Simplifying = getting sh*t done

20151130_124530Simplifying is not for nothing, folks.

Simplifying means getting sh*t done.

It means you have more time and space and freedom to spend on what is important to you.

Whether you simplify your diet, your routine, your home or your schedule, you will reap the rewards.

And here is my favorite reward:

Creative projects coming to fruition! 

I am in the process of editing my book. I love this part. It is a lot of work, but I get to apply my love for organizing to the whole process.  I printed out a hard copy because I find it easier to edit this way. I can spread chapters out across my table, move things around, write notes in red ink and feel the weight of my project, literally. All the pages I see represent not only what I’ve gotten done, but all the things I chose to let go of in order to focus on this.

I’ve made the decision that I will get this book ready for publication, no matter what it takes. That is a good feeling. Not having it out in the world is simply not an option for me. I will spend any amount of time and effort that is required. End of story.

 

Creative Nesting

I wonder if other writers experience this nesting phenomenon, much like before a baby is born, but instead it occurs at the brink of binge writing, or giving birth to a creative project.

I spent a good four hours nesting recently. I had this desire to know what I have, to love it or leave it, and to move things around or put them away.

There’s a kind of ‘shopping at home’ where you simply move things around until you find something that you just don’t like no matter where you put it.  I like to do this before replacing something or buying something new. A wall hanging that is unappealing in one area of the house might be perfect in another spot. I switched a couple large plants around too,  and thought them perfect again.

I went through my jewelry and my linens. I swapped out our gold chandelier that I never liked for a matte nickel one that is so much more aesthetically pleasing to me. I  have this feeling of fullness, of having everything I need, not feeling especially attached to any of it, but loving all of it. That’s the sweet spot with material things, I think- to love everything you have without being too attached to any of it.

20150828_215042At the end of my nesting, I ordered one large canvas art print and gave one old framed picture away. The look of the old one was cluttered and too country for my current taste. The new painting arrived, a splash of vibrant color across a lone branch. It looks both natural and modern to me, and I love it.

A chapter out of place, or no longer relevant, I move it or let it go. I feel the labor pains of writing: the blocks and the struggle, the fear and the pushing.

The bliss!

The fullness of it, when the words match my memory. The sentences, like thoughts on canvas, now visible. Fresh words, new perspective.

A labor of love, bursting forth to completion.

Create it, love it, let it go.

I have everything I need.

The Truth About Nature

20140721_104248Ahhh the grace of nature, a balm for the soul.  Aren’t we meant to come back to this source, to immerse ourselves amongst the trees or water, the cycles of the earth?  Nature is detoxifying, pulling us into the present, into our bodies, cleansing us of the burdens of the mind.

I don’t want to leave this place, where I breath easy, write freely.

My doctor goes through his list of standard questions.

Do you sleep well?

I just answer yes. I don’t tell him I wake at 4am these days, a new habit perhaps, or biology, hormones, announcing their shift.  Sometimes worrisome thoughts trickle in at this time.

Car accidents. One wrong turn, one distracted driver, an instant. One wrong choice. Tragedies. Illness. The people I love. What are the chances no one will be harmed?

Oh the burden of love.

And the global worries, the earth, the damage, the carelessness toward that which sustains us.

Oppression.

Inequality.  Unbalance of power.

Oh the burden of caring.

And since when is this politics?

Isn’t it as simple as right versus wrong?

Evolution versus stagnation.

Nonviolence.

Love over fear.

Truth over denial.

People before money.

Feelings over things.

Heart before ego.

And then I hate myself for thinking it is that simple, for needing to convince.  And then what starts in my heart shifts to ego. I am right. You are wrong. It is this simple.

But it’s not.

The burden of caring.  It is too heavy.

I don’t know how to care without suffering.

So now, in this place of beauty and surrender, I care less. I simply will do no harm, but I vow to focus less on that which I cannot change.

I am preparing to speak, a voice for children.  I am putting notes together, but  I keep coming back to this:  just show up and speak the truth. This I can do.

Write my story.  This I can do.

Do you sleep well? 

I just answer yes.

Because I will. I will care less for that which I have no control. I will show up and speak the truth.  I will write. I will be a voice, just one voice for one issue.  That is all.

That is enough.

I breath in the sky, the massive pine trees lining the water like an artist’s brush.  I will be back here soon. I will breath easy. Write more. Sleep well.

I return to the petty thoughts, the grounding thoughts.

