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.

Tackling Procrastination – Part One

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!

Two Celebrations

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…”

Semi-Finalist!

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!

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.

Cuidad Perdida or Bust

Mules passing me on the chalk trail.

Mules passing me on the chalk trail.

I seriously thought I was going to collapse. Hills should not be this high or this steep. Three hours up? In 35 degree C  heat? With no shade? Come on!

The rest of our small group had shown us their backs a while ago. I’d already guzzled most of the water by the time the trail turned to white chalk dust, reflecting the heat back into my beet red face. Dust poofed into the air at every step, sticking to my sweat and coating my heaving lungs. And yet, there seemed no end. Up, up, eternally up.

Earlier that afternoon, we started the three day hike into Ciudad Perdida, a “lost city” in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains. It had been a wonderful day. Meeting our hiking crew that morning and driving out to El Mamey, the town with such a bloody history it was nicknamed El Machete, where we would start our hike. The peaceful little village that greeted us did not live up to its past reputation, thankfully. We’d seen a massive iguana (or I think it was an iguana – it was a huge lizard in a tree, anyway) and the two snow capped peaks in the Sierra Nevadas, the two biggest mountains in the world at sea level. Incredibly impressive!

The hike itself started out easy-peasy, with gentle uphills and the occasional downhill. It was hot, that was for certain, but it was also shaded. The surroundings were beautiful and exotic, creeks bubbled past, strange fruit hung on trees, and the flowers… oh, the flowers! They’d drive me to poetry if I wasn’t careful.

Anyway, it all seemed amazing, even for a little while after the gentle slope turned into a not so gentle slope. Then the shade vanished, the sun got hotter (I swear), we hit the chalk dust – and the hike became a trudge.

Brad stayed with me, encouraging me and dutifully offering to carry my pack every once in a while. No way, I thought. I’d rather die, right here, right now. I may be suffering the ego-beating of being agonizingly slow, but to have someone carry my pack? No way, dude.

Just a random awesome flower in the jungle.

Just a random awesome flower in the jungle.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to carry it?”

“Yeah (gasp) I’m sure (gasp, stumble).”

Trudge, trudge, trudge.

“Here, let me take your hand.”

“Aw, you’re so (gasp) romantic.”

“Uh, yeah.”

Pulls me up the hill.

“You know, I can carry your pack for you.”

“Grrr.”

Waits one minute.

“Do you want me to?”

“I’m (gasp, pant) fine.”

“Okay, just let me know.”

Washing off the dust

Washing off the dust

Well, I must admit, the time did come, and then I had the added pleasure of seeing him carrying both our packs up the last of that massive hill without even breathing hard, as I panted and wheezed alongside.

But you know what? That was an amazing day. I loved the challenge and the exertion and the heat and the wiping of dusty sweat out of my eyes and the chalk breathing – and later that day, washing said dust/chalk off in the river while getting nibbled on by little vampire fish.

That hill was a profoundly satisfying experience. I may not have conquered it in style or even reach the top with my own pack on my own back, but conquer it I did. And that makes me happy.

 

Being an Inspiration

So, I did my part in Colombia to inspire people. I had a panic attack.

We’d been working a tough schedule. Mornings at PARE (a home devoted to helping people get off the streets) doing English lessons and teaching the residents skills that they could use to make money. It was loud, high energy, and fun – and for a major introvert like me, incredibly bombarding. Add to that, the facts that I’m deaf in one ear and can’t hear anything said on my right side, and that I knew so little Spanish that I was afraid to say the little I knew, because the response would then be in Spanish and I wouldn’t understand a word said – if I even heard it… and well, I was stressed. During the afternoons, we either planned or put on events at El Redil del Sur, a Christian church in Sabaneta, and I had to hear and talk to even more people. All day. Every day.

To add to the upheaval, I kept expecting those closest to me (the team I was working with) to be mad at me! I know it sound crazy, but really it’s not so crazy as it sounds, because in my day-to-day life, my special-needs daughter has rage issues and is almost constantly angry, usually at me. Her anger has dominated my daily life for years now. What I didn’t realize until I went to Colombia was how much it has affected me.

