What Holds You Up?

What Holds You Up?
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I got the best horoscope ever this morning.  Here it is:

Become independent from the things that are holding you back, without abandoning the reliable things that  hold you up.

This seems more like advice for living than a horoscope, and it starting me thinking.  First, what are the things that hold me back?  Here are a few:

1.  Fear.  Isn't this the bottom line of what holds us all back?

2.  Time.  Or my perception that I don't have enough.

3.  Doubt.  All those times I lose my nerve….

4.  Guilt.  A useless emotion.

5.  Hesitancy.  Sometimes I dither when I should just do something.

As for those reliable things that prop me up, let's consider:

1.  People I love.  Ah, friends and family.  Love them even when they are pulling me away from my work.

2.  Writing.  Plain and simple.

3. Time to myself first thing in the morning.  I hate, hate, hate when I don't have time to write in my journal, ponder life, think how I want my day to go. 

4.  Creative hobbies.  Like painting, knitting, and quilting.  (Okay, I haven't yet actually done that last one, but a friend has promised to teach me.)

5.  Walking.  I've been walking for years and it is still one of the best ways to spend time I know.

6.  Being non-judgmental.  I work on this every damn day because I'm not good at it.  But I love when I can effect a curious, open attitude instead of snapping to judgment.

I'm sure I've forgotten things from both lists, so I might add to them as I go.  What about you?  What holds you back?  What props you up?

What Would You Write About?

Yesterday, while procrastinating before getting to work making sure I stay informed on what's going on in
Note-80032-m the world, I ran across the story of a woman who recently died.  Earlier this spring, she started getting odd pains in her legs, and on April 15th of this year she was diagnosed with cancer and told she had but a few months to live.  Tragically, she died on July 6th, leaving six kids and a husband behind.

What made this story really different was how Amy reacted to her death sentence.  She got busy doing things for others and making sure that her family was set.  You can read about it on the blog her husband writes.  As I read the blog, I asked myself, what would I do if I were diagnosed with terminal cancer at this very moment?

The answer came swiftly: I'd start writing.

What would I write?  Well, for starters I'd write:

  • My life story, such as it is
  • Letters to everyone I loved
  • All the stories I haven't yet gotten out on paper

But, what, specifically, would I write about?  If I had only a couple months to live, what would my legacy be?  What would I most want to write?

I would want to write about the sound of birds outside my office window at this very moment, and the lush green swath of kiwi plant that I see when I glance outside.  I'd write about how perfect my daughter looked the day she was born and how scrunched up and alien-like my son looked.  And I'd write about winter days of rain in Oregon, and how much I love the sky in New Mexico.

But that would be just for starters.  Because then I'd want to write about the people I've loved in great detail, how one of my friends has the Parkinson's shuffle and stare, even though she's not yet 55, and despite it all she drags me to Zumba with her.  I'd write about each family member and friend, trying to find the key that made them sho they are to me.  I'd write about pets.  I'd write about places I lived and traveled and people I met along the way.  I'd write about objects and furniture and the things I've loved most, like paintings and sculpture and outsider art.  I'd write about orchids and knitting and how I used to love to sew, and how I adore candles and perfume and old-fashioned sachets.  How I can spend hours at the office supply store or the bookstore, but would just as soon skip grocery shopping.

I'd write about everything I could think of and then I would start to draw conclusions.  Lessons for living.  Examples of what I've figured out along the way.  Brilliant bits of advice for those who remain.

And, of course, this begs the question, why not now?  Why not just start writing all this now?  Why not wake each day and write like you don't have much time left?  Put every single damn thing you've got on the page and then write even more.  What better legacy could there be?

I think maybe its time to get started.  (And, no, I have no terminal illness.  Except tomorrow is my birthday, so perhaps it is natural to think about one's legacy on such a day.)

What about you?  What would you write about?

What About This Thing Called Gratitude

As you know, gratitude is all the rage these days.  I think it started a few years back when Oprah said on her show that gratitude was responsible for her success, that once she began writing down what she was grateful for, her life turned around.

I've had a rocky relationship with gratitude.
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I love the theory of it.  What could be better than to spend a few minutes basking in the glow of all the wonderful things in your life, focusing on all the good you enjoy?  (And, as a brief aside here, do you ever have moments when you are, say, in the supermarket and you look around with wonder at the vast array of good stuff that we have available to us?)

