The last couple of days, I’ve been thinking about a boy I met just over a year ago. We didn’t exchange anything like words, but there was another sort of exchange, one that is hard to describe. But I’ll try…
I’m sitting on the seawall of a Caribbean beach; not a fancy resort beach, but a public beach in the heart of the Santa Marta. It’s a gorgeous, glorious morning despite being as hot as hades, and I’m just feeling relieved it isn’t as blasting hot as yesterday – yet.
I’m alone because Brad is swimming. Various people wander by, and then this boy comes up and sits on the sand about ten feet away from me. He looks around 16 years old, and he’s truly dressed in rags. He’s as skinny and sick looking as some of the homeless dogs we’ve seen around, and almost as thin as the dead dog we passed on the street the day before, it’s ribs like hoops rising above its sinking body.
I am nervous. People who are desperate, do desperate things. People who are in pain, hurt others. I have a daypack that carries things this boy can sell to buy food, or drugs, or whatever he desires. All he has to do is grab it and run. No way can I stop him.
And then he looks right at me with the most haunted eyes I’ve ever seen. They simply defy description. A passage from Graham Greene’s book, The Quiet American, explains better than I can:
Suffering is not increased by numbers. One body can contain all the suffering the world can feel.
I simply can’t imagine the things this boy has gone through, the horrors he’s lived. I feel like my heart will break for him. I wish I had money to give him, but I’m not carrying any.
He motions to me, and I realize he’s asking for a drink from my water bottle. I toss it to him, and he gulps down about half of it, then carefully replaces the lid and goes to toss it back to me. I shake my head and motion that he finish it. He gives me a smile in thanks, then downs the rest. A minute later, he gets up, nods and smiles goodbye to me, and continues down the beach.
What I still don’t understand completely is why this encounter struck me so hard. Giving a homeless boy a bottle of water? It seems like nothing, and I’ve given to a lot of homeless people. Why does this time stand out?
I think it’s because of the exchange between us.
My gift to him was water and kindness and truly “seeing” him, and I believe he recognized and appreciated that.
His gift to me was a profound example of extreme courage, and a simply bizarre strength and resilience that left me in awe. So many of us in his situation would dissociate and go numb, or become bitter and hard. There was no numbness in his eyes. No bitterness. He was just quietly, openly bearing the pain in his life.
Even now, that encounter makes me cry. I hope and pray that his life is better now. I hope and pray that if it hasn’t gotten better, that he is strong enough to bear it. I know I’ll always be grateful for our encounter, and I’ll always remember him. True courage is a hard thing to forget.
I’m not just quitting writing posts of value; I’m also quitting with the original stuff. 🙂 I was so impressed by an exercise from “Steering by Starlight”, by Martha Beck, that I just had to share. Fair warning: you may want to read this exercise in her book as well, since I’m explaining my understanding of it, which may be wildly different from what she intended. There is a ton of other valuable stuff in her book too.
First, please meet “Shackles On”.
Think of a time you were doing something you disliked, even if it turned out well, even if you were praised for it and only you knew something wasn’t right. If it turned out dismally, even better! Now imagine it thoroughly. Remember what you were thinking, how you felt, some key scenes. Yuck, I know! But it’ll pay off in the end.
When you’re good and into it, stop and check into your body. What are you physically feeling? Tense in your jaw? Sick to your stomach? Shallow breathing? Pinpoint your individual physical reactions and remember them. Mine are a constricted throat, tightness in my chest, and sometimes a queasy feeling in my solar plexis. Shackles definitely on!
Next, “Shackles Off”.
Think of a time you were doing something you love, something that made you feel free and joyful and powerful in your life. Again, really get into it, roll around in the joy a bit, even laugh out loud. I did! And once again, tune into your body. How do you physically feel? What sensations is your body giving you? Pinpoint and remember them. Mine is an open, glowy feeling that’s impossible to describe without using nebulous, vague words like “open” and “glowy”.
Before I go further, I should explain that this exercise is based on the premise that when we are living a life that is worthy of our highest best self, we feel internally free. Shackles cannot exist in the zone, when we’re going with the flow, when we’re riding the wave.
