Posted in A THREE PART SERIES: PART 3

What It Means to Age Gracefully…

When I was a young woman, I was caught by the expression, “You are what you eat.” I still believe that, and not just in terms of the body. What we feed our body is important, but what we feed our mind and spirit are equally important. We need to be vigilant in remembering that lying on our backs in the grass and watching the clouds float by is more nourishing than sitting on a couch and cruising Facebook or Instagram on our cell phone. To nourish body, mind, and spirit is to give ourselves to the experience of life.

            We only get one body, and we’d do well to honor it by taking good care of it with foods that provide more than just calories. Meals that we prepare mindfully with fresh ingredients taste better, especially if we add our gratitude.

            Walking, dancing, yoga—anything that gets us to move and breathe deeply— nourishes the body. We can enter the rapture of life through movement and tuning into all of our senses.

To nourish body, mind, and spirit is to give ourselves to the experience of life. 

– Stephanie

            One of the things that people my age fear the most about aging is losing their mental faculties. And while there are no guarantees, nourishing the mind with reading, music, films, and conversations, as well as the pondering and musing of life’s miracle, helps to keep us sharp.

            And finally, we nourish our spirit by walking in gratitude and being a light of kindness to those around us. We feed our spirit with thankfulness. Being in the world and caring for ourselves and others is the nourishment of life.

            In these strange times, I can only dream that if we lived next door to each other, I’d invite you to dinner, or maybe to watch a film or share thoughts about a book. I can only imagine that I could ask you to walk through the neighborhood with me so I could introduce you to all the people and dogs that I know. Then, you and I would sit on the front porch in the evening and enjoy some special tea, watching the light change from bright to gentle. But since you don’t live next door, and for a while anyway, I can’t invite anyone to join me, I’ll just say thank you for allowing me into your life through these little stories and philosophies that touch upon our mutual love for the beauty of life. More than ever, we’re being asked to nourish ourselves with the things that we know to fill our hearts and souls —  kindness, compassion and caring. One day we’ll nourish each other again with our closeness, and what a celebration that will be!  Until then, I hold you in my heart. Stay safe and be well.

AVAILABLE APRIL 28, 2020 | CLICK BELOW TO PRE-ORDER

Posted in A THREE PART SERIES: PART 2

What It Means to Age Gracefully…

To age gracefully is to age with gratitude.  I embrace, believe and experience this truth every day.  Walking life in gratitude is not just a desired quality to aging well, it’s also an antidote for fear, anxiety and mistrust.  Our evolution, our awakening as loving human beings is a lifetime journey that constantly asks us to practice gratitude.

As a young woman, I read Ram Dass’ book, Be Here Now.  It’s the title that inspires me today. Recently we’ve all experienced worry and stress around the COVID-19 virus. I can find plenty to be upset about, what with panic buying at the grocery store, and the turn-down in the economy.  But, I still can only live one day at a time – I can only be here, right now.  So, all of the what-if’s that are in my head are just thoughts. They’re not reality.  I try to remember that just because I think something, doesn’t mean it’s true.  

Gratitude is a perfect de-stressor and stress, as we know, is a precursor to disease.  One of the ways we can keep our immune systems strong is by simply practicing gratitude. 

– Stephanie

Today I’ll find three things to be grateful for and I’ll do my best to dwell upon those things instead of worries and concerns.  Once I get started, I may find fifty things.  My experience of  gratitude practice is that when I begin thinking about the things I’m grateful for, the list naturally expands.  Sometimes I like to write down what I’m grateful for and describe the “why” of it.  Other times I let the gratitude be a reference point that I return to throughout the day.  I find that breathing deeply when I discover something to be grateful for, enhances the calm feeling in my being.

When we get anxious, we might think that there isn’t anything to be grateful for. Or, we think that we’re just faking it and that everything really is terrible.  When this happens, rather than search for a thing, an event or a person to be grateful for, it’s best to  just sit comfortably, close the eyes and breathe in the word “thank you.” Then breath out the word “thank you.” Do this several times until the body starts to relax.

Like so many people practicing social distancing, I’m letting myself feel close to the people in my life as I hold them in my heart and memory with gratitude.

