A month ago, when I received Advance Reader Copes (ARCs) for my memoir, I received an email from my publisher, Brooke Warner, saying “congrats!!” in the subject line. “The books look amazing,” she said, and I agreed, but then she added that she had some feedback for me from She Writes Press’s sales force (via their distributor, Ingram Publisher Services) that she wanted to share with me via phone.
My first impulse was panic. What kind of “feedback”? I wondered. It’s the sales force’s job to sell my book to bookstores and libraries, so it’s important that they like it. Enthusiasm counts. Since Brooke’s tone was upbeat, and since her email arrived early Sunday morning and we wouldn’t talk until Tuesday, I decided rather than torture myself with negative thinking, I’d stay positive and sit tight. Who knows? I thought. Maybe she’s going to tell me the sales team loves my memoir.
But when Brooke opened our Tuesday morning call with: “This probably isn’t going to land well with you considering how far along you are in this process—” I knew I was wrong. My gut clenched. Adrenaline raced through my body as I envisioned having to rewrite my book. Fortunately, the news wasn’t that drastic. “They don’t like your subtitle,” she told me. “They think it’s soft.”
I was numb. “Do they have another one in mind?” I asked.
“No,” Brooke said.
After the shock wore off I was pissed and defensive. I reminded Brooke how positive she’d been about my original subtitle, which had been through three iterations in five years. First it had been A Midlife Healing Journey. Then it changed to How I Cured Chronic Stomach Problems and Began Living My Dreams. And finally, after describing my manuscript to a stranger at a holiday party, it became A Midlife Quest for Health and Happiness.
“This is what happens when you just sit with what you’re doing and feel it,” Brooke had told me after that third (and so I thought final) version. We were both happy with it and thought it accurately described what the book was—which was the goal we’d been striving for.
“You don’t have to change it,” Brooke said, reminding me that publishing isn’t an exact science. There’s no formula for success. But I figured I’d be a fool not to listen to the sales team. Besides, according to Brooke, they were interested in the anxiety angle, noting how rampant this emotion is in the world right now, with so many people unaware, as I was, of the role it plays in their lives and health.
I was open to brainstorming new ideas, which Brooke offered to help me do, along with Annie Tucker, my gifted copyeditor. “If we don’t come up with something we all like better, we’ll leave it as is,” I told Brooke.
That week, I tinkered with ideas and sent them to Brooke, Annie, and my wonderful publicist, Joanne McCall. Joanne liked the idea of cutting the word “midlife” because my memoir speaks to people of all ages. This encouraged me—even when I didn’t know if we’d be able to come up with something that felt organic and truthful.
I remained skeptical that I would like anything better than my current subtitle, and I was nervous about promising something my book couldn’t deliver. Brooke assured me she wouldn’t let that happen, and despite my doubts about coming up with something great in a few days, I learned two things: first, three heads are better than one, and second, when something is meant to be, it can come easily. Things don’t have to be hard. Within a week my new subtitle was born: My Journey from Anxiety to Joy.
At first this subtitle terrified me. I felt exposed and vulnerable. But gradually I accepted and owned the fact that anxiety is the crux of my story. I had no idea when I set out to write my memoir that I was writing a book about anxiety. I thought I was writing about how raw food cured my chronic stomach problems. Even after I finished the book, I didn’t realize I’d written a story about anxiety. Author Gayle Brandeis pointed it out to me after graciously agreeing to review my book.
I realize now that I didn’t fully claim what I’d written until I properly named it. My secret is out—in the world, but also on the level of my own understanding. I finally get what I’ve been dealing with for the past thirteen-plus years. It wasn’t always obvious to me. For a long time I had no idea my physical maladies stemmed from anxiety, but it was there, underneath my productive, cheerful façade. And then grief and family drama exploded it into an anxiety disorder that I tried to treat holistically.
Sometimes when we write we have no idea what we’re writing about. We don’t know the ways in which our writing writes us. It’s a journey, and although we may have a map in the form of a well-developed outline, we travel to unknown destinations, and healing takes place.
