Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Hiatus from Facebook

A few weeks ago I decided to take a week off from Facebook to concentrate on getting my taxes done and make some progress on a couple of other projects. Once the taxes were filed, I hovered my finger over the little icon on my phone to open the Facebook app, but I couldn't do it. I felt an overwhelming sense of anxiety, so I decided to give it another few days which turned into another full week. At the end of that week, I still wasn't ready to reengage.

So here I am three weeks later and I still haven't logged on, not looked at my newsfeed, not checked in on my friends' activities, and I'm still not quite ready to log back on.

I've posted a few things I could post without actually logging on, so I haven't been completely disengaged; however, I haven't wasted time scrolling through a bunch of posts filled with half-truths and biased half-informed, or worse uninformed, opinions. I haven't been disappointed by learning someone I once respected is more interested in spreading hate and vitriol against some "other" they don't even really know than in seeking understanding and connection.

Sadly, during my time on Facebook, I've learned more about some people than I ever wanted to know. Yet, now that I've seen it, at least I know.

I was really excited when I first started using Facebook and finding person after person I thought I'd never see again. Life had taken us in different directions and, as often happens, communication withered over time. Some of those reunions have enhanced my life. Others haven't. Some have allowed for a sense of closure. Others have felt like new beginnings.

Facebook has given me an opportunity to promote my work and reach a wider audience. It's connected me with poets and authors from around the world who inspire and encourage me. It's allowed me to engage with readers of my work.

I've also joined some groups that have offered professional contacts and ways to connect over common interests. Some of these groups have helped me stay accountable to my goals. I enjoy these groups and the interaction with the members of these groups. I've been more active in some than in others. In fact, a couple of these groups have, at times, been the only reason I logged on in a day.

So my relationship with Facebook, like many other people's, is complicated. I ask myself often if it's worth the heartache and the disappointment to remain engaged. Most of the time I decide it is, but these last few weeks have really tested my mixed feelings toward Facebook.

I've been so much more productive without the pull of Facebook. I've written more. I've updated my records better. I've felt more focused. I've taken better care of myself. I've been more engaged with the moment I'm experiencing, even something as simple as taking Kit for a walk on her leash.

As my hiatus extends, I wonder how this friend or that friend is doing. I think about how there are people I will lose contact with if I leave Facebook permanently. I know there are people with whom the only relationship I will ever have is Facebook, and for some of those relationships that's enough. So I hesitate when I think about leaving Facebook.

Yet, I know how easy it is to get pulled into Facebook, mindlessly scrolling through my newsfeed looking at the same thing I saw a few minutes before, or something similar, hoping for something different. Feeling the disappointment as this person or that person pontificates about something leaving out crucial facts because they don't fit the narrative they want...

And then... there's the whole data collection and sharing thing that's been dominating the news, but that's a whole different topic.

I'm tired of this feeling of being connected and disconnected all at the same time.

So, while I'm enjoying this break from Facebook, I know I'll be back on there some time very soon... I plan to change the way I participate though, at least to some degree.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Favorites.... Shmavorites....

A few years ago I bought Creative Knowing: 50 Self-Reflection Questions for Women by Christina Katz, a digital book filled with exercises for getting in touch with one's creativity because I thought it might be nice to use as writing prompts when I felt uninspired or had a lull in my writing. I recently printed Creative Knowing to use as short daily writing exercises while I'm editing my forthcoming book, The Gift of Gratitude: Lessons in Life, Love, and Loss. I find that sometimes when I'm editing a book, it helps if I have some type of short daily writing activity even if I'm writing something that I'll never publish like the exercises in Creative Knowing.

As I started working through the questions, I kept coming up against one of those things I don't do well with... Favorites. It sounds like such a simple question regardless of what it refers to...
  • What is your favorite color?
  • What is your favorite book?
  • Who is your favorite actor?
  • Who is your favorite singer?
  • What is your favorite song?
  • What is your favorite animal?
  • What is your favorite flower?
  • What is your favorite...*
We ask each other these kinds of questions all the time. I know many people find insights in the exploration of their favorites, and that's wonderful for them. I find pinpointing a favorite stressful. There are many reasons to love multiple things and myriad people. 

I can love both classical music and hard rock. I can love many different people, each for reasons individual to that person. I can love cats, dogs, rabbits, horses, and all other creatures for their contributions to my life or just to the world in general. I can look at a group of flowers and see beauty in them all.

