Tag Archives: Writing

Intending to Keep the Faith During Job Hunting

job huntingby Rachel Kossman 

It is my intent to stay positive as I search for a writing and web-editing job, but I’m struggling. The job search is time consuming, frustrating, and seemingly endless. It can often be fruitless for long periods of time, which is a truly demoralizing feeling. I feel as though a black hole is swallowing every cover letter and resume I send out to the interwebs.

I told myself I would do at least three things a day, even if they’re small, to forward my job search – sending out a networking email, writing a follow up message, searching LinkedIn for connections, starting a posting, or sending in an application. It was manageable, and there were days where I did twenty tasks, not just three. I was chugging along, gaining optimism the more I put myself out there.

Then, I got an interview for a full time gig I could easily label my dream job. A phone interview led to an in person interview, which led to a second in person interview, and then a cross-country phone call with a third employee. I thought I had it in the bag. All my energy and excitement hung on the prospect of this job.  Yesterday, they gave it to somebody else.

So now I’m back to square one. Slowly plodding away, one task at a time. This time, I’ve upped my expectations for myself: at least five tasks a day. It has only been three weeks since the interview process started, but it feels like ages ago. I’ve lost my steam.

I want to stay focused and determined as I look for people and companies who will believe in my writing abilities, and pay me for the content I produce. But with this experience of nearly nabbing my dream job — being told I’m great, but not quite great enough, it’s seeming even more difficult to remain positive.

Everyone told me job searching would be hard. But isn’t the truth that things aren’t really hard until you experience them yourself? Everyone told me how much I would struggle, and part of me knew that I would. But I said to myself “It’ll be a challenge but I can manage, it won’t be that bad!” And that statement seemed true when this interview opportunity came along. I had worked hard, and it had seemed to pay off. But now I’m feeling down, and it seems like my hard work has landed me nowhere, and I’m struggling.

California’s unemployment rate is nearly eight percent. With a statewide population of just over 38 million, that means more than 3.5 million people are out of work and looking for jobs. And that doesn’t include the folks who are working a job they don’t want, and are searching for another position on the side.

I have to remind myself that I’m not the only person facing this battle.

I have to remind myself to stay motivated, and not let my frustration and sadness get the best of me, because those emotions don’t lead to productivity, and what I need right now is to keep moving and working toward my goal.

I have to remind myself that instead of a retail or waitressing job that pays little and wears your body down, I have found an amazing nanny job for a wonderful family that pays my bills in the interim.

I have to remind myself that I’m in always sunny Los Angeles, so having an irregular schedule with days that don’t start until 5 PM means I can hike with my golden retriever in the mornings and still have the afternoons to work on job applications.

I have to remind myself that even though this feels like a giant back step, it’s a great sign that I scored an interview for a job I truly wanted, and that has to mean there are bigger and better opportunities out there for me.

I have to remind myself that if three tasks a day (and on good days, many more) led to that opportunity, pushing myself to do five will only help me succeed faster.

And I have to remind myself that I’m only 25 (with my entire life to work) and that regardless of whether I’m job searching for one more month or six more months, in the scheme of my life, this will only be a blip.

Rachel is an aspiring writer and journalist, born and raised in Los Angeles. She lived in Boston for six years, where she attended Northeastern University and wrote for Boston.com and the Boston Globe, Her Campus, Bay Windows, South End News, and Tech Target. Rachel spent much of 2012 backpacking and blogging her way across South America. Follow her on Twitter @rachelsarahsays, and check out her blog on RachelKossman.com.

3 Tips to Help Crawl out of the Creative Dumps

creative dumpsThere’s a pile of dishes in the sink. The bed hasn’t been made. There are a stack of bills on my desk that I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to pay. “I need to shower,” is a relevant thought but currently I’m sitting in the middle of the floor, legs crossed, laptop on my lap with a Final Draft document open – completely white except for the blinking white cursor in the top right corner. The cursor refuses to move. There are a million thoughts in my head, scenes that play in regular rotation but can’t seem to make their way from my brain to my fingers and into the document. This is the story of a writer, and how so often the hardest part of being a writer is, well, writing.