I am grateful to the sales team for their feedback, which forced me as an artist to dig deeper into the truth of my story. This experience has been a reminder to worry less and trust more. It’s been helpful to see what can happen when we choose love over fear. This is a conscious choice and a daily practice—as is shifting from anxiety to joy.
Last Friday I received Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) of my memoir. I’d spent the morning working in my home office from 8:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. I’d rolled out of bed, thrown on clothes, and headed straight for my office, foregoing personal grooming and food, which is my habit.
When I emerged from my workspace, tired and hungry, I found four boxes at my front door, noted my publisher’s return address, and knew my books had arrived. I flashed back on videos I’d seen on Facebook of fellow She Writes Press authors opening their ARC boxes on camera—capturing the big moment. I’d enjoyed those videos and thought that one day I’d do the same. But when my time finally came, I felt something I hadn’t expected: I wanted the moment to be mine alone. I didn’t want to share it—not yet—not even with my husband, who was working at his computer in the next room. I wanted to experience the moment all by myself. I wanted to take it very slowly and relish it fully and quietly. I wanted to listen and feel, without distractions.
I grabbed a knife from the kitchen and headed into the living room with one of the boxes. I cut the clear tape, opened the flaps, removed protective padding—and there it was: my memoir. The one I began outlining in 2011. The book I wrote, which also, in many ways, wrote me. It was heftier than I imagined: 288 pages. The front and back covers feature a celestial blue background with hot pink writing and spine to match. Everything was in order: interior design elements, Table of Contents, chapter headings, Acknowledgments, Author Bio.
It seemed like a miracle that my computer-generated pages had been transformed into this exquisite book. It felt like my pages were dressed in designer clothes. Of course that’s exactly what happened. My pages were designed by Tabitha Lahr, a SWP book designing pro. It occurred to me that my book was all dressed up and had places to go, people to meet, and things to do. The thought of releasing it into the world felt a little like sending my daughter off to college to begin her adult life, except I’d probably be more involved in the launch of my book—at least for awhile.
Holding my memoir in my hands, I wept with gratitude—for the journey, for having made it this far, for the generosity and love of the people who helped make it happen. For my family, and my publisher and writing coach, Brooke Warner. And so many others. And to the universe and whatever unknown, formless entities may have aided my journey.
I opened my memoir at random pages and read sentences and paragraphs. I recognized the words and the story, but again, my transcript had been transformed. It was as if my Cinderella manuscript, once dressed in rags, was now decked out in a ball gown! I wrote that on Facebook. What a feeling!
That moment humbled me. I used to think people “arrived” in life. As a child I believed grown-ups had arrived. They were done learning. They knew everything. I had no idea life was one big school and that I’d be learning every step of the way. I didn’t understand that the closest I’d come to “arriving” would involve being absolutely present in any given moment. In order to do this I have to slow way down—I move fast—and harness the wild horses of my mind and guide them back to the moment, which, although it doesn’t always feel like it, is a miracle.
In stopping to appreciate this milestone, I “arrived” in the sense that I was really there—fully present, my senses alert. There was, too, a lovely feeling of accomplishment, of completion—and hopes that others would derive benefits from my labor of love.
Opening my ARCs—that moment—was mine alone. I shared it with my soul. We did our little happy dance. And then, slowly, when I’d lived the moment fully and completely, I reached out—first to my husband, then to my daughter, sister, friends, and finally I took my excitement online to celebrate with my larger tribe. Having people I care about in my life, who also care about me, make the celebration sweeter.
Authors, how did you feel when you held your book in your hands for the first time? Please share. Or, if you’re not yet published, how do you think or imagine it might feel?
I grew up believing if I wasn’t outstanding I didn’t deserve to exist. I don’t know where this thought came from. I’m sure it must have protected or served me at one time. But eventually it made me feel like a performing monkey, jumping through hoops, trying to prove myself.
Achievements are not a measuring stick of self-worth. Neither our successes nor our failures define us. We are greater than both. And each one, if we’re paying attention, can be an excellent teacher.
