Monday, July 25, 2016

Changing the Limitations for Women - The United State of Women

 On June 14, I watched The United State of Women Summit livestream, or at least much of it. I picked it up a few hours into it - the downside of living in the Pacific Time Zone. I was disappointed that I missed the morning sessions focused on violence against women.

I was thrilled a few days later when I received an email stating the full program was available to watch - all 11+ hours of it. 

At least, I could watch the parts I missed including Vice President Biden's intense and emotional speech, Mariska Hargitay's insightful, heartfelt, and emotional words, and the enthusiasm of so many people coming together to create positive change in our world.

As Vice President Biden spoke about his decades of work to eradicate violence against women, tears welled up in my eyes. I thought about all the women I know who've encountered violence in their lives. I thought about my own experiences with violence at various times in my life. I thought about how we write a narrative that dismisses facts and statistics to deny help to those in need. I thought about how society plays politics with these issues as if they're part of a game and there aren't real people who are affected by the decisions made. I allowed my tears to well up and spill over because we need more love in the world. We need to love one another more than we love ideologies and money.

I watched President Obama's remarks again. The genuine love and devotion President Obama shows his wife and his daughters never fails to touch my heart. His words were touching and insightful delivered with the touch of humor that seems to come so natural to him.

I couldn't resist watching First Lady Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey have their discussion about the state of women in America and how they view life in America. While the interview was interesting and even fun, I took a great deal of pleasure in how real they seemed during what I dubbed the "Mmmm. Mmmm. Mmmm." segment.

The myriad speakers discussed the progress we've made toward equality, and the path forward. Their words reminded me that sometimes I bite my tongue instead of engaging because I see so many people who either just want to argue for the sake of arguing or aren't interested in anything that doesn't fit their narrative. Our world becomes increasingly polarized because so many people are so indoctrinated in their beliefs that facts and evidence are no longer relevant.

We seem to have come to a place where we spend far too much time drawing lines in the sand and proclaiming them drawn in concrete. Guess what? Concrete cracks under enough pressure. I look into the eyes of those searching for something better and I wonder just how much longer this divisiveness can continue before it breaks it all apart, until it breaks us all apart.

Women have made such incredible strides toward equality, but we're not done. I own myself. I refuse to be anybody's property and yet I find myself falling into expected roles and hating myself for doing it. Then seeking to forgive and accept myself for the crime of being human because we treat being human as if its something to overcome or to cure in our society.

I see people all around me striving for better based on someone else's definition and losing themselves in the process just as I did for years.

Life isn't about meeting expectation and figuring out how to be acceptable, respectable, conventional. Life is about embracing who you are and proclaiming your truth to the world in all its glory as loudly and beautifully as possible. Life isn't about how someone else tells you to live. Life isn't about checking expectations met off a list like just one more task to perform. Life is about living boldly and giving the world based on who you are at your core.

We have to stand up to the bullies and the rapists and the abusers. We have to stand up to the degrading comments meant to keep us in place. We have to stand in our truth even when it costs us what we think we want. We have to stand for the strength and vulnerability, the intelligence and the compassion, the success and the failure that it takes to find our truth and our place in the world.

We have to keep drawing attention to the lives we live and the injustices we encounter. We have to see one another and work together across all the barriers placed between us to find the common ground that gives us a place to create a world that offers a foundation of equality to all.

We need to see our world as it is with the progress we've made and the road still ahead without putting on blinders.

We are so busy politicizing the very act of living that we've lost sight of the people who are affected.

When violence and hate are given more glory than peace and love, how can we expect to change the limitations for tomorrow?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Blogger's Block...

Blogger's Block... Is that a thing?

Regardless, I think I've had it lately...

I've written several posts and discarded them for a variety of reasons.

I wrote one post about the advice we hear so often to do things first thing in the morning. That piece of advice grates on me every time I hear it. We all have so many priorities in life, it's impossible to take care of all of them first thing in the morning, and I honestly believe trying to sets us up for failure rather than success. I understand the idea behind the advice, but the practice is ludicrous. Close your eyes and imagine doing every thing you prioritize first thing in the morning. Stressful, huh! I think a far better alternative is to look at your day and space out your priorities at intervals that allow you to give each the attention it deserves. But, that's just me. That post got long and windy and... well, a bit ludicrous, so I deleted it.

