If You Want to Write, Read

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A list from a 2011-2012…I’m exhausted looking at it.

It may have been at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference about eight years ago where I was told that if you want to attract readers then you have to be a reader. Not only that, but you have to be a reader that leaves comments. That seems fair enough. But it’s a huge cyberverse with ‘billions and billions’ of blogs. Navigating our way to the stories that mean the most to us – the words that either inspire, educate or entertain – is like trying to find glitter glue at Walmart. You have to walk past plenty of dreck before you find the craft aisle.

I follow a healthy scoop of blogs written on topics that are of interest to me: art, yoga, writing and wellness. New posts fill my inbox every Monday morning. I read with reasonable regularity just two, on a good day maybe three of over a dozen blogs. The rest – and I’m cringing as I admit this – I delete. And the comments I leave on those blogs I read are few and far between.

What can I say? Life is short. And I’m a bit of a curmudgeon. One too many adverbs and I’m outta there. If this is self-sabatoge I’m willing to take the risk.

I don’t believe there’s any way of knowing if my ignoring the advice handed to me at SFWC changed the trajectory of my non-existent writing *ahem* career. I’d like to think good writing is good writing whether or not there’s a thread of replies (I’m not just a curmudgeon – I’m a naive curmudgeon!). If I practice and polish my craft it shouldn’t matter how many blogs I read or how many comments I leave behind.

Should it?

On the other hand, writing is lonely. It doesn’t hurt to make a few friends. With that in mind, here are the three blogs I read regularly. Two I’ve been following for some time. One is a new addition.

Caitlin Kelly writes Broadside. She’s a journalist and author whose writing is crisp and clear. I wish I wrote half as well as Caitlin. She posts on a variety of topics with humor, passion and conviction. Her latest post was an exploration of gratitude – a simple list of moments that make her happy. Prior to this she wrote about a recent health scare – a post all women should read.

Sawson Abu Farha is the culinary master behind Chef in Disguise. I’ve tried several of her middle eastern recipes. Her latest post teaches the reader how to make Sahlab, a sweet and milky elixir featuring orchid powder and orange blossom water. Warming and delicious, Sahlab is a magical moment of awe for the tastebuds.

Anonymous Sadhaka is the student of yoga I will never be. I don’t know the author’s gender or full story but I love reading the deep explorations into their personal practice. Struggling with a knee injury the posts seem to be written not with the reader in mind. In that way, they feel as though we’re given permission to break the lock on a friend’s diary.

I hope you’ll dip into these writer’s diverse body of work. I hope you’ll also dip into my not so diverse body of work.

Happy reading (and commenting).

 

 

 


In a World of Karoshi, Can We Find our Bliss?

IMG_0172On Friday I wasn’t feeling quite right. At the same time I wasn’t ill. I know you’ve been there, too. I wanted to call a sick day, make a pot of tea and crawl back into to bed. But I couldn’t. With the exception of the occasional, errant sneeze and despite having a sore throat and headache the day before, I wasn’t exhibiting one single symptom that would lead anyone to suspect I was at death’s door. There was no fever, no pox, no projectile vomiting nor was there a consumptive cough. And so I did not call in sick because to do so would require my telling one big fat whopper of a story. Plus, I had work to do.

In the past I’ve named the day I was craving a ‘mental health day’. It turns out Mental Health Day is a real thing. It has been marked annually every October 10th since 1992. Who knew? And each year the founders of Mental Health Day, the World Federation for Mental Health, select a theme. In 2017 the theme was mental health in the workplace.

In the decades that I’ve been in the workforce it has gradually become a point of pride to overwork. We use our level of stress to measure self-worth, and then wear that stress like a badge of honor. In our quest to define who we are we spend more time with our co-workers looking at screens than we do with the people we love.

Our culture of over-work contributes to poor health and wellness, societal isolation, the break down of relationships and the loss of self.

To be honest, though, we have it easy in the United States compared to Japan. In Japan, the word karoshi means death-by-overwork. While Japan’s government is working to reverse the trend, according to this article from 2014 each year thousands of workers die from either stress-related illnesses or they commit suicide. While the Japanese government has tried to reverse the trend, a more recent article shows their attempts showing meagre results. Sadly, Japan isn’t the only country where extreme devotion to the job and self-sacrifice risks death from heart failure in people as young as twenty-seven. South Korea, China and even the United Kingdom trend toward compulsive and obligatory overwork compared to the United States. Living in the heart of Silicon Valley, that doesn’t seem possible, but it’s true. Compared to these countries, we’re slackers.

I wrote the last sentence with a tinge of guilt as the thought ran through my mind, “I have to work harder.” And I bet I’m not alone.

