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.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Furever Rescued... Who Rescued Whom?

Kit being patient while I
interrupt her brushing to take pictures
Kit loves to be brushed.
Last week I was brushing Kit, and she asked, in her own special way to be petted, a rare occurrence for her. As my independent girl melted against my hand, her entire body relaxing, and her purrs growing louder my mind drifted back to when she became part of our family.

December 7, 2015 marks the 7th anniversary of Kit becoming part of our family. It feels like she's always been here and like she just arrived all at once. I thought a bit about her story...

The first time I saw her, she was scrunched up as close as she could get to our sliding glass door on a cold, rainy Autumn evening as Loay came in from his woodworking shop in the garage. He told me in no uncertain terms that I was not to let her in because she needed to go home. See, in the past I'd been guilty of occasionally letting a cat stay with us until I found its home. 
Once I even fed a baby raccoon I was convinced had been orphaned. I cried for half an hour when we saw it dead on a nearby street, but I digress. Back to Kit.

I nodded and swallowed hard as I looked at her smushing herself against the glass door. The way she looked at me... Well, if I'd seen her before Loay did, she probably would have already been inside... When I came back downstairs later that night to make sure all the doors were locked and the lights turned off, I checked to make sure she had left. She had.

Over the next few weeks, neighbors were all talking about this little cat. Everyone asked everyone, but no one knew who she belonged to.

She darted in my house a few times when the door was open. Once she ran straight upstairs and made herself comfortable on our bed. Her expression dared me to challenge her right to be there. Each time, I put her back outside. I didn't want to steal someone's cat. She looked so healthy the whole neighborhood was convinced she had a family.

Kit looking at the empty lot and woods
a few days after she came to live with us.
But, alas, it turned out she didn't... at least not any more. When we started talking about when she first showed up, I felt a pang of guilt. I'm certain I saw her be dumped though I had no idea at the time. One day several weeks after we moved in our house, I saw this car pull up to a vacant lot near the woods near our house. The passenger door opened and it looked like someone put something out. Then the car drove away. I remember thinking it seemed odd, but for all I knew someone opened the door to pour out a drink or something. I couldn't see what was happening well enough to be sure. But the timing fit...

On December 6th, our neighbors came over for dinner. They told us they were letting her live in their garage because the neighborhood cats and dogs were being mean to her. They couldn't let her in their house because their cats refused to accept her. They planned to take her to Safehaven Humane Society, our local no-kill shelter. 

I'd wanted a pet for a long time, but Loay had always been resistant. Suddenly, he changed his mind. He agreed we'd take this little cat in. I jumped at the chance. My neighbor assured me she had done her due diligence to make sure the cat didn't have a family with one exception... She hadn't taken her to see if she had a microchip. She knew Safehaven would do that when she took her there.

She brought this cute little cat over the morning of December 7, 2008 along with a litter box filled, some litter, and some cat food and, if memory serves, a few cat toys. She let her out of the carrier. The cat didn't seem too interested in us. She settled in my dining room chair and slept and slept... and slept. She slept, ate, and went to the litter box for the next couple of days on repeat.

We named her Habibiti, an Arabic term of endearment, but she only responded to Kit, so in short order she became Kit. I've often wondered if that had been her name with her previous family.

I made an appointment with Albany Animal Hospital, the vet two of my neighbors recommended and took her to see them on December 9th. I tried to remain a bit aloof because I knew they might find a microchip, and then we'd have to find out if her family wanted her back. My heart pounded like crazy while Dr. Fletcher explained to me what would happen if she was microchipped. I nodded and said I understood. I silently wondered if I'd be able to keep my cool if she was microchipped. She wasn't, so there was no need to deal with the family she'd lived with at some earlier point. I let out the breath I hadn't realized I was holding.

Anyway, Dr. Glaze determined she was healthy and likely around 2 years old. We discussed the pros and cons of indoor cats, outdoor cats, and indoor/outdoor cats. He suggested she'd do better as an indoor cat when I explained to him about how the neighborhood animals had treated her. Which suited me just fine. I preferred an indoor only cat. He gave me instructions on how to let her know she had a new home and a new family where she was safe and secure and loved. The hardest part to implement was to let her come to us when she was ready, when she felt comfortable with us. I wanted to shower her with love and attention, but that wasn't what was best for her. She slowly started to accept her new home and then us as her family.

I started reading books about cats. I wanted to do this right and as naturally as possible.