The dog needs more food.

Shop for curtains.

Pick up the dry cleaning.

It feels good to care less about the world. Peaceful.

To pick one thing and just do that.

To surrender all else to the earth, the sky, the air.

That’s the truth about nature.  It takes nothing from us but our burdens, real or imagined.

And it gives everything in return.

Writing and Wild Mind

When things settled down after my last blog post https://musingsimplicity.wordpress.com/2015/07/27/touchstones/ I was left with the simple clarity of what’s next. I need to move forward and finish my book. This is my next stop, my touchstone.

I don’t need another article, or another open mic story win or more encouragement. I don’t need to perfect my proposal letter to literary agents or secure another speaking engagement first, or read another book on writing nor start another blog.

stock-photo-33581722-cloudy-sunset-over-field-with-sunflowersI just need to keep writing.  I could keep eeking it out, day by day, but what I know I need to do is to binge write again. That’s how I really move the book forward because I’ve entered into that space of writer’s mind. I was there last fall and I got more done in the month of November than I did in the six months that followed.

Writer Natalie Goldberg describes our unconscious, or what she calls our “Wild Mind” as a big sky. Picture a little dot in the center of that sky, she tells us, and that is what Zen call “Monkey Mind”, or what western psychology calls part of the conscious mind. Goldberg says we give almost all of our attention to that little dot, the one that says you can’t do that, shouldn’t even try, do this instead. So while Wild Mind surrounds us, like a big sky, powerful and vast, waits for us, whispers the truth to us, we get swept away from it, for days, years, a lifetime, because we are focusing only on the dot instead of what’s beyond.

Emails are answered and clutter is cleared. I am being vigilant to stay on top of all the tasks of daily living while simultaneously enjoying the last weeks of this beautiful summer.

Then I will enter Wild Mind and try my best not to emerge until I bring my book to completion.  For the most part, my compass will be toward that big sky, my mind in the wild unconscious, my words coming from my truth, uncensored and untamed.

That we have access to that is our greatest gift.

At summer’s end, just when the days are beginning to get ever slightly shorter and there’s a hint of cooler weather, of fall ahead, I will know it is time. I will invite the muse, once again, to write through me. I will do my best to divert my attention from that dot, that monkey mind, and will look to the vastness and the miracle of that wide open sky.

I will reside in Wild Mind. There, where freedom and divine assistance always accompanies, I will finish what I started.

Touchstones

 stones-323807__180 legalA touchstone is a smooth, dark stone but metaphorically, it is a point of reference, leading us along a path. When I get stuck or stalled, unsure of the next action, I wait for my next touchstone, that clear signal, the green light in the form of an idea, a success, the right person or opportunity that shows up to say This is next.  Now this. You’re on the right track. 

Lately, my touchstones have been showing up a lot and pushing me forward.  I’m not special. Everyone has touchstones.  In fact, maybe I’ve taken longer than most to follow mine. But they are appearing, solid and shining.

There were the questions, the curiosities. The desire for the next right action.

What if I tell the story that scares me? Follow it.

My story won! Follow that.

Get it published. Another touchstone. Keep going.

An invitation from another, bigger magazine to write for them. Keep going. 

What if send my story, an excerpt from my memoir, to the most respected person in the field related to my theme. The child advocate, the one whose work I admire more than any other because it is in an area near and dear to my heart, and to my own writing? The worst that can happen is he ignores it. Or his staff ignores it. But what if this story is about much more than just me? What if it helps others? 

My heart says go. Just do it.  

His response is more generous and encouraging than I could have imagined. And he puts my story on his blog the next day. I am honored, happy, grateful. Touchstone.

His colleague requests a Skype interview.  Keep going. I say yes.

Emails from others. An invitation to speak. Touchstones. They keep appearing. 

I am busy, I am breathless, scared, and absolutely certain I on the right path.

I think that touchstones shine more brightly with an uncluttered background. I think that I had to simplify, clear out the half hearted yeses and the fear in order to see what was waiting for me.

It all feels overwhelming but exactly right. It feels like of course this is it.  I knew it all along. I just had to remember, to find the clues and to follow them. 

What if…?
What’s next…?

Touchstones were once used for testing alloys of gold.  Is this real? Is this valuable?

I think that we recognize our touchstones when we see them. We just have to ask from the heart.  We have to ask like we mean it.

And when they appear, telling us yes this is real,  this is valuable, we cannot say no.

