Thursday, December 16, 2010

Living Flying Monkey Free

I feel as though I am the woman who made friends with the wild wolf and now must yell and scream at him, flail and tell him I don’t care about him anymore, so that he will be willing to abandon me and return to his pack. Yup, I feel just like that. Only I didn’t make friends with a wild wolf (or a tame one) and it’s actually my flying monkeys I must set free (my figurative ones, not my real ones in case a few of you are reading this). You see, my figurative flying monkeys are the minions who carry out my main objective in life, which I’ve recently realized is control.


Let me digress for a second and say that it was a total bummer to realize that what I seem to prize more than anything else is control, not over others per se, but over myself and the realities of my life. Control in and of itself isn’t necessarily a good or a bad thing. You can certainly accomplish great things by having control over yourself (from weight loss to finishing a novel). Where control gets to be a problem is when it gets in the way of opening yourself to change, to improving interpersonal relationships (over which you can have little control), and when it causes you to always be walking alone because letting go of control and trusting others is so uncomfortable.


I am not a moderate person and just like an obsession with Frappuccinos can get out of hand, so too can control. There is nothing wrong with being focused (even obsessively so as far as writing is concerned), but I’ve found that my sense of control seems to be sucking out all the air around me, diminishing the wonder of my life, and keeping me from leaning forward and doing things that would substantially improve the adventure that is my life.


So, as we near the end of the year and I start getting all goal-y and excited, it’s time to let go of the need to control all outcomes and dive into new things that I can’t possibly control, activities where I get to meet entirely new people and have adventures beyond my reckoning (and I reckon pretty well). Without my flying control monkeys, the barrier between me and everybody else vanishes and I can be changed by new experiences and people, as well as have the opportunity to positively change others (not through control, but in the way we all help each other to evolve into happier beings).


The nice thing is that I’ve already laid the groundwork for the Flying Monkey Release Initiative. I’ve started a few new activities, am signed up for some life-changing classes, and am busy with some travel guides to plan for some romps around the countryside, possibly with friends, family, or maybe just an adventure outing on my own.


So, be gone you flying monkeys! Be free! I mean it... go!!!


(And the other perk: I can stop shopping for new seasonal fez hats and vests. :)


Quote for the Day from Brian Kessler


“The closest to being in control we will ever be is in that moment that we realize we’re not.”

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Unlikely Crisis of Imagination

Hi, my name is Julie and I am a daydreamer. Night dreamer. Driving dreamer. Doing dishes dreamer. All my life stories have played out in my mind no matter what else I am doing (or supposed to be doing). If I were to ever meet Darth Vader, I think he would say, “Imagination is strong with this one.” And he’d sound exactly like James Earl Jones (or Mufasa) and I’d swoon. So, it comes as a surprise that I am suffering a crisis of imagination... and not in fiction. In my writing, I sit down every day and poof, stories are at the ready, sometimes even crowding around in a very noisy queue (yes, there’s often some grumbling, squirming, and all out shouting for me to move the stories along faster). So, the writing is fine; it’s life where my imagination is struggling.

I’ve heard for a long time that if you want to make changes in your life, you have to think about what you want and imagine what the change in your life will look like. It makes sense to me. I can imagine what my novels will look like on a bookstore shelf. I can imagine the fitness level to which I aspire. I can imagine what I will be like when I take more time to get centered. And I can certainly imagine what I want my house to look like when I am more organized. Where I fail is imagining scenarios that involve other people’s actions or even depend upon other people.

I’m not sure if this is a new struggle or an old one. In some ways, new growth might have worsened the problem because as I’ve taken on the challenge of decreasing my expectations (since having expectations leads to a lot of misery), I am now in a place where I can’t even imagine some of the changes I wish to see in my personal life. And my abilities in adaptation don’t help at all with this either. I’m resilient. I’m happy (for the most part). And I accept my life without the things I don’t or can’t have. So, how do I imagine things that I’ve accepted being without, without taking on the side effects (expectations that will let me down, hope that may not be fulfilled, or the propensity to wallow about the things I don’t have)? In the past, the wanting for the things I don’t have has blinded me to the gratitude I should feel for the things I do have. But even with that, how can I expect to invite change if I can’t even visualize what that change looks like?

I have to say, this crisis of imagination has taken me by surprise and is very uncomfortable. When I sit down and exercise my quiet space, when I reach in my mind for what is imaginary and come up empty, I feel like a bird tethered to the earth by a chain that I wrought. I don’t like it. It’s a hollowing blight on the sense of connection I feel when I’m truly centered and connected to everything and everyone that ever was or will be.

So, it’s time for a plan. A little imagination rehabilitation.

My assignment: Imagination Spark Plugs.

When the engine of my imagination is churning more than sparking, it’s time to use fiction to make the connection. So, my mission is to do what I normally work very hard to avoid: putting myself into my writing. This is a writing exercise, not anything that will ever see the light of day (and I’m certainly not going to do any editing). I’m just going to create scenarios about me and the changes I want to see in my life in the hopes that I will one day be able not only to imagine the changes (in my mind) but to see some variation actually appear in my life.

We’ll have to see how that goes, but I have to say I’m a little excited to see what I come up with and I’m a little nervous about writing something without fantasy elements (since me with fairy wings really isn’t helpful for this particular project). :)

Quote for the Day from William Drayton

“Change starts when someone sees the next step.”

