Once More Unto the Breach

Four years ago today I arrived in Springfield, MO – my spirit nearly broken, exhausted, and clinging to a small bit of hope that my life wasn’t irreparable. It wasn’t, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I am not grateful for the leap I took.

Looking back, I have to laugh at my naivety. I had done the math, knew the cost of living in Springfield, knew the profit I made from the sale of my house, and figured I had 3-4 years to get a book published before it all fell apart.

It’s probably a good thing I didn’t know that the journey to publication can be a very, very long one. Many authors don’t get published until they’ve written 9-10-20 books. Each of those books might go through 6-16 rewrites. 3-4 years! HA!

Of course there are always the wunderkinds – the ones who get published right out of the gate. There are the self-published who can claim the title of published author, but can’t claim to have many readers or earn a living. But the vast majority of authors who want to publish traditionally, toil away in the trenches for years, learning to write, learning to tell stories, and learning to deal with rejection.

This is what I’ve gathered the path to publication is: write – celebrate – edit and polish – celebrate again, imagining agents thronging to your brilliant book – rejection – rewrite – test the waters – rejection – rewrite – rewrite – rejection – rewrite – rewrite – rewrite – rewrite – agent – rewrite – rewrite – rewrite – publisher – rewrite – rewrite – rewrite. Publication!

I’ve been stuck in the rewrite process, floundering. Not sure what direction to go. Since form letter rejections leave the author blind, and my writer’s group has disbanded for the time being, I needed to get some pertinent critiques from authors who write and read similar books to what I’m writing. I got a couple of critique partners online and we are in the process of reading each other’s manuscripts and giving feedback. I’ve gotten one back already and it has given me so much to think about. Many areas that I had problems with, but my early readers assured me were fine, gave them problems too. I wish I could learn to listen to my own instincts more.

I am heading back into the rewrite breach. What will follow is analyzing the already written story for structure. Breaking each chapter down. Examining plot. And most daunting… possibly rewriting the entire novel from a different POV. Right now each chapter is told from each of the main characters point of view – rotating through to tell the story. I am considering switching to third person omniscient. It seems overwhelming to even attempt it, but I may give it a shot. If it doesn’t work, I still have my original.

So for those who ask where I am with my writing… that is where I am. Once more unto the breach.

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I’m bored.

I remember whining “I’m bored” from time to time when I was a kid. Most of us over the age of 30 did. Apparently kids today are saying it less and less often, because they’re never bored. They pick up their phone, their tablet, their game controller, or the remote control.

Back in the olden days, you know, the 70s, do you remember what happened shortly after uttering those words? Our parents would either suggest something to do, which sounded good, and we did it. Or, they would threaten us with chores if we continued to complain about boredom. And with that, we would evaporate from their presence before chores could be unleashed. Out on a farm, 12 miles from a town of 400 people, there didn’t seem to be a lot of choices, but the sheer weight of boredom would force out some creativity. I would go work on my fort in the trees, maybe build something, or pretend I was on some adventure in the barn or pastures. Much of my love of writing comes from being bored and losing myself in a book, or being bored and playing out some story I’d invented in my head. Obviously, being bored isn’t fun, but it makes me sad that today’s kids aren’t enjoying the adventures that come out of boredom.

The problem is, I now feel sad for myself, as well, and doubly so, because I’m trying to launch a creative career. You see, I, too, have ceased being bored. There’s always something to watch on Netflix, or Amazon, or Hulu, or Sling. And if that’s not enough to entertain me, I’ll play a game on my phone while watching. Then there’s Flipboard, which lets me read all the news from so many sources and viewpoints, that it’s a black hole that can suck me in, leading me from one story to the next. I might sit down to write, but then YouTube seems infinitely more interesting than pounding out the next chapter. I mean, you can tour abandoned sites, learn about cults from those who’ve left, hear inspirational Ted Talks, watch a video on history, telling yourself it’s research for future ideas, watch music videos… again, a black hole that can suck one in for hours.