The older I've grown, the more my focus on ranking things in order of preference has diminished. I don't need a favorite this or that to enjoy life or the moment. I don't need to exclude in order to feel like something is special. I can be inclusive and loving and kind to all manner of people and things. I can appreciate the beauty the diverse world brings to my life without feeling a need to either include it all or actively exclude parts of it.

I've come to view declaring favorites as a tiresome and useless activity, at least for me, so as I worked through the "favorites" questions at the beginning of Creative Knowing, I kept thinking "Favorites.... Shmavorites. Who gives a damn?" 

But... my annoyance with those questions lead me to think deeply about why I don't care what my favorite reptile or favorite bird is. It reminded me how much I love the way our ecological system works together to create a harmony that allows all Earth's inhabitants to flourish... And when we upset that delicate balance by favoring one part of it over the other, we damage the environment in which we live...

So I refuse to feel pressured to declare favorites, whether it be insects or people. I'd rather remember just how interconnected we all are. I'd rather love without ranking. I'd rather love without comparing. I'd rather love without choosing a favorite...

If, at some point, I happen to blurt out a favorite this or that, I won't feel guilty about that either because it will be true in that moment. But it won't be a forced favorite for the sake of declaring a favorite.

Sometimes we find a deeper truth by embracing and exploring our reluctance to embrace and explore the question at hand... 

*These questions might or might not appear in Creative Knowing and are not intended to represent those questions.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Decluttering... Yet Again

For the last six weeks or so, I've been watching a slew of YouTube videos about minimalism and decluttering for inspiration. I know how to declutter. I even know how to keep clutter from accumulating, but... Knowing and practicing are two different things.

Today, as I was looking through some previous blog posts I've written, I came across this one, The Complications of Simplicity from 2012. That was probably the last time I did a major purge to declutter the house. It started with my office and moved outward. Since then I've done smaller purges of areas of the house, but I haven't done a major purge. Yet, as I read the blog post, I realized I still have some of those same feelings about how things have accumulated again. I also realized I only recently, like less than a month ago, finished the shredding that I mentioned in that post. Shredding the last sheet of paper from that box felt like such a liberation even though I knew that part of the reason I hadn't finished it was that I kept adding to it over the years, adding more than I removed most of the time.

I have reasons, real reasons... and some excuses, but the reality is I find it easy to put off certain purge activities, like the shredding I just mentioned. I'm creating a new habit around that though that doesn't allow for accumulation. Process and shred whenever possible instead of letting papers that serve no purpose linger.
When you have to ask
 "When was the last time I used this?" or
"I still have this?",
it might be time to let it go...

Lifestyle changes have meant that some things we used to use all the time no longer get used anymore. A part of me clung to these things because we might need them someday even though I can't imagine what for. 

I've started cleaning out things again. Cabinets and closets and drawers and shelves. This time I'm taking my time spending just a few minutes each day on one cabinet or drawer or shelf.
A few of the items ready to find
a new home.

As I've purged the clutter, I've also created clutter, but it's temporary clutter. A box here and a bag there to put things in. A table or two filled with items to box or make a decision about. I try to keep them somewhat unobtrusive but still easily accessible. As they fill up, I can take them to charity, or at least move them to the garage until I have a trunk load. 

I've filled up the recycling can and the trash can multiple times, probably surprising the garbage man since we usually only put out our trash once every 3-4 weeks. Purging does that. You have to throw things away. And I realized there are pockets of things in the house I haven't discarded because I can't give them away or recycle them, and the only alternative is to throw them away adding to to the pollution of the Earth. But, is keeping them in my house, really any better? Sighs!

Purging also lead me to getting the tailoring done that I'd been procrastinating for a couple of years. Now, I can wear those clothes comfortably instead of making them work the best I could or avoiding them altogether.

In addition, purging forced me to look at my shopping habits. I buy far more stuff than I need. 

I have far more pairs of shoes than I'm likely to ever wear. I have a closet bulging with clothes, some of which I'm positive no longer fit me. I've bought hair accessories because I want to try this updo or that one but never quite manage to make the accessories work.

I've bought numerous kitchen appliances and specialty items for recipes I planned to make or create, some of which were used once or twice, but some of which were never used.

I have things I bought for projects I really want to do but haven't made the time for. Picture frames to capture memories. Shadow boxes for the memorabilia that I'd actually like to display in my office. Now I need to either schedule those projects or get rid of the stuff I bought to do them.

I've cleaned out a few select areas and have gotten rid of more than I anticipated from some areas and less from others. Given the size of our home, the amount of stuff we have, and the limited time I have to dedicate to decluttering, this is likely to take a while, but I'm okay with that. In some ways, I think it might even be the best way to do it. Clearing out small areas might just create a habit that will allow me to better purge on an ongoing basis or perhaps to not letter clutter accumulate to begin with.