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Getting My Possibility Back

Sight is a powerful thing, but like all of our senses, it has its limits. Just because we can see doesn’t mean that we do. And sometimes what we see turns out to be an illusion. Maybe vision is the better word to use in this case, because what I am referring to is not the fact that I can see the letters flitting across the screen, coinciding with the tapping of my fingers. It isn’t the plant (very healthy) draping its leaves over the top of my screen, and it isn’t the picture of a desert flower that my dad took that sits on my desk. Vision is so much more than just what we can see; it’s our way to see what is and also what isn’t, what could be or might be. And in ‘might be' lives all of our possibility.

What I’ve noticed about the low points of life is that they come with diminished vision. Might bes vanish and we’re stuck with what is and what isn’t without any hope of anything different. Recently, the 'what isn’ts' have gotten to me, seeing all around me what I don’t have. This condition doesn’t make for a rosy outlook on life.

But like a break in a stormy, grey sky, vision does clear. I’m not sure at what moment the blue broke through, but on Wednesday of last week, glimmers of might bes came back and all the isn’ts that had gotten to me became part of the landscape of my life not its whole, like points on a Seurat painting without which the stunning picture could never be seen. When vision clears and possibility returns, life becomes glorious again. Gratitude peaks. And our hearts return from their refuge to live in the open once more.


I believe that we all dwell in the low lands sometimes, and I think it’s a necessary part of our journeys, even if just to make us grateful when we’re free. And for writers specifically, every part of our human experience provides keys to access the locks of all story telling.


I guess the moral of this story, if a moral is required, is that the one way back into possibility is to keep moving even when we can’t see what we’re moving toward. And I guess that I believe that that effort is called faith.


Quote for the Day from Marcel Proust


“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Other Sides of Fences

This year has been one of the best of my life. I’ve had months filled with acceptance and joy, and a sense of inner calm that is very new to me. And all this without tangible change in my outer life, just in the inner way I embrace the ups and downs of my journey. There is something special, I think, about the peace we find when we don’t get the things we want. In the past, I’ve struggled with the feeling that I’m running in place, not getting anywhere, especially as regards my goals (including writing). And it was gratitude that led to every good thing in the past year, so it’s a bit ironic that just before Thanksgiving, my gratitude-in-ator has just plain crapped out.

Why? Oh, that would be the envy burning up my insides and stifling all my happy thoughts.


And where does this evil envy spring from? That would be stinking holidays and Norman Rockwell (yeah, I’m blaming Norman Freaking Rockwell).


This season of holidays and cheer always does me in, because I start looking over fences and envying what is on the other side. The big families. Warm holidays with people who love you. Marital bliss and well-behaved children who help do the dishes on Thanksgiving. Families who live close together and never argue. All that warmth and the smell of turkey (which I don’t even eat). I envy what I don’t have and it chokes me. Not everyone lives close to their families. Not everyone can afford (money/time off) to travel for the holidays (and be honest, it’s a terrible time to be traveling). Not everyone has found their person and gotten married, or had perfect children who will make the yams (and I don’t even know what a yam is). The things we don’t have can spoil the things we do. I get that, but every holiday season I get snared by the envy I feel for people who do live close to their families, who are married and happy, who have holiday laughter and wrapped presents under their Christmas trees. And every year, I just root for it to be over so I can get back to appreciating my life without having that life diminished by Hallmark ads.


The other thing my envy does is blot out the fact that I’m not the only one who has a tough time with this season, that perfect families are fictional, that even people who are surrounded by families can feel alone, and that many people become overwhelmed by the energy necessary to make the perfect holiday seasons for their loved ones.


No one’s got perfect and every life has struggles. I get that. I should be grateful that I’m healthy, that my border collie is still alive after his near-death experience this year, and that I do have great friends and family (even far away) who love me.


And I really need to try harder to ignore the other sides of fences and be happy with my own land.


I will try.


Quote for the Day from Rainer Maria Rilke


“Now let us welcome the new year, full of things that have never been...”

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Everywhere I Look

Greetings Cyberworld, I didn’t forget about you (or my trusty blog), but I have been away a while. A family visit, a long vacation, the subsequent game of catching up with life, work, and much laundry fueled my absence, and now that I’ve been away awhile, it feels a little strange to come back. But then I’m in a strange, post-vacation malaise lately that, like the smell of already eaten broccoli, is a little tough to take.

And I’m ready to blame the Internet (for at least a portion of my mood), which is certainly better than blaming other people, dragons, or (heaven forbid) myself. And I’m not really blaming the Internet as a whole, but rather online news sources. You see, while I have been absent from my blog, I couldn’t read other people's blogs because that felt like cheating on my own, so I broke my own rules and read online news.


I used to be all a-flutter with knowing about everything going on in the world, but months ago decided that news just depressed me, made me feel powerless, and overall was a wet rag in the lovely landscape of my life. So, I gave it up. But like addicts, when I wasn’t checking blogs (which I used as my anti-news addiction recovery patch), I went back to the news, thinking it wouldn’t have the same effect on me now. Boy was I wrong. The world is bleak according to the headlines. People do horrible things. Governments do horrible things. Animal shelters do horrible things. People who work in airports do horrible things. Parents do horrible things. Actually, just about every headline is about something bad (oh, except for that royal wedding announcement, which after what happened to Diana I just can’t get too excited about). So, there you have it, the world is rotten.


Except.

That it’s not rotten at all.

I love the world and so many of the people in it. I have friends and acquaintances in many states in the country and not one of them is doing the things on the front page of the newspaper. They all care about people, including friends, family, and even (shocking, I know) strangers. And even though these people are wonderful, marvelous gifts to the world, they spend time worrying that they aren’t giving enough to their families, their children, and their friends. Decency. Compassion. Excellent giggling skills. These are the things that are everywhere I look.