Therefore, it seems kind of valuable to me to be able to recognize what will make me feel free before I actually do it – because, let’s face it, I can’t trust my brain. (I can just hear my husband laughing as he agrees!) But from what I see, pretty much all of us are heavily manipulated by ingrained cultural and personal beliefs, as well as by our hidden desires and fears. With all that against us, we don’t stand a chance of making a truly nonbiased logical decision. And then there’s the experiential evidence. Logic has led me down some truly miserable paths by lying to me about what I should do and be. Am I the only one this happens to? I think not.
Now, back to the exercise:
First, select your question. Should I quit my job and travel the world? Should I run a rescue home for runaway pigs? Should I work to become an astronaut and go to Mars? Or in my recent case: should I write screenplays or novels? (Because a few months ago, it sunk into my thick skull that I didn’t have the time or energy to turn both into viable careers.)
Second, imagine you have succeeded in your goal. Really get into it.
You’re wandering through an outdoor market in Greece, rustic bread and a small pot of honey in your bag, the sun warming your shoulders, the tang of apricots and rosemary in the air…
You’re feeding healthy, homemade treats to your dozens of grateful pigs, who gaze adoringly at you as they gently lift the treats from your palm…
You’re listening to your astronaut buddies sing “She’s a Jolly Good Fellow” in celebration of you proving there is life on Mars, as you sip rehydrated champaign and play with a bald, green near-kitten with ruby eyes…
Now, how do you feel physically? Are the shackles on or off?
Should you go for that goal? Will it bring you true joy?
Your body is telling you the answer. Listen.
Today I’m writing on my script, and I’m simply in love with it. There’s nothing quite like creating something from absolutely nothing, pulling entire beings from the ether, and bringing them into the world in a blaze of expression and beauty.
My characters have a tough time. They are often in despair. They don’t believe they can face another challenge or climb another metaphorical mountain or survive another second without going completely batty.
But I see something different. I see that they are achingly beautiful and magical and perfect. I wish that they could see themselves the way I see them, and they would understand that they could conquer anything. At the very, very least, they’d feel better about themselves.
And it makes me wonder, is that what we’re like, as humans? Are each of us just simply amazingly beautiful, and we just don’t know it?
Are we THE POINT, and yet have no understanding of that?
Here we are, just taking everything so seriously, trying to accomplish, to acquire, to overcome, to rise above – and I sometimes think that maybe the point isn’t the overcoming or accomplishing or any of that stuff. Maybe the point is growing in our beauty, becoming brighter and more profound. Becoming more aware and alive and vibrant. Becoming more us.
I’m incredibly grateful to witness my own characters’ journeys, these poor beings who I put through such tortures in my stories, knowing that when they come out the other side of their particular fire, they’re going to glow like the sun. And they are going to see that in themselves; they’re going to see how they’ve changed and why.
We should all be so fortunate.
It seems that even before I started blogging, there was copious advice out there on how to get people to read your posts. As years went on and the internet chatter got louder, there were more and more experts out there who could guide you in acquiring readers. Now, I receive numerous emails per week giving me advice on how to increase my readership. I even get them in comments through my blog, and ironically, I’ll probably receive some (that I’ll erase) even on this post.
For years, I’ve told myself that to “make it” as a writer, I needed to write lots of content that was important to my readers. I made up blogging schedules that I never kept for long, tried to dream up content that people might like, and basically put on the shackles of what I was “supposed to do.” I also felt like a failure when I didn’t keep the schedule or create enough content of value.
In other words, I did a crappy job and I felt terrible about it. But I’ve discovered a new way to blogging happiness. I’m firing myself.
From now on, I’m going to write what I like, when I like to write it. My posts don’t have to be worthy of my readers; they just have to be worthy of me – and my standards aren’t nearly as high.
So, fair warning, future posts are not going to be well studied, or wise, or inspiring. In fact, they’re probably going to be random and weird. That’s not a promise either though. Boring and mundane is just as likely.
