Relevance

In the midst of a pandemic I get my first book contract and let the cognitive dissonance settle in.  I am elated!  It is meaningless! By the time the book is published, will the words I’ve written even matter?  In a world full of sickness and chaos, is art even relevant?

My husband and I go away to celebrate our 33rd anniversary.  He is reluctant in these times, but I’ve found us a private spot on Cape Cod, we pack a bag, some food, and we go.  On the drive down I am describing the adorable guest house I have secured for us. I am happy to escape the everydayness of our lives, the news, the impertinence of my writing.  It is called the Sweetest Little Suite, I tell him.

It has probably been renamed The Covid Cabin, he quips.

Don’t make me laugh, I say. There is nowhere to pee.

I know the state of the country, the world for God’s sake, is not funny right now.  It is dark and uncertain, but we need to laugh when we can because the crying will come too, if not for ourselves, for others.

It is freakishly warm for the middle of November, but we don’t see anyone else at the seashore except for maybe a few people sitting so far down the beach they are like large grains of sand, their movement almost imperceptible.

It starts off as a dare, me tempting my husband to jump into the crashing waves, and it ends with both of us running into the ocean, going under.  He disappears first and when he pops up he is shouting for me to hurry before the next wave drags me violently across the sand.  Shrieking, I dive in, my timing more a reflex of panic than any kind of strategy.

When you’ve been married this long, there aren’t many firsts you haven’t met; first home, first child, first move, job loss, illness. We’ve had them all.  But this- today- swimming in the ocean  in the middle of fall- for our November anniversary- this is a new first.

I emerge from the cold, invigorated. The sun warms my skin as it creates glitter across the water.  The reflection is spectacular; there is so much light.  I am insignificant, but at the same time connected to the brilliance of God’s creativity.

Fully present, mind and body in harmony, I take it all in. I see and feel the ocean, the world, as the most amazing work of art.

In this moment, the art is everything.

Writing Through Insomnia

 Another night like this, suddenly wide awake. I don’t exactly feel panicked, my heart is not racing, but I am on high alert. What I am waiting for, I am not sure.

I’ve done all the things: no coffee after 10am. No wine. No electronics in the bedroom.  Exercise. Mediation even. Yet most nights it is the same lately. I can predict before opening my eyes that the clock will read 1:30a.m.  Sometimes 1:20.

My husband reaches out and touches my leg.  He is letting me know he is awake now too. Was I tossing and turning? A middle of the night rendezvous; I resist the urge to speak. He will fall back asleep and there is nothing specific to say, to be anxious about. Well there is, actually. I mean the whole world is anxious now. Shouldn’t it be? I run through my list.  Who shall I focus on this night? Family? The country? Humanity?

I do my yogic breathing. I decide not to waste this time on trying to assign a subject to my insomnia.  Instead, I grab a pillow and notebook and go downstairs to settle on the couch. I may as well write something. Nothing will interrupt me at this hour, nothing outside my own head. The world is asleep, even as it is falling apart.

Not even my to-do list is calling me now. Phone calls to make, writing deadlines, laundry to do. Those are the affairs of daylight and I won’t engage such thoughts. I’ve been invited, against my wishes, but I’m here nonetheless, to do whatever I want in this dark hour. I figure something will happen if I put pen to paper, something to loosen this grip around my heart that is alerting me to I’m -not- sure- what.  I am ready, so ready for whatever is going to happen, even if it is only on the page.

The windows are shut down here and I’m too tired to get up and open them, too busy writing. I am hot as hell now. My hair is getting long – I am not yet ready to venture into a hair salon, even with all the precautions in place. I’ve been snipping the ends of my unruly hair, one curl at a time, with the professional scissors I bought online.  I pull it up on top of my head with the elastic around my wrist.

I’m so hot and so tired, I’m starting to feel nauseous. Tomorrow- which is today, technically- I will see what I’ve written, and if there’s anything worth saving.

I hear my husband upstairs, stirring. He is in the cool air-conditioned room and all of it is suddenly calling me now- the cool room, the soft bed, the husband.

I put down my pen and notebook and leave them on the couch next to the pillow.  I will be back tomorrow night, same time, same place.

