To Honor the Failing Darkness

Vincent Van Gogh – Landscape in Stormy Weather

Trying new things is hard. Returning to old things is hard. Doing anything worth doing is probably hard. 😉

But as the darkness of ignorance falls away we become more comfortable, less afraid, less annoyed.  The new is always challenging, which is why we rush past it — getting to know that new boyfriend, wanting to ace that class, mastering that new exercise routine. Basically, we want to light up the new landscape and turn it into a comfortable old one as fast as possible.

I know. I’ve been trying a lot of new things (and new old things) these last couple of years — dating for the first time in over a decade, taking a screenwriting class after almost two decades away from that medium, trying a whole foods diet, wanting to start camping around Georgia, giving away 90% of my possessions, making secret BIG plans for 2019 (coming soon!)…every week I’m out of my comfort zone. It’s a challenge. I sometimes do want to wave a magic wand and be better — be great — at all this new stuff.

But honoring the darkness of not knowing even as it falls away, is important. The more comfortable I can be in this state of pre-knowing, the more I’m willing the return here. To try unusual things. To be willing to laugh at myself — when I fail, when I fall, even just when I have no freakin’ idea what I’m doing (Podcasting: “Hello, hello? Is this thing even on?”).

According to Wikipedia Shoshin is a word from Zen Buddhism which means “beginner’s mind“. It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.

I would argue that when starting something new, you should also have a ‘master’s calm’. You want to be open and learn but you also want to be in a place of joy and play and have faith in yourself. We often judge ourselves far more than other people do, and we’re embarrassed or ashamed when we make mistakes, when we fail. It seems hard-wired into our brains to look at a single failure as a reason to give up — “Oh well, I guess I’m just not good at that.” But the truth is that everyone really good at “that” practiced to get there. And even if you don’t want to become a master, you’ll be surprised how a few months could make you much more proficient.

from
skillshare.tumblr.com

When you can stand in the place of not knowing, not yet achieving, you honor your worth outside of your accomplishments. And then you feel less confined to what you already do well. I’m very good at my retail job, but it has nothing to do with who I want to be, or what I want to do in the long run. And so while it’s addictive to stand where you’re already lauded, is it ultimately fruitless if it is not your true home.

Better to step into the darkness, lost, the tiniest flame in your hands and the widest, wildest landscape before you. Better to fail at what you love. Better to succeed along the margins of your destiny. Better to honor yourself before others honor you. And to find peace in the nudging hours of the growing dawn instead of waiting for the riotous applause of the noonday sun.

Better to dance in the darkness and stumble and rise again. Better to join the stars in their magnificent twirl across the heavens.

Better.

Always better.

from
balletforadults.com

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Why I Write Fantasy: A Post About Possibilities, Magic, and He-Man

by John Howe

“Why did you pick that genre? Why fantasy?”

It is almost a strange question to me, like why do you breathe air. Though of course, sometimes I don’t breathe air — sometimes I hold my breath and swim deep into the seas of historical fiction or Gothic romance.

But I always resurface soon enough, always drawn back into worlds of magic, of epic struggles between reluctant heroes, and bold villains, of landscapes beyond belief — but not quite beyond imagination.

Buy why? And when did this begin?

The answer is that I grew up with no lack of fantastic worlds to delve into. As a young child, Mary Poppins, Dumbo, and Pinocchio were as oft repeated as The Music Man and The Sound of Music (note: I never said I was a normal child).

But I also can’t remember the first time I watched the original Star Wars trilogy (I know there’s a difference between sci-fi and fantasy, and some people consider Star Wars fantasy anyway — but for me, any speculative story is what I mean when I say fantasy).

There is no time, no moments or days, that precede me being in love with — and in awe of — Star Wars. The light saber battles, noble Jedi knights, and the terrible (and completely awesome) Lord Vader. And the funny robots. In a lot of ways, that perfect popcorn-bliss ball is something I still strive for in my own writing — and so do a lot of others.

But other stories existed early on for me right alongside that Perfect Trilogy. He-Man chiefly, as well as The Last Unicorn, and our Apple II computer’s pixel-licious version of Choose Your Own Adventure: The Cave of Time. Oh, and Robin Hood — both the Kevin Cosner and animated Disney fox versions. Equally.

And of course books: Fables and fairy tales, adventures and beautifully illustrated childrens’ books about the numerology of crows (12 is for joy tomorrow), the value of journeying East of the Sun and West of the Moon, and how, if you’re Barney Bipple, you should spend your magical dandelion wishes on practical things — like a talking dog and a new baby brother.

But, the counterpoint to all stories that have touched and changed me, past and present, is and has always been nature. I don’t believe I could write the fantasy I do without having grown up where I did.

I was born, literally, in the house I still live in down a mile-long dirt road in Oglethorpe County. I sleep about 30 feet from where I was born — I guess you could say I haven’t gone very far yet in life.

We lived on seven acres, five of which were wooded. My sister and I grew up illegally home-schooled outside the system by our mom, a former math teacher, and our dad, a nurse. It was a good, secluded, new agey upbringing — where magic crept in amongst the edges of the everyday. I was raised hearing that fairies played out in the garden, dancing under the leaves of Mom’s beloved flowers and herbs. Dad thanked the ‘wind spirits’ if — while on vacation — we had a good day sailing, and we learned that tiny triangles on crystals meant they had carried messages from ancient civilizations.

But we were encouraged to read, to grab an encyclopedia (back when all the knowledge of the world could be bound in 28 volumes) or the dictionary to answer any question, and yet — we were not guided, not told any things were real or not real. Everything was possible. And so I grew up — while non-religious — still placing Jesus and the Ark and the garden of Eden in the same realm of accepted reality as Bigfoot, aliens, unicorns, and New York City. All existed in a world large enough for every incredible thing to be true — if one sought it with enough dedication.

A teenage favorite of mine

For me, in writing, the fantastic has always been life as it is, but turned up to 11. Nature is an 11 by itself. I remember many a childhood play session outdoors (you have a lot of free time if you don’t go to school — I think our mom kind of quit our formal education after age nine). I would watch the ants hustle and climb their way to victorious feasts both large and small, and I would carefully flatten and decorate the sand under where faded goldfish bones were buried.

Ah yes, death (and birth) were an easy companion in the world of our little farm. I understood which bush the placenta that had accompanied me into this world was buried, as well as where a beloved dog I had been too young to remember yet knew the name of was buried. The dog’s grave was hollowed ground to me, buried beneath a gate long before I understood that as a metaphor. And my grandmother loved a story of us finding a dead rabbit and I swung on a swing all afternoon, holding the already stiff rabbit by a leg, swinging higher and higher, unconcerned and even indifferent to the chasm between his world and mine.

There was a magic, a perfection from the dawn of my memory until my 21st year, when my grandmother got sick and this sort of perfect pause ended and a slightly more real, more adult life settled in — though it’s still a world of magic, I must say.

But those early, unfettered years allowed for play, and for storytelling — I was the wild horse of the plains, then later I added people to my stories, continuing sci-fi TV shows’ story lines in the long wait from week-to-week. I loved how big the worlds could be, how strange the situations, how much was required of people as they journeyed onto other planets, or back in time, to discover the impossible and the unexpected.

As teenagers, my sister and I acted out impromptu ‘episodes’ of favorites The X-Files, Earth 2, and SeaQuest — the latter, on one evening, turning into a story of philosophy and almost religious revelation. Sadly no texts remain, only memories.