My Year of Intent was to finish my first screenplay. My goal is to have a first draft by my 25th birthday (July 4th, if you want to set off an extra set of fireworks for me, that’d be cool). I want so badly to be able to say I wrote my first script by the time I was 25. It’s an over-achiever thing. The problem is that it’s really hard and I’m behaving very much like an under-achiever, which is something really difficult for me to deal with. I’ve had really good training on how to get things done – to make schedules, deadlines, to burn the midnight oil so that it happens – but this is different. This is personal so I want it to be perfect which means I edit myself as the scenes come instead of writing them down. I am convinced that all of them won’t work before they’re even born. The truth is you have to write everything down. If it doesn’t work you can delete it but if you don’t put it down then nothing really exists. The internal struggle has created a bit of a creative depression. Or it’s quite possible that it’s an all around depression at this point. It seems a lot easier to stay in bed than to write. I’ll put those dishes in the dishwasher at some point. Right now, I feel the need to rest in a fetal position and tell myself a few hundred more times how much I suck because this isn’t getting done. I’ve been told this is a thing that happens to a lot of writers.

It’s been my experiences that these pot holes happen to everyone when they’re working towards something big. You get stuck, and the exhaustion from spinning your wheels can put you in a funk. The important thing is that you have to get yourself out of those holes. The dishes are still in the sink, but I did manage to finish the first act of my screen play, so it’s possible. Here are my tips for pulling yourself out of the creative funk.

1. Take That Shower – This sounds like basic information, but it’s important especially if you are working from home. The appeal of rolling out of bed and sitting down at your laptop in your pajamas is so hard to overcome. Next thing you know it’s 7pm and there’s no point in showering because what would you change into? More pajamas. Make yourself get out of bed, take a shower, put on CLEAN clothes (yes, this means you have to do laundry. UGH I know). Eat some breakfast. These basic routines are part of a full robust wake up system. They make you more alert and prepared. They make you feel like a real human instead of a creative zombie on a hamster wheel. I’m not kidding – making yourself wear real pants has an amazing effect on your outlook. It also makes it more likely that people will want to be around you because B.O. is awful.

2. Set Deadlines – The problem with self-appointed goals is just that – they’re self-appointed. That means the goal post can move whenever you decide. Stop that. Set incremental goals and then give yourself a timeline in which it has to be done. My friend and Intent partner in crime MeLissa told me about her brilliant system of asking herself when she thinks she can get something done in a reasonable amount of time, and then she sets a deadline of three days earlier. So if you think it’s going to take two weeks to get something done, tell yourself you really have 10 to make it happen. Set up a penalty if it doesn’t happen. Didn’t get that draft done? Bye bye potato chips. Page count wasn’t met? I guess I’ll be DVR’ing Mad Men this week. Decided not to write at all today/this week? Haha, oh buddy, those plans to see Captain America this weekend just went down the toilet, congrats! When something is at stake you are more willing to keep the ball moving. I’m fortunate enough to have a great screenwriting teacher that’s been coaching me through the process – which brings me to the next thing!

3. Find a Hero/Coach/Inspiring Person  – This can take a lot of forms. For me, it’s Jon Bernstein. He teaches the classes I’m taking to help get this done (I realized that having grown up an academic nerd, literally making writing this screenplay homework was the best way to get me going). He is the loveliest person and super encouraging and his praise is like dancing in a rainstorm of sunshine and rainbows and candy. I feel like Eve the robot in Wall-E when she boots up in the sun whenever he tells me that I’ve done a good job, or that something I’ve written is funny or makes sense. On the downside, when he gives notes and it turns out I’m not his favorite thing about Earth I don’t know how to handle it. When I first started his class I barely had an outline, but I managed to improv my way through a log line and basic plot points. Then I had to given him a detailed description of my Act I plan and he wasn’t impressed. To be fair, I was still winging it and hadn’t really done the work. He told me he wasn’t compelled by the ending and there was no reason to keep watching the movie if that’s how I was going to do it. Um, what? This was life shattering news to me and the worst part was he was right. Everything he said rang true and that was worse. I could have thrown in the towel then because writers are sensitive and clearly if my rough outline of things I was planning to write was crap then there was no hope for me. But…I need Jon Bernstein to love me, because I respect him and trust his advice. So instead of giving up, I sat down at my desk and I wrote. I changed almost everything I had up until that point. Created new things. Broke up my darlings that were supposed to kiss at the end, made them miserable (because that’s what movies are until the end!) and I felt better for doing so. I felt more creative.