Recently, I took a self-defense class that was offered for free by a local police department (I highly recommend you see if something like that is available in your area) and met another wonderful group of people, from the instructors to the other students. Any time we open our eyes, we see people doing things for each other, without regard for personal gain. How many times have we read drafts of our friends’ works in progress, searching for how we can best facilitate their paths to publication? Staying up late to revise query letters, or just being there to listen to each other when we need it most? We all need pep talks sometimes because this writing path is painfully slow and just plain painful sometimes. It’s hard to believe every day, day after day, that things are going to work out. For that, I value my friends for always listening and providing the rope that keeps me from sinking under.


So, mission statement from today forward: STOP READING THE NEWS!


(Side Note: please e-mail or call if the news reports that I should be fleeing from dragons. :)


Quote for the Day from Anne Frank


“Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!”

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Why Writers Need to Take Lessons from Bull Riders

I might have mentioned once or twice that I love to watch (read that, watch not participate in) bull riding. This whole obsession began with a funny evening, where I said to a friend, “Let’s go do something odd.” Well, the one thing going on in town that night was a rodeo event, so we headed out to a vegan restaurant and then off to the rodeo (just to make things nice and odd). And I got hooked, found Versus network and the PBR... and now, I am completely in love.

My friends still raise one eyebrow (each) at me over this obsession because I do eat mostly vegan, though, clearly, I’m not a vegan since I have a thing for leather shoes (five inch heels and cowgirl boots are nice), sushi, and bull riding. But, fortunately for me, my friends love me anyway.

This past weekend, my love affair entered a new level as I attended my very first PBR event. Bull riding. Live. What could be better? The answer: not much. I loved every minute of it, had a smile plastered all over my face the entire time and for hours after, and couldn’t help but think about what makes me love these daring (maybe crazy) men who get on bulls with the goal of staying on for only eight seconds and then running for their lives.

My thoughts about that might surprise you, and I’ve decided that we writers need to take a few lessons from bull riders.

Bull Riding Lesson 1:

Bull riding isn’t easy. It’s not supposed to be. It is the most dangerous sport in existence (at least that I know of).

Writers Lesson 1:

Writing isn’t easy. It’s not supposed to be. It is one of the most challenging creative pursuits in existence (at least that I know of).

Bull Riding Lesson 2:

You have to go all in. You have to be willing to risk everything to win. There are no half measures when your life is on the line.

Writers Lesson 2:

You have to go all in and risk your heart getting broken when others can’t see what you do: the beauty of your story, the connection your story could make with readers, and the utter uniqueness of all you hope to say. Even with the risks, there are no half measures when your stories are on the line.

Bull Riding Lesson 3:

The ground is very hard and occasionally squishy with bull droppings. Suck it up.

Writers Lesson 3:

The let down is very hard and always squishing with droppings of one sort or another. Suck it up.

Bull Riding Lesson 4:

Sometimes you are just plain going to get kicked in the head and stepped on by a 2,ooo pound animal. Walk it off.

Writers Lesson 4:

Something about the writing journey is always trying to squash you, whether it is your own expectations, doubts, or fears, or the interminably slow (and occasionally cruel) process of getting published. But what are you going to do? Lie down in the mud or walk it off?

Bull Riding Lesson 5:

You’ve got to have a whole lot of faith in yourself and your purpose to be willing to find greatness.

Writers Lesson 5:

Same as Bull Riding Lesson 5.

Anyone who has a dream of doing something amazing has to have faith. Maybe it comes from the religious kind of faith (as it does for many of the cowboys) or maybe it comes from inner faith in self. Either way, you have to believe you can keep riding, not just for the eight seconds but for the rest of your life.

So, Cowgirl Up (or Cowboy Up) and never give up on what you dream, because the world needs a whole bunch more dreaming doers than it needs people who just wallow in the muck.

Quote for the Day from Anonymous

“Life ends when you stop dreaming, hope ends when you stop believing, love ends when you stop caring, friendship ends when you stop sharing...”

So, let’s not stop. :)

Mike Lee (former World Champion... and in the running for this year's title) and me.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Contest #2 Winner!

Congratulations to Heather for winning Contest #2. She will soon be the proud owner of The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Amaranth Enchantment. I wish her happy reading. And thanks to everyone who entered. :)

In a couple weeks, I will be having Contest #3, but for today, I’m signing off a little early. I finished my first draft of a new story and am just too excited to read through it to write a proper blog post.


So, signing off in favor of fiction... be back soon...


Quote for the Day from Ben Jones (one of my favorite bull riders)


After crashing into the ground with enough force that he didn’t move for a little while...


Dr. Tandy - Do you know where you are?


Ben Jones - On the dirt.


Dr. Tandy - Where are you hurt?


Ben Jones - My pride.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Three Words Can Change the World: A Banned-Book Review

“It was a pleasure to burn.”

Although Guy Montag, the main character of
Fahrenheit 451, comes to loathe burning, I can tell you that this book, one of the first banned books I ever read, is truly a pleasure to read. In picking it up to review for... well, this review, I was struck by the beauty in the writing, in the power of the connections between characters. Since there are numerous reviews of this classic book out there, I thought I’d tell you about my connections to this book, to the clarity of purpose I found when, as a much younger person, I first met Clarisse McClellan.

“Her face was slender and milk-white, and in it was a kind of gentle hunger that touched over everything with tireless curiosity.”


