It’s been two weeks since the publication of my memoir, Raw: My Journey from Anxiety to Joy, which has created a whirlwind of activity, not the least of which was attending a literary event hosted by Beyond Baroque in Los Angeles. I’ll confess: I didn’t want to go. I was swamped with book business, my launch was two days away, my sister was coming into town, and I’d been working pedal to the metal. I was beat. It seemed like rest would be a saner Sunday night option. But I pushed self-care concerns aside because I wanted to honor one of my writing mentors, Jack Grapes, who was receiving the Distinguished Service Award. A writer I’d never heard of before, Kamau Daáood, was receiving the Outstanding Achievement in Poetry Award. I knew Jack’s reading would be great, but had no idea what to expect from Daáood. Turns out he’s a true bard. As he read with his eyes closed, deeply connected to his muse, I was transported into the depths of my own soul. I managed to scribble the following lines (direct quotes) from Daáood’s poems, and am delighted to share them with you here.
“I want to stand in my own brand of beauty and truth.” This sounds like a prayer. And it’s as good as any intention I’ve heard, especially in the hubbub of publication and beyond. It helps me focus on what’s important and not get lured and distracted by hoopla and hullaballoo. This intention helps me detach from thinking that the success or lack of success of my book defines me. As much as I care about media attention, recognition, and praise, it doesn’t mean anything about who I am or my value. If I don’t allow criticism to take me down, I can’t allow praise to inflate my ego. Have you heard the expression, “The ego is a hungry ghost”? It’s hungry most of the time and will eat anything. And it’s a ghost because it haunts and looms, but doesn’t exist in the world of form. Maintaining clarity, focus, and equilibrium feels important right now.
“The shackles that bind are the ones we accept.” Monsoons of circumstances and thoughts constrain us every day—when we believe and allow them. When we accept—or worse, argue—for our limitations, whether imposed upon us from outside or within, we’re trapped. Going after and achieving a heartfelt dream, such as writing a book, creates freedom. It’s the classic hero’s journey. You have a goal, you encounter obstacles and as you navigate your treacherous path, you grow and learn. You come face-to-face with your fears, your shiny armor tarnishes, and then it gets yanked off, and you are naked, but strong, because, as Jack Grapes used to tell me, “Your strengths are your weaknesses and your weaknesses are your strengths.”
“Find a safe place to examine your heart.” This is a sweet and private matter. We all do this in our own way. I have found it helpful to take a step back and become a neutral observer of my thoughts. When I peer into the misty cauldron of my own thinking it’s helpful to observe with the clear and loving eyes of compassion. With these tools, I am able to shift my perspective from fear to love. I ask, What would love do if it were driving this vehicle that is my life? Love would dismiss the myth of needing to “be special.” It understands that we are all special. Or, put another way, love reminds me to appreciate ordinary, everyday people and events. Love says, All you have to do is show up in service. What you do isn’t about you. It’s about the message that wants to be expressed through you.
“…decorated prisons…” This has happened to me: I found myself stuck in a pit of anxiety and terror. Since I didn’t know how to make my way out of the pit, I accepted it. I even start decorating my pit in an effort to make it more tolerable. We all do this at one time or another, whether we’re conscious of it or not. We decorate self-imposed prisons. I say this without judgment. I point it out because once you see this phenomenon it shifts. The jig is up. The negative thinking that creates painful emotions no longer dupes you into taking things so seriously. I recently read an article about the writing life that focused on how hard it is. I get it. But also, how we respond to any given issue is the issue and we always have the choice to frame things in ways that lift us up or tear us down. It’s up to us. We don’t have to decorate our prisons. We can let ourselves out.
“Humble yourself at the shrine of each moment.” The other day, coming home from running errands, I was about to climb the stairs up to my front door when sunlight lit the leaves of a spindly gardenia plant at the bottom of the stairs. I’ve lived in this house over twenty years. I’m sure this wasn’t the first time the sunlight hit that plant that way, but it was the first time I saw it. I paused. Took it in. It felt like a gift. I let myself bask in the beauty of that moment. The more I do this, the richer my life experience. Life doesn’t pass us by when we’re fully present and paying attention. And there’s an exquisite humility to this because you realize how vast and magnificent our world is—even when we forget.