I also tried to write an open letter to Prince's family because I'm disheartened that all the work he did to control the sharing of his work online is being undone within weeks of his death. He made it no secret he didn't like all the lax sharing of people's creative work, and I feel we need to respect that. But, I was also guilty as I listened to people's uploads and even shared a version of Darling Nikki on Facebook. And, again, the post began to meander. So... I deleted that post.

I also considered sharing a poem I wrote about a memory related to a Prince song, but my heart protested because it wasn't ready to share that personal moment yet. So... I didn't...

I started several other posts that quickly turned far more political than I intended, and since I try to avoid politics on this blog, those had to go. We've politicized so many social issues, it's almost impossible to discuss any social issue without politics sliding into the discussion. I have some very clear opinions based on facts not on rhetoric or media or party allegiance. I refuse to join any political party on principle. See, even this acknowledgement that I wanted to avoid politics took on a bit of a political slant. So, I didn't...

I started a post inspired by how watching The Hunting Ground affected me... and that one I'm determined to figure out a way to finish... well, rewrite since I ended up deleting the first draft. It meandered in far too many directions to make any sense to anyone. So, I didn't, but I will...

I started a few posts on writing including one on National Poetry Month. The only one that survived was the short post I wrote about reading at Salem Poetry Project. (my reading)

There's so much going on in the world, which I suppose isn't anything new, but I somehow feel slightly more adrift than moored lately as I try to process it all. I have allowed that to affect my blogging.

On the positive side, I've also been putting more attention into editing two of my books in progress projects and I participated in a couple of Poem a Day challenges in April for National Poetry Month, which hasn't left me as much time to dedicate to blogging. Priorities...

So when it's come to the blog, I've mostly typed, felt my message veer in too many directions and just not express the message I intended to express. It happens. It's part of having a creative career. Sometimes things just don't work the way you want them to. It's writing. It's life. It's the world we live in.

I would promise to do better, but I'm not sure that will happen. My goal with this blog is to share bits of life and my experiences and what I learn from life as well as how that all influences my writing. When I feel I can't, this blog will likely go silent until I feel I can...

But, I'm determined to not let Blogger's Block silence me for too long...

And the clock ticks on...

Monday, April 25, 2016

Reading as a Featured Poet at Salem Poetry Project

I read as the featured poet at Salem Poetry Project on February 11, 2016. Salem Poetry Project is a weekly poetry reading with a featured poet followed by an open mic that takes place at Frozation Nation in downtown Salem, Oregon.

Every event has its own vibe. As a poet sharing my work, it's my responsibility to set a mood that conveys my message while reading my audience's receptivity to the words being shared.

I picked out enough poems to read for the requested approximately 25-30 minutes. I read from each of my five published books of poetry as well as a few unpublished poems. The audience remained receptive throughout.

The poets who read during the open mic were wonderful. Each brought their own unique attitudes and experiences to the poems they shared.

I would encourage anyone in the Salem area who is in the slightest bit interested in poetry to check out Salem Poetry Project. 

Poets, Salem Poetry Project is a wonderful event to share your work.

I'm grateful to poet, Ariel, for recommending me, and to Marc Janssen for organizing the event. I had a wonderful time!

Here's my featured reading for those who'd like to hear it.

To learn more about me or my work, please visit T. L. Cooper.

To buy any of my books on Amazon, please visit T. L. Cooper's Amazon Page.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Creativity Energy Leftovers Left Me Undernourished

Somewhere around mid-Spring last year, I began to acknowledge I felt overwhelmed when accessing my creative energy required navigating unexpectedly rough terrain that had once been a joyful jaunt. At first I couldn't see that the problem lay in my support of other people's creativity at the expense of my own. I kept wondering why I had no creative energy left for my work at the end of each day, but it never occurred to me that I was giving it away. After all, we hear all the time that creative energy begets creative energy, so if I was sharing my creative energy with others, I should be increasing my creative energy, right?

Somewhere in there, I signed up for Christina Katz's Unwrapping Your Creativity Challenge (no longer available) with every intention of participating. She emailed a challenge each day to those who signed up. I didn't even start the challenge. The emails went into their own special folder on in my Inbox, and I felt guilty each day that I didn't get to it. 

At the end of the challenge, Christina sent a request for feedback. As I responded to her email apologizing that I couldn't give her feedback because I hadn't had time to do the challenge I paid for and that was supposed to be for me, I actually felt guilty

I sat at my desk wondering why I felt guilty. Then it hit me, I'd signed up for the challenge for the wrong reason. I'd signed up for the challenge to be supportive of a fellow author not for my own creative enhancement.

