest August through November.

Except when it’s not.
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It’s About Time

new clock resized

“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon.
December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time
has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?” – Dr. Seuss

It’s no coincidence that I started my new job on August 4th and I’ve only written one blog post since August 31st.

“Time has flewn!”

I knew my precious writing time would be quite elusive for a few months. But I have managed to find smatterings here and there. I have also been reminded of a few things about TIME, itself, over the past few weeks. A few things we all probably know intuitively, but often lose sight of.

It takes time to find time. to make time.

But it IS usually there to be found . . . and made . . . and shaped as we’d like.

We sometimes become overwhelmed by the fragments we devote to so many other things, to “multi-tasking” in our every-more-busy lives, that we tend to accept that there’s just no time left, that it’s just not there, and as a result we often give up on trying to find it, make it, shape it.

And make no mistake, it takes energy to find and to shape time, but much less energy than what we spend by feeling guilty or by filling with resentment over not having time to do the thing we are called to do.

If you already spend enough time doing the thing you love, then you should stop reading this and get back to it. If, however, you struggle occasionally or frequently to find time for yourself, to dedicate time to yourself, then maybe it will be worth a little of that precious time to read on.
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Time: Making Every Second Count While Chasing Your Dream

caffeinating, calculating, computerating by ryantron

caffeinating, calculating, computerating by ryantron

Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine
how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.” – Carl Sandburg

Believe it or not, I barely had enough time to get this post done. And I’ve been working on it for the past three weeks. But I digress. Sort of.

This is a post about chasing dreams. And about time. And about multi-tasking, in a manner of speaking.

I have long accepted the fact that I have a jiffy-pop brain. My thoughts, though linear at times, tend to pop all over the place about seemingly unrelated or random things. Of course, they pop even more frequently about related things – as in things related to my dream of being a full-time professional writer.

As a result, I have several projects going on all the time. Like this very moment, I’ve got a new Reading Series that launches tomorrow at Ravines Wine Cellars, I leave a week from today for Historic New Harmony to co-host a week-long retreat for writers and other creatives (which means I’m still fine tuning workshop ideas and materials). I’m tutoring my niece for all sorts of 10th Grade Regents Examination Craziness, and working my job. Oh, and trying to keep up with this blog and work on new poetry for the YA novel-in-verse, and there’s the very cool collaboration project I’m working on with the artist who helped create this website and . . .

You could call it multitasking, I suppose, though recent studies suggest that term to be a misnomer – as we are really only able to truly focus on one thing at a time, we’re just able to move from one thing to the next thing and back again almost instantaneously.

The human brain is wired in such a way that allows for that ultra-fast processing (a.k.a. what we call multitasking), but because we have that capability we often fall into the habit of non-stop multitasking. And that can be a problem (on so many levels).

Our brains are designed to scan, to search for potential dangers, to be on alert. It’s a survival mechanism.

I could go into the potential physiological problems that arise from the growing trend to have our brains in the fight-or-flight state most of the time, but I’ll leave that to those more qualified. Instead, I’ll allude to the quality of work such rapid-fire focus produces. Or, in particular, working on multiple projects simultaneously has worked for me.

One of the interesting paradoxes of creativity is that we need to focus on the task at hand in order to turn inward and to mine the gems deep inside. We also need to be open to whatever comes our way, to be receptive.

Sometimes we force ourselves to focus so hard on what we believe we’re supposed to be focused on that we actually prevent ourselves from receiving creative impulses and ideas rushing toward us. Of course, sometimes we get so caught up in starting every idea that comes our way, that we never complete anything.

Such is the juggling act of the writer, the artist, the creative.

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Worry, Anxiety, Fear: Obstacles to Creativity

“Don’t Worry Be Happy” by Evil Erin

“Don’t Worry Be Happy” by Evil Erin

“The way to happiness: Keep your heart free from hate,
your mind from worry.
Live simply, expect little, give much.
Scatter sunshine,
forget yourself, and think of others.”
~ Norman Vincent Peale

I’m torn between two thoughts this week. Well, okay, I have a gazillion thoughts popping around up there among the noodles, but I mean two blog post thoughts. One is on worry and how it sometimes gets in the way (of writing, of everything). The other is on being different and prejudice.