Aspects of this lesson have been at play in my writing and in my life. In the early years, I took rejection personally. I burned with shame when I’d find my manuscript, accompanied by a rejection letter, deposited by the postman on my front door step. Those were the days when writers did everything by snail mail. I hope none of my neighbors saw this, I’d think, scooping up the parcel and hurrying into my house. I wouldn’t want them to know I’m a failure. I made meaning out of those packages based on my thinking, and created a story in my mind—a narrative that I innocently and unconsciously made up and believed. But it was fiction. An illusion. Still, it looked real. I believed it lock, stock, and barrel. This created suffering.
If I could talk to my twenty-something writer-self, I’d applaud her tenacity. I’d tell her rejection is par for the course; it’s how the game is played. I’d remind her that writing is a competitive business and it’s hard to get a book—or even an essay or poem—published. I’d remind her of the importance of the three P’s: passion, patience, and persistence.
I’d also ask her to take a giant step back and to think of her life as a heroine’s journey. I’d tell her that her writing is part of that journey, but contrary to how she sometimes feels, her writing is not who she is. She is much larger. I’d remind her that the second she starts sizing herself up based on outside feedback, which is random, subjective, and absolutely not personal, she’s taking a wrong turn, swerving away from her mental health and well-being—all because of a thought. Or thoughts. I’d remind her that while she may not be aware of her thoughts, they steer the engine that is her life and create her experiences. This is true for us all.
Life provides continuous opportunities to learn and grow, and even when you think you’ve learned a particular lesson, it can circle back around at a deeper level. In the thirty years I’ve been writing, and in the decade I’ve been helping others write, I’ve seen that challenges abound at every stage. A writer’s inner work never stops.
I’m publishing a memoir next spring with She Writes Press, and my intention as I move it out into the world is to have fun, to share, and to enjoy the satisfaction of completion. In order for me to do this, I’ll have to be mindful of my thinking. One way to stay present is to use my feelings as a barometer. Our feelings come from our thoughts. We live in the feeling of our thinking. So if I’m feeling lousy, the best thing I can do is recognize, while in a low state of mind, that my thoughts—and the stories they embroider—are not true and cannot be trusted. I must hunker down, soothe myself in healthy ways, ride out the wave of that thought, and make sure I don’t buy into it. I can’t control having self-defeating thoughts, but I can choose to let them go without making them mean anything.
Whether you’re starting your first manuscript or publishing your tenth book, the writing life provides opportunities for growth. It never stops. It’s a continual learning curve. While you cannot control outcomes in the world, how you approach your experiences, the meaning you ascribe them, will play a vital role in your health and happiness.
It helps to adopt a learning orientation toward life, which means that everything you go through—whether you see it as “good,” “bad,” or neutral, is happening for you, rather than to you, and it’s a valuable learning opportunity. We are always learning, even when doing something we’ve done before. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus once wrote, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
Each moment is a gift, the proverbial present. When we maintain a solid, conscious connection with what’s unfolding before us, our minds are less busy spinning self-destructive stories. They won’t stop altogether—minds like to keep busy; it’s their nature—but they can be trained to slow down.
What stories do you tell yourself? What might be possible if you held your writing and everything else in your life with more levity and less seriousness? Please share.
A few weeks ago I attended a book-marketing seminar sponsored by the Independent Writers of Southern California (IWOSC). Expert panelists included Julia Drake, David Wogahn, and Steven Sanchez.
Most of what was covered affirmed what I’ve learned about platform, marketing, and publicity from Brooke Warner and elsewhere on my journey toward publishing my forthcoming memoir, Raw: A Midlife Quest for Health and Happiness. Here’s a recap of highlights that landed with me.
Know who you are as a writer. What do you write about? What’s your message, mission, or goal? Why did you write the book you wrote? What do you say in your book that you’d like to keep talking about? What matters to you? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you create a sturdy, clear, and specific platform. Focus your website and blog so that they support your message.
Have a clear objective. What do you want out of your book marketing efforts? What’s most important to you? Maybe your only goal is to sell books. But perhaps you’d also like to promote your business, services, or other products.
Identify your audience. Who would want to read your book? What kinds of people? The more specific you can be when answering this question, the better.
Platform: promote your ideas, not your book. You want to initiate a conversation and keep it going. If people care about what you’re talking about, if they think your thoughts and words will add to their lives, they will be more likely to buy your book.