I felt a knot in my core. What was I thinking? What was I doing? It wasn't the first time I'd taken on something to support someone else rather than to actually benefit from it, and I knew it even if I didn't want to admit it.

As I pondered why I'd made such a commitment when I already had a full schedule, I couldn't find a good answer. I took yet another look at my priorities and where I was putting my time. In essence I'd fallen into a habit of supporting other people's creative endeavors first and leaving mine for whatever creative energy happened to be left over at the end of the day. I'd review someone else's book, give feedback on someone else's work, offer encouragement to someone who was struggling with their current projects, write detailed comments on poems posted on social media by poet friends, take classes I didn't need to take, volunteer to beta read a friend's book, and.... 

Then if I had any creative energy left I'd work on my projects.

This had been going on far too long, and it needed to stop. But I realized something else... There's a certain kind of addiction that happens when other people tell you how much your feedback, your reviews, your comments mean to them. I felt a bit high on the idea of knowing people valued what I had to say and that I was being helpful!

I quietly started to back off. Not because I didn't want to support my friends and colleagues anymore but because I needed my creative energy to go to my projects first and then to others. 

My work deserved more than leftovers...

Now that I've got my creative energy priorities back in order, I can feel grateful for the epiphany that came about as I contemplated why I'd been so resistant to start the challenge after I paid for it.

It' s amazing how these little things add up until one forces you to make a change.

Interesting how life circles back around sometimes. As I considered writing about this, I read Christina's recent blog post, Filling & Refilling Your Inspiration Tank. I could relate. I did relate.

To all my creative friends who felt like I pulled away a bit in 2015, I did, but it wasn't about you, I promise. It really was me. I needed a break. I needed to get in touch with my creative self. I needed to adjust my priorities. I needed to find my creative footing. I needed to put on my creativity mask before helping you with yours. I needed to nourish my creativity with something more nutritious than leftovers...

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Transitioning from Inertia to Kinetic

Inertia... We've all fallen prey to inertia...

Recently, I discovered I missed one of Kristin Nador's blog posts, 5 Ways To Get Rid Of Inertia, back in October. As I read through it, I thought about how often the problem isn't the doing, it's the getting started.

It's amazing how often just writing that first word seems to create a kinetic energy all its own. The first word is down and then the second and then the third and then... the next thing you know, you have a whole sentence, then a paragraph, then a page, then a chapter, then a book... But it all starts with breaking the inertia.

This doesn't just hold true for writing but really for anything we want to do.

Hiking a trail starts with one step and then the next and then the next until the movement feels natural and not overwhelming. As we follow the path, we discover new beauty and reawaken our appreciation for the world around us and the fact that our bodies allow us to take these journeys. At the end one finds the peak of a mountain or a beautiful waterfall or the depths of a forest or an astounding view or sometimes just the ability breathe more deeply.

But it all begins with breaking the inertia of standing at the beginning of the trail.

As I read Kristin's five helpful ideas for breaking inertia, I thought about all the projects that often languish as I convince myself I don't have enough time to work on them right now. X needs a certain block of uninterrupted time and Y needs an equal amount of time and Z needs my undivided attention and... and... and... Inertia sets in.

Usually, all it takes is a few minutes to change the inertia. Once I start, I find a rhythm. Once I find a rhythm, the project tends to take on its own energy. Once it has its own energy, the process finds the time it needs. It's all a matter of getting setting things in motion.

One of Kristin's tips is to find a change of scenery. While I agree with her that going someplace new is a great way to activate the motion to break inertia, I've discovered that sometimes that change of scenery can be as simple as moving to a different room in your house. 

I have a wonderful office in our home. It's spacious, and it's my space. The room has art on the walls and books on shelves to inspire me. It also has piles upon piles of projects in progress spread around the room.

Lately, I find it difficult to work on either of my two current major writing projects: a novel I'm revising, Red, and a nonfiction book on gratitude, My Year in Gratitude, that I'm editing in my office. Every time I sit down to work on either of these projects in my office I feel distracted and perhaps a bit overwhelmed.

A few days ago, I took a few pages from the gratitude book into the great room to edit because I wanted to sit in front of the gas fireplace. I sped through the pages. Pleased as I felt, I didn't make the connection right away. A few days later after I stared at the pages for my novel for far too long without making much progress, I took my laptop and hard copy of the next chapter I needed to revise to the great room and worked in front of the fireplace. Again, the editing went extremely well. So I tried it again yesterday. I worked on both these projects while sitting in front of the fireplace instead of in my office. It worked! Progress! So for now, I'm editing in front of the fireplace. Other work will remain in my office, but I have to do what works for these two projects and working in front of the fire burning in the fireplace does - at least for the moment.

