Lost

Lost. That’s how I’d describe myself right now. Lost, but not hopelessly. The day after I posted the last blog, I had an inspired idea for the fall writers contest. But I wasn’t writing anymore, so what was the point? The problem is, when I have a good story idea, I can’t just banish it. It pings around in my head, and I write sentences, scenes, dialogue, and then rewrite them over and over. It won’t stop until I put it on the page. So I finally did. It’s not my best. Nor my worst. It’s a good story.

Still, when I thought about picking up my finished novels, and editing them, there’s nothing but resistance. It feels like relief not to have to try to get them out into the world. But then I hear about a waitress who was laid off during Covid, wrote a book, and got published. She’d never wanted to be a writer. Never spent years practicing and getting better. Just wrote a book, and wham! Published. Or a 9 year old who published two books during the pandemic. It’s just that easy apparently, which makes me a complete failure. Granted,I never really had time off to write, as they did, but still. The irritation and jealousy that rears its ugly head means I’m clearly not done with writing, just as the fact that a story pestered itself into existence, tells me that writing is clearly not done with me.

At first my grim prognosis of the world didn’t seem to actually depress me. Nor did me not wanting to write. But as the days have gone by, I’ve watched my mental health decline. I’ve become more insecure, more numb, more unhappy. Not writing is not the answer.

That caused me to look at why I don’t want to write. After some reflection, I believe the problem is two-fold. 1) I’ve lost confidence in my writing ability. Sending out a manuscript over and over, revising over and over, and still never getting one person who was interested enough to request more pages, inevitably leads me to think I simply can’t write. I mean yes, I have talent, but I’m missing something that successful writers have, and until I figure out what that is and fix it, it’s all pointless.

And 2) I’ve lost the joy of writing. I’ve heard other writers talk about how much they hate the process of writing. That seems insane to me. If you don’t like doing it, why do it, even if you’re good at it? For me, losing myself in a story was pure joy. It’s what drove me to want to spend my weekends sitting at a desk in front of a computer. What could be better? But the joy is gone. It’s work. Work that I no longer think I’m particularly good at. And now I look back at all the social events I said ‘no’ to because I wanted to write. What a waste, because those invitations come far less often now, after years of ‘no’ and what have I got to show for it?

I’ve identified the problems, now I need to find the solutions. Writing is a lonely, solitary endeavor, and it’s easy to start listening to the doubts when they’re the only voice you’re hearing. One thing I have always wanted, but never found, is a mentor who has been down the writer’s road before. Someone that takes enough interest in me to want to see me succeed in some aspect of my life. Someone to guide me where I want to go, to slap me (figuratively) when I need it, and encourage me to take risks when necessary. The only reason I’m posting this here, is to put it out into the universe. I’m not saying I’ll get one through this blog post but you don’t get what you don’t ask for, so I’m asking. I think that could help me with issue #1) lack of confidence.

As for #2) lack of joy? My initial thought is that I want to start saying ‘yes’ to social activities in hopes that it will recharge my joy battery. It may not be the ultimate solution, but it is a place to start.

And that’s why I say I’m not hopelessly lost. Just a little lost. Or maybe not lost at all. Maybe this is just a part of my writer’s journey.

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The Rules of Grief

Recently I made a quick trip to South Dakota to attend my best friend’s father’s funeral. I lost my father 13 years ago, and as could be expected, this has brought many of those memories and feelings to the surface. At Christmas I visited his grave and was shocked that the minute I stepped out of the car, tears started flowing like he had died that day. Grief never truly dies down, we just learn to live with it like background noise.

My friend is learning some of the same things I learned 13 years ago. If you’ve never lost someone close, you are simply not prepared for how grief works and it brings shocks and surprised with each moment. There is confusion over how to react, and what the rules are. Here is the rule I learned from losing my dad.

Grief has no rules

Despite this one rule, there are still things to keep in mind when you, or someone you love, is in grief.

Every person grieves differently. Some hold it in. Some let it out. Some lash out. Some retreat into a shell of themselves. Some will move through the intense pain quickly and move back into life almost immediately. Some go for months or years, slow to let the loss go.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Grief is a combination of who you are, your relationship with the person who is gone, the circumstances in which they died, and your beliefs about life and death. Don’t judge yourself because you aren’t grieving the way others grieve, or get angry that someone else is doing it wrong. It is what it is, and to quote one of my favorite quotes from Tootsie, “I’m going to feel this way until I don’t feel this way anymore.”

