Ten Inspirations

What inspires me today?

1. Thinking of the awesome people in my life.

2. Getting emails from my readers.

3. Reading inspirational quotes as I look for a quote for this post.

4. Creating my own inspirational quote. 😉

5. Letting inspiration flow through me while planning a new story.

6. Getting feedback from a first draft that will make my story better.

7. Walking with my old dog in the rain.

8. Daydreaming of my next travel adventure.

9. Anticipating the class I am starting tomorrow.

10. Getting a blog post up.

 

Shackles On, Shackles Off

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.

The exercise:

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.

Character Love

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.

The Indominable Power of Quiet Acts of Courage

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.

Think Like A Fiction Reader

think-like-a-freak“Think Like A Freak” by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner: Loved the stats. Loved the examples. Loved the entertaining writing. The book just sped by.

What it’s about: Most humans make decisions without using much original thought. We’re hardwired to think a certain way, and because of it, our thinking is predictable and we have common blind spots. The authors give a few ideas of things to do to start thinking like a freak, things like saying “I don’t know” when we actually don’t know (which is the only freaky thinking thing I’m good at), ignore the supposed limits, think like a child, give incentives to others, getting “your garden to weed itself”, and finally, the benefits of coin flipping in place of decision making.

What I thought while reading this book: I’m very typically human. I have the usual patterns and blind spots – and so I was very appreciative of the things I learned while reading this book.

And considering the usefulness of “Think Like A Freak” to me, where I went mentally after reading is a weird leap: Though I learned what “Think Like A Freak” actually outright taught me, I didn’t learn more, because of the nature of non-fiction, or at least the nature of “teaching” non-fiction (as opposed to “real life experience” non-fiction).

Don’t get me wrong. I love non-fiction and I read a lot of it. I’ve learned a huge number of extremely valuable things from non-fiction – but I believe even more strongly now that non-fiction is limited. Why? Because by leading me along a focused track, the non-fiction writer doesn’t give me the mental freedom for diverse thoughts before I’m once again being hustled along by more focused facts, proofs, and logical reasonings.

When it comes to the deeper stuff of life, I find fiction the better teacher. If I head out on a mind tangent in a story, there’s not the same pressure to get back to the proper lesson at hand. Theme can whisper, tempting me off or on various paths, but I don’t have to listen. Even more, characters’ personalities, thoughts, and actions can be profound lessons. For example, I just finished a book by Louise Penny (my next review) that blew me away on the immense value of playing the long game with patience and kindness, and how those qualities might look in a person.

No non-fiction book has ever given me as much value as some fiction. Maybe I’m a freak for being this way, but honestly, since I’m such a typically thinking human, I believe I’m probably in the middle of a vast herd – and I admit, I hope that’s the case. To have fiction deeply inspiring so many people in their lives? To me, that’s a beautiful thing.

Three Years to “Sweep Off”

frodoI’ve been wanting to read Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert for ages, and yet it sat by my bedside table for far longer than I care to admit, mainly because I’d seen the movie and so it was hard to justify the time to read it as well. Thank you “42 books” goal for that justification!

I have now read it, and I must say that I absolutely adored it! Elizabeth Gilbert’s emotional honesty is inspiring, her journey is heartfelt, and third, the woman can WRITE!

Fourth, and best of all, some things that didn’t make a lot of sense in the movie finally made complete sense, including the romance at the end. In the movie, I wondered why they had to add a romance to a perfectly good adventure, as if someone thought that was the only way a “woman’s” movie could possibly end. However, the book explained it very well. The last challenge for Elizabeth to fully heal after a devastating divorce was to prove to herself that she could be in a new romantic relationship and not lose herself.

I know from experience that it’s very hard to write a good script from an existing book, especially when (as in the case of Eat Pray Love) so much of the story’s power is expressed through the protagonist’s thoughts. You can’t put a thought on a screen, and unfortunately, what you put on instead sometimes doesn’t carry the same emotional integrity. As an aside, if you’ve ever wondered at the process that a lot of script writers and a growing number of novelists use to create their stories, click here: The Simplest Tool for Fast, Fun Screenwriting.