Guy Montag, a fireman in the somewhat distant future, whose purpose is to burn outlawed books, has never before met someone like Clarisse, someone who talks and thinks, who questions, who truly lives every moment rather than hiding behind meaningless distractions. He is in awe of her strangeness and moved by her, but never so truly as when she dares to ask him, “Are you happy?”


Three small words that change Montag’s future in both wonderful and horrible ways, for what could be worse than seeing the hollowness in a broken reality? And yet, without seeing the broken, how could Montag wake up, how could any of us wake up?


The power in this banned book is so clear, when looking around at our world, at the ways we don’t prioritize with any good sense. The ways we allow toys and distractions to keep us from conversations and awareness. If people were to answer honestly the question, “Are you happy?” I’d bet they’d answer, “I am busy.” Three small words that prove a lifetime of running from place to place, missing so much while the sand pools beneath the glass.


Do you breathe? Do you rest? Do you see? Do you smile? Do you read? Are you awake? Are you alive? Do you regret? Are you honest? Do you wonder? Will you try?


Are
you happy?

Clarisse is the catalyst for great change, for characters and the humans who love them. Read
Fahrenheit 451, the banned book that changed my life. Maybe it can change yours, too.

Be sure to check out the other blogs reviewing banned books. The master list is at Tehereh Mafi's blog. :)

Quote for the Day from
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

“What do you do, go around trying everything once?” he asked.


“Sometimes twice.”

Monday, September 27, 2010

Contest #1 Winner and Contest #2 Announcement

Congratulations to Carolina Valdez Miller, the winner of my first ever contest. She will soon be receiving the first three books in Alyson Noel’s Immortals Series. I wish her very happy reading.

But the contests aren’t over. Contest #2 starts now and ends at midnight on Sunday, October 3rd. The lucky winner will receive two very different books (both YA... go figure).


For a book you won’t be able to put down, I submit The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, and for a very sweet and imaginative book that will help you recover from the emotional exhaustion of your harrowing journey in the forest (yeah, there’s zombies in there), I submit The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry. How about that. :)

Same rules apply for this contest and include:


1 entry for commenting on this post
+2 for becoming a follower (+3 if you are already a follower)
+2 for tweeting about this contest
+2 for posting or linking to this contest on your blog/website/Facebook

Entries close at midnight Sunday, and I’ll randomly choose the winner. I’ll post the winner on Monday, October 4th, and email for the address. The contest is open to bloggers in the United States and Canada.

And check back on Thursday. I’m participating in the Banned Book Week Blogging Event by reviewing my favorite banned book. If you want to participate, get on over to
Tahereh Mafi’s blog and sign up on the master list. Gotta show those banned books some love this week (and every other week, if you ask me).

Quote for the Day from Groucho Marx

“I find television to be very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go in the other room and read a book.”

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Great Blogging Experiment: Writing Compelling Characters

This event was just too tempting to resist. So, my strategy for writing compelling characters goes like this: Go All In. Go to the depths of your characters, seek out what they are hiding from you, the truths that excite their senses, the things they wish they had enough dare to achieve. My characters always surprise me with the simple moments, the ones where their cores are laid bare, and it is in those moments where they compel the heck out of me; that’s where the chance lives for them to connect with others.

Don’t miss out on my book giveaway below, or here.

Check out all the other participants in the The Great Blogging Experiment here.

Quote for the Day from Maria Robinson

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Isn't it about Time for a Contest?

My trusty blog is nearing its year anniversary, and I thought that we’d commemorate that momentous occasion by sharing some treasures, namely books. I’ve never had a contest/book giveaway, so this is very exciting... but I’m sure you’d love it if I cut to the chase and tell you what there is to win.

For this week, to one lucky winner, I’m giving away the first three books in Alyson Noel’s Immortals Series: Evermore, Shadowland, and Blue Moon. How’s that for a big score? And what could be better since the fourth book, Dark Flame, is in bookstores now? And Ms. Noel still wins for having the best main character name: Ever.


So, to enter this contest, here’s the specs:


1 entry for commenting on this post
+2 for becoming a follower (+3 if you are already a follower)
+2 for tweeting about this contest
+2 for posting or linking to this contest on your blog/website/Facebook


Entries close at midnight Sunday, and I’ll randomly choose the winner. I’ll post the winner on Monday, September 27, and email for the address. The contest is open to bloggers in the United States and Canada.


Check back soon, because in the coming weeks, I’ll be giving away other books, including a copy of Paranormalcy and The Forest of Hands and Teeth. :)


Quote for the Day from Anna Quindlen


“I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.”

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Hope Patrol

That’s Hope Patrol, not Snow Patrol, but I understand why it might be fun to think of them too, and, honestly, I’d love it if Chasing Cars were the soundtrack to this little post. Anyway, it’s time to talk about my dream for the world. That’s right—I have a dream. And it is the creation of the Hope Patrol.

You see, I believe that in all the media flying at us, there is an absence of (you guessed it) hope. Nope, you won’t find it on the news or during cop shows or most reality TV, not in the lives of most celebrities, and lately not in books either. I’m seeing a trend toward the hopeless and I find it... well, rather discouraging (go figure).


And why is hope so important? Mostly because without it, life feels a bit hopeless. In a nation where “The number of Americans using antidepressants doubled in only a decade...” according to this
article, we really need to take a long, hard look at what we’re feeding out minds.

Now, I’m certainly not saying that we need a Hope Censorship program to root out all the hopeless in our midst, but I do believe we need to be aware of what we support and that our support does lead to programming and publishing decisions.


