The Muse on Vacation

this is a photo of the oregon coast. it is not a photo of my novel.

I am currently on vacation. That’s right, this blog post is comin’ atcha straight from the SB – more popularly known as Sunset Beach, California.

I am having a great time on vacation. And when I get back, I’ll write up another blog post that will tell you all about it. It will undoubtedly be a fantastically interesting rundown on all the coffee I have consumed, and all the old friends I’ve caught up with. This post, however, is a quick shoutout to my Muse, whom I was smart enough to bring on vacation with me. It has come in very handy, since part of my objective for this trip was to work on a novel.

If you plan on writing a novel, might I suggest you  have your muse handy, too.

The first leg of my trip took me to Portland, Oregon, where I was in full-on tourist mode, so I didn’t have time to do any writing other than short journal entries on my phone. From Portland, I flew to Los Angeles, where I hung out with my dad for a few days. That was full-on family mode. It was good to see my Dad, his wife, and my step-sister Tanya and her insanely energetic toddler (she tried to tell me “he’s usually not like this” but we all know that toddlers are ALWAYS like that and she wasn’t fooling anyone). So I didn’t have time to do any writing there, either. And after attending a gentle yoga class with my Dad at the Y (during which I almost fell asleep three times – I think it was a little too gentle for me), I rolled on out of there in my free-to-me 2000 Ford Focus station wagon pimp-mobile and headed for the beach. Where I have done hardly anything except write.

I think the Muse likes the beach a lot. After three days of eating, sleeping, and more eating, watching “Bosch” on Amazon Video, and a little writing, I am now almost 9,000 words into this novel thing. My goal for the project is 70,000 words, which I probably won’t finish by next Tuesday – but I will have gotten a pretty good start on it by the time I leave this little slice of heaven and head back to my Dad’s (which is not a little slice of heaven but more like a little slice of vegan black-bean chocolate coffee cake) and then back to Tulsa (which is a slice of WTF am I doing here).

They say you are either a “planner” or a “pantser” when it comes to novel writing. A “planner” plans the whole damn thing out before starting – character sketches, chapter outline, research notes, marketing plan, Oscar speech for best screenplay, etc). While a “pantser” flies by the seat of their pants and makes everything up as they go along. I guess I’m somewhere in between because I have a half-assed plot outline and some almost-done character sketches. And one photo of Titus Welliver. Then I was like, “this planning stuff is BORING” and I just started writing.

I wonder how people actually get entire novels written. I wonder how they get agents. I also wonder how they can have faith that when they are done writing their novel, when they are done spending ALL THAT TIME creating their masterpiece, they don’t just end up with a big pile of word poop instead of a bestseller.

Some people do in fact end up with a big pile of word poop instead of a novel. I have read a few of those. But many people end up with a coherent, clever, emotionally-inspiring, thought-provoking story. Me? I am not so sure yet. My novel might be word poop.

But if I work really hard, and finish this thing, and it ends up with what seems to me to be a coherent plot, compelling characters and good dialogue… well, it will be word poop that I can be proud of. It will be my creation, my labor of love. It will be my very own story.

We all have a story to tell. Isn’t that great? We can tell it exactly how we want to, every time. And we can give it whatever happy, romantic, schlocky, feel-good, closure-inducing,  Emmy-award winning, Hallmark Channel ending we want. And that is the important part – the realization that we create our own story, and then the realization of that story.

A book deal would be pretty freakin’ great though.

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The Yoga of Experience – I Just Lost My Good Excuse

I often come up with snippets of ideas for stories. I’m not exactly sure how to categorize these stories though. I guess they are children’s stories? I mean, the protagonists are often mice or cats or other small furry creatures (with the occasional bird or turtle thrown in the mix). The plots are fairly straightforward. So maybe the best way to describe them might be “stories for children of all ages.” Yes, that sounds about right.

Usually, these stories write themselves. I start out with a little bit of an idea, and I sit down and write. And the story writes itself. When this happens, I know I’m onto something – that the story comes from somewhere else besides my brain. They are mine, but it’s like I’ve “written” them somewhere else and it’s just a matter of tuning in and downloading them through my fingertips and into my computer.