Which brings me to the next thing to remember as you grieve – you are going to feel every emotion possible, one right after another. I think most who’ve never been through it assume someone who is grieving is sad for a long time, and then eventually they aren’t as sad anymore. Instead, a person who is grieving finds that one moment they are devastated. Then they feel they’ve worked through it and life is going no to be okay, and then in the next moment they are angry that the person left, and then moments later they are back to acceptance, then back to denial, then sadness, etc. Those 7 steps of grief never flow smoothly from one to another. You are all over the place like a tap-dancer on stairs. Don’t ever let yourself fall into the trap that you have closure, and have worked through the grief. It’s always waiting…

In amongst all the steps of grief, you are also going to experience joy, silliness, and laughter. This is almost immediately followed by guilt. How dare you have a moment of joy when someone you love is dead?!?! However, this too is completely natural and very human. We all have coping mechanisms and humor is one of them. A good screenwriter will sprinkle humor throughout a thriller, a drama, or even a bloody horror movie. The human mind needs moments of levity to break up horrible things, it’s just the way we are wired. Besides, the person you lost also loved you, and just as you wouldn’t want them to be sad, they wouldn’t want you to be sad. Grasp onto those light moments and let them carry you through the dark moments. Laugh with friends and loved ones, and celebrate the good memories you share.

Also, be forgiving – both to others and to yourself. When I lost my dad I kept thinking, “I don’t know what to do, I’ve never lost my dad before.” None of you have likely ever coped with the loss you are all experiencing. Things will come out of your mouth you will wish you could take back. You won’t feel certain as to what to do or say. It’s safe to say those around you feel the same way. Forgive mistakes quickly. Let it go and love those close to you.

There are probably other things to remember, but that is what came to mind during the trip. Hang on during a wild ride, don’t judge, share joy without guilt, and forgive quickly.miss someone

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Ebb & Flow

One of the things many of us forget quite often in our chase for happiness, is that life is in constant flux. I’m not sure why many of us believe that happiness and contentment are just a goal away. Once we achieve X, then life will be good. For a while it is. We revel in our new state and think this will be how life is until we die. That’s why it seems so shocking when sometime later stress piles up and things aren’t going so well. Then you think, “Wait a minute! I had this figured out!”

Nothing is ever static. Whatever you’re feeling today will probably change tomorrow. I’ve been doing better about remembering this. Experience has shown that any time there’s an improvement in life, the euphoria from the improvement lasts about six months. Then it’s back to the same old happiness set-point. Something too many people forget is that “this too shall pass” applies to joys as well as sorrows. So, I watched for this shift after my move. Still waiting…

There were small dips along the way, but in general, my joy and contentment of living here has not faded… until the holidays. There were a variety of stresses going on in life at the time, which led to some insomnia.  A part of me was shocked at how quickly my frustration levels rose again. I thought I was back to my old, happy, chill self. It felt slightly embarrassing that my stressed, less-than-my-best-self came back so quickly.

Then I was surprised again when life settled back down and the joy and contentment returned. I was cooking in the kitchen one night when I was suddenly overwhelmed with the joy of it. I find such pleasure watching foxes, geese, joggers, dog-walkers, drone-flyers, metal-detecting treasure hunters, and today – a flock of turkey vultures, doing their thing in the park across the street.  After having an LA-style 45-minute drive going home in an ice storm, my 10 minute commute suddenly seemed notably wonderful again. With the return of the sun, I feel excitement at the coming spring. There will be thunderstorms, afternoons and evenings spent on my sun porch, fire flies, long walks, and all manner of critters singing me to sleep in a thunderous chorus every night.

It’s the same with my novel. While it’s a constant project that never leaves my mind, it definitely has its ebb and flow too. As discussed in my last post, sometimes I’m slogging, sometimes I’m flying. I’m trying to understand the shift. Does slogging mean I’m off course? Just haven’t had time to daydream so I don’t know where the story is going? Or is it just the normal ebb and flow of life.

I am back to a bit of a slog at the moment. Thankfully I’ve learned to fill that time with editing. It frustrates me when the word count doesn’t rise as quickly as I think it should, but the editing has to get done too. Experience tells me eventually an idea will spark and I’ll be off to the races again.

The trick, I’m learning, is to simply relax into it. It’s like surfing. When the wave is coming in, paddle like crazy and catch the ride. And when the water goes back out, let it take you past the breakers so you can catch the next wave. Don’t worry about either phase. They each have their role. Just relax. Whichever state you’re in, this too shall pass. And so shall the next one. Ebb and flow – that’s just life.