The Moth Story Slam : live storytelling

Are you a writer, a storyteller, or a playwright looking to showcase your work? Or maybe you are someone who would enjoy hearing a variety of true stories told live on stage? An evening at the Moth may be just perfect for you.  http://themoth.org/   In case you aren’t familiar with it, it’s an open mic forum in which speakers tell five minute true stories on stage without scripts or notes. stock-photo-8991028-red-curtain-stage

I guess what led me to the Moth (besides that I’ve enjoyed listening to Moth Radio hour) is that I figured it’s a writerly thing to do and a challenging, fun, inspiring way to develop some outside interest in my book-in-progress.

Essentially, each five minute moth story is a mini-memoir. I’ve heard and read all about the drudgery of book promotion, even if you are fortunate enough to get picked up by a publisher, and I figured this sounded like a pleasant way to attract interest. Besides, I knew that raising my comfort level with telling a story, rather than just writing it, would be a good skill to develop. I ran into other writers who were there for the same purpose. This excerpt from a New York Times article about the Moth convinced me it might be a good idea:

“A lot of my best clients, I’m finding at the Moth,” Mr. Chromy said. At events, he said, half the people telling stories already have representation, and other agents and publishers are usually there looking for talent.

People who can win over a live, if half-drunk, audience have skills beyond writing, he said. “If you are able to do a good reading, you probably have a facility for self-promotion,” Mr. Chromy explained. “Publishers are looking for that, too. Everybody says they’re going to be a great promoter, but a lot of people freeze up.”

 It does not come natural to me, generally, to be speaking to large audiences. Or even small ones. Heck, I can get tongue tied ordering a coffee if I feel rushed. But if I have prepared a piece of work that I am very satisfied with, or passionate about, and it feels authentic and worthwhile to me, then I think of it as a gift I am delivering to the audience, and then there is no stopping me. If my story is powerful enough, it carries me.

So I was super- excited-beyond- happy-ecstatic-to win! I actually came in first place! I was surprised, but truth be told, not hugely surprised. I was hopeful. I knew it was possible. Why not? Someone has to win and I had been incubating my story for, well, I don’t know, forty years or so? At least four years in an intentional way.

I planned to win. I mean planned.

During the week leading up to the event, I lived and breathed the Moth 24-7. Well maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it was on my mind.

I spent about half my time on preparing and rehearsing the story. The other half of my time was spent on mental preparation; I read the book Feel the Fear and do it anyway by Susan Jeffers. I watched approximately thirty-five moth stories on YouTube for inspiration, tamed fearful thoughts, focused on the empowering ones, meditation; any form of training the brain that I knew to be effective, I used. I got ready.

And then the night. Tickets always sell out. When you get there early, you sit with the very loud music and a whole lot of people around, right up until it is time to begin the stories.

Overstimulated.

My idea of preparing right beforehand is sitting quietly in a room alone and doing some yogic breathing. No such option here. Sink or swim baby. This is the venue. But once it’s time for storytellers to take the stage, the music stops. The audience falls silent. And ten lucky people get their names chosen from the hat.
I was the eighth story teller to go on stage. I knew to expect the bright light shining upon me-the one that took me by surprise my first time. I knew the MC would adjust the microphone for me. I knew not to think about what I did with my hands.

All those pesky details that we were encouraged to hyper focus on in public speaking classes in school? Watch your hands. Stand this way not that. Lean in, lean out. Forget about it. Why do we have to make things so complicated? Here’s my off-the-cuff, simplified instruction: Know your subject. Love your subject. Believe in it. And if you don’t believe in it, then find a new subject. Then go for it.

I knew it went well. Definitely not perfectly. Certainly room for improvement. As soon as I finished, I knew what I wanted to do differently next time. But I was thinking there’d be a next time. And I was pretty satisfied.

The judges give out the scores for each speaker just a few minutes after each story, so once I got my score, I was pretty sure I was in the lead with just two more story tellers to go after mine. As a writer, it feels a bit strange to get a score and then to hope it is the best score, which means of course that you hope all the other fabulous, sincere, creative storytellers do worse. That was weird. I don’t typically compete. They were all good! Writers and storytellers support each other!

But if it had to be just one of us, well, I wanted to go to the GrandSLAM. The anticipation of it all had me wondering for a brief moment if I should have just kept my writing a quiet activity instead of bursting forth into the world of competitive storytelling. I mean it’s a little out of my comfort zone. It’s kind of scary.