– Stephanie

Gratitude is a perfect de-stressor and stress, as we know, is a precursor to disease.  One of the ways we can keep our immune systems strong is by practicing gratitude.  When I’m feeling grateful, I tend to be inspired by a spirit of generosity.   I want to reach out to others – a quick call to a neighbor when I’m headed to get groceries, “do you need anything?”  Long-distance phone calls to let friends and family know that I’m thinking about them. These actions offer  hope.  Like so many people practicing social distancing, I’m letting myself feel close to the people in my life as I hold them in my heart and memory with gratitude.

While it may seem challenging to be grateful during times like these, it’s essential to our sanity.  We were never meant to live in just the dark places, but also in the light.  Let’s keep opening to the light of hope, grace and love as much as we can.  I’m grateful for all of you and thank you for letting me into your life for a little bit.  Sending you goodwill and good wishes . . .

AVAILABLE APRIL 2020 | CLICK BELOW TO PRE-ORDER

Posted in A THREE PART SERIES

What It Means to Age Gracefully…

One definition of the phrase aging gracefully means that we look younger than our years. But that’s a sorry and shallow definition, and one we’d do well to put aside.  Our worth has never been about how we look. The message that older women want younger women to receive is that value in life has nothing to do with our looks and everything to do with what’s in our heart.  And that message is one that we need for ourselves too as the years increase. 

The body changes. Wrinkles appear. Things sag. We look differently than we did in our youth.  We have little control over that.  What we can control is what’s in our hearts.  To age gracefully means to age with a grateful and loving heart.  And that’s something that we can work on every day.

In order to age gracefully we need to care for ourselves differently. I don’t mean the trendy self-care that’s all over the Internet.  I’m talking about a deeper care, a compassionate self-care. This care starts with loving ourselves. And loving ourselves begins with how we talk to ourselves.

The message that older women want younger women to receive is that value in life has nothing to do with our looks and everything to do with what’s in our heart.

– Stephanie

What if we were to wake up every day and say thank you for my life, before ever getting out of bed?  What if the first task of our day was to get up and dedicate a half hour to slow, gentle stretches and breathing?  Compassionate self-care means keeping our body flexible so that the heart and mind will follow.

Count the gifts of the years.  Joan Chittister wrote an inspiring book called The Gift of Years. Her writing inspires me to count what those gifts are. For instance, I love the idea of slowing down.  Not so much slowing because of a lack of energy, more a slowing that makes us more thoughtful about how we walk in the world.  To me, it is deeply self-compassionate to sit quietly without restlessness and breathe in the world around us. I appreciate the bird song, my hot tea, the budding trees, the clouds that drift across the sky.  Life gives us poetry when we slow down enough to just feel ourselves in the world. 

Compassionate self-care gives us permission to say “no” to things that don’t nourish our hearts and minds, and to say “yes” to the things that feed us, expand us and bring us delight.  To grow older with a gentle humor and a heart intent on loving is the non-apologetic way to age gracefully. It’s what makes us truly beautiful.  Let us be aware of the grace that has brought us this far.  Let us find ways to take care of ourselves with so much self-compassion that it naturally spills over to everyone in our life. Aging gives all of us the potential to age gracefully, to be beautiful human beings living life with the intent of love, joyfulness and gratitude through the practice of self-compassion. 

AVAILABLE APRIL 2020 | CLICK BELOW TO PRE-ORDER

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

In the Age of Me, Me, Me, Me . . .

Writing is one thing.  Marketing yourself to the world is another.  On the one hand I don’t think that the desire for readers is an unreasonable one for a writer to have.  On the other hand, I feel like that little kid on the diving board screaming across the pool to her parents:  “watch me, watch me, watch me,” just before she dives into the pool. 

Marketing myself, my message and my book is in part exciting because it will bring me readers.  But another part of me, the old-school, older-generation part feels awkward in the me, me, me, proposition. Plus calling attention to yourself to a point where you actually get people to turn their heads and watch you go off the diving board takes a lot of energy and time.

An assembled marketing team that’s walking me through the process of reaching out on social media tells me that when I post a picture of myself, I get three times more engagement than if I post a picture of something else.  They ask me to make video and get more pictures taken. I wince a little bit, hearing the sound of old Catholic nuns in my head who tell me that vanity is a sin.  Obviously those nuns never had to promote a book.

