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Ready, Steady Write #23

Find your miracle today…

write for ten minutes using the image as your starting point

share your discoveries in the comments…

The Small Print

The US election is breathing heavily. The air is charged. Last week Halloween equalized us… we were all pounding the pavements watching out for our kids and trusting our neighbours to treat them well. This week we are scowling at cars with ‘bad’ bumper stickers and steering clear of houses with the ‘other’ sign perched proudly on their front lawn.

I understand that safety comes in numbers. We look for our ‘likeness’ in others to find protection and common ground. We make assumptions and assessments based on who has checked the same boxes as we have. But boxes can be a burden, especially those that pile high without ever getting the chance to be unpacked.

Democracy is essential but it comes with a list of side effects. Check the small print.

May experience narrow mindedness. Might cause rash generalizations. Beware of jaded judgements. 

If our society continues to rely on categorization to define one another, we are at risk of being stripped of our individuality. Our unique quirks. The ridges on our fingertips that render us particular.

Elections, by their very nature, encourage stark polarization, which as a general rule is best avoided. In my ideal world, a balanced dialogue would take precedent. All politicians would explore vs. explode. Politics would be more like a high school debate club and less like opposing sides at a rivalrous sports event.

Surely we want our younger generations to grow up curious and interested in every dimension of a human being, rather than learning early on how to perilously pigeonhole?

But I guess each of us has a different fantasy of an ‘ideal’ world.

It’s easy to be pulled in by all the ways we are similar – what’s far more challenging is to take time to delineate how we are different, and still remain open to cultivating connection.*

*Some restrictions may apply!

 

How are you bound by the boxes you check? Do you belong to a category that you are tired of being defined by? OR Use the word DIFFERENCE as a springboard and jump from there. Write for ten minutes. I’m here waiting to catch your words…

See you at the polls!

 

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A Really Scary Story

Remember this 90s classic by World Party?

Put the message in the box, Put the box into the car, Drive the car around the world, Until you get heard

I love that song. Whenever I hear it I want to sing the chorus loudly. And there is no better time than now, when the election is around the corner and there are many messages fighting to be heard – wrestling for our attention.

In the midst of election mania I was lucky enough to be invited by a friend to see a screening of a documentary this week.

The film, Miss Representation, made by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, exposes how mainstream media offers young girls an extremely narrow, often over-sexualized view of who they ‘should’ be in the world. Jennifer believes this limited portrayal has contributed to the lack of women seeking positions of leadership and power, and sabotages the developing self-esteem of many young girls, bombarded constantly by a barrage of distorted images and messages.

I couldn’t agree more.

I felt extremely emotional watching the film, which is intelligently narrated and edited and includes fascinating interviews with women who have held influential positions, like Condoleeza Rice and Nancy Pelosi, as well as teenagers on the frontline.

The film is relevant to me because I am raising a 12-year-old daughter who is lodged firmly in the demographic much of this advertising and programming is aimed at. But I am also raising a 14-year-old boy, who is vulnerable because his responses and ideas of women are potentially being shaped by this insidious onslaught.

Let’s face it – this film is relevant to everyone.

Magazines are plastered with pictures of young girls draped in women’s clothing, often sickly thin and posed provocatively. Girls and women are still frequently depicted in advertising, mainstream films, TV, and music videos as sexual objects whose primary purpose is to attract men. Overweight girls and women are continually mocked and reduced to caricatures.

Reality TV pits women against one another encouraging ‘cat fights’ and  ‘bitch bashing’. And entertainment shows and magazines exert excessive amounts of time and energy into picking apart celebrity’s bodies and fashion sense – including women in politics – the small minority of females who actually do hold leadership positions in government.

This documentary is a bright red flag. A piercing siren. A disturbing alarm. And one that should be heard by everyone. I commend Jennifer for challenging the system and asking us to pay attention. She really is putting the message in the box and driving the car around the world.

I am concerned that girls are being dislocated from their sexuality as an instinctual sense of self, and relocating their sexual identity solely in how they are perceived by men. This has massive consequences for both genders, and is being fuelled by many media avenues. The results are widespread and devastating contributing to bullying, depression, under achieving, eating disorders, addiction – the list goes on.

There are people responsible for making these decisions based on revenue rather than ethics. We do need to take a stand. This could be a boldly brazen soapbox – let’s step up – join forces – gather momentum!

