Monday, September 21, 2015

Underneath - a poem for International Peace Day

I've been pondering peace all day... well, since I learned that today is International Peace Day.

Peace is important to me. I've participated in the Blog 4 Peace project the past two years, and I always come back to the same thought. Peace begins with me. Peace begins with you. Peace begins in each of our hearts.

I listened to the anthem for this year's International Peace Day, One, and I felt... well, sad...

There is so much disconnection in our world. There is so much us versus them. There are so many labels. There is such a strong push to control one another. There is such a strong push toward greed and materialism.

It leaves me wondering why, if so many people can see us that we are "one", that we are more alike than unalike, that we are better off united than divided, we end up right back at this place where hate, division, and vitriol rule the day.

Then I look at social media. The world works by keeping us divided, by telling us what to think, by demonizing us to each other...

And, we allow it to happen.

But, I have to believe there is hope... I have to...

And, so I was inspired to write the following poem...


Underneath the lies
Underneath the division
Underneath the beliefs
Underneath the manipulation
Underneath the blind loyalty
Underneath the greed
Underneath the judgment
Underneath it all
What do you find underneath?
When you look in your heart?
When you look in your soul?
Do you ever look
To see the humanity in another?
Do you ever look
To see the pain in another’s eyes?
Do you ever look
To find the humility to change
The system that hurts so many
Do you ever look
To see the love that unites?
Do you ever look
To find the connection
To another?
Do you ever look
To find the peace
Born from compassion?
Because I have to believe
That if we look
We can find the connection
We can find the compassion
We can find the love
We can find the way to cultivate
But we have to start by looking
The manipulation that keeps us in chaos
Tell me
If peace begins in each of our hearts
How do we nurture it so it will thrive?
Peace is about so much more than ending war
Peace begins and ends with us
Living love and compassion for our fellow Earthlings…

Friday, September 18, 2015

Vulnerability in Silhouette Finds Strength

As a writer, I often feel a sense of isolation that is only relieved through sharing my work. As a human being, I sometimes feel a sense of vulnerability that is only relieved when I risk connecting with others. Being a writer gives me an excuse to avoid risking vulnerability.
When I was compiling the poems for my book, Strength in Silhouette: Poems , I couldn't help but notice how often strength and vulnerability played on the same playground, and they played together well. I reflected over several years when I spent concerted efforts to risk vulnerability in order to grow closer to those I loved and to be more authentic. Each foray I made into vulnerability made me feel stronger. It wasn't that I couldn't be hurt. It wasn't that I didn't hurt. I was hurt. I felt pain deeply, but I felt a strength coming through the vulnerability that reminded me I could do better than survive, I could thrive.
So, as I sorted through the poems to focus on strength I watched my reject pile of poems exploring vulnerability grow higher and higher. I soon realized I had enough books for at least one book of poetry focused on vulnerability. At first I was excited, my next book had written itself...
But... then... something happened. The poems were there. They were ready. I wasn't. I stalled. And then I procrastinated... And, then I realized I felt vulnerable. Finally, I narrowed the poems down and compiled Vulnerability in Silhouette. As I compiled it, I once again felt vulnerability and strength playing off one another and somehow giving one another a stronger foundation.
To me, Vulnerability in Silhouette feels like a companion book to Strength in Silhouette, but I think both books also stand on their own.
I share my poetry in the hopes it will connect with others in a way they find useful or entertaining or inspiring...
I offer you my Vulnerability in Silhouette...

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Guest Blogging about Oregon

Today I'm guest blogging on Fifty Authors from Fifty States. I wrote a bit about hiking in Oregon. This summer we spent several Saturdays hiking places within a couple hours drive from our house. I touched on a few of them as well as on how the hikes reminded me how much I used to enjoy being in the woods...

Check it out at Fifty Authors from Fifty States.

Friday, August 14, 2015

What Motivates You?

What motivates you?

I recently asked myself this question as I read through my Facebook newsfeed. I felt paralyzed by outrage yet again. I stared at posts of one more atrocity and then one more and then.... And, the next thought I had was that human beings are the cruelest species on this planet...My heart ached.

I pondered what motivates me. I see so many people who are fueled by outrage. Their anger pushes them to make change. It gives them purpose. It helps them stay focused on the change they want. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized outrage just doesn't motivate me.

Outrage exhausts me. Outrage depresses me. Outrage paralyzes me.

I see all these posts I'm supposed to be outraged about, and I feel the outrage, but it's fleeting. Mostly I feel incredibly sad about the way human beings treat other Earthlings and the Earth itself. So I asked myself again and again "What motivates you?"

As I meditated over the next few weeks, the question kept returning to me. "What motivates you?"

As I watched more and more atrocities flood my newsfeed and the news and the world around me, I felt a sense of despair. Human beings mistreating fellow human beings. Human beings prioritizing flags over people. Human beings abusing and killing animals just because they could. Human beings killing fellow human beings without remorse. Human beings blaming fellow human beings for circumstances beyond their control. Human beings pitting other human beings against one another. Human beings rewriting history with fantasy instead of facts. Human beings knowingly releasing products harmful to people, animals, and the Earth. Human beings valuing money over people, animals, and the Earth. Human beings spreading misinformation and outright lies to hurt those with whom they disagree. Human beings excusing and even applauding the atrocities committed by other human beings. My heart ached so much I thought I might drown in despair over human cruelty. I felt paralyzed.