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Wonder and Gratitude

The writer’s group was really fun. There were two manuscripts to discuss. Each of us had around 7 minutes per manuscript to discuss our thoughts on what we’d read. The authors politely sat through it all. I can’t imagine how difficult that is, but I’m about to find out. They asked if I had anything I want to submit, and I foolishly said I could. It’s amazing how I am suddenly very motivated to write. I’ve stumbled upon a routine for my writing. The 4 days of the week that I don’t work, I will focus on writing new material. On the 3 days that I do work, I will focus on editing what I’ve written. I’m figuring it out, I really am.

This week I’ve had a dawning realization that things are shifting in my brain. When I first got here I was a bit frenetic. That was partly due to life in the city, and partly the stress of accomplishing every task needed to move my entire life across the country. Only now am I beginning to appreciate the effort it took to get all the gears to slide into place in the right sequence.

Then there were stresses that crept in naturally even once here.

Work – I was worried I was so used to the TV world that I wouldn’t know how to deal with the real world. I didn’t want to let my friend down who had recommended me for the job, and felt I had to prove myself, probably more to myself than anyone else.

Socially – There were also a whole lot of faces and names coming at me that I had to put together and remember. I worried about fitting in and being a part of things.

Diet – I fell into comfort eating during this transition and was feeling the pounds pile on. I felt pressure to get my eating back under control.

Writing – I even felt pressured to get writing and make some real progress…

Untll…

While talking with my best friend about my weight and finding an eating plan I could live with, she made the comment that she was impressed I was even addressing the issue this soon. It made me sit back and think about all I had just gone through. I completely uprooted my life of 25 years, and transplanted it to a place I’ve never lived before. I made the decisions, and it mostly worked out as I’d planned. Perhaps I needed to cut myself some slack, and just take it all in.

Not long after that, I must have processed that information, becase there was a definite and unconscious shift.

Work – I no longer felt so driven at work. I’m still doing my job, but I’m doing it with an ease that was not there before.

Socially – I’m relaxing into myself. I no longer worry so much that I’m going to do or say the wrong thing. I’m content with what is. There’s a story told about me as a child of 4 or 5 that illustrates my true nature. My sister was trying to take a picture of me while I was swinging. When she missed the shot and only got my feet I responded, “That’s okay, feet are just as good as heads.” For long periods of my life, I have been just fine with whatever life delivers. Sadly, the pressures of life in LA buried that, but I’m thrilled the inner core is still there, just waiting to come out and shine again.

Writing – I have remembered that a novel is a marathon, not a sprint. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and don’t worry about time limits quite so much.

This shift has led to my emotions beginning to balance out. I no longer feel giddy joy, which I knew was not sustainable. Now I’m settling into a deeply grateful contentment. Last night I sat on my sun porch, which has yet to be screened in, on a dining room chair, because I can’t really afford patio furniture yet, and watched the cats chasing crickets. I enjoyed the fireflies dancing to the percussion of the insects and tree frogs as the sky faded to black. There was a dreamlike quality to the moment, and I was filled with wonder and gratitude. I pray my writing is good enough that I never have to wake up.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

At Last!

Yes, I know I missed a week. I was tired of writing about things that were impending. If I had posted last Wednesday, I still would have had to talk about what was to come. But finally on Thursday, the house sold. Then there was a flurry of paying bills and buying a car. For the past two years I had been working hard to finish up my college degree, and on Monday, all those loans got paid off. Feels great! I have a degree, but no debt. Now life settles into normalcy and I am so looking forward to that. It was a little frightening to have made my leap and not have the safety net in place. Glad it’s there now.

I joined a local a cappella group. It is a bit more of a time commitment than I had expected. The music is very challenging and requires a lot of rehearsal at home as well as the 3 1/2 hour weekly rehearsal together. However, standing on those risers and hearing the voices blend together into beauty makes it worth it. I’ll give it a few months and if it is taking too much time from writing, I may try to find a less intense group to join. There are some interesting personalities, one type I’ve had recent experience with, and it makes me a bit leery of joining. Basically it’s the kind of person who puts on a smiling face and seems like the nicest, most helpful person in the world while consistently placing the dagger between your ribs. Lots of passive-aggressiveness. I’ll do my best to avoid them, but if I can’t, there are definitely other choirs to join. Life is too short.