Everything has two sides.  I feel passionately about my message which is: Embrace your years. Growing older is a privilege not a sentence.  Take note that this is a creative, vibrant and noble passage. We are never too old to make a difference.

I love that my message and my book might inspire someone to be a little less afraid of growing older. That’s the gift I want to give. But the me, me, me, me, thing often times makes that lovely message feel less like a gift and a more like the kid on the diving board.  And we all know that kid after three of four shouts across the pool of “watch me, watch me, watch me,” becomes annoying.

But here I go, head first into the pool. And just in case you didn’t see the dive, I’ve posted a picture of myself to go with this post.

Pre-order now through Amazon.com or Indiebound.com

Posted in A Day In the Life

A Birthday Selfie – Reflections on 66!

IMG_1852Today I’m 66 years old. The number seems wrong. It can’t possibly be true that the group of people with grayer hair and deeper lines are the same ones who walked with me out of childhood. Wasn’t it just last week that we were in Topanga Canyon? Last week that we were listening to The Eagles new album and drinking margaritas?

My friends are precious to me, some known for 40 and 50 years. They’re the source of birthday cards and calls, emails and birthday lunches. Gestures of love scatter like almond blossoms across a well-worn path, and I feel blessed that it’s the small, heart-felt things that have come to mark the years.

The past and the future colloid: I’m rooted in the longhaired, idealistic girl with bare feet and poetry on her lips; now the serious writer, with wool socks and messy pages, trying to tell “the” story, because honestly, I’ve only ever written one story. My life has grown out of that place where idealism and reality crash into each other, and the current takes you.  Marriage, career, divorce, marriage again happened in a kind of planned chaos, but let me live to tell the tale.

I’m 66 years old and keenly aware of how life recedes as the numbers increase, aware of wavering significance and limited hours. So many things fall away, and what remains is the fullness of the experience; the gratitude alive in the heart, the old friends from a certain time and place who remind me of where I’ve been.

Today my true companion, my one great love, will sing to me. We’ll wander the aisles of the gardening center and gather flowering plants for the empty containers on our deck. We’ll hold hands. We are that older couple that makes young people sigh, envying the kind of love that survives the journey.

This morning, as I drink my tea and muse about the years, I reach an easy conclusion: I love my life. I love my friends. I’m grateful for each turning of the wheel, for each memory, for each deep line etched into the map on my face, telling a story of so much joy, so much pain, so much living . . . I’m blessed to able to say, “this is a very happy birthday, indeed.”

Posted in Thoughts on Writing

The Writing Pep-Talk Rant -a-Rama!

This is a pep-talk sort of rant that is as much for me as it is for anyone. Be forewarned: I speak of some unsavory aspects of writing that most of us dare not consider out loud!

Recently a very sweet friend of mine started a group on Facebook for writers. It was filled with support and goodwill, certainly a well-intended endeavor. She is a positive person who is always looking for ways to help others.

Sometimes I think it would be lovely to be that kind of person, but I’m not. When someone first told that I have an edge, I took it as a compliment. But I digress. . . after being in the group for a couple of weeks, I realized that writing memes and caffeine posters will never nurture my writing life, and I left the group. I didn’t want to share my word count or my struggle with scene structure. Why? It was such a supportive, loving environment . . .

The simple answer is, I prefer to be alone with my writing, and groups can (not always) become an excuse for not getting your yaya into the chair and writing. It’s so much easier to talk about the problems of writing in a group than it is to be alone with the problems of writing inside of yourself. But being alone with your writing problems and working through them can push that growing edge that allows you to improve. I believe that serious writers should always be improving.

I Am a Selfish Writer: My writing time is sacred. I hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign on my door because I really don’t want to talk to you — even if you’re my husband. Even if you’re my dog. I don’t want to be a selfish person, but I do want to be a selfish writer.

Routine and Ritual: I’m a ritualistic creature. I do things out of habit and a need for order. Each morning the ritual is the same: Put water on for tea. Feed the dog. Drink the tea . . . And here’s where it can get tricky: I can either get online and visit Facebook, the news or my email, or I can open my laptop and write. If I go for the first plan, I never really recover. I can never re-capture that moment of raw, morning creativity again. It’s gone until the next day, lost to the news and the Internet. I must stay true to the ritual in order to create.