And that’s what a good coach does. Stephen King calls them an “ideal reader” but it’s the person who keeps you on track. They pop your ego balloon when you’re floating too high on praise instead of work. They are the ones that remind you that you are capable and brilliant when you’re down in that hole. Find your Jon Bernsteins. Find the people that are going to push you to that finish line because the most important lesson in all of this is that no one ever really gets there by themselves. (And again, it’s why showers are important).

Plus, I have to imagine that it’s sweeter to have people to celebrate with at the finish line.

The Importance of Following Your Inner Voice

inner voiceBy Kristin A. Meekhof

When a well- known author gave me the opportunity to guest blog on her website, I did a happy dance. I had to reread the email several times to take it all in.  At the same time, I was a ball of nerves. I actually felt a knot in my stomach. I worked countless hours on this blog entry, and even confided in a friend, who is an editor, that I was filled with angst.  As a professional editor, this dear friend offered to review my work. I didn’t hesitate to accept this generous gesture.  I felt that a second set of professional editorial eyes was just what I needed.

After exchanging a few emails with my friend, I felt confident that I had the polished and perfect article ready for submission.  My friend’s editorial remarks and insights were nothing short of genius.  Now, my sentences were crisp and alive. Moreover, I felt that I captured the true essence of this blog assignment. I submitted my work, and waited, and waited. No word. Finally, I got a generic email back stating that I was rejected. The words stood out like a black eye. My ego was bruised and my self- esteem tanked.  I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I’ve been published numerous times by a national well- respected publication and now, this- rejection!  In a panic, I contacted my friend. She reassured me that revisions and edits are part of the game.  She kept repeating “No worries”, in a calm tone.  Honestly, I was worried.  I asked the author’s assistant for feedback as to why I received the rejection. No response.  I resubmitted a revised version, and I was rejected- again.

I set aside the article for a day, and went back to reread what I wrote.  I realized that the writing did not sound like me. I had lost my voice. I was intimidated by this “big” author. Wanting to impress others, I tried to write for them instead of myself. In the past, my writing voice has served me well.  After all, it is what earned me this author’s blog invitation. After some hours of rumination, I called my trusted aunt and explained the situation. With a very maternal voice, she said, “Listen very carefully to the (writing) voice inside you.”

I had compromised my writing voice in exchange for something that I thought guaranteed sophistication. When I set aside my own style in favor of a voice that I assumed was fancy and fabulous, I rejected my own voice.  A voice that is strong, that I’ve relied on, not only to obtain other writing assignments, but a voice that has guided me through some very difficult decisions.

I think we all have our own inner voice that guides and teaches us. For some of us, that voice is strong and courageous. For others, the voice is hesitant and passive.  I’m not suggesting that we have all the answers. Of course, there are times when we can’t be afraid to ask for help. In fact, there are times when obtaining outside professional help is necessary. What I am speaking to is listening to that voice within you.  Some call this voice, “a gut feeling” or “intuition”. Whatever you may call it, listen. Listen to its whispers, to its laughter, and to its tears. These are the sounds and songs of the heart. This is what will connect you with the goodness in others, and what will bring out your own truth.  Be brave. Listen.

My intent is to listen to my own voice and to the songs and whispers of my heart.