And then I complain that I just don’t have time to read. I just don’t have time to write. LIAR! I do have the time for both those things, and if I were bored, I would be clamoring to do them. My mind would be filling the boredom with ideas, just like it did when I was a kid.

So, I am doing something I don’t know that I’ve ever done before. I am making a New Year’s Resolution.

I do hereby resolve to be bored in 2019.

Often and frequently.

I will be getting rid of several of my streaming services. Not all of them. I am not a troglodyte, after all. I will be removing the games from my phone. The iPhone OS now lets you monitor your screen time, and I will keep an eye on that, perhaps creating time limits if I feel that’s necessary. Anybody have any other suggestions?

How often are you bored? What distracts you from boredom? Want to join me in my New Year’s Resolution and get your boredom on in 2019?

Let’s get bored!

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A Slight Detour

The podcast Write or Die has provided an excellent window into the world of publishing. There was so much I didn’t know, that I didn’t even know I didn’t know it. My newfound knowledge has led me to understand that an unpublished author is going to have a hard time selling a series. You might have delivered one good story, but can you finish? Will they like how you finish? You have no track record. A stand alone book is a much easier sell.

When I first conceived of this Fear trilogy, my ignorance led me to believe that I would be offering them something great — not just one book, but three! What a deal. Oy!

It has also become clear that many authors have to shelve much loved books and move on to something new. They might write 4 books, 8 books, 10 books before they finally make a sale.

While I’m not shelving the Fear trilogy, I am going to start a new project. There are several other book ideas that have been bouncing around in my head for years. I’ve landed on another middle grade series idea, but each book would be a stand alone, so it carries no risk. And since it is a lower middle grade book, it will be about 1/2 the length of my upper middle grade book.

The first chapter flowed out yesterday. Today has been a day of research, as I learn more about the particular year into which my main character gets plopped. Luckily I once wrote a screenplay in this era, so I’m half way there.

I’m not sure if it’s possible to write two books at once. I don’t want to let my trilogy go. That story needs to be told, but my gut feeling is that I can’t do both. My hope is that if I can pump the new one out quickly, I can get back to work on the trilogy.

The other exciting discovery through the podcast, is pitchwars.org  It’s an amazing writing contest that matches published authors (mentors) with unpublished authors (mentees). The mentees submit their query packages to four of the mentors. if they choose you to work with, they spend the next four months helping you revise your book and then it is presented to agents. Usually I hear about these opportunities just after they closed. Submissions don’t happen until the end of August, so I will have plenty of time to go over my query package again, as well as research the mentors.

The most important thing I’ve learned from the podcast is this: Getting published is simply a matter of perseverance. If you stick with it, take constructive criticism to heart and edit, edit, edit your work until it shines, you WILL get published. You just can’t quit. I don’t plan to.

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Weaning Myself off Amazon

Before I get to the main topic, I want to speak to any writers who read my blog. There is a terrific podcast out there called Write or Die. Authors are interviewed about the road to publication and it is eye opening. I knew it was a long process, but until I listened to these authors, I had no idea how long. A part of me thinks it would have been good to know it can take 8 or 9 years to get a book from written to published before I took my leap. My 3 year financial cushion wasn’t nearly enough. On the other hand, it’s a good thing I didn’t know, or I never would have taken the leap. Give it a listen. It’s great information about getting published.

Now to the title – I’ve made the decision to end my Prime Membership and wean myself off Amazon. It’s something more Americans might want to consider. Let me lay out the reasons.

  1. Brick and mortar stores have long warned that Amazon hurts local businesses. Local businesses employ local people, giving them money to spend, and building thriving local economies. I’ll admit there have been many times I have ordered products through Amazon that I know I could get locally, but it seemed so much easier to have it show up on my doorstep, rather than drive to get it. There was a good chance the price was better too.
  2. Amazon’s policies are impossible for smaller businesses to compete with, and are creating entitled customers who expect the same service. No shipping expense, and if you don’t like it, you don’t pay to ship it back. Package stolen – Amazon refunds it fully or sends another, without many questions asked. When a business isn’t doing the volume Amazon does, they lose all profit with those policies. But if they don’t provide them, they lose all customers.
  3. Amazon is the poster child for corporate greed – Recently, on the same day they announced huge profits, blasting through all expectations, they also raised the fee for Prime Membership citing rising costs. Riiiiiiiight. Jeff Bezos has so much money he’s using it to go to space, but he can’t pay his workers a living wage, and provides horrible working conditions. When Seattle tried to tax Amazon to help the homeless population, which has grown due to the high cost of living in the area, partially due to tech companies, Amazon fought back and killed the tax.
  4. And for me, there’s a final kicker. They broadcast extremist views that are contributing to the deaths of Americans – NRA-TV.