When a story is jagged or somehow irking me as I write it, or if I feel frustrated, I know that its time hasn’t quite come yet. I back off, leave it alone and try again another day until it’s ready to show up. It’s a really satisfying process. Sometimes when I go back and read the finished product, I’m surprised. In a good way.

Many times after I’ve written a story, I think, oh now this needs some illustrations! Yes, wouldn’t this be so much cuter or more fun or whatever if there were some cute little sketches that accompanied this story!

A few times I’ve tried to illustrate my own story (in 2014 and 2015 I released Christmas books that were stories accompanied by little sketches I drew), but usually when I try to do something “artsy” I get really frustrated and everything comes out looking like a potato with a bad hairpiece. It doesn’t work. Maybe I’m too critical of my own art. But whatever. I CAN’T DO IT. Nor do I want to, because it’s not my thing.

But I so often wish I had illustrations to go with my supacute stories. So a few times I’ve asked friends who are amazing artists (because I know a lot of them!) if they would be interested in illustrating one of my stories, they are all very nice and usually say yes. Hooray! Except.

Except they are very busy people and don’t have time to work on a small project like mine.

I don’t blame them at all! I get it. I really do. But I am still sad because my stories go un-illustrated. They are naked little stories.

After a while, I started saying this to myself: “I can’t find an illustrator to make my stories come to life so why bother writing any?”

And so I stopped writing stories. No more tales (or tails?) of below average intelligence partridges. No more spinning yarns about birds who teach their friends to knit. No more nail-biters about worms who save fancy dinner parties from being overrun by ants.

Until now.

As I grow up, grow older, and grow wiser, it finally hit me today. Screw the illustrations!

If I wait till everything has a drawing to go with it, I’ll be waiting a long time. I would rather share these stories without illustrations than to have them just sit as a bunch of 0s and 1s on Google Drive. I would like you to read them. And hopefully enjoy them.

You’d think I would have realized this before today. But I am a slow learner. A late bloomer. A conformist, apparently. OH GOD NO! NOT THAT!

Well, better late than never. It’s time to get them out into the world.

So I’ve started going back through some things that I’ve written. Some are finished, some are not. But I’m getting back to them – and there are more coming. About a cat with special sleuthing powers who travels all over the world flying his own plane. And another cat who lives on a farm on the Russian Steppes. And a bird who can’t decide what book to read next.

You’ll be able to draw your own illustrations to go with them.

This is an illustration by my amazing uncle, Jan Zaremba, which he did for my story “The Thunderstorm.” We published it in 2014 and it’s available here.

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The Yoga of Experience: Tell a Good Story.

I have been kind of upset with myself lately, because I haven’t written anything in so long. I mean, the last time I posted here, it was Thanksgiving time. It’s now February. Donald Trump actually became POTUS despite my incredulity of the event.  The birds are telling me that spring is around the corner.

In December, I started to get concerned that I couldn’t think of anything to write about. No stories were coming. Then my new business, SisterMade Essentials, took off and I didn’t have time to write. I certainly wasn’t complaining! Oh well then I got the flu, I can complain about that a little. It sucked. Sometimes I am so bad at listening to my body telling me to SLOW DOWN that it takes drastic measures and makes me slow down. So, I slowed down. A little.

In January, SisterMade quieted down, and I took a little time to enjoy that. But then yoga picked up. Did you make a New Year’s Resolution? It turns out that lots of people made yoga their New Year’s Resolution. Class sizes increased, things got a little busier. I taught a 3-week beginners series, that sold out, and launched a whole new class of fledgling yogis out into the world. Boom.