“Come with your holy water and flame.” Bring it all. Everything you’ve got. Go for it! You will be deterred. You may be frightened. You may think you’re not up to a particular task. You might hear that who-do-you-think-you-are voice creep in. Keep going. Showing up is the best we can do. It’s enough. Let go of trying to “be someone.” You are already someone. We all are. The rest is theater—the jockeying for position and recognition. This is a form of chasing after something you already have. Your treasure is within. Trust that and let yourself be guided by it. It’s easy to ignore your inner wisdom. Easier to look to others for approval, guidance, and direction. But the world is full of distractions and you’ve got that holy water and flame, so bring it!
It turned out that attending this event was the perfect thing to do on the Sunday night before my Tuesday book launch. Who knew I’d be fed a delicious literary feast? Who knew I’d be uplifted and inspired? Who knew a grey-haired, African American poet from Watts would glow from that stage and set the room ablaze with all our beauty. What a send-off into my launch week! And talk about self-care: this brand of nourishment doesn’t happen every day. Daáood’s desire to stand in his own brand of beauty and truth reminded me that as I approach the work of bringing my book into the world, I need to keep things honest, avoid drama, and stay connected with what really matters: my own beauty and truth.
Yesterday, while writing in my journal, I sobbed with gratitude! Seeing my memoir Raw: My Journey from Anxiety to Joy published is a long-held dream come true. I’ve travelled a labyrinthine road to get here.
During these months leading up to my book launch I’ve been surrounded by to-do lists. I’ve tried to wrangle each “must-do” item to the ground, but many have slipped away! I’ve learned this: it doesn’t matter. I’ve done my best. And I have a confession to make: I have habitually fallen into the trap of believing I must do xyz (insert a long list of author to-dos, including social media, newsletters, book tour planning, speaking gigs, article writing and placement, blog posts, graphic design, interviews, launch party details, editing excerpts, email announcements, and more).
On top of these author-related tasks, I have been convinced that I needed to engage in a host of personal practices such as meditation, yoga, dance, journal writing, walks, healthy eating, and getting a good night’s sleep. All of these are great, as are my work-related tasks, but they’ve been fueled by a fundamental misunderstanding that my well-being depended upon them. This is not true. My well-being does not depend upon my doing anything, personally or professionally. Contrary to how it often appears, the outside world need not look a certain way for me to be essentially (spiritually) okay.
Sometimes I forget this and think that if I could just achieve or accomplish xyz, I’d be good, safe, valued, or loveable (fill in whatever blank). But I’m discovering that my well-being resides within. The only thing that keeps me from it is my own thinking. This is liberating because it means I’m not a victim of outside circumstances I can’t control.
The other day I was driving in my car and I suddenly felt a wave of joy. For no reason. I realized my fearful, negative thinking fell away for a moment and I was left with the real me—my essence, which is filled with love. This is how I want to live my life and this is how I want to launch my book—from this understanding.
I’d like to be a successful author, but it’s good to know that neither my identity nor my well-being depend upon it. I recognize the anxious yacking of my insatiable ego, choose not to take it seriously, and focus on what matters most: showing up, doing the work, connecting with others, and being of service. I finally get that I’m good enough, no matter what.
I get to play this game called life in which I’m taking on the role of an author right now. But I don’t have to do all the things I’m doing; I get to do them. And it’s fun. My intention is to proceed with joy. That’s my barometer for what to do next. I ask myself, Does this feel good? Will it bring joy? Does it feel light and spacious or heavy and dark? Does it make me feel like a headless chicken running all over the place? If so, my answer is, No thank you. I’ll pass.
After decades of writing I finally get that I don’t have to strive or worry; I can turn to my inner compass instead. A friend recently reminded me, “You’re a shower-upper. You’ve already won.” And that’s exactly how it feels. My book is a shining moment, but my life is my ongoing project. The journey continues.
Putting my memoir into the world provides countless opportunities for me to grow, learn, and love. This is my practice and my pleasure.
I’m hosting two launch events in Los Angeles: Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, where I’ll appear in conversation with author Clarie Bidwell Smith and The Mystic Journey Bookstore in Venice, where I’ll read edited excerpts. Manny Velazquez will play flamenco guitar before and after my reading. I’ll also be doing events in San Diego, Corte Madera and Larkspur (Northern California), Long Island (near where I grew up), Northern Virginia, and Portland. I’d love to see you at any of these gatherings! I hope to connect with old friends and make new ones as I celebrate this milestone!
One month before the publication of my memoir, Raw: My Journey from Anxiety to Joy, I’m contemplating the saying, “Shit happens,” and realizing more than ever that obstacles are opportunities, and our infinite potential is always greater than any “problem” that arises.