Now that I’m settling in, I’m a little worried I will lose my attitude of gratitude. The honeymoon phase will eventually end. I can thank that honeymoon phase on my miserable life in LA. Pixar came out with a movie recently called “Inside Out” which I thoroughly enjoyed when I wasn’t dozing off because of exhaustion. The American culture is one that only allows for happiness. If you’re not happy, there’s something wrong with you. Stop complaining. Only be happy, happy, happy, happy, happy! And if you’re not happy, happy, happy, happy, then go away! But the truth is, we are bio-chemical machines and those other emotions play a role. “Inside Out” reminded people that sometimes sadness or anger is not only necessary, it’s useful. The misery I had in the last few years of living in Los Angeles did not feel nice, and I didn’t always react well to it, but it was necessary to spur me to change.

Even futher, the misery there in contrast to life here, has unleashed much of the joy and happiness that is required to be an American. Every little things floods me with gratitutde. The short commute. The civil drivers. Quiet movie theaters (I’m part of a movie group and now go see movies regularly, somthing I rarely did in LA). Ample parking. Friendly, helpful people. Fully being a part of the team at work. Using my intelligence and talents creatively at work – designing flyers, social media posts, and working on new ways to bring in more clients. Flexibility at work that allows for a social life. No entitled celebrities. No more entitled people who think they’re special because they work in TV. Car insurance at half the price. Long showers. Green! Thunder. Lightning. The ease of running to the store and it not taking an hour or more. Shorter lines. Lack of competitiveness – because there’s enough for everyone. Watching a guy play with his dog in the park across the street (which I’m doing right now.) Not hearing a Harley at 5:20 a.m. every day as it idles at the stoplight by my old house and then roars off, being audible for well over a mile away. The new definition of rush hour – when an older couple pedaled past my house on their bikes, followed by a pickup truck a minute later. Living on one level instead of having to climb stairs every day. Old growth trees in a big yard. Activities that are easily accessible. Feeling safe. Feeling supported.

The list could go on and on and on. As I said, I feel gratitude for every little thing simply because of the contrast of what I just went through. However, I know human nature, and that contrast will eventually fade. People here complain about traffic. They have no idea, but eventually I will probably complain too. Despite loving rain, after several weeks of it, I was ready for some sun. Just too bad it also comes with humidity. See, there’s a little complaint sneaking in. But, thankfully now that I’m heading in the gratitude direction, it will be harder to turn the ship back around. It will be easier to keep the heading, as long as I am aware, and stay present at the wheel. That’s my goal. Remember where I am, compared to where I was. As long as I do that, it’s so easy to be grateful!Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

I Yam What I Yam

As I had hoped in last week’s blog, there is positive news to report this week. Regardless of whether or not the sale falls apart in the last few days, I am leaving LA on Friday. My car has been sold. Reservations have been made. It’s so exciting I can barely stand it. There have also been sad goodbyes along the way. I just don’t understand why my friends don’t move wherever I move so we can keep hanging out. I mean really!

Whole30 came to a rapid close when my digestive tract decided to absolutely flip out. At the moment, eating anything but yogurt makes me nauseous and I have constant heartburn. Those are just the symptoms I’m willing to talk about. I lost 2 days to really miserable intestinal pain. I’m 50 so one of the first things I do when I get to my new home is find a doctor and get that fabulous colonoscopy scheduled.

But now the lazy, joy-following period is done. I’m glad I had it because recent weeks have allowed a lot of introspection and have been a revelation to me. As I have felt free to be myself, I have found joy again. When I first came to Hollywood I worried that it would change me. It did, but not in the way I expected. I was worried that I would become arrogant and entitled. Too big for my britches. Instead, I got too small for my britches. I became diminished. It didn’t happen quickly. Over the past… oh… 15 years, I have undergone a gradual transformation into someone I didn’t like much. Now that I’m out of that situation, I see so much more clearly. I look at that person and think, “Who was that?” I look at myself now, and think, “Hey, you’re pretty fun! Let’s go have an adventure”

So how did it happen?

The first 10 years of life in California were freeing. I grew up in rural South Dakota, a sensitive, liberal, creative person who just always felt out of place. In California, it felt like I’d finally found a place where I wasn’t different because everyone was different. First, I was freelancing, meeting new people and new celebrities every day, which was just thrilling. Then I was on a quirky late night talk show that nobody watched and so nobody paid much attention to our motley little group. I was the only woman on the crew, which meant I was often excluded, but on the good side, there was little pressure to be anything other than who I was. I fell into the traditional female role of the mother of the stage. I brought the baked goodies. I organized gifts and cards, and gathered funds for them. I had a role.