Miss Representation has not had a cinematic release, but you can contact Jennifer and arrange for a screening. She also runs educational programs for middle and high schools. Recently she has spearheaded a campaign on Twitter #notbuyingit, targeting companies who are using sexualized images of women/girls to sell products. Spirit Halloween is one of the companies she outed for promoting seductive costumes for ‘tween’ girls, suggesting that wearing the tiny ensembles will make them more attractive to boys.

It’s human nature isn’t it?  When the time is right, boys and girls will get crushes on either gender. Trying to accelerate the process by dressing girls up as little seductresses is the scariest Halloween story yet.

Get involved: http://www.missrepresentation.org

 

Today I’m asking you to take a few minutes to visit the Miss Representation website, watch the trailer and notice how you feel.

Write down your response. Whether you are male or female, gay or straight, I want to hear how you are impacted by some of the issues raised in the film.

What’s your take? Were you affected by these issues growing up? How have times changed? Are you a parent watching your children affected now? Are you a teenager becoming aware of the impact?

Write about it. Crystalize your thoughts. Rant or reflect. Join me in this important dialogue…

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A Wish for My Daughter

Photograph by Boudist

My daughter turned twelve this week. I remember twelve.  Something about twelve made me want to linger. Maybe it was because I knew it was my last year before lurching into teenagedom. Somehow at twelve stickers and stuffed animals still seemed acceptable, but at thirteen the pressure to try and grow up was on. And that was in the 1980’s, the decade of yuppies and excess hair and ridiculous shoulder pads and fluorescent fashion explosions.

Strange how compared to today, the 1980’s appear relatively innocent and naive… it’s as if our lives pre-Internet have become equivalent to the times of a horse drawn carriage. Quaint. Simple. Charming. In the 80’s I could impress friends when I travelled home to London over summers, bringing back with me a treasure trove of cassettes – UK bands that no one in LA had heard of yet. That was serious kudos.

Sadly kudos is harder to come by today. Everyone knows everything about everyone and everything. My children have been exposed to a barrage of images and information much sooner than I would have ever hoped for. So I resisted my 12 year old’s plea for her dad’s old iPhone, and for her 12th Birthday present I took her to see Florence and The Machine at The Hollywood Bowl instead.

And it was pure joy.

For those who know me and for those who have been reading this blog from the beginning, you will recall that I LOVE Florence Welch and her Machine. She is a truly exceptional role model for young girls and women. She’s gentle and fierce. Strong and vulnerable. Expressive and Free. Dramatic and real. She whirls across the stage like a magical nymph and has a voice like an angel. She weaves stories and tells truths through her lyrics. She asks the audience to move. She requested that all 18,000 of us jumped. And we did. I held tight to my twelve year old’s hand and we jumped as high as we could. And we sung. And we smiled. Florence gave us permission to play!

And I threw a wish into the stars. A wish for my daughter:

That she can hold onto twelve while it lasts.

That even though she is growing in an age that is so far from innocent, that somehow she will still seek out the mystical moments of delight that cannot be delivered via a screen.

That she will mature into a teenager and a woman who is not afraid to embrace the child she was once was. The child she is now.

That she will always feel free enough to jump with abandon.

Who knows what the future holds? She too may look back at twelve and reminisce about the clunky gadgets she used to long for.

“When I was your age we had an archaic gizmo called the iPhone. We all wanted one. Those were the days…”

What was your decade? Share a memory from when you were twelve. OR write for ten minutes using the word WISH as a springboard.

I hope to see you in the comments section! Thank you for joining me here at Write To Be You. I am tremendously grateful for your support and presence…

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“Who Still Serves Consomme?”

Last week I wrote about holding onto conflicted feelings and my best friend, Karen, shared this beautiful response:

I just spent two hours ripping through dusty boxes from a storage unit that we finally emptied after ignoring it for seven years. I came across some treasures. The kind you love, but you can also live without, and even totally forget ever existed. I found my children’s tiny hand prints dipped in paint and made to look like turkeys for thanksgiving day. I wanted to keep them and throw them out all at the same time. Same with my grandmother’s china. What will I ever do with eight gold plated consomme bowls and matching saucers? Who still serves consomme? I wanted to smash them to the ground at the same time I was holding them gently up to the light appreciating their delicate craftsmanship. If all this had burned in a fire I would have been better off. Now I’m having to decided where it all goes. Recycling, the shredder, the thrift store, my already full kitchen shelves? Or worse, back in the box to live in our basement.