Collect e-mail addresses. This is obvious: growing your email list extends your reach. Ask people to sign in at events. Offer incentives on you website for people to sign up for your blog and newsletter. Be creative.
Have a great product. Make sure your book is the best it can be. If you’re self-publishing, invest in professional editing. The quality of your writing matters. You don’t know what you don’t know. Investing in a professional editor means investing in your book and, ultimately, in yourself.
Social media is a must. Just because there are a lot of social media platforms doesn’t mean you have to be on every one. Pick what you like and ignore the rest. Social media gives you an opportunity to connect with potential readers. The key is to build a targeted following, which circles back around to you and your message. Post on your themes regularly to initiate conversations and forge relationships. This is what social media marketing is all about. Be authentic.
No secret sauce. There’s no easy answer for how to best market your book, no magic formula. Hire a publicist even if you think you don’t need one. Many will work within your budget and serve as guides. Consider which PR tasks you can do yourself and which ones you’d prefer to delegate. Publicity and marketing duties include: writing a press kit; pitching and responding to appropriate print, radio, and TV media; suggesting topics for articles and posts; organizing blog and book tours; soliciting trade reviews; entering contests; setting up Goodreads giveaways; reaching out to bookstores for launch events, readings, and more. It’s important to have a knowledgeable professional on your team. Your publicist will be this person, and you’ll collaborate with her; it’s a partnership. Concentrate your efforts and do a little each day. Slow and steady wins the race. This a marathon, not a sprint.
Author Central Page. If you haven’t already done so, set up an Amazon Author Central page. Include author updates and blog posts that you can link to your website.
Overwhelm happens. When it does, slow down. This might seem counterintuitive, but you’re probably caught in the middle of a thought storm. Don’t take this illusion seriously. Let it pass. Overwhelm happens when your thoughts race ahead to all the things you think you have to do but fear you can’t. Thought catapults you into some impossible future. The best way out is to stop, come back to the present, and focus on one small task. Then another.
Pick and choose. As is the case with social media, don’t try to do every book marketing strategy you hear about. Pick what activities you enjoy and stick with those.
You are enough. You do whatever you can. Look to other authors to get ideas, but resist the temptation to compare yourself to anyone else. Be you. Have fun. It makes no sense to launch a book into the world if you’re not enjoying the ride.
I’d love to hear from those of you who have been through this process. What do you have to add? My memoir is coming out next spring, and I still have lots to learn. Please share your wisdom.
My main altar resides in my living room in front of a floor-to-ceiling window with a view of mountains and palm trees. But I create smaller, impromptu altars elsewhere in my house—on my kitchen windowsill, in my garden, even in my bathroom. I never know when or where I'll create an altar. I engage in this activity without conscious thought. The process is intuitive, spontaneous, and often results from clearing space.
Last week I cleaned out the supply closet in my home office. The job was long overdue. I recycled outdated stationary, mismatched envelopes, stray papers; trashed dead pens; bagged old-fashioned pencils to give away (I prefer mechanical ones); weeded out worn three-ring binders, ill-matched dividers, and more. As I dragged boxes and bags out of my office, the space felt lighter and more spacious—and so did I.
In this state, I was inspired to create a mock-up of my forthcoming book, Raw: A Midlife Quest for Health and Happiness (She Writes Press, May 2018). I printed out a color copy of my designed book cover, taped it to a book from my library, covered the spine, added my name to it, and placed it on a stand on top of my file cabinet. A thrill ran through my body as I saw “my” book for the first time!
I then retrieved an important object from my living room altar and brought it into my office: an egg-shaped stone, which has been a symbolic representation my memoir for the past six years. I bought it when I first “conceived” my memoir. The egg represented the idea that would require years of fertilization to grow. And now, even though the book is written, its path to publication and beyond is part of its incubation and hatching.
Next I added a tchotchke my sister gave me decades ago when I was a young writer: an image of a shooting star, along with the words, “Believe in yourself.”
While cleaning out my supply closet I found an old incense burner that reminds me of a miniature version of Aladdin’s magic lamp. I added that to the bourgeoning arrangement on top of my file cabinet, perhaps as an unspoken request for magic to be part of my publishing experience.