A Writing Prayer: Start here. Here is a little meditation that I found (author unknown). I edited and changed it slightly to make it my own. I recite it before I write. It calms me. It makes me feel good about myself. It’s easier to write for few hours if you feel good about yourself. It’s harder to write if you are thinking, “What the eff do I have to say, anyway? What makes me think I can write?” The second scenario is my default setting, so I have to deliberately do something that soothes the beast of self-doubt before I begin.

May I welcome my creativity with the curiosity of a child.

May I own my voice and trust my experiences.

May I practice mercy in the gap between what I want to create and what comes out.

May I remember nothing can eat me.

May I live with a creative heart.

May I appreciate the gift.

Do The Work: My favorite Robert McKee quote is this: “Do the work. Tell the truth. The results will follow.” Do the work seems to be the hardest part. It’s easy to set intentions. It’s easy to talk about ideas. It’s easy to write a first chapter. What’s hard is a hundred pages into a novel. What’s hard is sitting down and creating a scene and living with the uncertainty of whether or not it’s any good. When I get too hung up on wondering whether or not what I’ve written is good, it’s paralyzing. Do the work. Eventually your work becomes better, but only if you sit down and do it. That’s the other part of the meditation.

Everything Changes: I write articles for one of the local newspapers. I write guest post for two fairly well-known blogs, StoryFix and Sixty and Me. Sometimes I hit it just right and the articles or posts are wonderful and other times they are so-so. But I turn in my work no matter what. And I write novels. My first novel didn’t sell. Now I’m writing a second novel and I am afraid of giving it to my agent for fear that I will have the same experience of rejection. But I get up and write every day anyway. Here’s a truth: Everything changes. Your work today may be brilliant, and tomorrow not so hot. Your failure today may be just the stepping-stone you need for your success tomorrow. Life is not static. Writing is not static. Everything changes.

For the Love of the Life: What remains the constant grace in all of this mess is that I love the writing life. I may be a success one day and I may not. I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t care about the outcome of my efforts. Hey, we’d all like to succeed. On the other hand, if I fail, I will fail spectacularly and no one will ever fault me for a lack of commitment or effort. Those qualities are part of striving for personal excellence. And that, in some sort of weird and wonderful writing way, is what I love the most. That and all those blogs, articles and guest posts that break up the slog of writing in long-form.

And that’s the rant-a-rama for today.  What are you working on?  Please share with me in the comment section.

 

 

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

Insecurity, Not Good Enough and Other Sucky Things Writers Do to Themselves

Opened notebook, pen, books and glassesIf you are a writer, you’ve probably asked yourself why. Writing is serious business. It’s solitary. It’s demanding. And no matter how much you study and how much you practice, it is a craft that you never master.

On the one hand, you have to be a little bit crazy to want to lock yourself into a room several hours each day to create worlds with the written word. On the other hand, story telling is sacred art. Stories can teach us, provoke us and make us feel and think in ways that we might not have otherwise. And the writer is always looking for this–what is it that I am writing which touches a universal place in the human condition?

Even with a lofty vision of what writing is to you, it will always be an unforgiving taskmaster.  I write and perfect to the best of my ability only to discover the one flaw in the work that will unravel it all, baring my insecurities. I laugh at the rookies who when confronted with cutting 6,000 words thinks that they will be able to use it somewhere else, as through you can just cut and paste one world into another. But I digress. . . In spite of a daily discipline, in spite of focus and unending practice, I have moments where I wonder if I am good enough? Can what I’ve written cut muster? Why do I do this?

That answer ebbs and flows, and it sucks to wrestle with the demons of insecurity and not good enough. So why then, put myself through it? Why does anyone, in any craft where excellence is held in high regard, put themselves through it? It would be so much easier to be a lady who lunches.

I don’t know about other writer’s reasons for creating in this way. For me, I think it comes down to how it informs my unsettledness and gnawing discontent. It feeds something in me that wants to look down from on high and move the pieces around the board to make it mean something. Writing is born of a dark, chaotic place in my psyche that is engaged in the perpetual activity of examining the what if’s in life. The meat of grief, falling from grace, love, betrayal, revenge and how those things can push us toward transformation is my grist. It makes me lick my lips.

