Stephanie’s Blog

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

Why Would You Even Want to Write a Book?

Opened magic book with magic lightsAsk most writers, and they’ll tell you that the traditional publishing industry is fickle if not unkind; and that self-publishing is a tremendous amount of work for what, in most cases, amounts to the sale of 100 to 200 books. In an age of offerings worth binge watching, time for the written word is receding into an antiquity of independent books stores and rotary dial phones. Technology has the influence and the edge.

So why write a book at all? I’ve asked myself this question in the past year as I’ve slogged through the slow revision and polish process of completing a novel.

I fell in love with stories before I was even in grade school. A slightly inebriated mother with a vivid imagination made up bedtime stories for me that delighted and enlivened my imagination. And the slight hint of vodka that hung in the air was my first understanding that life was interesting, messy and rarely as polite as we try to make it out to be.

Although I was a terrible student in school, English class was my great joy and I couldn’t wait to do the writing assignments. By the time that I was a teenager I was typing the poetry of unrequited love on my baby blue Smith-Corona, trying to bend the words to capture the horrible, beautiful, angst that I felt. Emotions that lived in the captivity of my heart and mind needed to be liberated by carefully chosen words.

There has never been a time in my life when I did not write. Eventually I would earn a degree in creative writing and poetics. I would work an internship at a newspaper and write a few magazine articles before life intervened with marriage and a mortgage. Then one day as I approached retirement, I decided that it was my time to write a book.

And wouldn’t you know it, as I got around to writing that book, technology was sucking the life out of the written word. The fast pace of our techno-driven society had replaced the slow, delicious reading of a story with hand-held screens, communicating in abbreviations and initials. OMG! So much for choosing words carefully. Back to the question: why, when knowing all that would I even want to write a book?

I wrote my book, not because I am a writer, but because I am a storyteller. Yes, writers can construct beautiful prose, but it is stories that connect us. They give us clues into who we are and how we need to be. A good story can change the world.  And even when you strip away the focus and deliberation necessary to read, storytelling must endure. Technology cannot replace story, it can only replace its delivery.

It’s difficult to predict what will happen to books. Clearly there are fewer readers for the novel format. New fiction writers come and go each year with few breaking out into careers with any promise of longevity. Writers must now be marketers too, participating in an Internet that is a cacophony of unrelenting promotional noise to sell their wares. And most of all, one-time readers are turning to other media to involve themselves in story. What will be the result? A book engages the imagination, while the flickering light of stories on a screen requires little engagement at all. In fact, it has an addictive quality to it. Does anyone remember the feeling tone, let alone the details of binge watching, or just the feel-good seduction it has provided?

You and I are meaning seeking creatures, and story gives our world meaning. That is why I write. I see storytelling as sacred art that engages and enrages its audience to think, feel, and reflect. Yes, I would love to be widely distributed and have millions of people read my books, but I’m not convinced that books will survive our technological age. In the event that they don’t, I will keep writing stories anyway. It’s the thing that keeps me in awe about what it is to be human, and provides a sense of purpose.

It will be interesting to see what happens next: from gathering around the fire to tell stories that teach us, to reading books that engage us, to new forms of media that will continue to inform us about our miraculous lives. Whatever delivery system our stories take on in this brave new world, storytelling will remain essential.

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

What’s Your Word for 2017?

istock_000006061268xsmallIt always feels good to get to the other side of the holidays. Decorations put away. Check. Promise not to eat any cookies until February. Check, albeit reluctantly. Make it a good writing year. Check.

Even though one day is pretty much the same as another, and an arbitrary line between December 31st and January 1st doesn’t really mean that much, there’s still something compelling about the idea of a new start, a fresh beginning, new goals. When I look back, it seems that most of my New Year’s goals bleed from one year into the next: be nicer; stay away from the damn cookies; write better; exercise more. Except for the cookie thing, I usually make progress in all of the other areas.

A few weeks ago, I read an article about New Year’s goals and the author suggested that instead of having a list, you just pick one word and let it be your focus word for the 2017. I like that idea. One word points you in a general direction and gives you a touchstone and a reminder. Too, goals tend to get very narrow, whereas vision and intent paint a much larger landscape, setting you up for greater success.

By way of example, the word I chose for 2017 is “fulfillment.” My vision is to know fulfillment in my writing. In my physical activity, in the way that I relate with and to others. Fulfillment can mean that I finally secure a contract with a publisher, and it can also mean that I am fulfilled by my writing whether that happens or not.

Fulfillment is a kind of acknowledgement for the good that has come to me and is yet to come. I’m fulfilled that I can hike in the woods several times a week. I’m fulfilled by a happy and humorous marriage. I will be fulfilled by finishing the revisions on my current manuscript and I will also be fulfilled by working hard in the garden and then taking a nap.

So, fulfillment seemed like the right word for me this year. It has a component of gratitude and acknowledgement. In the year’s first nine days, I’ve returned to the word several times. I have a feeling that the word will continue to inform and help me to hone my vision of living the fulfilled life.

Just one word. There are so many good ones. My husband chose “gratitude” for his word and I am pretty sure that my dog chose the word “wag.”

What one word would best describes what you want for yourself in 2017? Please share with me in the comment section. Happiest of New Years and may you be fulfilled.

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

The Grace and Gift of Austin

Into The Light2016 ends with my neighbor Austin’s death, a woman whose life at its heart, was an inspiration to everyone who was fortunate enough to meet her. An artist into her eighties, her home showcased canvases and masks, hanging on the wall, inviting the visitor into a corner of her rich and complex psyche, a true wild woman who I am sure channeled moonlight through her fingertips. It wasn’t so much who she was in life, it was how she was, that moved us.

Three times a week, she walked the hills around our little town with her friend, Denise, huddled together, two ancient women undaunted by the climb.