Another thing I've discovered that helps me with inertia is music. Something about music, particularly empowering music, sets me in motion. Yes, I love to dance, and, yes, I often take a dance break when I feel stressed, but that's not what I mean. I mean that when I turn on music that makes me feel energized, I find it easier to take that first step, particularly for chores, like cleaning or filing, that I don't want to do, but sometimes even for writing if the music fits the project.

Inertia invades all our lives from time to time, but there's something about setting things in motion that changes everything. It changes moods. It changes self-confidence. It changes our perception of life. It changes how we interact with others. It changes what we think we can accomplish. It changes what we can actually accomplish.

I hope I can remember to just take that step forward the next time I feel inertia settle in for a visit whether the inertia appears in the form of watching mindless television shows, playing games, wasting time on social media, giving away my creative energy to others, or whatever excuse feels like a good reason to not take that first step forward.

Kristin's post resonated with me because, as much as I hate to admit it, inertia gets me good sometimes. It sticks me right in the writing and fools me into thinking it's writer's block or an overwhelming schedule or some other task I need to do but want to pretend I don't need to do or or or... 

In reality, all my excuses for my unproductive days come down to inertia.

Inertia tends to sneak up on us all as we go about daily life...

It's up to me to turn my inertia into kinetic energy...

Sunday, December 20, 2015

You Are NOT Broken; I am NOT Broken

Todd helping
me meditate.
Recently, I participated in the latest Deepak Chopra/Oprah Meditation Experience, Become What You Believe. I've enjoyed these experiences in the past because they have the meditation and then probing questions that push me to challenge my preconceptions about myself; however this one annoyed the hell out of me. Every time I got to the questions, I wanted to shout "I am NOT broken, damn it."

My answers  became shorter and shorter and felt more and more forced as the experience progressed. I felt like it was trying to force me to be broken when I in no way felt broken.

There is so much out there that pushes us to examine what's "broken" about us to fix ourselves, to be better, to fit someone else's definition of how we should live. Frankly, I'm tired of it. It's an old trope and is often, but not always, targeted toward women.

Interesting, isn't it?

The more equality we seek, the more we're told we need to fix ourselves. I'm tired of it. I'm not perfect. I never will be.I will continue to learn and grow and change throughout my life. That doesn't make me broken. Guess what? You will do the same. And you're not broken either. Male or female.

We all experience tragedies and make mistakes and hurt others and get hurt. None of that makes us broken. Not in the way these tropes try to make us feel we are. Even if you feel broken at some time in your life due to life events, you possess the power within to address these issues and to find help if you need it.

Please understand I'm not referring to mental health issues, but to the message that all of us are broken in some way or the other because we don't live the way this guru or that expert or that person we've never heard of says we should. No, we're human and being human is perfectly acceptable. Making mistakes is part of being human. Getting hurt is part of being human. Healing is part of being human. Feeling lost and broken is part of being human. Feeling confident and whole is part of being human. Being human is complex and beautiful and ugly and strong and vulnerable. Being human is experiencing life as it is, celebrating the good times and commiserating the bad times. Being human is sharing what we learn with others. There is nothing wrong with any of that.

This concept that to be acceptable, we have to constantly live in a state of fixing ourselves based on someone else's definition of what it means to be a good person drives the self-help industry. I've bought and read more than my fair share of self-help items. I bought into the message for so long. So many gurus telling me I was broken. So many experts telling me I needed repaired. So many people telling me if I just bought their secret, my life would be perfect. I did learn some things from those books, even if it was what didn't work for me, but they usually left me feeling like I could never live my life "right" because "right" constantly shifted.

Now, to be fair, I started reading these books to heal myself after a trauma that left me feeling quite broken. The problem was they never repaired me. They offered me someone else's way to live. And while I could garner tips from them, that was it. And it was temporary until I got my next self-help fix.

My Latest Book of Poetry
There came a day though I started thinking for myself again. I started looking at my own life and seeing what lessons were there. I saw so much more than I found in those books and articles. I saw me. I saw that all my efforts to be someone else's definition of perfect were killing me. I delved into myself and started to write and write and write.... Poem after poem after poem found its way out from my heart and brain to my fingertips.

I started focusing on embracing both my vulnerability and my strength. 

I started practicing gratitude, my way rather than the way someone else said I should, including a morning gratitude meditation.