And now, of nature. Again. I have realized that nature is ‘ The center of my center, the heart of my heart.’ There is no question to which the answer is not found in the natural world. Just this summer I walked in an old growth forest in Western North Carolina, and wept in front of 300 year old popular trees, and if I doubted magic for one second in this world, all my doubts were swept away as I walked across a literal wooden floor made only from the living, woven roots of giants. We also saw the ghost of poet Joyce Kilmer, in the shape of an Appalachian Cottontail but that’s a story for another day.

from Our State Magazine

And so again, I circle back to the question — why fantasy? I love reality; I deeply admire a well-researched, true life story. The world has many beautiful dramas, and funny comedies. The common person is never commonplace. And yet…

J.R.R. Tolkien described the great city of Gondor in Lord of the Rings as “…not builded, but carved by giants out of the bones of the earth.” That is all I seek: great writing and the great bones beneath the reality of what we see and understand. A pattern and structure to explain why we are gifted with angels and poets and prophets at the exact moments in our lives when we need them most, and how we can find grace and meaning in a leaf or a rainbow or a Heron flying overhead on our mother’s dying day.

by Alan Lee

Another writer, Francois Rabelais, said, ‘I go to seek a great perhaps.’ I was raised on ‘perhaps-es’ — in a world where anything was possible and even likely, the world of Atlantis and the Moon landings, of dragons, both mythic and Komodo, a world free of bullies, but also lacking in new friends. A world of a thousand doors, a thousand magical experiences awaiting me only to discover how to turn the key.

The true reason I love to write those stories is that only fantasy can capture the magic I have experienced when discovering a pepper moth camouflaged against the forest floor, only sci-fi can envision worlds as grand as the order behind the universe in which we have been given, and only horror can return to the world the awe to which it is owed.

I only write of magic, because I have only seen magic — in all my days and in each of you — and I hope to leave a little bit of enchantment behind me before I pass under my final gate.

Moment: A Poem

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We, by nature, are creatures of want, creatures of need.  We need shelter, food, and even, I would argue, we need love.

Our wants of course, are endless.  From the noblest desire for world peace to the hope of people ‘liking’ and ‘sharing’ our latest online pic, there is no limit to our wants.

‘More’ is one of our greatest wants. There’s nothing a small child loves more than a cookie — unless it’s TWO cookies. It is a natural desire, not necessarily born from selfishness or greed in my opinion, but in the best circumstances born from love.

We’ve enjoyed something so much, it’s bettered our life in ways un-imagined, and honestly we simply never want to do without it again.

When I find certain people — just a few times in my life, I want more. To paraphrase F.Scott Fitzerald, I want to do everything in the world with them.

But, in another way, just getting to meet someone IS the world. Time quite likely is an abstraction of our own making, and so I like to believe this meeting will continue and exist somewhere, forever.

I don’t have to be everywhere they are, involved in every conversation.  We were connected once — through a good conversation or a good laugh — and that moment will echo in a sacred glade where all the clocks have broken.

I probably think such things to lessen the pain of releasing friends and lovers into the world, to leave them to their wiles. I can only hope fate is kind, their loved ones steadfast, and that they sense, somewhere in their hearts, how very much they are loved.  Even if I only shared in a few minutes of their glory.

A few minutes.  For the ‘more’ crowd, that’s nothing, that’s pointless.  What’s an egg-timer-length conversation in a life? What’s one exchange, one joke? Surely that can’t change my life, or theirs?

And how can there be meaningful connection with someone who chooses not to be connected? Whether distance or work or love drives someone from your sphere — then they and you are nothing to each other and share nothing, right?

Not in my mind. A connection can only be the meeting of the eyes, a fleeting understanding between souls on a crowded street — lines running from infinity to infinity and only crossing once. On this day, in this moment.

In this moment.

If we always want more, and believe only quantity matters — if years and joint mortgages and fifty year friendships are the only measure of worth, of connection, of love — then we are doomed to always desire more. We simply cannot have everything, all the time, with everyone. And like the child wanting that extra cookie, we may discover that more is not better.  Would your life really have space for forty best friends, six dream jobs, or three soul mates?

Perhaps life instead, gives us moments. Best friends for a day. That summer we thought we would become fashion designers. A few bright fall days when we felt we’d met a soul mate.

As a human, I desperately want more of everything I love. More beautiful walks in nature. More gourmet meals with my sister. More times of looking into someone’s eyes and understanding exactly what their words cannot say. More moments with you.

But there’s someone out there who has taken their last walk, and eaten their last meal, and they still are blessed and gifted by all they have seen and done. Memories is a dead term, I prefer to dwell in moment.

I have experienced so much and so joyfully that I can never be sorry for the brevity when the berth has been so great. I speak of longing but I sing of gratitude.

The day we release ‘more’ ironically is the day we are given everything. Perfect satisfaction. Perfect experience. True friendship. True love.

Because when you don’t need to possess anything, the whole world belongs to you. The length of a connection is no more meaningful than length of a sunrise — you either experience it or you don’t. You’re best friends for the length of a laugh, lovers for the batting of an eye, family for the duration of a meal.

Still, we are human and we want. I do not require a lifelong ally, or a lifetime of friendship. All I desire now is a million more seconds of connection with you.

And yet, in this moment, I find everything I seek.

The Inelegant Balance Between Being Right and Becoming Better

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Now, we all want to be right — to be smart, admired, to think for ourselves and not let anything sway our convictions.  But at a certain point does certainty inhibit progress?

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I’ve been asking myself this question a lot in 2015.  Firstly, as I move forward toward becoming a professional writer, I have started thinking more about what audiences want — and deserve.  A little background: I’ve been a follow-your-vision, write-only-what-interests-you, write-what-you-love-and-the-money-will-follow type for years and years now.  And as I started to discuss the idea of writing more toward the audience’s desires with other writers, I heard my own arguments returned to me again and again.

“I think you’ll be more successful if you just follow your heart.”

“It’s more interesting to just create what you like.”

“Doing what others tell you and chasing popular opinion is no way to live your life.”

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True.  True.  True.

But I couldn’t shake the feeling that just being self-satisfied with ‘being me’ wasn’t — actually — helping me get better.  I wanted to take the confidence (and experience) of listening to my inner voice and pair it with something more — with the tumultuous seas of outside opinion.

Rarely has the universe responded so quickly as it did now. 😉  Within weeks of seriously starting to think about this issue, I was challenged with a huge question — Did I want to be right, or better?

I had sent my newest novel, the 1810s-set Society & Civility, out to several friends for feedback.  But this novel — you have to understand — it had become such a favorite with me.  Ever since I’d started it last fall, I had enjoyed its world and characters so much, reread it several times almost just for fun, and thought it was a huge step forward for me as a writer.  It was a lark, a love story — and the best thing I’d ever written.  SO.  When the reviews came in there was a lot of love (most rated it 7 to 8.6 out of 10) and a BIG problem.  Toward the end of my story it totally breaks with the whole Jane Austin genre.  I knew that might be a problem, which is why I’d sought feedback before completing any more drafts.  People didn’t understand or like ‘the twist’ (as it came to be called).

I held out hope that my sister (the last of my beta readers) would feel the same way as I did and ‘get it’ as it were.  Then the crushing blow came — she felt the exact same way as the other readers.  So my perfect novel wasn’t considered by others to be perfect at all — now what?

Found on coolartcanvas.com

Found on coolartcanvas.com

Well, here was the puzzle of pleasing the audience writ large: they loved the book except for the twist.  Did I hold fast and complete it as was — the way I loved it — or should I change it?  I knew I could just brush off the opinions of these smartest, kindest friends — all creators and lovers of this genre — and tell myself that *my* audience would totally get my choices — whenever and under whatever rock I’d find this mystery group.