So how do we separate the job we do from the work we love? Where is the fuzzy line between paying the mortgage and the bliss Joseph Campbell promises if we follow our heart? When we are dragged below the surface of a world moving too fast to fathom, where do we find the strength to break through the surface and breathe?


The Wonder of a Blood Red Moon

lunar-eclipse-factsI know very little about the science of astronomy, yet I’ve been captivated by stars, satellites and transits since I was a little girl standing in the driveway with my mom in Lynnport, Pennsylvania searching the sky for Perseids. The anticipation I feel when I know we’re about to experience a meteor shower, an eclipse, an unusual alignment of planets along the ecliptic plane or those same planets’ transit across the solar disc is as giddy as a child’s anticipation of Santa Claus.

The cosmos is a vast and constant beauty, as it was on Wednesday morning when the earth’s shadow turned January’s blue moon blood red.

I am compelled to bear witness to these celestial events. When I do, I am one with the motion of the planets. I feel connected to the stars. I feel connected to the spinning earth and the energy of every other creature craning her neck on a frosty pre-dawn. I’m part of a collection of craned necks looking up in amazement and wondering what lies beyond the sparkling dark and inky pool above.

Being present for the stars, the moons and the planets reminds me of my infinitesimal smallness and the terrible burden of weight I place on the most insignificant of circumstances.

It’s a wondrous, wonderful thing to know that on Wednesday the brick red glow reflected back to earth was the light of all the planet’s sunsets and sunrises. For those few hours, anyone who looked up at the moon saw the beginning of every new day and the close of another. It was like looking at the breath of Gaia.

 

 


Building a Better Me, Part II

IMG_1317I realize Building a Better Me is wrong. Not what I wrote, but how I named it. I am not challenging myself to be better (although there’s always room for improvement). I’m re-structuring my life in order to return to the joys that define me.

So how’s that working out? I’m about fourteen days into the journey.

The habit I am in the process of releasing is that of hearing the alarm, reaching for my iPad and then staying in bed for another twenty minutes reading the news. This habit is not helpful on two levels. The first is that the habit steals time. The alarm chirps at 6:00 AM for a reason. On a deeper level, waking up and immediately turning to the headlines – which are rarely good – sets an energetic tone to the morning that is unhelpful. In these last fourteen days I have given in to habit once. I chose to stay put.

I am cultivating three new habits.

The first is to not feel bad when I choose to stay put.

The second is this: when the alarm rings I stand, I stretch, I kiss Ben good morning and sip my coffee. And then I sit down and write. I’ve made a promise to myself to put down 500 words a day. Sometimes the words end up as blog posts. Sometimes they end up filed away in some dark corner of cyberspace, never to be seen again.

The other habit is this: keeping a planner. The amount of money I have spent over the years on journals, diaries and planners that have promised to change my life would probably feed me for a year. And yet, even when I consider my past experience with planners, I am attempting, yet again, to use one. These calendars that ask us to define our goals and ambitions have an unsettling effect on me. I feel set me for failure and yet, here I am, giving it another go.

My new planner, so far, is different. Or maybe I’m different.

I can’t over-think this. It doesn’t matter if it’s the planner or if it’s me. What is important is that here I am, wrapping up five hundred words (give or take an adjective or two) for the fourteenth day in a row (cue balloons and streamers). Yesterday I submitted a short creative non-fiction piece to a small writing competition for the first time in about five years.

Heady days, indeed.

We’ll see where I’m at in another two weeks. So far, making room for my creative heart’s desire has made every facet of my life shine a little brighter.

And now, while I get ready for my first client, it’s time to see what the world got up to while I was sleeping.


This is Not a Test

rocket-launch-693256_1920I love Ben. He’s been my friend and partner for four years this month. I have friends who have been married longer than I’ve been alive, and so I understand that four years is a very small stretch of time. Yet if feels long enough for life to have always been this way. Me and Ben.

Our views on the world as individuals are slightly different shades of the same color. Like many couples, they are similar but not identical. Where we differ is in our reactions to the mutability of life.

On January 13th the State of Hawaii informed its residents that ballistic missiles were twenty minutes away. Forty-five minutes later they learned it was a false alarm. Long after Hawaiians breathed a collective sigh of relief I remained glued to the news. I watched the same images of clear Hawaiian skies and people running for their lives in what they believed might be their last moments again and again as the videos played in a continuous loop on CNN.

I wasn’t reacting to the thought of missiles raining down on Maui. I was reacting to the thought of what it must have felt like to feel the vibration of an incoming text, to reach for the phone expecting a funny message from your family on the mainland, and instead seeing words almost impossible to process: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

Meanwhile Ben, one of the most compassionate and caring humans I know, shrugged his shoulders. His only reaction was to tell me that if we found ourselves at home and in the same situation there would be no reason to panic. He would take my hand and tell me he loved me. We would simply sit down, hold one another and wait for our lives to continue or for our lives to end. I don’t know if that’s entirely true. I believe he would want to reach out to his family. But after that, what else could we do?