Austin had a large deck that wrapped around her house, the centerpiece of which was a claw foot bathtub, plumbed so that she could run hot water and soak outside, while she looked up at the stars.

From the branch of a fruit tree in her garden hung a blue chandelier. Another tree, one that had died, one that might have been a nuisance or an eyesore to someone else, she adorned with glass bottles making it a prominent piece of art.

Sometimes the sound of drumming was carried by the evening air, a gentle, pulsing, rhythm of celebration. Surrounded by people of all ages, sitting in a circle on her deck, everyone drummed, this amazing woman at the circle’s center keeping time.

When my husband and I moved into the neighborhood, she hand wrote invitations and put them in all of the mailboxes, inviting us to gather on her deck. We learned we were not the first people to be welcomed by her in this way. And it was at her house where we began relationships with our neighbors over garden tomatoes, cheese and wine, all of us delighting at the ultimate conversation piece, that claw foot bathtub.

How can such a woman be anything but beloved? Everyone knew her and everyone loved her. She was for our community a true elder who with wisdom and wit, relished the journey and made things with her hands and her heart to the very end. For her, age was not a limitation but a force that propelled creativity to greater heights.

This past summer, she built a small studio on her land, replete with a garage door that opened to the garden. With a surge of artistic juice, she created the work for what was to be her last show in October. The cancer that overtook her brain, came fast and hard. Still, she managed to display her creations one last time before the disease stole her away from this realm to one where I imagine blue chandeliers hang from all of the trees.

Austin died at home yesterday morning and I have spent the last twenty-four hours allowing myself to open to the inspiration she left in death’s wake:

Why settle for convention, she showed us all, when you can have a claw foot bathtub in the middle of your deck? Why recede from life when there is so much art to be made, when there are so many new friends to meet? Why stop, when the hills beckon your steps every other day? And most importantly, why not live wild and free until every last drop of life is wrung from the cloth of your being?

I will miss seeing Austin. I am sorry that I didn’t know her better or longer and I am so very honored and grateful that I got to know her at all. My life and the lives in this community are richer because of her. I think that each of us secretly hopes that we will age as fully and as well as she did. She sure showed us how it’s done.

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

Holiday Wishes

img_0174Just a dusting of snow, not much at all, but enough to punctuate the date, December 24, 2016. My neighbor’s have all turned on their tree lights and smoke escapes the chimneys mingling in the morning fog.

I am hunkered down with tea and  a laptop, moving forward on a manuscript that has had its hands around my throat for the past year and may finally be loosening its grip. Learning is like that, two steps forward and six steps back.

My husband and I will go to the movies this afternoon. For most of our marriage it has been just the two of us and our holiday rituals are simple. I’m appreciating the quiet that has fallen over our house, the twinkle of tree lights and the promise of roasted duck for two.

My life is blessed beyond measure: a loving husband, fun and kind friends, a beautiful town surrounded by woods and trails, a faithful dog, plenty of food and decent health.

Dear readers, thank you always for stopping by. May your heart be full and your spirit light. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

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

Donald Trump, Blue Beard and the Feminine

Warrior womanShakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.” As a writer, I see it this way: all the world’s a story, and all the men and women merely characters.

I recently talked with a friend who is a Jungian analyst and has spent many years collecting fairy tales and myths. “What is the story that can show us some hope about the election results?” I asked him. He told me that he sees Donald Trump as fitting into the archetype of Blue Beard (dark and destructive). At first glance, that doesn’t sound very hopeful at all, yet the tale does resolve on a high note. If you are not familiar with the Grimm’s fairy tale, it goes like this:

Blue Beard was a wealthy aristocrat, but he was ugly and was known for his strange blue beard. The people in his village were impressed by his wealth and happy to attend the lavish parties he threw. And they were willing to overlook that all of Blue Beard’s wives disappeared under suspicious circumstances. Of course, that didn’t stop Blue Beard from getting married multiple times. At one party, he met a beautiful, young woman to whom he proposed marriage and she accepted.

Blue Beard traveled a lot for business, but left his new bride with keys to all of the rooms in his castle and told her that she had the run of the place while he was gone. The young woman enjoyed looking through many magnificent rooms. One day she found a locked door. Trying the keys that Blue Beard had left her, she opened the door to discover Blue Beard’s previous wives, dead and hanging from meat hooks. She was shocked and afraid. Running out of the room, she tripped and dropped the keys into a pool of blood on the floor. She tried to wash the keys, but the key that opened the room of death would not come clean.

Before Blue Beard came home, the wife had stationed her two sisters in turrets on either side of the castle. Upon Blue Beard’s return he discovered the bloody key and told his bride that now she too would have to die. His young wife said the she understood, and begged him to give her a little time to prepare herself. Blue Beard told her that she could have one quarter of an hour. She went to the window and signaled her sisters. They in turn, alerted the brothers who were waiting down the road. The brothers rushed into the castle and killed Blue Beard before he could kill his bride. ~~~

Here is my interpretation of the story as it applies to Donald Trump and the feminine. Trump, is of course, Blue Beard. He is symbolically the ugly man as evidenced by his crude rhetoric toward women. His beard is not blue, but his skin is orange. His wealth and power are seductive to a lot of people who confuse being rich with being great.

The dead wives hanging on the meat hooks represent Trump’s disdain for women. The bride in the story represents the strong, smart feminine, who resists being battered and killed. Blue Beard’s bride steels herself and lies to the liar. “Let me prepare for my death,” she asks of him. Unbeknownst, to Blue Beard she has called in help from her brothers, symbolic of conjuring her male energy and becoming the warrior. This is the hopeful part of the story: The feminine becomes the warrior and destroys the aggressor, saving the day.  And peace fell over the land. Well, at least that’s what like to think will happen.

