Jan 042017
 

I heard of the Law of Diminishing Intent a few days ago, and my first thought was, “Wow. There’s an actual law for this?”

Yes. Yes, there is. This is the principle behind it:

We have a great new book idea that is going to change the world. It’s important, it’s beautiful, it’s simply amazing…

OR

We’re going to get healthy. We are going to exercise and eat organic and look fantastic…

OR

We’re going to learn to speak Spanish and then immerse ourselves in the warm and welcoming culture of Colombia on an epic adventure …

OR

Insert your AMAZING GOAL here!

And then with every passing hour, as our usual lives continue to simply be our usual lives – kids need rides, jobs need worked, the TV shows we’re invested in need to be watched, supper needs to be cooked (and it’s delish, so why not take seconds) – the Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in. As we put off our AMAZING GOAL to do our usual activities, our vision and intent – once so sharp and exciting – starts to fade. Our goal eventually becomes something we need to get around to doing, and then we never get around to doing it, even eventually.

We’ve all felt it. We’ve all done it. There’s no shame in it. It’s a normal human response and I’m sure there was some survival value to the tendency to not shake things up if they seemed to be working just fine. BUT we may want this dream to become a reality, and the way I see it, being forewarned that the Law of Diminishing Intent is an obstacle to us all is the same as being forearmed.

Here is a way that I think we can avoid the Law of Diminishing Intent:

1. An hour after we decide to act upon our AMAZING GOAL – which still gives us time to feel the uncomplicated joy – set aside the time we’ll need to accomplish this goal! Literally schedule it in. One hour after supper. Fifteen minutes in the morning. Whatever works for us.

2. As we continue to think about our AMAZING GOAL, adjust it. Because its so new and unformed it may change quite a bit before our first scheduled session. We may even decide it isn’t an AMAZING GOAL after all, and drop it. That’s okay.

3. During our first AMAZING GOAL session, set up the things needed to accomplish our goal. A gym membership? A computer language program? Maybe it’s simply time to work on it, as with writing a book. In that case, prepare our document, and start writing.

4. During our second AMAZING GOAL session, work on our AMAZING GOAL, and for every session after that. If our AMAZING GOAL is ongoing throughout the day, like the goal of becoming healthier, we can use our session to analyze our progress. Either pat ourselves on the back repeatedly, or assess where we didn’t do as well as we hoped, and figure out why and how to change that – without condemnation and shaming ourselves of course. We want our AMAZING GOAL to improve our lives, not make us miserable. Which brings us to…

5. Keep our AMAZING GOAL sessions positive! Be our own best friend. Encourage ourselves. And if we have supportive people in our lives, tell them our AMAZING GOAL so they can support us too.

6. And finally, keep our AMAZING GOAL sessions fresh. If we ever go into our session without feeling the joy, give ourselves another related task that promotes our AMAZING GOAL in a non-direct way. Some examples: Learning Spanish: find a Spanish speaking TV show and give it a try. Writing a book: write a bizarre but fun scene with our characters that we would never put in our book. Better Health: read inspiring stories of others who have accomplished great feats, whether it’s overcoming health problems or running around the world. See what I mean? Nose-to-the-grindstone is not always the fastest way to accomplish anything, and self compassion and forgiveness go a long, long way. We are not machines!

I’m sure there are lots of other ways to overcome the Law of Diminishing Intent. I’d love to hear your ideas – and implement them!

Nov 282016
 

whisperI picked up Whisper, by Phoebe Kitanidis, from my daughter’s shelf. She is fifteen, so as you might guess, Whisper is a Young Adult novel. The story was entertaining, fast moving, had a nice mix of action and drama, plus family and friend relationships, and even a budding romance. My daughter loved it and I was entertained by it, so it was a win!

What I thought while reading: Like most YA novels these days (including some of my own books: the Whinnies on the Wind series, the Horse Guardian series, and more), Whisper featured a teen who has an extraordinary ability – and I couldn’t help but wonder yet again, why do such a high percentage of YA movies and books feature superhuman teens?

One can say that all demographics enjoy this genre, and that’s true – but the genres available to older readers are far more diverse. We have plenty of non-super protagonists to read about. In YA, the majority of novels include teens with an unusual ability of some sort.

My first thought: having super powers puts protagonists in previously unheard of situations, and therefore may create story interest out of novelty. But then I wonder, after a while wouldn’t reading about a non-super teen become new and fresh? Also, wouldn’t a “normal” character be more relatable?

Maybe the attraction to the super teen is an indicator of how some teens feel powerless in their lives. In the pages of a book, a reader usually feels as powerful as the protagonist, so that very well might be the draw. But do that many teenagers feel powerless? I hope not.

Another option: the super teen phenomena could simply be boredom with the world as it is. Yikes, and almost as sad as the feeling powerless theory. Especially since there is plenty to see in the world when one takes the time to really look.