After all, life turns on a dime.

Yoga, I’ve learned, is about self-regulation. Self-regulation means having the ability to manage of our actions and emotional states. Instead of rarefied peaks and dark valleys, we learn to bring the peaks and valleys in our lives closer together until they become gentle, rolling hills. I suppose it’s a little like transforming the Rocky Mountains into the Appalachians. Our lives do not become flat. We don’t become emotionless automatons. We do, however, build resilience. We cultivate the ability to choose wisely. We see our lives more clearly and are better able to move forward, grounded and confident. Stress and cortisol levels lower in tandem and our health improves.

We practice self-regulation in our yoga when we move through asana thoughtfully, at the intensity and depth that is appropriate for our bodies. We practice self-regulation in our yoga when we breathe with intent. We practice self-regulation in our yoga but off our mat when we respond to criticism – whether it’s directed at us from friends, family, strangers or the voice in our head – with composed equanimity.

In truth, as yogis, every moment is a practice preparing us for the next.


Peace and Reconciliation

images-2I landed in Ireland around the same time that peace and reconciliation was breaking out. It was a wonderful time. It coincided with the Celtic Tiger – that period of great economic growth – and people were happy. There seemed to be more space in everyone’s lives. Yoga classes and wellness centers were popping up like the thorny yellow gorse on the Donegal hills in springtime. It seemed everyone was in training to become a massage therapist or reflexologist, myself included. All of this happened in part because the air was temporarily cleared of anger and hate. It was a little easier for hearts to love and for hands to reach out.

Peace and reconciliation can be a far reaching movement that builds communities, as it was in Ireland twenty years ago. It can also be something that we struggle with on our own.

My mother is an elderly woman with whom I did not speak during my entire decade in Donegal. From 1994 until 2010 we were completely and, I was certain, irrevocably estranged. This is something of which I am not proud. As someone who has worked most of her adult life to walk a yogic path, this shames me.

When I did, finally, reach out it was because I believed I was strong enough to be a good child. But despite my dutiful phone calls and yearly visits, the pain I still feel from the real and imagined wounds of my youth prevent me from being the woman I want to be – the daughter all mothers hope for.

Maybe the peace and reconciliation I need in order to shape a compassionate relationship with my mother is, like yoga, a practice. What holds my heart back from giving her the love she craves is this: My mother is a racist who glues herself to Fox news. She does not seem capable of finding the good in people. The good in the world. She is also an elderly woman who lives alone and depends upon social assistance to keep her in the crusty single-wide trailer she has lived in since I left for college over forty years ago.

Two days ago the rent she pays for the land on which her trailer rests was increased by twenty-eight dollars and she is terrified of losing her home.

I will, of course, help her. I will help her because I do believe that people are good. I believe there is good in the world. And I’ll help her because I know that there is no peace without reconciliation.


Leave Behind a Residue Ash of Happiness

fullsizeoutput_3eAll this week I’ve been attempting to reclaim time lost. Yes, there have been some Maddow Moments. And, yes, some screen time spent on Solitaire. But overall I feel as if I’ve moved nearer to the woman I remember being sixteen months ago.

Of course, time cannot be reclaimed. I know that. The best we can do is move forward with the belief that our actions reflect our values; with the hope that we are contributing something positive not to the world – that would be too high a hope – but to our lives and to the lives of the people we meet while walking our path. We want to extend love to our biological family and our chosen family, kindness to the lip-pierced and leathered man looking for a seat on the train, patience to the young mother struggling to make ends meet as a cashier at the local CVS.

Yesterday I was walking the literal path I take to Samyama – dodging traffic while I jaywalk and leaning cold into the morning waiting for the improbably long traffic light to go green on Bryant. Somewhere on Colorado Avenue I began to ponder what it is about the world that tricks us into giving up our gifts.

This is what I mean: Along the way to being a responsible member of society we stumble into some other version of ourselves. We set aside our reckless enthusiasm for life and march forward convinced we’ll return to our unique interpretation of joy at the first opportunity. On the precipice of adulthood, we look out at the wonderful world but take too seriously the advice to “choose something practical.”

But what if the contribution we are meant to bring to the world is the joy we abandoned? How can we hope to leave a residue ash of happiness behind when we leave our body if we forget how to be happy while still in it?

I’m not suggesting that we do anything different except remember those things we did not before we knew better but when we knew better. Bring those things back into our lives. Touch base and honor that person, that old friend who played guitar and sang at the top of her lungs, splashed paint on raw canvas and walked for hours lost in the woods.