***

Brief Bio- Kristin Meekhof is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post. Her writing has appeared in Author online magazine,  Ecclesio, and the University of Michigan Cancer Website blog. She is currently working on her upcoming book– Just Widowed,  and can be reached at www.kristinmeekhof.com

Best Friends Club

gray

I am an adult with a Best Friends Club.
You read that right.
I remember being a kid and making a list of friends for my birthday.
20 people on the list? Man, I was popular.
But I also remember asking my parents if they had 20 friends.
I’d never seen them hang out with their friends late at night.
They weren’t going to meet friends at Hot Wheels Roller Rink like I was.
Did they not have any friends?
I decided I would never be an adult without friends.

Then I grew up. I’ve realized how difficult it can be to maintain relationships as you get older. People have jobs. They move away to different states. They get married and have kids. They start posting really weird political things on their Facebook pages. Being an adult with friends can be tough.

A really wonderful and wise man I know wrote this blog about Mastermind Groups.
Based on his description, a Mastermind Group is “12 (or less) people meeting once a week, reading books, and sharing life together.” He talks about how starting his own group of 5 guys who were in similar places in their lives pushed ALL of them to levels they never thought imaginable.

So I did it.

I started a secret club with four of my friends (really, there’s no reason for it to be secret. It just made it more fun for all of us and when you’re adults, sometimes you have to make your own fun) and we get together to share scripts and books, work on writing projects together and occasionally eat fancy foods. We check in with each other. We set goals for delivery of new material. We work on writing stuff.

The interesting thing is that our mastermind group kind of overflowed into the rest of our lives. Aside from the really great accountability it provided for us to get pen to paper, there were some other unexpected things we took away from this group:

1. Choose your team well.
When you’re in elementary school, your friends are the 23 other kids that happened to be assigned to the same teacher. The nice thing about being an adult is that you can be active in deciding who does and does not have access to you. So choose your team well! Choose people who allow you to feel like yourself. Choose people that are going to challenge you, not just fill the room with hot air.

2. Spend your time well.
Making time for something in your life that will meet regularly is a quick way to see what fluff is filling your calendar. I say time and time again that if your favorite thing to do is cook but you make no time for cooking, what are you doing instead? If the fruits of your labor with your mastermind group are the things you want most, you’re going to have to find places to cut back elsewhere. And don’t forget that the meeting time isn’t the only time you need space. If you’re writing, you have to have time to write if you’re going to bring anything to the group. Don’t forget that important piece of the puzzle!

3. Communicate well.
When there are 5 people you’re managing, you have to learn to be quick and honest. We don’t have time to waste rambling or not being intentional. So whether it’s in our meetings, where we employ stopwatches when we’re sharing material, or in our email chains, a date for our next meeting is suggested and everyone has until the end of the day to respond , we have learned that dragging out communication means keeping all of us in limbo. A real quick way to have 5 angry people is to keep them all in limbo. So be decisive. If you can’t be somewhere, say it. If you can, say it. You don’t want 4 masterminds turning against you.

So who would be in your group?
And what do you even want accomplished?
Maybe it’s a group that exercises together.
Maybe it’s a group of budding entrepreneurs.
Maybe it’s a group of moms or comedians or people from Washington state.
You get to decide. They’re your friends after all.

Once Again: 6 Tips for Writing from George Orwell

orwell

Last week, I posted six rules for writing from George Orwell, but that post was swallowed up by the internet. I was quite pleased by the number of people who wrote to ask where the list had gone, so I’ve decided to re-post it.

I loved rules for writing: for instance, here are rules from Mindy Kaling, Kurt Vonnegut, Henry Miller, and Flannery O’Connor.

In one of his most famous essays, “Politics and the English Language,” Orwell writes that “the following rules will cover most cases”:

1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which are used to seeing in print.

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. (I’m charmed by his example: use “snapdragon,” not “antirrhinum.” Snapdragon is so much nicer.)

6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

I find these rules to be enormously helpful. It’s so easy to use tired, shopworn figures of speech. I love using long, fancy words but have learned–mostly from writing my biography of Winston Churchill–that short, strong words work better. I am ever-vigilant against the passive and against jargon, both of which are so insidious.

However, I have to be cautious with #3. I love to cut so much that I have to be careful not to cut too much. My writing tends to become very dense, so I have to keep some cushion. Sometimes, words that seem superfluous are actually essential, for the overall effect.