My favorite line in her response was “Who still serves consomme?”

It struck me as so funny and so accurate. I have actually also been sifting through ‘old stuff’ recently in an attempt to liberate some space in my garage. I stumbled across a once precious journal, tied tightly with bright coloured ribbons – a silver unicorn dancing on the cover. The pages were heavy with heartache. The pain of trying to fit in. The blinding intensity of middle school and high school friendships. The longing for the life I felt I ‘should’ be living. Excruciating analysis both of myself and every person around me (perhaps a precursor to the psychotherapy route I would choose as an adult!)

Scattered amongst the words were concert ticket stubs and carefully transcribed lyrics.  From that tender age, I found empathy in music and I found release in writing. That hasn’t changed about me. But many other things have, and as I flicked through my journal, I understood on a deep level that it was time to let it go… or in Karen’s words, who still serves consomme?

Research has proven that writing down our emotions can be hugely cathartic. But the act alone can be enough. Revisiting those feelings repeatedly in the future or exposing those feelings unintentionally to people they might wound or confuse isn’t useful. 

My revelations were written for no one else to see. That journal was my private refuge, and leaving it lurking around in my garage for my children to discover one day felt like a betrayal to my middle school self. That book served a purpose at a certain time in my life, but that purpose has long since expired.

So I photographed a few key pages. I kissed the cover.  And I set that unicorn free!

The next morning I thought I might regret this brazen act of pack rat defiance.

But I didn’t.

I have been writing profusely since I could use a pen. I have written journals and letters and cards and fiction and poetry and short stories and articles and blogs and essays and a dissertation and a novel. I hope to write thousands of more words to come – but do I need to preserve every one of those words?

No.

Sometimes there can be tremendous value in the process taking precedent over the product.

If you want to explore the subject of ‘letting go’ further, please visit a fellow writer and blogger, Erin Kurup, at her site remadebyhand.com – she is an inspiring role model!

Are you a word hoarder?! If so, I am giving you permission to divest yourself of some of those words which might be weighing you down. I’m guessing this is a controversial topic! But why not give it a try? Create a ritual. Tear up an old journal, school essay or half baked short story. This non attachment will also help you tackle the editing process. OR try writing something now that you never want anyone to see, ever, and then delete it immediately or burn it. Notice how you feel…

Report back, and in the meantime – thoughts on this post? I’m curious to know where you stand?

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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…

If you are reading this on email, go directly to the website to leave a comment or post a response…

 

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Let’s Be Honest

Honesty can burn your tongue. Like slurping a hot soup infused with chilies, the aftermath can sting. Especially when you have been brave enough to speak a truth that feels easier to conceal. But honesty can also rejuvenate. It can be utterly refreshing – like a tall glass of lemonade crowded with ice cubes.

Well timed honesty can hit the spot.

I’ve noticed recently that over the years I have become quite adept at avoiding being honest. I’m quick footed, leaping swiftly over bulky boulders of truth in order to dodge the fall out. But there is a price to pay for circumventing these rocks, rather than standing upon them, feeling the stone beneath my feet, and declaring, “This is what I need to say…”

So I’m beginning the climb.  And I’m starting with myself. Gradually confronting blemishes I have been concealing for years.

First on my list : admitting when I am wrong.

Last night I bellowed at my teenage son for no particular reason, except maybe that I was releasing the frustrations of the day. He was tired and hurt.

Thinking back – everything I said to him was an attempt to be right. To sound as if I held the power. To let him know that I had all the answers.

An hour later I lay in bed calming down and decided to be honest with myself. I admitted  that I was wrong to bark at him. I told myself a painful truth. He’s growing up. He’s slipping away from me (as he should) and my tirade was an attempt to remain loud in his life. I don’t want to be disregarded or forgotten, so I tried to get in his face, to remind him that I’m in the control tower. An impressive illusion.

Being honest with myself helped me to focus on what I do need to do to remain pertinent in my son’s life.

I need to back off.

I need to be present but not pushy.

I need to love him quietly and allow him the space to come towards me.

Hmmm… the sweet cooling sensation of lemons after the bite of chili.

Next on the menu is being honest with other people. I tasted that one this morning when I served up a flavourful apology to my son.

He gulped it down gratefully.

Onwards…

Shall we work on this together? Write for ten minutes using the word ‘honesty’ as a springboard. What have you been hiding from yourself or someone else? What stifled truth needs some air?

 

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