Wednesday, January 28, 2015

How Writers Can Benefit from Learning to Learn

As I worked through the course, Learning to Learn and read the book, A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra), I came to realize I'd practiced many of the techniques taught in the class in different areas of my life but without deep understanding of how or why they worked. I often didn't consider things that worked in one area of my life for another area. As I studied Learning to Learn, I began to make connections I'd never made before and felt energized to apply these techniques in
new areas of my life, including writing.

One common piece of advice in the writing world is to sit your butt in the chair and write. Get the words written. The idea is to take the muse out of the process, stop waiting for inspiration, and focus on getting words written. In this kind of focused writing, one to focus on the project at hand without being distracted by the multitude of other projects in the works. This allows one to free one's mind for one project because one knows the others will get their time as well.

This focused writing process can be timed using the Pomodoro method if one desires. Set a timer (I use the one on my phone) and write for the designated amount of time. Then take a break and let diffused thinking take over. I can see writers protesting right now. Writers never want to stop when the words start flowing. It can be almost painful to stop, and it can take time to get back into the project after taking a break. I also struggle to go from focused to diffuse mode, particularly when I'm writing. Once I start, I just want to keep going and will write until I'm either exhausted or feel like I've run out of words.

I've been playing around a bit with the Pomodoro method for my writing lately. I used it to write a blog post for my review website a week or so ago and it worked beautifully. I'd been struggling with what I wanted to say in this particular review for almost a month, so I decided the Pomodoro method might help. I set out to just write what I could in twenty minutes with the idea that I could go back and edit it later. Once I got started, the writing went so smoothly, I both finished writing and editing it in the twenty minutes. I took a break and came back later in the day  to give it one last edit only to discover it said what I wanted to say.

One author I know talks about doing a hated chore whenever she feels stuck. She explains that feeling stuck or what is commonly known as writer's block is really just our brain's way of telling writers they've written themselves into a corner or they need more information to proceed. While she has a point, it is also possible the writer has just been in focused mode for too long and needs some diffuse thinking time. I've tried her technique of doing a hated chore, but it's not the most effective diffuse thinking mode for me. I do better with a dance break, a walk, meditation, yoga, cooking, or sleep among other things. Each individual needs to find what triggers diffuse mode for them. What works for me might or might not work for someone else. It's important for writers to let storylines rest in diffuse mode in order to allow them to grow and find their way through various connections and pathways. This kind of diffuse mode allows us to come back to focused mode and write stories in creative ways that intrigue, entertain, and provoke thought.

Both focused and diffuse mode of thinking come into play during the research phase for writing. You focus hard, study hard, read the research, and participate in activities to better learn the research. I've researched historical figures, writing techniques, social injustice, and inequality among many other things for my books and poetry. I've taken a Citizen's Police Academy course as research. I took golf lessons as research. I've read myriad books on human and societal behavior to enhance my writing. I've recently started studying foreign languages in order to enhance my writing and help me communicate better. Traveling is also a wonderful way to enhance one's writing particularly when one seeks to use the written word to unite rather than divide. All of these things require intense focused mode to learn what the writer needs to know and then diffuse mode to assimilate it well enough to write about it effectively.

Testing one's self about one's experiences and research helps to solidify those experiences into retrievable chunks and a deeper understanding of the experience and research. If one tries to write about what one has researched before it has time to chunk, the writing is often academic, contrived, or unclear. If one gives it time to chunk in diffuse mode, then focuses to use the knowledge to write a scene, it's much easier to immerse the reader in the scene and to remember the nuances that make the scene feel real even though it's only words on a page.

In Learning to Learn, we studied the importance of studying material and recalling that material in myriad places. Writers sometimes convince ourselves that taking our work somewhere outside our normal work environments to places where there might be distractions seems like too much trouble. So we don't do it. Yet every time I have, I've always been productive.