Here’s what is happening: All over social media, we see the presence of the feminine, coming forward. Trends toward positivity and gratitude are everywhere. These are the receptive parts of the feminine. Too, we are seeing the woman warrior who is both receptive and strong speaking out in resistance to the orange man (Blue Beard).

All the world’s a story and a good story can change the way  we see the world. I am always looking for the story I am in. It gives me context in which to hold certain life experiences. We are connected by our stories, the collective of our conscious and unconscious, and in these stories are we able to assign meaning and find hopefulness and transformation. Steel up, ladies. Stand in the light of your truth. And never forget that strong, smart women do prevail.

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

The Why of What We Write

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Recently I was given a list of Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling. It’s a great list for anyone who writes fiction. Number #14 on the list is not really a rule, it’s a question, and it’s the most valuable question for a writer that I have seen.

#14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

What a great question. Readers don’t read because of the “what.” They read because of the “why.” Doing the exercise as part of my novel revisions process is proving to be revelatory.

The what and how of my novel can be found in the external plot points and milestones, but the heart of the story that will keep a reader engaged can be found in the answer to question #14, because that answer is about what I believe in and what I stand for.

I can tell you that my novel is about a surviving twin who has never been able to accept that her sister committed suicide and this sets her upon a quest to find out the truth about what happened; or I can tell you that my story is about how grief is an advocate of change and growth when you embrace it, because when you walk through grief, it becomes a healing grace. I like the second answer best, even though the first answer is true too.

Now while many story coaches may tell me “no,” a story has to be about something that happens, I am starting to view that stance as only partially correct. Yes, a good plot does prevent you from writing just a rambling narrative. But it is the “why” of the story that will be remembered by the reader more than the what and how. What I remember about Toni Morrison’s “God Help The Child,” is less the milestones of plot and more the feeling tone of a woman who is trying to untangle the wounds of her past with a heroic determination that leads to her transformation.

Here is what I am learning: A plot is the external events of a story. The emotional arc gives us the internal events of the story. To have a full, rich, compelling read, a writer must find a way to wed the why of the story with the what and how of story. As I pondered question #14–“why,” I found myself wishing that I would have known to do this before I started my novel, but interestingly, the answer was still within me. Now that I am clear on it, I know that it is coloring my revisions, inviting me to a deeper dive than if I had not answered the question at all.

As I wrote down my answers as to why THIS story, I noticed the power and passion behind the statements that I was making. This was not just answering a question about my story, this was laying out what I believe about life. Readers want to know the why. Even though the exact words may not make it to the page, the why will be revealed in the emotional logic of the story. The passion birthed from the question is the quality of emotion that I want to capture on the page. Here are a few of the things that I wrote down:

  • I am compelled to tell stories about women who rise above inner and outer adversity, because they courageously answer a higher calling within themselves to stand in the light of their truth.
  • My heart is touched and moved by women who learn to believe in themselves; by women who are determined to create and live a new vision for themselves in spite of and because of adversity.
  • I believe that women are not victims, but heroines in their own story; that women do not need to be saved or rescued. Their strength and courage are innate.
  • I believe in transformation.
  • I want my story to be an inspiration to women who believe in second chances.

That’s some good stuff to know about a story. It’s some good stuff to know about yourself. A lot of writers look upon words as being their artistic tool. But cranking out sixty-thousand words is just a jumping off point. A writer’s tools are emotion. It’s the emotion and passion that you are able to put on a page that will make a reader care about your characters and the story that they are living through.

I will never write another short story or novel without first contemplating this question: Why must I tell THIS story?

How about you? Do you think that this is a good question to ask before you begin writing your next work of fiction? Hit me up in the comments section and let me know.

Here is the link to Pixar’s 22 rules:

https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZHlzYXJ0Lm9yZ3xtcmVsbGlzfGd4OjFjNDNkMThjY2Q1MmIyNTE

 

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

Freedom

iStock_000012993634XSmallInterstate-5 is the asphalt ribbon of highway winding its self through the state of Oregon, connecting countryside, forest and towns from the southern border all the way to Portland. This corridor will guide the three-hour drive from my home to the Oregon State Penitentiary.

When the Faith and Culture Writers Conference put out a call for original essays to read to the inmates involved in The 7th Step Foundation, I jumped at the chance. The 7th Step is an organization that helps prisoners change while they are in prison and successfully become law-abiding members of their communities upon their release. They have been producing this yearly essay event for a decade. I will be joining five other women in reading essays on the appointed evening.

I am not unfamiliar with the incarcerated population. I spent a few years teaching a creative writing class to women at a detention center in Colorado. Writing is a precious gift to me. It opens a door into an examined life, giving me a place to slow down and sort out my feelings and thoughts. It has grown from the thing that staves off the grief of life and into a thing that now creates stories and novels. I like to share my gift with those who are marginalized. I know all about feeling damaged. In sharing writing with incarcerates, my message is to show them that none of us is ever as broken as we think we are.

An essay entitled I See You and You Matter is what I read to the men of The 7th Step Foundation at the Oregon State Penitentiary. The theme is one of redemption and reinvention. No, I won’t publish it here. Truth is I feel safe sharing so much honesty and vulnerability with a group of inmates, safer than putting the essay out on the Internet where I might open myself to the shaming ignorance of a few. I tell myself that it’s okay to be self-protective.

The room is a large auditorium heated by the 90-degree plus temperatures outside. There is no central air in the 150-year-old facility. The room holds rows and rows of long tables and chairs that face a stage and a podium. I’m glad that the podium is on the floor and not on the stage. Until the event, I have not met my fellow essayists, and they turn out to be a warm, loving group of women with whom I feel close by the end of the evening.

The men of The 7th Step are welcoming, polite, humble and kind. They offer us cinnamon buns and fruit juice. A hundred men, who awkwardly mingle a bit before the presentation. Men who were enjoying a little bit of time away from the grit of prison life. When it is my turn to read, I am met by the open faces of men who are eager to hear hope and inspiration. They sit so still, listening with their hearts. “I see you and you matter,” my essay begins and ends, sandwiched around an account of my personal struggle and redemption.