I’ve got until December before my Prime membership renews, but I’ve already begun the process. I can’t get my cat food anywhere in town, but I can get it through PetCo. I’m searching out item after item and am finding it locally, ordering it directly from the manufacturer, or at the very least, another distributor. That doesn’t mean I won’t use Amazon from time to time. In fact, if I’m trying a new product, that’s exactly who I’ll go to, precisely for the free shipping and easy returns. But once I know I like something, I’ll buy it elsewhere.

Greed is not good, and right now neither is Amazon.

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You May Say I’m a Dreamer

The process of sending out query letters has begun. It’s likely going to be a long and frustrating process, but I’m glad it’s started. I read an article that said not to give up until you’ve received 80 ‘no’s. That means I have 78 ‘no’s or 1 ‘yes’ to go before I end the search for an agent.

But that’s not what’s really on my mind tonight. Charlottesville is on my mind. Once again, my heart is broken. It’s broken for so many reasons. I think, just as in the election, the biggest heartbreak comes from my fellow citizens.

 

Nazis.

Nazis were marching in our American streets.

In 2017.

Let that sink in.

And a significant portion of our country, mainly the ones who support Trump and who felt personally offended by the Women’s March, shrugged their shoulders.

The Nazis, and that is what I will call all of them collectively, because essentially that is what they are, came to their march with shields, concealed weapons, helmets, and sticks.

Other people came to protest these disgusting Nazis because they actually remember history, and that their grandfathers, you know, that greatest generation, were partially great because they beat the Nazis.

And then one terrorist plowed into a group of people, changing lives forever, and ending one.

Still, so many shrugged. It was one of those awful liberals who died, so who cares. After the Women’s March, I saw some who I had thought were decent people sharing memes laughing at the idea of running over protestors in the street. Guess they thought it would be funny to see me dead, too. And so you know… I guess in Charlottesville those disgusting leftists just got what was coming to them.

I made the mistake of reading some of the Nazi’s propaganda and listening to one of the speakers from last weekend say Heather Heyer deserved it. They called a woman with a passion for helping others, a “fat, childless slut.” They have publicly spoken about how Trump did not denounce them, and in fact said he loved them. They are ready for the next event, feeling even more certain that they can act with impunity.

And still so many, who claim to have love in their heart, are silent. Nothing but resounding gongs and clanging cymbals.

The world is upside down. Republicans first embraced Putin and Russia, and now seem to be ready to embrace Nazis. Hatred and exclusion is now celebrated, and love and inclusion is mocked. Peacefully protesting is unpatriotic. Violence and murder is barely worth noting, (unless it’s a brown person doing it). Loving your neighbor and wanting them to be well makes you a commie. Spending your time and money to become educated makes you an evil elite, while remaining ignorant is seen as a virtue.

It’s enough to make me not want to ever get out of bed again. Because there is no fix for this. 45 is the symptom of a broken nation, not the problem.

When someone asked G.K. Chesterton “What is wrong with the world,” he wisely answered what each of us should answer to that question.

“I am.”

But luckily for us, it’s the same answer to the question, “What is right with the world.”

“I am.”

I am what’s wrong with this country, and I am also what’s right with it.

And so are you.

I cannot control those who want to divide our country by skin color. I cannot control those who want to divide our country by religion. I cannot control those who think I am less than they are, or that others are less. I cannot control those who hate.

What I can control is myself. I will not hate someone because they have a different shade of skin, culture, religion, or language. I value the variety in the world and see how life improves when you add to it.

