Archive | September, 2012

On Being a Hopeful Cynic

I’m having difficulty landing on a subject today. I have lots of themes jostling for attention in my head, and to complicate matters, I have a cold. Every time I sneeze it’s as if I am violently launching my most recent thought into the universe, never to be retrieved again.  So I’m in this weird position of feeling full and empty all at the same time.

Does that ever happen to you? You find yourself suddenly having to hold onto contradictory feelings? Grateful and bitter? Bored and stimulated? Morose and upbeat?

We’re complex beings, us humans, and sometimes our internal landscapes are not so manicured.

Sometimes they are overgrown, unruly, in need of a mow. Sometimes bright wild flowers blossom in the midst and we find ourselves questioning what needs weeding and what can remain.

For the past few weeks I have been occupied again with the novel I wrote last year, ‘Playing Along’. I have been toying with self publishing and the toying has slowly inched towards action. It was in fact the rejection of that very novel which led to the creation of Write To Be You… so I am strangely thankful to the very same people who this time last year were responsible for wilting my heart. I now have the distance and the insight to understand this as a rite of passage for most aspiring novelists. You can read the backstory by clicking here.

(On a side note – It seems this post has made up its mind. It’s definitely maybe about conflicting feelings. I think.)

So I have spent the last month working towards a goal — preparing to finally release my words and my beloved characters into the world. And I feel ready and reticent all in the same breath. I feel confident and cowering.

I’m a hopeful cynic – immensely excited by my book, but dubious of being overly enthusiastic for fear of  flailing

I’m the sort of person who is wary of those letters tucked into holiday cards – you know the ones – proudly listing the achievements of each and every family member including the dog. I’m left wondering – where’s the shadow? What about the child who is struggling at school? Or the teenager who is battling his parents? Or the dog who is crapping on the carpet? How would that letter read?!

Maybe it’s the therapist in me. I’m all for celebrating our achievements, but I’m also drawn towards the complexities in life, a predilection completely at odds with the tenants behind the self-promotion needed for self-publication:

Become a soundbite!

Run through the hallways of the wild web waving a banner declaring “Drink me! Read this!”

Enlist thousand of fans with your unwavering self belief.

Okay. Okay. We all get the picture. Even me.

So I will be telling you more about ‘Playing Along’ – my sweet, quirky, romantic comedy, before it makes its Amazon debut in November.

And I will be showing off the cover (which is currently a pretty cool work in progress).

And I will be hopefully tempting you with excerpts from the book.

But until then, I have blog posts to write, reluctant writers to inspire, workshops to run, and let’s not forget – dog crap to dispose of.

 

Write about contradictory feelings…Which aspects of this post can you relate to?

or

Paint a picture in words of your current internal landscape. If you were taking a tour of these gardens – what might you find? Be specific. Call upon yours senses – smell, sight, taste, touch and sound.

Join me in being brave and share your words. You are not alone in your hesitancy…

 

 

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Me and My Shadow

photograph by Denis Sinyakov

Walking with my dog, Lilly, in the sunshine this week, I noticed our shadows strolling in front of us … attached… dark faceless companions paving our way. I began to reflect on the word ‘shadow’ and how it’s been showing up in my life recently, nudging me cunningly.

Only a few days ago while purging clutter in my garage, I stumbled across an old diary entry from my sophomore year, bemoaning a night out with a friend.

 “She gets so much attention. I always feel like I’m in her shadow…”

It was a familiar story and one I told myself for years. It went something like this:

Once upon a time there was a little girl with crossed eyes and thick-rimmed glasses. She felt she could never compare to the beautiful princesses and queens surrounding her, so she lived in their shadows instead. She wrote in the darkness. She avoided the light, closing her eyes from the glare of the golden tiaras that sparkled brightly around her…

The thing about that story is that it was destined to end sadly, until I made the decision to alter it. I knew I couldn’t change the beginning, but I could affect the middle and the end. I could create fresh dialogue and play with new themes. I could step cautiously out of the shade cast by others and get to know my own shadow instead.

We all can.

Carl Jung, who explored the concept of the ‘shadow’ and how it relates to the human psyche, wrote in 1946 “The man who recognizes his shadow knows very well that he is not harmless…”

Shadow aspects of self are dark and dank. They reside in the mouldy basement of our unconscious where ill wishes and self harm fester and breed. Like a viscous dog foaming at the mouth, our shadow aspects are just waiting to be cruel, and that ferocity is as easily directed inwards as it is outwards.

Once I started examining my own shadow, rather than living in the confines of other people’s, I began to understand my spiteful urge to blame others for my lack of momentum. It was a valuable insight.

Self-sabotage can become addictive until you wrangle it with your awareness. Confronting your shadow head on can diminish its powers – like Dorothy throwing a bucket of water on the Wicked Witch of the West, there may be momentary triumphs when we watch our shadows shrivel.

