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Monday, July 28, 2014

Paying Attention and Refueling the Muse

Photo by Kevin Tomasello
We just got back from a trip to Acadia National Park in Maine. This was a much-needed vacation after several stressful months at the day job. We met some friends up there who spent the first part of their journey hiking up Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park. We opted out of that hike due to my bum knee and my husband's doubts about whether he could make it up and back in a reasonable amount of time. This allowed us some time to explore the lesser traveled roads of Schoodic Pennisula and the surrounding area. Winter Harbor and Schoodic and the small lobstering village of Corea were stunning, to say the least. We took the scenic route on our bicycles. We had been to the other parts of Acadia before--one earlier year we got married on a former fishing boat in Frenchman's Bay and met Jen and Eddie and Mack Ten. We were fortunate to be able to see and talk to Jen again, although we did not get to take her out to dinner as we had hoped due to our poor planning. Jen was the one who married us and helped set up the wedding by sea, complete with decorations, on her husband Eddie's boat. She arranged for a flower-topped cake and lobster dinner right on the boat. Sadly, that boat was destroyed in a storm while sitting at dock and Jen and Eddie had divorced. We found this out on a return trip to Maine three years ago and the feeling of loss was overwhelming for everyone. Jen seemed happier this time and my heart was glad. Our marriage, thankfully, has survived longer than the boat, but we were so sad about the loss of The Seal. My husband, Kevin, had been on that same boat long before we met, for a whale-watching adventure. We didn't know it was the same boat until our wedding when Kevin and Eddie were talking about its origins.

Maine, and Acadia especially, is a special place for me. It inspires and soothes me. It is so beautiful that I can't really do anything else while I'm there except try to take it all in. I brought my computer and my journal, thinking I would be so inspired I would have to write. I didn't write a single word while I was there. At first, I was concerned, but then I realized, I was was refueling the muse. It was okay not to write because I was filling my tank. I did feel a little bit guilty when I checked Facebook and saw my prolific writer-friend Gregory Norris practically hemorrhaging prose in fits of amazing productivity and success. Kudos to you, dear Gregory! I will never, ever be that capable of such output. But, I think that's okay. As long as I don't stop. As long as the ideas are still flowing. I will continue to do what I can. I am excited about my next book. I have been jotting thoughts haphazardly in a notebook and on index cards and I had hoped to begin working on the meat of the story in Maine. I didn't accomplish any writing, but I did cleanse my cluttered mind with some salt sea air and got a couple things ready for my editors at Unsolicited Press So, if the mission was to renew my muse, well, check that done!

It's hard to share something that means so much with other people. Writers do this all the time, I suppose. At least to the point that they cut out their hearts and bleed all over the page. Minor surgery, ha! Just as Acadia means so much to me, so does my writing. Writing needs the reader to complete the cycle, but it's not without trepidation. When we offered to show our friends the wonders of Acadia, we were a little concerned. Would they like it? Would it move them as much as it moves us? What if they hate it? At the same time, with age, I have developed some ability to distance myself from other people's experiences. If our friends did not love Acadia as much as we, well, so be it. We would be disappointed, but only in that they could not receive the full gift of such a place as we know it. Am I disappointed if someone doesn't like my writing? Yes, indeedy! But, I really try to listen now. Usually, I find the reader has something helpful to offer. I am also a reader, after all! The reader might find something I didn't notice in my first fifty writings of the thing or maybe he will offer a different perspective I hadn't considered. Hopefully, this is happening before the publishing stage, but not always, I'm sure. I might go back and rework it, if it makes sense to me. Or not. Everyone has a different experience, depending on their background. The fun part is in the paying attention. Pay attention to as much as possible, and the gold will reveal itself. That's what I choose to believe. Maybe you have a different experience. But, if I can touch just one heart, it's all worth it.

Keep paying attention. It all goes by so fast. Thank you for reading.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

When in Doubt, Change Your Perspective

Photo by Laura Bear
I went to Chicago for a work conference this week. Here's a shot of the skyline from the architectural boat tour on the river. It was neat to see the place from a different perspective.

I love to visit new places. Actually, I've been to Chicago before, but it was still new. I met new people, I learned new things, I saw a different part of the city. There was still plenty of traffic and wall-to-wall people on North Michigan Avenue, but it was easy to take a quick jog down a side street to find some green space and fewer people. I met a great lady from Texas at the conference and we had dinner and took the boat tour together. Good times! I will skip the air travel part, which was not a good time. For the price of air travel, you would think they would try harder to at least make it less like slow torture for their customers. Yes, airlines, we are your customers, not your unwanted baggage. Without us, there would be no airlines!