For example, recently, I had plans to study German with a classmate. I needed to run some errands in the area before we met, so I took a few pages of editing with me just in case I finished my errands early. I was already at the cafe where we planned to meet when I saw her email saying she wasn't coming because she didn't feel well. I looked at the cup of hot tea I'd already bought. I needed to stay there for at least twenty minutes to drink it, so I pulled out my editing. I started editing those pages and whipped through close to double what I would have likely accomplished in thirty minutes at home. Even though I was in a place filled with other people around me and the noises of a busy cafe, I focused on the pages in front of me as I sipped my tea. There wasn't any of the pull of what else I needed to do. I could see the pages in a different light. I could almost see the pages as someone other than the person who wrote them and that allowed me to both appreciate and assess them in a different way than I might have at home. A change of scenery not only helps us learn by giving us different associations with what we're learning but it helps us see the work we've done in a different way, too.

Writers need to recognize The Impostor, as it's referred to in the class, when it shows up to question it and learn what works for them to quiet The Impostor's voice. It took me years to acknowledge my impostor, Little Miss Impostor, existed and even longer to figure out how to combat her insistence that everyone knew all my flaws and would never see the good in me or in my writing. Little Miss Impostor shows up at some point in every single project I do. She whispers until she screams. She insists on being heard. I've gotten better at questioning Little Miss Impostor as she tries to keep me from achieving my very best. My particular voice obsesses over perfection. It reminds me that I'm not perfect and so will never be good enough. It whispers and screams and throws temper tantrums. It plays the wise older woman and the bratty ten-year-old. It gives me sweet smiles and scowling frowns. It drives me to obsess over things no one else will ever know about let alone notice. She reminds me that I may offend family or friends if I write something even if it is the truth. She points out that every single bad thing anyone has ever said about anything I've written. She points out every single mistake I've made in past work. And on and on she goes...

Until finally I sit back, take a deep breath, and tell Little Miss Impostor it's time to run along. I'm good enough. I know what I'm doing. She always promises to return another day, and I know she will. I deal with Little Miss Impostor by reminding her and myself that I am perfectly imperfect and imperfectly perfect just as I am.

Writers spend their lives learning and writing what they learn whether in fiction, poetry, or nonfiction. It's what I do anyway. Learning to learn has the potential to help writers research and assimilate knowledge better to enhance the material they write.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Empowerment in Manipulating Glass