Recently, while reading a book from the hopeless section, I actually had the thought that, inside the world of the story, the annihilation of the human race appeared to be a good thing, because there was nothing good or worthy worth saving. That is NOT my belief about the world at all. I’m all happy and shiny and think people are fabulous (not all of them, but the significant majority), and in reading this book and another I read recently, I just have to wonder what the authors hope (that word seems wrong here) the readers take away from their work. Maybe they don’t care, but I really think they do. In creating hopelessness to share with others, are they serving their purpose? Does it make them happy to depress people? Now, don’t misunderstand; I’m as guilty as the next writer in having written some very sad stuff (friends still haven’t forgiven me), but what I’m talking about is not sadness or the realities of how hard human existence can be. I’m not saying we can’t write about the way life is or that we should shine it up into a fake sugar sweetness, but stories without hope, without any light, I just don’t get what good they serve.


The truth is I read a lot, and I really do wish there could be a Hope Patrol rating on books to save me from getting mired in hopeless fiction. It might seem silly to worry about such things, but in transitioning into a truly happy content person who is filled with acceptance for the world, I’ve found the need to eliminate the ugliness (where possible).


A friend of mine once took a positive thinking course, and the first guidance was to quit watching the news and quit feeding on the fear messages they dole out from their soft-serve machine of negativity (uh oh, now I’m thinking about soft-serve... yikes, but it’s a totally hopeful, happy thought all the same).


I’ve done that. No news for me (which is completely against what I’ve always believed). Television is another source of consistent negativity and hopelessness (after all, every episode seems to begin with someone being murdered or all the other ugliness inherent in man's inhumanity to man), and that had to go. The weird thing is that as soon as I quit watching television (fiction shows, not bull riding), the body image issues I’ve dealt with all my life faded and I suddenly could accept myself for exactly what I look like without any lingering self-loathing. Total score. Life changing.


And now, I’m doing the same thing with what I read, because I’m all about hope for all of us. For our planet. For all the people who live here. We are all connected, and it’s time we wake up and see that.


So, if you’d like to help out with the Hope Patrol, you can do the following things: a) write exquisite books with a heaping dose of hope inside (that I hereby promise to buy); b) let me know your favorite books that contain hope so that I don’t have to muck around in unnecessary hopelessness; and c) buy more balloons with unicorns on them so that when I see you carrying them, I’ll smile in hopeful glee.


Quote for the Day from a French Proverb


“Hope is the dream of a soul awake.”

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Accepting When Bad Things Come Calling

The past week or so has been a rough patch. And even though the outcome is mostly positive (at least in the short term), I’m still reeling a bit, figuring out, healing up, and considering the meaning of everything. Mostly, I’m still thinking about how powerful acceptance really is. Because it’s much more simple to find acceptance when things are just ducky. The un-ducky times are more of a challenge.

Our story begins a week ago Sunday. It was a mostly relaxing day and I was catching up with some correspondence with an old friend. In talking about old times and the stuff from in between, we shared stories of our losses. And we talked about our pets. I am blessed with a border collie/Samoyed mix who is the light of my world. While I was writing about him, he lay underneath my curtains, with his head mostly hidden except his eyes were always on me. Border collies are like that: attentive, aware, insightful. There has never been a time when I was sad, whether I showed any signs of emotion or not, when my Darby hasn’t been right there, trying to make everything better.


By the way, he hates my first book, because a sad event in the book always makes me cry. Every time. Reading it. Editing it. Thinking about it. Sobfest. Decidedly not border collie approved.


So, I was writing about Darby and the fact that he’s getting older, an event that is decidedly not
me approved. And in that moment, I knew something was wrong with Darby. Tears fluttered out, and then Darby knew there was something wrong with me. The rest of the day, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that something bad was coming. On Monday morning, I scheduled an appointment with my vet for that evening and I went there knowing I might be insane, but I wanted Darby checked out. His heart sounded good. Temp was fine. Lungs sounded great. They couldn’t find anything wrong. He’d had a cough a few weeks before that had been treated and had only coughed once or twice since, so maybe it was allergies. Nothing really wrong.


I admitted that I’d been putting off his dental visit because I was worried about him being anesthetized. The vet suggested we get that done and he would check for anything that might be wrong with Darby’s throat that might have caused the coughing. Okay. Blood work performed. Appointment set. And then the vet came back in wanting to take an x-ray, just to be sure that nothing was wrong before putting him under. I approved. Darby disappeared into the back, and a few minutes later, the vet returned wanting to take more films because it wasn’t looking good.


I didn’t panic, because I knew... I just didn’t know the specs of the badness.


I heard the vet clearing out all extraneous employees from the back, leaving only himself and a couple vet students, and Darby. They invited me back to look at x-rays that showed a very large mass in Darby’s right lung lobe. I love words, but I don’t remember many that were said, but I do remember Darby, right up in my space, his head forcing my hand to pet him, keeping me focused.


I had options, surgery amongst them. I do remember the vet complimenting me for bringing Darby in when he was alert, active, and symptom free. For that, I thank intuition.


The week that followed is a bit of a blur, but acceptance was the spice of every day. I couldn’t whine about this. I couldn’t rage against the world. Because that would negate the beauty, the absolute gift that Darby is in my life. For all the time I’ve been alone, I never really have been because Darby has always been with me. Acceptance, even of the bad things, is the only way to be truly grateful for what has been. And I can only feel gratitude every time I look at my pup.


Acceptance doesn’t mean there wasn’t sadness, but I really tried to keep the crying to a minimum, which meant only talking about all of this with a few people, and only when Darby was outside. I didn’t want him to think anything was wrong. He had a job to do, and border collies always do their best. And I had a job to do, give him every fighting chance of pulling through, with the best vets and a border collie approved positive attitude.


