Minimal Monday

One of my favorite and most challenging areas to simplify is my writing life. My memoir coach, the talented and magnificent Marion Roach Smith, has told me that every scene should move the story forward. (You can find Marion here: https://marionroach.com/)

The writing advice that we should kill our darlings, a phrase coined by William Faulkner, is ever-present in my mind these days. It means that writers “must ruthlessly eliminate any words, characters, side plots or turns of phrase that we personally love but that do nothing for the story.” Memoir should not be a recounting of everything we remember. It needs a theme, and the particular scenes that support that theme. Everything else needs to go.

Rather than calling it killing my darlings though, I prefer to say clearing out my writing clutter. It suits me better. And a major part of my revision process has been to do just that. Chapter by chapter, I am applying my love for decluttering, clarity and simplicity, so that every scene is poignant and nearly every word is necessary. Who would’ve thought my passion for decluttering and organizing would serve me so well in writing? I think Marion will be proud.

Minimal Monday

*Note: About three weeks ago, I mistakenly included a post about a new site with book information. That note was meant for readers of my old site. This blog which is part of danalaquidara.com is indeed my current site and it will include all updated book news. You are in the right place! Read on.

Most of the time, before we can take on the world, we need to deal with what is right in front of us. It is my experience that in order to meet our goals and aspirations, or to simply live by our values, it serves us well to narrow our focus.

I don’t mean to imply that we shouldn’t have big audacious goals or that we need to play small. I mean that taking the obvious, sometimes monotonous, small steps is the surest way to clear our own path.

These small steps could mean meal planning, or spending just fifteen minutes on a project, or even cleaning out a closet. It could mean resting or making a to-do list or doing the laundry. We’ve got to manage our selves and our immediate environment if we are to be any good to others.

I can think of at least three well-known creatives who called out to God in times of desperation, from their bathroom floors. Why do women tend to cry on bathroom floors? It’s kind of gross. Anyhow, the answers to their cries came as directions or powerful urges to GO TO BED, and CLEAN YOUR ROOM.

We make life more complicated than it has to be when we try to skip the next right thing; the thing that is so simple, so small, that we are tempted to dismiss it. When we do this, we miss out on the clarity, momentum, and peace that is meant for us.

Happy Monday!

Minimal Monday

β€œAt the moment of commitment the entire universe conspires to assist you.”

― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

I love that quote and I believe in it with my whole heart. Any worthwhile commitment made with sincerity and certainty, even if we haven’t spoken it aloud, will reveal all manner of support. But it seems that something much less fortunate can also be true:

The moment you commit to something big or new or scary, your reptile brain tries to keep you safe by sabotaging you.

How can both of these things be true? Aren’t they contradictory?

When I finally knew with absolute certainty that I would launch my memoir into the world, I found a publisher. And when I agreed to a deadline, all sorts of other “needs” cropped up; I suddenly needed to help others, to travel, to throw a party, enter a race, and cook nightly gourmet meals.

The best explanation that I can come up with is this: Every day, and perhaps even every moment, we are choosing between our higher and lower selves. Just because our higher selves set a valuable goal and we have the means to achieve it, doesn’t mean our lower brains won’t try to lure us back to safety, familiarity, or laziness. And it really gets tricky when the so-called distractions are good, noble pursuits.

How do we know when we are engaging in “shiny new object” syndrome (SOS), and when we are simply adding more fun, meaning, or creativity to our lives? When is it self-sabotage and when is it just living?

I think that is something we all have to answer for ourselves. I’d love to ponder this more, but you’ll have to excuse me; I’ve got a party to throw.

Minimal Monday

My twin granddaughters are turning five, and they requested a cheetah-rainbow cake. At first, I wasn’t sure if it would be a cake with cheetahs and rainbows on it, or a rainbow in cheetah pattern, or a cheetah in rainbow pattern. I told them I wanted to be surprised. Turns out the frosting was made in a rainbow-colored cheetah pattern. Why didn’t I think of that?

I love how these little girls know what they like and what they want. With their lives still a blank canvas, they are expressing themselves authentically; the world hasn’t had a chance to direct their paintbrush, doling out preferences or critiques that cast doubt on their own desires.