What I thought about while reading this book:

I CAN DO THIS!

Yes, I can eat, pray, and love, but that’s not what I mean. It has been a long-time dream of mine to be a nomad, and as I vicariously enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey, I gathered an even stronger belief that I too can travel, learn, explore – when the time is right of course.

To repeat one of my favourite quotes:

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.

~ J.R.R. Tolkein, Lord of the Rings.

I look at this as a promise. Maybe that’s why I take my passport with me everywhere, even if I’m just going to the grocery store or to pick up the mail. One of these days, me and my “company of adventurers” will simply sweep away on our own mega-adventure. 🙂

When we do, I’ll keep an account of my travels here. I promise.

What’s Wrong With A Bit of Fun?

godiva-nicole-gallandGodiva, by Nicole Galland

The awesome cover drew my eye and I snatched it off the New Books shelf at the library last week. I started reading eagerly – and kept reading because of this blog commitment.

Note to self: Think twice about following a profound book with one that is light and fun.

However, about an hour into the book, I started questioning my first impression. The character of Godiva had a lot of energy, and I actually started enjoying her outrageous manoeuvrings – which lead me to think: What’s wrong with a bit of fun? What’s wrong with a bit of flirtatious manipulation and intrigue, especially when all characters are aware it’s happening?

What the heck is wrong with a playful heroine?

Nothing. That’s what.

What I learned by reading this book: The timing was great for the elections down in the US, and the depression that came over me with all the pain and anger people are feeling down there. Godiva gave me the opportunity to lighten up and stop taking everything so bloody seriously.

The things that are important in this world, as was reaffirmed to Godiva by the end of the book, are loyalty to those you love and who love you, and keeping your sense of personal integrity. She let her sense of right and wrong guide her in a difficult political and personal situation – one of her own making of course.

She decided she would help her friend protest an unfair tax, but her methods rankled the King who set out to destroy her. Godiva remained true to herself and her loved ones, and let the chips fall where they may. Unfortunately, they didn’t fall well, and she had to be rescued by her friend – but isn’t that the way life works? It’s those who love us who pick us up, and when they’re down, we return the service.

I did find that the book was missing a few things, at least for me. I would have liked to have seen more detail of the time. Godiva lived in the 11th century, before the Norman invasion, and because much of the population still secretly followed pagan beliefs, women had a lot more power than they did during the later centuries. Nicole Galland touches on these things, but seems to focus more on the sassy conversations.

Another thing I would’ve liked is more description on setting. I couldn’t visualize what was around Lady Godiva most of the time, and sometimes inserted scenes from movies that were probably far from the correct period.

To me, these two things created a lack of depth in the story itself. And yet, it was the perfect book for me to read last week.

What’s wrong with a bit of fun? I’m going to ask myself that the next time I’m feeling down.

And then I’ll answer: Nothing. Nothing at all.

42 Books

booksMy newest venture: 42 books in 52 weeks!

Why 42?

Because, “the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything is 42” – at least according to Douglas Adams who wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Also, it gives me 10 weeks to fiddle around and procrastinate. ?

But why do it at all?

First, I’m great at buying and downloading books and starting to read them, but not so good at finishing them – so this project is selfishly meant to motivate me.

Second, I am inspired by many of the books I read, and yet I don’t have a satisfactory outlet for the thoughts they encourage. So I’m creating that outlet, in the form of blog posts. Some will be reviews, some will be random thoughts inspired as I read that book, but every book will get a blog post. Promise.

I know I’m the big winner here, but I hope you get some value out of my new commitment too. Books and links added here, as soon as I start. I’d love to get your feedback on the books too.

Cheers!

Crowd of Awesomeness

crowdI’m not complaining. Keep that in mind as you read this. It’s just I have too many ideas for books, movies, articles, and more, and choosing which to work on seems almost impossible some days.