What I will do is show love to everyone I come in contact with. It’s what is right about this country, and so I will be that.

When I was a kid, I sneaked into my sisters’ room and went snooping. Under my oldest sister’s mattress was a poem. I thought she had written it, and that she was quite subversive. It was only years later that I discovered John Lennon singing it, and for just a brief moment I thought he was singing my sister’s poem, until I realized, no, she had a copy of his song under her mattress. Doh! The things kids will think.

It has since become my favorite song. I’ll always love John Lennon’s version best, but this one is perfect because Pentatonix is America – gay, straight, bisexual, Latina, black, white, Jewish and Christian. Together – as one – they create so much beauty. Many people might consider my idealism foolish. In fact…

They may say I’m a dreamer.

But I’m not the only one.

I hope someday you’ll join us.

And the world will live as one.

Truly, I hope you will join us.

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Rejection

It’s official. I’m a writer. I’ve been rejected. It’s actually not the first time, just the first time for a novel. Despite being told I would probably not hear back before September, it o only took a couple of weeks to be rejected.

I had told myself to expect it. Afterall, nobody gets in on their first try. Still, it hurt. Reading the reasons hurt more.

I gave myself last night to feel lousy about it, then today I would get off the pity pot and climb onto the perseverance pot. Even in my angst, I reminded myself of some things – like the comments I’ve gotten from people who’ve read it. And the fact that neither agent actually read my book. They sampled it. If I can get someone to actually read it, perhaps I’d have a better outcome.

This morning some other facts dawned on me. I know that most writers get rejected many times before someone takes them on. Each person who rejected them had a compelling reason for the rejection… but that didn’t make them right. J.K. Rowling was rejected dozens of times, and obviously those agents reasons were idiotic.

One agent that rejected my novel said its was good writing, good pacing, but too familiar and wouldn’t stand out. Another one said he didn’t care for it and couldn’t follow it. Two agents. Same agency. Two completely different reasons for rejection, and frankly two that don’t even work together. If it’s good writing and too familiar, how could it be difficult to follow? It occurs to me that I can’t take any of their opinions to heart. If down the road, every agent is saying the same thing, then perhaps I should take them more seriously, but for now, I simply have to find an agent whose personal opinion is more closely aligned with my readers.

Other reasons cited for rejection were a weak market linked, in part, to the chaos in Washington. Lucky me. i decide to make my leap of faith at the same time a quarter of my fellow citizens go nuts and decide to destroy the country. Hopefully they don’t take my dreams down too.

This afternoon I did some research on how to properly construct a query letter. I already have several agents in mind that I’d like to query. One in particular interests me greatly, but only allows for 10 pages of the book to be submitted. That means I better have a killer query letter to sell then entire series.

Onward and upward. It’s not the last rejection I’ll get. But I won’t quit. Not yet. Perhaps not ever, because I only fail if I quit. I will persist.

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Crossing Boundaries and Pushing Limits

A few weeks ago, I posted this meme on my Facebook page.

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It made me think about artists and their progressive/liberal nature. Many conservatives look down on Hollywood for being a bastion of liberals… and it is. Without a doubt, conservatives are the minority in that industry. But it’s not some liberal conspiracy. We didn’t all get together and decide the best way to infect the world with our sickness is to go into the arts and insert our message into stories for the unwitting masses to consume.

In truth, artists are progressives because that is the very nature of art. Art is looking at the world in a new way. It is exploring the human experience, in all its dimensions, and reporting back. It has been my belief for some time that conservative thinkers cannot be true artists. They may engage in artistic endeavors, but they’ll never break free to create something truly unique. It’s impossible, because every time they step up to the boundary of what’s never been done before, they will retreat.

Last night I finally watched Moana and that message was reinforced. Moana’s father wanted her stay safely within the boundaries of the reef. It was dangerous out there. Bad things would happen. If she stayed home, there would be adequate food, and life would be pleasant. Yet Moana felt an irresistable pull to go past the boundaries. She refused to listen to those who held her back, and you know what? Her father was right… bad things did happen. There were moments of great despair and brushes with death. But he was also wrong, because by pushing her limits and going past the reef, she brought new life to her people.