The time goes by quickly as each woman reads her piece. I am struck that there is a message in each essay for me. We shake hands with the inmates, make small talk. A man reads me two of his poems and gives them to me. They are the most precious poems that I will ever enjoy. Just before the evening comes to an end, the men present us with certificates. My certificate reads: “The 7th Step Foundation, 10th Annual Essay Presentation congratulates Stephanie Raffelock for the essay judged to be the Most Insightful.” Each certificate awarded is different. They include things like most articulate, most inspirational, most uplifting . . . all positive messages, their gifts of appreciation to us. The men begin to line up against the wall. No one has to ask. They will be led back to the small cramped spaces in which they live their lives. I hold a prayer that each one of them will return to the outside world and lead a purposeful and satisfying life. I will go to a hotel off the Interstate and drive home in the morning.

The rumble of the freeway keeps me awake most of the night. I think about prison and just how much freedom there is to lose. I find myself grateful in the morning for the little things of my day, a private shower and sweet smelling soap. A large window, letting so much light into the room, a safe car to make the drive home. I ponder the prison of the mind, the prison of a grieving heart, the places that we all get stuck sometimes.

After a stick-to-your-ribs kind of breakfast, I am on the road by 7:00, following the snaking highway south. My heart is filled with the sense of loss and love. I spend most of the drive saying thank you over and over again. I am grateful for the opportunity to visit the men in prison. Grateful for the opportunity to read to them. Grateful for the husband and dog that wait for me. Grateful that I was given a moment to share what I value so deeply: the hope, comfort, inspiration and joy of the written word.

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

Gratitude

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You simply will not be the same person two months from now after consciously giving thanks each day for the abundance that exists in your life. And you will have set in motion and ancient spiritual law: the more you have and are grateful for, the more will be given you. ~Sarah Ban Breathnach~

Apples are ripening on the tree in the yard. The mornings are cooler. September waits behind the last of the Sweet Williams, peeking into the last of summer’s long days. I am grateful for the coming change.

I’ve pulled this morning close to me, gently placing it my heart. Take the day off. Leave space for God to work in you and through you. Set aside the worry and the angst that you carry as if they were must-have fashion accessories. Take this day to be grateful. This is what I tell myself as I sit tapping the keys on my computer, sitting on the deck and drinking tea.

Jeter, faithful lab is next to my chair. His nose and ears don’t stop moving as he takes in the day. I love that dog. He reminds me not just to be happy, but to be joyful. Grateful for you, buddy. Just saying his name aloud makes him wag.

Dean stretches out on the bed, a day away from the demands and challenges of his work, a day of which he asks nothing except a walk. “Let’s hike up Park,” he says. I am grateful for all of the hiking trails that surround our little valley. Grateful for strong legs and a good heart. Grateful that I walk so much at my age.

There is food in the fridge and in the cupboards. I’m grateful that there is no worry, no insecurity about that, knowing that people in this country, children go hungry every day. I’m grateful for our Ashland Food Bank and that we can contribute and help.

On Friday I did laundry, so my clothes are washed and clean, folded and put away. I am so grateful for clean clothes and clean towels, clean sheets.

I posted the Sarah Ban Breathnach quote on Facebook this morning and a friend from Canada shared it with her friends, translating it first into French. I am grateful for technology that this woman who is so many miles away, read something that inspired me and she was inspired too and the message got shared. What a marvel.

I’m taking a break today. My only tasks are to be grateful and to hike with my husband and my dog. Gratitude fills me. It is a practice that soothes me. It is a path that assures me that there is in this universe, an unfathomable love just waiting for us to surrender. The things that I am grateful for are too many for a list. I think I’ll just rest in the satiation of the practice. May the arms of gratitude surround you.

What are you grateful for today?

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

All In A Day’s Hike

Well-worn hiking resting in sunshine on rocky trail
A pair of well-worn hiking boots sit on a rock somewhere on a trail on a sunny summer’s day.

When I went down, I went down hard, the left side of my body taking the brunt of the fall.  Grateful for the pair of sunglasses, now scratched beyond repair, that protected my eye, I still hit hard enough that I will have a colorful shiner for about a week, not to mention the lump on my forehead.

I didn’t see the root that snaked its way across the trail, didn’t see that it was calling my name and just waiting for me. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t on the trail at all, but just jumped out in front of me at the last minute snatching my hiking boot in it’s nasty little teeth, causing me to fall. You think tree roots don’t have teeth? HA!

The long walk back to the car with Dean’s arm wrapped around my waist guiding me past other ill-intended roots and rocks helped me get back into my body, so I no longer felt like I was going to puke or pass out. Taking his husbandly advice to breathe, I’ll never underestimate the power of deep breathing again.

So, we made it home and I stood in the shower, soaping myself down, trying to get rid of the dirt and pebbles stuck in and to my skin.  Swollen face. Swollen shoulder. Swollen elbow and an awesome amount of road rash. Spray on Hydrogen Peroxide was no picnic, but hours later, the swelling started to subside. The road rash still burned like hell, and that shiner started turning a deep shade of purple.

What a blessing it is, to be active in my life. “I’m down, you stupid tree root, but I’m not out. I’ll see you again, on my terms!” I have no broken bones, and even though I’m sore all over, this morning the swelling has gone way down. I know that with a day or two of rest and I’ll be back to my old tricks again, though I think I should watch where I’m going.

In the meantime, I have a great excuse to curl up on the couch for the day, watching Home and Garden Television, in between naps. A little later I’ll soak in an Epson salts bath and begin plotting my revenge against that tree root!