And yet, when I sit down to do this, it feels phony.  For instance, "I'm grateful for the birds singing outside my window."  Well, I am.  They are singing at this very moment as I write this.  But for some reason it sounds sappy and childish to say it.  I've found gratitude lists written a few years back and I cringe when I read them.

So I indulged in gratitude in fits and starts, and generally end up with mostly stops.  Recently, though, I had a breakthrough about gratitude and came to a brilliant conclusion about my rocky relationship with gratitude.

I'd been thinking of it as settling.  As in, settling for what I have, not what I want.  Settling for what I think I should get, instead of getting my heart's desire.  As an example of this, consider a story my friend told me yesterday.  After going through a number of vacuums in the past few years, she finally bought herself the expensive, efficient vacuum she had always wanted.  Her point was that if she had just bought what she wanted in the first place, she'd still have the expensive vacuum because it would have lasted.  Instead, she spent as much on cheaper vacuums which fell apart and had to be replaced regularly.

For me, gratitude was like that cheap vacuum–the second choice, the also-ran, the thing I settled for.  No wonder those gratitude lists sounded sappy when I reread them.

Lately, however, I've been revisiting gratitude.  I'm doing a program with Christine Kane, and one of her practices is called Gratitudes, Gains, and Gifts.  Every night you're supposed to sit down and write down in your journal, the gifts you've received, the gains you've made, and what you are grateful for.  So there are those pesky gratitudes again.  Maybe it is because this time making a gratitude list is paired with looking at accomplishments and serendipities, but at the moment being grateful is a bit easier for me.

I'm still working on it, though. 

One of the biggest things that I'm grateful for is my writing and often I note things related to that, like, "I'm grateful I finally finished that @#$% chapter rewrite."  As a matter of fact, much of my gratitude list is writing related.

So what about you?  What are you grateful for, in your writing or otherwise?  And what do you think about gratitude?

Opening the Door

A few years ago, in honor of a landmark birthday (I'm sorry, I'm not prepared to divulge which one) my daughter gave me a tattoo.  Well, more to the point, she gave me the promise of a tattoo. 
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However, I never took her up on it.  Not because I didn't want a tattoo, but because I couldn't decide what image I wanted permanently inked on my body.

I've thought of all kinds of things–a full moon (seeing as how my rising sign is Cancer), stylized ocean waves, a yin-yang symbol, angel wings, various combinations of these images–but nothing that ever totally grabbed me.

Then, a few weeks ago, I was in Manhattan with my sister.  We were sitting outside the ballet studio where my niece was about to perform and another audience member sat next to us.  For some reason, one of us noticed the tattoo she had on her ankle.

An open door.

She got this particular image, she said, because she wanted always to remind herself to be open.

I want me one of those open door tattoos. 

It is the first image that totally and completely grabs me.  I love the idea of having a permanent reminder to stay open inked on my body.  I want to be open to new ideas, new experiences, new anything.  Even at my advanced age.

Then, last weekend, I was at the movies (saw Please Give, which I enjoyed a lot) and as I walked to the restroom, I noticed the carpet had a stylized sun pattern on it.  The first thing that popped into my head was the open door tattoo.  And I started pondering how I could incorporate a sun or a moon or angel wings or anything at all into the open door design.

Ideas? 

And, while we're at it, how do you remind yourself to stay open to the new?

***I found the awesome photo on Free Range Stock.

Losing My Mojo, or, A Ray of Light

There was an article in the Sunday Oregonian yesterday about all the crises we face in the world–the oil spill, war, the economy–and how they are getting people down.
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No, duh.

Usually I am immune to the tyranny of news stories.  Aware, but immune.

Lately, though, I've let it all get me down.  Yesterday, as I tried to work on a piece of writing, I got totally distracted by coverage of a local story, a missing seven-year-old boy, who one minute was happily running down the hall of his school and the next was gone. I was feeling down and discouraged.  Sad about the boy and worried about his mother.  Frustrated by the lack of progress in finding an agent for my novel. (Which absolutely, utterly pales in comparison to the plight of the missing boy.)

And the thought came to me, unbidden:

What if you could be the ray of light in all of this?