Let me be clear, I'm not planning to become a minimalist, at least not any time soon. I think it's great that people pare their lives down to those necessities, but I can't imagine paring down that far. I enjoy my variety of clothes and my shelves of books. I like cooking far too much to not have what I need to cook a variety of meals. I have my sentimental things that remind me of people I love and the moments we've shared. All that said, I really do like the idea of simplifying things, of getting rid of things that take up space for no discernible reason.

Many of the videos I've watched have sparked various emotions in me. Some made me relieved that my clutter isn't that bad - after all it, for the most part, fits inside cabinets and closets. Some struck me as too rigid as people get rid of things just to pare down just meet a numerical goal. One had me laughing as the hostess poked fun at herself for getting rid of her winter coats during the summer only to find herself with no winter coats when winter came because she followed something called the "two-month rule" that said if you hadn't used it in two months, you should discard it... Sighs! There are a variety of these videos out there following different methods for decluttering or minimalizing. I found many of them inspiring and some were even thought-provoking, but, at the end of the day, decluttering is about getting rid of clutter. It's about getting rid of that which no longer serves.

As I've purged, I've felt a kind of freedom bubbling up. I've felt more creative and motivated to work on my writing projects and get some new projects started. I've felt more engaged with life in general. Maybe there's something to this idea of embracing the idea of having less and only keeping what I truly value in my space...

Monday, January 22, 2018

Suspension of Disbelief...

"...I felt that what I wanted that scene to say to the reader was more important than its surface reality or plausibility." - Richard Wright, transcript of How Bigger Thomas Was Born included in the book, Native Son.

When I read the above line in Richard Wright's essay/speech about how he created Bigger Thomas as the main character of Native son, I stopped. I stared. I read it again... Again... Again... Then I  read it  out loud, once, twice, thrice.

There's an element in fiction where what's happening must stand a test of whether or not the reader can suspend their disbelief in order to be included; however, I've come to realize this suspension of disbelief depends on many things including the reader's own life experience, or lack thereof. It's easier to get someone who has no experience in a field to believe something because they don't have the background to question it with authority.

But we often do this... We often suspend our disbelief so we can enjoy a story or even to maintain something we believe to be true in the face of evidence that it's not. It's easier to just trust the writer than to give the work critical thought... And sometimes the author has just created a scene, particularly in fiction, because the scene's message is more important than its plausibility.

I watched Fences recently. I had no problems suspending my disbelief when necessary, but I wanted something different. I wanted a different reality for these characters. I wanted something to tell me that what I was seeing required me to suspend my disbelief rather than accept that the movie depicted a life that for far too many is far too real. Parts of Native Son left me with this same feeling.

This tightrope between creating realistic scenes and sending the message of the work is one writers must walk constantly. It's that line that gives a reader permission to suspend their disbelief and accept the scene that while technically isn't realistic gives the drama, the meaning, the purpose, the heart to the story. It's often in these pivotal scenes that reality and fantasy blur but the story reaches a different level.

This brings me to my own writing.... As I write, I often struggle to allow myself to suspend my disbelief long enough to allow my creativity to flow. I get caught up in wanting the story to be as realistic as possible even when that forces me to sacrifice the message of the scene or story or book or poem. This leads me into an editing spiral that has, at times, lead me to edit out the very heart of the story or at least, to remove any language that might seem too creative or flowery or poetic in prose.

Reading Native Son and then Richard Wright's description of how he wrote the book gave me pause. As I said, when I reached this line I stopped and read it multiple times. I even took a picture of it. I felt like someone understood my internal struggle with the suspension of disbelief. I felt inspired. I felt an odd sense of liberation about my writing process... and not for the first time.

Around the same time I read Wright's words about suspending disbelief, I also read a wonderful interview with Crystal Wilkinson, author of Birds of Opulence, where she talked about her writing process and why her books don't always follow book writing norms. I stayed up late to read the interview because I found it inspiring. I read parts of the interview multiple times because it spoke to the art of writing in the way I understand it, and that is as being as much an art as it is a craft or a skill.