Some of us were lucky enough to reach adulthood with our own intrinsic motivation in tact, which is amazing. Many others developed self-doubt under the influences of society, rigid parenting, or other outside forces that teach a still-developing person to seek the approval of others; this path comes with a lot of cognitive dissonance, as we want or feel one thing but say or do another, for the sake of acceptance. Worse than that is when we no longer feel the dissonance because we’ve adopted others’ demands or preferences as our own.

I am not at all shunning societal norms or construction criticism or mature guidance; all of that has its proper place. It becomes a problem only when we become so outer-focused that we lose touch with our own compass. I love the wise strategy of asking children what they think of their own various projects, choices, outfits, artwork, instead of just doling out a compliment or opinion. Children growing up trusting themselves is a beautiful thing.

When it was time to cut the birthday cake, my granddaughters didn’t seem to notice or care what anyone else thought of it. They loved it. They had confidently made their choice and enjoyed every rainbow-cheetah bite.

Oh the simplicity of that. I hope they hold on to it forever.

Minimal Monday

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how a minimalist philosophy is one of subtraction. If you missed that post, you can read it here: https://danalaquidara.com/2022/08/22/minimal-monday-27/ .

I am revisiting the topic because I keep bumping up against the truth of it in my every day life, and especially lately in my writing life. Being on deadline to complete my memoir, I cannot afford to waste time, indulge in distractions or vices, or be anywhere but here in the present moment, doing what needs to be done. The only “extras”, if you can even call them that, are staying connected to my loved ones and taking care of myself in ways that preserve my energy and my health; but I prefer to think of these as non-negotiables.

Even though writing typically makes me feel fulfilled and whole, sometimes it can leave me feeling raw, and vulnerable. The very act of working on my memoir can leave me with the desire to waste time, indulge in distractions, and escape to anywhere-but-here. After all, memoirs contain some tough topics and mine is no exception. But when I resist the urge to escape, I start to feel the most me I’ve ever felt. I feel liberated.

What is your craft, or your passion? What is the deepest you can go with it?

Is anything preventing you from going there? Is it fear?

I hope you let everything else fall away as you go into the wild places of your heart. I bet you’ll meet your Self there, and what a reunion it will be!

Minimal Monday

I was away last week, meeting my brand new grandson. My middle daughter had a beautiful baby boy and I am in love. After eight days spent with their family, it was difficult to leave. My arms ache to hold him again already; I miss our quiet morning snuggles when I would let his parents sleep a bit. I miss my daughter. I find myself longing for the simplicity of older times, when families almost always lived very close. But I encouraged all three of my daughters to follow their dreams, and this daughter’s dreams have taken her out of state for now, a nine hours drive away.

About halfway along our route to meet our new grandson, my husband and I stopped overnight in the Finger Lakes of New York. We stayed in a castle-like hotel, a quirky old place with giant doors and high ceilings and a spiral staircase leading down to the bathroom, a room with no door.

I was nearly asleep at 11p.m. when my cell phone rang. It was a call from a private number. Typically, I would ignore a call like this, but because my daughter was still in the hospital, I quickly decided it was best to take the call just in case…

An eerie, raspy voice on the other end said, “This is your mother”.

I hung up.

I would certainly chalk this up to a wrong number or a prank call. And normally, I would have at least responded with “You have the wrong number” before hanging up.

But I am in the process of having my memoir published – my memoir that is about my alienation from my now dead mother. So I was a little spooked.

Life is spooky sometimes. My childhood was spooky. When your loving mother disappears without a trace, it’s weird, confusing, scary. When something so enormous happens, so life-altering, you may even spend a good part of your life seeking answers, or writing about it.

And much of your life may still be beautiful, with love and purpose and work; perhaps with children and grandchildren of your own and getting to witness the unfolding of their own precious lives; with sunshine and boat rides and birthday cakes and long walks and long hugs; with meaningful conversation and special dinners and tears and stressors and pure joy. All of that and so much more.

But through all of it, something will keep calling you back to the seeking and the writing and the Truth. For me, that something is my mother.

“This is your mother”, said the voice on the phone.

And so it is.

Minimal Monday

What I love most about a minimalist philosophy is that it can cover our inner and outer worlds, our belongings, habits, thoughts and defenses. It is not a mindset in adding, doing, changing, but rather one of uncovering. Simplifying is subtractive, not additive. It is stopping the critical thoughts, removing what is blocking your innate joy, peace, and authentic self.