But then I remembered the author’s words from the fear book: If you aren’t feeling fear you aren’t growing.

I guess I am having a bit of a growth spurt.

I did it.

And there is all that psychology about how girls play it small and don’t do enough healthy bragging, so I’m going to make up for all my girlhood years of not bragging right here and now and set an example for girls:

I WON!!!! I FREAKIN’ WON! And I am THRILLED! I was GOOD! Really GOOD! I WON I WON I WON! And I am SO happy about it!!

Okay, I’m done. Not positive how healthy that was, but it felt good.

(Quite honestly, looking back, it occurs to me that I can’t really remember much that I should have been bragging about in my girlhood, but anyway. Now I can. I’m a late bloomer, what can I say?)

And I am grateful. Because I got the chance to do this! I live near a city that hosts this event and I had the time and the support and my name got picked and I actually had this opportunity. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Which reminds me, there was this tiny older woman who moved to the U.S. from another country(I forget where) several years ago with her husband; she hadn’t wanted to move but knew it was for the best and so here she was. Her story trailed off into randomness a bit and she was a little difficult to understand, but she had something to say dammit and we live in a place where we get to do this. She wasn’t going to miss the opportunity. She was enjoying herself. And she was genuinely happy for me when I won. I was standing next to her on the stage at the end when they called my name and she took my hands and was just beaming. And I loved her.

The day following this event, I woke up happy but drained. It had been a late night and the days leading up to it had taken all my energy to prepare. I had the overwhelming urge to do nothing but organize my Tupperware drawer and reflect on the event.  But that night was my writing group meeting, which turned out to be a good thing. Because once the party’s over, it’s back to the keyboard. Writers must write.

So in a couple months or so I will compete against nine other winners (from nine other Story Slams) in the GrandSLAM championship. It will be a bigger venue, with a larger audience. I’m not really sure what happens after that. I’m taking it one step at a time.

The Moth is a fun event for audience members as well. You can order a drink and a snack and sit back and take in the stories. This takes place in cities all around the U.S. http://themoth.org/events

But perhaps you too have a story you’d like to share? Humor, tragedy, mishap? It’s all material. People want to hear it! Maybe I’ll see you on the stage. It could happen.

Bare Bones: choosing what’s essential in writing and in life

Bare Bones: The basic elements or essentials

MAINE 2011 008I had a 1600 word essay that I wanted to turn into a 1000 word essay in order for it to fit into a specific magazine. Cutting out more than a third of a piece of writing may sound a bit daunting to some, but I loved the challenge of this. It took me a fair amount of time and effort for sure, but I really, really wanted this piece in this particular publication, so it was well worth it. The fun of it was that I had to make every word count. I don’t always do this in my writing, so it was good practice. I had to cut large chunks out of the essay, parts that I originally thought belonged there. Thirty eight percent of the essay had to go, to be exact. I cut out words, then whole paragraphs, picking and choosing what could be sacrificed, what was essential and what was just fluff. In other words, I had to get down to the bare bones and this required deciding: what are the bare bones? What is essential?

And this is what I love about simplifying. It’s a creative privilege, a designing of one’s own life, getting to decide what to keep and what to get rid of. It’s something I have not mastered, and will not ever truly master. Ah, but the lofty goal, the striving toward, no matter how many times I fall short, makes me happy. To only keep what we use or love, buy what we need; to only think about what serves us well and only eat what is good for us. To only say what we mean. What simply amazing results this could all have.

This paring down of the essay was something I could do, completely and successfully. I had a definite limit- 1000 words- and the result I was going for was clear-to have this piece published. It was work and art and love and simplifying, all for a useful purpose. To write what I mean and mean what I write.

When I was finished, although there were parts missing, left unsaid, I realized that I actually liked it better than before. What I had originally thought was essential, wasn’t. It was shorter, more concise and somehow a bit more powerful, in my opinion. I haven’t heard from the editor yet, so I can’t truly claim victory over this task, but I am satisfied. I did the best I could, and said the most I can say with the fewest number of words.

Which reminds me of a line I recently read on Theo Pauline Nestor’s blog. She quoted Vivian Gornick, regarding writing memoir: ‘ It’s all in the art. You get no credit for living.’

Living is art, and we get to pick what our bare bones are. When the essential gets buried in too much fluff, we have to go digging to find it. And when we strive to keep the essential front and center, dusted off and cared for, unencumbered by the extraneous, that is its own reward.