I know, it sounds ridiculously new age and schmaltzy.  But my brain works that way sometimes.  Yours probably does too, you just won't admit it publicly.

So, what if I could be a ray of light?  What if you could?  What would we do?

I dunno, I really don't.  But here's a few ideas:

1.  Quit watching the news.  Okay, I don't watch it.  But I read the newspaper.  And I read internet sites avidly.  And even if I could lessen my exposure just a little bit, I would make a better light.

2.  Meditate.  I have an off and on relationship with the practice.  But every time I get into an on period I feel much better.  Clearer.  Dare I say it? Lighter.  More in touch with myself, connected with the universe. 

3.  Write more.  It's the cure for anything that ails you.

4.  Find other creative outlets.  I like to mess around with painting, for instance.  Or needlework.  Or gardening.  Creativity, like writing, is the best revenge.

5.  Read more books.  Good books, classics or great examples of contemporary work.  And read fewer things on the internet.  Except for this blog, of course.

That's five.  Not bad for a discouraged person.  Actually, pondering ways to not be discouraged is quite helpful.  I feel better now.  Think I'll go have a glass of wine.  And maybe that deserves a number, too!

6.  Drink red wine.  And that makes me think of another one…

7.  Hang out with people you love.  Because that is what it is all about, isn't it?

Join me as I grope through the dark.  What are your ideas for shining light in these perilous times?  Or just for getting us all through Monday?

Lessons From a Rock Concert, Part Two

Yesterday I wrote about attending the Eagles concert in Portland last Saturday night and promised real takeaways from the experience for today.  So here we go: 
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1.  Put it all out there.  Writers, put it all on the page.  Painters, put it all on the canvas.  Musicians, all in the song.  All you got, every time.  This reminds me of the second to last night of American Idol this season, when winner Lee DeWyze sang his heart out through two songs.  By the end of the second one, he appeared completely spent, like he put everything he had into his performances.  Awesome.

2.  Everything counts.  Or, staging matters.  Attention to detail is very important and this is a crucial point because many creative types (um, like me) are visionaries, and less wont to deal with the trivialities of details.  Bad mistake.  A typo on the first page of your manuscript might cause an agent to toss it into the round file.  A caveat: deal with the details as the very last step, okay?  Don't let them bog you down in the white heat of writing a first draft.

3.  We're so lucky.  Okay, I touched on this yesterday, but it bears repeating.  Being a creative person, particularly a writer, is the best existence on the planet.  I often wonder how my non-writing friends make it through life.  As a writer, I make sense of life by writing stories about it, which gives it meaning.  Without that, what do we have?  A series of seemingly unrelated episodes.

4. Keep it going. Whatever you do, don't lose the connection to your work.  Your writing or your creative work can and will change.  For a few months you may concentrate on blogging as your main outlet and then you get an idea for a novel and get so engrossed in it you forget to blog.  Doesn't matter.  What matters is putting words on the page, one after the other, in some form.

5.  Lower your expectations.  I have seen the Eagles twice before, and Don Henley twice also.  Recently have been listening to so many teleseminars that I've not been as into music as usual.  So I wasn't waiting with bated breath for this concert.  Then it got rescheduled and that made it lose some energy for it as well.  But, oh my God.  The concert reignited my passion for music, for the Eagles, for creativity.  And I don't think it would have been as powerful if I'd been eagerly anticipating it.  Because, as the Buddhists know, sometimes having expectations just ruins things.  So, too, with your writing.  Don't expect anything except to show up at the page.

6.  Be in it for the long haul.  At one point during the concert, Don Henley said he'd been doing this for 40 years and was finally kind of getting the hang of it.  Enough said.

7.  Allow the old to nurture the new.  The band played all their old standards–Take it Easy, Hotel California, Life in the Fast Lane, I Can't Tell You Why, Desperado (and there's nothing better than when everybody sings along to all the words of the old hits)–but they also played the newer and less familiar songs from their latest CD.  

So that's it, my final word on music and creativity and writing.   At least for the weekend.  Have a good one, everyone.  And comment on music, creativity, the Eagles, writing, or even what you plan to do this weekend.