Anyway, I'm back and have too much to do before another trip--to Maine this time (yahoo! and no airplanes)--so this will be a short post. If you feel blocked and uninspired. If you don't know what to do next. If you aren't sure where your story is going or can't get a handle on a character in your book, try looking at it from a different perspective. Change the "I" to he or she, spend time with that minor character (maybe she is really a major one), take a walk and change your route, stop into that little shop you always thought you'd like but didn't want to take the time, write down your daydreams and see if there's a story in them. Get out of your normal groove and skip across the vinyl (yes, remember records? No? You have no idea what recorded music is really supposed to sound like). In fact, go to a live concert! Listen to live music, go to an art museum (googling artwork does not count), take a trip, even if it's only to another part of town. Take a boat ride or better yet, paddle your own boat.

It's all a matter of perspective and sometimes, we just need to find a new one to move on.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Dancing with Anxiety

Photo by Kevin Tomasello
Anxiety in writers is like the common cold. It's easy to catch and hard to let go. When I feel anxious, I go to nature. These orchids offer their quiet beauty, reminding me to take a deep breath. Breathe in, exhale slowly...okay, not working. So, I will go to writing. Bear with me, I will try to resolve this issue by the end.

Of course, writers are not the only people to suffer anxiety. Any number of people can carry this affliction at any one time. But, I do believe writers have an edge when it comes to this problem. We may turn it into a character: Anxiety is a sharp-chinned rogue, too restless--or afraid-- of being ripped open with all its entrails hanging forth. Or Anxiety crept up behind her, its icy tendrils slithering up her back , encircling her throat until her breath was a gurgle. Or even: Yo, b*tch, Anxiety here, that's right, I'm baaaack. Yes, Anxiety is usually an antagonist.

But, couldn't Anxiety be a good guy (or gal, let's not discriminate)? What if it is simply The Spark? The effects of anxiety often come from indecision or lack of knowledge or lack of confidence, right? Maybe that tremor in your voice or the sweat on your palms is a sign. Maybe your heart is beating out of your chest to make you pay attention. Maybe--shall I go out on that thin limb--maybe it's a gift. That's right, you heard me. A gift.

Oh yes, I know, it's not a good feeling. Anxiety and I have a long relationship, but that doesn't mean we are soul mates. I am still learning how to dance with this bastard, er, gift. But, how, you may ask? How do we tame the savage beastie? Natalie Goldberg talks about alleviating writer's anxiety in her powerful book THUNDER AND LIGHTNING: CRACKING OPEN THE WRITER'S CRAFT. She suggests (for writers, at least, it is a book for writers, after all) that we not beat ourselves up for missing a day of writing, or two, but instead, SCHEDULE IT IN. If you only have a free half hour on Friday after the kids go to bed, put that time on your calendar for writing. Anxiety hates structure. It thrives on chaos and disarray. Turn the lion into a purring kitten. Goldberg reminds us that if we structure our time for writing, we won't be thinking about it while we're at our kid's soccer game or talking to our spouse or consoling a sick friend. We can focus on the present thing. We know we will have that time, no matter how small, to devote to the thing we are compelled to do. I think this could work for anything we want to do: writing, painting, meditation, working out, researching things we are passionate about, animal welfare, thinking up cool crafts for the kids, designing the perfect tattoo--whatever! Why not?

Don't give up your dream. If you are passionate about something, if you can't stop thinking about it, if it wakes you up at two in the morning or even if it's long buried, but kicks to the surface at odd times, it is worth putting it on your "to do" list and marking time on your calendar for it. I've had a burning desire to write all my life. I wasn't sure what to write exactly, but I knew I was meant to do it. I kept journals on and off, started articles and short stories I never finished, and  puttered around for years doing other things that I was also passionate about, but writing always bobbed its little head out of the water. I finally put it on my schedule. And I wrote a novel. I get to see it published next year. I can't wait to see what Anxiety has in store for me then! But, the point is, I went for it full throttle despite my anxiety. Keeping some structure allowed me to stay in my stride so Anxiety couldn't step on my toes. Perhaps you will do the same. I would love to hear how you manage anxiety and your plans for following your dreams.

And don't forget to breathe! Thank you for scheduling a moment with me.