Here is an analogy: If your diet was poor and it caused your body to feel bad, and so you added some healthy food on top of your daily junk food, that would not solve the problem. But if you first eliminated what was making you feel unwell, you’d start to feel better pretty quickly. That is an oversimplification, but you get the idea.

There is so much information available on how to improve ourselves, and information is good. But it also makes it easy to busy ourselves with strategies and distractions while avoiding what we need to stop doing, saying, thinking, judging, avoiding.

I think we are already amazing, powerful, creative and good. We just have to remove all that stands between us and our true selves.

Happy Monday!

Minimal Monday

Here are four things that having a deadline for finishing my book is teaching me:

#1 I should have stopped procrastinating long ago, and taken my creative work more seriously. Now that I have a guarantee of publication, I have to acknowledge all of the time that I could have been working on my book but didn’t. Then I have to let that go.

#2 Doing my craft consistently and for reasonably large blocks of time makes me present, fulfilled, and at peace. I am pretty sure no one promises this more completely than Steven Pressfield in his book The War of Art. I read his book at least twice, and I knew he got it right, but now I am living it.

#3 FOCUSING my ATTENTION is the most important factor in getting something done and it is also the action most likely to be sabotaged and stolen in modern times. Focused attention needs to be planned for and protected. Without it, I am rendered useless, at the whim of every distraction.

#4 I need breaks, and when I’ve written for a good chunk of time, the simplest things feel like the most satisfying indulgences: Basking in the sun for a few minutes, playing with my granddaughters, cooking a meal, taking a walk.

Happy Monday!

Minimal Monday

I have a deadline of October 31st this year for completing the final edits to my memoir. I’ve got a lot left to do and now Halloween is hovering over me like a taunting ghost, as if writing down my deepest thoughts and memories isn’t spooky enough.

Fortunately, I have fallen madly in love with Cal Newport’s Time-Block Planner, a productivity system like no other. Newport is the author of Deep Work and he has created this tool in order to help us focus deeply in a distracted world. This unique planner is helping me to be intentional with every block of time in my day. It does not replace my calendar, or my regular “to-do list”, but it makes it simple and clear what will happen and when. The objective of the planner is to get the most out of the time and attention that you have. It is the best way I have discovered to Get. It. Done.

I was gushing over this planner so much to one of my daughters that she suggested I give it a name. So naturally, I’m calling it Cal.

And since my memoir is the most meaningful and in- depth work I’ve done yet, I am embracing this method every day from now until October 31st. If all goes as planned with Cal, I will surely be celebrating Halloween this year, ghosts and all.

Minimal Monday

I’ve noticed for a long time now, that when I refuse to engage my ‘worry thoughts’ and simply and truly Let Go, the issue or outcome tends to work out. It has been such a strong and welcoming truth for me, in fact, that I have been consciously practicing the Art of Letting Go.

Write it down & let it go

Like most things that matter to me, I write down whatever it is I am letting go of. I’ve started using a small notebook that my daughter had given me as part of a gift. It is a thin, forty-page notebook but it now holds my biggest dreams and every concern that would otherwise weigh on me. Each page now holds a single desire or a problem. The act of writing them down is my ritual just before I let them go.

The trickiest part of letting go is not taking it back. But I have found that the more I practice this, the more evidence I gather that it works, and then the easier it is to repeat.

One of the “wants” in my little notebook was to find a publisher for my memoir. I could have easily continued procrastinating and fretting the rest of my life away; It’s too late, too overwhelming, too scary, to difficult, too unlikely…. But I had become so sick and tired of that soundtrack in my head, that I finally let go. I found myself sending my proposal out to a handful of publishers. Letting go doesn’t mean there won’t ever be actions to take; but when I’ve let go, those actions are taken with no stress, no attachment to outcome, no overthinking it. They just happen.

And guess what? On a beautiful sunny day when those proposal submissions were the furthest thing from my mind, I received a contract! My memoir will published in April. (*For updates, subscribe to this blog)

Not every outcome is as exciting as this, of course. But I have found that the letting go – for real letting go – of desires, attachments, worries and anxieties, brings a peace and a presence of mind that invites and allows a more natural and perfect outcome.

Oftentimes, we just have to get out of our own way.