Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Beware the Boxes

No this isn’t a warning to avoid packages because of germs, toxins, or an irrational fear of UPS employees. It actually has very little to do with literal boxes. And here I go again into figurative land as I present my holiday get-together advice.

And I feel a disclaimer is in order. I am not a therapist, nor do I play one on TV. And I’ve been guilty of moving very far away and avoiding holiday get-togethers in the past. But since I’m currently at an airport about to head out to a holiday gathering, I’m feeling like almost an expert at this. Now, back to the boxes.... patterns and a little allusion to writing and character development.

I’d like to introduce you to the concept of people boxes. (And no, I’m not suggesting cramming the least-liked family member into a box in order to facilitate a peaceful/illegal holiday.) People boxes represent the way we see each other. Often from a very young age, families find ways of creating the people boxes to provide understanding of family members. And once created, those people boxes are often powerful and difficult to change. If in a person’s youth, they were a rebel, they might end up wearing the rebel box their entire lives, even though what they feel inside is anything but the image they wore in younger and wilder days. And the glamour box can be particularly difficult, for those who were stunning cheerleaders in their younger days, and now look like middle-aged, real people. The smart and driven people boxes can be difficult to live up to and end up making people never feel like they are good enough. No matter if the box is a positive or negative image, it can feel solid and static, even though we people are anything but.

People really do change. Some by choice and others because life changes them. We grow in ways that family might love or hate, but ultimately our own journeys are something that not even the closest of families can always understand. And when it comes to getting together, sometimes there can be a struggle because of out-dated people boxes.

And compounding problems are the patterns that once established have a life of their own. Mature, capable adults can suddenly become sniveling teenagers when around their parents and siblings. Siblings who are extraordinarily evolved people can be reduced to “I know you are, but what am I?” within seconds of reconnecting. And those Duran Duran pins that were stolen by a sibling seem to have left a gaping hole in a person, even though it happened more than twenty years ago. Stolen boyfriends, bigger Christmas gifts, disappointments, and words spoken years before become living things, all because of the power of patterns.

So, people boxes and patterns are the problems. And now a writerly solution. Every writer I’ve ever met or even heard of has been surprised by what their characters have done. Those moments when you see and hear what your character is doing and say, “Oh, you did not just do that.” I had a main character up and decide that the love interest I picked for him was simply not good enough and he went for the hotty-potatty bad girl. As much as I argued and whined, ultimately I had to let him be who he was and off he went with the baddy. Stephenie Meyer, in an interview I read a while back, mentioned that Edward’s dramatic actions at the beginning of New Moon completely took her by surprise, but she had to just give in and go on the ride. Which leads us to the writerly advice: let your family members be the characters that shock you, and roll with it. See where the new story takes you. I promise you that if you let go of the patterns and the people boxes, a real chance to get to know people for who they are now will be yours. And what do you really have to lose other than all that is tired and predictable. Life is a great adventure if we let it be. And people are the ever-present part of this adventure. Let them wow you and most of all be open to really seeing people for who they are, not where they come from, what they’ve done (both accomplishments and letdowns), or even the images they might want you to believe. Search for the truth and experience the only story that never really ends.

Quote for the Day from John Denver

"I'm leaving on a jet plane..."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Falling Into Winter

I admit it. The change of the seasons gets to me. And technically this might make me a hypocrite at worst, and fickle at best, because my most consistent whine as a teenager growing up in a season-challenged location was, “This place sucks. I want seasons!” I even used to write hostile, geographically based poetry about the constant heat, brutal blue skies, and the permanent absence of even a single cloud (with much swearing added for teenagey, angsty goodness).

Now, I’m grown up (technically) and living in a place with real seasons (the leaves change, the snow falls, the flowers bloom, and the fireflies beam), and I love it here, but...

You knew there was a but coming; well here it is.

... but watching the leaves fall and knowing how long it’s going to be until spring really does get to me.

I get a little more mellow, except when I’m racing to touch my face (and the dogs’ faces) to any ray of sunshine I can find, knowing they are there to be counted and revered until the sun once again graces us next summer. I also take stock of my life, occasionally like an officious and ill-tempered dwarf of some sort, measuring accomplishments, logging productive hours, and searching for the meaning of it all. And I find myself thinking more about what I want, what accomplishments I have yet to begin the course toward, and who I want to be when I really grow up.