When hosts switched and our show became a little more mainstream, the staff and crew grew. As an introvert, I began to feel lost and constantly overlooked. Other people were more exciting and interesing… more shiny, as one friend says. My role disappeared and I wasn’t quite sure how I fit in with this younger, more hip Hollywood crowd. That’s when the gradual changes began. I started dressing differently. Got interested in the things everyone else was interested in. Quit talking about the things I was passionate about. Yes, it took until I was in my 40s but I finally succumbed to peer pressure. I began to be a warped version of myself. I was there, but not quite.

For the most part, my methods seemed to work. On the surface, I fit in. Superficially it all seemed fine, until one day I learned it really wasn’t. When others faced trouble, I’d seen the wagons circle, but for me they scattered. Feeling alone and vulnerable, I armored up. It was a painful period because I realized that I was tolerated more than included. Not only had I failed to be accepted, but now I was left with this person I didn’t like much. I slipped back into a familiar coping mechanism when faced with something I had to endure. I suited up with thick plate armor, looked neither left nor right, and marched down the field, warding off whatever blows came my way until I got to the other side. After one hiatus, wonderful periods where my true self would surface and gasp for air, I was talking on the phone with a friend and joked, “Yeah, hiatus is over, now I have to put on the armor of bitterness and anger.” We laughed, but it was actually heartbreaking.

Did I really need to have such strong protection? Of course not. It was just the method that had worked so well in the past. This time, having processed the entire episode as an adult, I am hoping to avoid going through the pattern again.

In fact, I am making myself a promise to help prevent it. From now on, I refuse to be anyone other than who I am. I’m going to like what I like, think what I think, do what I do, dress how I dress, and if those things agree with you? Great. Let’s hang out. If not, have a lovely life with people that are more your speed. If that means I end up alone, well at least I will have the company of someone I like.

I yam what I yam.

So now, the yam I yam is off to adventure. I’ll try to post from the road but we shall see.

The leap is about to commence….Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Following Joy

When this blog was started, I believed I was on the verge of leaving LA and having lots of adventures. It’s a little frustrating that I am still here, blogging from home about the minutia of my life, and waiting to leave. While the first buyer was eager to be in the house, this sale is dragging out a little longer. It now looks like the earliest I will be out of here is the middle of May. This week all the requested repairs will be completed, and hopefully by the end of the week I will know if the sale will go through.

In the meantime…

Every day there is so much to be learned, and I’m still figuring this new life out. A few weeks ago, it was frightening to have found myself with time to just be. We in the West have a hard time just being. It is beaten into our heads – Life is work. Life is effort. Rest is sloth and a moral failing! We believe in “work hard, play hard,” but the work hard always has to come first. You never hear it said, “play hard, work hard.” I began to feel guilt over not having work to do. This was why it suddenly seemed important to impose some discipline and outline five daily goals. The unexpected consequence was that making a list of things that should be done, turned it into a list of chores. It turned play into work, so that I no longer wanted to either work hard, or play hard. In my brain there was a German woman in a uniform with a riding crop saying, “You vil do dees tings dat make you happy, or I vil beat you about de head. Be happy now! Schnell!”

After fumbling around with these daily goals and becoming more resistant to them, it became apparent that a different method needed to be tried. Not knowing what else to do, I simply began to do whatever interested me that day. One day it was geocaching. Another day it was writing. Then surprisingly, the day ceased to be about guilt and became about joy. Where joy led, I followed.

Following joy is a brand new experience. It has been a long time since there wasn’t a responsibility, deadline, or obligation leading me through life. After I have moved across the country, and settled into life there, there will certainly be a return of responsibility, deadlines, and obligations. However, right now, there is a sweet little window of waiting. I’ve done so much packing and preparation and can’t really go any further until I’m sure the sale is going through. If there was ever been a time in my life to let go of discipline and structure, and experiment with following joy, this is it. I’m grabbing my chance and refusing to feel guilty no matter how I spend my day. It won’t last forever, but I’m going to enjoy this mini-vacation from obligation.

Who convinced us that the sole purpose of existence is productivity and not bliss? Why do we buy into it? What leads you through life? What would you do with this day if you had absolutely no responsibilities or obligations? Can you find a compromise? Life is too short not to follow joy as often as you can. Make sure you do at least one thing every day that brings you joy… more if you’re able.

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