But– but.  In my heart of hearts I knew these were my readers — and I’d let them down.  I could always have a copy of *my* edition, but now what?  Didn’t I want to challenge myself and make a story everyone could fall in love with?  Didn’t I want to become BETTER that I was?  The answer — after only thinking about quitting writing six times in one morning — was yes.

fatfreedom.net

fatfreedom.net

So far the rewrite is going well.

So when you come up against that question, that challenge — should I listen to others or go my own way? — I would ask yourself:

  1. WHO is giving you this feedback?  Are these people you respect, people you want to emulate, or people who have valuable experience?  There no point in following someone down a road you don’t want to travel anyway.  In the example above, I had every reason to admire these readers and believe that they would give good advice.  In a different example, a co-worker was recently applying for a job I’d previously held for two years and I offered to help them out and answer any questions they had.  They pretty well blew me off, believing they already knew ‘everything’ about the position.  I was someone with insight and a desire to help — and that could have been a powerful resource to help them if they’d been willing to listen.
  2. WHY are they telling you this?  Some people just like to complain, nitpick, or put others down and you should never be using these people to judge your work or your life.  But if you’ve asked someone for their advice, you should listen because you probably thought they had something valuable to say — you know, before they told you what you didn’t want to hear.  And if you are creating products you want people to buy, consume, or love — you need to listen double-hard.  Most likely, they are disappointed — and now they are trying to help you — maybe imperfectly, maybe in the human language of anger or frustration — but what they take the time to tell you are the words a hundred other customers may have walked away with still written in their hearts.
  3. Are YOU 100% happy with your results?  If the answer is yes, you’re done.  Stand firm.  Tell the rest to go to hell and hold true to your path.  Discover your fans and let them discover you.  But… if in your heart you know you could be better, then listen.  Acknowledge that you may be very good — you’re at least very smart and full of potential — but you not as good as you could be.  So learn a better way to jog, take a class to improve your painting skill, and be open to starting anew on that book.  If you see a gap, you owe it to yourself to bridge it and get better.  Even if the gap is just between the audience’s expectations and your design.
  4. Are you EXPERIENCED enough to weed out the noise?  This is high-level stuff, this balancing of being true to yourself and listening to others, and I want you to side 100% with your heart and intuition until you’re ready for this level 16 challenge.  Keep in mind that you always get to decide in the end — listening to others and getting feedback is nothing more than offering you more options to choose from.  And like I said, beware unsolicited advice, negative people, and anyone who truly doesn’t ‘get’ what you’re trying to do.  You really are trying to separate the wheat from the chaff here (okay, not really 🙂 — what you are looking for is that small bit of advice that interests you, challenges you, and makes you say ‘Damn it — they might be right’.
  5. Will this help you get BETTER?  In the end, it doesn’t matter if the critics are right or wrong if their advice hurts your progress.  Weird but so true.  With young writers, my secret feeling is ‘Yes, you are not there yet, but all you need is ten years of enthusiastic hard work.  Then you’ll be great.’  No one really wants to hear that, they want the shortcuts — but you can still bleed from those cuts.  Don’t wound yourself upon the opinions of others if you’re not ready.  I loved my first critique group but then came a time that I felt I must withdraw, and grow in secret like a mushroom, pushing out of the leaf litter and into the sun only when fully formed.  And now I’m ready to face the light.

I believe you can get 95% of the way to your goal under your own steam, keeping your secret counsel, and trusting your instincts.  But when it comes time to finese the final pieces, to push yourself further than you know how to go, you have to seek, to see beyond your own faith and fallacies, to press and push yourself ever upward — to become more than you are, more than you thought you could be.

To stop being good and to become truly great.

Found on llhdesignsblog.com

Found on llhdesignsblog.com

 

How to Tune Out the Noise

I recently led a class about ‘How to Reevaluate Your Life’.  Some readers will remember that I’ve talked about this topic a couple of times before and so I felt pretty confident.  I printed handouts, talked for over an hour, and thought I’d covered my bases pretty well.  Then — during the Q & A portion of the class — I got a question that threw me for a loop.

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Found on ritholtz.com

 

Jill Hartmann-Roberts — wonderful person, talented writer, and fellow Athens Writers Association founder, asked how I drowned out the ‘noise’ of other people and the world to live the life I wanted to live.  In essence, her question pinpointed a weak spot in my talk: I’d focused on how to realize if you wanted a different life, how to find goals that mattered to you, and how to pursue your goals.  But I hadn’t addressed:

  • How to deal with friends, family, and coworkers who continually ask for your help
  • What to say to people who belittle or challenge your goals
  • How to balance your idea of an ideal life with society’s definitions of success
  • How to say ‘no’ to extra work when you’re a nice person
  • Creating what you want even when others don’t like it
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Found on uniquelywomen.net

Of course Jill’s a super-nice person and didn’t ask her question in any way to challenge me.  But I was struck by what a good question it was.  I thought about it and answered as best I could (in the on-your-toes manner that talks necessitate).  But I thought that the answer also deserved a more complete response, because it’s really hard to live the life of your dreams and the life society has ordained for you at the same time.

This question is challenging for me because I kind of don’t give a fig about peoples expectations anymore.  But why and when did this happen?  I’m a sensitive soul (to quote The Lion King) and an unhappy customer at my retail job can almost reduce me to tears, so why don’t I feel the pull to follow your people expectations in my own life?

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To answer that question, let’s look at the sources of this ‘noise’ and how you can negate its impact on your life —

— Not So Fun Noise-Makers —

Well-Meaning ‘Correctors’

Whether parents, siblings, or friends, these people have life all figured out and want to point out the folly of your path.  Maybe they think you can only be happy married with kids, or by becoming an accountant, or by moving up the ladder at work.  At their best, they have found something that has brought them much joy and want you to experience it too (certainly many a yoga/health food/exercise fan has sought to convert others [I’m as guilty as anyone]).  At their worst, what they suggest has made them miserable but they still think you should follow their common wisdom.

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Consumertainment

Not exactly who we want to think is influencing us, but almost invariably ‘they’ are.  Who’s this ‘they’?  People who are paid to make us desire the latest car, the newest tech, and promise us the best night of our lives if we buy a certain beer or soft drink.  And even my beloved entertainment industry is little better, though I’d argue the sins committed there are more often from ignorance than cruelty (to paraphrase Anna Sewell).  There’s a great post about How The Karate Kid Ruined the Modern World.  Hollywood (and other pop culture) is about wish fulfillment, and fantasy.  I think back to how people wanted to watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance and banter during the second World War — beauty and joy and escapism in a troubled time.  Fantasy has its place — but don’t let it ruin your real life.

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Braggarts

These people think they are better than you, or know someone better than you, and maybe just like to compare their favorite, most famous authors (artists, actors, etc) in history to you.  Even a ‘Ha ha, well it’s not Shakespeare!’ can hurt an author.  A lot of us may think ‘Hamlet’ is the greatest thing ever written in the English language and yet to be cut short, clamped down on — it stifles us and our potential.  And somebody will be the next Shakespeare.  And I will be the one and only Katherine Cerulean and being compared to people who are doing different things, with different aims, with more experiences, isn’t going to help me get there.

