The Grind

Right now it feels as if I’m just grinding along. In an attempt to prolong what’s left of my savings, thus giving me time to sell my book, I am working more hours. I’m getting up to an alarm 5 days of the week now. Gone is the midweek “weekend.” No more time for daydreaming on the sun porch while ideas float about my brain. There is little time left for my other job – writing. Survival is pretty much the focus now.

For the first few years, when I could balance work, writing, and social time, I didn’t feel the need to take time off and go on a vacation. Now that the work leg of my stool is getting longer and longer, I feel the need to balance things out, except I can’t really afford a vacation. I was very generously given a raise after almost 3 years on the job, but immediately watched my rent go up significantly, and thanks to ACA sabotage, my health insurance quadrupled. I have a dental appointment this week and probably need a crown. I owe what feels like a hefty amount in taxes. One step forward, five steps back. I’ll just have to tighten things up even more, and keep dreaming of a week of relaxation with sand between my toes and bathtub warm water so clear I can see those grains of sand. Hopefully someday before I die.

More work, more stress, less fun, less daydreaming… none of it makes for productive writing time. I was told I needed to focus on two things this year: patience and discipline. So far that is proving true. I need the patience to see the agent/publisher search to its conclusion. I need discipline to keep writing… to grind it out. Not how I work best, but what else can I do? The safety net is being dismantled, leaving me with few options if this all blows up in my face. I must grind.

The grind of querying is also back on. I had one rejection within 24 hours. However, I’ve received none since, and while I may be grasping at straws, I actually see a glimmer of hope with one. I’m using a website called querytracker.net. I originally thought a spreadsheet would work just fine for tracking my queries and didn’t see the benefit of online tracking. I was wrong. My spreadsheet only contained my query information. Query Tracker contains the query information of every author who uses the site, which seems to be a whole lot of them. I can see the queries an agent has received — genre, word count, and date submitted. When the author receives a response, that is also displayed. One particular agent I queried, who seems ideally suited for my story, has rejected submissions made before I submitted, as well as some after I submitted. Mine and a couple of others have not received a response. While this could mean any number of things, such as: my manuscript is making the rounds of the agency so they can make fun of how bad it is; or like my original birth certificate, my submission fell behind a filing cabinet never to be found again; or the rejection got lost in cyberspace. It could mean any one of those things, but I’m choosing to believe that it means I made it past the junior agent and my submission is now sitting in a pile, waiting to be read. Even a nibble fills me with hope.

Now limited to a 2-day weekend, I spent one precious day yesterday cleaning, catching up on my finances, and doing my taxes. That leaves today for really focusing on writing. I finally found the scene/direction I’ve been missing in order to move forward with book two, and despite feeling the grind, I’m looking forward to spending a day lost in adventure. And in the breaks, I’ll daydream about having more days like today during the week, and warm, sandy beaches, and hopefully that will get me through the grind. Hopefully someday it will all be worth it.

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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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Let it Begin With Me

The holidays are stressful. No doubt about it. Money flowing out. Time running short. Obligatory gatherings to attend. Food to be made. Charities asking for donations. Dealing with others who explode with stress. Crowds. Rushing. Traffic. On top of that is the pressure to appear full of holiday spirit or be labelled a Scrooge. It’s enough to make anyone want to utter a few choice swear words, crawl in a hole, and perhaps emerge about the time Punxsutawney Phil comes out. Bah humbug.

Whille I’m generally less stressed than I have been other years, I can also feel the gathering holiday storm. The general atmosphere in the country isn’t helping my mood. The ignorance, fear, hatred, and racism that is bubbling to the surface of this nation is alarming. Has it been there all along? I know I’m exacerbating my horror by reading comments of online articles, but is it better to not be aware of what my fellow citizens are thinking?

Last week, Brian D. McLaren posted an open letter addressing guns and Christianity. He spoke with the voice of Christianity that I remembered as a child. You know, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9) And just 30 verses later, “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” Or another 5 verses after that, “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ 44“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven;”

This is the Christianity I was raised with and the article gave me hope… until I made the mistake of reading the comments. With few exceptions, there was nothing but anger returned to the author. Luke 22:36 was the most quoted verse, “He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” All I can say is, “Oy vey.”

