Monday, February 3, 2014

Drinking the Koolaid

For a good portion of my life, I harbored this notion that I was unworthy of things; success, love, comfort, happiness, you name it. If it was good, it wasn't mine. I know, in retrospect it does seem pretty silly. What can I say? It was a seed planted by someone else into some pretty fertile soil. The soil's always pretty fertile when we're young.

And so this lie grew as I grew - and it was ravenous. I felt compelled to keep choosing situations and people who fed this notion, because it seemed such a faithful friend. It stuck with me - hammering the "truth" home - while I set everything else in my life up for failure from the start. I had to. I wasn't worthy of anything better, or so that's what the people and situations that I chose for myself indicated.

When we've made a decision about something, we don't have to look far for confirmation that we're right. And we really, really need to be right, don't we?

When we accept the idea that the world sucks, all kinds of calamities will appear before us to prove us right. When we think that people are just mean, selfish, narcissistic boneheads whose sole purpose is to make our lives miserable, guess what? Hordes of folks will line up just to hand us our butts on platters. All we'll see and experience are things that confirm our decision's validity. Then we can walk around with this ever-growing chip on our shoulders with our chests puffed out and say, "See? I told you so!" to everyone else.

Won't that win us some glowing accolades? Yes, sadly enough, oftentimes it will - from others who feel they need proof of the same. Misery loves, and breeds, company.

What would happen if, all of a sudden, we decided that we didn't want to be miserable anymore? What if we started smiling and speaking in a new, upbeat voice? Well, our facial muscles would not be accustomed to the change, so we'd probably start out looking like Wednesday in the film Addams Family Values. I know, pretty creepy stuff. And that following we have? You know, the family, friends and admirers who have set up camp under our clouds of gloom? Well, they'll start to get uncomfortable. And then they'll start to get mad. We've disrupted their own brand of self-torture. Suddenly, we'll become the fodder for their anger. We've turned on them and become happy, and they can't have that! We will have to pay. So our former allies will likely walk around with their growing chips, chests jutting out, and toss lots of darts at us for the benefit of their own followers.

Yeah, going positive can get pretty lonely at first. That comfortable cesspool of nasties that seemed so faithful will suddenly get the heck outta Dodge, and leave ruins in their wake.

However, as Elizabeth Gilbert has pointed out, "Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation." Indeed, I've found this to be the case.  As I slid my weary psyche into this new, much more positive outlook, things began to change for me. And so did the people around me. Some of them stuck around and changed as well. Some of them stuck around, but only on the periphery; casting wary sidelong glances my way. Many of them went away entirely, either voluntarily or by request, but an amazing thing happened when they did.

Others moved in to fill the void. People with much to teach me, and much to learn alongside me, began to reveal themselves in my vision. Not right away, mind you, but gradually...gently.  They reflect back to me what I long to see in myself - what I have begun to see in myself. And it is good.

I'd like to say that it's all been smooth sailing since; that I have never been tempted to reach for that cup of Koolaid.  Alas, old habits have a tendency to squint into the sunshine and beckon us back into the shadows.  I can, however, confirm that I've become so much better at spotting them when they do, and then choosing better.

I like this path much better than the old one. It's warmer, brighter and has greater benefits. And the people - they give infinitely warmer hugs.

Gratitude <3

Friday, February 8, 2013

My Morning Junket

Begin the Day the Bella Way

  • Bella out for morning pee...check.  
  • Bella fed...check.
  • Bella out for poo...check.
  • Begin self-caffeination...check.
  • Play fetch with Bella...check.
  • Begin morning social networking...check.
  • Convince Bella to leave my slippered foot the hell alone...check.
  • Laptop booted, heater engaged and moved close to my writing chair, and second cuppa joe on the ready...check.
  • Bella contentedly ripping the stuffing out of her favorite, soon-to-be-unstuffed animal...check.
  • Activate disengaging procedure from morning social networking...check.
  • Bella begins morning mellow...check.
  • Begin communing with characters...check. 