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The ‘Need’y

Oh, not the truly needy — the poor, uneducated, etc — by all means, take some time to give your energies or money to them.  Who I’m talking about is the ‘needers’ in your life.  If you have a job, and take care of your house/family, and are pursuing your dreams and goals — you are probably a hard-working and reliable individual.  And those are worth their weight in gold.  So you may find everyone — your church, your child’s school, neighbors, work friends, charities, interest groups you belong to — everyone may ask you for help.  What each person asks maybe be small, but it all adds up.  And if you say no, you may be called selfish.

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The Biz Experts

Whatever your dream is, there’s probably a business for it, and there are probably stars, CEOS, critics, trend-watchers, and more who will gladly expound on the ‘rules’ for succeeding.  And some of this can be very good advice.  But a lot of it is just what worked for them, combined with fear — business can often breed conservatism: do what worked before, and don’t try anything new.

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Second Guessers

This may be more internal noise than external.  You may find yourself wondering if your doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right field.  You might feel you should be doing more.  It can become stifling.  We have met the enemy and he is us.

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How Do We Tune Out the Noise?

It’s not always easy.  The people interrupting our flow are our friends, our family, even ourselves.  But if you want to do truly great things, we need to be able to concentrate and trust ourselves. So here’s how to deal with —

  • Well-Meaning ‘Correctors’  This is probably the hardest category because ‘correctors’ are often family members, and they have an out-sized influence over us.  The best defense I know is to remember is ‘they don’t know you as well as you do’.  You know if you can get in shape for that marathon, move to that new city, or ask that guy out.  At best they are guessing about your abilities and interest.  ONLY YOU KNOW.  It helps if you can (privately) find humor in their suggestions.  Keep in mind that they are probably trying to help you avoid pain, and that they may still see you as that little kid you once were.  In the end, they will be happy for you if you succeed on our own terms — otherwise they are people who you should have limited contact with in your life.  Period.

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    Found on onlybutaglimpse.tumblr.com

  • Consumertainment  Remember that the whole industry exists to sell you things (even if it’s only a movie ticket).  And the sellers have had decades to perfect their pitches.  Though you want to be inspired by people who are living their dream lives, look for reality first.  What are the best moments in your own life on a weekly or monthly basis?  Who have you met that seems happy and to be living the life of their dreams?  Reading articles and interviews can help you understand the day-to-day lives of famous people (though beware that a biography is also a product and may be filled with stories meant to sell it).  Recently, I started listening to the podcast Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin (it’s really good), and Alec said something that stuck with me.  He, while talking about Hollywood said something like, “There are things I like about it and things I hate about it.  I love my job, but it is a job.”  Some might say Alec is ungrateful; I think he was just honest.  No marriage, friendship, or career is perfect.  I love, love, LOVE writing — and yet it’s so much harder as a job than a lot of things I could have done.  It’s hard because I care.  It’s not just sipping lattes and daydreaming (for instance, right now I’m sipping a Starbucks dark roast not a latte).  So stop comparing your life to make believe — dragons and giant robots and the Entourage life are all products of Hollywood writers’ imaginations.  f6f93a195c6ea61fa9906ca2509e87a9
  • Braggarts Honestly, I have found that shutting them down or shutting them out is the only way to deal with this type.  If the comments under the ‘help you out’ category, then the first time I’d thank the person for their advice.  “Stephen King uses a lot less commas than you do.”  “Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.”  But that may only encourage the braggart to keep comparing your work to everyone (including themselves) who they think is better.  Then I would say something like, “Thanks, but I have my own style and am doing my own thing right now and I’m not really interested in comparing myself to anyone else.”  If the person still keeps putting you/your work down, you have to understand that YOU are not necessary for their monologue; they are looking to inflate themselves or their ego by putting others down.  They probably can’t help it, but they are never going to change.  Cut them out of your life or, if they work with you and you can’t, make it absolutely clear you don’t want their opinion.  “Hey, sorry to interrupt you, but I really don’t enjoy talking about my work with you or hearing about yours.  Can we talk about something else?  Like how much we both hate the (local sports rivals)?  I think we’ll find we have a LOT to agree about on that topic.”

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    Found on mediawebapps.com

  • The ‘Need’y Jack Canfield (in his book, The Success Principles) says to ‘Say no so your yeses have more impact.’  Tell others that you have made a commitment to your family/job/dreams/health and you are going to have to say no to their offer/request.  You can soften the blow by posing a counter-offer — “Sorry, I’ve made a commitment to improve my health by running in a marathon in November so I’m going to have to say no to chairing the school fall festival this year.  But I would be happy give my notes from last year to the person you choose and they can email me if they have a few questions.”  Also, realize that you will do a better job on the things you do say yes to if you have less on your plate.  Lastly, think about the fact that as a useful person you will be needed to ‘help out’ from now until the end of your life, but that the best way you can help out — I’d argue — is to become a totally realized, extraordinary human being.  Being amazing at your life will bring money, connections, and even time into your existence which you can use to improve the world.  But, as Scott Adams says, ‘You have to be selfish first.’

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    Quote by Connor Franta

  • The Biz Experts There a quote from Steve Jobs — “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”  I think that sums up a lot of my beliefs about experts — they don’t know what the great new thing is until they see it.  And I’m not trying to say you shouldn’t get a consensus about what works, or which paths often lead to success.  But if anyone says no one of your background, age, etc has made it, remember to add silently — ‘…yet.’  You could be the first, but there may already be tons of successes that other people don’t know about.  As you develop your talents and if you’re passionate, you will start to see these gaps — things you wish existed but haven’t seen yet.  And believe me, the world is hungering for you to fill those gaps, for something amazing and different and exciting.  I think the world needs some Katherine Cerulean and needs it right now so I spend my time trying to hone my vision, to improve myself, all while remembering that what makes me special is exactly the thing ‘expects’ would probably want me to change.

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    Found on spoken.ly

  • Second Guessers The best thing I’ve found for this problem is to think deeply about a issue/goal/etc — whether over a few weeks or a concentrated couple of days — and then make a detailed plan with a timeline.  I decided to go Paleo for 6 month to get to my ‘perfect shape’.  After I decided that, I didn’t have to think about it anymore.  I was paleo.  I’m not saying it was easy, but I didn’t wonder after three weeks if I should quit it and try a different diet — I had already thought this through and made a plan.  Short of any health problems, I simply wouldn’t even consider another course of action till I had given this one a chance.  A timed goal can work for anything — it says you don’t have to worry about something every day and yet are monitoring it.  “If I still hate my job this much in one month I’ll send out 20 resumes.”  “We’ll do six months of ‘date nights’ and then see a counselor if our relationship hasn’t improved.”  One screenwriter suggested that every six months you ask ‘Is this making me happy?’  He was talking about writing but that could work for anything — just remember to quiet the second guessers (even yourself) while a timed goal is going on — you got this in hand.

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    Found on babydickey.com

In the end, noise is all around us, and always will be.  What changed for me was when I realized a few years ago that everyone deals with these issues and feelings and challenges.  I could either continue as I had been and be shy, lonely, and questioning for the next 10, 20, 30 years or I could become the kind of person who inspires others by doing the thing and having the power.  I could feel the fear and do it anyway.  It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been so worth it.  And somewhere along the way I lost a lot of my fear of what people think.  I have no magic answer, but I do know one thing for sure: you are SO IMPORTANT and so special and you deserve to fight through the noise and never stop fighting and claim the unique throne that is held only for you.

The world may be full of noise but, in the end, only you can silence your roar.

And only you can give yourself the time, space, and confidence to show the world how special you are.  Go get’em.