The former is one of the primary obstacles for writers and artists and it also often mucks up happiness for people in general. The latter is one of my biggest pet-peeves. Only the term pet-peeve seems like much too small a concept when it comes to being different.

Prejudice of any kind is one of the very few things in life I truly abhor!

It rattles me to the very core. That’s why almost all of my writing focuses on misfits, on people who are different races, mental and physical capacities, shapes and sizes. The recent circumstances surrounding a certain basketball team owner’s comments sparked a few new thoughts about that.

So, this week I’ll dedicate Write Side Up to “Worry -> Anxiety -> Fear -> Panic,” to quote a friend. Next week’s post I’ll dedicate to prejudice and to being different.

For all its potential evils, the Internet, and Facebook in this instance, also allows us to interact with people all over the planet. To share ideas, to glean insights, to raise questions. Yesterday morning on Facebook, a talented writer friend posted the following (and rather than just lift a few of the phrases, I thought it warranted a full-on theft, so the following quote appears in its entirety):

Worry -> Anxiety -> Fear -> Panic.

“Apparently Worry is a thought process in response to ‘an ill-defined threat often anticipatory in nature and created by the imagination.’

‘Worry can be useful to helping to find solutions to problems; however, worrying often centers on problems that cannot currently be solved. Thinking soon becomes very negative and doom laden, and this is misusing the imagination.’ (By the way, feelings of doom and hopelessness can spiral a person into a depressed state. Unnecessarily.)

Fear is in response to a well-defined threat or present danger. It engages our Fight or Flight response. Survival is the focus, whether physical or mental or emotional or spiritual. If this state goes on for a long while, it can be very tiring. Fear motivates good change. A move away from a real threat to our well-being. But, while Fear can help save us as we respond to a concrete threat, Worry is a misuse of our Imagination. I sometimes wonder if we give Worry power over our Imagination, if that constant state of thinking can help materialize a true Threat…like a self-fulfilling prophecy. (And it makes you feel really really yucky and unbalanced.) It pushes the Good Moments aside for imagined bad moments.

So unless you’ve got a well-defined Threat breathing down your neck today, use your imagination for Good. That’s the Super Hero I want to be: Super Imagination Girl! I kick Worry Monkeys to the curb (and anything or anyone attached to them) with the flick of my pen! Just thinkin’.”

First of all, any allusion to Super Heroes or Ninjas or Jedi has my attention.

Second of all, self-doubt (i.e. worry that they might not have something worthwhile to say, or that they might not be able to say it in a worthwhile way) is a huge obstacle for many writers and artists working in other media. The worthiness component indicates self-judgement, but the often crippling result is that the worry part often gets in the way of the trying part. And that’s a shame.

"Worried Eggs II” by Domiriel

“Worried Eggs II” by Domiriel

I love the question, Karen raises.

There’s irony in that the thing being worried about (for example, am I capable of writing a worthy novel) may become a real, perceived threat to the act of writing in the present and cause me to be unable to write a worthy novel (the self-fulfilling prophecy). But there’s also irony in that THE WORRY itself, the anxiety caused by being overcome by worry, being overwhelmed by it, that is what becomes the actual threat in the present.

Worry keeps us focused on what might be, it propels us, often without our cognizance, into the future. And that’s where we spend the present. When that worry turns into fear, the fight or flight response kicks in, but usually there is little we can do to remove the threat, since it is a product of the imagination, aside from finding ways to get out of our own way (out of our conscious thinking).

Writers sometimes worry about the outcome and, as a result, have a difficult time getting started. It is almost impossible to settle into a creative act and to fully immerse yourself if you are worried. Focus is directed to the imagined possible outcome, emotional energy is redirected to the fight or flight response rather than being used for diving down deep where memory and the imagination meet. That’s where the creating happens – in that very out of the way place and it requires a slowing down – it takes solitude of a sort, it takes stillness – to get there.

But when worry becomes anxiety becomes fear, the imagination is so preoccupied there’s not much room for anything else.