Misogyny. Racism. Bigotry. Hate. Violence. Intolerance. Cruelty. Poverty. War. Hate. Hate. Hate.

So much hate.

So much division...

Then one day during my meditation, I experienced such an intense feeling of love that I caught my breath. When I finished my meditation, I finally had the answer to my question. I'm motivated by love. My love for my fellow human beings. My love for animals. My love for this Earth. My love for myself. Just love. The kind of love that transcends the moment and reminds us we can make a difference in the world. The kind of love that connects all living beings and the Earth on which we live.

Later that week, I once again watched Madonna's video Living for Love from her album, Rebel Heart [CD + Bonus CD][Super Deluxe Edition][Ex . I took a moment at the end to read the quote. "Man is the cruelest animal. At tragedies, bullfights, and crucifixions he has so far felt best on earth; and when he invented hell for himself, behold, that was his very heaven." - Friedrich Nietzsche

And, I knew I wasn't alone. I'm not the only one astounded and flummoxed by the sheer cruelty of human beings. And, yet, I still feel more sad than outraged.

Love doesn't ask us to be perfect. Instead love asks us to see beyond our individual selves, beyond our families, beyond our communities, beyond our limited experience, beyond tradition, beyond progress, beyond labels... Love asks us to look into one another's eyes and see the sentience in others as well as ourselves. Love asks us to appreciate the Earth that sustains our lives. Love asks us to put aside pettiness to see where we can be helpful. Love asks us to value the experiences of other people while not devaluing our own. Love asks us to seek common ground even when it's difficult.

Now, I'm not saying I'm perfect. I feel extreme anger toward those who abuse others. Abusers get no sympathy from me, none whatsoever, regardless of their excuses. Those in power who use their power to hurt others damage existence for all of us. Those who callously value money over people, animals, and our Earth, make my skin crawl.

I do feel the outrage. I understand it. I even sometimes embrace it with a relish that scares me. But, it doesn't motivate me. It overwhelms me. It paralyzes me. So I turn my attention to the place where I can offer love, where I can feel love, where I can see love. In a perfect world, I suppose I would find a way to love the perpetrators, too, because hate never heals. But I'm not there yet. I'm truly not.

When I get in mired in my despair over the cruelty of the world, I remind myself over and over of Maya Angelou's words "Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet." Her words help me remember I wish to add to the solution, not the problems.

Ripples on Sweet Creek in Oregon
No one operates in a vacuum. We influence one another. What we put into the world spreads. It ripples out from our immediate circle of influence to all their circles of influence and just keeps going. I try to remember this. If I let hate for the cruel people take up room in my heart, I cheat those who deserve love. So I try to choose love. I try to interact with love. Even when I must confront another, I try to do it from a place of love. I try to always write from a place of love whether I'm addressing the positive or the negative aspects of living in my work. I look into the world and look for places where I can spread compassion, understanding and love.

Change must come, so wherever you find your motivation, grab it and go. Say what you need to say. Take action. For me, I'll fall back on love. I'll choose love because love energizes me and gives me a reason to keep moving forward. I choose love because love gives me hope.

I am motivated by Love...

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Everlasting Vulnerability Journey

Recently, as I stood in the middle of Sweet Creek with one foot on one rock and the other foot on another rock in order to take a picture of one of the many waterfalls we saw while hiking the Sweet Creek Trail, I thought about a blog post I'd been struggling to finish. I felt perfectly comfortable standing in that slightly unsteady stance to capture the image I wanted. My mind wandered back to the words I'd been struggling to find to express my latest thoughts on vulnerability. I looked down into the water I straddled and felt the fleetingness of words written and discarded as not perfect enough.

So much of my life I've felt the need to protect myself - physically, mentally, emotionally. There have been times when I've been paralyzed by my fear of vulnerability. Vulnerability and I have always had a very tumultuous relationship.

After I snapped the photo, I secured both feet on one rock, stepped onto a larger rock and sat down. I took a deep cleansing breath and looked around me. Water, trees, rocks all moved at their own speeds not giving a damn that I was trying to capture that moment in an image. It occurred to me in that moment that the very place where I was sitting was likely usually completely underwater.

Life is all about stepping out on to that rock and feeling that momentary instability to reach beyond the safe, the benign, the expected to embrace possibility. Life is all about the moment we keep trying to capture as it slips away. Every moment is vulnerable to being lost yet I have lost so many because I feared the vulnerability a particular moment demanded.

All of this bubbled to the surface as I sat on that rock with a waterfall in front of me and water sliding over and around the many rocks in the creek.

I pondered the words I'd written for that blog post and realized the reason I felt so unhappy with it was it felt like I was complaining that I hadn't reached my destination yet. It discussed my journey into vulnerability, the rewards I'd found in risking being vulnerable, and yet bemoaned that I still struggle with vulnerability.