One thing that makes me very happy is to have a complicated idea and to feel that I’ve expressed myself clearly. I remember writing the ending to Happier at Home. I wrote the entire book to build to that ending–”now is now”–and what I had to say was very abstract, and yet, I felt satisfied that I managed to say what I wanted to say. One of the happiest experiences I’ve had as a writer was when I typed the final lines,  “Now is now. Here is my treasure.”

How about you? Do you use these rules–or any others?

***

  • The holidays approach! May I self-promotingly make a gift suggestion? Happier at Home or The Happiness Project. Both New York Times bestsellers. Buy early and often!If you’d like to make a gift more special by personalizing it, I’m happy to help. Would you like a free, personalized, signed bookplate for copies of The Happiness Project or Happier at Home? Or signed Paradoxes of Happiness signature cards or Ten Tips for Happiness in Your New Home signature cards? Request as many as you want, here. Alas, because of mailing costs, I can now mail only to the U.S. and Canada–so sorry about that. And request quickly, if you want these for the holidays. I can be kinda slow.

Revealed: My Next Book Will Be About…

HabitsRepeatFourWhenever I start a new book, I think, “This is the most interesting subject of all time. It’s sad, I’ll never enjoy writing another book as much as I enjoy this one.” Every time, I’m convinced. And then I change my mind when I start the next book.

But I really do believe this may be the most fascinating subject ever. It’s the subject of habits. How do we make and break habits–really?

It was my interest in happiness that led me to the subject of habits, and of course, the study of habits is really the study of happiness. Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. If we have habits that work for us, we’re much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive, and creative. When I talk to people about their happiness challenges, they often point to hurdles related to a habit they want to make or break.

My habits research started as part of my ongoing happiness research—I often spend a lot of time studying happiness-related sub-topics, such as pain or the sense of smell—but I just kept pushing deeper and deeper into habit formation. Everything I read was so fascinating! The more I learned, the more I wanted to know—but also the more baffled I became.

I had many questions that seemed quite obvious and pressing to me, but strangely, few of the experts seemed to recognize them. For instance:

  •  Sometimes, people acquire habits overnight, and sometimes, they drop longtime habits just as abruptly. Why?
  • Why do practically all dieters gain the weight back?
  • It’s understandable why we have trouble acquiring habits of activities we don’t want to do, but why is it so hard to make ourselves acquire habits that we do want to do?
  • Why do some people dread and resist habits, and others follow them eagerly?
  • Why are people often so unmoved by consequences? Many graduate students take several years to write their dissertations, and stay ABD (“All But Dissertation”) even though they’re much better off finishing faster. One-third to one-half of U.S. patients don’t take medicine prescribed for a chronic illness.
  • Do the same strategies that work for changing simple habits (tooth-flossing) also apply to complex habits (drinking less)?
  • Do the same habit-formation strategies apply equally well to everyone?
  • Why is it that sometimes, even though we’re very anxious—even desperate—to change a habit, we can’t? A friend told me, “I have a lot of chronic health issues, and I do a lot better when I don’t eat wheat or dairy. But I do. Why? These foods make me feel lousy. But I eat them.”
  • Certain situations seem to make it easier to form habits. Why?
  • Why do we indulge in a bad habit even when we’re painfully aware that we’re doing it? I’d heard that sequence in my own head: “I shouldn’t. I told myself I wouldn’t. I want to. I have to. Watch me.”
  • Most importantly, what are the overarching strategies that allow us to change our habits—or help someone else to change a habit—whether that habit is exercising more, taking medication, doing homework, turning off the TV, or anything else?

I searched unsuccessfully for the answers, until one day a thought hit me: “I should write a book about habits! I’ll figure out the answers to these questions.”

And so I am. I’ve written the entire first draft, in fact.

The book’s title is Before and After, because that’s what we all want from our healthy habits—to go from before to after.