It really isn’t a sadness that autumn finds in me, more the willingness to focus inwardly and open myself to the beauty/agony of change. And for that, I think the fall likes me (if you will allow me to anthropo-season-ize a bit). The past two and half years (since moving to a new place and away from everything known and everyone loved) have been a time of near-constant change. And after so much change, it’s easy to think that I might want things to settle down, but I find the opposite is true. I’m all wanderlusty and wondering what my next adventure will be, both on the actual landscape as well as on the inner landscape. I will definitely let you know how that goes.

For now though, I’ve realized that I always seek out two things to help me weather life as we fall into winter and I thought I would share them with you.

The number one thing that accompanies me through this change of seasons is the music of the brilliant and talented Loreena McKennitt. Her music seems made for introspection, for seeking the beauty in simple moments, and consequently makes for an excellent soundtrack through the inner landscape of a questioning soul. The purity of her voice leads to thoughts of different times and different places and brings the knowledge that everything around us has changed and is certain to continue changing. And we can either change with it or be left behind; perhaps even in the stasis of being left behind, we might one day fuel the romantic sensibilities of artists as the Celtic culture has for Ms. McKennitt.

The exquisite lyrics that accompany her music’s journeys provide her with some serious street cred as a poet. Take a look at these.

Dante’s Prayer (music and lyrics by Loreena McKennitt)

“I did not believe because I could not see
Though you came to me in the night
When the dawn seemed forever lost
You showed me your love in the light of the stars”

Penelope’s Song (music and lyrics by Loreena McKennitt)

“Long as the day in the summer time
Deep as the wine dark sea
I’ll keep your heart with mine.
Till you come to me.”

Caravanserai (music and lyrics by Loreena McKennitt)

“What is this life that pulls me far away
What is that home where we cannot reside
What is that quest that pulls me onward
My heart is full when you are by my side”

Never-Ending Road (music and lyrics by Loreena McKennitt)

“Here is my heart and I give it to you
Take me with you across this land
These are my dreams, so simple and few
Dreams we hold in the palm of our hands”

Ms. McKennitt’s music provides a companion for me along an often solitary path and for that reason will always be my autumn soundtrack. The second thing on my list seems too much of a trifle to discuss now that I’m listening to my favorite songs and waxing nostalgic about a pretty darned blessed life. So, I’ll save it for later.

If you’ve never seen or heard Ms. McKennitt, take a little walk with me through my favorite of her songs and one that makes me pine to travel not just the inside world of me, but through the amazing world around us (okay, and maybe I pine just a bit for the hurdy gurdy player, but I can't help that!).

Quote for the Day from Full Circle by Loreena McKennitt

“Somewhere the sun rose, o'er dunes in the desert
such was the stillness, I ne'er felt before
Was this the question, pulling, pulling, pulling you
in your heart, in your soul, did you find rest there?

Elsewhere a snowfall, the first in the winter
covered the ground as the bells filled the air
You in your robes sang, calling, calling, calling him
in your heart, in your soul, did you find peace there?”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Only Joy

Life’s tests are pesky, without question. Sometimes they come upon us like a jealous whisper and other times like a bellowing, evil cheerleader. Wants are common culprits for introducing us to life’s little lessons. Wanting things is something that ties every human being together. To want is to be alive, I think. Certainly the varieties in wants characterize the lives we are either fortunate to live or grateful to survive. For example, I want an iPhone. In that, it’s easy to surmise that I am lucky enough to have a roof over my head, Swiss chard and yellow and orange bell peppers ready to be cooked for dinner, and affordably stylish clothes at my disposal. For others, that roof is a hefty want as fall turns to winter. Wanting food and knowing hunger define levels of existence perhaps the most powerfully. And clothing, stylish or not, to keep the cold out is a potent want.

But for today, we’re discussing other kinds of wants, things like time (who doesn’t want more of that), success (in all its incarnations), and I’m going to go ahead and throw this into the mix: love. Compared to time, success, and love, that iPhone can’t really compare (and not because it doesn’t try by being cute and fun and embodying the American spirit of capitalism and wonder). The truth is no object could possibly compete against our biggest wants, the ones that revolutionize our lives, bring purpose and hope, and raise our journey to a new more transcendent level.