Buried deep in the back of my supply closet, on the floor, I’d found a bag of office supplies my husband cleared from his dad’s house after he died six years ago. It was filled with Post-it pads, pens, numerous boxes of paper clips, and a few knickknacks. One of these knickknacks looked like an empty pot of gold, so I filled it with my grandmother’s gold rope necklace and placed it with the other objects. I would later see the symbolism of this choice—my hope that publishing my book will bring riches. Not necessarily monetary wealth—although I’m certainly open to that—but treasure in its various forms: relationships and human connections, opportunities to share and to be of service, personal and professional growth, and any other prosperity and abundance the universe might have in store for me as I usher my memoir into the world.
The next object that called out to me was a painted, wood-carved angel on her knees praying. Into her wire wings I placed a photo of myself taken a few years ago at an empowering raw-food photo shoot. This image had been the placeholder book cover I’d used when I first started writing to help me visualize where I was headed—toward a completed book. I’d created that mock-up six years ago. Now that I had my actual book cover it was time for an update, but I still wanted to add this image to my altar because it was infused with all my raw-food energy and excitement about sharing what I’d learned about health and happiness in my a memoir.
My altar felt like it was almost done. I added a plaque given to me by my former life coach, Tracey Brown. It contained an acrostic with my name written vertically. Beside each letter the following words appeared: Beautiful, Enlightening, Loving, Learning, Artist—to which I added another photo of me that I like, taken a few years ago at Raw Living Expo.
Finally, I included a candle so I could illuminate the altar—turn it “on” when I needed to activate some mighty memoir mojo.
What I love about space clearing is this: as we release stuff we don’t use or need, we open the space around us for new goodies to enter.
The mock-up of Raw became the centerpiece for this beautiful, inspiring new altar in my office. I didn’t even realize I was building it until I was well into the project, and now every time I enter my office, I feel like I’m calling my book into being and also honoring it—as well as my efforts.
An altar gets made from random objects that turn out to be not so random after all. It’s a creative process. You don’t have to know what you’re doing. Like writing, listen and take one step at a time. See how your arrangement feels. Whatever needs to be expressed will come forward. Often we don’t know what we’re thinking or wishing for until we create it.
When was the last time you cleared your writing space? What happened? How did it feel? Have you ever built an altar? What did you place on it and why? What are you calling into being? Please share. I’d love to hear from you!
A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with a book publicist who told me that one of the most common challenges she encounters in her job is authors with unrealistic expectations. A client with no media experience, for example, will be hard to book onto a national television show. In today’s celebrity publishing climate unknown debut authors must be prepared to work every step of the way to cultivate a readership. It’s one thing to write a book, another to get it published, and another to promote it. This is true for authors across the board no matter their path to publication, and can be a rude awakening for some.
The expectations of laypeople can be even more distorted than those of aspiring authors. I’m often surprised by people’s comments when I tell them that my memoir, Raw: A Midlife Quest for Health and Happiness, will be published next spring. Yesterday two people expressed pie-in-the-sky fantasies. After class, when my Nia dance teacher heard I’d written a book she said, “You’re going to be famous!” I shook my head. “It’s nothing like that,” I said. I wasn’t being modest, just realistic. I presume she has no idea how many books are published, and how few of them earn out their costs. “Well, maybe not famous with a capital f,” she demurred, “but still . . . ” I appreciated her enthusiasm, but her vision was pure fancy.
Later that day I emailed my sister my book cover, and while FaceTiming she oohed and aahed, nodded her head, and said, “This is going to be big!” I adored her conviction and felt her love, but I told her that publishing my book isn’t about making it “big.” It’s about listening to my calling. It’s about showing up and doing my best work. It’s about completion. It’s about sharing. It’s about communication, healing, and growth. It’s also about community.
Mainly, though, I wrote my memoir because I needed to write it. For me. Completing it, putting it out into the world, and letting people know about it is enough. I have expectations, yes, but I also have been reminding myself this week that the success of my book isn’t wholly up to me, even if I do everything in my power to promote it well. “Outcomes are not your job,” my life coach, Tracey, used to tell me.