Still on a day like today, when I am filled with doubt and I sit down to write anyway, I feel as though I am doing the right thing. And I suppose that counts for something, that and a fervent prayer that I will get to the “good enough.”

Most people who read my blog are writers too. So the question of the day is: why do you write?

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

A Life In Letters

Wax seal and old lettersWith the advancement of new technology, there is also loss. Today I mourn the demise of the letter. Yes, I know that email is faster and more efficient. I also know that you can get easily addicted to checking your phone every 10 minutes to see if someone has contacted you. Facebook has replaced the intimate chat once provided by letters with a very public façade of the personal life. Facebook and other social media have become the mask of happiness and rainbows that we wear for the world.

A few days ago an old friend, Kitty, emailed me that she was cleaning out a file cabinet and had found several of my letters. She scanned and attached two of them. And when I read them, I cried. It was a glimpse into the anticipation we held in our younger selves, and of course now, I knew how all of it had turned out.

I was punched in the emotional gut by those letters written in 1989. I’d just moved from Los Angeles to Boulder, Colorado. I was the in my thirties and in the midst of two enormous life-changing events. I’d become a college student, finishing up what I’d left behind. It was making me into a different person. AND I was falling in love with the man who would become my husband. Simultaneously my best friend, Kitty had recently given birth to a son. Her life was in a great state of change too.

The record and account of all this was documented in a series of long-distance letters in which Kitty expressed to me the fears and joys of being a first-time parent, the angst of wanting to do it right and how the ups and downs of all of that was affecting her.

I wrote about how getting a college education in my mid-thirties was giving me a sense of confidence, a sense of pride for going back and turning around something that for the longest time I didn’t believe I could fix. And then there was the tenuous narrative of my love life, words revealing the most cautious of hopes. I was in a relationship that I desperately wanted to work and feared might not, so I tiptoed around how I wrote about it. Of course looking back, I can see how much was said in what I chose not to write down.

Checking the mailbox to find a letter from Kitty brought me a rush of excitement. Her musings were a thoughtful deliberation on life, often accented by newspaper clippings and photographs from days when we were much more cavalier. I sent her short stories I’d written in school and a running commentary on my adjustment to Colorado. The letters reveal the depths of a friendship between two young women growing into their potential and purpose.

I appreciate that I can email a friend across the country and get a response in the same day, but emails are never as thoughtful as my letters once were. The anticipation of an email is more habitual than the delight of the ongoing dialogue contained in letters which were more emotionally honest. I miss that.

I am fortunate to have received many letters in my lifetime. I believe that their legacy can be found in my heart-felt love for stories. As a child traveling between divorced parents, my affection for the one I wasn’t with found expression in letters. And the connection I had from the absent parent was made up by hand printed reassurances. In my jewelry drawer, I still keep a letter from my husband, written to me one anniversary. It is a meaningful conveyance of his love and unwavering devotion to me. That he took the time to commit it to paper makes it a treasure.

When did Kitty and I stop writing letters to each other? It wasn’t a decision. It just unfolded that way. We are still in touch all of the time, but there is a sense of rush and hurry that was never in our letters. Our email sentences are shorter, and there is no longer the salutation of “Dear.” Many of our sign-offs are a promise to talk soon, knowing that the email was squeezed into a too-busy-day and that what needs to be said, what wants to be said does not exist in the paragraph on the screen.

I miss the letter. I fear that it is an art form that has met its death. I can’t imagine a title like Rilke’s Emails To A Young Poet ever gracing my bookshelf.

What about you? Have you kept letters from a friend or family member that you revisit from time to time? Do you still write letters? And like me, do you miss the delight of a letter in your mailbox? I’d like to know. Please share with me in the comment section.

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

Inspire or Perspire, Thoughts From An Old Determined Rookie

istock_000017878764xsmallThere were lots of Facebook messages this birthday. I enjoyed each one of them. It was part of the celebration, a veritable cyberspace party. And, I was surprised when I read that someone thought I was inspiring. Obviously they had just run out of verbs and that was the only one left. But then a couple more people wrote, “You inspire me.” Inspire? Me? Is this because I’m old or because it’s my birthday? It certainly can’t be because of some level of attainment. What is it that I do that inspires you? It got me thinking about where or how I might be inspirational in my life.