Years ago a niece asked me for help with a debate on the death penalty. One piece of advice I gave was not to use the Bible to argue her position, because people can warp and twist the Bible to find just about any meaning they want within its pages. That is exactly what has been done with this one verse – the only one in the entire book they can find to defend their position, I might add. There is not one serious scholar who has read the original text and put it within context of the story who would say that Jesus is advocating for violent defense of oneself.

One of the most disheartening and revealing comments came from someone who said something like, “This author isn’t living in the real world. When the terrorists come for his family, he’ll wish he had a gun.” I see. I didn’t realize that Christ’s message wasn’t for the real world. I actually was foolish enough to think that’s exactly what his message was for – A radical message of peace and love for a chaotic and violent world.

The message I’m getting from the conservative wing of modern American Christianity is – follow Christ and his teachings until it conflicts with the “real” world, then follow your fear. What kind of faith is that? To them, nothing is more important than physical self-preservation even though this also goes against Matthew 10:28 – “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul.” It seems to me, people who feel assured of the rewards of heaven, would be willing to lay down their lives to live their beliefs, rather than put that reward at risk by betraying them.

When I was a kid, our pastor told us a modern parable: In the middle of church, two masked men came in with rifles and held the congregation hostage. They demanded that all those who were born-again Christians line up at the front of the church, and everybody else should leave. About 3/4 of the people left, and once they were gone, the gunmen took off their masks, put down their guns, and said, “Okay, brothers and sisters, now let’s worship for real.” They were weeding out the true believers from the pew-sitters by finding those who were willing to lay down their lives for their beliefs. Those people had found a peace that passes all understanding. They had faith in something greater than their physical lives. They were living the radical message of Jesus.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is “Let There be Peace on Earth.” It follows that wish with personal responsibility, “and let it begin with me.” It’s not, “let it begin with my enemies surrendering,” or “let it begin with the death of terrorists,” or “let it begin after I kill those who threaten me.”

No, it’s “let it begin with me.”

In this season celebrating peace, the only wish I have is that people begin to take to heart the lyrics they’re singing. Since I can’t change them, I’ll take my own advice – I choose peace.

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Wherever You are is Perfect

All the advice on building a loyal audience to my blog is to make regular posts. I’m failing at this. Like most people, I don’t like failing. However, being kind to myself is taking precedent over achieving many of my goals.

Historically, I have not been particularly kind to myself. Most of us aren’t. We say things to ourselves that we would never tolerate being said to others. We know how those words create deep wounds and step in to defend others, but then we cut ourselves to the bone. It’s a disease we need to work on curing.

When I first moved to Missouri, I was in an almost manic phase. I had a vision of a perfect life. I didn’t want to fall into old habits. I wanted to pursue social connections and not become isolated. I wanted to find people with whom I fit. I wanted to eat right. I wanted to exercise. I wanted to lose weight. I wanted to write daily. I wanted to meditate. I wanted to keep negative thoughts at bay. I wanted to solve every problem I’d ever had. AND I wanted to relax into my new slow-paced, stress-free life.

Ha! It was like I short-circuited. Since I hadn’t reached my goals, it felt as if what was true today, would be true forever. It hadn’t worked instantly, so it would never work! (face palm)

When I realized I was rushing into things and trying to make it all work at once, I actually learned from my mistakes and stopped stressing so much. I allowed things to unfold at a natural pace, and stopped worrying about where I should be. Shockingly, that has done the trick.  I actually did solve all my problems at once, and have been able to relax into a new slow-paced, stress-reduced (not free) life.

You see, once I stopped beating myself up for not being perfect and recognizing that life is a process, the social connections were far easier to make. When someone is telling you you’re a permanent failure, it’s hard to believe you’re likeable. Then I joined a group class at work, where I not only exercise, but get to do it with fun, supportive people. That ticks off the boxes, making connections, exercising, and losing weight. The more I work out, the less eating garbage appeals. I’ve started to meditate again. I’m not doing it daily, but I’m doing it more days than I was. I’m definitely reaping the rewards of that. As I slow down and focus more on being present, joy comes flooding back into daily activities. Even turning on the faucet can be miraculous if you’re in the right mindset.