Years ago I watched a documentary called The Lords of Dogtown. It was about the skaters who revolutionized skateboarding and took it from riding sidewalks to doing aerial tricks on ramps. They did this by breaking into abandoned homes in Los Angeles and skating in empty pools. They were trouble makers. They were jerks. They were at times, destructive. If it had been my home, I would have hated them. Yet, by pushing limits and breaking boundaries, they enriched our culture. They brought us a new sport and a new way of experiencing life.

It’s the outliers of society that move us in new directions. We generally despise them at the time, but looking back, we appreciate what they did for us. Just as many conservative women today, who at the time would have fought against women’s rights as ungodly, now enjoy and appreciate the rights those devil-influenced, rabble-rousers gave them.

I’ve never really understood the religious objection to the creative type, especially since one of the main worship-able qualities of God is creator. Yes, artists live lives conservatives don’t like. We live in a world of grays, not in the easily identified blacks and whites that they prefer, but our nature is God’s nature – one of creator. Satan is the great destroyer, yet so many religious people support war and despise artists. It makes me wonder who they are really following.

Right now society is in a time of retreat. Those afraid of what’s ‘past the reef’ are in charge. Now is when artists have to be most brave. We have to find the stillness in the cacophony of nay-sayers and listen to that still small voice of truth. We have to push past the limits and defy the boundaries they throw up in front of us. We have to move forward and bring new life to our people. As Howard Zinn said, we must speak to the world and wage the battle for justice. It’s what we do.

I’m proud of my tribe. It’s not an easy life, and it’s one lived on the edges. But we are creators, and we almost always find ourselves on the right side of history. If you are a member of that tribe, take heart. Be brave. Roll up your sleeves and get to work. There’s a lot to be done, and we need you to take us to the other side of the reef.

 

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Inching Forward

Writing a novel is definitely a marathon and not a sprint. I knew this before I started. I know it more now. I’m days away from having the final product from the editor. Well, sort of final. I then have to make one more pass to put in a few changes. Clarity on details keep coming.

In some ways, this is the most frightening thing about declaring this novel “done.” There are two more books to write before this story is told, and this world is still revealing itself to me. I know there are more surprises ahead. Which one of them will make me realize that I didn’t set that up in the first novel, and now I either can’t use it, or I use it and hope nobody notices. I almost want to finish all three before trying to publish, but there is simply no way I could afford to do that.

When this one is done, it has to be well enough crafted to be a solid foundation to tell the rest of the story. That’s terrifying. Though, I will probably be done with the second novel before the first would be published, so I suppose maybe there are still opportunities for edits to volume 1.

In adding new chapters at the end, I was pleased to see not only an improvement in my writing, but an improvement in my attitude. When I first got notes and questions from my editor, my inner voice was defensive and resentful. I had worked so hard. How could there be holes? How could there be problems? How on earth was I going to find a way to fix them? It was impossible and I should just give up! I’m a terrible writer and too old to be starting novels. This time, when I got notes and questions, I was excited. I have come to realize whenever I have been pushed, either by a professor, or now an editor, the end product is always vastly better than the original. Those notes and questions mean I’m going to tell a better story. That excites me. While there will always probably be a tinge of panic that I can’t find a solution to the problem, it is quickly smothered with the curiosity of following the problem to its source and its solution, as well as the excitement of a better story. Growth!

By the end of the week I plan to have the manuscript to a proofreader, and after that, it is off to the literary agency that expressed interest in reading it. I really should be working on a query letter for other agencies, because the chances of being taken on by the very first agency are about the same as me winning the lottery tonight. Well, slightly better since I don’t have a lottery ticket. And maybe in this case, just a fraction better than normal because this is a connection from my editor. But still, I shouldn’t start planning my first book tour just yet. Oh goodness, I dread that part of the job (though would be lucky to experience it). Writers are introverts. Crowds, especially crowds of strangers, drain us. Why on earth would you make us do book tours and public appearances? Just let us sit in our offices and dream stories!