__

This essay was originally published on Brevity’s nonfiction blog: via Writing Through Insomnia

 

 

Writing Matters

I’ve recently made significant revisions to my book The Uncluttered Mother and it is being review by two publishers. So fingers crossed, I will find its home soon.  In the interest of walking my talk, I finally did some long overdue digital housecleaning. This is the only decluttering chore that I have truly dreaded, and it felt great to get it done. 

Now that I am lighter and less distracted by digital clutter, and my first book is out of my hands (for now), I have turned my attention back to my memoir. I’ve grappled with the title for months (years?) and have settled on Alienated; of all the themes a reader could glean from this book, I think that alienation is the most significant. Personally, I was alienated from my mother after my parents’ divorce when I was four years old; perhaps only a small fraction of readers will relate to this particular trauma. But of a more universal motif is the alienation  from myself that I struggled to overcome after such a loss. So although it reads like a poignant memoir, it is my intention that it offers hope of wholeness and healing for anyone with a tough childhood, one that left them disconnected from their own power. 

How do I marry my two books, one narrative nonfiction and the other memoir? Where is the connection?  Well, if there is too much inner and outer extraneous matter, if we are too distracted,  we will avoid – or never find- the path back to Self.  On the contrary, it is hard to be uncluttered and remain alienated because in the open spaces, the way is revealed.

Where’d You Go, Creativity?

It is no accident that I am writing about the challenge of carving out a creative life when it’s been so long since I’ve written anything here.

Why is it so challenging to carve out a creative life that stays consistent?

Allow me to state the obvious:  Creative projects are often  solo pursuits in which we have to give ourselves permission, accountability, boundaries around our time and the will to keep going when it is just so easy to let it go among everything else competing for our time and attention.

And in addition to a creative life requiring time to create, it also requires time to just be. Writers and other creatives need alone time like they need air and water.  So if we need quiet time to prime the pump and quiet time to create, and we live in a time that practically insists – or at least expects – us to be hyper focused on the outside world, much more so than on our inner selves,  then of course it takes more than a little effort to protect a creative life.

Essentially though, I know I am capable of doing better, of doing more. Life is full of choices and I think I am running out of excuses.

Recently, I saw the movie Where’d You Go, Bernadette, based on the bestselling novel. Bernadette, so far removed from her former artistic career, has become anxious, destructive and unhappy.

It’s not so difficult to imagine a bout of writer’s block that goes on far too long resulting in my own demise. Perhaps that’s a bit dramatic, but the longer I leave a written book gathering dust, an essay unwritten, or new ideas to die on the vine, the more intimidating it feels to crack open the door to the work. It’s as though I cannot bear to face what I have neglected.

Good things, life affirming things, happen during a creative spell that are hard to replicate. When engaged in a creative pursuit, we are in the flow of a higher consciousness. In the act of creation we feel energized,  joyful, at peace, and expanded.

We don’t think and feel in the same way. Those neural networks our survival thinking had wired are turned off …we see new possibilities. We are now quantum observers of a new destiny. And that release heals the body and frees the mind”.

 ­- Dr. Joe Dispenza, Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself.

In short, we are better when we are creating! We are happier, calmer and freer. Who doesn’t want that, for themselves and every creative person they love?

***

I could write about how to fight the good fight and maintain consistency in creativity, but clearly after such a dry spell, I am not the one to give such advice. Besides, it’s been spelled out already in some fabulous books such as The War of Art and Big Magic.

But speaking of magic, I occasionally get some good insights in my dreams and recently I awoke with these words in my head:  Just do a little bit each day.  The message was that simple and that clear.

So there you have it. This was my little bit for today.

 

Thinking Inside the Box

20180623_124724Long before I ever had a laptop, back in the day when I was tapping at keys on a typewriter, I kept various writing notes in a decorative box, the kind you find at a craft store for keeping photos or other treasures in.  While I was raising young children and my writing time was limited, it got my creative juices flowing just to take the box out and hold in.  I always knew I’d get back to my work-in-progress when I could steal time again and often that was enough to keep me satisfied.

My daughters have grown and moved out, and like Virginia Woolf, I now have A Room of My Own in which to muse and write and pile up essays and book chapters on my laptop. But despite the space and all the technology available to me today, I have not outgrown The Box.