My writing journey is pretty inspirational, at least to me. For the past four years, I have been doing what musicians call “woodshedding,” the process of locking yourself in the woodshed and practicing until you can’t stand yourself anymore. That’s what I think it takes to become a good writer, and in my case a good novelist. I probably threw away more than half the words I wrote last year. So, is this what people mean by inspiring? Or is it possibly the definition of crazy? But I digress.

In January of 2016, I signed with my first ever-literary agent, and a really good one too. I thought, piece of cake. She’ll sell my book to a publishing house. My book will be released to thrilling accolades. Tom Hanks will call me and want to do lunch and I will wash, rinse, repeat and move on to my next novel.

It didn’t happen that way.

I’ve spent the past year learning to revise and rewrite my novel so that it is better. During that year there were some members of my writing community who told me “if the agent doesn’t like it this time, you should just stop.” But I couldn’t stop. How can you turn down the advise of someone who has been in the business for thirty years when you’ve just walked through the door? So I slogged away. I wrote, rewrote and revised, painstakingly correcting the rookie mistakes I’d made in my book. By the end of the year I was exhausted, but the last round of revisions finally made the agent’s cut.

I sometimes get frustrated with this culture of instant gratification, quick results and “it’s good enough” mediocrity. I think there is a special place in hell for self-help gurus whose only success criteria is money and things. And while I have never been a particularly patient person, I scoff at promises to write and publish your novel in 90 days, replete with revisions that take us mere mortals six months to a year to complete. What’s the old adage? Anything worth doing, is worth doing well, and I will add to that, to do it well, you need to slow the fuck down. 

And you know what I find really inspiring? The determination to be a viable writer at 65-years-old; making writing a second chapter career and coming face to face almost daily with 30-somethings who can get up earlier than me, write longer than me and have twenty years a head of them to work out the kinks in their craft. That being said, I’ve just started another novel.

Having mulled over the you inspire me comments written on my birthday timeline, I have come to this conclusion: We are all inspired by hard work, tenacity and the striving for personal best, regardless of age or anything else. I will never be a savant. I’m one of those poor schmucks who have to earn every page, every scene, and every chapter that I write. I don’t often get things right the first time, it takes me several. I’ve had to learn to be humble in the face of the competition, become a perpetual student and keep an upbeat attitude of gratitude throughout. Is it the positive attitude juxtaposed to unrelenting hard work that is inspiring to others?

I find deep satisfaction and purposfulness in doing the work of writing to the best of my ability and then pushing myself to do better work. Either I’m a masochist or maybe that narrative is what is inspiring to others.

What’s your take? Do you inspire? Does it happen by accident or is it deliberate? Please share your thoughts with me in the comment section.

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...?

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...?

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...?

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...?

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.

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

Delights and Deliverance

IMG_0086So many images travel to my eyes, rise and fall from the heart and float away on the afternoon breeze. Brugge, Belgium is the old world. Homes from the 15th century line the canals with window boxes overflowing in cascades of red geraniums.

Our group goes to the Minnenhauf. It means “house of love.” We meet  Sister Felicitous, who tells us about the women from whose ideals her order of Benedictines borrow–the Beguines. This area was filled with Beguines at one time, pious women who lived to serve, who made lace, with intricate knots and turns, reflecting the focus of a meditative state, focused singularly on devotion.

In the evenings the four or five nuns living at the Minnehauf sing in the chapel. They invite our group to join them and then be blessed with holy water. I don’t go. I sit in my room at night alone. The days are already packed too full for me, and I need time to process all that I see and taste and feel here. The reason I came was to pay homage to my home girls–these 11th century feminists, mystics who developed an esoteric evangelism and grabbed, however briefly, financial independence a time when neither spiritual nor financial independence was available to women. I’m afraid that if I fill up every minute I will miss their whisperings in the night air.

On a canal boat ride Sunday morning, I turn my face to the sun, close my eyes and just feel this place I am in, all of itsIMG_0113 history vibrating in what I breathe in. The swans stand in the park at water’s edge, long necks curved gracefully. I’ve heard that the Beguines brought the swans here. I’ve heard that the swans were a memorial to an innocent man executed in the city square. I don’t know which story is true. I know that the swan in Sufism represents the soul and that feels appropriate to either story. Maybe stories and history converge somewhere, and all of it makes sense in the end.