The last two years have been beautiful. I will always be grateful for this opportunity. I hope it’s not over. I hope my talent is enough to get me to the other side of the chasm, and I can continue to do what I love to do.

Here we go…

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The Best and Worst of Times

How many times have I heard the first line of A Tale of Two Cities? I always thought I knew what it meant, but now I feel it in my bones.

For those of us who see the big picture, the last few months have been difficult. It’s been like watching a slow motion train wreck. We see the tracks are laid straight towards a mountainside, and yet everyone on the train is celebrating because they think they’re finally going somewhere. We screamed. We hollered. We jumped up and down and waved our hands, trying to stop the train before it slams into the wall, and for that we were ignored and ridiculed.

The right had to make up garbage to fear about Obama – He’s a secret Muslim from Kenya who is going to bring sharia law to the US, take our guns, create death panels to kill our parents, and build FEMA camps to put all his enemies in. Despite us being the creative types, liberals didn’t have to imagine any fears of 45. He laid out his vision for this country, which included taking away people’s health care with no idea how to replace it, banning people for the accident of their place of birth and religion, and if not banning them, then making them register so that when the country needs to deal with them, they know just where to find them. He at one point wanted to punish women who have faced a difficult decision about a pregnancy, and made the choice HE thinks is wrong, because we women should all be subjected to what HE thinks. He thinks the environment is only there to be raped and profited from by big business. And he wants to turn us into a nation with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, a country that only thinks of itself and doesn’t care if we destroy other economies as long as we WIN! He has vowed to bring back torture, a policy that has never provided any actionable intelligence, but has created many, many enemies and endangered our troops. And as a cherry on top of the cake, he thinks nuclear weapons should be used if we have them.

He is a walking, talking, dystopian nightmare.

The damage these policies will do is immense and doesn’t take into account the damage that will be done by the policies of those pulling his strings. Those around him have learned it’s easy to control little donny… praise him and he’ll think you’re brilliant and listen to all your ideas. Criticize him and you’re going to be ridiculed, abused, and discarded. So, you want to privatize programs Americans have paid in to, and deserve to draw from… Paul Ryan just whispers sweet nothings in his ear, and voila… they’re working on plans to do away with the social safety net, despite 45’s promise to leave it alone. Easy peasy. He’s a puppet whose strings are pulled so easily.

We are becoming isolated in the world. Allies are not sharing intelligence. Trade deals are evaporating and becoming more difficult. If he continues on this path, we could face sanctions. Let’s hope it doesn’t go far enough that some other country decides we need regime change.

The despair is palpable among those who still believe in the promise of America – that all men (and women) are created equal and have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Not just those who look alike, think alike, love alike, and pray alike. All! Instead we’ve watched him dismantle the policies that protect our people and the environment. There are Nazis in the White House forming policy. I’ve tried to reach out for common understanding with the other side and the response seems to be, “We won, you lost. We’re right, you’re wrong. We don’t care about understanding.” So much for uniting the country. 45 is beginning to appear mentally unstable, and we’ve given that man the nuclear codes. I’ve heard silver-haired Americans say, “I’ve never been scared for my country like this before” and they lived through WWII. It feels like the worst of times.

Yet, despite this, it also the best of times. The Women’s March kicked it off. There is power in connection. There is power in unity. There is power in love. We who marched were drawn by the connection, unity, and love, then left completely empowered. We found our voice together. We found our purpose together. The sniping by the right couldn’t even take a dent out of it, probably because their criticisms were so off-base, and also because it was easy to see a tinge of exclusion and jealousy in their words. It’s okay. They enjoy their somewhat equal status because women like us marched for them, also with the criticism of conservative women of the time. Their granddaughters will thank us.

And our show of resistance led to the defiance of National Park employees, as well as other federal employees. Watching the rebellion grow was inspiring! It gave me hope like nothing else. The tyrant can sit in his high tower and issue all the decrees he wants, but if nobody follows them, he is nothing but a silly gas bag.