Brad and me, later that day in Botero Square, Medellin.

Brad and me, later that day in Botero Square, Medellin.

Still, no matter how much I expected it, no one got mad at me there. I don’t even think they felt frustrated with me, though they certainly had a right to be. Every time I noticed myself closing down emotionally, I’d remind myself that no one was mad, that they actually even seemed to like me. I’d be fine for an hour or a day or whatever, and then it would sneak it again, and I’d start feeling like a miserable burden to the people I worked with, like any moment they were going to snap and say something mean… Surely they’re mad at me now. Nope. Okay, but what about now? Sorry, no evidence of that. But what about now? And on and on it went.

And then Sunday came. The first church service that day was very spiritual and I felt so open… and then when the service was over, it’s like all my doubts and fears of the proceeding week zoomed into that open space, and wouldn’t leave. I held myself together only a few minutes into the second service, and then for the first time ever, I had a panic attack. To make things worse, I had to leave the service during a relatively quiet time and I was sitting at the front, so of course a lot of people noticed. Though the panic attack was as scary as I’ve heard they can be, it couldn’t stop my feelings of embarrassment or humiliation. If I could’ve chosen anywhere else to have my episode, I would’ve done it. But, well… it was simply not to be.

Brad stayed with me the whole time of the attack, and eventually, I could breathe normally again. Ages later, the tears stopped. I tried to slink out of church unnoticed, and mostly succeeded. Either that or most people were giving me the gift of averting their eyes (I suspect that’s the case, actually). The rest of the day was awesome and rejuvenating, and I was able to start up again on Monday morning with no outward residual effect. But underneath, I still felt ashamed of my meltdown. I blamed myself for being both weak and an idiot. That is, until the day we left Sabaneta.

We had a last lunch together, and were sharing our thoughts on the trip, on what was a success and what might be better next time, and right at the end, Jairo, the pastor at El Redil, said something that completely changed my outlook. He said that one of the things that really impacted the people in his church during our visit was how supportive and gentle Brad was with me when I was upset. Many people saw it, he said (and I thought, “oh great!”), and they were deeply moved by Brad’s kind and loving response.

And all of a sudden, I didn’t feel so bad about my meltdown. I had made a difference. I’d helped to inspire. I might have done it by crying and hyperventilating, but if I hadn’t done that, Brad wouldn’t have had a reason to show me such kindness in front of so many people. Yes, at the time it was terribly embarrassing and frightening, but to have that painful experience inspire others on the value of kindness and gentleness? I’m glad it happened. What more can I say?

The Importance of Purple Hair

AvatarThis is my avatar on a site I share with writing friends. A while back, I changed my hair from brown to purple, just having fun, and then the jokes started about the power of the hair. Well, this week the purple hair feels limp and faded. “Bad” stuff has happened, but because of my commitment to live as if all things are possible, I did my best to embrace the experience.

My theory for this choice: if I fully feel my sadness instead of trying to force it into becoming happiness, and feel the loss and betrayal instead of trying to deny it, then I’ll move through the emotional shock faster. This meant no hiding from the sadness, no making futile efforts to make things appear better than they are, no pretending that the situation isn’t serious, plus accepting that my relationship with someone I love may never recover. It was (is) hard. I felt old and tired, beaten and dejected, like a big lump sluffing around. Believe me, it was uglier than it even sounds.

However, by yesterday morning, it seemed like I may have chosen wisely. I felt lighter and slightly more energized than the days before. I was still really sad, but still, life seemed a touch sunnier.

Then today, after encouragement from my husband and friends, I went for a walk in the rain – and had an epiphany. This is it:

When things get tough like this, I need to remember to set my own value and not react to the value others put on me. I need to treat myself kindly and take care of myself psychologically, spiritually, and physically, to keep myself strong during challenging times. Just as important, I need to do if for the right reason. If I try to patch up my psyche just so I can be of further use to others, I’ll always be weaker than if I do it out of self respect and self care.

And finally, I need to remember that I may never have a good relationship with this person – because she chooses her own value and her own life path. She may never accept me. Her choices are hers, mine are mine, and our individual value is not determined by anyone but ourselves. While it really hurts to think she may never want me in her life, her choice is not a statement on who I am.