And where is all of this leading? Life Lesson 317.4a and Life Test 248-a, both entitled What happens when our friends get/have the things we want?

Not too long ago, I blogged about my high school reunion and the memories that brought up, memories I wouldn’t choose to wander through on a regular basis because there is no past I want to disappear into. I am all about the now, but, for the sake of today’s blog, I’m going to delve into what I will call the D&D Affair (having nothing to do with Dungeons and Dragons, in case some newbies wandered onto the blog... run now, while you have the chance). In high school, there was this boy, who we will refer to as D. He was shiny, charming, talented, friendly, wise, and wonderful. And I wanted him. So badly. So muchly (yeah, I made another word). I just had to have him. And a dance was coming up. Would he? Could he? Be mine?

Not so much. Because a girl, who will be referred to also as D, came to me and told me that He-D had asked her to the highly anticipated dance. She-D was beautiful, sweet, lovely, talented, and momentously kind even as a high school popular girl. She came to me to let me know because she knew of my pining. “Would it be okay if I went with him or would you rather I said no?” This is what she asked me. She gave me the choice because my friendship meant something to her and because her kindness made my feelings matter more than her dance plans. I told her to go. He’d chosen her. And that I’d appreciated her thoughtfulness.

(On a side note, look at the memory she created. It wasn’t the story of being wronged by a friend. It was the story of a beautiful friendship. Thanks for that, She-D.)

So, I didn’t get the dance experience that I’d dreamt of and never got to date He-D. I didn’t get a lot of the high school experiences that we are taught to value by Hollywood. And in the loss of wanted things, envy is born. And in my life, I have envied others for having more time to do things, for not having to work, for being able to do things easily, for not being alone, for having perfect holidays and bubbly children.

But, since I have taken to the writing road, the envies and jealousies are fewer. This is not to say that they don’t still rear up and demand attention. What’s different now is that in my life-living knapsack, I carry an Envy Basher and within minutes, usually, I have beaten the envy to a puddle of muck and moved on with the gratitude I feel to have lived long enough to find the road I currently walk.

Recently, I had the opportunity to see just how far I’ve come from my younger self who envied with abandon to my less-younger self (calling myself old seemed off-putting), who discovered something very beautiful in the good fortune of a dear friend.

My writerly BFF, Debbie Schubert, received some news worthy of being shouted from all the fair peaks in the land (and do believe that she will soon be shouting) and I was one of the first who knew the news. Now, months ago, Debbie and I had talked about how it would feel to have one of us receive said news before the other, both knowing that we would be happy for the other, but wondering if we would harbor the envy beast in our hopeful hearts.

I don’t think it would count as a proper science fair project, but we certainly had the chance for experimentation. And at the moment of happy news disclosure, I felt around in my insides and found only joy. Delightful, bubbly, wondrous joy. I was as thrilled for her as I would be for myself, maybe more because I really believe that this is her time to shine and she’s found someone who can appreciate all the talent and love-inspiring qualities I see in her.

To quote Grey’s Anatomy (which I am still watching obsessively... for the love of all that’s decent, please get me a Grey’s Anatomy patch or something), Debbie has found “her person.”

And I couldn’t be happier. I thought maybe in my hours of solitude after the call, the envy beasts might appear and I looked around and found... only joy again.

This is a huge step for Debbie, for me, and for our friendship. This was life’s little test for me and I passed.

Quote for the Day from Me.

“Our greatest joys are greater and our darkest times brighter, just for being lucky enough to have friends to witness, to nurture, and to share.” (Look at me, thinking I’m all that and making my own quote for the day). ;)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Resting My Driven

So, as I have mentioned before, I have plans. My plans have plans. My strategies have strategies. Multi-tiered goals are in progress at all times. And then something happened. I got tired. I have no idea how this happened, and I swear on all I hold dear that I eat my spinach, broccoli, Swiss chard, and thanks to CityGirl’s blog, my exquisite acorn squash drizzled with a cilantro chili vinaigrette. But this tired thing happened anyway. Drat the tired.