So, what’s been learned? Acceptance. That, wherever you are is perfect. It has to be. It’s where you are.  If you want to be someplace else, then take a step in that direction. It still won’t be exactly where you want to be, but it will be perfect for you, because where you are now is one step closer than where you were. That’s the only way to get there. One perfectly imperfect step at a time.

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Torn Between Two Memes

Yes, I’m a couple days late with this. I’ve had a topic in mind for a while, but could never quite make sense of it. Finally, things got sorted out the other night.

In the run up to my leap, I had a great deal of self doubt. Actually, self doubt is a pretty deep seated trait for me, regardless of leaping or sitting safely on my living room couch. So, the memes people post on Facebook often having me re-examining myself to see if I measure up. It can get pretty tough when the memes start contradicting themselves.

For instance, there I was, happily contemplating perhaps the biggest change in my life – a whole new part of the country I’d never lived in before, a new job, and new friends – when what meme comes along? This one:

Destination-addiction

I was imagining so much happiness in my new life. I saw myself taking long walks in my suburban neighborhood. There was a job without stress and worry. Being part of a team.  I saw slow days writing in front of a fire. There were good friends to share laughter with who were minutes away. There would be thunder storms and fall leaves. It all seemed so wonderful until I read that quote. After all, I knew my flaws and bad habits weren’t going to get left behind in California. I would still be me. So, was I falling into destination addiction?

Not long after that, somebody posted this:

il_570xN.717512541_41sc

So which wise internet meme was I to follow? I had remarked to a friend that perhaps I needed to stay so I could learn to be happy even when I was in miserable conditions. She pointed out I’d been there a long time and tried many methods. It was time to move on.

Ultimately I agreed and chose to leap my chasm, however the doubt has never left me. It should have faded when I arrived at my new destination and found life was as good, or better, than I had been imagining all those months. My walks don’t exactly take me through a suburban neighborhood, but they do take me through a more beautiful greenways trail. The open field I saw in my imagination was to the south of my south-facing house, and instead it’s to the east of my east-facing house. My job has a little more responsibility than I had envisioned, but I enjoy it so much that I actually sort of wish I was going in on my days off. Sort of. It is an environment that is providing physical and emotional healing. The friendships are lovely. And the thunderstorms… just wonderful. I’ll give you a report on the fall leaves in a few months. It truly is everything my soul was looking for that I couldn’t seem to find in LA.

Still, I worried I had become a destination addict. Would these feelings of joy and contentment wear off once the newness of the place wore off.

But the other night, the right analogy hit me. LA and Hollywood were like shoes. At some point in my life I saw these gorgeous shoes and just knew they were for me. I wanted those shoes more than anything I’d ever wanted. I risked everything I knew, left family and friends behind, in order to get those shoes. Once I had them, they were even more amazing and I loved how I looked in them. I was never taking those shoes off!

Then I started to walk in those shoes. Sure, they pinched here and there. Sure they caused blisters. But they were gorgeous and I could take it. It was worth it to be wearing those shoes, because I believed there would be a payoff for the pain.

However, the longer I lived in those shoes, and realized there was no payoff, the harder it became to ignore the pain they were causing. There were more and more raw spots. There were blisters on blisters. Every step became excruciating and made me angry. Finally i wanted to take the shoes off but didn’t, because I was worried I had nothing else to wear. Now not only was I in terrible pain, but I began to resent those shoes I had once loved.

What to do in that situation? Stay and learn to love the shoes causing so much pain or take them off and find another pair that fit better. It seems quite obvious, and thankfully I chose option two. And oh, the blessed relief of taking off shoes that don’t fit after wearing them all day. (imagine 20 years of wear!) That freeing-of-the-tootsies relief is exactly how my move to Missouri has felt. Ahhhhhhhhhhh.