So, a week later on Wednesday, surgery happened. But not until I’d played with him, taken him to his favorite park, taken pictures of him and some video (in which his sister, a not terribly bright Ridgeback, showed off her inability to play ball, something that vexes Darby greatly), and hugged him and thanked him for every good day. Watching him walk out of my reach and into the back of the vet hospital, knowing there was a chance I wouldn’t see him again, was a struggle, but I did it... and then I cried and went to work.


Wednesday was the longest day of my life. All day, I thought about people who are parents whose children get sick. I can’t imagine what that is like. I love my dog, but I never expected him to go away to college, find a nice girl, settle down, and have a long life. I always knew the realities of puppy life spans. That doesn’t diminish the love, because love is love, but the expectations are so very different. The hurting and the loss are so much greater when children are involved. I still can’t even imagine what an old friend of mine is going through, having lost her twenty-two year-old son. The day, in some ways, was a lesson in compassion, with more than a tinge of empathy.


It was also a day of feeling very alone. I got tripped up on some expectations (I know, I rail against them constantly but still fall prey). I expected the friends I’d told about the surgery to do something, say something, text, email, something, just so I’d know they were with me in this fight, that I wasn’t alone. And other than one friend’s text, there was only silence from the other three. Nothing... from some of the people closest to me in my life, two of whom had known Darby as long as I had. Expectations are things to be fought. I know life is busy. I know people don’t always know what to say and when to say it. It took me over three months to find the words to say to my old friend who lost her son, and I felt like a coward for that fact. And one day doesn’t diminish the extreme value of these friendships. I will accept them for who they are and what they have to give, but in being honest about the day, I needed to admit that silence wasn’t easy company.


And then the call came in: the tumor was too large to get out laparoscopically, and they were going to need to go in through his ribs. I’d get a call in fifteen or twenty minutes. An hour and a half of stomach-clenching lock down followed. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I’d accepted that I might not see him again, but the not knowing was agony.


Another call: he was awake and raising his head, but everything sounded wrong. His stats had gone all wonky under anesthesia and they’d almost lost him. His temperature was too low. He’d lost blood. And a bunch of other things leading to the words: critical condition. I was supposed to be there in an hour and a half to see him, and I wondered if he’d still be there when I got there. Driving to the clinic felt like one of those movies where they need to cut the blue wire before the seconds wind down and everybody dies.


The vet talked to me, but his words faded after he said that Darby was doing well. After asking me if I was the squeamish type, the vet excitedly showed me his big score: the tumor. I’m not the squeamish type and found the
show and tell to be pretty fascinating, as were the before and after x-rays. Now you see a tumor; now you don’t.


The vet said that Darby didn’t know I was there. Darby’s whining proved otherwise. The vet clinic staff had put a chair next to Darby’s recovery cage, but I shoved that out of the way and asked if I could just get on the floor. Darby was so excited to see me, his tail went slightly drugged-out crazy and he tried to stand, which I quickly advised against. Getting to rub his ears (my absolute favorite of his many charming attributes) was one of the best moments of my life. I knew we had a long way to go, but I accepted that and just lived in the glory of this good outcome.


Now, he’s home, wrapped up in bandages, still waging his tail every time I talk to him. He waits for me to carry him down the stairs, eats a little when I ask him to, and rests a lot (a very un-border collie thing to do). We go today to get his bandages changed.


I still don’t know what the lab work will say about the tumor and what the months ahead look like, or how many more days I get with my Darby, but I’m grateful to get to rub his ears as much as I like today. I’m grateful that my parents helped out with some of the vet bills (I did mention to the office staff at the vet clinic that I was going to have to tattoo my parents' names on Darby’s behind, like the sponsors on a car in NASCAR). And I'm grateful that a week after discovery, a team of seven trained professionals worked hard to keep Darby alive and make him tumor free (what human patient could ever dream of such a quick turnaround within our medical system?).


And more than anything else, I’m glad I was able to keep the sense of acceptance, even when the bad things came. Life is a beautiful thing, and hardships inspire gratitude and appreciation for all that
is, even when the is nots lurk nearby. A battle or a blessing, life is the thing we all share, and thanks for letting me share this story.


Quote for the Day from me and my vet


Me: “There’s my gladiator puppy.”


Vet: “Yes, he is a gladiator.”

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Acceptance

After a weekend spent with a dear friend whom I’d lost contact with for more than a decade, the concept of change has been playing around in my mind. And maybe change is the wrong word; maybe evolution would be better. Either way, as years pass and events affect us, we do change, hopefully (though not always) for the better.

When I last saw my friend, I was living in the “stuck” years. And in our conversations, it was difficult to even wrap my brain around how that felt, how I’d come to be so stuck, and why getting unstuck seemed so insurmountable. To be stuck seems like a lifetime from the fluid and free I feel now. But the freedom of now took a very long time to get here, over many tiny changes and different paths. And honestly, I had to endure some of the darkest days to find the place I now inhabit.


Reminiscing weekends can be many things, depending on whether the glory days are behind or in front of us. What I found is that the glory days aren’t behind or in front, or they are behind and in front, because every time in life has something to glory about, even if it was so treacherous as to fuel needed change. The power to get unstuck seems to be easier from a truly yucky point than from a
less than stellar, but not truly great spot. For me, right now, the glory days are every day that I write, every day I serve my purpose, every day I take care of my body, relax, listen, learn.