As a practiced expert in self-analysis, I sat myself down for a little therapy session (no, I’m really not completely crazy), and said, “Okay, you’re tired. It’s time to ease up. Hey, you can even watch TV and knit if you like.” And the frazzled, overworked mule within almost wept. So, away I went to catch up on a season and a half of Grey’s Anatomy (I swoon for Major/Dr. Owen Hunt) and picked up my knitting project (this is a good time to admit that my very first knitting project was a blanket... really, I should have started with a nice scarf).

Inexplicably, my mood got murkier. That was completely not the point of this resting-up exercise. So, then I said, “Self, we were tired, and now our mood is like the bottom layer of a toxic dump run-off ditch. What now?” More Grey’s Anatomy. Check.

As my outlook further declined, I started to marvel (with a dose of horror) at the amount of work I had put into goals that hadn’t yielded much, and that started to depress the stuffing out of me. But I couldn’t find the exact words to describe this until last weekend, when, during a puppy-induced walking extravaganza, I realized that I felt as though I had been investing in the Never Bank. And that it was likely I would just keep using up my life force to make deposits in a bank that might never yield anything. Hardly inspiring. Well, as much as the pups loved their walk, my bright, energetic, and cheery wasn’t found and I marched home to wallow in knitting and more Grey’s Anatomy, thinking that at least Major Dr. Owen Hunt would understand me (he’s all broody, tortured, and earnest just like I love my television romances).

A week passed, and everything in my life became more bland. Bright moments still happened (like that acorn squash recipe), but overall, my writing didn’t give me the familiar spark and my life in general became mostly joyless. Bleck, I say.

Worse, thoughtless comments flying around me actually hit their mark and made me sadder, where normally, I would have brushed them off like pigeon droppings from above. Somehow, thoughtless ugly comments and pigeon doodoo go together. But without my droppings brusher at the ready, my mood, laden with the uglies (and not the good kind), deteriorated, enough that I think I worried some of my trusty friends who are used to the more upbeat, conquer-the-world me.

Thankfully, another puppy walk, or three, later, I realized exactly what I need to do to fix this little troublesome patch. I need to boot my driven off the couch and back to work. It isn’t time to look around and wonder where the spoils are, and I have to know myself enough to realize that forward motion is everything to me. As long as I am making progress, either by my daily writing, or even walking or getting out and meeting people (or starting a blog and loving every minute of connecting with fabulous people), I am moving forward. Forward is what matters, not that elusive image of what success looks like. Success is showing up and participating in the journey. And that is exactly what I forgot while I wasn’t pushing myself with enough force.

The truth is, there is a time for rest, but only as a rest stop, not as a state of being. And I don’t mean to imply that I don’t take rest time even during my busy, driven days. I do. I seek stillness. But even in that, I push myself to give myself that time. Also, since I’ve gotten my diet cleaned up, my body really tells me what it wants and most specifically when it wants to go to bed. I am not pushing myself to stay up writing until midnight and then wake at five to get to work anymore (I did that for a year). And it’s okay that I couldn’t keep up that pace, because taking care of my body is one of my innumerable goals.

So, the moral of my little story is “you got to know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ‘em. Know when to walk away and know when to run.” (Thanks Kenny Rogers.)

I am curious to know how you deal with the stresses of going after goals or how you stay positive under the strain of hectic lives. I’m always looking for new strategies (and any good, healthy recipes.) Please note, I can't have chocolate. ;)

Quote for the Day from The Mountain is Young by Han Suyin

"Do not worry to give a name to what you do, my friend. Is it not sufficient that to you something is given, not to be buried in the ground, but to use? Use it well, with no thought of success or failure..."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Now Seriously, Hush

My journey through books is very much like a relationship. There is the Getting To Know Each Other phase. The We Are Seriously Dating phase. The Oh My Gosh, Did You Leave Your Socks On The Floor Again phase. The I Love You Even With Your Annoying Quirks phase. And, sadly, the What Do You Mean There Aren’t Anymore Pages... Don’t You Love Me Anymore... Why? Why? Sob phase.

The Getting To Know Each Other phase is the most complicated for me. This is especially true when reading a book like Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick because this isn’t a sequel (it’s a fantastic debut actually) and the characters are brand new to me. This was very much like a blind date, complete with excitement and curiosity in equal measure and a smattering of fear that the date would involve a unibrow and ex-girlfriend stories involving chainsaws.