***By the way, the fact that it is Friday has not escaped me.  Besides looking forward to the weekend (wine on Friday night is a requirement of life) the significance of Friday is that it is Friday.  Friday, when I am supposed to alternate between running guest posts and mini-critiques.  But, alas, I cannot do that if you do not send me guest posts or material to critique.  So c'mon, save me from having to write five days a week and send me something!

Lessons From a Rock Concert, Part One

Saturday night I went to see the Eagles.  Until then, I had forgotten how much rock concerts inspire me.  
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Experiencing a concert is such an all-encompassing event for me, I end up feeling determined to go forth and do my creative work with renewed vigor.

I mean, musicians have to be creative on so many levels.  Not only do they have to worry about writing the music, but then there are lyrics to think about.  And after that they have to strap on the guitar or pick up the drumsticks and stand in front of thousands of people and play their hearts out.

All I have to do is write.  And lord knows, often enough I complain about that.

Two things kept going through my head as I was at the concert:

1.  Oh my God, we're so lucky.  All of us who are creative in any way, shape, or form are just damn lucky. Because we have a hunger to share, and we share it–we shape the world through our creativity.  And there's no better fate than that.

2. Once you have found it, never let it go.  (This is a line from a song in a musical–The King and I?) I've been through periods where I've lost it for awhile.  To be honest, I'm coming out of one now.  Oh, I never lose it completely any more.  I can't, because I earn my living writing so I have to keep at it.  But sometimes I lose it where my personal writing is concerned.

What, you may ask, is it?

The spark.

The germ.

The seed.

The life.

The energy.

The inspiration that grows into a project that keeps you up late or gets you up early in the morning.

The connection you feel when you're working on it, how you transcend who you are and become part of something bigger–the way you do when you're at a concert, or watching a sunset, or gazing into the eyes of someone you love, or writing.

It is all connected.  All we have to do is take it and put it on the page.

I have more thoughts on this, to be posted tomorrow in the form of actual, real live, useful takeaways.  In the meantime, feel free to share what inspires you.

Clearing Space

I cleaned my closet yesterday.
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I didn't mean to.  I've been working on the endless office project.  But because I've been so focused on that, I'd been careless about piling clothes all over the room on the bureau.  And so, since I'm going to New York on Wednesday and would soon need to pack, I thought it was time to put clothes away.

One thing led to another and soon I was in the midst of a massive clearing.

But this wasn't just any clearing.  I go through my closet every couple years or so, then wait for it to get really bad before I do it again.  However, throughout every closet clearing there has always been an "untouchable" area full of clothes with such emotional meaning that there's no way I could ever give them away.

You know, like the floral dress I wore when my beloved late father took me to a meeting of Rotary and I was the only one not wearing dark blue or black in the whole room.  Or the jacket–white, with lavender trim–I bought on my honeymoon at Les Printemps in Paris.  Or the blue batik skirt I made a couple years after my daughter was born, in a size it'll be a miracle if I ever wear again.

Things like that.

Clothing I was never, ever going to give away.  Ever.

Until I did, yesterday.

Suddenly it was just okay to let those things go.  Maybe it was the thought of saving my children the grief of someday in the far future finding this stuff in my closet and wondering why I'd hung onto it.  Maybe it was the realization that these items weren't doing me or anybody any good in the back of my closet.  But there I was, pulling arm loads of them out and putting them in the Goodwill pile.

Today I feel about seven pounds lighter. 

I'm making room, and not just for new clothes.  (I rediscovered so many things I'd forgotten I don't really need anything else.)  I'm making room for new ideas, for new stories, for new opportunities.  For a whole new novel that is wanting to come forth.  For new energy, new life, new enthusiasm.

How about you?  What do you need to clear space for?

What If…?

What if…every time you did something you didn't want to do, you put the energy you'd usually use
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What if…every time you were at work you acted grateful for the paycheck instead of whining about what a crappy job you have?

What if…every time  you failed you were happy for the lesson you learned?

What if….every time you talked with a friend you spoke of positive things instead of gossiping?

What if…every time you paid a bill you were grateful for the services provided instead of being shocked at how the amount is?

What if…every time you ate you said thanks for every bite instead of worrying about the calories?

What if…every time you thought about your body you told it how strong and gorgeous it is, instead of worrying about your fat thigh?

Just sayin'.

Anybody what to add a what if or two?

Photo by Eleaf, courtesy of Everystockphoto.