Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Technology and the Death of Introspection

For a short while, everything stayed the same. We sat with our tea in the early morning hours, talking about the day stretching out before us. My husband delighted me with my favorite question. “So,” he would say, “Tell me what’s in your heart.” And I would sit quietly for a minute feeling and pondering before I answered. It was a lovely ritual, freely invoked among tea and the morning papers.

For a while I still read at night. Schooled on the principle that one’s writing is a direct reflection of the quality of one’s reading, I devoured Eudora Welty, Wally Lamb, Margaret Atwood and Toni Morrison. It was not unusual for me to read several books a month. I adored that Oprah Winfrey had a book club and for the first year, I read everything on her list.

But all of that was then, before the hand of technology grabbed our attention with a powerful grip of instant connection that we mistook for instant intimacy. Now, I have to discipline and train myself to wake up and NOT view Facebook, NOT look at my emails first thing. I grit my teeth some mornings as I carry my laptop up the stairs and into my office, where I open my current manuscript and look at the clock. Two hours. Go. And when I have finished writing, I am like the horse that cannot wait to get back to the barn. I open Facebook. Did anyone like what I posted? I fall into cat videos like a drunk stumbling gleefully  into another bar.

Measuring out my life in emails, I race into the self-imposed stress that technology hath wrought. Long ago and far away the memory of “tell me what’s in your heart,” has been replaced by business associates on the opposite end of the country who send communications to my husband, compelling him to reply in what used to be the quiet of early morning.

Over the weekend, as we drove back from a visit to Portland, I realized the slow death that consumed us, the underbelly of the digital beast. Raindrops hit the windshield and the wiper blades slid into rhythm. We put on Simon and Garfunkel– perfect for a rainy day. The words went like this:

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
because a vision softly creeping
left its seeds while I was sleeping
and the vision that was planted in my brain
still remains, within the sound of silence.

As the music of our youth allowed the flood gates of life past to open, I recalled how the words of Paul Simon had introduced me to the angst of introspection, an unraveling in the dark quietude that I would come to value.

Today there is no sound of silence within which to contemplate a life or even ask the question of who am I? All of that has been replaced by phones that ping messages, tweets, emails all hours of the day and night. The depth of answer as to who I am has been reduced to a selfie posted on Facebook and an unrelenting connection to WiFi. Look at me, it says: this is who I am. This is what I ate for dinner last night. These are all my “friends,” and not a drop of introspection to be found. How do you become a person without the frightening and courageous act of just being alone with yourself, sans gadgets and media?

Of this death I have to ask, what are the consequences of a life lived without the solitary acts of introspection, reflection and the quiet of contemplation? Is it that we become more like sheep? Everyone NEEDS an i-phone, a tablet, a Facebook page. This is the golden age of self-promotion. That’s how business is done. I know I cannot hang onto the past, but I do not wish to be consumed or lose the value that I long ago assigned to introspection.

The thing about the Paul Simon lyrics is that they harken to a time in my life when I was straddling the worlds of child and adult. Attached to that was a required amount of self-examination served up on a bed of grace-filled angst. I eventually grew into someone who enjoyed my own company, understood my flaws and my gifts and wasn’t afraid to break away from the herd, creatively, politically or emotionally. My psychology was not tied up in how many followers, friends or fans I had, but in how well I knew myself and was true to the self that I was discovering.

My generation had poets that modeled introspection and it was part of our right of passage into adulthood. So again, the question arises: what are the consequences of generations who have not known this process as part of their development? How do they summon and access the deeper resilience that life’s challenges inevitably require? How do they make the all-important distinction between their superficial inner voice that craves social media attention and the deeper, more still voice that speaks its truth in silence? How can a writer capture the state of the human story without first knowing the depths of their own story?

What we give up because of technology, we must learn to reclaim through the expression of the human heart, or our very human-ness is sure to perish. So, think about this before you answer: Tell me, what is in your heart?

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

What The Morning Brings

 

IMG_0576When my mother died, I got her china. I only used it once. The teacups were cracked with thin scars, so that the tea seeped through them onto the saucers, leaving dark stains where the tiny fissures had formed.

I kept the teapot and the sugar and creamer, though I lost the lid to the pot during a move. I displayed them on a shelf. The rest of the set, I gave away. The treasure of one generation often winds up as “so much junk” for the next.

It’s not that I had fond memories of the china, or that it ever held stories from meals shared. It was not the china from when I was growing up. It was something that she bought later in life, when she was creating her world with flowered and delicate things. The woman always had a sense of longing about her, as though she had missed something along the way, and was trying to catch up to make a life that reflected what was just out of her reach.