Since I choose my own value, I’ll try to see myself honestly as I work to be my best self – and maintain that bright, shiny purple hair, of course – even when things get tough. Fingers crossed.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

I am living this year with the view that ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE. What this year may include: growth in living without past resentments and programing, overcoming fears, achieving career goals, developing stronger, more loving relationships, and acting with more open kindness (click here to read an amazing true story of kindness). You have just read my Week 7.  Thank you!

New Life

Cover ImageThe other day, I did one of my very favorite things. I signed two contracts which will bring two of my juvenile backlist novels to three European countries. There’s nothing better than knowing a book you love will have another life, more readers, more influence, and give more pleasure to readers – unless it’s having TWO BOOKS being released!

I’m not sure of the dates yet, but ABANDONED and WINTER OF CRYSTAL DANCES will soon be released in Norway, Sweden, and Finland. I am so pleased and excited that these two special books will be having a second life!

And to all the future readers in Norway, Sweden, and Finland – my wish for you: may you never run out of books!

Happy Reading!

My Weirdness is My Strength

Weird happy huskyI had this realization a month ago. It came to me very definitely and strongly, like someone had reached into my head and manually adjusted my thinking. Then, just in case I didn’t get it or wasn’t paying enough attention or didn’t trust myself enough, someone I deeply respect told me the exact same thing about two days later.

We were walking the Roche Cove trail, the sun was sunning, the raindrops glittered like diamonds as they fell, and my walking companion said that she’d had a realization about my writing… I need to embrace my weirdness. No one looks at the world like I do, no one draws the same connections. She even said that I’m an original thinker, and instead of quietly just thinking my thoughts, I need to get them out there, let them be known. My weirdness is my most important asset when it comes to writing.

Sooo… these last few weeks, I’ve embraced that. Whenever I find myself getting stuck on a story, instead of researching or thinking of the “right” ways to solve plot or character or theme problems, I trust myself and write what I want. Oddly enough, the most difficult thing about the whole mindset has not been to come up with original solutions, but has been to stop myself from slipping back into old patterns of thinking.

I’m opening up, bit by bit, and I’m loving every step of the way – and I can’t help but feel thrilled that my weirdness is turning into my biggest, most unapologetic strength. Now that’s awesome!

Decisions, Decisions…

Tough Decisions Ahead Road SignLast night at the Sooke Writers’ Collective meeting, Doni Eve of Saseenos Communications gave a presentation on marketing, and one of the many insightful topics she touched on was blogging.

Regular blogging.

I really should do that, I thought, as I slid down in my chair. Maybe I’ll think more about it tomorrow.

This morning, to my surprise, the thought was still there.

In an effort to dissuade myself from committing to blogging regularly and then failing miserably as I have in the past, I told myself all my usual stories: no one cares about the disjointed thoughts that tumble through my head, I don’t have a lot of followers, blogging takes valuable time away from my other writing. But then I was struck by an important thought.

It’s good for me to think things through enough to write a coherent blog.

Well! What do I do with that? Commit to writing regularly? Heaven forbid! Maybe “regular” means once a year. It surely can’t be the once a week that Doni suggested. How does anyone do that? How can I do that? Can I seriously make myself write a new post every week, week after week after week after week…

That’s when I realized the flaw in my thinking. This wasn’t about making a decision every week. It was about making that decision ONCE, and then not deciding something different later on. Blogging can become a habit, just like brushing my dog or washing my dirty dishes. I don’t think through all the pros and cons every time the sink gets full. I don’t re-decide to brush the tangles from Cedar’s fur every two weeks, no matter how much she wishes I’d reconsider. I just do these things. The decision to have a brushed dog and at least one clean plate in the kitchen was made a long time ago.

MiracleAs of this moment, I don’t feel quite ready to make a decision to blog every week but I’m considering it, which means I’ll be tormenting myself by revisiting the question every week for a while. However, I feel I’ve learned something of value today. When I want to make a change, decide on the change once. Don’t revisit the decision time after time. Period.

And maybe after a few weeks of considering, I’ll find it’s just a lot easier to decide to blog regularly. Miracles do happen!