Though it doesn’t seem like a curse, this is the bane of many writers: too many beautiful, compelling stories shouting out how engaging they are, how clever, how they’re the most fun, most striking, most worthy to be put into physical form. At this very moment, I have eight solid ideas in my head – five screenplays, a novella that may turn into a series, and two non-fiction books – and that doesn’t include the blog posts, short stories, poems, or memoir pieces that are malingering in my head or on my computer in various states of completion.

Out of sheer necessity, I’ve developed different ways to chose one story from my crowd of awesomeness to work on.

To begin with, I follow my passion and work on the project that calls the loudest. The problem with this can be that one project may be deafening on Day One, another on Day Two, another on Day Three – which means I have to practice crowd control. These are my crowd control tools:

Ask myself: which project is my top priority in relation to my long, or sometimes short, term goals? Short term trumps long term only if it’s a firm commitment, like a deadline. Why does long term usually have priority over short term? If a short term goal doesn’t support the long term goal, it shouldn’t be there to begin with.

Ask my writer support group what they think. The right writer support group is a profound resource. Hint for Success: If you don’t have one, get one. Then ask them.

Ask a writing mentor friend, someone who has been there and done that. If I don’t have a writing mentor friend in the discipline I need, I hire one, and talk to them about what project might have the most potential. And I really listen, even if it hurts. Note: it usually hurts.

Work on more than one project at a time. I can do two in a day, and sometimes three, with a couple hours on each project. Sometimes, to keep my brain from completely frying, I diversify the form of writing. For example, today I am writing a blog post, editing my current script, outlining my novella, and thinking about a non-fiction book. And though I’m not complaining about the writing related activities, I will complain about the bookkeeping I have to do. Ugh.

There is one more thing that I do, and not just as a last resort, simply because I like it so much. This activity solves all problems, not just this one: walking and talking… but that is an entirely new blog post, one I definitely want to write.

Someday.

When it starts shouting at me.

Magic Realism Realized

I knew Gabriel Garcia Marquez was from Colombia, but until I went there, I didn’t realize how his homeland must have influenced his work. They call Colombia the land of magic realism, and it’s very fitting. Colombia is very REAL, and by capitalizing it, I mean more expressive, more colourful, bigger, and louder than the understated colours and culture I’m accustomed to. But it also has an otherworldly magic to it, a surreal energy that is entirely it’s own and very hard to describe – so I’ll describe it with an event.

On the jungle hike, we had a half day to do whatever we wanted. Instead of swimming or accompanying Brad on adventures, I wandered down the Buritaca River and found a big boulder that had been sculpted and smoothed by centuries of river currents. I meditated for a while, then lay back, fitting my body into the boulder’s gentle curves, shut my eyes, and allowed the rush and tumble of the river to carry my thoughts away.

I’m not yellow butterflysure what made me look up but minutes later, I did, just in time to see a flash of butterscotch yellow. A butterfly.

A moment later, a second butterfly, this one creamy yellow. Then another, again yellow, but brighter.

I sat up. Facing upstream, I saw them coming. Not in hordes or flocks or whatever you call masses of butterflies, but one by one, like sparkling yellow jewels, each one precious, each unique, each incredibly luminous in the sunlight as they flew toward me.

Brad’s morning wanderings eventually carried him downstream as well, and we sat on the boulder that was as much art as rock – and we watched dozens, then hundreds of yellow butterflies pass by, letting the updraft from the rushing water carry them along. A butterfly highway.

To this day, when I think back to that morning, the entire world seems just a bit more lovely, a touch more wondrous – but there’s more to the experience than remembering the beauty. When I’m feeling down or going through a difficult situation, and I remember that in the jungle, glowing yellow butterflies fly en mass along a rushing river, it is as if each butterfly picks up a bit of my sadness and stress, and flutters away with it.

Magic realism? Residual magic? I don’t know. But it is REAL, at least to me. And I am infinitely grateful for that experience.

________________________________________________________________________________________

I am living this year with the view that ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE. What this year may include: adventures in travel, career, personal growth, and more. If you are interested in following my haphazard posts, sign up here. Thank you!