Long ago I fantasized about fame and fortune. But neither seems important anymore. I have everything I need. I’ve surrendered my illusions of grandeur in favor of appreciating what is. St. Francis de Sales once wrote, “Bloom where you are planted.” These words inspire me to be content exactly where I am. To do my best. To accept my satisfactions and disappointments. There is beautify in blooming fully right where we are. I am. After all, beneath the dream I had long ago for fame lurked a greater yearning: to matter. To be loved. It’s a relief to finally realize I don’t have to be rich or famous to have these things. I don’t have to earn them; they are my—and every other person’s—birthright. It’s a relief to finally understand that my accomplishments—or lack thereof—don’t define me. This knowledge frees me to do what I love: to live and create moment-by-moment, and to let life surprise me.
I’m grateful I get to publish my book with a press I love. With people I love. Working with She Writes Press has been delightful and instructive. I’m learning every day and having fun along the way. Who would have imagined that after more than half a century I could still feel like a flower in full bloom!
I’d love to hear about your publishing expectations and how you’ve navigated that terrain. Please share!
Last week my husband and I hosted a literary salon. We do this a few times a year. We fill our home with flowers, food, and beverages and transform our backyard into an outdoor theater. We can seat 60 people. Usually my students read work written in my class. This time, in addition to the regular student reading, a former student, Robin Finn, joined us and read from her novel, Restless in L.A., which was released in February and “conceived” in my class several years ago.
It’s been over four years since Robin called inquiring about my classes. At that time she hadn’t done much creative writing but felt like she had something inside her. “It felt like a logjam,” she told me. She had a powerful urge to write.
This salon reading was followed by a Q&A session with Robin. I asked her what she knows now that she didn’t know when she’d first called me four-plus years ago. She laughed and said, “About what?”
“That’s up to you,” I said, wanting to leave the question wide open.
Her response intrigued me. She said that the most valuable thing she learned in my classes was how to channel her writing. “I was always looking in my mind,” she said. “That was the main place I was accustomed to being. I didn’t know that the story was in my body—my stomach—or somewhere around here,” she said, circling her heart and belly with her hand.
Prior to having that awareness, Robin said she’d worked really hard, but never seemed to get anywhere. But once she was given the opportunity to show up in a safe, nonjudgmental environment, she relaxed her mind, and the writing poured out. “I didn’t do anything. I just let it out,” she said. “I call it my divine download.”
We writers are a cerebral lot. We are thinkers. We ponder. Strategize. Ruminate. And that’s fine. Until it isn’t. Until our thoughts block access to more intuitive ways of knowing. Our stories may be divine but they come through our bodies. The act of writing is physical. Who knows where ideas come from. Perhaps they circle the ether waiting to enter us—if and when we’re open to receive them. We receive first and then we give. And whether we’re giving or receiving, our experience is richer when we’re open. I refer to this opening process as getting out of your own way so that what wants to come through you is free to do so.
People sometimes think they have to know where they’re going in order to start writing. When I hear this I always think of E.L. Doctorow’s quote: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. It is the truest of all things; the only way to write a book, raise a child, save the world.”
No matter what we want to do in life, the first step is to show up. Showing up isn’t always easy. Especially for writers for whom any number of real world concerns can keep them from plunking their butts into their chairs. But eventually, hopefully, we sit down. We relax our minds, set aside our egos, and enter unknown territory. This is where magic happens. This is where we become vessels, where we allow something larger than ourselves to come through us. Where we listen first and talk later. Where we trust the creative process. Where we delight ourselves with discoveries—long before we share revelations with readers. Where we can release blockages that have the power to transform our lives.
Where do your stories live and how to do you access them? I’d love to hear from you!
If you’re a writer, your goal might be to finish writing a book. Or start one. Or publish a book you’ve written. Or perhaps you’ve done that and your goal is to promote it. Maybe your goal is to sell out your print run or win a contest. Whatever your goal, you may think that reaching it will make you happy. But more often than not, as soon as we reach one goal, we create a new one. There’s nothing wrong with this, per se—many of us get a lot done this way—but when we believe that our contentment or joy is somewhere “out there” attached to a goal we have to strive, fight, or suffer in some way to achieve, we live in a perpetual state of wanting, and, in the words of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, we “can’t get no satisfaction.”