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The Most Successful Fat-Loss Plan of My Life

Found on bendifulblog.com

Right out the gate, let me be clear about one thing: I don’t believe in the term ‘weight loss’ as a healthy mindset.  Lots of things add up to your body weight — organs, muscle, bones, fluids that keep you alive.  And believe me, you wouldn’t want to trade your heart to weigh a few less pounds.

Found on stylecraze.com

But realistically, a lot of people gain muscle when they lose fat, and then they get discouraged because the scale they check daily says they’re ‘gaining weight’.  I don’t own a scale.  Instead, I have gone from a size 18 to a 16 to a 14 (with 2 new belt holes I had to create ’cause I’d run out of old ones).  And that’s just been in ten weeks.  Even more dramatic is how I look and feel.

Found on fitgirlsdiary.com

So stop chasing a weight goal and start pursuing your best, most perfect self.  Believe me, weight from muscle looks SEXY.
So, when I decided to FINALLY get to my perfect shape I knew I needed to do something I’d never done (because I wanted to get something I’d never gotten before).  Some goal-setting plans talk about assuming it will be HARDER than you think.  I do believe that’s a good way to go.  I assumed it would be the hardest task of my life (so far) to achieve one of the greatest successes of my life — and you should too.

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Which is why you need to make sure you know your goal and really, really want it — for yourself.  Don’t do it just because your friend’s going on a diet, you want to impress some hot guy, or you think you ‘should’ for health.  You have to want it in your marrow.
You have to be willing to do anything (that’s healthy and safe) for this goal.  If you want it, you CAN achieve it.  After my success with earlier goals this year (getting my first tattoo etc), I went about this from the viewpoint — ‘They can slow you down, but they can’t stop you.’
I’m hungry right now.  I’m sitting in a car dealership getting my oil changed (this was true for the first draft).  I can’t eat their free popcorn or walk over to the Sonic for a shake as was my tradition — and I LOVE it.  I got myself an unsweetened tea before I came here and I’m so, so excited about how I’ll look and feel by my birthday (Nov. 1st).
I don’t even want the shake — I want the change.
So, here’s what I’ve been up to, but bear in mind that the successful diet is the one you can stick to.  There’s nothing magic about what I’m doing.  The magic comes from the dedication, the excitement, and the positivity with which I’m pursuing this goal.  So banish ‘can’t’ from your vocabulary, and know that the math works and you can do anything you set your mind to — you just have to want it badly enough.  And if you say you can’t give up a favorite food, imagine if your children or whomever you love most would drop dead if you took one bite of refined sugar.  You would NEVER touch sugar again — it just wouldn’t be a choice; you’d find another way to live.  So don’t say you ‘can’t’ — say you choose not to, or that you choose to.  Because you can do this.

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Clean Eating —
This is the way you lose excess fat: a calorie deficit.  That’s it.  And while exercising can help the process, you basically have to eat less while your body reverses years of bad eating (in the early days of this plan, I sometimes liked to say ‘today my good eating and exercising will make up for June 2002’ or ‘November 1998’.  This made the day seem big and important and reminded me what I was doing at a certain month and year and how I eat better now than I did then.
Now, I don’t like counting calories and I’m a world class exception-maker (‘a customer yelled at me; now I deserve a shake’).
So I decided to ‘go paleo’ — 100%, for six months.  You can learn more about paleo here, but the main gist is that (before agriculture) our bodies spent hundreds of thousands of years adjusting to us being hunter-gatherers — so vegetables, lean meats, fruits, nuts, and eggs tend to make our bodies happy and healthy.  By the same rational — grains, dairy, and refined sugar are not foods our bodies have yet evolved to process well, and so they can make us sluggish, fat, and sick.

Found on buzzfeed.com

What does this means for the modern diet-seeker (because a GOOD diet is something you want to be on for the rest of your life, not a fad to be discarded as soon as you goal is reached)?
It means that you can eat almost as much as you want if you’re paleo — just the kind of foods you can eat are limited.  So a lovely homemade meal of salmon, kale, and broccoli?  Eat as much as you want.  For me, having good food always available (even a can of tuna), means I never really, really feel deprived.
So I’m eating smoothies or eggs for breakfast (yes, I drink a little fruit juice and kefir which isn’t quite paleo).  I’m also loving salads, and having great dinners of fish, shrimp, and chicken along with copious servings of veggies.
For sweet snacks, paleo pancakes with honey, paleo chocolate pudding, 100% juice pops, and chocolate milk (almond milk, raw cocoa, and a bit of honey), and smoothies with raw cocoa, are all good options.
My sister Sarah and I have also got in the habit of taking vitamin C, D, E, Magnesium, and Fish Oil — I don’t know if it helps, but it seems nice.
I know it’s easy to think — bleh!  Salads and fruit, oh joy.  I’ve felt that way in the past too, but keep in mind one thing: your palette is used to unhealthy fats, refined sugars, and heavy flavorings.
After just a few weeks, you body resets (even after a lifetime of fast food eating), and suddenly you don’t want or need sugar in the same way anymore.  I remember just a few weeks into my no-sugar plan a co-worker was leaving and they had a giant cookies-and-cream cake for her going away party.  I was trapped in a tiny room with this giant cake — and already, I didn’t want it.  Not really.  Those cakes were always such a sugar-high treat, but already it didn’t look like REAL food to me.
REAL FOOD:

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 NOT REAL FOOD:

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I’ve been looking for my next sugar ‘hit’ most of my adult life.  That’s sad to admit.  But even when sipping a shake I’d be wondering what was next.  So, at least once in your life, take a break from being addicted to sugar, eat real, recognizable food for a few weeks, and see how you feel.
You owe it to yourself to know what feeling awesome feels like.
Strength Training —

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In a recent large study, two groups both lost weight while exercising, but the first group did only cardio and lost equal amounts of fat and muscle, while group two only did strength training and lost only fat.  Strength training can make that big of a difference.
Basically, strength training makes your muscles grow and that tells your body that you need strong muscles and are using them all the time, so then your body grabs fat instead.  With cardio, you’ll lose more, but more of everything.  For me, a balance is good and I enjoy both.
I have a friend who has lost a LOT of weight over the last nine months.  That’s great, but they only reduced calories and did no exercise so they look a little ‘wasted away’ right now.  It’s great to get the dangerous weight off, and now he has started exercising, but for myself I want to feel strong AND sleek, every step of the way.
So I’ve found some core exercises online to strengthen my torso and I’m also lifting free weights.  I do three sets of the five exercises (all of which are done while lying down, so it’s hard to say I’m too tired to lie on the floor 😉 ).  It takes about 20-30 minutes.
I’m looking lean and feeling very strong.  I really like seeing my arms and torso get hard and sleek.  And please forget the ‘myth’ of getting too muscular, you’re not gong to wake up one day and look like a young Arnold Schwarzenegger — but you might wake up one morning with a killer bod.
Cardio —
Ah, I love me some cardio.  Specifically, I love me some cycling.  Sarah and I cycle three times a week (heat waves depending) going anywhere from six miles to thirty miles at a time.  And it is giving me strong, slim legs, great lungs, and a great heart.  That said, even though I think cycling is a perfect exercise, you need to find the perfect exercise for you.
Anything that gets your heart rate up, and you’d love to do for an hour or more at a time can be great — I just ask that you keep trying activities until you find at least one you love.
Actually, the secret to all this is filling your life with things you love, and cut out the things that stress you out.
  • Any healthy diet (based around veggies) can work; you just need to find real foods you can enjoy eating, day in and day out.
  • Find strength training exercises that are fun, make you feel kick-ass, and get the results you wouldn’t want to live without.
  • Do cardio that you would do for fun even if it wasn’t good for you.
In the end, just never give up — either on yourself or your potential.  It’s taken me a long time to put all the pieces together, but I never gave up on improving myself.  Don’t see yourself as ‘having’ to diet and exercise, see yourself as getting to train up to be stronger, sleeker, and more awesome than you’ve been in your whole life.  I’ve been working toward improving my body for over ten years.  I’ve had setbacks but I’ve never been at such an exciting place as I am now.
So do a little research, steer clear of too-good-to-be-true promises, and get prepared to work harder than you ever have before.
And then get ready to change everything — starting with yourself.

