Category Archives: Daily Life
Writers work in all sorts of odd places.
The actual putting of pen to paper or finger to keyboard happens in obvious places like homes, offices, libraries, airplanes, and coffee shops, but also in cars, waiting rooms, and grocery store queues, on park benches, beside pools, on outdoor trails, and beside campfires.
In addition, the part of writing that involves cogitating, planning, incubating, dreaming, and inventing can happen anywhere and often does.
Writers are encouraged to keep notebooks, or at least paper and pencil, nearby at all times to capture the thinking that happens in odd times and places.
Many writers, and I know this well because I fall prey to it too often, believe the planning needs to happen before the writing. Often, they go better hand in hand; many writers sort out their ideas through writing – it is because they need to write in order to understand that many became writers in the first place.
But, wherever it happens, the key to the incubating phase of writing is letting the subconscious work and simply keeping the conscious mind around to capture the thoughts.
As an example, this morning I had a routine dental appointment. My conscious mind needed nothing more than to keep my mouth open the right amount for the dentist to do his work. As I lay back in the chair, looking through the yellow plastic glasses I had been given to protect my eyes from the light shining into my mouth, feeling the dentist scraping and poking around, my mind wandered to the revision needs of The Red Oak.
I am composing a response to being tagged in a blog chain, The Next Big Thing, which involves a series of questions about an author’s current work in progress, and the answers to those questions collided with a conversation I had last weekend with M-E Girard and Tobin Elliott during the Writers’ Community of Durham Region Training for Writing Circle Facilitators (which is being led by the amazing team of Ruth Walker and Sue Reynolds and I highly recommend future offerings of it for folks in the Toronto/Durham region who want to lead writing circles).
M-E, Tobin, and I were talking about the way YA fantasies featuring a protagonist discovering that s/he is a paranormal being act as a metaphor for coming to terms with any number of ways that a teenager can be atypical.
Sitting in the dentist’s chair, my visual world bathed in yellow light, my brain hopped along a series of mental stepping stones: metaphor, source of inspiration for the novel, one sentence synopsis, coming out as atypical. When my thoughts landed on the far shore, I realized I had new possibilities for three major elements of the novel that have been blocking me on this revision. I need to write into them to see how they really fit, but for the first time in ages, I have a direction to go with these three issues.
So, there you have it – Writing in The Dentist’s Chair.
If you open your mind to your creative impulses, you can’t predict when or where they’ll show up.
The Buddhist tradition recognizes five great fears: fear of death, fear of illness, fear of dementia, fear of loss of livelihood, and fear of speaking in public. In The Listening Book: Discovering Your Own Music, W. A. Mathieu interprets this fear as fear of our own deep selves, fear that at some level our basic selves are unacceptable. We are afraid that by revealing our true selves, we will see clearly that we are worthy of hatred or isolation. That a major religious tradition recognizes this fear as a “great fear” tells me that this is universal human condition. To suffer from the fear of speaking up is to be human. To speak up any way is courageous.
Where does this fear come from?
I think this fear comes from our deep childhood.
Is there a person alive who has not been told by a trusted caregiver, probably a parent, that what we were doing was wrong? And who has not received such a message in a way that we interpreted as telling us we were unacceptable in some way?
Much as some churches would like to convince us otherwise, it is exceedingly difficult to “hate the sin and love the sinner” in a way the sinner recognizes. All of us bear scars from some moment where we believed who we were was unacceptable to some one whose opinion we prized above all things.
What happens then?
There are two standard responses to this moment.
Some people decide the other person was wrong and their life becomes about proving it. This first group become active doers, thrusting out into the world, often developing a chip on their shoulder and having difficulty seeing the value in other people’s positions.
Others turn inward, seeking to fix themselves, and hide until they are perfect. This second group is less visible in the world because their journey is inward. And this is the group that finds themselves in danger of being paralyzed by fear. Add to this natural psychological development a few cultural heroes who were killed for acting on their deep beliefs and you have a recipe for a mythic fear of speaking out.
How to Proceed?
For those who are held back by their own fear, they must find ways to deprive that fear of its hold over them. But how?