First picture of Kit. I took it in
my office while I wrote
in 2008
So last week as I stood in the laundry room with the door closed petting her, I remembered all this. I remembered how scared she'd been of being touched and how loud noises had terrified her. I remembered when she'd finally joined us in the family room, hesitantly, as if she was unsure she was welcome. I remembered how she'd laid beside me at my desk on her first blanket on the floor, the blanket that now covers an ottoman by my desk where she'll often sleep while I'm writing. I glanced at the closed door as Meme scratched at it and thought about how Kit's daily brush time had become our one-on-one time. I thought about how far she's come and how sometimes there still seems to be little hints of her life before us that make me wonder... It's almost like she remembers something that makes her flinch or become defensive or even cower like she expects to be hurt. This breaks my heart every time it happens.

Every little step from the first time she sat with us on our chairs to the first time she slept in our bed with us to her gradual acceptance of the two kittens who came to live with us the next summer made me feel like we were doing something right, something good, something that mattered.

Sometimes I feel sad because she'll sit and wait for what she needs/wants for long periods of time without meowing or coming to find one of us. I'll find her sitting outside the laundry room door waiting to be brushed or on her food step waiting for food. But other times, she talks to me. She communicates beautifully even without meowing!

She rarely plays. Even when she first came to live with us she rarely played though she did love to chase a ball up and down the steps. When she does start playing, if she notices us watching, she'll often stop. I love to watch her play. 

She's smart. She's dignified. She's well-behaved. For a while she liked to chase the laser light... That is until she turned around and saw the light came from the thing in my hand. Then she was done with that.

There are times when I see her discipline Meme or Todd for something like when they meow at me while I'm preparing their food or scratch the furniture, and I wish I could understand what she's thinking. Other times I've seen her push them away from the window when a big dog walks by or a strange cat comes too close to the window and I wonder if she's protecting them or does it just look that way. I watch her refuse to let them touch her and then find her quietly watching them play or joining in a game of chase around the house as fast as possible.

For a long time, she'd wait until we were asleep and then sneak in the bed and snuggle up close to us or sleep on top of me. She's finally gotten to the point that she doesn't wait for us to be asleep to join us. Her little habit of waiting, in part, inspired me to write a poem, Stealing Your Affection about how hard it can be to seek affection.

I am a better person because I share my life with Kit. I'm calmer and softer and more expressive. I can't imagine life without her. I sometimes wonder how her previous family abandoned her without knowing what might happen to her. I feel a sense of guilt because while I hate that she had those approximately two months fending for herself, I'm so incredibly happy she's now my family. And, she is. She is family. She's a living, breathing, loving, little ball of love even with all her aloofness, even with all her independence, even with her need reluctance to be touched.
Kit today in my office
while I write.

It's very true that while we think we rescue animals, they really rescue us. They move into our homes, our lives, our hearts. They become family. And, like any other relationship, we get out of it what we put into it.

If I had it to do over, I'd take her in that first night. I'd search for her family while she lived under my roof, safe and secure. When they didn't materialize, she would already be home, family... She would never be picked on and beat up and chased by the animals and the kids in the neighborhood. But, that's hindsight, and hindsight only fills us with regret... The reality is that night, that first night, there's no way I could've known...

But she now has her furever family... her forever family... forever...

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Peace and the Power of Love - Dona Dobis Pacem

Love... Peace... Hope... Life...

Love is where it all begins.

I look into my heart and find that without love none of the rest is possible.

I decided several years ago that I wanted to live from a place of love. I wanted my actions and my words to be guided by love. It's not always easy, but my life is so much more peaceful and hopeful and... well, alive when I live from a place of love.

When I saw Mimi Lenox's choice of Peace and the Power of Love for the theme of this year's blog blast for peace, I did a little cheer sitting at my desk. Perfect...

Then I saw her announcement about the 30 Days of Love Challenge leading up to the blog blast, and I smiled. I thought, easy enough. After all, I already live my life from a place of love. I've got this... Then I completely zoned it and missed the first two days...

I took a deep breath, loved myself a minute and forgave myself for my imperfection. In the past I would've spent days berating myself. I would've lost sleep. I would've... Well, let's just say, I wouldn't have exactly treated myself with love. But by choosing love, I started participating on that third day with peace in my heart.

As I went through the month knowing each day I needed to post something about love, I found myself more open to seeing love in the world around me, sometimes to the point I felt overwhelmed by it. There is so much love in the world when we're open to it. Things we take for granted. Things we dismiss as everyday things. Things we even misinterpret. It's a bit amazing.

Even trying to live from a place of love, I'm not always tuned in to the love around me.

Take a moment, close your eyes, concentrate on love. Then open your eyes and look around you. I urge you to open to seeing expressions of love in interactions that cross your path. I've discovered that when I look at the world with love, I often find solutions I never would have considered or I see something from a point of view I never imagined or I feel more at peace about the decisions I make.

Love by definition is feeling a sense of affection for another, but I'd say love is more than and less than that. Love is feeling a connection to self and to others. Love is seeking common ground when there appears to be none. Love is wanting what's best for another even when what's best for them doesn't fit your desires. Love is simply listening and really hearing. Love is offering support and encouragement and inspiration. Love allows us to share knowledge and goals and achievements.