So if you know you can’t take it and you’re not my mom or my best friend, unsubscribe now. I will not blame you! And no, this isn’t a Lemony Snickett ploy to intrigue you. One of my biggest “gifts” is overwhelming, almost uncomfortable sincerity. Sorry.
And yet I’m not really sorry.
However, I am sorry for not being sorry. So there you have it – a sincere apology.
I interviewed a woman last week, and WOW, was her story amazing. She is a lifetime volunteer, always giving, sometimes receiving, and so incredibly humble that she had a hard time reading the article that I wrote about her. One story she told really struck me:
She has volunteered for most of her life and continues to do so, but a compassionate act (to me, a form of volunteering) brought her to live on the island. She was part of the military, stationed in Ontario, when she heard of a single mother asking for help. The single mother, also in the armed forces, was about to be deployed to the west coast, and was desperately asking for a volunteer: would anyone trade postings with her so she could stay with her child and existing support system? The woman I interviewed volunteered to go in her stead, even though she was sacrificing her own home, her own connections and support system. Even though she had to leave a new relationship, a relationship that couldn’t overcome the distance between them.
This was told to me in her quiet voice like it was nothing, and it would have been easy to have taken the story in the way she presented it, like it was no big deal.
But it was a very big deal. That one act of compassion irreversibly changed the lives of at least three people in a massive way, and possibly four if you take the budding relationship into account.
In a world where the audacious gets the story, where the louder and more obnoxious the acts or words are, the more attention they get, I want to put her story forward.
Quiet acts of courage can change the world. None of us are powerless.
Things become what you think they are – including your story.
You finally have time to write. The house is quiet. You have no pressing duties. It’s just you and your book for the next two hours. You approach your desk – and a sinking feeling creeps its insidious way into your stomach, or a tension headache flares, or you simply walk away from your work, suddenly realizing that the bathroom tiles need to be regrouted. And you do this, despite your characters calling to you, no matter how much you believe in your story, and regardless of how much you know you’re meant to be a writer.
Why does this happen?
If every time your book crosses your mind, your stress levels rise, it’s a strong indicator that you’re in a rut where focusing on the negative has become a conditioned response. The problem is, we can’t think a certain way for long without training ourselves, the same way Pavlov trained a dog to salivate at the sound of a bell – except instead of hearing a bell and thinking of treats, you think “writing” and feel dread. Your book = pain. And that makes accomplishing your dream thoroughly unpleasant – something that you feel intuitively is not the way it should be.
But there is a cure!
First, seek out and destroy every harmful thought that crosses your mind about your project. If you can’t control a specific negative thought, then at the very least, tag it until you can. Becoming aware of a certain self-destructive turn of mind helps you minimize the damage it causes.
Second, concentrate on the positive. Remember what inspired you about your book in the first place, and grow from there. Marvel at that brilliant scene, or this character’s unique flaw, or the impact of that plot twist.
Do these two steps for a while – even weeks, if necessary – until positivity begins to cling to your work again, and then…
Third, make your procrastination time valuable by using it to mentally fall into the awesomeness. Then as you slowly meander in the direction of your desk, feeling only positive thoughts about your book, you allow your procrastination habit to work for you, not only by making your writing practice more joyful and therefore easier to start, but to mentally play – and it’s in playing that we discover the aspects that make our story come alive both in our minds and in the imaginations of our readers.
Many more facets on procrastination to come on my Patreon page. Why self doubt is a jerk we sometimes love, how to use imagination to conquer procrastination in a fun way, how to manipulate your biggest enemy – yourself! – and more!
Hook, Line and Sinker, by Ev Bishop
Ev Bishop has an incredible understanding of human nature which makes her books stand out as being unusually authentic. While romance is a genre that doesn’t get a lot of respect in some circles, her skill is definitely worthy of respect from any reader. I only wish I could write characters as warm and engaging. They feel like living, breathing people, so much so that you almost start developing relationships with them! Add the romance and some action, and her River’s Sigh B&B series is a total winner.