In Before and After, I identify the sixteen strategies that we can use to make or break our habits. Some are quite familiar, such as Monitoring, Scheduling, and Convenience. Some took me a lot of effort to identify, such as Thinking, Identity, and Clarity. Some are more complicated than you might assume, such as Rewards and Others. The most fun strategy? Treats. The funniest chapter? The chapter on Safeguards (I include a list of the loopholes we invoke to justify breaking our healthy habits, and they are hilarious.)

The book will hit the shelves in 2015, and if you want to be notified as soon as it’s available for pre-order, sign up here.

Here on the blog, I’ll continue to write generally about happiness, and in particular–as you may have noticed reflected in a few design changes–what I’ve learned about habits. My work on the four Rubin Tendencies came out of my habit research, for example. I was struggling to understand why people seemed so different from each other, when it came to their attitude and aptitude for habit. Why did I find it fairly easy to adopt a new habit, and I love my habits, but other people detest habits? Or they want habits but can’t form them? Or can form them in some situations, but not others? I wanted to solve that riddle—which required me to come up with a framework to capture the variations in human nature.  (It took me months to figure this out.)

I identified the abstainer/moderator distinction before I started to focus on habits, but the habits analysis helped me understand the implications of that distinction much better.

I’ve always loved “Before and After” stories, in books, magazines, and TV shows. Whenever I read those words, I’m hooked. The thought of a transformation—any kind of transformation—thrills me. And that’s the promise of habits.

I’m going to add a new feature to this site (I hope): I’d love to feature people’s stories of their own “before and after.” It’s so helpful to hear about other people’s experiences, and how they’ve managed to change their habits for the better. If you have a before-and-after story to share, you can send it to me here. I may not be able to run them all, but I’ll certainly read them all.

Habit allows us to go from before to after, to make life easier and better. Habit is notorious—and rightly so—for its ability to direct our actions, even against our will; but by mindfully shaping our habits, we can harness the power of mindlessness as a sweeping force for serenity, energy, and growth. Habits allow us to look back at the end of each day and see that we’ve undertaken the actions that reflect our values—without even having to think about it.

Before and after! It’s what we all crave.

***

  • If you’re thinking, “But Gretchen, I’m dying to read Before and After. I can’t possibly wait until 2015!” well, fear not. In the meantime, you can read my most recent book, Happier at Home.

From Intent.com: We Want to Help You Start That Big Project

Every week I read a LOT of intents. A lot of them.

The good news for me is it’s been pretty amazing reading through the intentions and goals of the folks on Intent.com. I don’t know if you know this, but there are a ton of people starting things: Businesses, books, screenplays, paying off debt, relationships! All sorts of life changing stuff.

It’s been encouraging to see those things talked about, plans made, and then to see this online community gather around good ideas and support them.

Ideas like…

Micheley26

Renaissance

Kerri(Click on the photo. Check out their full profiles!)

This is real life. It’s been beyond inspiring to watch people take big, bold steps and then get to cheer them on. As we’re steadily approaching 2014, I’m already thinking about what’s around the corner for myself.

I want to give you a heads up. We’re declaring 2014 the Year of Intent.

What does that mean?

It means all year we’re going to be challenging you to set a big dream and then go for it. We’re going to be helping 12 causes get the word out about their big plans. Let me encourage you to still set daily intents whether they be about your health or self development. Just know that we’re spending the rest of 2013 getting ready to launch some big stuff in 2014.

You should be one of those big things.

What will your Year of Intent look like? Tell us over at Intent and let’s start this journey together.

Wordplay Wednesday: To My Dear Child

Submitted by Sophie Badami, from Pune, India

I love you if you reply to my mail

But if you don’t reply to my mail, I love you even more.

I love you if you acknowledge my e -message,

But if you don’t I love you even more.

I love you if you acknowledge my existencce

But I love you more if you dont

I love you if you have to say something nice about me

But I love you more if you say something not -so- nice about me.

I love you if I know that you are happy

But I love you more if I know you are unhappy.

I love you if you are successful

But I love you more if you are not successful.

I love you if you are hale and hearty,

But I love you more if you are sick.

I love you if you are physically fit

But I love you more if you are not.