The Glory Hole
Kaylee and TL
Standing in the heat emanating from the glory hole, I stared at the molten flame inside and watched the clear solid ball of glass with colored glass beads pressed into it transform into a malleable form. The colored beads spread through the clear glass as the heat kissed them simultaneously. I remembered having been in a similar position a few years earlier the first time I took a glass blowing class at the same glass art studio, Jennifer Sears Glass Art Studio in Lincoln City, Oregon - perhaps, glass blowing experience would be more accurate.
Glass Paperweight I made in 2009
The first time I took the glass blowing experience, I opted to make a heart shaped glass paperweight with red and black "veins" encapsulated in clear glass. I loved the first experience but wanted to try making a bowl or a vase ever since that first experience. A visit from my niece, Kaylee, gave me the perfect opportunity for an activity I thought we'd both enjoy!
Making the paperweight had involved much manipulation of the glass through shaping, forming, and stretching but not much blowing and I wanted that experience.
Kaylee moving her initial glass blob
to the glory hole.
I glanced over at Kaylee and observed her focus on her project and felt my glass blowing rod tip ever so slightly causing the glass to slide a bit to the side. The instructor reminded me to keep it steady. I smiled as I pulled my focus back to my project. Kaylee has an independent streak that assured me she could handle herself just fine. I glanced over my shoulder and smiled at my husband, Loay, who was taking photos of both Kaylee and me as we made our bowls.
TL heating the glass in the glory hole
I looked back at my no oddly shaped ball of melting glass in the glory hole, felt the heat on my face and body, and took a deep inhale and let out a long exhale. The weight of the rod in my hands shifted as I turned the rod to keep the glass in motion to keep the melting process even. I controlled the speed and tilt of the rod. I watched how gentle turns or a hesitation in the turn changed the way the colors melted and shifted the weight of the ball. I felt a surge of both power and concern.
My instructor gave me quiet, constant instruction and encouragement.
I remembered for a moment my first experience blowing glass when I made the paperweight. I'd felt quite distracted by a desire to make sure everyone else enjoyed the experience. Loay, Mom, and my nephew, Tyler, made their own projects. Dad and Aunt Geri watched from the audience area.
This time I didn't have those concerns, so I was able to concentrate on my project more intensely. I wanted to do more but soon realized there's only so much one can do in a thirty minute class, which is why I've come to think of it more as an experience. The teacher needs to keep the project moving along mainly because the glass cools rapidly making it difficult to shape but also so other people can enjoy the experience. They have a schedule to keep. Each time the glass cools too much, it has to go back in the glory hole to heat enough to manipulate again.
So I focused on my project and on what my teacher said and watched intensely the parts he did that I couldn't. And, I imagined doing those steps myself.
TL using the wooden form.
After we removed the glass from the fire, we used a wooden form to shape it before placing it back in the fire. I loved watching how the colors spread and twisted as I held the wooden form steady and my instructor turned the rod moving the glass in the form. As I used both hands to hold the form I couldn't help but feel a sense of appreciation for the skill of the glass artists who hold the glass and turn the rod at the same time!
Kaylee manipulating the glass to
create the design.
After we heated it in the glory hole again, we shaped it once more and I used diamond shears to pull the glass while the instructor held the rod steady and turned it. The pulling and twisting manipulated the colors by stretching and moving the colors into new positions. I got into this process and let my instincts take control as I picked the next place to grab the glass with the shears and shape it. I earned praise from the instructor during this process not that I was looking for it, but it did feel good to hear! This part of the process made it feel like the bowl was mine as I let my creative instincts inject themselves. Then we heated it again and shaped it again.
Kaylee blowing the glass
Every time I stole a quick glance at Kaylee, I appreciated her confidence and concentration. She appeared to stay right in the moment of each step of the process. Her ease with the experience reminded me that it's not my responsibility to make everyone around me happy. Her brother had exhibited the same ease when he learned the process. There's something about youth that allows one to immerse one's self into new experiences with much more ease than adults seem capable. I felt a sense of release as I allowed myself to tap into that ease and just enjoy the process. There's a sense of empowerment that comes with embracing the project at hand and letting one's other responsibilities fade into the background, even if only for a little while.
TL blowing the glass
Eventually, I got to blow air through the tube to open the end of the glass ball we'd made to change the shape to a bowl. I didn't remember doing this at all with the paperweight, but perhaps I did because there is a really cool bubble shape inside the paperweight that I've always really liked. I blew gently like instructed - apparently too gently because the teacher kept telling me I could blow a bit harder. Finally, the end opened and the basic shape appeared. There is power in gentleness, something else we tend to forget. So often we only equate power with brute force. As I blew air through the tube, the change created by that gentle effort was huge just as changes in life that occur from consistent effort can be. The instructor used the tongs to spread the end open creating a basic bowl shape. Then we took it back into the glory hole.