It used to be that NOTHING stood in the way of me and my morning coffee.  Anything that attempted such a dastardly act would surely suffer the consequences, and the penalties were extreme.  All that changed when a willful little puff-ball named Bella arrived on the scene.  In looking at my list, I am astonished to find that my first cuppa joe has dropped to fourth place.  FOURTH place!

What a difference a dog makes.

A joyful difference, indeed.  I'm convinced that all writers should have a critter of their liking on hand during those otherwise isolated writerly days spent deep inside their own private Idahoes.  Preferably one that is cuddle-worthy with a whole lot of character.  Among myriad reasons why this can be so beneficial - including the generic need for companionship, affection, etc. - is that these little creatures tug us out of ourselves and our comfort zones in small doses.  Not enough to drive us to irreparable distraction, like many relationships can, but enough to give our minds a brief sabbatical as we meet the laconic demands of another.

Writers are very much control freaks, if you really think about it.  We live in worlds of our own creation, manipulate locales and people according to our will, and can create and destroy anything that strikes our fancy.  This power-lust can become insatiable, sometimes extending far beyond the confines of the page.  We can be such princesses regarding our environment, as well as the situations and conditions surrounding us as we delve deep within our psyches, pluck out what we find, and decide whether it's worth writing about.  Yep...we take ourselves very seriously.

Enter the critter with a mind of her own.  Our carefully constructed domain is turned on its ear as we fall achingly in love with - or at the very least develop a guarded affection for - something other than ourselves, our lovers and our work.  (The aforementioned three are far more submissive than a puppy on a mission.)   We clamor to find a new normal as we adjust to this voluntary commitment to the care and feeding of another.  This is a whole new realm for most of us because, in reality, we are only peripherally concerned with the care and feeding of ourselves.  

We become soft around the edges when our new-found companions cast their dewy eyes our way.  Suddenly, without warning, the tables are turned.  Master becomes servant as we bend to the will of another.  For a moment, anyway.

Write on!

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Lunacy that November Brings

Ah yes...November has arrived, and with it comes the unenviable compulsion to immerse myself into the world of National Novel Writing Month.  Affectionately known as NaNoWriMo by us insane literary types,  it is a time when 300,000+ writers commit to the seemingly impossible task of individually creating one novel each within the span of thirty days.   As a past winner, I can honestly say that it is entirely possible to complete this commitment.  Granted, it's usually not pretty when we emerge, blinking in the unfamiliar daylight, on the other side this task, but it carries a certain sense of satisfaction in knowing that we attempted it and survived.  Even if it will take another couple months to shift from reheated, drooling zombies to our natural state of being - which may or may not be an improvement - it's well worth the effort.

I've made a pretty good start by committing 2212 words (of the requisite 50,000 by month's end) to my laptop on the first day.  Day two has begun, and I'm questioning whether I'm practicing resistance in the form of writing this blog when I should be writing about the adventures of a certain someone in a certain precarious position.  I rationalize by stating that I'm warming up the cerebellum a bit - flexing and stretching the noggin - before I dive in.  After all, one must be on top of one's game when one propels one's main character from one bad decision to another.  (It matters not that I just used the word "one" five times in that last sentence - it merely demonstrates the fact that NaNo novels don't have to be good, they just have to be written.  Besides, that's what editing is for.)

And thus, this is a call-out for any aspiring writers out there who have always wanted to write a novel, but were afraid to try.  Being only day two, it's not too late to participate in NaNo 2012.  The suggested formula of stringing together 1667 words per day into some semblance of sense is merely a guideline.  If you follow this formula, you can write 57.5 extra words per day from here on out and still make it by November's end.  Most of us seasoned NaNoers know, however, that there will be days when the words just pour out happily onto the screen; dancing together with mirth in a never-ending flow of abandon.  On other days, we're lucky if we can squeeze three words from our heads that land with a barely-audible plink onto the page. 

With that, my best suggestion is this: when the words are flowing, by all means, let 'em flow!  DON'T answer the phone.  DON'T check Facebook.  Let your lover fly solo - if he or she loves you, he or she will understand your need.  Brew up a ton of coffee and get that butt in the seat and those fingers on the keys.  The rest will happen organically.