My box has changed in size and type only, having now upgraded to one I found at Staples that fits my 4×6 index cards full of notes, quotes, and ideas. It comes with matching dividers and an adjustable follow block, keeping all cards upright and orderly. If one can fall in love with a box, I surely have.

I store essay and blog ideas, memorable quotes, notes from books I’ve read, and anything else that may inform my writing.  For jotting down notes away from home, I simply carry a little green index card holder, one that easily fits into a purse or a book bag. Notes from this can be transferred into the box later. 20180626_105010

Why not just store all these notes digitally? Because I often read in bed and want to be able to write on a 4×6 card rather than record info onto my laptop. But mostly because, whether working on an essay, blog or book, I want to be able to move the cards around, rearrange them while I am referring to them, build the piece I am working on.  Having so many tangible ‘moving pieces’ to work with gets me to the finished product, the whole thing, in a way that feels so satisfying to me. It’s all part of the creative process.

I see my oldest daughter, now a mother of two babies, struggle to find time to create.  I recently reminded her of her art journal, of the importance of getting her ideas down on paper, of not letting them fade away like a poignant dream that can no longer be recalled.  Whether in a box, a journal, or digitally, capturing our ideas in a way that we can easily refer to later, is half the fun and half the progress.20180626_145743

Place holders of inspiration. Nuggets of information. Parts of the whole, pieces of projects, even with small pockets of time, bit by bit will bring the dream into focus.

 

 

Memoir Excerpt

This excerpt of my memoir-in-progress was published in Mothers Always Write this week.  I told this story at a Boston Moth live storytelling event and after taking first place, I went on to perform it at the Moth GrandSlam the following year. It is the story of reconnecting with my alienated mother. The Stranger I Call Mother

Parental Alienation is a form of pathology in which one parent alienates the child from the other parent, typically after a divorce. I have been writing and speaking on this topic as a way to spread awareness and education and to be a voice for the alienated child.

More information on Parental Alienation can be found here:  Dr. Craig Childress blog and here: Dr. Childress on Parental Alienation Dynamics

 

 

 

Inconvenient musing

It’s ten thirty a.m. and I’m making my way through an already crowded grocery store. I’ve listened to some news (all bad) on the way here and my heart feels heavier than the cantaloupe stacked high in the bin, an avalanche waiting to happen.

I have not felt this depressed since I tried to give up my morning coffee. I am starting to wonder if a weighted blanket might be a good idea. Don’t be ridiculous, I tell myself. But still, it is a comforting thought.

I want to grab all of the sugary things in bakery aisle, but I resist, knowing that self-destruction is not the way out. So I am left to deal with my raw emotions.

I am overstimulated because the crowded, noisy environment is competing with the thoughts in my head. I pull my carriage over to jot down notes on the back of my grocery list. It’s just a stupid essay, I think to myself, but it’s the first time I’ve felt like writing in weeks so I feel the need to capture the moment.

Why does this always happen in the most inconvenient of places? In the shower, while driving, while grocery shopping. Rarely does the muse come while I am at my laptop, fingers poised to capture the flow of words. Nope.

Lately I’ve been staring at a blank computer screen, my insides vacillating between numbness and nauseous churning. No words come out. Nothing seems good enough or clear enough or worthwhile. A waste of time, all of it, petty creative ambitions gone underground while I wait for my heart to thaw. Why does the muse hate me so?  

But today my writer’s block is broken in Market Basket, halfway down the carb aisle. This is why I never leave home without a pen.

Back at home, I sign up for a daily action text.  I text the word DAILY to the number 228466 and am prompted to give my zip code. I will receive a daily text prompting me to make a specific call to my Senator, on behalf of U.S. laws, on Planned Parenthood, on all sorts of rights on behalf of the welfare of the citizens of the United States.

I sort of hate the phone, and initially I worry I’ll be caught in some endless loop like calling Verizona or my insurance company, but I get through on the second ring.  This is easy, and something I can do every single day.

Helplessness and hopelessness is what will keep me down, not action. Action is good.

I go to yoga class and breathe and sweat and stretch and get out of my head and back into my body and my spirit and that sweet space of presence.