Over and over in my conversations with my friend, I found writing as the source for the positive changes in my life. The highway marker where perceptions shifted. Where unhealthy friendships ended. Where fights occurred to re-establish boundaries. Where, after many years in absence, self-love happened. All of these changes led to the one major event that has happened just lately, the state of acceptance.


There is such peace in acceptance. So much so that I am in awe of it. It doesn’t mean that life becomes easy, because there are some events in my life right now that are very hard, but acceptance helps to put things in perspective, to be grateful for all the things that are easily forgotten, and to truly take the bad with the good. And a side effect of true acceptance of self is the sudden and seemingly inexplicable acceptance of everybody else (which honestly just feels weird). Really, not getting irritated with other people and accepting them for where they are at feels stranger than waving fingers around in traffic. But it just happened.


However, for as much as I love this acceptance of all things, I know from all that I’ve learned that this, like every other evolutionary stage in our development, is not a fixed point. There will be days of greater or lesser acceptance, days when sniping at the lady with the cart full of food that she wants rung up separately will be necessary for balancing the cosmic scales. There will be days when gratitude goes on the fritz, and acceptance of the difficult and painful events in life will be hard to come by. But even with the wavering nature of the human experience, I’m grateful for the glory of today.


Quote for the Day from “Turn, Turn, Turn” by the Byrds


“To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)

There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven”

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Three Entries for Kiersten White's Paranormalcy Contest

For those of you who haven't heard, and if you haven't then please let me share, that the lovely Kiersten White's first YA novel Paranormalcy came out on Tuesday. That's right, it's in the world. The real question is: is it in your house? If not, a disturbance in the Force is likely. Protect yourself and your loved ones; go get Paranormalcy at all possible speed (but don't actually speed, cause that's dangerous).

Kiersten's having a little contest over at her blog, and I don't normally get into contests (chronically the anti-lucky), but this one was too zany to ignore. Also, Kiersten's warmth and fun, even in the midst of the struggles of life and the publishing industry, just make her the kind of person it's fun to root for. And boy have I been rooting! Friends are being given demerits for slow book procurement (and I'm pretty handy with the guilt too). Oh, and I've been accused of being sadistic as well because when one friend didn't get herself to the store, I told her I'd kill off her favorite character in one of my books. So, maybe I have power issues too, but ah well, the world of blogging has created some amazing friendships for me and in the case of Kiersten, some powerful loyalty and admiration! :)

Okay, the contest: show Paranormalcy out in the world doing new things.

Well, here you go.

Entry One: Paranormalcy Fighting the Good Fight... Against Evil Dentists (okay, my dentist is much too sweet to be evil... but really, look at the size of that needle!)

As much as Paranormalcy tried to stop the impending pain and agony, we eventually did rally our courage and allow dentistry to happen. But Paranormalcy was really with me in my hour of need, and I'll never forget that. (I'll never quit you, Paranormalcy!) :)

Something to understand before scrolling down:

Discerning Border Collies Choose Paranormalcy.

Just look...

Entry Two: (and yes, Darby forced me to buy him a copy so that we wouldn't have to share. He still says he's giving it to his girlfriend, even though I keep telling him that she's not a border collie and consequently can't read. He answered that she's a hot momma and he can read it to her... slowly, while she whispers adoring little things in his ears).

Darby and Paranormalcy are checking out the Bookshelf of Honor for Paranormalcy's new home. Hmm... next to Twilight? The Summoning? City of Bones? Ohhhh... there's Shiver... maybe there...

Entry Three: During a recent video chatting session, Darby told my mother's border collie, Jennie Mae Little Bit, how amazing Paranormalcy is, and she had to get in on the action. Read her review below.

"Next to herding sheep (which is the definition of all that is good and worthy in the world), Paranormalcy rocks... like two border collies taking on a pack of wolves while herding a bunch of brainless sheep. Really rocks, like the laser pointer or the sprinkler... or even herding flies. And don't get me started on agility class. I'm telling all you border collies out there, get with the program. Paranormalcy will change your life. Oh, bleep, it's time for me to help old ladies cross the street and tutor honor students... and maybe remind my mom that it's time for my belly rub and a few extra kibbles... gotta go."

Well, there you have it.

Quote for the Day from Jennie Mae Little Bit

"
Paranormalcy will change your life." Enough said. :)




Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Expectations Just Can’t Catch a Break

So after writing my expectations post last week, I had the opportunity to talk to two different young women, both of whom I’ve known since my teaching days. In talking to both of them, I saw shades of my former battles, which directed me to another attack I need to make on expectations. Both of these young women inspire me. They are driven to challenge themselves to always be more, think more, do more, and affect the world in positive ways. Both of them are beautiful, inside and out. Talented. Courageous. Intelligent. Quirky. They are exactly the kinds of people I feel fortunate to know. And both them, these wonderful human beings, are struggling with making their ways under the weights of other people’s expectations. I hate this for them, but certainly remember it for myself.

I was almost incapacitated at their ages by the struggle of living up to everyone’s expectations for me, or worse, my assumptions of other people’s expectations. That dark fiction robs the inner self of its ability to go after what it wants, because that desire might run counter to all the “theys” and what “they” want.

I’ve seen this struggle by young people before. Middle school, which I adored teaching, is the very beginning of self expression, of testing out different friends and looks, wearing a bunch of different hats in order to see which one fits. It also is a very challenging time for parents, which I understand, but since I don’t have kids of my own, I still see the experience more through the eyes of the young people. And I see just how necessary it is for them. People who are denied the chance to find their own right path can end up living lives that will never make them happy, because they are not the lives the young people would have ever chosen.