Michael Neill, an internationally renowned success coach and author, asks his clients to state their goal and then add the words, “as part of my wonderful life.” So, for example, if your goal is to sell out your print run, you’d say “My goal is to sell out my print run as part of my wonderful life.” This is different from the belief—which may or may not be conscious--When I sell out my print run my life will be wonderful. It may be. But it may not be, especially if you’ve been deferring your happiness or feelings of self-worth and putting conditions on your joy. I’ll be happy when—fill in the blank. This is putting the proverbial cart before the horse. Contentment and satisfaction take place in the here and now.
Over the past few years, family illnesses and deaths have challenged me like never before. While I might have referred to earlier times of my life as “wonderful,” that’s not the first word that comes to mind now. Words like hard, heartbreaking, and at times gut-wrenching feel more accurate. Still, I’m discovering that even when the shit hits the fan--especially when the shit hits the fan—there’s still love, beauty, inspiration, and plenty to learn. I’ve been practicing slowing down. I agree with Michael Neill, who says that urgency is insecurity, not wisdom. I’ve also been attempting to surrender my illusions of control and practice acceptance of what is. And I’ve been trying to trust and love more and fear less. It’s a practice. Some days are better than others.
But I’m more likely to experience my life as wonderful—even with “shit” flying in my face—if I have the thought in my head that it can be and often is and keep asking myself questions like, Where’s the beauty here? How can I love more? How can I be of service? This is where shifts in perspective occur; a life can go from wanting to wonderful even when there’s no change in outer circumstances. This is fertile ground.
Our lives matter more than our work. It’s not that your writing isn’t important, but we write within the context of our lives. So honor yourself and your life as the exquisite creative process it is and soak up inspiration wherever you can find it. Look for it in places you might not expect to find it, like in the struggles of others, or in your own aching heart. Be with your challenges. Respect them. And go ahead and set goals—as part of your wonderful life!
Can you see the wonder-fullness of your life even when part of you thinks it sucks? What have life’s biggest challenges taught you? Can you move forward in the direction of your goal while perceiving your life as wonderful? If not, what needs to change right now for you to step into your wonderful life? Please share. I’d love to hear from you.
Most Mondays I wake up raring to go. Some days I hit the ground running, but other days, the sheer number of things I want (and tell myself I “have” to do) paralyzes me. My best defense is to dump everything that’s swirling around inside my head onto the page. This morning my to-do list looked like this:
Meditation and prayers
Write in journal
Write blog post
Re-read last section of memoir
Unpack from trip
Respond to emails
Write birthday thank you notes
Talk to Helen (my daughter)
Consult web designer
I don’t know if I’ll get everything on this list done today. Probably not. It helps to remind myself that it doesn’t matter if it takes me two or three days to complete these items. What does matter is that everything on my list I’m doing for love.
Dr. H. Ronald Hulnick, author, teacher, and world-renowned pioneer in the field of Spiritual Psychology, once told my class at The University of Santa Monica: “The only reason to do anything is for love.” That statement gave me pause. Really? I thought. Part of me wanted to disprove it. I wanted to say that was a luxury few people could enjoy. Would this be true for disadvantaged people? And on and on. But then I stopped myself, and asked, What if this is true? What might my life look like if love motivated my actions? What if I replaced fear with love? Unfortunately, as is the case for many of us, fear motivates a lot of my behavior. I began to wonder how life might be if instead of feeling pressured to do things out of obligation, insecurity, doubt, and fear, I flipped the paradigm on its head and chose to do things out of love.
So I experimented. The result was joy. It’s been interesting to realize that the specifics of what I did every day remained pretty much the same, but how I did things changed. When I realized I was doing what I was doing because of love, life felt lighter. For example, instead of complaining about cleaning my house, I focused on how much I loved my family and my home, and how great it was that I was able to clean my home. It also occurred to me that I was lucky to have a home. Instead of bitching and moaning about how much work it is to be an author, I reminded myself that this work is part of why I’m here. I love it, and I get to share it. How cool is that!