We put so much pressure on the concept of love to be this romantic game changer that we've lost sight of the simplicity of seeking connection and showing compassion as sources of love. We watch movies and read books and see advertisements that elevate love to a fairy tale that just isn't achievable. Then when someone falls short, and we all will fall short of the fairy tale, we declare love the enemy.

Love is never the enemy. The expression of love is only as perfect as the imperfect beings who express it.

The day I stopped seeing love as demanding perfection from me and from those I loved, I discovered the true power of love. The power of love lies in its ability to allow us to see one another as being connected instead of divided. The power of love provides the opportunity for us to embrace our differences and to see our similarities. The power of love gives us the chance to celebrate what each of us contributes to our world. The power of love teaches us that we don't all need to be the same to be valued and effective. The power of love shows us that underneath all the superficiality of everything we think divides us, we have so much more in common than not. That is what drove me to write the poem Underneath for International Peace Day in September.

I sincerely believe love has the power to cultivate peace in a way nothing else does because love is the foundation for every possible way for us to find unity. Peace needs a foundation of love upon which to place all the components of coming together, of ending cruelty toward other beings, of respecting and caring for the Earth. Love is where peace begins because love is where connection begins.

That is why we must cultivate love in order to grow peace...

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Getting in Touch with My Rebel Heart

Waiting for Madonna!!
Saturday night, October 17, 2015, I got to do something I'd wanted to do since I was a teenager. I attended a Madonna concert. I'd tried before, but timing, money, life had interfered. This time I was on it. As soon as I found out her Rebel Heart Tour was coming to Portland, I set out to the buy the tickets. I also checked on when she'd be in Kentucky, just in case Portland didn't work out. I figured I could work a family visit around attending the concert.This time I was determined to make it happen. Portland happened! Yeah! (Sorry, Kentucky family and friends.)

My husband was a bit concerned that my expectations were too high, and I'd be disappointed.

Nope, not even a little bit. I loved every single moment of it. (except the long wait before it started, but I'll let that slide.)

I love the Rebel Heart album, the explicit version, mind you. No cleaning it up for this girl...

Madonna was raw and funny and real. She was professional and imperfect and perfect. She was honest and cynical and optimistic. She was playful and serious and flirtatious.She was engaging and aloof and achingly real.

She talked about her gratitude for her fans and her desire to promote equality throughout her career. She even tossed in a line about being grateful for clean water to drink as she took a swig from a bottle of water. She sounded sincere. Anyone who knows me knows I'm a sucker for gratitude.

She talked about her belief that love is the way to a better world and that we need a revolution of love. Something I wholeheartedly agree with.

She didn't lecture, she mentioned these things in the midst of a highly energetic two hour performance filled with dancers and new songs and reinterpretations of old songs.

Yes, she was provocative and sexual and sensual and sexy and irreverent. That's Madonna!

Madonna Burning Up the stage
The songs she chose to sing took me on a stormy cruise through emotions and memories. The new stuff she chose electrified the room and her choices for her older songs felt right even if she didn't include every song I would've liked to have heard. Of course, given her body of work and my propensity for liking the songs she doesn't release as singles even better than the ones she does, I didn't expect her to. I teared up at times, smiled nostalgically at others, cheered during several songs, danced, and sang along even though I avoid singing in public because well... trust me, no one wants to hear that... But I didn't care.

When she sang a few lines from Lucky Star, I felt a pull back a high school dance where I danced to the song by myself when none of the other dance attendees joined me on the dance floor. You can read my poem about that dance on Dear Teen Me.

She is unapologetic about being the center of attention, yet she often showcased her dancers as much as herself.

Madonna sharing her
  Rebel Heart
The evening held a certain nostalgia combined with a sense of the rebellion that I found inspiring and endearing. In many ways, the entire concert screamed the message of  her song Rebel Heart pointing out that it's her journey, her life, her choices... Like It or Not...

I screamed  "YYYEEESSSSS" when she said "When I'm wrong, I'm strong." because I get it. So often when we're wrong, it's our strength that pulls us through, that pushes our heads a little higher, that empowers us to take the next step forward no matter how scary, no matter how vulnerable we feel, no matter how painful. And for artists that often means taking our mistakes and turning them into music, art, poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and other creative works that put our mistakes in front of the world to see and judge and love and hate and celebrate and ridicule! We take our pain, our fear, our vulnerability, and entertain the world with it...

And, that takes a bit of a Rebel Heart...

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Finding the Spirit of Spirit Day...