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

Our Breaking Heart

iStock_000002145962XSmallI turned off the news, but I couldn’t get it to stop playing in my head–the young black mother, her baby girl in the back seat, “I’m right here mama.” Her fiancé dying in the seat next to her while a cop, still pointing a gun screams and shakes. He is so out of balance. Oh my God what have you done what have you done?

My heart won’t stop aching for the cops shot to death while they were trying to protect the protesters. I think about their families and their children and the big gaping wound it has left. Everywhere, the light of life is being snuffed out in our world and no one can see in all this darkness.

And politicians have been greedy and lying for so long that no one remembers the truth. Public service is just a quaint term that doesn’t mean anything, anymore. Only losers serve, isn’t that right? We want winners, isn’t that right? And who wins when we are shooting each other up? Got an axe to grind? Get a gun and go for it. God Bless the NRA. Is this what we have become? In Washington they stand safely behind their podiums and speak their ugly rhetoric. They point fingers and sneer while people around them die.

You know where the love happens? Not at the top, that’s for sure. It happens with old ladies in churches who reach into their pocket books and give up that last crumpled five-dollar bill that they’d been saving, so that someone else can have food. And those at the top who should be humbled by such a strong and noble gesture mumble “loser,” “taker.” It’s all backward, isn’t it?

And I pray “sweet Jesus where are you in all of this?” And damn if he doesn’t keep whispering in my ear, “get up and do something– don’t come running to me– you all made this mess. It’s yours to clean up!”

My heart is sick from watching cops getting shot, gays getting shot, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Blacks, children getting shot to death. When did we become so full of hatred? When did we start believing that guns are what would redeem us?

I keep hearing a truth. It bounces around my head. It is that we are all equally precious in the Creator’s sight.

I cannot sleep. I turn off the news but I cannot sleep and I want to cry because my heart is sick and I think I can’t be the only one. Our whole heart breaking. It creaks and moans from the strain and weight of so much anguish. I do what I know how to do and I sit up late with my keyboard and I write it down because words are my wailing. This is not my pain or your pain this is our pain. And it rushes out through my fingers onto the keys and onto the page.

Give me your hand and let me tell you that I see you, and that you matter before some
asshole on Facebook tells everyone to stop whining and sucking up all the oxygen. That is what our leaders have been modeling for us — ignorance. Just be numb. But I am not that. And you are not that. Look at us. We are all violence weary, suffering from a collective PTSD.

Each one of us is precious in the Creator’s sight. The asshole on Facebook is precious in His sight too. Take my hand. I feel you and you matter, I want to tell him. Stop worshiping “mean.” It won’t help you.

And today I will keep the news off again. I have to look away and catch my breath. Today I will look for the little things that affirm life: squashes ripe in the garden, a pink sunrise, a long walk with the dog. But I can’t stop hearing the unrelenting pain in that black woman’s voice, her baby girl in the back seat, “I’m right here with you mama.” And I can’t stop seeing all the senseless killing. We kill each other instead of loving each other. How did we get here?

I am not alone you are not alone. I see you and you matter. Here take my hand and I will take yours and we’ll walk together. Better, link your arm with mine and with the person next to you and let’s walk together. Love matters. Not the killing. Not the death. Not the news. Not the politics. Love matters. You are God’s precious child and you matter. I am not alone, and you are not alone and we are not alone together. Maybe if we cry together. . . then we can start the healing.

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

Nine Things I Want My Nieces and Great Nieces To Know

Girls & Grandma Walking Through Woods

There are certain things that I want to tell my nieces and my grand nieces before I get too old. Maybe they already know. They are all a lot smarter than I will ever be. But along with the title of “crazy old auntie” has come some wisdom. Okay dear nieces one and all, here is my list. Take note:

1.Life is too short to hate your thighs. No one ever got smarter or kinder because of the size of their thighs. Please try to remember that you are a human being and not a chicken part.

2. Life is not airbrushed. For only twenty seconds when you are 19 years old will you have perfectly flawless skin and great hair. This is just before you start to age by advertising standards. Screw advertising standards! The lines in your face and on and on your hands will tell you more about character and substance than un-lined skin or silky hair. And trust me, only women in shampoo commercials have hair that silky. The rest of us either have mouse fur or horse manes that no amount of the right shampoo can change. But I digress, so I’ll repeat: Life is not airbrushed. It’s not supposed to be. It’s full of flaws, imperfections and messiness. If your life doesn’t contain these three elements, then you are not really living.

3. Life is not nearly as fun, polite or smiling as what’s posted on Facebook. Facebook is not reality. Well it’s as real as Life With the Kardashian’s, I guess. But no one smiles that way with their husband, their partner, their boss or their friends all the time. In reality people sneer, stare, space out and chew with their mouths open. Be real. Be vulnerable. Be authentic and be yourself . . .and don’t waste too much time with Facebook.

4. Your weight is not a gage of your worth and neither is your bank account. You are lovable, precious, beautiful women and it’s the content of your heart that matters. Assess yourself and others by that single factor–the content of heart–and you can never go wrong.

5. Don’t be afraid to speak up and put yourself first sometimes. You don’t always have to take the smallest portion or sit in the aisle seat instead of next to the window. Claim the drumstick at Thanksgiving. Don’t always tell people “it’s okay,” when they hurt your feelings. Take the time for self-care. Believe me, your family will not starve or whither away because you took the time to nurture your own self. You don’t always have to come last.

6. Promise me that you will never stop reading. Fill your head and your heart with adventures and history, with fantasy and tales. Learn something new every day. It will keep you young.

7. Don’t freak out about getting old. It doesn’t have to be life’s buzz-kill. Instead make sure you eat well–yes, that means vegetables–and get outside and exercise every day. This is what really makes a difference when you push past the half-century mark.