I am sometimes invited to do things I don’t want to do. When this happens, I ask myself, “Where’s the love here?” Maybe it’s connected to a person. Or perhaps it has something to do with the love I feel for a college, institution, or cause. I root around and sniff out the love. If I don’t catch its scent, I say no and move on.
I’m not absolutely positive that Dr. Hulnick’s statement is a maxim, but it’s been a sweet guide in my life and it’s helped me recalibrate everything I do so that I’m looking at my actions through the lens of love.
Recently, Robin Finn, a friend and former student of mine, published her first novel, Restless in L.A. Robin told me months ago, when she signed with her publisher, that her intention was to enjoy bringing her book into the world. And though there have been bumps in the road, which is always the case, she has not strayed from her intention to enjoy the ride. Here’s a great example of a teacher learning from her student, because as I gear up to bring my own memoir into the world next May (2018), I’m going to follow in her footsteps and hold the intention to enjoy the journey—potholes and all! And I’m going to remind myself that I’m publishing my memoir for love. Love for myself and love for others. Publishing is an act of generosity of spirit. It takes courage. The root of the word courage is heart. Anything coming from the heart resides in the neighborhood of love. And when you live there, life is good.
What do you do for love? Please share your thoughts. Hearing from others, making meaningful connections, is one of the things I enjoy most about blogging!
One of my life intentions is to relish the joy of self-expression. But lately I’ve been reluctant to say what I think, especially on social media and in my blog posts. This is partly because posting anything other than politics these days has felt trivial, and political conversations can easily erupt into flames. Putting out wildfires makes me anxious, and I don’t want to live in hatred and fear. I know from experience that crashes are inevitable when anger and fear take over the steering wheel of my life. Another reason I haven’t been relishing the joy of self-expression lately is that when the shit hits the fan, like it has these past few weeks in our country, I tend to think that the problems of the world are so much bigger than I am that nothing I have to say could possibly matter. Of course this isn’t true. It’s a lie fear tells me. I know there’s plenty all of us can do. Especially writers.
And yet, we each have to navigate our own path. We must decide for ourselves what types of advocacy are best suited to our temperaments, personalities, and resources. I’ve been asking myself, How can I serve? How can I do something positive? How can I love myself and others—especially people with whom I disagree? This last question is the hardest. I won’t pretend I have it answered. I just keep asking the question. Every day. And sometimes I’m surprised by what happens.
A few days before my daughter returned to college after winter break, we went to a wholesale florist and bought four dozen white roses. At home, I wrapped each one individually in cellophane and ribbon while my daughter attached handwritten notes that said, “Wishing you a wonderful day. Spread the love.” We handed the roses out to people on the street. Some folks were reluctant to receive; they couldn’t believe the roses were free. “Why are you doing this?” they asked. “We just want to spread some love,” we said, “and bring a little beauty into your life.” Giving really is receiving. We went home with empty buckets and full hearts because of connections and conversations we’d forged with strangers.
Another thing I’ve been practicing a lot lately is my light meditation. I sit for my regular mediation, but position myself in front of a window blindfolded. After twenty minutes, I remove the blindfold and keep my eyes closed. The darkness on the insides of my eyelids is replaced by golden light. I imagine this light inside me; that it’s the real me. In other words, I identify not with my pain, but with this light. I then try to “locate” my elusive spirit. I sit and listen, poised to receive guidance. I bask in the light until I feel that I am this light, which exists in every person on the planet, not just the people I like or agree with, but everyone. I envision the light radiating from every living thing, consider how we are connected, and I pray for us all.
To some this might seem like a waste of time. But for me it’s an essential practice. While anger and fear have their place, they can also be knee-jerk reactions. They are like smog in Southern California in that it’s everywhere. You’re so surrounded by it that often you don’t even notice it anymore. In our culture love is the radical choice, and during these crazy times, I intend to remain sane. The best way I know how to do this is to up my self-care practices: to back away from the ledge when I become dizzy and feel like I’m about to careen into a pit; to turn inward; to appreciate the larger picture of our humanity; to notice the blessings and light; to connect with my heart; to reach out to friends; and to have faith that things unfold the way they do for a reason.
How are you and your writing faring during these turbulent times? I’d love to hear how you’re coping, as well as ideas for random acts of kindness. How do you spread love?