The platitude of “feel the fear and do it anyway” has a lot of truth to it, but isn’t always easy to follow. We must be compassionate with ourselves, understand the fear, teach ourselves that it is fear not a prophecy, and proceed.
For some people, fear must be leaped through. Some people cannot push gently against a fear and wear it down, but can blast right through it with the right support. Others, must dance with their fears, become friends with them, and dissolve them. Some people need different approaches to different fears.
In The Joy Diet, Martha Beck advocates a daily practice of doing something that scares you and that you know is heading towards your goal. For me, the key word in that idea is practice. Moving fearward benefits from practice. As you practice moving fearward, you learn to be comfortable with the feeling of fear; the part of you that observes your life and sees your patterns starts to recognize that fear is not a promise. Just because you fear things will fall apart doesn’t mean they will. And, if they do, you can pick yourself up and try something different. But, without a habit of moving into and through those fears, we never develop the understanding that only comes through experience.
Be Gentle With Yourself
Retraining yourself to move into fear instead of away is a difficult process, but one with huge benefits. Taking the time to practice while holding yourself compassionately if you struggle is a huge gift to your future self.
You might need a support structure, a spouse who nudges you, a mastermind or accountability group, a writers group, networking group, buddy you check in with by phone or email once a day or once a week. You know the way you sabotage your own growth. Can you think of a way to reduce the power of that sabotage by leaning on somebody else?
Is there a fearward step that you could take today? What support would you need to move in that direction?
Are you someone who likes to feel in control?
But, the truth is, control is temporary, partial, fleeting.
The world is bigger, wilder, and more spontaneous than anything we can box, package, categorize, or structure.
Every time we face a new situation, something different from what we had planned, or an unexpected turn of events, we must respond fresh, with flexibility and creativity, or we risk disconnecting from the world as it really is.
The greater the desire for control, the more valuable formally seeking out training in being flexible is. And there is no greater training for being flexible than training in improvisation.
The Magic of “Yes, and…”
The number one rule of improv is that you must accept whatever comes your way. Whatever material is presented in a scene or a dance or song must be taken as true for the duration of that piece. When someone makes an offer, puts something out there, the first response is “yes”. For beginning players in a scene, it helps to actually say “yes” as the first spoken response.
The next step is to add new material, the “and” portion. This can be a restriction, an obstacle, or a new direction, but it must be an addition. The power of “and” is that accepting what an other person presents in a scene is that the story can develop; in life, it makes the other person feel validated and heard, which enables them to be more receptive to what you put on the table.
In practice, this can be hugely powerful.
I have young kids who negotiate with me all the time. Often, they are missing a piece of information that makes my position more reasonable than they initially presume. If I use any form of but when I counter them, I get into trouble. They don’t feel like I listen or respect them and they dig their heels in to point out that they are human beings with opinions of their own, which they will defend beyond the point of reason if doing so will preserve their self-esteem. If I can remember to respond to their objection with “yes, and…” before adding the new piece of information, I can often get them join me in trying to solve the initial problem instead of fighting to have me respect them.
Simply accepting what is given is a powerful practice.
See what happens if you find yourself wanting to say “but” in a situation and find the generosity to say “yes, and” instead. What do you notice?
Mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty
Courage, from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary
We all feel fear.
Fear can be a powerful guide, but we need to interpret it properly.
Sometimes fear is a sign we have identified something dangerous and we need to proceed cautiously.
Sometimes fear arises simply because we are stretching into the unknown. What lies beyond our knowing is frightening simply because it is mysterious. There is the possibility of danger.
Reaching out of our comfort zone is uncomfortable.
I am building a new business. This is pushing me out of my comfort zone in almost every action that I take. I must face the fears that arise and work into and despite them.
To keep moving forward, I will need courage.
“Courage implies firmness of mind and will in the face of danger or extreme difficulty”
Merriam-Webster Dictionary distinguishing courage from related words.
Knowing that I am pushing into the unknown, I know that I am inviting fear. I can expect fear and resistance. To succeed, I will need to remain connected to the goal and firm in my commitments to keep moving forward. I must dance with my fears, become friends with them. I must work through or around my resistances.
My fears around my work must be my guide. If I am not feeling fear, I will know that I am allowing myself to stay in my comfort zone.