All my broken bits reunited in the puzzle of me, but it took work and effort and focus and time.

I realized I was never really broken no matter how broken I felt and particularly not in the way all those self-help people wanted me to believe.

Books, videos, or experiences that expand our understanding of the world, of differing points of view, of the experiences of others inhabiting this world, and those that examine the psychology of the human experience are important. They can help us live richer, fuller, better lives by introducing us to concepts we'd never imagined before.

I'm simply suggesting that there comes a time when we have to examine whether we are truly broken or being manipulated into believing we are broken. It's not always easy to see.

Todd standing guard
while I meditate...
Todd's either joining my meditation
kissing the photographer...

At first, the Oprah/Deepak Meditation Experiences didn't feel like they were trying to convince me I was broken. The questions even felt liberating at times. As I ventured away from the meditation experiences to other forms of meditation, meditating started to feel more in tune with my core and began to resonate with me on a deeper level, on a level that wasn't about the growth someone else thought I should have but about where I was in my life.

I still have much to learn and hope I never stop learning, but I am not broken.

I am an imperfectly perfect human who happens to be perfectly imperfect.
You are an imperfectly perfect human who happens to be perfectly imperfect.

I am enough.
You are enough.

I am NOT broken.
You are NOT broken.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

My Chosen Path

A couple of months ago, a poet friend, Ariel, posted a blog titled Help a Sister Out? in which she inquires whether to continue to submit her work and wait for others to decide if it should be shared with the world or to blog her poems and risk them being ineligible for many traditional publication outlets. She mentioned that she doesn't think she has enough credits to start publishing chapbooks. I started to respond but decided to give it some thought first.

Over the intervening weeks, I've given her query quite a bit of thought.

In answer to her quandary, I'm going to share a bit about my writing journey.

When I decided to take my writing career into my own hands, I knew the risk I was taking. I really did; however, I wanted my career to be my own. My message was more important to me than fame. Staying true to my vision was more important to me than bestseller lists. Frankly, I'd rather share my work with people than struggle to impress the gatekeepers.

My first novel
I published my first book, All She Ever Wanted, through Xlibris when self-publishing was still very much the less traveled road. There were ups and downs, but the book is still available and still sells copies. It might not be perfect, but it's true to message.

Then I started shopping my second manuscript, Red, to agents. I got some encouraging rejections and some mild interest from myriad editors, agents, and publishing houses. Quite a few agents suggested changes until I ended up with a draft that had absolutely none of the heart of the original or my voice as a writer. When I re-read the latest draft recently as I prepared to incorporate parts of it into an earlier version I had a total crisis of confidence. I hated it. 

I contacted an author friend who reassured me that while I had a point about how bad this version was, earlier versions of the book were much better and encouraged me to edit one of those and forget about the latest version. This threw a bit of a wrench into my schedule and the book will be released later than I wanted, but it'll be a better book for the effort.

In addition, I'm incredibly grateful that terrible draft created by changes suggested by agents never made it into print. Did I mention I hated it?

Sometimes the gatekeepers don't know what's best for our work. I know that's hard to accept, but the reality is that the gatekeepers' decisions are subjective based on their opinions, by their own admission.

My first book of poetry
I decided to publish my poetry myself with only a few traditional credits because I wanted to get my poetry in the hands of people. I wanted to share my work and to earn money from sharing my work.

Frankly, I wanted to control my work and the message shared. If people love my work, hate my work, or ignore my work, at least I know it's my work they are responding to.

Technically, one can publish a book using CreateSpace and ebook technology for no cost. This assumes one has the capability to create one's own covers. CreateSpace even allows for one to create one's own imprint under which to publish. There is free software one with know-how can download to accomplish this goal. Registering copyrights does cost money but is worth it. Buying ISBNs costs money but is doable. It all depends on what one wants to do and how much one wants to put into it.

My latest book of poetry
Marketing can be done entirely online though works better with a mixture of venues. I do much of my promotion online but also do speaking engagements and poetry readings. There are multiple avenues to promote ones work. I continue to discover new ways to promote my work and to share my message.

I love having my books out there even though they don't sell quite as many copies as I'd like. From what I've heard this isn't an uncommon place to be for any author regardless how they are published.

For me, taking control of my career and risking people's direct criticism of the work I produce works. I understand it might not for everyone, but it's a risk I'm willing to take.

I can't decide what is best for anyone but me. All I can do is encourage others to study the options, really study them, and listen to their own instincts.