I love you if you are friendly to me

But I love you more if you ignore me

I love you if you phone me sometimes

But I love you even more if you don’t.

I love you if your share your thoughts and feelings

But I love you more if you cant.

I love you if you follow my advice

But I love you even more if you cant

I love you if you achieve something in life

But I love you if you fail to do so

I love you if you help me out

But I love you even more if you overlook my request for help.

My child, I used to think that love is two-way-traffic.

But now I know, one-way is bliss.

And all my love- you-more are indicators,

That I share your pain, your hurt and your suffering like my own.

***

Do you have a favorite or original poem you would like showcased on Wordplay Wednesday? We’d love to share it! Email the poem to editor@intent.com, and we will feature it in the series. Click here to view past Wordplay Wednesdays.

photo by: legends2k

Shoe Shopping for the Definition of Success

party shoes #2Everybody thinks being an author automatically means you’re rich.

We wish that it were so!

Sorry to bust bubbles, but being an author means a Book Virus has entered your bloodstream—a virus that won’t let you sleep, take vacations or go out at night with friends; a virus that tethers you to your computer for at least two thousand hours alone in your office knocking out pages one letter at a time until you finally finish, stagger to your feet, brush the twigs and moss out of your hair, get out of your pajamas for the first time in 11 months and go find a publisher.

Unfortunately, the publishing process depends upon Zeus’ daughters, The Muses, not all being PMS-Y at the same time and Mercury not being in retrograde (but Mercury’s always in retrograde, isn’t it?). Which means most writers never get their books published, and 95 percent of all books published never sell more than 5,000 copies in a lifetime.

Depressing, I know. And did I mention you get to go through all this alone?

Which is why, having caught three Book Viruses in as many years, I recently found myself on my knees in a shoe store trying to find something that would fit (and aesthetically please) the 84-year-old woman I spend 10 precious hours a week away from my writing desk working for as a part-time caregiver.

Now Karen’s sharp as a tack and if it weren’t for the macular degeneration stealing her eyesight, she’d still be out there kicking some serious butt. She’s gracious about her condition and pretty easy going. But she knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to be stubborn about things that matter to her. And that Saturday finding new shoes mattered.

She peered closely at the black loafer I stuck in front of her. “No.”

“How about this one?”

She barely looked at it. “No.”

Suppressing a sigh, I turned away to ransack more shelf displays while Karen pushed her walker down the opposite aisle of Macy’s Women’s Shoes. An hour of “no’s” and “maybe’s” later I had eight pairs of possibilities in two sizes a harried salesman had managed to find in the back stacked next to the chairs I’d “reserved” with coats, in-store coupons, the now abandoned walker and boxes of shoes.

One by one, each pair was rejected. Sitting on the floor surrounded by forgotten “footies,” socks, tissue, spare shoes and boxes, blocking the aisle for the weekend shopping mob, wrestling another loafer on Karen’s well manicured, but aging, foot, I couldn’t help but wonder what the hell I was doing.

I’m a writer! the voice in my head shouted. A three-time published author for God’s sake! I should be out changing the world doing interviews, autographing books, speaking at conferences, not shoving shoes on some cranky old woman’s foot!

The kinder half of my persona swiftly called foul. Unfair! Karen had narrow heels and aging arches. And who wouldn’t be a little grumpy after two hours of fruitless shoe searching? Certainly I was! I helped her to her feet, swiftly clearing a footpath through the clutter so she could safely walk a few steps in the last pair. Had we found “The One?”

No.

Such is the life of a shoe salesman—hours of hustle and fittings, shoe shuffling and mess followed by the buyer walking away without even any thanks for the show. At least I’ve got experience if I ever write a character that sells shoes. I tagged after my employer, now headed determinedly towards Macy’s Woman clothing.

Mercifully, Karen is quick when it comes to clothes. She grabbed three colorful blouses in her size, ignored the fitting rooms and headed for the cash register with a big smile on her face. And the smile changed everything.