Teacher forming
the fluted bowl shape
We removed it from the glory hole. I thought for a moment about how we used heat and cold to manipulate the glass. The heat allowed us to change the glass and the cool solidified our efforts. Then the teacher held it upside down and twirled it around until the glass curved like waves and took the shape of a fluted bowl. So cool!
I both wanted to do this part and was relieved he did it. How exciting it would be to create that effect, but I get the impression that's an advanced technique. I watched the bowl take shape and felt a sense of accomplishment even given the collaborative effort.
Stamping the bowl.
After he pressed a ball of glass onto the bottom of the bowl and stamped it, he placed it in the annealer to cool. The annealer allows it to cool in a controlled environment, so it doesn't cool too fast. Just like in life, we have to allow things to heat and cool at the proper rates to exact the change we desire.
Then there was the wait for the final product...
While the glass blowing experience is definitely a collaborative effort, there's something empowering about feeling the heat emanating from the glory hole and watching the glass change into something that has a bit of your personality in it.
Kaylee's bowl ready
for the annealer.
While the first experience was fun, I felt more immersed in the second experience. I felt a sense of what I was doing and what I was creating. I felt ownership of the project in a way I didn't the first time. Was it a matter of having already had the experience or was it a matter of that feeling of being free to concentrate on the project without worrying about the experience others' were having? I'm not sure, maybe a bit of both. One thing is certain, watching a lump of clear glass with glass beads pressed into it morph into a beautiful piece of which one can be proud gives one a sense of accomplishment!
One consistent feeling between the two experiences was the sense of self-expression, freedom, and empowerment that came from the process of trying something I'd never dreamed I could do.
Granted, I didn't learn enough to try anything like this on my own, but what I did accomplish reminded me I have the power to learn new things and to create new experiences in my life...
TL's finished product
Kaylee's finished product
Like many other things I've done, glass blowing required me to stay in the moment. I've discovered so many things in life go so much better when one focuses on the moment at hand instead of thinking about what comes next...


Friday, December 12, 2014

Dancing to Life's Rhythm

Veil I use for belly dance class
- made by Jani K. Fisher
This week my belly dance class reminded me of the importance of dancing to life's rhythm.

I went to dance class after a day that didn't go particularly well. I wasn't in a good mood. Most of my day just hadn't gone to plan and that ended up affecting not only my day but my husband's adding stress to both of our days. I felt guilty for leaving him to clean up my mistake while I went to dance. I also thought I needed to be placing my attention on several other projects that needed work. My day got completely sidetracked by the aforementioned mistake that I tried to fix myself. I ended up almost in tears before asking for my husband's help with it. I was pushing against my life all day long instead of embracing it.

That just created more problems.

I wanted to be "better" than I was being. I wanted to accomplish what I wasn't accomplishing. I wanted my attention on too many things at once...

As I drove to belly dance class, I berated myself for all of the above. I went over a mental list of all the projects that needed my attention. I went over all the things that aren't as far along as I planned them to be at this point in time. I beat myself up for leaving my husband to deal with the mess I'd created. I thought about all the promises I've made that I just haven't quite gotten around to doing yet. I thought about all the things I want to do and need to do and felt overwhelmed. I thought about all the projects for this year that won't get completed by the end of the year. Then I asked myself what right I had to be going to a dance class - something I was doing for fun (well, research, too), but Tuesday night I felt like I didn't deserve to go. There were too many other things that needed my attention...

On top of that, I was running late and had skipped dinner because I had no appetite.

I sighed and shook off these thoughts. I reminded myself it was the last class and that I'd committed to the class. I decided to treat it like I do yoga. For the time I was there, dancing would have my full attention. I would go in, enjoy myself, and not even care if I screwed up the moves.

Class started with moves across the floor to warm up, as usual. I started moving and slowly began to feel my day drain away. Jani K. Fisher, the instructor, exuded strong, vibrant, positive energy. I began to feel it. My smile returned. I closed my eyes a few times and felt the music and the moves instead of watching her and mimicking her. I relaxed into it. My moves weren't perfect. They were far from it. But I had fun. My body responded by releasing my frustration. When I felt like I totally messed up the moves, I closed my eyes, took a breath, and felt the rhythm of the music. I let that guide me. I thought less and felt more.

At one point, when my self-critic began to speak up while we were prepping to transition from warm up moves to veil work and our routine, one of the girls in the class looked at me and said "You look concerned." and flashed me a big smile.

I smiled back and said something about trying to focus on following the moves instead of doing the modified moves I'd needed to do in the previous two classes due to a mild shoulder injury. I didn't want to get into how I was mentally shushing my self-critic...

We laughed through the routine and the mistakes we all made and found our way back again.

As we got into a circle to end class, the same girl who noticed my concerned expression and I noticed we were both kind of moving to the rhythm of the music and started dancing together instigating a "dance off" that had each of freestyle dancing in the circle as everyone else swayed around us and encouraged us.