Remember: it doesn't have to be good, it just has to be written.  Good luck and see you at the finish line!


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Survival by Association

To remain healthy as individuals, achieving balance in our lives is essential.  As writers, it's easy to become so immersed in our craft, we don't even know what day it is.  Our last meal could linger forgotten on the kitchen counter because our main just did something unexpected in our minds, and if we don't get it out, it's gone.  We'll forget to do the laundry, to feed the bird, or to call our mothers every week so they know we haven't thrown ourselves off a bridge.  The only thing we almost never forget is to purchase coffee.  Never.  Okay, almost never.  Regardless, to keep ourselves lively and mentally stimulated, we need human contact to shake things up from time to time.

In order to balance the inevitable solitude and mind-numbing minutia that the writing vocation demands, I strongly suggest that writers seek out other writers to play with, and include them in their established social circles.  It's not that challenging an effort, really.  After all, we do have an innate tendency to recognize and gravitate toward each other in a crowd.  If crowds aren't your thing, there are myriad resources available to assist with arranging writerly meetups and play dates.  Online groups and social media are also available for the quintessentially detached who fear they will commit a breach of the literary code to actually, you know, venture out into the light of day on occasion.

Sherlock Holmes and Count Dracula

My friend and fellow writer, Christian Klaver, is one of those freakishly dedicated writers who funnels every available moment of the day into his craft - while working another full-time job.  Every. Single. Day.  He also maintains a family and a social life.  I did mention the word freak, yes?  I seriously admire this guy.  Aside from being a talented voice in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror genres, Christian is also a very good friend...and a great influence that keeps me both on track and enthusiastic about my work.  He's that rare someone I can spend countless hours with, both debating and agreeing on a variety of literary topics, including more than one lengthy exchange on the merits (or lack thereof, according to Christian) of semicolon use.  Yes, we are unapologetic geeks.  And we've found each other.  Joy is a good word to insert here.

If you are fortunate enough to have a friend like this, hang onto him or her. Such a friend will escort you safely through the throes of writer's block, the wide-eyed panic of your first book-signing, and the most gut-wrenching breakup imaginable.  Keenly aware that experience is the greatest teacher, they will advise you against - but not necessarily prevent you from - walking straight off any craggy relationship cliff.  Even if it is the second time you walked off this particular one.  However, they will stand at the bottom and wait for you to land.  When you do, they'll help you brush yourself off, tossing out affectionate pearls like, "You done yet?  I mean, no judgement if you aren't, but done yet?"  Then they'll take you off and buy you a drink.  And talk shop with you for hours to keep your mind off the bozo who broke your heart.  They won't even chide you for slipping in a few wandering laments about said bozo and why you were stupid enough to try it with him (or her) a second time.  But don't get too crazy, because they're perfectly comfortable calling you on it.  It's what friends are for.

I imagine this is true for other vocations, but if you're a writer, other writers get you.  They get that when something interests you, no barrier is strong enough to prevent you from satisfying your obsessive curiosity.  They know that once sated, you'll write about it.  They get that when your muse kneels on your chest at three a.m. and thunks you on the noggin, you have no choice but to comply.  They also get that when they don't hear from you for weeks or even months, you're most likely engaged in the act of writing something epic.  Either that, or you're wrestling around with another potential bozo who may or may not break your heart.  If that's the case, they know you'll write about that, too.

I could be way off base here, but, while I am passionate about having other writers as friends, I'm not completely sold on the idea of co-habitating with one.  Friends with benefits or lovers; no problem.  But actually marrying one is, I imagine, probably not the best idea in the hat.  Now, selecting another creative type for a mate is likely a good idea; you'll understand each others quirky natures enough to relax into it and enjoy the ride.  Two writers might just prove to be too much of a good thing, however.  Writers need contrast to stimulate the creative edge that is essential for us to foster.  There's also that whole competitive factor that can challenge even the most devoted couple.  I know there are exceptions, such as Stephen and Tabitha King, but I stand on my earlier opinion until I prove myself wrong.

