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.


Wading Through

Well, we did it. We muddled through the holidays and made it to the other side. Thank goodness we don’t have to do that again for another year.

Sometimes lessons seem to come in clumps, and lately the clump I’ve been dealing with is wading through the muck. Just keep moving forward and eventually you make it through to solid, and usually better ground.

The first noticed lesson on this subject was when I went back to college at 48 years of age. In some ways it was incredibly easy because I was finally studying a subject I loved. In another way it was incredibly difficult because I hadn’t read critically or written an essay in almost 30 years. Week after week I would face an assignment, tell myself I just couldn’t do it, and contemplate dropping out of the class and trying it again later. Week after week I would realize that would set me back from my desired graduation date and I would give it another try. Week after week I waded through the muck and felt proud of the papers I turned in. It became obvious that if I was willing to wade, there wasn’t much I couldn’t accomplish.

When I decided to pick up and move, I knew there would be a lot to coordinate to make that happen. It was overwhelming. It was scary. So many decisions to make. So much hard work ahead. So much upheaval to go through. I just knew I wanted what was on the other side of that upheaval more than I wanted to continue where I was. So I made one decision at a time, dealt with one unpleasant task after another, and surfed the waves of upheaval. I slogged through the muck, and somehow made it all happen, and pretty smoothly, too.

Most recently I discovered the power of the wade in my writing. Here’s how it goes for me with story inspiration — the idea hits. There’s a brain high that goes with that. The mind starts playing out the story. It seems fresh, original, exciting, and I can’t wait to tell this story. Then, as the high fades, reality sets in. Some of those ideas I had under the influence of an idea are ridiculous and won’t work. When I find enough that does work, I can start. However, once it becomes a daily slog through the muck, it becomes more like work. The excitement fades. It’s just trying to add more to the word count every day.

A couple of months ago, as often happens at this low point in story telling, I got hit with another idea for a book. That idea high kicked in. I wanted to jump ship on the boring slog, and start working right away on the new idea. Thankfully I have enough experience under my belt to know that would be foolish. I’d hit the slog soon enough with the new idea.

So I waded through. Day after day, step by step. Not to say I didn’t do a little research on the side for the new idea, but I didn’t stop working on the old idea. Miracle of miracles, there was an end to the muck, and I didn’t have to wait to finish writing the book.

No, right in the middle of the muck I hit solid ground. I got to the point where I can’t wait to write, because I can’t wait to hear the next bit of the story. With screenwriting I had become a slave to a pre-planned, intricately outlined story to assure I hit all the right beats. Stephen King’s book, “On Writing” took me in another direction, one where you let the story tell itself. I think I’m beginning to master that process, because I’m really and truly excited to know what happens next. Such an exhilarating feeling. Last weekend I discovered a character that I’d included… for what reason, I had no idea. I often considered cutting him… this character was vital to the story, and would have a major character arc. Who knew? The power of organic story-telling is heady.

I think I’m finally getting it. No matter how hard the road ahead seems. No matter how much you want to just give up and crawl in bed and cry, if what you want is across the muck, it’s totally worth it. Put on your hip waders, take one step at a time, over and over and over and over. The goal is always attainable, if you’re just willing to wade through.