Look, we are creatures of emotion and imagination. We have the capacity to feel and to think and to imagine. Our brains are always on. One of those things (a thought, an emotion, etc) can spark the others without our consciously setting out to do so.

That’s part of being human.

But it’s also part of what gets in the way of our realizing our dreams, or even chasing them sometimes. And it sometimes gets in the way of our being happy (regardless of whether we chase our dreams or not).

“Understand not everything is meant to be understood . . .” by deeplifequotes

“Understand not everything is meant to be understood . . .” by deeplifequotes

The key is finding ways to become cognizant of the differences Karen pointed out between fear and worry. Fear being a real, in that moment, threat. Worry being an imagined future possibility (and that doesn’t mean you have to think about the future, you can worry that a thing has already happened that you hope hasn’t happened, but since you don’t know in the present moment, it’s still a possible future consequence that is being given time and space in the present).

So, what can we do, if we in fact identify the culprit, WORRY invading our lives?

The answer will be varied, as we’re all different, the reasons behind our worry are also different.

Here are a few things that might help you get out of the chattering-in-the-head mode so you can be present:

Breathing ExercisesWe humans live in our heads. All of the time. Hence the universal appeal of external methods to help get us out of our heads for a bit.

But one thing we often forget is that we also live in our bodies. All the time. The mind, the body, the emotions . . . they’re all connected. And sometimes, rather than dulling the mind, which often leads to worse feelings afterwards and a lack of productivity in the moment, we might get out of our heads through our bodies. By breathing. By moving. By training our brains to focus in on specific things.

Yoga – most people think yoga requires you to be a contortionist, that you have to be super-bendy for it to work, but just sitting still, just slowing down and being aware of the moment, of your body, of your breath, that is yoga. You can do it in a chair, on the floor. You don’t have to go to a studio or be on the mat.

Two poses I like for just slowing down and calming the mind are Savasana (Corpse Pose) and Viparita Karani (Fountain of Youth or Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose).

Get Outside (to Walk and to Observe) – walking by itself is great, but you can still spend the whole time going over and over and over what might come to pass, which is why honing in on the moment is important).

Focus on the air. What’s it doing? How does it feel?

Is the sun out? How does that feel?

What sort of shadows does it create?

What can you smell? Or hear?

What do you truly see?

Allow your senses to be fully engaged.

Most of us tool around on our walks in these beautiful settings (myself included) totally oblivious to the setting itself. We feel good, often much better just by being there. Often without even paying much attention once we’re there. So why do we feel better? You can get an idea of the answer if you allow yourself to engage your senses. If you see something and you slow down or stop and really take it in, you suddenly become aware of the moment and of the place. You are truly present in time and space.

And here are a few things that might help get out of the fight or flight response that happens if worry leads to fear (which Karen also indicated can lead to panic):

Find a Pose – I love Yoga Journal. You can find an assortment of poses with photos on how to do the pose and they also break down the therapeutic and the physiological benefits (i.e. how the poses can benefit the body, as well as the mind and the emotions). Look at all these poses that can help with ANXIETY. That’s right, you don’t have to do an entire sequence to reap the benefits.

Just Stop – Jon Kabat-Zinn defines MINDFULNESS as “moment to moment, non-judgmental awareness.” He claims, the ONLY MOMENT we are EVER ALIVE IN is NOW.” He also says we need to pay attention in the moment.

Meditation– no, that is NOT medication. Nice try! Here’s a simple video with a few suggestions on how to meditate. And this article alludes to “Meditation And Your 40,000-Year-Old Brain.”

Free-Write – (if you’re a painter, then just have at it with no purpose aside from adding color to the blank canvas and see what you get). This is not about quality. It’s merely about letting go! You can still pick something you might want to work on, a new poem, a specific scene for the novel, but don’t worry about using it. Allow yourself fifteen minutes or half-an-hour to just spew words on the page or the computer screen. And if you can use a notepad and a pen or pencil, let your body be part of the process.

This can be quite freeing (no pun intended). And here’s an article on a few of the benefits of free-writing in a journal.