8. Say “thank you.” You are a woman in a country at a time where women’s rights continue to expand. Never take that for granted. Make sure that you always advocate for women’s empowerment and commit to helping other women, and not judging them.

9. Practice gratitude every day. Life’s shorter than you think it is. Love your life. Love your world. Show that you know this by dancing, singing and laughing.

May your life be rich with love and goodwill and may you never forget your crazy old auntie. I keep you close in my heart.

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

A 6-Step Roadmap With Title Change

“When you get to the highest point on the roller coaster you can either scream in fear or squeal with delight.”

 

iStock_000007892199_Small“How To Stay Youthful In Your 60s: A 6-Step Roadmap.” From the moment I wrote that title, something felt off to me. Did I really think that it was important for a woman to hang on to her youthfulness in her sixties? Wasn’t that like telling them, “look, you’re friggen’ old and there is no value in that, so here’s how to stay youthful. Youth: is it the be-all end-all of a woman’s life?

The truth about youthfulness is that it is a tiny, little spot in the rearview mirror of my life. Sagging has set into places that I didn’t know could sag. The skin under my arms has become a veritable sail. My graying hair, has for some reason, taken on a texture and life of it’s own, causing it to sproing. You know exactly what sproing means if you have even one gray hair. And don’t get me started on the sudden need for digestive enzymes! All of these things are the outward manifestations of aging. Is making them go away really what I need to make important in my life? Certainly the people on Madison Avenue would like to tell me that it is. Maybe the title I was searching for and wanted to write was “How to Stay Truthful in Your Sixties: A 6-Step Roadmap.” What would that look like? Here’s my 6-step roadmap suggestions for staying truthful in your sixties (and beyond):

1. PURPOSE: My neighbor, Austin is in her eighties. She’s a little wobbly at times, but she still climbs the hills around where I live several times a week. When Austin isn’t pumping up the inclines, she is making art. Recently she built a small studio on her land, replete with a garage door that allows her to open up her studio to the garden when she is working.

Austin has purpose in her life. Her hair is white, her hands, bony and veined. She has beautiful hands, hands that know the wisdom and wonder of making art. We all need a purpose. Something that makes us feel excited to get up for each day.

2. RELEVANCE: My husband and I have old Nordic skis. I remember the Christmas that we got them. All new and shiny. Couldn’t wait to get them out on the snow.

As the years went by, we found ourselves skiing with people half our age, who wore little skate-skis and blew past us as we did the Nordic trudge. I laughed and said to hubby, “Look at us honey, we’re getting old.” He replied, “You gotta keep moving to be relevant.”

That statement is not only true in exercise, but it’s true in things that develop around us. For instance, I did not grow up with a computer. I was the last person in my state to actually get email, but I have learned to keep up on what is relevant. Thirty years ago, I would have sent a copy of my article to a magazine or newspaper and now, I simply email it. Relevance. Stay up on what’s changing in your world.

3. INSPIRATION:  If you are in your sixties, seventies or eighties, you get some automatic cred for living this long. I did more than a few things right and more than a few things wrong. Now I get to stand in the light of my truth and share my lessons with the world around me.

At the same time, I never want to be too old to be inspired. I have a writing coach who is half may age. She is my mentor and in addition to teaching me a lot about story structure, she has taught me that it is equally important to be mentored as it is to mentor.

Allowing myself to be curious, teachable and inspired by someone else nurtures vitality. I also have a relationship with young woman (she’s 16) that I mentor in writing. I like the inspirational balance of both.

4. EAT THIS IT WILL MAKE YOU BEAUTIFUL:  I came of age in my kitchen, reading Jethro Kloss and Adelle Davis and though I have explored many diets over the years, I always return to the simple diets of these two health food pioneers that make sense in terms of staying balanced. It goes like this: eat a lot of fresh, raw and also lightly cooked vegetables. Eat lean protein. Avoid processed carbs, like crackers, breads and chips. Eat minimal fruit and stay away from sugar. Drink lots of water.

This is a good diet at any age, but is especially relevant (there’s that word again) as your body gets older.

Here is what I know: the biggest chemical reaction that happens in the body in the course of the day is the food that you put into your mouth for energy. Foods will either create inflammatory chemicals or anti-inflammatory chemicals, and those chemicals in turn can and will create pain. An alkaline diet that contains a lot of fresh veggies is going to be less inflammatory than a carbohydrate and sugar based diet.

Throw in some good fats too, like coconut oil and avocado.

I pretty much live off of soups and salads and I enjoy my time in the kitchen, creating my kind of art.

5. SAY NO TO AGEISM: We live in unprecedented times that afford us the luxury or the curse of living 30 years beyond our retirement. Not everyone wants to hang out and garden for 30 years. Our Boomer generation was built on the back of social change and activism. This is the perfect time in your life to be an activist. Educate those around you to the truth of aging, which is and should be, that we are human beings first, with the capacity to be well versed in traversing the terrain of the human condition. Our relevance, our significance is not dictated by an out-of-touch Madison Avenue, but rather by the sense of conscious aging that our generation is uniquely embracing.

6. GRATITUDE: Every single day that I am alive, I light a candle and I pray a list. I pray thank you. It’s a big list. I breathe it in and I breathe it out. I’m sixty-four, and each year I get this sense of how fast it all goes and how you have to make the most of every moment regardless of your years.

The body breaks down. Smooth, youthful beauty is replaced by deep and interesting lines, a map that shows where you have been. Pain is a humbling reality, both physically and psychically. Still the heart does not know age. Go for what the heart tells you because the essence of you, the soul of you is what never changes.