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Found on invisiblechildren.com

The Audacity of Fantasy; or Why I Still Fall in Love

I am in love again.  It’s only the fifth time in my life.  It is with a person I don’t really know, I only know of.  It’s not a celebrity (though no shame if you are — they’re probably someone who’s worked hard to achieve their dreams and entertain others) — he’s just someone I’ve talked to a little.

Pin by Florence and Joseph McGinn

My sister doesn’t like it when the fantasy part of my personality runs away with me — she’s afraid I’ll get hurt.  And true enough, I think I cried for two days (at least it felt that way) when the first guy I loved when I was 20 said he liked me as a friend.

But I am confused about how I feel about daydreams, fantasies, and the assorted imaginings that this guy I like will show up at my Best Buy one day, a beautiful smile upon his face.

Also, as a writer, imagining things is very important to me.  The difference between two characters having a conversation (in my head) and me imagining me talking to this guy is indescribably small. And love, true indescribable love, is a big part of my storytelling —

“Did love exist?  Love as Shepley saw it?  Yes, he knew it did.  He had experienced it, but he could not now remember if he had seen it in others in real life or only in dreams and novels.”

— A Caged Heart Still Beats

That’s probably the truest thing I’ve ever written that expresses my feelings on the subject.

But outside of books, I get the feeling that fantasies can be very harmful, and even become a substitute for working hard and going after your dreams.  Take the lottery: is it harmless fun to buy a ticket and for a dollar envision what you would do, where you would go, and how exciting it would be?  On the surface no, but I know people who have played for years then had to awaken to the reality that their real life wasn’t what they wanted, and it probably hadn’t been for a long time.

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Also, I’m a big believer in action — the ability to make it so.  So if a fantasy ignites your dreams and causes you to make goals and move forward, that’s great.  And a lot of motivational leaders believe in the power of affirmations and envisioning yourself in the place, shape, job etc that you desire.

So dreams that become action = great.  And everyday five-minute-fantasies, where you and a friend tease about what you’d do on your yacht or how you’d choose between Channing Tatum or Ryan Gosling are probably healthy ways to bond and joke in a fantasy context.

But — what about the gossamer dreams, the ones that seem real as life, the love stories that I believe in my heart of hearts could come true?  My dreams about work and jobs I think can happen, if I work hard enough.  But this lonely orphan of a dream about love, what to do with him?  Will, in time, he just be buried out back, next to his four brothers?

I still fall in love because I still believe in happy endings.  I need very little from my beloved, just them to continue rockin’ out the world with their awesomeness.  For them to be kind and thoughtful and amazing and give me space and hold me close.  I know these things are possible because I would offer these things.

So I’ll keep my fantasies, and keep falling in love.  But I’ll also keep working to make my life even more exciting than my dreams —

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5 Ways to Love Yourself and Reveal Your Awesome

WARNING: A little extra language in the pictures of this post — because I was feeling passionate!

In life there are two pulls — the urge to become more and the necessity of loving yourself as is.  I don’t believe these forces are incompatible but we too often tell our story as ‘I’m broken and I must fix myself.’

But we’re not broken.  We are spiritual beings having a physical experience and our bodies can shatter, we can grow tired, we may even get lost.  And we can definitely make mistakes.  But we can’t break.  And at our soul level there is something so fundamentally strong and beautiful and full of glorious purpose that it burns brightly our whole lives and we cannot lessen its glow one iota — we can only hide it from the world and even ourselves.

We lose sight of the things that make us beautiful and make us dream.  We sell our days for power and money, and give away the peace of night in exchange for fears and insecurity.

Found on wisdom-square.com

There was no grand scheme, no master plan to build a society that told us, from birth to death, that we are not good enough.  Companies just sold things, and advertisers discovered that praying on our fears, playing to our vanities, and distorting our dreams sold a lot of soda.  And cars.  And weight loss devices.

An unintentional side effect of this effective advertising is, on a massive level, unconscious self-loathing (oops!).  And before you think I overstate my case, I’ll ask ‘Are you happy with the shape of your body?’  ‘How often do you wish you had more money?’  ‘Do you think other people have more fun, more vibrant social lives than you?’  Or as my sister put it, she grew up thinking you couldn’t be the hero of the story unless you were ‘the pretty one’.

And having to grow up at school, trapped in a building with a bunch of other confused kids doesn’t help.  So we emerge, blinking, into the strong sunlight of adulthood and look around, lost.  And yet we often still try, still push toward our dreams and our heart’s desires.

But the road is long, and we stumble, then retreat.  And somewhere along the way we can grow cold, or even cruel.  We gain weight and believe ourselves maybe just the ‘sassy friend’ instead of the luminous heroine.  I’ve had pretty good self esteem for a few years now (starting my groups People Who Have Come Alive & the Athens Writers Association was a big turning point for me), but even I was thrown backwards, back to TV show expectations of my youth recently when I fell for someone and wondered ‘Could I even be seen as attractive to him?’ And I’ve worked on this stuff for years!  But billions of dollars have been spent in the same time span to tell me I lack something, or many things.

So cover our glow in armor, in hardheartedness, in shrouds.  We develop traits we don’t like, and these become the weak places where we also build up our strongest defenses.  And somewhere along the way, we believe a myth we have helped write, the story of why we don’t deserve success — in business, in love, or in life.

Before I started my groups, my self publishing, or even a lot of my self improvement, I too had a myth.  I was a ‘nice’ girl who was too shy for groups, too boring to have friends, and too ugly (read fat) to have a boyfriend.  It hurts and bewilders me now to write these words, because I never expressed them to anyone back then, but none the less, it was a story — a reason — that I used to explain my life.  The truth was I was quiet and introspective, and curvy (and still am).

So what changed my outlook?  I think I just realized that I had felt and wrestled with these feelings, these ‘lacks’, most of my adult life, so it followed that I could be having exactly the same conversations with myself in 10, or 20, or 30 years.  I didn’t want that and so I decided to take action — bringing the people I wanted to know together, speaking even when my voice shook, and building a body I could love — with or without a man to enjoy it with.

So how do you let go of these brainwashed ideals and layers of armor?  How do you honor how awesome you are and know how far you can go?