I’m certainly not saying that young people should be given free rein, because that would be reckless, but I am saying it is important to allow every person the chance to find out who they are, separate from their families, religions, cultures, etc. And I’m sure it is a difficult thing for parents to give: love without demanding the surrender of control. But I do believe it is something that should be considered.

I guess the same may be said for relationships. I’ve been in them and been out of them, sometimes only to discover that the “me” I was in the relationship was a stranger, the amalgamation of my expectation of who I should be and their assumed expectations of who I should be. They never had the chance to know the real me. And that is kind of sad, but makes me grateful that through my writing, I’ve finally met the authentic me... and really like her.

Now as far as expectations go, living up to anyone else’s is a recipe for losing grasp of what is personally important. Losing faith in one’s self because no time has been invested in self, as opposed to the mystery of living up to what everyone else wants. When are young people taught that it is okay to listen to their own voices, follow their own paths, and live their authentic lives? Even when parents try to impart these lessons, we are programmed to fit into our herd and not step too far out of well-worn ground.

The trouble comes, as in my two young friends, when people are simply too amazing to fit within the narrow parameters of well-worn anything. They are daring, and they are doers. And to get to their best lives, they are going to have to find the confidence in themselves, the belief that they are worthy and right just the way they are, and they are going to have to allow themselves to shine, regardless of the forces that attempt to dull their spark.

I don’t have a magic pill for them (nor would I give it if I did) to get them to see their own limitless worths, but I hope I give them the things I do have to share: my complete belief in them and my never-ending support of anything they set out to do.

Ladies, thank you for inspiring me.

Quote for the Day from Anais Nin

“There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Expectation: In Life and Writing

“When I grow up I’m going to be a...”

What? Astronaut? Ballerina? Rock Star? I had so many answers to that one statement. Of course, writer was the most common answer, but as a linear person, it was always easier to chart other courses. Do this, then this, equals success. Recently, I had a conversation with a lovely friend of mine who is doing her residency to become an orthopedic surgeon. I marvel at her dedication and ability to work insane amounts of hours, but, when we were talking, we realized that in some ways she is lucky to be on her linear path. I work almost as many hours as she does (between the day job and my writing), and she has the certainty that if she keeps working hard, she’ll get to her goal. For me, there are no guarantees that all that work and effort will get me to my goal. That has been one of the biggest struggles for me, being linear with a fictional goal, but like so many things in life, I think I needed something to put me off the expected.

I’ve always been a little too enamored with expectations, blueprints, timelines, and everything seemingly controllable. But the truth is, nothing about life is controllable and even those who seem to have it all together can watch it fall apart through no fault of their own. Best laid plans get rocked by life. It’s impossible to look at the world and not see this, and yet, I’ve held onto expectations of what life is supposed to be like. And I can tell you, from my own experience, that that is the quickest way to suck the joy out of life and is a recipe for a future of murky wallowing.

Some of the things I always thought would happen in my life haven’t. And these are the hardest things for me to share publicly, but for whatever reason, I think I should. Ever since I was a teenager, I expected to find that perfect person and get married (for a while there, I even expected to marry John Taylor of Duran Duran... funny how that didn’t work out). But that expectation hasn’t happened and the expectation itself poisoned a great many moments of my life. I felt for a long time that I had been denied something, left out, left behind, not picked in the great dodgeball game of life.

Now, I see something different. The expectation itself is the problem, the thinking that things are supposed to work a certain way and if they don’t, life is deemed cruel and whining ensues. And instead of taking the time to be grateful for the life we have, we throw out our gifts because they simply can’t measure up to our expectations.

It is true that I have never found the love I dreamed of, but I am so happy to be alive every day. This is what renouncing expectations and ending the feeling of entitlement have done for me. I am healthy, energetic, a dreamer, a writer, and have had the good fortune to be surrounded by an excellent family and absolutely wonderful friends. Life isn’t about what we don’t have, but what we do have and how we share the gifts we have been given.

I believe that expectation and entitlement in publishing goals can be just as toxic as in relationship goals. The ultimate question is: why we write? Is it for the glory and the fame or is it because we can’t imagine not letting loose the words lining up in our minds and hearts?

If expectations aren’t reined in, where do they end? It’s not like the relationship expectations end after finding someone? How do we expect to be treated? Do we communicate our expectations or simply judge the other person for failing to meet them? Do we have entirely unrealistic expectations about what marriage means? Do we expect marriages to be like the movies and when they aren’t, do we walk away from the people we promised to love all our lives? Do we expect for another human being to be responsible for all of our happiness in life? And while we’re busy expecting in our direction, do we do and give enough to our partner, who might be filled with as many unrealistic expectations as we have?

And in publishing, what is the expectation for success? How much do we expect from agents and editors? And our future readers? And our next books? Do we expect to be the next Stephenie Meyer or J.K. Rowling, and if we don’t reach that goal, are we failing? Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind. Can you imagine if she felt like a failure for not publishing another book? Are we going to allow expectations (mostly unrealized... because they are impossible) to taint all the steps of our journeys?

I’m here to say that it is possible, because I know how many moments I spent feeling let down by a life that has given me so much. I don’t want to be that person anymore, and I certainly don’t want to be that kind of writer.

Quote for the Day from Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Rhett:

“There's one thing I do know... and that is that I love you, Scarlett. In spite of you and me and the whole silly world going to pieces around us, I love you. Because we're alike. Bad lots, both of us. Selfish and shrewd. But able to look things in the eyes as we call them by their right names.”