Today I taught my first writing class: Deepening into Your Spiritual Story–the Arc of Spiritual Memoir. I am animated, passionate and lit. I share my ever-changing, ever-growing process and philosophy about writing. I give exercises that place their pens to the page. An hour later I feel energized and happy to have shared something that I love so much with such a fine circle of individuals.

The Beguines were the first people in western civilization to write about Spirit in the vernacular of the day. Margareta Porete wrote a book called A Mirror of Simple Souls,” the premise of which is that the little church is the cathedral on the corner and the big church is the church that lives in the heart.” Later they burned her at the stake. I share this in my writing class. We are all connected by our stories. We communicate through story. We tell each other stories all day long and yet at the end of the day, or the end of a life, we sometimes fail to see what the story is or to ascribe meaning to it. That we seek meaning at all is unique to the human journey.

IMG_0108I am moved and inspired by the stories of the retreat participants. Former nuns, former and current clergy, people in the throes of unanswered questions and the inevitable loss that comes from living such a full, rich and long life. These people are of an older age, teaching and learning from each other about reclaiming the broken parts of the self in the last years of living. Surround those pieces in love, shrugging and saying “you know, life is messy,” and then be willing to have it be messy again.

This part of my story takes me to Belgium. And to borrow from Margareta Porete, the little adventure is the plane ride and the events of this place, and the big adventure is what is changing and growing within my heart.IMG_0126

Stay tuned for more adventures blogging through Belgium. Miss my friends and delight in this adventure. Hugs.

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

And Then I Blogged Through Belgium

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Thus far, my sixties have been the most exciting and fun part of my life. I never believed I would say that a few years ago. Sixty is, after all, a daunting age that marks the threshold of what we know as “old age,” or at least “older” age. And I certainly went through a time in my late fifties when I could feel my significance in the world, along with my smooth, tight skin, slipping and sagging away. But then I turned 60. I stopped working full-time, and started becoming the things I used to dream of when I was 20. Jerry Garcia was right, “what a long, strange trip it’s been.”

This preamble marks the lead in to a trip I never thought I would be taking. I am not a world traveler. During my work years, the weekends meant the grocery store, a hike with the dog and a nap in front of one of my favorite HGTV shows. When the sweet, young woman at the checkout counter asked me enthusiastically what I was “doing” this weekend, I was sure to give her a disappointing answers that did not involve Jell-O shots or Kama Sutra oils, let alone a trip anywhere . . .but I digress.

Next week, I leave for Belgium. This is a trip that has been a year and a half in the making. My friend Susan and I cooked it up one afternoon when we were sitting at the tea house talking about our favorite group of women, The Beguines–a group of feminist mystics that took root in the area around France and Belgium in the 12th century. “Let’s go trace their footsteps,” she said. “Let’s go sense their history,” I replied.

Now Susan is a world traveler and when she actually began putting the pieces of this trip together I totally freaked out. “You mean get on a plane and fly over the ocean to a foreign country,” I would scream over the phone. Week by week, we constructed a trip, a plan and a group of people who would join us. My gig once we get over there is to help people deepen their spiritual story through writing. Writing is my grounding wire. It’s what I do. It’s what I understand. Everything is a story and I am a student of story. I’ve taught creative writing in my spare time for over twenty years–but my students up until now have been troubled teens and incarcerated women. This will be a class of clergy, former clergy and really nice people. My girls in prison were nice people too, albeit addicted to meth and a few other bad habits. Somehow I am making this trip for them too, wanting to light a candle in a place where the Beguines once met, in hopes that the light, the warmth of the flame and the prayer it symbolizes will find its way to them, comforting them in the night.

So, I’m going. A week from Friday, I get on a plane for way too many hours and I travel to Europe, where I have only ever been one time, thirty years ago. And I get to sit with all these amazing theological students and seekers, spiritual directors and one retired judge who have given their lives to the constant exploration of faith and spirit that informs their lives. In a way I feel like the kid who got on the wrong bus. Then I remember that I have something to offer in terms of writing and story and I trust that if I can coax open the doors of story in a group of incarcerated meth addicts, this group might be a little easier.