A Great Reckoning, by Louise Penny
I absolutely love the character of Armand Gamache. I would even go so far to say that he’s my favourite book character of all time. I’d love to write a character as great. Heck, I’d love to BE a character as great! With her Chief Inspector Gamache murder mystery novels, Louise Penny leans toward having one truly great character carry the story – and being a master of complex plots doesn’t hurt her either. Definitely worth a read.
The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert
This book was very different, especially compared to her better known, Eat, Pray, Love. Not a lot happened in it – and yet I found it oddly intriguing, even captivating. The story basically followed a woman from before she was born (by writing briefly about her parents) until the day she died. The entire book seemed a character study, and though the story was strange in that the plot didn’t follow a usual form, I enjoyed it. I recommend this book, but only if you don’t mind a slower read.
The Gate Crasher, by Madeleine Wickham
I enjoy Sophie Kinsella’s work, so when I saw a copy of The Gate Crasher, written under her penname, it seemed a good find. Though the protagonist was a con artist, I thought she’d surely be redeemed in the end, and so I was going happily along for the ride, forgiving her when she did things that were thoughtless and unkind, simply because I believed she would learn from her experiences. Fast forward to the end: I think she changed… it was briefly implied that she changed… I’m sorry, but that’s not enough for me. The question of the story – will Fleur learn to love, and abandon her destructive ways? – was not answered. With The Gate Crasher, I felt conned.
The Humans, by Matt Haig
Matt Haig has written a story that is unique, quirky, surprising, heartwarming, and even a bit terrifying at times. All together, it was simply wonderful. An alien inside a human body, sent to kill the family of the body’s previous owner, told from the first person point of view of the alien. The premise certainly gave Matt Haig opportunity for fresh characterization and storytelling, and he took full advantage of it to great effect. And not with just the alien character, but with the human characters as well. And the dog! And it’s a love story too, albeit a peculiar one.
And now that we have come full circle back to romance, I will bid you adieu. I hope you try some of the books!
I’ve been writing juvenile novels for more than 15 years, while making occasional forays into non-fiction, literary works (short stories, postcard stories, and poetry), and magazine articles. Now I want to turn my hand to writing humorous adventure novels for adults and family friendly and comedy/adventure screenplays.
To do that, I need time – and you can give me that time. How, you wonder? By commiting $1 or more a month on my Patreon page.
In return, I hope to entertain you, to give you freebies, to send you autographed copies of my books, or if you have stories in you that are yearning to get out, I want to help you make them real!
If you’re hesitating because you don’t know the quality of my work, check out my two free e-books online: Winter of the Crystal Dances and Dark Fire. They’re both juvenile fiction, but they’ll give you an idea of why I’ve been called “one of the best writers of modern pony books around.” I strongly believe I can do the same in my two new genres.
I hope you believe the same and will join me on this journey!
Many thanks to those who have already come aboard! You’re my heroes!
First, tell husband that any day now, I may hear from one of the two screenwriting contests that I entered in 2016. I’m kind of nervous, you see. After all, the story or the concept or the writing or the characters might be crap, right?
He assures me that HOLY COYOTE will do great, and wanders off.
Second, check email. There’s an email from the Screencraft Family-Friendly Screenplay Contest!
OH MY! The Quarter Finalists have been announced! With trepidation, I click the link.
My name isn’t included on the list … except that I forgot I used my pen name (AY Dorsey). I am there! And so is a screenwriting buddy, a super talented writer! Double Whoo Hoo!
Third, rush to tell hubby, and receive:
a) “I told you so.”
b) Congratulatory hug.
c) “Remember, I’m always right.”
Fourth, come back to my computer, and open my inbox to read the rest of the email. Except that there’s a NEW email there – and it’s from the Circus Road Screenplay Competition!
OH MY! OH MY!
“Circus Road is pleased to let you know that your Screenplay Holy Coyote is a Semi-Finalist in…”
What happened after that is a blur – or should I say, blurt, because I told EVERYONE on social media!
Two screenplay entries. Two short lists. Yup, I’m celebrating!