So then February showed up. And I began to earnestly lament the fact that I haven’t written anything in so long. Do I really have no more stories to tell? Are all the thoughts I’m having not worth writing down? And the longer it became since I wrote something, the more I felt I needed to come up with something REALLY SPECTACULAR. A person can wait a really long time for that to happen…

Then, this morning, I had a thought while meditating. OK so maybe you’re not supposed to have any thoughts while you’re meditating but sorry, my brain doesn’t work that way. I was thinking about how I had just made bread, and the dough was rising, and how the timer would go off soon and it would be time to turn the dough out and put it in some loaf pans. Not very spiritual, I know. But then I realized something. The bread I was baking, was a story. It has a beginning, a middle, hopefully not too many plot twists, but with a definite denoument, and perhaps even a deus ex machnina. The ending is pretty good, leaving you satisfied yet wanting more. When’s the sequel coming out!?

When I make SisterMade BeeBalm, I am telling a story too. I put the ingredients together, I am thinking thoughts that go into the pot with the ingredients, I am pouring my love and attention into it as I pour the heated liquid into the tins. I print and cut labels, put them on the tins, and think nice thoughts as I place items in mailing envelopes to send them off to their new home. Each item then begins its own new story, in its new home.

sistermade essentials

And every single yoga class I teach tells a story. From the moment a class starts, all the way through to “Namaste” at the end, I have the privilege of taking students on a special journey, just for them. Each time, we create a story about movement, breath, love, acceptance, meeting challenges, creating community, and rediscovery. I get to tell that story almost every day.

Sure, I’d love to be widely recognized someday for my stories. But in the meantime, realizing that I’m constantly telling them, even if I’m not writing them down, is enough. It’s satisfying and makes my heart happy.

So many stories get told by us all, every day. Each one is special, unique, sacred.

Tell a good story.

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The Yoga of Experience – The Stories We Tell

process

Proper alignment is key

What I learned in school

They told us it would happen. They told us we would notice it wherever we went, whoever we looked at, whatever we were doing.
They were right.
When I went through training to be an RYT™200 yoga instructor, we studied a lot of anatomy. We studied how different parts of the body move, and we studied the proper ways to move the different parts of the body. We focused on alignment in yoga postures, and more importantly, how the body takes up space in the world. We read from books, we listened to lectures, and we also practiced a whole lot of yoga. We practiced, and practiced, and practiced some more, and we became aware of our own bodies in ways we never had before. Because in order to teach the subtleties of movement to someone else, we first had to understand them in our own bodies.

Our instructor told us, with a smile on her face and lightness in her voice, that we would start noticing people’s alignment and posture and areas of tension – while at the grocery store, in a restaurant, at the beach – everywhere. She told us that the more we understood about the body, the more we would start seeing the bodies around us differently; that it would just happen. She was right.

Now I see misalignment, or asymmetry, or the results of long-ago injuries that went unattended far too long. Often times, people don’t even seem to notice these things about themselves.

Being an extreme introvert, I often find interactions with people I don’t know very well to be tiring, due to all the small talk involved, or the generalness of the conversation topics. I am uncomfortable and always feel like I need to fill the silences. As part of my own growth, I’m wanting to change this, and be more accepting of others…and the silences. I’ve found a great way to conserve energy when meeting new people – I just let them talk. Which means I do more listening.

What am I hearing?

I hear lots of stories. Stories of victimization, stories of self-proclaimed ineptitude, stories of perceived unworthiness and stories of fear disguised as laziness. Just as people often walk around with parts of their bodies misaligned, so they also walk around telling negative stories about themselves. I’m sure people have always been telling stories like this – and I know I have, too. But as I become more aware of my own thoughts and learn to be more present not only to my body but also my mind (and not to get to Oprah-y, but also my spirit), I become more aware of what’s going on around me, too. Just like they said would happen with alignment, back in Yoga Teacher Training.

Stories of the body, stories of the mind

Just as the body can fall into further depths of pain or misalignment if nothing is done to correct the underlying cause, so can the personality fall deeper into negativity or fear, without practicing to rediscover ones true nature, which is inherently good. Both practices require diligence, awareness, and patience. But it’s possible to take oneself towards proper alignment.

Just as I don’t know how someone’s permanently hiked left shoulder, or slight tilt to the right began, I don’t know how people’s negative stories start. Perhaps it was something from childhood. Or having regrets about the past. Or fear about the future. Whatever the reason, here they are, and I hear them all around me. And there are so many different kinds.