When I first learned about GLAAD's Spirit Day campaign, I didn't quite get it. I couldn't see a connection to a spirit day and ending bullying. In my mind, spirit day was always that day right before or of an important ball game when we all dressed up in school colors and spent the day revving up the team's ego - I mean spirit - in the hopes they'd deliver a winning game.

But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. We're all "wearing" purple and posting our cheers all day long to support people who have been bullied. Okay, I can see that. Boost the egos - I mean spirits - of the bullied people. Now those are egos that need boosted.

In March 2012, I explored the fine line between teasing and bullying in When Does Teasing Become Bullying? and then in Why Do Bullies Bully? I examined how our society teaches bullies to bully.

As I think back on my life, I remember times when I was bullied, and I wonder if anyone ever perceived my actions as bullying. I know I never meant to bully anyone, and I sincerely hope I never did.

A few years ago, my niece insisted I read Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. The book examined how the way we treat one another has effects we don't always see until it's too late. Like the main character, I always felt like an outsider even though I had friends. I saw in her the same guilt I'd felt when I'd done things or ignored things just to feel like I was accepted. I've always struggled abou whether or not to define any of the behavior I experienced as bullying, and I'm still uncomfortable assigning it that label. I know people have suffered much worse than I did. Yet, I do remember feeling left out, teased, and misunderstood. I remember feeling disconnected from even those who referred to me as friend. I remember feeling no one would miss me and that people might even be happier if I ceased to exist.

There were people in my life who cared about me and whom I cared about, but I often felt the connections weren't quite real. It's hard to explain, and I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. The thing is that I felt like if I was me - the full and unadulterated me - people wouldn't like me, so I vacillated between being full on me and being what I perceived was socially acceptable.
I remember being teased for a variety of reasons from different people and at times feeling like the teasing would never end. I remember being called names and being teased about my sexuality because I showed little real interest in boys and dating. Looking back I realize I had a tendency to develop crushes on the unattainable, so I never had to risk anything actually happening. If something starting looking like it might happen, I switched my interest as quick as flipping a light switch. I saw romantic relationships as constraints, as obstacles, as albatrosses.

But, I also remember hanging out with myriad sets of classmates. Our class was very small - our Senior class was comprised of something like 33 or 34 students, so we all knew one another. While there were distinctive groups, we all had some kind of interaction with one another even if it was limited.

Of those 33 or 34 students, I have no idea if anyone was LGBTQ. If so, the person, or people, hid it well. It makes me sad to think that anyone in my class might have felt that much pressure to stay hidden. I like to think I would've been a friend to anyone regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Yet I understand hiding one's true self on some level.

I often spent much of my free time in my own little world playing with the characters I wrote about or reading books that took me to other places and times.

In Junior High School, one of my best friends was in her twenties. She was a fellow writer, and I felt like I had more in common with her than with my classmates. My parents didn't understand this friendship. They tolerated it for a while but eventually discouraged its continuation. I think they feared the age difference would introduce me to... I don't know... something beyond my age that I might not understand. My classmates teased me about this friendship, so, by the time I was a Freshman in high school, I was ready to stop fighting my parents and let it fade into the background of my life. We still read each other's work, but I stopped going to her house to talk about writing and publishing and such.

There are so many ways to feel like an outcast, and it's so easy for us to dismiss people who don't always fit in the way we think they should. It's much easier to lob insults or lash out than it is to show the strength and vulnerability it takes to offer someone love and compassion when we don't quite understand them.

How much better the world would be if we saw one another for the unique and yet homogeneous individuals we are. How much better the world would be if we discussed how each person's individuality contributes to the collective. How much better the world would be if we remembered each of us has a beating heart and a thinking brain. How much better the world would be if we embraced each other instead of ostracizing one another. How much better the world would be if we put more energy into building one another up than in cutting one another down.

Realizing we need to cheer one another on to inspire love and compassion and end bullying got me into the Spirit of Spirit Day...

In closing, here's a poem about bullying from my book of poetry, Vulnerability in Silhouette.

Taunts and Teases

Taunts and teases
The words ring through the air
Pointing our what sets me apart
Criticizing what you don't understand
Or what someone else told you was unacceptable
You don't reach out to make a connection
Schoolyard taunts from kindergarten
Grow crueler with each passing year
Until your words hit their target every time
Destroying any possibility of understanding
I turn on myself
Lobbing your
Teases and taunts
At myself
Before you load your ammunition
By the time your words hit
I'm already beaten to the ground
You've succeeded
In convincing me I'm all you say I am
It won't be until years late
I'l ask myself
If your teases and taunt emanated from
Your own insecurities and home life
Or if you were just plain mean
Around the same time
I realize I let you treat me as somehow
Less than you
Because of my insecurities and home life
By then it will be too late for us to see
We could've been friends
If we'd sought to understand
Rather than exercise the age old
Divisive technique of
Taunts and teases

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.