His most odious act so far, choosing to refuse the entry of refugees and others on National Holocaust Remembrance Day (but only from Muslim countries where he doesn’t do business) felt like a directive coming straight from Bannon and the alt-right(Nazis). It felt like a gut punch. And then we, the people, mobilized. The connections we’ve made allowed protests to spontaneously break out across the country in airport after airport. Americans of every color, size, and religious belief, stood side by side in defense of Iraqi translators, visiting relatives, and refugees who had spent two years being vetted, and were finally on the verge of safety.  The ACLU became our voice in the courts and stopped that atrocity for now.

The worst of times have woken us up to rediscover our connection to each other. It’s hammered in the lesson that democracy is not a spectator sport. We can’t just sit back and let politicians handle things. Without any leadership, we are bypassing the parties and finding each other and our power. We are talking. We are formulating plans. We are on the move. We are united. We are one. It is the best of times.

At our march, one speaker acknowledged that we were able to march that day because we stood on the shoulders of those who came before us. We called out their names in remembrance of their sacrifices. Standing there, I realized it was my turn to provide a place for future generations of women to stand. Our shoulders are needed. We have some very dark days ahead. The struggle is hardly won, but we know we will win because as MLK said, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it inevitably bends toward justice. There will be losses and casualties ahead, yet I see hope. And rebellions are built on hope.

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What does that feed?

The move across country has brought many longed for changes, and some that are completely unexpected. Recently I took the time to go through my Netflix queue. Usually there are anywhere between 150-200 movies, documentaries, and TV shows listed there. Most have been there for years. I went through, one by one, and found myself recognizing that I either was no longer interested, or knew I would never take the time to actually watch that show. By the time I got done, I had less than 50 shows remaining. As I thought about what had been cut, it fell into two categories – dark horror/thrillers, and sad documentaries. I thought about my what entertained me while living in LA, and realized much of that repulses me now. I was not expecting that change, and it got me wondering what was behind that shift.

One piece fell into place when recently I was listening to a talk by Eckhart Tolle on my short commute to and from work. He talks a lot about something he calls “the pain body.” According to Tolle, this is his term for the accumulated, old emotional pain that we all carry with us. It is made up of negative emotions that were not processed and dealt with when they arose. We all have a pain body. Sometimes it is dormant, and we don’t even know it’s there. Sometimes it flares up and takes over.

After one of his talks, Tolle was taking questions from the audience and one person asked, “Do violent movies and television feed the pain body?” After a moment of silence, as the entire audience waited for his great and copious wisdom on the topic, he simply answered, “Yes.”

That one word answer was all I needed. The lightbulb went on.

The last few years in LA, I was living full-time in my pain body. Old, accumulated pain completely took over my life. I was not happy at work, at home, on my commute, and especially in my head. I never seemed to get my feet firmly under me before another wave hit and knocked me into a swirl of constant emotional pain.

During that period, you would think I would have sought out the peaceful… the calm.. the quiet, but that is not how the pain body works. Once it is in charge, it feeds the person’s ego and makes it stronger, making it harder and harder to let the pain go. It becomes completely entwined with who the person thinks they are. Let go of the pain? How could I? I would cease to exist. You’re asking me to commit suicide!

Oh, I remember that feeling well.

Now it makes sense that when I wanted to be entertained, I was drawn to the pain of the victim whose life was detailed in a soul-searing documentary. It makes sense that zombies, mega-disasters, and action-packed thrillers filled my queue. Pain, pain, pain! I wanted more pain to feed the pain body that had become me.

Right now my pain body is dormant, and I have no desire to witness pain (which is part of what makes recent events so awful). The pain body is still there. I am well aware that I still haven’t dealt with it properly. It will re-appear, though hopefully I’m better equiped now to deal with it, and hopefully the waves will be smaller and fewer inbetween. But the other thing that will surely help, is that being aware of what I’m drawn to will be a useful tool in understanding whether or not old, accumulated pain is taking over. It will help me deal with it all much sooner, and that’s definitely a good thing.

Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. Letting your pain body grow stronger, is pure suffering.

So, take a lesson from my experience. Look at what entertains you, and ask yourself, “What does that feed?” Adjust accordingly.

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