Maybe it’s because teens are in the process of finding and realizing their own abilities, including those things they’re gifted at. In that case, reading about superhuman teens would be research. And as an aside, it is possible to have a super power. Here’s a list of 50 real-life superhumans.

Then I moved on to the other side of the computer, so to speak. Why do writers write about teens with super gifts?

I can’t speak for other writers of course, but I have tried to infuse my teens’ superpowers with a deeper message. In the case of Evy in the Whinnies on the Wind series, that truth was that we, as the dominant species, need to have compassion for all living creatures and treat them kindly. If, by reading my books, one person does something kind for an animal that they might not otherwise do, then Evy’s superpower has served its purpose.

In Whisper, it is possible that Phoebe Kitanidis also intended to show a deeper truth. Her protagonist’s superpower – to hear others’ thoughts as whispers – gave encouragement to the reader to be authentic to themselves.

Isn’t that something that we all want to hear – or dare I say even need to hear? I believe that on some level, we all know that honoring our most authentic self is how we reach our greatest potential. To me, to be personally authentic is a true super power – and I believe it is to young readers too.

Nov 042016
 
 November 4, 2016  42 Books, Fun Stuff, Reading 3 Responses »

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!

Mar 102016
 
 March 10, 2016  Colombia, Fun Stuff, Living As If All Things Are Possible, Miscellaneous, Reflections, Travel Comments Off on Ciudad Perdida

Two days later, we hiked into Ciudad Perdida. The trip up to that point had been amazing: the cloud forest vegetation and flowers, the river, the indigenous dwellings, coca plants, and so much more.

The second day of hiking, we passed an elderly indigenous woman on the trail. She asked with hand signals for a hiking stick from a woman in our group, then with stick in hand, flipped a scorpion out from beside the rock at her feet, and proceeded to pound it to death.

Weird Catepillar

Weird Neon Catepillar

Another time, Quapak, our guide, told us that a snake had bitten a mule right there – and he pointed to the creek bank I was standing on. Two days later, when Quapak hiked back, the mule was still at the water’s edge, but it was dead. Needless to say, I crossed with exceptional care.

I was pretty happy to not see a snake close up, or a tarantula, but I was a bit disappointed that there were none to be seen from a distance. However, we did see this strange creature, which to me, looks like it could be related to a nudibranch if we’d found it underwater.

A few of the 1,200 stairs up to Ciudad Perdida.

A few of the 1,200 stairs up to Ciudad Perdida.

 

Finally, on the morning of the third day, we crossed the Rio Buritaca, and climbed the 1,200 stone steps into Ciudad Perdida, gaining 400 meters (over 1,300 feet) in less than a kilometer.  It was a brisk climb but not as challenging as that first day when we climbed 640 meters (2,100 feet) beneath the blasting afternoon sun. Now, trees, some with hundreds of pounds of epiphytes attached, towered over us, vines hanging to the ground.

At the entrance to the city, we made an “offering” to show respect to the indigenous culture. I gently tossed a leaf into the sacred circle, and after a shared minute of silence, we walked into the city, which consisted of stone walled circles, filled with earth, the platform foundations of the houses that had once been there.

The city was abandoned about 400 years ago, though the local people continued to use the site for ceremonial purposes. Only the Mamo (the medicine man) and his family continue to live there, a short distance from the main circles.

Circles and stairs.

Circles and stairs.

These days, thirty more people also live nearby – soldiers. An observation post is on the mountain above the highest circle, and the soldiers keep watch, fully armed and ready to protect the visitors.

The stone circles became bigger as we moved higher on the ridge. As in countless civilizations around the world, the more successful families had the biggest circles and the best views. When the rest of the group stopped at the biggest circle, the one reserved for community gatherings, Brad and I kept climbing, up and up, from circle to circle.

Finally at the top, with only the military post higher, we looked back to see our group grown small below. Oropendolas built hanging nests in some tall palms nearby, their tail feathers flashing yellow in the sun. A pair of green parrots flew by, and then a red bird, and one so blue it looked startling against the blue of the sky. Beyond the stone city itself, the expanse of mountains and valley stretched to the horizon, the first mist of the day starting to gather among the trees.

I was standing in a lost city in South America, something that a year ago I would’ve thought was impossible and, considering our financial situation, irresponsible. Okay, so maybe that part hadn’t changed.

A beautiful view.

A beautiful view.

 

 

But the sight before me, the almost audible hum of energy in the air, the cry of the birds as they enacted their eternal dance, the vines swaying rhythmically to the hot breaths of wind, even a hiker’s laugh from down below – they combined to make that experience far more “real” than the cost, and in that moment, the cost became permanently irrelevant.

So I guess at the end of my life, I’ll die a few thousand dollars poorer, but that’s okay, because I have no doubt that I became much, much richer during these few hours at Ciudad Perdida. And that’s what I call good value.

Feb 232016
 

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?