5 Ways to Love Yourself and Reveal Your Awesome

  1. Start questioning your authorities.  When you think, ‘I need to lose weight’ — STOP.   Ask yourself where this desire is coming from — love or fear?  Do you love dancing around, and feeling great with tons of energy?  Or do you read magazines and watch shows that take 1% of the human population and then Photoshop and light them to look like 0% naturally do?  If you think you need more success (and money) ask yourself why.  Will that really make something inside you different and happier or have you just been told the validation of life is cha-ching! cash?  After you start questioning your sources, consider cutting the toxic ones out of your life while looking at things from a new perspective (read blogs about people beating anorexia or helping children in disadvantaged countries, watch foreign films, find quotes and people that build you up, read bios of great historical figures).  And when a person you know offers their opinion, always ask yourself, ‘Are they someone I want to emulate, to aspire to be?’
  2. Make time for what makes you awesome.  So often we only work on our weaknesses.  In the book Now, Discover Your Strengths, the authors talk about how you want to shore up your weaknesses, but only enough that they don’t slow you down (they use an example of Tiger Woods improving his short game so it would not detract from his amazing long swings that got him to the green so quickly).  The takeaway was that you are never going to be amazing because of your weaknesses — it’s your unique strengths that will blow people away.  So take pride in the things that come easily to you, delve into the hobbies and sports that you excel at (I once told my sister that I felt like I was ‘made’ for cycling — and that is a powerful feeling, almost like you’re cheating).  In the same way, I didn’t really ‘fix’ my character flaws, I just walked away from them and focused on stuff I rock at — and I’ve never looked back.
  3.  Get healthy.  Seriously, throw out the scale (it’s a horrible measure of health), and forget about diets (these temporary things you hate) while embracing diet (a lifelong way of eating that makes you feel great).  So much self esteem and endorphins lie on the other side of exercise and eating right.  Also — weed, drinking, and excessive sugar can all be enjoyed, but they can also become a crutch that makes us feel powerless and reliant on their mood enhancements.  And I know smokers already feel beat up upon, but I really do feel like that addiction unfairly makes you feel powerless — a slave to nicotine — many times a day, so I hope, if you smoke, you find out how powerful you are and break that habit into a million pieces.
  4.  Become an inspiration to others.  Write a book.  Lead a cause.  Start a group.  Blog about fitness.  Mentor a child.  Follow your dream so hard that others stare in wonder.  When I started my groups, a strange thing happened: people started telling me how awesome I was, and how I was inspiring them.  I felt there must be some mistake, but no — I was just living my life but even what I considered small acts — hosting a meeting, sharing what I knew, encouraging people with a few words — others saw a value to that and spoke up about it.  This inspired me to do more — publish a book, give a public reading — because I realized that we all have fears and insecurities and the more ‘fake it till you make it’ I did, the more bold and brave they would become in their own lives.  Suddenly, being awesome wasn’t about just me.
  5. Speak to yourself with love.  Not get all psychological on you, but there’s only one person watching everything you do and commenting on how you do it.  It’s you.  And it was a real wake-up call the first time I read something like ‘If you wouldn’t speak to a small child like that, why would you speak to your inner child that way?’  It’s really hard to live an inspiring life if someone is degrading you all the time.  So, give yourself a break.  It’s been shown in studies that being ‘hard line’ or tough with yourself does not improve your willpower or results.  In fact, the opposite is true.  You are already doing great things — give yourself some love.

So start seeing yourself as beautiful.

Fall in love with who you are at your silliest and most sublime.

Forgive the actions and thoughts of your past and know they are not you.

Make choices that reveal your inner glory and magnificent joy.

Say “Screw you!” to any society that hasn’t gotten on board with your level of sexy, awesomeness, or lifestyle.

Heal your body and free your mind.

And lastly, when you feel imperfect, remember the words of Leonard Cohen — “There is crack in everything . . .

A History of a Writer

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I’ve been making up stories for as long as I can remember and, as I’m turning 35 in a few months, it looks like the odds are good I’ll be telling them for the rest of my life (not just gonna yell ‘That’s it!  I’m done!’ as I blow out my birthday candles).  But how did I grow into the writer I am today?  Here’s what I remember (note: these ages may be off a little) —

423440_10150723496996095_1852258631_nAge 6 — Some of my first memories were playing with He-Man figures, though I remember liking the villain Skeletor better than the hero.  We also had an Apple computer and played ‘Choose Your Own Adventure: Cave of Time’.

Age 7 — Loved listening to stories but couldn’t hardly read at all till one summer my sister and I got excited about the Athens Regional Library’s Summer Reading program.  I think I read about 50 books including my first ‘big’ novel — Black Beauty.

Age 10 — Wild Ponies! Wild ponies everywhere!  I loved The Black Stallion, The Island Stallion, Smoky, and all those horse stories and so I made up a lot of tales of wild horses while running around a 50 acre property my mother care-took.

Age 12 — Huge TV fan.  We never had cable (still don’t) but for a while I’d watch 2-3 hours a night and tape many programs (tape, ha ha, the memories!).  I once even pretended I was the head of a network and invented 50 series (each with a log line) and then rolled dice to see which were successful and got ‘high ratings’).  Few of the people who call me intelligent and thoughtful today know just how many episodes of The Nanny I’ve seen.

Age 13 — ‘Sisters’ the TV show premieres.  I’ve watched better shows with my sister and mother (Quantum Leap!) but something about this show makes me start telling stories about people instead of horses (mostly just Teddy & Falconer [a young George Clooney!]).  Adolescence has begun.

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Age 14 — I’m reading a lot of Stephen King and Dave Barry.  Also, SeaQuest DSV and The X-Files debut followed by Earth 2 a year later.  My sister Sarah and I spend untold hours playing out ‘episodes’ of the shows that we ‘write’ (as well as Chicago Hope).  We even have props, like a bicycle tire gage that serves as a syringe.

Age 15 — I start my first book, pretty much called ‘If Dave Berry Had Written Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’.  I write a few chapters, enjoy it, and still remember a scene where a road crew is placing giant, brightly-colored fish in the highway, like stones in cobblestone.  My adventures in literary greatness have begun.

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Age 16 — I make an epic sci-fi / fantasy love story called Move to Fathom about the assistant to the president who is destined to be the soul mate to an invading alien king.  Strangely enough, I only write down the dialogue, not the whole story.

Age 18 — I decide I’m serious about screenwriting.  Later, when asked why, I said, “I was just enamoured by Hollywood I guess.”  I take a 2 day workshop lead by Michael Hauge.  As a home-schooled-off-the-radar person, it is my first formal training.  I go on to complete two feature length screenplays — ‘Murder in the Movies’ which is about a murder on a murder mystery set, and ‘Divining Grace’, which is about an angel earning his wings by helping a human girl.

Age 19 — I get first job just so I can buy an amazing desktop computer with my sister for gaming.  It was AWESOME.  Suddenly, Duke Nukem 3D, Unreal Tournament, Arcanum, X-COM, Civ II, and Myst start to inspire me.

Age 21 — Watch High Fidelity and then start reading Nick Hornby.  My favs (in time) become About a Boy, High Fidelity, and Slam.

417713_10150723505716095_955974438_nAge 22 — I take a three week trip to England to watch the world’s largest dog show (why do other people go?).  I also fall in love for the first time (well, first time recipatated) with a handsome English bloke.  I come home determined to finally start my story ‘Other Gods’.  I try it as a novel instead of a screenplay because I want to flesh out the world and make it deep and meaningful.  I fall instantly in love with novel-writing.  I also join my first critique group and learn about the evils of -ly words.  And I started watching LOTR and the reading the book for the first time.  Yowza!  I realise I have to take my writing to a whole new level.

Age 23 — Go to my first Writer Conference.  I have a fifteen minute session talking to Patrick LoBrutto, who ruins me for talking to any other agents/editor/etc types — he’s so sweet and nice and helpful.  I’m probably here today because of him (at least partly)!  Also see 28 Days Later — the era of my modern movie love has begun.  Suddenly Rain Man and Titanic just don’t seem quite as great.  Hello (in time) Danny Boyle, Zack Snyder, Guillermo del Toro, Neill Blomkamp, Darren Aronofsky, and Alfonso Cuarón.