My business mentor says that fear is a sign that you are going in the right direction. I believe that is an over-generalization, but given how many ways I want to stretch myself in 2013, my fears will often arise when I am moving towards my goals.
I will need Courage.
Are you pushing yourself into new areas? How do you handle the fear that comes with moving into the unknown?
In the last few days of the year, I am reflecting on my journey through 2012.
At the beginning of the year, I chose “Ease” as my guiding word for the year. I also decided to “hang on and pretend it’s a plan” rather than making specific plans. Too much was in flux for me to commit to any specific goals.
How did I do?
Well, I hung on and improvised. And things moved forward.
And, I searched for ease where I could find it. Which wasn’t easy in the midst of all my life fluctuations. But, by having brought attention to the issue of ease in my life, I was able to choose ease in some very stressful situations. Not always, but often enough to feel like things were shifting. And, given that the hardest part of adult learning is often catching yourself doing something the old way with enough time to choose a different action, I would say that progress has been made.
I think of 2012 as a transitional year.
We moved. The new house is, as expected, proving to be a lot of work and fabulous at the same time. After spending the spring and summer focused on safety issues, learning how to maintain a pool, and making the backyard fun for the kids, we moved our work inside for the fall and winter. We are in the midst of the winter of wallpaper removal and room reallocation. By spring, the kids will all have new rooms and we will have moved on to the walls and floors of the bathrooms and laundry rooms. After that, there will be the master bedroom to redo completely and the rest of the interior of the house should get a new coat of paint. By 2014, we hope to have put our stamp on every room in the house. And despite the required work, I love the place.
The kids all changed schools. The two who find school fun and easily manageable moved from a private Montessori school to the local public school, and the two who were home-schooling also moved into the public school system. It would not be an exaggeration to say I spent the entire summer worrying about how things would go. And, it hasn’t been perfect, but some time in November, I realized it was working and I could start thinking about how to build my life on the assumption that public school would continue to be the organizing structure of our family life.
It has been a wild ride. We have new neighbours, new school friends, new commitments, and a new schedule. And it mostly works now. Still have some tweaking to do, but life with growing kids means there is always something in flux.
All I really planned to do this year was move and try school for the kids. I did those things.
In addition, I joined the board of a local community theatre, directed a play, blogged every day for a month in March, pushed my writing to a new level, and reminded myself to breathe deeply several times a day.
To wrap up this year, I intend to reflect on how my writing has progressed and what I want to grow into next year and how next year might shape up, including my guiding word for 2013, Courage.
How are you winding up the year? Are you taking time to review the past year and plan for the next, or are you just moving forward, taking life as it comes?
Create a Form or Game
One of InterPlay’s greatest strengths is the simplicity of the physical practices. In InterPlay, we call them “forms” because they are guidelines that shape the practice and give it structure. In practice, these forms are similar to what improvisers in the tradition of Second City, TheatreSports, Whose Line Is It Anyway?, and other comedy improv groups call “games.” The forms offer a structure that allows freedom within limits. In InterPlay, the forms range from what can be accomplished with one hand or one breath to forms that require groups of people using their full bodies and voices in operatic storytelling. In comedy improv, the games often have rules like each player can only say three words at a time. From simple to complex and sometimes off into the bizarre, these rules provide a structure.
I rebel against structure all the time, but the truth is, I need it. And I never need it more than when many projects are demanding attention. But, it doesn’t have to be rigid or forced. Today, for instance is a writing day. I am only working on writing. I have several projects that require writing, so I may bounce back and forth among them or put in a few hours on each project or devote all day to one project. But, I am not working on website design, room scheduling, arranging insurance, or making phone calls. Yesterday was a day for my creativity coaching projects. Tomorrow I will focus on making Christmas gifts. It’s not a lot of structure, but it works for me. Within the day, I improvise exactly how the day will go, but within the container I have set for the day.
There is a resource that I keep meaning to investigate about form and schedule. Jeffrey Davis over at Tracking Wonder describes his new eHandbook, The Mind Rooms Guide as a method for shaping time. He asked me to review the book as part of its launch, but it arrived on my desk at a very bad time and I have done nothing more than glance at – sorry, Jeffrey. But, I know Jeffrey’s work on helping creatives from his blog and I am looking forward to digging into it eventually. If you have already read it, please let me know what you thought of it in the comments.