There are the blatantly obvious self-deprecating stories, like the ever-popular “I’m no good with technology,” or my own version which is “I suck at math.” These stories are easy to recognize, because the author has gone straight for the basic plot in ten words or less.

But then there are the more subtle stories – the ones that are told in more words, but quieter words. Someone’s desire to justify their profession by stating their credentials and years of experience with unusual emphasis, or the camouflaging of anger or guilt with words like “when my husband left me.” I don’t know what the real stories are, when I hear them told by people I don’t know well. But the words are an indication that there are other stories there, just under the surface, occasionally bubbling up and popping with a tiny “ploop” sound…

Keep practicing

The first step in healing the body, or making a positive change to health or behavior, is to be aware of what you are doing now. And as I take my yoga practice and spiritual practice further, it becomes easier to see – in myself and others. I can’t really do much for other people – except listen, live my own life the best I can, and hold space for them. In a yoga class, people want me to correct their alignment or posture. I’m not so sure this would work quite as well off the mat.

I should add that I don’t just see misalignment and maladies around me. I also see strong, aware, beautiful people who move through and take up space with grace and acceptance and generosity. It’s the same principle – as I become more aware myself, and strive to be a better person, I also see a lot more good in the world.

We all are good people, we all want the world around us to be filled with good things. Most of us may not be perfectly aligned. But really, who is?

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film – up in the air

Do you ever notice how sometimes, everything comes together all at once to produce one of Those Moments? Like when I’m driving, and the Shuffle feature on my iPhone checked with the surrounding scenery to produce a Perfect Driving Moment – musical and visual perfection.

Well this weekend I had something like that happen. It involved a film, a phone conversation, a story I’ve been working on, and some text messaging. A Perfect Lesson.
Last night I watched Up In The Air, starring George Clooney and Vera Farmiga (who is in my cousin Chris’ new film Goats – yay!). It’s directed by Jason Reitman, who also did Juno, Thank You For Smoking, and the new Young Adult, among others.
This movie was excellent – in a really depressing way. The super short plot summary: George Clooney’s character has a career traveling the country and firing people. He’s never home, and he never lets anyone into his life. Then he meets a woman who he actually ends up falling for – he lets her in. She turns out not to be who he thought, and he goes back to his solitary traveling life. He’s changed by the experience, but in the end he finds it easier to go back to the way things were – being alone.
This is another one of those films that I love, where someone finds their voice, and takes a chance and says something. But this movie doesn’t really have the happy ending that we’d like it to. Rather than the love story we want to see, we get something a little less satisfying.
When we take a chance, and let ourselves be vulnerable, we expect to be rewarded by Something Good happening. But when it doesn’t, we take this as a failure. And it’s so easy to give up, and be silent and go through our lives not speaking what is there for us.
I’ve known several people in my life that are like this. They took a chance, didn’t get the result they wanted, and so they isolated themselves and never really spoke again (yes this is a metaphor, silly). I’ll bet we all know someone like this. Yes, it’s so easy to give up. My own Mom lived such an isolated life, she died without me even really knowing who she was. This breaks my heart to see someone live their life this way.
Yet after everything that’s happened to me over the last year, I’ve come pretty close to giving up, too. I couldn’t think of a good reason to bother anymore. Why say what is there for me, when it doesn’t seem to produce the result I want? And sometimes just the opposite, it results in pain or disappointment… Who wants to bother with that? It kind of sucks!
Well, we bother because it’s part of being human. I think a big part of being human, is to create. And we create every time we say something. We create a possibility, a piece of art, a story, a condemnation. To want to say what is there for us is human.
Maybe I’m a little bit closer to getting it right. I don’t mean the happy ending part – maybe I’ll never get that right (but oh god I surely hope so) – I mean the part about understanding why it’s important to keep Saying It. It’s not about the result that it produces. It’s about having the courage to keep going, and the act of just showing up and taking that chance. I won’t ever give that up.
 up in the air
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