So I’ve found my peace with the memes, because sometimes if you are in an over-crowded, loud, hyper-competitive, stress-inducing environment, in a job that limits your future and your potential, and with equally stressed-out friends so scattered across a large city that you have to use a day planner to schedule “play dates,” maybe then it really is a new destination, a new job, and new relationships that will make you happy. Maybe all you really need is change.

Maybe you just need to find a pair of shoes that fit and not worry about internet memes.

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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.

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Be Kind

The house sale is progressing and hopefully this one won’t fall through. If it does, we already have other offers.

I’m working on a Young Adult fantasy novel that has me so excited. I have had several very good ideas I could work on, and for a while it was tough to decide on which one I should focus. Then something sparked in favor of the fantasy novel and I am off and running. It’s so good. The concept is fresh. There is subtext and depth. I just have to execute.

With free time, I’ve been researching my new home community. There are so many activities I look forward to joining. Music was a major part of my life for the first 20 years, but has had almost no role in the last 30. It was exciting to find the new town has a women’s acapella group. My low, true-alto singing voice isn’t really good for solos, but it can be a real asset to a group without male voices. It would feed my soul to sing again, and I look forward to a pace of life that will allow that.

That slower pace of life I so look forward to, is actually happening now. It’s been two months since my job ended. I have not missed it for one second of one day. There has been no loss of identity or crisis of confidence. In fact, my true self feels like it’s re-emerging. I no longer feel battered constantly by stressful incidents. I’m not spending an hour and a half a day in ugly traffic. When a friend calls to have lunch, or needs a ride, I can actually say “yes.” When I wake up, my day can be designed around what I need and want to do, rather than what others want and need me to do. When something stressful happens, it’s easier to step back, take a breath, and deal with it. The unexpected and beautiful consequence of this is that my mind, soul, and heart are opening up again. I am able to be less judgmental and far kinder.

I first noticed myself extending kindness to others. When I was out taking a walk, I saw a kid skateboarding down the middle of the street. My stressed-out, super-judgmental self would have thought, “Stupid kid with a death wish. Get out of the street.” My open self looked and him and thought, “Look at that kid skating down the street.” My judgmental thoughts about the kid would not have changed his behavior, but they certainly would have made me feel unhappy. Instead that day, I was pure awareness without judgment and it felt wonderful.

That kindness and lack of judgment for others has extended to myself. Did I meet all my daily goals every day last week? Absolutely not. A couple of days I only did one of the five things. Stressed-out me would have beat myself up over it. Here’s what the running dialogue in my head about my bad behavior would have sounded like, “Loser. Idiot. It was just 5 things. Five fun things at that! This proves it. You are not a writer. You are a loser. You will always be a loser. Why pretend? Just go curl up in a corner and die, you loser.”

Many people refer to that voice as “monkey mind,” because it leaps from thought to thought and hurls poo at you.  And, boy are those thoughts a whole load of poo. They are horrible. Would I let anyone talk to a friend like that? Of course not! Yet, that is a pretty typical conversation I might have with myself. It may even be typical of a conversation you have with yourself. Why do we do it? Has it ever helped? No! It’s not motivational. It’s defeating. It’s harmful.

Thankfully, the new de-stressed me did not have that hurtful conversation. Well, okay, maybe I did for just a second, but it was quickly followed by stepping back, taking a breath, and showing myself some kindness. I’ve never been unemployed before. I have either been in college or had a job since I was 17. That’s 33 years of marching to someone else’s drum. Before that, I suppose I was marching to my parents’ drum. This is a whole new world! It’s going to take a little time to find my rhythm. Maybe last week I missed some steps, but this week I’ll do a little better. Before long, with a little kindness and patience, I’ll be hearing my own beat, and dancing to it with flair, in my white-girl, hippie style.

Have you failed at something and now you’re beating yourself up about it? Does that help? No? So, did you learn something? Will it help you do better next time? Then you did not actually fail, did you? We are all just imperfect creatures doing this for the first time (as far as we know), and we’re trying to makes sense of a very confusing life. Anyone in that position deserves a lot of kindness. So, I’m challenging you, be kinder to yourself. I promise it will help you accomplish your goals far quicker than that nasty, little voice in your head.

Tell monkey mind to go eat a banana, you’re busy dancing.

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