Move Unnecessary Stuff Out of Your Body
We all get information constantly.
Unless we have a way of releasing it, we carry it around in our physical bodies. We truly carry the world on our shoulders if we aren’t careful. A physical practice for getting rid of the stuff you don’t need to carry is very useful. Teachers of young children who have embraced the song “Shake My Sillies” out as a tool for getting kids to focus in class know this. Getting the breath moving with a deep inhale followed by a sigh and shaking muscle tension out is a very simple form of Exformation. Repetitive physical activities that you can do without mental wrangling can all be exformational: washing dishes, house-cleaning, knitting, exercising, walking, running. It is a physical form of meditation – letting what you don’t need pass through you.
When we have lots of projects going on, knowing what we need can be challenging, so we tend to hold on to everything and then we burn out, suffering information overload. Using a physical practice to release, we can trust that our bodies know at some subconscious level what we can release.
One of my favourite release techniques is one I learned in acting classes. Hold your upper arms parallel to the floor. Raise your hands and clasp your hands in front of you. Take a deep breath. As you exhale, let out a big, open vowel sound while shaking your arms. The goal is to relax your jaw enough that your lower jaw shakes with your arms. It is hard. Most of us carry huge amounts of tension in our jaws. It is impossible to do this exercise without looking and sounding ridiculous, and if you do it right, your whole body vibrates and all your muscles relax.
Do you have an active practice that helps you release tension or let go of unnecessary concerns?
When Things Get Busy
Have you ever found that all the projects you have on the back burner came to a boil at the same time?
It is exciting when projects move from potential to production. But, the transition can require some adjustments. When more than one project makes the switch, your routines may need more than a little tweaking. Changing habits is hard, and especially so with the pressure of imminent deadlines. How do you do manage the transition without tearing your hair out?
Everything in my life has been in overdrive in November except this blog. I have been working behind the scenes to set up several projects.
Coming in 2013, in addition to my writing and theatrical activities, I will be:
- Training as a writing circle facilitator and setting up a new circle
- Teaching InterPlay workshops at a new facility
- Setting up a new business as a creativity coach
All of this started coming together at once. And although it has been an adrenaline-filled rush, it has had me drawing on all of my tools for managing a multivalent life.
If you have been reading this blog for long, you know that my favourite life-management tools come from InterPlay, improv, and theatre.
Coming up over the next few posts, I will share some of the tools I have been relying on heavily over the last month. But first, a quick look at getting started.
Show Up and Start Anywhere
It doesn’t really matter where you start, but you must start. When there are too many things that need doing, just pick something and do it. Activity builds activity. And it doesn’t matter if you could have made a better choice. Getting started will often reveal what needs to be done better than any list-making preparation.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, pick one small task you know will move a project in the right direction. Now go and do it.
I have a new post on working with Emotional Intensity over at An Intense Life. Although I never say so in the post, it draws heavily on an InterPlay technique. Like all InterPlay techniques, it seems simple but has profound effects.
Notice the Good Stuff and Choose More of It
Notice the Good Stuff. It sound so simple, but for many of us it requires a huge shift of focus. Notice the good stuff. Not the peeling wallpaper, the nasty thing someone said in passing, the cleaning that didn’t happen, the new wrinkle around your eyes. Not those.
Pay attention to the beauty of a dew drop on a leaf, the smile from a stranger, getting up from the sofa without the twinge in your back you have come to expect. Pay attention to the part of your writing that works, the warmth of a cosy sweater, the email from your spouse asking if they can pick you up something as they stop at the store after work, the relaxation that follows a deep exhalation.
In almost any moment, you can find something to smile about and something to frown about. Choosing to focus on the smile doesn’t make the frown go away, but it does make the frown easier to take.
Creatives are creative because we notice lack, lack of beauty, lack of meaning, lack of clarity, lack of external things that expresses our lived reality. Our creativity springs from an impulse to improve – even when we create playfully, we are making something from nothing, which means some part of us noticed the nothing.