Age 25 — Shadow of the Colossus (PS2 game) comes out. DA-mn.  Never gonna forget that world.  Time to up my game again.

Age 27 — I watch Deadwood, my first cable show.  I know it only as ‘That show that won all those awards and people curse a ridiculous amount”.  After watching the first episodes, I know it as the show that changed my idea of TV forever.

Age 29 — I finally finish my first novel ‘Other Gods’.  The story of two servants of the god of Darkness (one willing and one unwilling) on a journey to destroy all of the gods on a desert planet.  It clocks in a 140,000 words but I’m very proud — my first book!

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Age 31 — Start my second novel ‘A Caged Heart Still Beats’.  I had been trying to write a sequel to ‘Other Gods’ but the timing just wasn’t right.  So I decide to pick a short, sweet idea, and ‘Let my romanticism off the hook’ for the first time.  A love triangle starring a man trapped in a cage is born.

Age 33 — I start People Who Have Come Alive, to inspire others to live their dreams.  I also met Rob White, an Athens-area writer who has inspired me in many ways including founding the Athens Writers Association that year.  I also wrote my first non-fiction book ‘How To Come Alive: a Guidebook for Living Your Dreams’ and self published for the first time.  Yow!  Things are getting busy!

Age 34 — Finish and self publish ‘A Caged Heart Still Beats’.  Will finish (soon!) 12 year project — ‘Fall Street’ novel.  Am writing a teleplay.  Soon to start next novel …

Taken on day #5

Still crazy after all these years.

 

How to Start Living the Life of Your Dreams Today

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This is about to be a huge cop out because the answer to the question above is to remove the first two words from the title of this piece — there’s your answer.  But hopefully my explanation will be more satisfying.

There’s a lot of dithering, planning, dreaming, whiteboard and index card use, and fantasizing that goes into planning the life of your dreams.  And that can be good, but even better is the day you take action.  And the best kind of action (to me) is just acting like you’re already living the life of your dreams.

It’s easy to get fixated on the crack, crevice, Grand Canyon-sized hole between where you are and where you want to be.  But when you jump, you don’t look at what you’re jumping over, you look at where you want to land.

For myself, it’s hard to believe that a little over a year ago I had published no books (now I have two), there was no Athens Writers Association (which I founded) and all my dreams of being a professional writer felt like wispy clouds on a distant horizon.  But today I feel like I’m on an express train zipping toward my destination.  How did I do it?  How does anyone?  Without further ado, here’s what I’ve learned so far —

10 Tips for Living the Life of Your Dreams

  1.  ‘Fake it till you make it.’  I use to dislike this idea, like somehow you were lying to the world.  Instead, I’ve come to see it as a powerful technique to re-train your brain to see you as a winner.  Instead of seeing yourself as out-of-shape and wanting to eat a donut, imagine yourself as your perfect weight — you feeling amazing in your body, you go for runs, and maybe donuts have lost some of their appeal.  See yourself as a winner making a choice rather than as a loser denying themselves a treat.  This also means you have to starting talking about yourself, your dreams, and your talents in positive terms.  You’re not lying to anyone — you’re just remembering that ‘I just published my first book, and I’m very excited!’ is as true as ’50 agents turned me down so I finally made up a copy and self published it.  I keep them in a box under my bed.’  You’re the hero of your own story, and you’re on a journey —  honor how awesome you are for even trying to make a big change.
  2. Start today.  No one expects perfect; in fact my current favorite saying is ‘Progress not perfection’.  Instead, see what you can do on this day that will echo in eternity.  I’m not kidding — a simple walk could be the start of a lifetime of health and fitness.  Picking up that guitar and playing for five minutes does get you closer to being a master.  No matter how small the action, do it.  But the trick is to see these actions as the beginning of long term habits, not as one-offs that should change everything.  But know this, when you make the time everything does start changing.
  3. Realize that even small actions can put you in elite company.  Now I am not saying you don’t have to work damn hard to get to the life of your dreams, but believe me, you would be shocked how little time it takes to become an inspiration to others.  Most people have un-achieved dreams and just seeing you eat right for a month, or write one book, or even get up on a stage for five minutes can make you someone who’s done what some others never will.  It’s a good feeling to inspire others — and you’ll find yourself inspired to ever-greater heights.
  4. “Say yes, and you’ll figure it out afterward.” — Tina Fey.  Just being willing to do something you are unsure about is a surefire way to start astounding yourself.  In the Athens Writers Association, there have been some big, even scary, ideas — like doing our first public reading or publishing an anthology — but that willingness to say “Yes, we can” translates into action and confidence.  People love solution-finders, and they tell others (including your dream-job boss) what bold, great things you are doing and how you were willing to put yourself out there and learn something new.
  5. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.   Truth is, the road to your dreams is scary, often unmarked, and filled with the sensation that you’re going the wrong way.  And that’s when you’re on the right path!  Everything you’ve been doing in your non-dream life is probably stuff that’s been working ‘okay’ for years, but as Jack Canfield says ‘Everything you want is on the other side of fear.’  If you’re serious about living the life of your dreams, be prepared to feel like an out-of-it, loser, miscreant for the next five to seven years.  Then all your dreams come true.  I think it’s a pretty good deal, but damn, it’s not going to be comfortable.
  6. Work hard.  Sorry, but that’s the price of admission.  You have to find something you love so much you’ll give untold hours, weeks, and years to it and still want to give more.  The great thing is, being willing to work hard is all it takes to separate you from the ordinary masses.  And trust me when I say you can work so hard and do great things.  You just need to break free of the feelings you learned in school or in that job you hate and recognize that working hard at something you love is already ingrained in you.  Just remember being a little kid building forts, chasing bugs all day, playing with your friends — back then play was hard work, and you loved every minute of it.  Reclaim your awesomeness.
  7. Let go of what others think. Their life path is not yours.  If you know you’re going in the right direction, then that’s all that matters.
  8. “Do good work and share it with people.” — Austin Kleon.  Part of the ‘living’ vs. ‘planning’ is being willing to share your work (and hopes and dreams) with the wider world.  Now, that doesn’t mean trusting your innermost secrets to the person who always poo-poos your every idea at work.  Dreams are precious things — find like-minded people and get excited.  Take a class, join a group, and then start putting your talents out into the world.
  9. Feel the momentum.  Writing a page a day can mean writing your first novel this year.  Losing a pound a week is losing 52 pounds by next spring.  Don’t worry about falling off or having a bad day, just look for forward progress week to week and month to month.  Using the weight loss analogy above, you could have 70 ‘off’ days between now and next May and you’d still lose 40 pounds.  You could fall off for two months and still come out of the year an amazing champion.   Now you want to be on track as much as possible, but know that keeping going, not being flawless, is the secret to success.
  10. Power though.  When I was writing my nonfiction book last fall, I would sometimes feel tired, out-of-sorts, and like I might not be doing my best work.  But I keep pushing forward — edit if I was too tired to write, work on a cover if I was too distracted to edit.  I looked at it like a football game: it’s great to have a long run and score a touchdown, but even if a play only gets you a few more yards down the field, you are still better off and closer to the goal.  And by the end of the year, magically, I had a real book I was proud of.  No one (not even me) could tell what I’d written when I ‘didn’t feel like it’, or what parts needing to be rewritten five times — in the end it was a great, unified piece.  But it would be easy to still be writing it, waiting for the perfect moment, letting myself off easy when I was tired or busy.

Just dedicate yourself to doing something you love, to achieving some great end, and then put in the time and hard work to make it happen.  Stop planning and start living today.

And . . .

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