My journey to let down my guard, to embrace my vulnerability, to be me consequences-be-damned, is ongoing. It very well might never end. And, that's okay.

Much of my struggle to risk vulnerability bled into my writing over the past several years. The words I wrote showed me how interconnected strength and vulnerability are. I rediscovered my strength in my vulnerability. I included several of the poems I've written exploring the connection between strength and vulnerability in my book, Strength in Silhouette: Poems and will include more in my upcoming book, Vulnerability in Silhouette: Poems. Writing about vulnerability and strength were important aspects of my journey because I generally find my way to my truth by writing, especially writing poetry.

As I continue on this journey to vulnerability one of my greatest struggles is to release my tendencies toward perfectionism. No matter how much I intellectually let go of my inner need to be perfect, it comes back to haunt me. I know how unrealistic perfectionism is, but that doesn't stop all the fears of being seen, really being seen, imperfections and all from bubbling to the surface.

So, as I sat in the middle of Sweet Creek on a rock that should be covered by water, I looked at the combination of abundance and lack around me. I felt at peace. I saw the beauty in the imperfection of the forest, the creek, the rocks. Yes, the creek not being full indicates a shortage of water, and that makes me sad. Yet, if there was water, I wouldn't be able to sit in the middle of the creek. I felt an odd sort of connection not only to that creek but to my work and my life. I sat in that moment, that short moment, and took in everything around me. That beautiful creek was no less wonderful for not being full, but it needs the nourishment of water flowing through it in order to remain what it is. And, I need the nourishment of the strength found in vulnerability flowing through me to write, to edit, to produce...

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

No More... Excuses... No More...

No More...
When I stumbled across the No More campaign, I felt my breath catch. I'd discovered Mariska Hargitay's Joyful Heart Foundation shortly before and was intrigued by the work the foundation does. Apparently, Mariska Hargitay's work on Law & Order: SVU inspired her to do something to help the many survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence in the United States. Her foundation works to get rape kits off shelves and tested. They provide retreats for survivors to get support. The foundation pulls together resources to raise awareness and to actually take action.
I studied the website over several days and felt a sense of the foundation's commitment.
It reminded me how important fiction can be. Hargitay works on a fictional show - granted, the Law & Order franchise likes the "ripped from the headlines" concept, but it's still fiction. Yet, Hargitay was so moved she researched sexual assault and domestic violence and then decided to use her influence to do something about it. She turned her job into a purpose to better the world...
Fiction is often superfluous and entertaining, but fiction can also serve a purpose. It provides us the ability to start conversations, to create connections, and to encourage compassion. Fiction has the ability to be both entertaining and informative.
I thought about how I attempt to marry both social issues and entertainment into my own work, and I felt drawn even more strongly to Joyful Heart Foundation and to the No More Campaign. In addition, I thought about how my own life experience and observations of other people's lives inform my work and felt great respect for Mariska Hargitay.
I ordered a "No More" travel mug and a tote bag. The t-shirts only came in white, and I don't wear white, so no t-shirt for me. I read more about the campaign. I watched the PSAs. I saw something in the efforts. The message was simple... No More Excuses...
The No More... Campaign spoke to me in a way most campaigns don't. Perhaps because I'm so tired of the excuses and of making the survivors responsible for the attackers' actions. I am sick to my stomach of the stigma that comes with being a survivor. I am so tired of people who have no idea what being in an abusive relationship is like saying things like "Well, if it was me, I'd just leave." - If you've never been in that situation, you don't know what you'd do. Every situation is different, and you really don't know what you'd do. And, saying that to someone who has no options only makes the situation worse by heaping guilt on top of injury.
Saying things like "I'd never let myself be raped." inflicts guilt and lacks compassion while also being ridiculous on its face. No one ever, ever lets themselves be raped. By definition one cannot allow one's self to be raped. Rape is forcible and unwanted and not allowed.
Excuses for abusers strip survivors of any power they may still possess, the very power they may need to change their situations. Excuses for abusers perpetuate an environment that silences victims and forces them to stay in dangerous situations. Excuses for abusers send the message that it's okay to abuse but shameful to be abused. No more...
Excuses for rapists allow rapists to go free forcing survivors to live in fear. Excuses for rapists silence victims allowing rapists to pursue other victims. Excuses for rapists stop victims from seeking help. Excuses for rapists send the message that it's okay to rape but shameful to be raped. No more...
I've heard far too many excuses as have most of us. We've heard them from friends and family. We've heard them from people in authority. We've heard them from strangers. We've heard them from people who should know better.
We've heard excuses about people we love and directed toward people we love. We've heard them to excuse people we hate. We've heard them to excuse people we love. We've heard them to judge people we love. We've heard them to judge people we hate. We've heard them to dismiss and to silence and and to justify and to ignore behavior we don't want to see.
Abusers and rapists are responsible for their behavior and their choices. No one forces them to rape or to abuse. When their behavior is excused, they are simply absolved of guilt without ever needing to change or even acknowledge their behavior. The excuses must stop.
No more excuses for mental, physical, verbal, emotional violence... No more excuses... No more...

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.