That part of us will always be there: the critic, the worrywart, the internal editor.
But, we can choose to see also the beauty, the love, the joy, the peace. Even if it is only for a moment.
We need those moments.
Noticing the good stuff gives us the ground from which we can create more good stuff – more stuff to fill the void we cannot help but see.
What is the good stuff you see around you right now?
Me, I hear children at the nearby school laughing as they play at recess and the soft purr of the warm cat curled up next to me. I hear my breath as I exhale through my nose – still somewhat stuffy, but clearer than this morning when I had to breathe through my mouth due to the congestion caused by my fall cold.
It is a rough day in a rough week for me. I have too much to do and I am sick and saddened by bad news in my family. But, even in my illness and my emotional pain, when I look, I can see the good stuff too.
How about you? Can you notice any good things about this moment?
Hey, look! I’m back!
If you have been around for a while, you know that I take unscheduled breaks from time to time. Part of the reason for these breaks is the nature of my creative process. Part is the fact that my four children come before my writing, and children have irregular needs. And, part comes directly from what I have chosen to focus on in this blog.
The posts that seem to resonate most with my readers blend theories about writing and creativity with reflections on my personal journey. In writing these posts, there is an element of self-disclosure, and often related self-discovery, but also an element of analysis.
Sometimes, I am so busy living my inner transformations that I have no time to reflect upon my recent experience in a way that might be meaningful for my readers. And, when there is a lot of transformation going on, I can be so deep in trying to understand what I am going through that I find I cannot write meaningfully about anything other than my current experience.
During those periods, I often find myself struggling for cohesiveness in my writing and my blog goes dark for a time while I go through whatever life experience I am going through.
There is big stuff going on with me right now and I don’t have a handle on it.
Pushing myself deep into my emotions and imagination to improve my novel is awakening feelings and ambitions that have been suppressed for decades. I feel a need to honour these awakenings, but determining how to do that in the context of my current life (as opposed to the life I was living when I suppressed the dreams) is challenging.
At the same time, our new house is calling out to be transformed into a home that truly reflects who we are as a family. It is a unique house, perfect for a nonconformist family – and we are all nonconformists in this family. I speaks to me, “make me yours,” and I find myself wondering which aspects of me and of us should be reflected in the decor, furniture, use of rooms, etc.
I have been hiding in plain sight for years, acting like a pseudo-normal suburbanite, and delving deeper into my writing, choosing a house that reflects my unwillingness to look and act like my neighbours, and writing about giftedness for An Intense Life have all pushed me into an existential quandary.
Who am I?
Once upon a time, I knew I was in training to be an eccentric old lady. I think I am back in training.
But, I have been feeling adrift, without anchor, unable to encapsulate any of this experience in blog posts.
When I read Suzannah Windsor Freeman’s post Don’t Quit! Help for Burnt Out Bloggers on Write It Sideways today, I knew I had to write something about what I have been going through. I don’t want to disappear.
But, I can’t. Not clearly.
All of my past identities are vying for attention: artist, activist, intellectual, parent, wife, home-maker, preacher, existential philosopher, lawyer, biopsychology student, writer, actor, director. A desire to dream big and change the world has been awakened and is raging through me without direction.
My battles against petty fears have given me courage. My struggles with writing have given my sources of inspiration hope.
I feel like I’m on the verge of something, but I don’t want to jump too soon. I need to let these stirrings grow and coalesce without forcing them into an intellectually selected box.
There are passions rising within me. They need channeling and I have never yet succeeded in channeling them into productive projects that satisfy the big dreams.
I have been through periods of positive disintegration before. I am familiar with the feeling of not knowing who I am becoming – of my emotions and cognitive self-understanding trying to rearrange themselves in a more effective manner.
I know that my tendency is to force a solution that only accommodates some of the crucial elements of my personality. Being adrift in all one’s potential is scary. Making meaning from so much richness is not easy.
I will try to keep blogging as my inner life reorganizes itself, but I expect that all of my theories will be tentative and all of my understandings limited for some time.
I’m okay with that.
I hope you are, too.
If these words resonate with you in any way, I would love to hear about your experience or get any advice.