This blog has never had a theme. When I am not practicing being a novelist, I write here, and it’s really nothing more than just little slices of my life, laid bare to the world. In the next couple of weeks though, my blog will have an actual theme, the theme of “The Grand, So Big, Once In a Lifetime, Wow, Trip.”

Meanwhile, back at the preamble, I love being in my 60’s. I write and study story every day. I write novels. I take naps (still in front of HGTV) and evidently I can travel. The significance in the world that I once felt slipping away has been replaced by an unfolding into a fullness of being that I could not have imagined ten years ago.

I have a phone call with my friend and retreat partner, Susan today. This might just be the first day we’ve talked where I don’t scream into the phone “get on a plane and fly over an ocean to a strange land–are you friggen’ kidding me?!”

Stay tuned for more stories about this travel rookie’s once in a lifetime journey to Belgium and my encounters with spiritual sisters from the 11th and 12th century! And I’ll let you know how my writing classes go. How joyous to be older and able to unabashedly nerd out!

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

We Are All Connected By Our Stories

iStock_000015967475XSmallEvery writer should have the experience of attending a writer’s conference at least once in their writing life. I drove that I-5 ribbon of highway that cuts through the state of Oregon to get to The Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, and that’s where I spent the past few days. Two of the women in my writing group joined me in Portland and we were grateful to have each other throughout the long weekend.

Writers are a quirky lot. We spend a lot of time in our introverted creative bubbles, so when we do venture out, it’s kind of a party. “Oh my gosh, you mean I can interact with other human beings?” Usually we are observers of the human condition, but at a writers conference, we are the human condition.

We all connect with others through our stories. We spend all day telling each other stories; the story of the plumber who didn’t arrive on time, the story of the tantrum throwing child at the market, the story of how I got to the writers conference. And writers have other stories too, not the stories of day-to-day, slice of life, but stories carefully molded and crafted to allow someone a vicarious experience, an insight into another world, stories that are not about us or for us as much as they are for the precious and sought-after “reader.” These are the stories we call “novels.”

All throughout the conference, writers carefully carried about these stories as if they were babies . . . the stories we created and birthed from our hearts and minds. These are the stories that we took with us into pitch sessions, relaying hundreds of pages to an agent in just a few minutes. Eight minutes, that’s all you get to pitch your story and you have to be able to tell an agent or an editor what your story is about, not the actual story. No easy feat, and one I spent months preparing for.

In the heat of the moment, those eight minutes are the blink of an eye! Tell you what, though, I did well. Out of the three agents that I pitched my novel to, all three asked to see more of my manuscript. I was confident, passionate and I didn’t throw up on anyone’s shoes–something that I had feared. Walking into my first pitch session, I felt like I had drunk four pots of coffee. I couldn’t tell if I was nervous, excited or was having a panic attack. It was one of those times when I had to keep reminding myself to breath, because obviously I wasn’t! You can imagine how relieved I was when that first agent said, please send me your first four chapters, a synopsis and a bio.

Now, no one has offered me an agent contract yet, and my manuscript will have to stand on its own, but I am going to let myself bask in the satisfaction of a job well done for a few days and enjoy the fact that I gave three good pitches before I send off the requested pages.

I attended some panels, New York Times best-selling authors, talking about their craft and their process and some Q&A sessions with writers. The only classes I took were taught by Larry Brooks, and I found myself wishing that I had a semester with him instead of just a few hours. If you don’t know who Larry Brooks is, and you are a writer–you are missing the ultimate instruction on the art of novel-writing! Go buy Story Engineering today!

My pitches went well because of Larry Brooks and all that he has crammed into my head, and because of my story-coach, Jennifer Blanchard. Both insisted that I know my story. Isn’t it funny how we are surrounded by story, we all connect through story, we make up story and yet when asked to succinctly recount what it is our novel is about, we can get tongue-tied? The craft of novel-writing is so multi-layered and nuanced that we really do owe our respect to its form if we are going to be read. And that means, strange as it sounds, you have to know your story inside and out.

I slept for crap at the conference. I ate too much and I didn’t get outside. But I met dozens of interesting writers who inspired me with their focus and perseverance. And it was absolute heaven to talk shop, talk about our stories, take class and pitch agents. Today I am filled with a good and satisfying exhaustion and I don’t intend to get out of my jammies until noon.