We all feel that way sometime—that the thing you are aching to hold is just out of reach. The poignancy of life is contained in small chipped cups and unrealized vision.

This is one of those mornings where I’ve hit a default setting: numbness that comes with a creeping depression. I don’t go to my manuscript. That story will have to wait. Instead I sit in the glowing light of a computer screen, trying to capture the tone of this familiar friend and feeling with words and metaphors that will write me alive and back into the world.

No apologies from the dark waters of thought. No struggle to try to make myself happy. Everything that comes to a writer is a gift. Don’t run from anything. Don’t edit. That’s how Stephen King got to be famous. He wrote his darkness with unabashed and disturbing honesty. Authenticity will set you free.

Besides, no one will care if you couldn’t sleep, or that you tossed and turned, gnashing teeth on a million decisions and indecisions in the middle of the night. But a story that recalls the pain of finding love in a small chipped cup–well, that gives purpose to the day.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Investing In Your Writing

iStock_000072638051_SmallA frequent myth shared among writers is that being a writer doesn’t cost anything. You can write for free. This is only true if you are writing just for yourself. The minute you start writing for readers, writing becomes like every other art form. It comes at a cost. It becomes an investment. Whether you are a dancer paying for ballet shoes and weekly classes or you are a musician buying strings for your guitar and learning to read music . . . OR if you are a writer desiring to know and understand craft, there is an investment.

By the time you are working in the long-form format of the novel or the memoir, craft becomes the big thing. Story. Craft is what makes cream rise to the top. It’s probably a safe bet to say that if you’re reading this, you are already a good writer. But good writing is only the prerequisite. At the end of the day, what we all really want is a good story. Story connects us. It mirrors the state of the human condition in prose. It touches our hearts, curls our toes and opens our mind to possibility. Story makes us human.

Imagine this: you make an investment in yourself as a writer. You attend what amounts to a mini-MFA. You immerse yourself in the study of story for four and a half days while the rest of the world falls away. That’s what I am doing with Jennifer Blanchard Williams and Larry Brooks this April in Portland. Will you join us?

Your Story on Steroids: A 4-Day Novel Development Intensive is a challenging, unprecedented workshop all about the craft of writing your story. Regardless of your level of experience, this workshop will push you toward being a better storyteller, a better novelist, and a better memoirist. And yes, it is an investment. And it’s too good of an investment not to share it with my blogging friends.

Here are the details:

April 3-7, 2016 at The Benson Hotel in Portland Oregon. Visit our web site listed below and if you have questions, there is a phone number for you to dial or you can send an email to me through the site. Suppose that a four-day  deep dive in to the multi-layered, heavily nuanced form of novel construction up levels your craft from this point forward?  If you only do one writing workshop this year, make it this one. Go ahead. Invest in yourself. Your writing is worth it and so are you.

www.novelintensives.com

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

All That Political Stuff That Puts You To Sleep and What You Need To Do About It!

iStock_000011031548XSmallImagine the United States of America five years from now. What do you see? Are we repairing our infrastructure? Are we still worshiping at the altar of fossil fuels? Does everyone have affordable, sustainable healthcare or are people going into bankruptcy because of a serious illness? Are we still at war in the Middle East? What does our country look like?

Are you more interested in cute kitty videos on Facebook than you are in understanding the policies of our elected officials? Is social media taking the place of social studies in your life?

Is this all just one big bummer? Do you hide from the challenges before us by saying “I don’t watch the news, it’s just so negative.” Truth is,  I’d rather not watch the news either. The 24/7 feed of bat-shit politicians practicing hate on each other is horrid. That being said, I don’t want to find myself tangled in a status quo five years from now that is only feeding our brokenness. So I have resolved to pay attention.

In spite of the problems that are literally engulfing us, I have a great hope, based on experience that informs my heart and tells me that this country is filled with a lot of people doing their best to live a good and decent life. People are great and a lot of our politicians suck. The disconnect is staggering.

Our country is broken. Infrastructure everywhere is creating problems that are affecting not just our bridges, but also our water supply. The lack of investment in alternative energy continues to pollute and poison us. Schools have become baby sitters with a lack of standard, resource and respect to turn out a thoughtful citizenry. In short, we are at the most important turning point in our history.

If you set only one goal for yourself this year, let it be this: to investigate our presidential candidates with a critical eye and choose wisely based on using your brain and not just repeating something you heard on television or from a friend. Then, make sure that you get out and vote. We don’t have many rights left in America, but the right to vote is still ours. So use it and use it well. Stand in the light of your truth and be counted. And before you mark your ballot, make sure that you have thought about where you want our country to be five years from now. Remember we don’t need a savior for our nation, we need an evolution of consciousness.