I left class thinking about how different the class felt than the others had. Much more fluid and relaxed. I wondered how much of that came from my attitude shift and how much from the class itself.

Finding the rhythm, feeling it, and giving myself over to it, felt liberating. I'm not sure how well I danced, but I enjoyed the process and I felt very alive at the end of the class.

It reminded me that when I fight my life, my life fights me. When I find the rhythm in my life, in my day, in the project at hand things progress much better and even challenges don't seem like obstacles. Sometimes, we have to pause in the moment to reacquaint ourselves with the rhythm in order to stop moving against the beat.

When I write something, I often find a rhythm in the process. Right now, I feel a rhythm in my typing. My brain is tapping out a rhythm in the words. My thoughts and emotions are flowing to the rhythm of what I want to express. All of this is important for me to find the words to communicate. When I lose that rhythm, my work suffers. No matter what I'm working on - be it writing, editing, housework, financials, etc.

The rhythm of life invites me to dance every day. I have the option to say yes or no, and then I have to deal with the consequences of my answer. Dancing against the rhythm never gets me very far.

It's a little like focusing so hard on the goal one loses sight of the process. That's why it's a dance. I signed up for the belly dance class with the goal of learning the moves to dance for fun but also to understand the nuances well enough to write about them, but I forgot about the fun part and lost my rhythm. I was so focused on getting the moves perfect and learning I lost the rhythm and in the process lost the dance entirely including the moves I was so focused on learning.

How about you? How's your rhythm? Are you dancing with your life or against it?


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Soaring Betrayal - My Latest Book Released!!


My latest book, Soaring Betrayal, details accounts of heart-wrenching betrayal that leaves in its wake broken lives, broken spirits, and futures forever changed. In moments where love goes wrong, hurtful decisions are made, and obsession turns to violence, hope beats in the hearts of men and women who would have good reason to abandon humanity. Inner strength and resolve surface in the harsh realities of deception and loss. The men and women in each of these short stories search for ways to soar above the betrayal that threatens to destroy them.



Click below to download this eBook of short stories!


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Dona Nobis Pacem - Words in the Hands of Love

Words in the hands of love - what a powerful concept. When I read this was this year's Blogblast for Peace theme, I felt a shiver of joy spread through my body. I'm more than a tiny bit in love with the power of words.

We live in a world where it often seems like words have been stolen by the hands of hate. As the vitriol spreads, so does the chaos. Chaos destroys peace.

When we make the effort to put words in the hands of love, peace blooms into beautiful meadows of wildflowers blowing in the wind.

Mimi Lenox, organizer of Blogblast for Peace, asked people to participate in a 60 Days to Peace Challenge in which participants came up with one thing every day that could lead to peace. As I focused on peace each day for a single action toward peace, my thoughts always returned to one thought. Peace begins within.

To cultivate peace in the world, we must first cultivate peace within our own hearts, minds, and lives. When we live lives immersed in chaos, there is no way to see peace even when it appears right before us. We must inhabit the peace we seek.

So often we look for someone to bring peace to the world, to create the peace we desire, to immerse us in peace. We think peace is too big for us. We think peace requires some extra-ordinary superpower to achieve. We think peace is impossible.

When I look at the world around me, I feel the despair of the chaos created when people spread hate and divisiveness, especially under the guise of morality or cultural differences or differing belief systems. Hate and divisiveness can never bring us to love and unity and therefore cannot cultivate peace.

The more time I spent thinking about peace, the more the power of words settled into my heart. When I focused on peace from a place of love, positive words came easily. When I focused on peace from a place of frustration with the world, negative words drowned out the positive words. Negative words don't feel peaceful even when their aim is to cultivate peace. I soon started to search for positive ways to say what felt negative though I discovered that sometimes a "stop" or an "avoid" or an "don't" have much more impact.

And, the more I focused on peace, the more I came to the conclusion that the only way the world will ever know peace is for the individuals inhabiting our planet to first find peace within and then use that peace to change one's attitude in order to treat other people with respect and dignity.