But unlike the witch, our shadows will never completely vanish. They are licensed to linger.

Coming to terms with our darkest aspects means accepting their presence rather than imagining we can permanently enforce their absence.

Like the prolonged political promise to ‘wage a war on terror’, the battle is one that will never ultimately be won, because wherever there is lightness, darkness is not far away. It is an age old, archetypal, unsettling truth.  The two are inextricably linked.

So drink up the darkness. Walk with your shadow and become familiar with its wily ways. You’ll be surprised how many tales you both have to tell…

 

Write for ten minutes on the word ‘shadow’

or

Give your shadow a voice. Create a dialogue between the dark aspects of your self and the lighter elements. What needs to be said? Who is louder? How could you introduce more equilibrium? If your shadow was an animal what would it be?

Let’s uncover these demons… gather them together here…

 

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Ready, Steady, Write #22

Reflect on this image

Notice what comes into your mind…

a story? a poem? a memory? a stream of thoughts?

Pay attention to the texture of your emotions

focused and blurred

Write for ten minutes

Share your response to the prompt

(before you press submit comment, please click on the requested fruit and help me keep up the fight against spam!)

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Something New

I learned something new last week. Stand-up paddleboarding. It’s one of those beguiling activities I’ve admired from afar and thought to myself that it looked simple enough. Not much to it. Stand. Paddle. Glide across the surface of the water looking elegant. Engage your core. Appear serene, cool and unruffled. It was catalogued in my brain as one of those things I might try one day. When I had the time.

And then suddenly I had the time. Or should I say the time had me.

Saying no to the invitation to learn would have been a red flag. Flapping in the wind. Reminding me that I’m not taking as many risks as I am continually urging my readers to take. Expose your self! Write when you don’t feel like it! Be honest! Stop waiting! Be spontaneous! Try something that makes you sweat!

PADDLEBOARD!

And so I pull on my board shorts and I follow my eleven year old daughter down the dock at the marina (“If I’m  trying it, Mum – you’re trying it too!)

I listen attentively as the super chilled out instructor talks us through positions, launching and how to hold your paddle. I feel momentarily confident. What’s the worst thing that can happen? I fall in?  I get wet? Big deal.  All great lessons involve failed attempts.

And then my husband makes a crack about teaching me to ride a bike when I was twenty. The instructor probably thinks he’s joking.

He’s not.

I laugh along, but inside I cower.

Inside I’m fourteen again. Freshman year school trip in Yosemite National Park. Surrounded by 80 new faces. The first activity of the week is a cycle ride across the valley. The humiliating memory washes over me like a polluted wave. How do I explain that I’ve reached the 9th grade and I  still don’t know how to ride a bike? How do I make adequate excuses for my uncoordinated body? My fear of falling? My stubborn certainty that I am weird? Incapable?

I try and kick the memory to the curb. I try to forget my fourteen year old self who couldn’t cycle, and my twenty year old self who struggled trying. But even as I crawl tenatatively onto the board from the dock, my younger selves sit on the side in the sunshine, their legs dangling in the water. They’re not going anywhere. They look concerned because they know today I am a mother. Today I need to be a role model.

I glance at my daughter who is also floating on her knees, silently trying to summon her brave self. Her father and her cousin, seasoned boarders, are offering advice, but I have a feeling she is waiting for me.

It’s time to stand up. It’s time to balance. It’s time to try something new.

At this point my head is determined to be a grown-up, but my knees are stuck in the past. My knees refuse to cooperate as I ease myself into a standing position. They wobble. They tremble. They violently shake. If they had words, they would be yelling “Go back to solid ground. This is not for you. You’re going to make a fool of yourself!”

I look over at my daughter, who is looking over at me.

“I can’t stand up!” she says. But behind her I see my younger selves who are now standing up, cheering me on, willing me to succeed. “You don’t have to be like us!” they say. ‘You don’t have to stay the same forever.”

And I hear them.

And I begin to calm down.

And I listen to the instructor who seems to have been born gliding on the water. And his voice makes me feel safe. And my knees get with the program. And eventually I stand with more stability. And I paddle. And I’m still shaking but he tells me that’s normal. And in this moment I like the word normal, even though I have recently been wrestling with it.

And when I look over at my daughter she is standing too. Paddling with magical ease. Smiling at a sea lion.

I turn to thank my younger selves but they have disappeared.  I guess they knew their job was done.

So I just keep paddling. Feeling serene, cool, unruffled. Enjoying the light glinting on the water. Marvelling at how poessesive our pasts can be if we allow them to grip us too tightly, and celebrating the joys of learning something new.

Write for ten minutes using the words Something New as a springboard.

or

Reflect on past experiences that hinder your present. Can you loosen your grip on the past and keep growing? Keep going…

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