Sure, there was attraction as anyone who has seen the cover will attest to, but would we have anything to talk about? Would we connect? And would we reach that magical point where I truly care about the fate of the characters? That is my one unflinching requirement in my book relationships. And Ms. Fitzpatrick didn’t let me down. Her main character, Nora, was easy to care about without question, but there was a rocky road for me with some of the other characters.

Now, to explain, the story unfolds at a measured pace that left me confused as to what I was rooting for and completely unsure if Nora’s fate was in good hands. And for a while, I was even frustrated that the early part of dating this book didn’t include full disclosure about whom I was supposed to believe in, because other than Nora I didn’t have a clue.

The moment when I knew the book was getting to me was when, before going to bed, I had to get up and check the doors and windows again. That’s when it was terribly clear that the suspense in the story was powerful and my confusion appropriate and intended. (Well done, Ms. Fitzpatrick, you and Nora creeped me out and made me wonder if something was lurking outside my house.)

As Nora’s story, and my Hush, Hush relationship (which sounds much naughtier than it was), unfolded, my questions were answered and all the anxiousness proved to be only little moments in a very worthwhile relationship (unfortunately short lived because I couldn’t relax until it was finished).

I’m going to break my no-picture rule and post the cover here, because it is seriously hot. If you are looking to date a work of young adult fiction, Hush, Hush won’t let you down. And I am very excited to read the future books by Ms. Fitzpatrick, which is one of the reasons I love reading debut authors—it makes me feel like getting to be one of the first people to admire something beautiful like a painting or the first flowers of spring... or a book called Hush, Hush.

What can I say, I heart great stories.

Quote for the Day from Hush, Hush

“I crammed everything I’d read into a mental folder and filed it away. And stamped SCARY on the outside of the folder.”

Enough said.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Little Blog Bling

A big thank you to Debbie over at Write on Target for sending me my first blog bling in the shape of a Kreativ Blogger award. Yippee... and then responsibilities and rules. Yikes. Okay, I've linked to and thanked Debbie—check. I've copied the picture and added it to the blog—check.

So, seven things about myself that you don't know:

1. I've sort-of-kinda become a sushi-eating veganish person (health reasons more than philosophical reasons) after being a loud and proud carnivore my entire life. (This has made me even more careful about using the word never, after I said, just a couple months ago, that I would never, ever be a veganish person.)

2. Nobody in my family is thrilled with the information contained in number one.

3. My childhood dream was to run away and join the circus, which makes absolutely no sense because I am terrified of clowns.

4. I met and instantly fell head over heels in love with a French Bulldog named Louie at the park yesterday. I even hatched a plan to snatch Louie and run, but my border collie said, "Absolutely not. I'm smarter than he is now or will ever be. Now, do take me home or I will treat you like an unruly sheep."

5. I am working on two different YA stories right now and have been cheating on them by creating the playlist for the YA story I am going to write when they are finished.

6. Illicit playlist creation makes me feel naughty.

7. If I could only hear one song over and over for the rest of my life, today that song would be "The Old Ways" by Loreena McKennitt.

Next, choose three (okay, it said seven, but I'm new to all this blogging stuff, so I'd like a special accommodation here) other bloggers to pass the award to:

1. Stephanie's Stories - I really enjoy Stephanie's take on things and that she's a therapist makes me feel some instant healing when I read her blog. :)

2. City Girl Lifestyle - I found this blog when I was thinking of changing my eating patterns and found a lot of great stuff.

3. Shattered Prose - Indigo's got a very unique outlook and she's not afraid to let the readers into her real story. That courage is to be respected.

The Rules to Pass Along:

1) Copy the pretty picture and post it on your blog.
2) Thank the person that gave it to you and link to their blog. (Thanks again, Sharon, you princess, you!)
3) Write 7 things about yourself we don't know.
4) Choose 7 other bloggers to pass the award to.
5) Link to those 7 other bloggers.
6) Notify your 7 bloggers.

Now, to alert the winners and I'm calling this battle won. :)

Quote for the Day from "The Old Ways" by Loreena McKennitt

"Suddenly I knew that you'd have to go
My world was not yours, your eyes told me so
Yet it was there I felt the crossroads of time
And I wondered why."