“The youth stands outside of life and wonders about it,” says The Sage’s Tao Te Ching. “ The sage, with arms open wide, lets life flow through them.” Be grateful unto your last breath.
~~~

We are meaning seeking creatures. Our paths change with each decade and significance slips away from us only if we do not embrace purpose, inspiration and relevance. One day I will hopefully be in my eighties and still be making art, like my friend Austin. I hope you will too.

In the meantime I’ll try to live by this bit of wisdom: seize the day, fill your heart, move your body and give thanks. Life is so much shorter than we think it is.

How do you find ways to stay truthful as you age? Share in the comments.

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

Process, Preparation and Prose

iStock_000072638051_SmallI am not a writing coach. I am not a writing teacher. I can’t tell anyone how to write. So much for disclaimers. What I can do is share my process. Writers are always sharing their damn process. Most of us love to huddle over a cuppa and tell each other ad nauseam how the heck we do it. In my younger days, I used to talk about sex like this. Now I’m in my sixties. Nuf’ said.

If you are someone who writes by the seat of their pants, this essay is not for you. Stephen King, the grand Pooh-Bah of pantsing is holding court elsewhere and maybe he’ll let you buy him a beer and you can talk about us mere mortals who must prepare everything that we write in order to earn the name author.

You know that the name author comes from the word authority, right? When you write, you are an authority over what you write. You become the god that sees everything and everyone in the world you write. And why would you write about anything unless you took this position?

But it’s not as easy as sitting down and just letting the words rip, is it? Wish that it were so. Writing is hard work. It means getting a good idea (that’s not easy either) applying process and doing the preparation before you ever write a single word of prose.

Process: For me this is the Larry Brooks template. I sketch out that structure with first plot point (inciting incident), mid point (the protagonist becomes the warrior), second plot point (against all odds, the protagonist sprints toward resolve) and ending. Yep, I don’t write a word until I know the friggen’ ending. And it is on this framework that I hang my preparation. I’d like to believe that discovering your story gets easier, but I don’t think it does. I’ve sat in enough Larry Brooks classes, listening to broken manuscripts to know that knowing your story is what separates the women from the girls.

The Dreaded Synopsis: The first time I had to write a damn synopsis, I about pulled my hair out. I couldn’t do it in a half page. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of boiling 80,000 words down to 300 in order to tell you my story. Now, I write out a synopsis as a matter of fact. Do you know your story well enough to write a synopsis? If not, you need to begin again. An early synopsis will hit the first plot point, mid-point, second plot point and resolve. I don’t discover the story as I am writing along. I am aiming for the milestones along the way which my scenes must support.

Robert McKee tells the story of the great film, Casablanca. The script was about 100 pages. The treatment for the film was about 300 pages. What? That story was so well-known to its authors, scene by scene that once implemented, it became a classic that would never fade away. Novel writing, if we respect it, should be the same–careful, thoughtful preparation.

Preparation: I am in my office with door closed. I snarl at my dog if he looks at me like he has to go out. “You just went out. Go lie down.” Don’t dare knock. Don’t dare interrupt. My nose is pressed to a yellow legal pad. My hand is cramping. I am writing out everything I know about the character, who they appear to be and who they really are. This involves pages of questions. Some things I circle. Some things I cross out. I begin to see scenes and since I know what my plot points are, I know basically where I have to steer the car. At the end of a couple of hours I have filled pages and pages of questions and answers. This exercise will go on for weeks.

It’s all about the questions and “what ifs” at this point. Who are the people surrounding the character and how do they reveal the character? What do I know about my life experience that can inform this character? If the antagonist is involved in criminal behavior what non-fiction book do I need to look at to help me? (I like Sean Mactire’s Malicious Intent for such things.) And on and on it goes until I finally see how to construct the four sections of the book. Then I begin a scene list and from there a sketch of each scene, carefully placed so that the sequence of scenes slowly ramp up to the plot point climax.

Prose: Finally! It’s hard for me. I like to play with words. I love to construct sentences and paragraphs. I delight in whatever cleverness I can muster. But delight to soon, and you are screwed. Writers, especially rookies, like me, must remember that readers like your stuff not because of clever sentences, but because of good story. At the end of the day your good writing is just the prerequisite and your story is what matters.

Lost in a sea of yellow legal pads and questions that demand answers, I work on a new story for new novel. As much as a whine about it, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. Process, preparation and then prose. That’s the work and I do it every day whether I want to or not, striving for excellence. Craft and the very best that you know you can do. Constant study. Read everything. Watch films. Always be looking at and for “story.” It’s not just the novel you are writing, it’s a friggen’ lifestyle. I labor under the belief that this is how I become better at my craft. “Do the work,” says Mckee, “and the results will follow.”

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.

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

Have A Grateful Day

iStock_000015408259XSmallTo me, it seems like the world is going fucking crazy. I can’t watch too much news or my heart will break at how ugly and mean the national discourse has grown. There’s a fine balance between wanting to be informed and wanting to walk in peace.

I find myself looking for moments in which I can take a deep breath and fill my heart with gratitude. And let me tell you they are abundant. The idea of gratitude is not to escape the problems and pains of life, the idea of gratitude is to replenish so that I can, in some small way, make a positive impact in my world.

This past week, while on vacation, I went looking for a stamp, so that I could mail a card to my friend. You’d think that would be an easy thing to find in a resort town. Not the case, though. No one had stamps. The umpteenth cashier gestured toward a doorway. “Maybe there,” she said, waving her arm. The maybe there led me to the parking lot. Oh well. Then, I noticed a postal truck. I approached the postwoman unloading things from the back.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Do you know where I can buy a stamp?”

“How many do you need?”

“Just one.”

“Here you go,” she said.

I gave her 50 cents, stuck the stamp on my card and she smiled at me. “I’m happy to take that for you,” she said.

“Thank you.”

That was one of those moments, when the universe just flings its doors open wide and whispers there is so much goodness in life. I don’t see them all the time because I am preoccupied with other seemingly important things in my brain.