At the time I was struggling with reconciling some feedback on some short stories I was editing for inclusion in my book, Take a Chance & Other Stories of Starting Over. Much of the feedback was quite informative, but a few things felt stifling in that the suggested changes felt like they might result in too much effect on my voice as a writer and on my characters' experiences. As I read Wilkinson's interview, I felt a sense of liberation in the reminder that my work is my work, and I need to adhere to the message of my work regardless of how the rest of the world receives it. That's hard because I want people to buy my work, read my work, and enjoy my work, but I also want to be true to myself, my life experiences, and the characters I create. I want people to read my books, and to say that suspending their disbelief was worth it.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Goodreads Giveaway - Memory in Silhouette

I'm giving away 10 copies of my book of poetry, Memory in Silhouette on Goodreads. Enter by January 11, 2018 to win 1 of 10 copies.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Memory in Silhouette by T.L. Cooper

Memory in Silhouette

by T.L. Cooper

Giveaway ends January 11, 2018.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Friday, November 17, 2017

Shame: An Old Foe Still in the Shadows

Shame... Shame on you... Shame on me... You have no shame... Shame... Sighs!

I am not ashamed of who I am or my life experiences. I am not ashamed...

And, yet, there have been far too many moments of my life lived in shame, lived in the shame of someone else's perception of my existence and my experiences. We all have. We wear shame like a prism of everything we've done wrong shrinking us into our smallest selves and projecting reasons to not be loved into the world.

I recently read I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't): Making the Journey form "What Will People Think?" to "I Am Enough" by Brené Brown (read my review). When I started it, I had no intention of doing the exercises; however, I quickly changed my mind. As I read I realized that to have the full experience, to truly understand the book, I needed to do the exercises. Still, to be honest, I didn't
expect to get much out of it... 

After all, I'd already done this work... I was sure of it. I'd watched Brown's Ted Talks, including the one, Listening to Shame. I'd taken a couple of her classes, listened to her interviews and presentations, and worked through exercises she offered online. So, I'd done the work... Yes, I had.

So I was surprised when I started working through the exercises and discovered the residual shame in my life. I felt resistant to some answering some questions even though I was the only one who would ever see those answers. I felt reluctant to put into words how certain people and societal norms have made me feel about my life, my experiences, my choices at various times in my life. 

In the midst of reading the book, someone dear to me commented to me that someone else had no shame. While I understood her meaning, I winced, but she needed to be heard and understood not judged, so I listened and tried to understand where she was coming from. I didn't really know how to respond, but I tried. I wanted to be empathetic, but I also felt uncomfortable with the idea of the need for shame.

Over the next few weeks as I continued to read I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't), I explored the difference in shame, blame, and accountability particularly comparing the ideas presented in the book to how the three manifest in my life. I came to realize that when the friend I was talking to referred to shame, she meant accountability. Yet, shame is the language we use. Shame is what we're used to, so we fall back on it time and again even when what we really desire is accountability.

For a long time I've held onto shame for the actions of other people even when I knew I shouldn't. I've not only blamed myself for their actions but shamed myself on their behalf, on society's behalf. I, like many women, have silenced myself to avoid being shamed. I have allowed people to shame me into hiding much of myself. I've allowed people who would tell me that I had no reason to be ashamed even as they shamed me into silence.

Life is complicated and it's easy to cast shame on another without giving it a second thought. Sometimes it even feels like shame is the only way to get through to people. The research Brown and others have done find over and over that people mired in shame are less likely to change their behavior than people who can see the difference in blame, doing something bad, and shame, being bad.

My introduction to Brené Brown was her Ted Talk, The Power of Vulnerability, which I referenced in Finding Strength in Vulnerability. I saw it shortly after I'd spent a year pushing myself to do things that made me feel vulnerable. After years spent building walls around myself, I had to force myself to allow myself to be vulnerable. It took effort and it took time, and I'm still not great at it. I wrote numerous poems about the connection between vulnerability and strength, even more than what I included in Strength in Silhouette: Poems and Vulnerability in Silhouette: Poems, my two books of poetry exploring vulnerability and strength, and I've come to realize that many of those poems also explore my relationship with shame and blame.

Until I worked through I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't), I would've told you that I didn't live in shame. I would've said that I knew the difference thinking I'm a bad person and recognizing that I'm a person who did something bad. I would've told you that I held myself accountable for the things I did bad and that I tried to do good in the world. And, I wouldn't have been lying. I truly believed that about myself.... And, it's true in many instances, but not in all. I realized as I read the book and worked through the exercises that I have a tendency toward silencing myself when I think someone might put me in shame. I also have a tendency to replay small mistakes over and over in my head until I turn something someone else has already forgotten into a reason for that person to despise me.