Case in point: three weeks ago, my publicist and I parted ways. While this could have triggered a major freak out on my end, the collapse of this partnership pushed me to a new level of surrender and mental health. I couldn’t hold onto my expectations. I had to let go, move forward, and resist fabricating new assumptions. This time I’m not putting anything on it, I told myself. I’m starting fresh and letting myself be fine with whatever unfolds. Barb Patterson and Rohini Ross, my mastermind teachers, call this “going back to zero.”
When I first heard the term “going back to zero,” I resisted it. My thinking went like this: What? Go back to the beginning? After all the work I’ve done? That’s insane! But going back to zero is an invitation to see a situation with new eyes. It requires you to embrace what is, rather than fret over what isn’t. It’s a reset that frees you to explore what elsemight be possible. It’s also an offer to hold a situation lightly. I grasp and clutch when I’m scared, insecure, or basing my self-worth on external situations rather than remembering my worth is inherent. I also take things personally, and then make up stories to try to create meaning. But I’m learning that the things that happen to me are not personal, and my ability to be okay with whatever shows up has been game-changing. I’m a lot calmer and happier. Especially when shit happens.
Here’s another situation I experienced recently: a New York bookstore that confirmed a reading two weeks ago rescinded their offer for me to read on a Friday night, although they said Thursday was available. Normally I wouldn’t care, except that I’m traveling cross-country to Long Island for my fortieth high school reunion, which is taking place on a Saturday night, and former classmates, whom I’m excited to see and who planned to attend, won’t arrive until Friday. My ability to “return to zero” helped me see new options: a different bookstore, a library, or even the hotel where my classmates and I will be staying!
Having more peace in my life has less to do with what actually happens, and more to do with me choosing peace over unconscious, habitual drama. This is challenging and requires awareness and practice, because my patterns are deeply ingrained and their familiarity creates comfort—even when I’m stewing in negative thoughts and feelings.
My two takeaways this month have been: 1. Shit happens to everybody all the time and how we respond to it determines our experience. 2. No more striving. No more running like a hamster on a wheel, no more trying to do everything, or proving anything to anyone. I’m choosing to engage in activities I enjoy. I’m focusing on fun. This is my life as well as my career, and the quality of my thinking, energy, and thoughts matter. How I live is more important than what I do.
My moods fluctuate with my thinking. But I’ve got a book trailer to finish, a website to update, social media strategies to learn, implement, and practice, interviews to give, nine book tour events to finalize, editors to contact, graphics to design, and more.
None of this is essential. None of it says anything about my worth. Nor is any of it as important as it seems in the moment when I’m in my office, nose to the grindstone, forgetting to eat. But the truth is, it’s work I enjoy. I need to remember this the next time shit happens, and keep looking in the direction of infinite potential!
Two months from my pub date for Raw: My Journey from Anxiety to Joy, the white spaces on my calendar from May through November are evaporating and I continue to receive plenty of opportunities to practice letting go—of judgments, worry, stressful thinking, outcomes, and fear of failure. It’s a practice. Some days I get it. I have flashes of insight and know that all is well. Other days I forget and get sucked into thought storms, which send my emotions swirling.
Still, I know my default setting—my natural state—is equanimity and love. The only thing that keeps me from these positive states of being is my thinking. I told my mastermind group yesterday, “I am a believer.” This means that I believe I am both a human and a spiritual being. I believe that my natural (formless) state is love and light and that this resides within me (and everybody else) no matter what personal thinking catapults me onto a rollercoaster ride of my own creation. I believe that if I leave my worried, anxious, insecure thinking alone it will pass—as everything does—and I’ll return to my natural, healthy, happy state. I know I don’t have to do anything to achieve this. Awareness of the Three Principles, a branch of spiritual psychology that explains how mind, consciousness, and thought create our experience of life, has given me liberating insights and new understanding. I believe every person has a say in his or her own health and happiness and I believe that the body, mind, and spirit are inextricably linked. I believe that I am safe and free and that it’s absolutely fine not to know what’s going to happen in the future. I believe that my book is an extension and expression of my spiritual practices and creative work, and that I will always be a student as well as a teacher. I believe that the success of my book is a small matter compared to my daily practices and creative work. This applies to the work I do with others as a teacher and coach, and also to my solitary work: meditation and writing. I hesitate to call any of this work, however, because it’s all a labor of love and I’m grateful for living a purposeful life.