The time and the boredom and my stupid ego’s humiliation in shoes had been worth it. She was happy. She’d found things that would make her feel beautiful. For the whole afternoon she’d been part of the world—a customer, a viable consumer intent on what she wanted—not shut in a house with colored-coded folders, large-print markers and magnifying glasses proscribing her life.

And I’d helped give her those moments.

Would somebody be there for me when I was her age, my body bringing me whatever gifts and encumbrances it would provide over time? I hoped so. And I hoped whoever was there with me would be a gracious and kind companion, not a bored lackey on the payroll longing to get back to their “real work.”

And what the hell is that, anyway?

Speaking to thousands or being there for one? Undeniably there’s a quantitative difference. But from the human point of view (and isn’t that the view that counts?) the satisfaction is the same, maybe even greater, basking in the contented smile of just one.

photos by: mugley & mugley

Find Your Balance Between Leaning In and Leaning Back

rocksDance guru Gabrielle Roth once pointed out that in tribal cultures if a person felt disheartened or depressed the tribe’s healer would ask these questions:

When did you stop dancing?

When did you stop singing?

When did you stop being enchanted by stories?

When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?

Hmmmm….

I’m not disheartened or depressed. But I am busy (hard to relate to, right?). After 25 years working as a writer I’m finally birthing my first solo book—the dream of a lifetime coming to fruition—and I’m too damn busy to enjoy the experience.

That is depressing, isn’t it?

Most of my friends are in the same pickle. They’ve spent years chasing their dreams, developing a business, inventing a product, creating a family, and when it all finally lands on their plate, life goes nuts.

Everything becomes about the baby, the book, the film, the promotion, the (fill in the blank). Suddenly the smile disappears, personal conversations get slotted to midnight, new brow lines appear, and housecleaning… well, at least the dust bunnies in my house are having fun doing-it in every available corner!

Maybe I should take the hint and have some fun too?

But then I realize I’m too busy to date. I’d have to clean the house before inviting someone over. Plus how can I have a good time if there’s this anxious subterranean thought-stream flowing beneath every conversation? I can just see it:

Mr. Right looks deeply into my eyes, reaching past the wineglasses to hold my hand across the (newly washed) tablecloth. “Have I told you how beautiful your eyes are in candlelight?” he breathes silkily.

Crap! I forgot to ask about the mailing list and I’ve got to finish that press release and order books and… My mind wanders back to Mr. Right. How did he get hold of my hand?

“Er, did you say something?” I ask.

Sheryl Sandberg of Lean In fame would be proud of me. If I “leaned in” any more my whole life would implode. Do you want to know the real joke? The book I’m sweating over is dedicated to remembering how, amongst other many other things, to let go and lean back.

**

What’s the old cliché? You teach best that which you need to learn the most?

No kidding! I need to stop taking my life and my endeavors so doggone seriously: to remember to turn off the computer, turn off Pandora, turn off the cellphone, turn off my anxiety, tone down the mental chatter and really reflect on what I’m doing and what really matters in life.

I need to learn to STOP!

Yeah, I know. Scary thought. I’ve been raised to believe if I stop that I’m being self-indulgent and  – God forbid –unproductive. If I stop, Sheryl Sandberg won’t like me, the world will fall apart and I won’t SUCCEED.

How can I not believe this?

Humans are now called “resources.” Gross National Product is the measure of my nation’s health—never mind in America 26% of the population suffers from a diagnosable mental health disorder and 50% suffer from a chronic illness.

I’ve GOT to stop.

We’ve got to stop. It’s becoming a public health mandate. But aside from that, for God’s sake stopping is FUN, if we let it be.

Michael Grab, creator of the amazing picture at the head of this blog, leaned in and did what the world expected and graduated from college. But then he flipped the world the bird and started balancing rocks because it was fun. The practice brought what he calls “a zero point or silence within myself.” It brought him balance. Now his fun is his art-form and his life.

Writing has always been my fun. But I cannot let it own me, drive me, whip me. No no no, that would be a tragedy—my personal tragedy added to so many others in this world.

I need to lean back, to remember to dance and sing.

I need silence and the space to listen to other people’s stories.

Photo credit: Michael Grab,http://www.gravityglue.com

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