Shame is pervasive in our society. We want people who make mistakes to be shamed rather than take the blame, hold themselves accountable, and make changes. There's something about shame that feels satisfying to those who are shaming others, at least in the moment. I think later it feels dirty and cheap, yet we keep doing it, almost like it's an addiction. But shame always comes back to us, even if its just in the shame of shaming others.

This past year my writing suffered as I dealt with past "shames" that silenced me. I wanted to write about certain life experiences, but I kept stumbling because I kept falling into the "What will people think?" trap. I excused it because when I've been open about my experiences in the past, I have been shamed time and again. I've lost relationships that mattered to me. I've had people try to rewrite my history into one they felt more comfortable being around. So, when I started trying to write about those aspects of my life I feared getting those same responses, those same doubts, those same attitudes... And, I didn't live in shame anymore... No, I didn't... I was convinced I didn't. Instead I lived in silence while pursuing a career dependent on being visible... That's not exactly a recipe for success.

I almost started the previous paragraph "I'm ashamed to admit that I've allowed my writing to suffer this past year as I dealt with past shames that silenced me." We incorporate shame language into everyday conversation with the same ease we incorporate banal greetings like "Hello" and "Goodbye" without even thinking about what that language does. I've been working on becoming more aware of my language when I'm talking as well as when I'm writing and have been appalled at how often shame words sneak into my communication when that's not at all my intention. I'm working on changing that.

Intellectually, I've understood for a long time that making a mistake didn't make me a bad person, and I've particularly understood that about other people. Yet, somehow even with this understanding and even with the ability to tell myself this in most instances, I still find myself pulled into the hole of shame. 

I like to think I've developed a certain shame resiliency as Brown defines it in I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't), but I wonder sometimes. If I had more shame resiliency, perhaps, those silences I mentioned earlier would've have become my shield against being shamed. If I had more shame resiliency, maybe I wouldn't let my work suffer because I fear other people's reactions. If I had more shame resiliency, maybe I'd be...  a better person? perfect? enough?

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Winds of Chaos - Dona Nobis Pacem

In a world where it feels like chaos dominates our lives, it can be hard to recognize peace when it arrives. Sometimes, though, we have to grab the little slivers of peace that sneak into our lives and cling to them like they are life preservers.

When all we see is the chaos and pain life offers, peace slides into the recesses where it hides leaving us to question if there really is such a thing as peace at all.

We spend so much time highlighting violence and hatred and vitriol that we ignore kindness and love and compassion. Not only are we surrounded by the chaos of violence in the real world, but we surround ourselves with it in our entertainment. We invite chaos into our lives even when there's no reason. We binge watch the violence in fiction and pretend like it's separate from real life. We want justice against the chaos even if we can only find it in the violent acts of fictional good guys exacting revenge on fictional bad guys. But, I wonder if we've become so jaded that we can't be entertained without some sort of violence or reference to violence. 

I have to believe that kindness, love, and compassion have the power to overcome violence, hatred, and vitriol. Where is that story? Where is the entertainment value in peace? Where is the jolt that keeps us engaged in peaceful pursuits? How can peace feed our need for an adrenaline rush? How do we make peace entertaining? How do we find value in peace when violence is what sells? 

As a writer, I ask myself these questions daily. As a human being, I long for the answers. 

Looking back at my past offerings for the Blog for Peace project, it seems like I once thought I had more answers than questions... 

Today, I feel full of questions...

I've heard many people say that what we focus on multiplies, so I'm left to wonder what would happen if we focused on seeing the good in one another instead of the worst. What would happen if we focused on love instead of hate? What would happen if we focused on peace instead of chaos?

What if instead of dividing ourselves based on what someone else tells us makes us enemies, we took the time to actually get to know one another?

We live in a world where chaos and war and violence and crime are more profitable than peace and love and compassion. How do we change that? How do we find a way to profit from promoting peace instead of violence and chaos?

When I look around me, I see a world ruled by chaos and so many people who thrive on that chaos whether or not they know it. In spite of that, I work hard to cultivate peace in my own heart, in my own life, in my little section of the world. I do yoga. I meditate. I think peaceful thoughts. I feel peaceful emotions. I focus on peace. I try to be positive in my interactions with those I interact with on a daily basis. I try to feel compassion without destroying my own boundaries. I try to live from a place of love...

And, yet, I often fail. I find myself pulled into the chaos. I find myself flailing as I try to make a difference in the world. I see the chaos. I feel the chaos. I hear the chaos. Sometimes I even speak the chaos.


I can't give up on peace. We can't give up on peace.

Peace might be a bit like perfection... The perfect thing to strive for even if we can't always recognize it in the moments when it finds its way through the winds of chaos...