But I forget. I used to beat myself up when my mood plummeted or anxiety hijacked my day. I’d judge myself. I’d chide, You should know better! But I’m learning that the divine side of me doesn’t negate the very real and flawed human aspect. They go together, so I experience both—my divinity and my humanness. And the human part can be challenging and painful, especially when you have a memoir coming out in two months and you tell yourself, There’s so much to do! I spend hours in my office, work harder than I know is healthy, and tell myself I should work smarter, not harder—but how? This question always yields the same response: Let go!
Here’s what else I do when I find myself dizzy with to-dos as I approach my book launch:
This helps me maintain perspective—most of the time. But when I struggle, I’m learning to have more compassion for my bad habits, my mistakes, insensitivity, ignorance, impatience, urgency, and fears. The brain is malleable. Neuroplasticity is a brave and beautiful new frontier that proves the science behind spiritual psychology. I believe that despite the incomprehensible state of our county and world today, we are evolving in consciousness as a species, and that spiritually speaking all is well. So, although I want my book to be “successful,” no matter what happens on that front I will keep coming back to the larger picture of my life. This anchors me in what’s real.
How have other authors managed pre-publication stress? I’d love to hear from you!
I’m three months from publication of my memoir, Raw: My Journey from Anxiety to Joy. Life is good. In addition to maintaining the spiritual and creative practices that sustain me (meditation, journal writing, dance, and yoga), I’m enjoying teaching and coaching. I’m writing articles in preparation for my book’s release that my publicist will try to place. I’m working with two talented filmmakers on a book trailer, which will be ready in April. I’m enrolled in the She Writes Social Media Bootcamp for Authors, learning how to use Instagram, which is fabulous because I love images. I’m also participating in Rohini Ross’ and Barb Patterson’s “The Space: A Global Mastermind for Solopreneurs,” founded on the Three Principles (mind, consciousness, and thought.) This group provides psycho-spiritual as well as practical business support. Last week I hired a second publicist to help plan my book tour, which is starting in Southern California. And I’m tending to the details of platform building. I find myself eager to jump out of bed each morning and start my day.
Still, as a recovering perfectionist, I stress. Sometimes I clutch life a little too hard. It’s as if my hands are gripping the steering wheel of my car as I navigate brutal traffic. I want to control things. I want everything to be “just right.” I want to leave no stone unturned in my publishing process.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s quote on perfectionism is my favorite: “I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified. Because underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more than a deep existential angst that says, again and again, ‘I’m not good enough and I never will be good enough.’”
Perfectionism is antithetical to love, the force from which I aspire to live my life. I fall short of that mark repeatedly, but it’s helpful to be aware when this happens—to catch myself worshiping at the altar of fear and its cousins: lack, insecurity, and doubt. If I can see this pattern, I can change it—but only if I believe it. Thoughts are powerful.
The way to see if perfectionism is bringing you down is to check out the energy behind your actions. Ask yourself, Am I doing xyz out of desperation? To prove my worth? To impress somebody? To appease a voice inside my head? To escape darkness? Or am I doing this for fun? Pleasure? Out of love? This is my goal—to do things out of love. Check out my post, “The Only Reason to Do Anything Is for Love.”
In my writing classes and with my clients I teach the importance of process over product. Product is excrement of process. How do you write? Do you let yourself free on the page? Or do you hem and haw, stop every other line, reread and judge what you’ve written? The latter creates writer’s block. The former is the birthplace of beautiful stories.
I once dreamed I was driving on the freeway and the steering wheel came off in my hands. I was holding it and steering, but it wasn’t attached to the car. My first thought was, Holy shit, I’m going to crash, until I realized my car was moving along smoothly without my steering. Life is this way—like riding bumper cars as a kid. You have the fun illusion of steering, of being in control when you’re not. In my dream, I tossed the steering wheel out of my car and let my car drive itself. I handed over my illusion of control.
I try to live from this understanding. I accept that I’m being driven—by what or whom I’m not sure. But the car that is my life knows where to go. When I remember that I don’t need to navigate alone, I let go and relax. This how I want to live my life and this is how I intend to experience the publication of my book: show up in ways that are appropriate, but also let go and enjoy the ride. And I’m giving myself permission to show up as I am, with all my imperfections.
In what ways might you be holding your own steering wheel a wee bit too tight? Please share. I’d love to hear from you.