The great 17th century mystic, Meister Eckhart, said: “if the only prayer you ever say is thank you, it will be enough.”

Sometimes I remember to close my eyes and take a deep breath and say thank you. I always feel better. It ‘s like the universe is saying thank you back. Thank you for being alive, for being a channel for the creative force.

These are harsh times and I don’t want to be sucked into the vortex of doom and gloom. I’ll watch some news. I will stay informed. I will not hide from the world’s problems. And I will do my best to be a light and remember how much goodness there is and how far a thank you can go. The universe is always opening to us. Gratitude is a good way to begin to see that. As my friend Jennifer always says, “Have a grateful day!”

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

Dancing With Your Dreams

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Second Chapters–I know them well. The invention and reinvention of your self, each time trying to get life a little more right than the last time. A longing goes with that, an undercurrent that flutters in the heart that one day all of the jagged pieces of your jigsaw puzzled life will somehow make sense, fit together and reveal the big picture. I cannot mark the day that the picture came into focus, or a specific time where I wondered what would happen to me if I just forgave myself? There was not a celebratory realization or enlightenment. No, the process was slow and tedious, painful and sweet. Then one morning as I sat on the couch with my tea, staring into the fire, I realized that I was living the life that I wanted to be living. And somehow the dense forest of sufferings and sorrows, the thickets of doubts that had tripped me up, parted to reveal a light that shone on hard-won satisfaction for the trails that I had traversed with some awkwardness and some grace . . . and I knew that this was my time to dance.

This is the story in all of us as we make our way through the beautiful, horrible, wonder-filled life, longing to dance with our dreams. Revisions aside, I’ve moved onto Chapter 3, the place in the dramatic arch where the heroine has morphed into the warrior and just goes after what she wants, critics be damned. This is how I feel about my writing. Strong. Focused. Determined, with enough juice left in these old bones to make it all happen, or die trying.

It’s daring to dance with a dream. Go ahead. Life is leading you in that direction anyway, so you might as well surrender to it. Every single little thing leads and builds to the great decision when you choose to stand on the mountain and know that you will seize the day.

Happy New Year to all my fellow dreamers, all of my fellow writers. God speed.

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

Friended, Fanned and Porned (How To Make Facebook and Other Social Media Un-Fun)

iStock_000017966432XSmallSometimes I hate social media! The problem didn’t start when I listened to a respected friend tell me that I needed to build my Facebook and Twitter accounts, so that when I have a book published, I will have social media in place. Up until her suggestion, my social media list had plateaued about 100. Those are actual people who I know. So I followed my friend’s advice and began making friends with lots of other writers on Facebook. Not hard to do when everyone and their mother is a writer these days. There is an initial high when you see your FB friends list go from 100 to 550. And the seduction in that is that I started to believe for a hot minute that I really had 550 friends. But we all know that’s not really true. If I died today, 450 of those people would not give a rat’s ass.

And the problem didn’t start when I got porned on Facebook. A sexually violent picture appeared on my timeline. I was able to report it and get a response from FB. But then I started getting porn sites in my friend requests, so that if I went to check out someone’s profile to see if we had friends in common or writers in common, I’d land on a porn profile. No way to report those to Facebook. Facebook started to become really un-fun for me.

Here is where I think the problem really started: I bought the line of bull about branding yourself. Oh my God, what a better world we would be if we didn’t worry about branding ourselves. Remember when being a decent person, one who cares about being good at what they do was enough? Is that so old-fashioned that it isn’t even relevant anymore?

Donald Trump is branding himself as the guy who is going to make America great again, but we all know that he is really just an asshole. Kim Kardashian is branding herself as a role model for young women, when we all know, oh well, never mind. . .  We live in a world of branding where we think we need a platform, where business as usual is not about what you can make well or about the good services you can offer, it’s about your brand. Brands sell. Unfortunately branding has taught us that whether or not you’re a company or an individual, creating a brand trumps (no pun intended) honesty as the best policy. Takes me back to the original question: remember when being a decent person who is good at what they do was enough?

In spite of being porned and feeling foolish for thinking that building a platform for my writing is essential, I am going to keep on writing. It’s what I do. It’s what I love. I hate it though, that writing now means you need to market yourself, promote yourself and friend and fan yourself. And more, I hate it that I let those things get in the way of the fun part of Facebook–watching cat videos from my friends and finding out what my nieces ate for Christmas dinner. So today, I unfriended 450 people and made my FB pages visible only to my friends, not the public. Unless I’ve met you, I won’t be accepting any new friend requests.

None of this, of course, has affected my writing. In the early morning hours I will still sit and write. There will be no selfies of that daily ritual. What I learned from this is that I can be satisfied with letting my work speak for itself. And if I don’t attract enough attention to it, I will be satisfied that I set out to do my chosen craft well.

As for the Twitter account, here’s my summation: It’s like being in a room where everyone is talking at the same time, and you can’t hear what anyone is saying. It feels like thousands of people you don’t know are pressing in, trying to get you to read something, buy something, like something or otherwise validate their platform, their branding or their status. It’s exhausting. Truth is, I don’t believe that all those writers on Twitter actually follow links or reads content, they’ve just learned to play the game well. It’s all about numbers, and if you are a writer it gives you some sort of perverse cred that you have lots of “followers.” What you have is your feet stuck in a landscape of goo with a bunch of other sheep that hope to tell their agents that they have several thousand Twitter followers. It’s like Donald Trump (because he is such a great example.) He keeps telling everyone how wonderfully well he is doing in the polls–which says nothing about policy. It’s just another version of being “friended.”

I’m not sure which is the worst of the pornography–inappropriate sexual content or the strangling culture of self-promotion. Okay, here’s the review: I unfriended 450 people today. My friend Mary assures me she will keep posting cat videos. I already feel lighter. And the next time someone tells me I have to build a platform and start creating my brand, I am going to smile politely and tell them that I am done being me, mainlining me. I just want to write.