But then my mind gets a bit restless again and I have to give it something to chew on, so I turn to books like I always do. I read books to help me understand what has happened and what my part is in all of it.  I read Hillbilly Elegy and I ordered a book that my father has suggested, The Authoritarians. The author, Bob Altemeyer, explains in methodical detail, the roots of authoritarianism and who the authoritarian followers are. The book can be downloaded for free at www.theauthoritarians.com. My husband reads it first.  He’s not typically someone who enjoys psychological analyzing but he says it explains a lot. I put it on my reading list.

I look for Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. I want to understand, I do. The librarian tells me that there are a hundred and seventeen people in line for this book. I don’t think I can wait that long.

Then I decide I need to go deeper, much deeper. I need to rise above politics and read something that speaks to my soul.  Call me dramatic, but this is no small matter. I need an intervention here. I feel we have entered a dark night of the soul, as a country, and we are all in this together. I want to pull my weight. I’ve decided that means taking action toward what I know is right and remembering that there is plenty I could be wrong about.

I remember that I have Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love in my bookshelf.  Before I begin reading it, I look the author up the on social media. I follow her on twitter, thinking she’ll be blissfully calm in the midst of the storm that is our political climate. Not so.

You know we are trouble when even Marianne Williamson is pissed off.

But anyhow, I start reading her book and it does bring me peace. I am willing to see the bigger picture, accept responsibility for my own feelings and actions. She says if you are in disagreement with someone, that even if you think the other party is 90% responsible, you should focus on your 10%.  It’s not anyone’s job to change another or even to change another’s mind. I agree with this.

So I take care of myself so that I am bringing light, and not more darkness, into the world. I save my energy for the things I can do and can change.  I try, and sometimes fail, to be more mindful of my words and my thoughts.

We can’t fight anger with anger or fear with fear. I knew this. I’d just forgotten for a minute. I got scared.

But I am back.  I feel lighter now.

And mostly unafraid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

An uncluttered new year

As time passes, I become more and more aware of what a precious commodity it is. I don’t just notice how quickly the years pass, but also how quickly a day can pass. I am not someone who lives for the weekend, or for vacations or holidays. I try my best- and am grateful for this luxury- to make my daily life align with my heart’s desires.

I hear this awareness of the rapid passing of days from others as well and perhaps time’s limit contributes to  FOMO (fear of missing out). It tends to have the opposite effect on me though- it is quite clear to me that we will all miss out on most of what life has to offer. When you think about it, how many careers, events, or anything else that exists to partake in can one possibly fit into a single lifetime? In the big scheme of things, we will miss about 95% of everything! As soon as we grasp this, we can let it go. Then we can focus on what truly matters most to us, without wasting time focusing on the rest.

I am not suggesting that we dismiss things we truly want to do. Not at all. It’s all about choices. Clear the decks. Make room. Declutter your life of all that is meaningless, suffocating, or just not quite meant for you.

A few simple questions help me to determine if the way I am spending my time aligns with my top values.

Am I working on my writing goals and does my writing add value?

Am I doing something that supports or advances my well being, physically, mentally, or spiritually? 

 Am I nurturing my important relationships?

Life is too damn short to do everything. In fact, even the attempt to do it all will surely drown out those inner callings that quietly lead us down our own unique paths.

More of what we love. Less of what we don’t. Wouldn’t that be the best year yet?

 

 

 

Welcome

After decades of writing and blogging elsewhere, I have finally created a home base for my work and my thoughts. My posts will cover a range of topics, both broad and specific, from creativity and simplifying, to yoga, mindfulness, healing old wounds, conscious parenting, high sensitivity, and parental alienation. I will also post updates on my memoir, and eventually share thoughts on my other book ideas.

In my mind, these topics are all interwoven and fall under the category of authenticity. I promise to be real and true every single time that I come to the page. I hope that you will be as honest and open in reading and responding.  I would love to hear from you, to know who you are, but if you prefer to just stop by and read, that’s fine too. As long as I am growing this site organically, and creating a space where people can take what resonates, then I am satisfied.

If you would like updates on this blog as they are posted, there is an option to follow.  Thank you for visiting. I hope you come back often.

~Dana