Play – give yourself time to be playful (which free-writing is also aimed at).

“The opposite of play is not work. It’s depression.” – Brian Sutton-Smith

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.” – Carl Jung

“Creative people are curious, flexible, persistent, and independent with a tremendous spirit of adventure and a love of play.” – Henri Matisse

“Drag your thoughts away from your troubles . . . by the ears,
by the heels, or any other way you can manage it.” – Mark Twain

Let’s be honest. If it were as easy as saying, drag your thoughts away, none of us would worry for very long. But Twain’s comment is still on point. Do what you can to free your thoughts from your troubles. It’s already a huge undertaking to turn inward, to hold your breath and dive to your very depths in order to tap that wellspring, and to create.

But if your thoughts are entwined with your worries, breath-holding becomes involuntary, you flounder in the shallow end, and often never truly submerge. You never fully immerse yourself in your unconscious and let it take over. You never get into any sort of flow.

“How much pain they have cost us,
the evils which have never happened.” – Thomas Jefferson

I bet if we went back over the past year, decade, longer, and sorted out all the worries we’ve had from all the real problems that actually happened, one side of that scale would far surpass the other.

Think of all that time and energy spent worrying being used to do the thing you love.

Don’t get me wrong. I worry. Worrying is, as I said before, part of the human condition. The trick comes, I believe, in recognizing worry for what it is and squelching the anxiety before it takes over.

Here’s one suggestion I came across recently for calming the mind, emotions, body:

“Begin with the Lotus position, sitting crossed legged with hands resting on the knees, palms up. The most important thing is to remember to breathe. To calm the rapid breathing often accompanying panic attacks, focus on your breathing at first, a five count in and a five count out, but let the breathing become natural. Let the breathing set the rhythm of the practice. Eyes should be closed, listening to the rhythm of the breathing. After five or ten minutes here, the body should feel calmer.” (This tip comes from an article on “10 Yoga Poses to Fight Depression and Anxiety” which can be found here).

“Don’t worry. Be happy.” Nice song. Wise words. Difficult task. But you can do it. Hopefully a few of the above tips will help. After all, I’m hoping you get to the page, too. Speaking of which, it’s time for me to work on some new poems.

Keep after it, y’all!

““Understand not everything is meant to be understood . . .” by deeplifequotes, “Worried Eggs II” by Domiriel, and  “Don’t Worry Be Happy” by Evil Erin are all used as per Creative Commons License on Flickr.

The Things We Learn From Kids

JOY by Symphony of Love

JOY by Symphony of Love

Not intending to downplay the words of wisdom my parents have shared with me over the years, but I recently realized that all you have to do is study a child to learn everything you’ll need to know about how to live. Truly live, that is.

I’m not talking about elements of survival like how to get your own food, but more about how to be happy.

Of course, when you’re a child the last thing you’re going to do is intentionally study one of your colleagues to learn a thing or two. The whole center of the universe thing can get in the way of that and is, perhaps, the one downside to my theory.

But before we chuck it altogether, consider what follows.

As an adult, I have been reminded about some of the essential ingredients to living a happy, fulfilled, compassionate life.

Here are just some of the things we can learn from kids:

Unbridled Joy
The Essence of Play
Anything is Possible
How to Live Creatively

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Family, Friends, and Our Stories

Lafayette Wattles & His Little Sister“Other things may change, but we start and end with family.”

What is family? For some, it is the heart, the marrow, the soul. For others, the dragon, the demon, the darkness. If we’re lucky, family is a light that guides us toward our own light, the one inside us.

I’m one of the lucky.

I don’t feel guilty for that, but I AM hyper-aware that not all families are created equal, and that when it comes to family I struck the mother-lode (and father-lode and sister-lode, so to speak).

I don’t come from money. My parents didn’t go to college. They got jobs after high school (before and after the Army for my dad, before and after my sister and I were both school age for my mom) and they spent their entire adult lives working extremely hard.

I was lucky because my grandparents never felt entitled. My parents never felt entitled. My sister and I never had a reason to feel entitled.

We did, however, feel happy! And loved!
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