Here I am, four months from publication of my memoir, Raw: My Journey from Anxiety to Joy, having skipped my five-month post due to the holidays.
On January 4, my husband and I took off for a desert spa retreat—a Christmas gift I appreciated and needed. My intention was to relax. To stop moving fast. To do nothing for four days. And listen.
But when I got to the desert and lowered myself into a hot water mineral bath, I realized I had brought my stress with me. The title of Jon Kabat-Zin’s classic book entered my mind: Wherever You Go, There You Are. And there I sat, with my busy, worried mind, looking for a way to accept myself the way I am and feel okay.
We stayed in “digital detox” rooms with no TVs or even coffeemakers. But it wasn’t a true digital detox because they didn’t confiscate our phones. I wish they had. Even though I left mine in the room most of the time, I checked in several times a day. Aside from updates from our daughter, who’s touring the East Coast with her college a cappella singing group, these check-ins were only helpful insofar as they made me realize, much to my dismay, that I look to my phone for hits of pleasure, for good news, connection, opportunities, for something that will lift me. In other words, I’m still looking outside myself for validation, support, and maybe even love. This gave me pause.
That said, I received this lovely Hafiz quote in an email from Embodiment Coach Tarnie Fulloon: “I felt in need of a great pilgrimage, so I sat still for three days.” This was what I planned to do, although I didn’t intend to slog through the swamplands of my mind. I longed to find the quiet underneath the noise, to journey beyond my distracting mental din to a truer, deeper place. But first I knew I had to be okay with everything I felt. Accept my angst and fear.
I was just getting the hang of it when, on the second morning, I checked my phone and read a disappointing review of my memoir. I completely missed the positive remarks and focused only on the negative ones. So I was back to square one, practicing how to be with unpleasant feelings. Feelings that came from thoughts I made up in my head, thoughts that landed me in emotional quicksand for hours. My thinking, wild as an ape on steroids, sounded something like this: I suck and so does my book. I’ve wasted my life pouring my soul into my writing. I should just shut up, slink off, hide, and live a quiet, unassuming life. Thoughts like these do not create happy feelings.
In his book, Seduced by Consciousness, Jack Pransky says that we literally make up our reality with our thinking. This gets tricky because when I’m feeling crappy I think, I should know better. I’m making myself miserable. But the flipside to this is that I’m human, and the best I can do is to not take my low moods seriously, to wait them out and let them pass. The less I attach to them, the more quickly they lift.
Pransky says that when we change our thinking, our feelings change right along with them—and we can choose our thoughts. For example, thoughts like these would yield another experience: My book is wonderful. It may not be for everybody, but no book is—and lots of people have reached out to me saying how much they loved it. The book is nuanced. Readers love it. Lots of people have negative default thoughts, but with awareness of our mental habits this is something we can change.
On day three I received a glowing book review, which made me realize that much of what is and will be said about my book has more to do with the person saying it--and nothing to do with my worth as a person.
By the fourth day, my thoughts and emotions finally settled, and as I soaked and floated blissfully in warm water I considered nothing but shredding palm fronds, fuchsia-colored Bougainvillea, Desert Indian Paintbrush, hummingbirds, butterflies, and soaring hawks. I gazed at clouds drifting so slowly it was hard to tell if they were moving, or if I was.
I followed this buoyant presence with an exquisite breath work session that left me buzzing with well-being. Remember to breathe, I told myself as I left the desert, sun setting over purple-pink mountains. BreatheDeeply.
I’m happy to get back to work, but need to remember to stay connected and grounded, meditate and move my body. Especially when I get busy. I want to remember, too, not to take my thoughts seriously when I’m in a low state of mind—and although I love connecting with others via technology, it’s essential to keep turning within for support, sustenance, and love.
How are you feeling as we start the new year? Is there a project you’re starting? Or continuing? Or completing? Where and how do find your bliss? I’d love to hear from you.
Happy Holidays from Our Home to Yours!
I wrote this post a couple weeks ago, but with the beginning of this season of love and light—and shopping and eating—combined with my daughter home from college, I didn’t post here. I enjoy taking time off for the holidays and spending time with family and friends. For those of you with whom I haven’t connected, please know I am thinking of you and wishing you and your families peace, love, health, and joy. I sent a few cards to respond to people who sent them to us, but didn’t do my usual mailing. But I posted Christmas photos on my
Facebook profile page.