Personal interactions, art, music, education, creating connections, communing with nature, and communication became common themes in my daily posts over the sixty days. I felt an ache in my heart for there to be more concrete answers to finding peace. I wanted to find a magic panacea that would bring unity, love, and peace to the world. I wanted to find the words that would allow each of us to find peace within our lives and within the world.

While the world certainly needs peace, we aren't going to cultivate it by forcing it on anyone or through behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs that divide us. We can each do our part to cultivate peace by starting with ourselves.

We need to place our words in the hands of love and let them shine like the sun shining through the clouds and opening us to the possibility that if we learn to love, truly love, even those with whom we disagree, we can find unity. In unity, we can begin to cultivate peace.

So what about it... Will you join me in putting words in the hands of love?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

No one Else Can Play Your/My Part

This week I stumbled across the site To Write Love on Her Arms which was promoting a project called "No One Else Can Play Your Part" designed to bring awareness to World Suicide Prevention Day September 10th. I wanted to participate, but the early part of my week was too full for me to sit down and write a blog post. The challenge was to explain why no one else could play my part.

This concept haunted me all week. Why can no one else play my part?

No one else can play my part because no one else can be me with all my imperfections and perfections.

That's my pat answer. It's the answer that sums it up and yet it somehow feels incomplete. It has taken me years to get to the point where I believe I am enough. I spent much of my life "trying to be..." in order to be lovable, acceptable, respectable. Yet, as I stand here I remember a time when I didn't care who liked or didn't like me, who stayed and who left, who thought well of me and who thought ill of me. I remember that time, and I remember the crushing blow that changed how I saw myself when I looked in the mirror. I remember spiraling into a place of self-destruction and suicidal thoughts. I remember thinking the world would be better off without me in it. I remember thinking I brought nothing but misery to everyone around me. I remember believing with my whole heart that the only way to spare my family the shame of having me as a daughter was to stop existing. I never thought of it as dying, just as no longer existing.

I rarely think about that time in my life and I talk about it even less. It seems so inconsequential to who I am now yet if I hadn't gone through it, I wouldn't be the person I've grown to become. Recently, when I read about Robin Williams suicide, these thoughts came back. Not because I knew him but because I understood how the outside world can see us as happy when we're spiraling into that abyss. I know how hard it is to find the way out of that abyss. If we're lucky someone sees and someone intervenes.

When I spiraled years ago, a friend noticed and told another friend, Emery, because she thought maybe he could reach me when she had failed. At first, apparently, he dismissed her concerns. Then he saw me on campus and saw something in my demeanor that concerned him. He reached out. He did little things. He elicited a promise from me every day that we would talk the next day. He asked if I was eating, sleeping, and otherwise taking care of myself. He inquired about my plans for the day, the week, the month, the summer, the next Fall. He asked me what happened. I told him. He listened. He didn't judge. He simply reminded me of the good in me even when I refused to believe him. He even managed to coax a laugh or two from me. Most importantly he kept eliciting that promise that we'd talk the next day. He, like most people who know me well, knew that I hate to break a promise. I will go to great lengths to keep the promises I make.

Sometimes the little things are the biggest things when it comes to being there for someone.Somehow, without me even being cognizant it was happening, he reminded me there was only one me and that I had much to offer the world.

Eventually, I began to see that the longer I survived, I... well, survived. It took a long time for me to feel like I could do more than survive. Sometimes, we have to accept that survival is enough until we can move to the next level and eventually to thrive.

Today when I look at those around me, I can generally see a million reasons why no one else could play the parts of the people in my life except the people who play them. I still sometimes have to remind myself that no one else can play my part. That's okay because I know, deep in my heart, that I am uniquely me. I am the only me there will ever be just like each person I meet can only be who they are and no one else can be that person.

So the reason no one else can play my part or your part is simply because we are all enough just as we are and we all have much to offer the world just as we are.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

T. L. Cooper Reads at Verse of Ages