So, if you're a writer, write your fool head off.  Live, breathe and eat your craft with a spoon.  Obsess over plot holes, story arcs and character sketches.  Piss off your eighth grade math teacher by making him the grisly villain in your latest story - that is serious fun, by the way.  But through it all, get yourself some compatriots to bounce off of once in awhile.  You'll thank me later.

'Til next time, Ciao.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

In Gratitude...

As I sip the morning elixir - I chose fresh-ground Italian Roast for this morning's favorite - I've a quiet moment to reflect on the significance of this day. Well, every day, really. I've been a mother for 29 years, and the idea that these two fine men decided to choose me as their mom still amazes me and fills my heart with gratitude.

It's been quite a romp. From the moment I held
Doug in my arms,looked into that sweet little, pissed-off face and murmured, "I hope you know what you're doing, baby...because I'm not so sure that I do," to holding Dylan's little hand as he skipped along beside me and filled me in on the daily meanderings of his 5-year-old mind, to the privilege I have of gazing into both of their beautiful, now-masculine faces, I can honestly say what a blessing it's all been. A crazy, overwhelming, deeply astonishing, absolutely frightening, heart-melting, love-filled romp...and I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

I love you, my babies. Thank you so very, very much for showing up. ♥

Happy Mother's Day, everyone.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Let's Get this Party Started...

A recent encounter with a very active member of the entertainment industry has inspired me to take my work, and life for that matter, to a whole new level.  Have you ever had a chance meeting with someone whose quirks rub up so nicely alongside yours that something within you begins to glow?  Or is that just me?  It's not necessarily a sexual thing - although that's often how these things start with me - but it's a quietly powerful impulse to become more...something.  More productive.  More inspired.  Just more me, somehow.  Hard to say what it is, really.  There's just something about these individuals that activates the hamster wheel in my head and ideas begin to flow.  (I love it when this happens.)

It's amazing how Spirit works.  It's come to me with increasing clarity that Divine Order exists in all things, and this is no exception.  I felt listless the other night and decided to spurn my work in favor of a rare night on the couch watching films.  I scanned the options on Netflix, landed on a couple that didn't quite make the cut, and then found a film with an Amish storyline that appealed to me. A nice interlude with simplicity felt like just the ticket, so I settled in.  I enjoyed the film, and became intrigued with one of the male lead actors.  It wasn't an attraction so much as it was the recognition of something exceptional.  Anything that intrigues me sends me straight into research mode, and so off I went.  I'm so very glad I did.

The gentleman I mention is Bill Oberst Jr., and he approaches his work with an intensity of passion that rattles me to the point that I stand in awe.  And gratitude.  I looked the other way for a moment, and he just eased right into my experience, made himself comfortable, and activated a bevy of synapse sparks in me noggin.  I feel like making him dinner.  Or at least writing him a sonnet.  One thing is certain; he has become the inspiration of my new fiction book.  And very likely a non-fiction article or two.

What Mr. Oberst has made glaringly clear to me - without even attempting to - is that in order to actualize my fullest potential, I have to genuinely step up.  You participate.  I think I just heard an audible "duh" coming from the back of the room.  Yep.  Sometimes I slide into these realizations from the side.  In other words, I tend to take the long way home.  I do hope you can find it within yourself to cut me some slack; however, because it has truly been a long, strange trip to here.

Just a brief, pleasant conversation with Bill the other night via Facebook performed CPR on that fire inside me that's been choking for air all this time.  From the example his life provides, I realized that, with all my passion and good intention, I've been merely toying with my craft; dipping a toe in on occasion, liking what it produced, but not quite committing to getting completely naked and soaked to the bone.

Comfort zones - disguised as cowardice, low self-esteem, fear, lethargy, or any other excuse for not really stepping up in life and grabbing it with both hands - are a real bitch to break free from.

I think I just got shoved into the deep end of the pool, naked, and I don't mind a bit.