Recently people have been asking how things are going with my forthcoming memoir, Raw: My Journey from Anxiety to Joy. I thought it would be fun to respond through monthly posts in which I talk about where I am in the process and how I’m feeling as I approach the publication of my memoir. My hope is that this will do two things: (1) keep those who are interested informed, and (2) share what I’m learning with those who may be on a similar path, or those for whom this path beckons.
I feel like I’ve been waiting (and ready) for this event for a long time. In some ways six months feels far off, but I sense it’ll be here before I know it.
For the past few weeks I’ve been enjoying weekly calls with my publicist, Joanne McCall. Prior to last Friday’s call I was feeling overwhelmed. I’d sit down in the morning, make a list of everything I hoped to accomplish that day, and get through less than half of it. I’d cram a week’s worth of activities into my daily agenda.
It was a relief when Joanne told me my priority is to write! She wants me to have articles and essays ready to go around my publication date. I love being given permission to make writing a priority. For many years writing was something squeezed in between other responsibilities. Unless I had a deadline it could be hard to show up for my writing. Everything else seemed more important. “Seemed” is the operative word here.
Writing has been foundational to my life for thirty years. It feeds me. It helps me figure out what’s going on beneath the surface. It makes me feel more alive.
I’ve written fifteen articles so far and plan to generate two per month between now and my publication date. I’m also keeping my eyes open for magazines, newspapers, and blogs where I’d like to publish my work. My Facebook writer groups provide insights, tips, and community. My favorites include Women Writers, Women’s Books; Bookworms Anonymous; The Write Life Community; The Beehive: A Book Marketing Community; and The Binders. I also get tips and support from my fellow She Writes Press authors in our private Facebook group.
I’m keeping track of other media outlets where I and/or my work might be featured. This process is reminiscent of my poetry days when I scoured journals in search of literary soul mates, seeking homes for my poems. I read as many journals as I could to see who was publishing work like mine.
I experienced a lot of rejection in those years, which is par for the course. These days, I’m committed to moving forward no matter what, to connect with readers for whom my work resonates. I’m focusing on the opportunities that materialize rather than ones that may not. I’m in this game because this is where my heart has led me, and my intention is to enjoy the process, to have fun.
I’m plucking excerpts from my memoir that can be edited into standalone pieces. Events can take longer to unfold in a book, but in essays—and at public readings—you have to get to the point. You don’t have as much time to unpack your tale.
In addition to the above-mention tasks, I just joined Goodreads and bought Michelle Campbell-Scott’s Goodreads for Authors: How to Promote Your Books with Goodreads. I’m eager to dig into that text and see what I can learn.
Social media has been a bee in my bonnet. I pulled The Tao of Twitter off my bookshelf. I read three-quarters of it a few years ago and still don’t get Twitter. I’ve woefully neglected my account. Ignored is a better word. My relationship with Twitter hasn’t taken off like my relationship with Facebook, which I enjoy, except for my author page, which has been collecting cobwebs. It seems that every time I post there I’m asked to “boost” my post. Is that paid advertising worth it? I’ve been told it can be. I’d love to hear from other authors, especially memoirists, about this.
I had a session with a social media coach who told me to create a social media calendar that included all my posts—images and text—for a month. I know a lot of folks who do this, but I haven’t been able to wrap my mind around it. I prefer to post as I go—in real time—though recently I haven’t made it a priority.
Here’s what I have made priorities: writing; meditation (dropping beneath the din of noisy thoughts, centering in peace and quiet, slowing down, stepping off the roller-coaster of my to-to list); nourishing myself with fresh, raw food; shopping at my local farmer’s market; getting rest and a good night’s sleep; dance, yoga, walks, and petting my dog.
With six months to go before my pub date, as I navigate the holiday season, I’m remembering the things that matter most: health, family, friends, taking time to slow down, to listen with what Rumi calls the “ear in my chest,” to let my heart ache when it must, to practice the art of surrender, and to count my blessings. Gratitude is my bloom and balm. I’m grateful my book is making its way into the world.
A special thank you to my FABULOUS 50, a group of people reading Advance Reader Copies of Raw and reviewing it on Goodreads and Amazon. Their feedback has warmed my heart. I’m thrilled to know my book has inspired folks to eat better, start a meditation practice or meditate in a new way, exercise, take better care of themselves, and more.
I’d love to hear from friends (virtual and “real” life) as well as other authors who may be on a similar path. Where are you in your process? Please ask your questions and share your wisdom!
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.