Musings and Mindfulness

man standing on shoreline

Photo by Rick Han on Pexels.com

I haven’t blogged much. I would love to say it’s because I’m writing novels and getting them out into the world. The truth is I haven’t been writing much of anything. 2019 has been full of transitions. Too many for my distress tolerance to manage, or so it seems.

Transitions are hard. Just ask the kids I used to work with as an Autism Specialist. Epic meltdowns would ensue if they were forced to transition abruptly, especially if they were transitioning from something they love to something less tolerated. There were days I wanted to crawl onto that floor and tantrum with them because I got it. Transitions are hard.

This year has been full of a lot of transitions and somewhere my spirit is screaming out into the vastness of the universe that it’s had enough already. Can it be time to just rest now? To not have to deal with any more transitions because oh my god change is hard and I just want to sit here for a few hundred years in the shade and sip tea while listening to the gurgle of stream as it drifts past.

But life doesn’t stand still. There will always be change.  There will always be opportunities gained and opportunities lost. We will always have people and things moving in and out of our lives. And we will always have to accept transition.

I’m leaning heavily on some of the things I learned as a therapist, and as a client, and did pulled out all the information I have on Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). If you don’t know what DBT is, this site has some useful information. Note that while DBT was initially developed as treatment for individuals with borderline personality disorder, the therapy model itself has proven useful for many types of people.

One of the tenets of DBT is mindfulness. Mindfulness requires us to be in the present, facing the now instead of the past or the future. I’m not very good at sitting with myself in the present. There are so many things going through my mind at any given moment I’m amazed I haven’t been crushed under the pressure of all these thoughts and voices. The human system is so very resilient when we allow it to be.

I learned about Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) a few years ago when I first started searching for different ways to manage my dysthymia and depression. My current therapist isn’t certified for MBCT but she has long practiced mindfulness herself and is a font of not only information, but practice, and one of the practices she had me start using is tapping.

Had I been told about tapping ten years ago I would have scoffed that such a technique could actually work. Then my closest friend started a master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Acupuncture, which opened me to several complementary modes of healing. Tapping borrows from acupuncture and involves tapping one’s fingers against various meridians on the body. Where it differs from acupuncture is that tapping focuses on meridians near the surface of the body and ignores the way the meridians and energy pathways within the body align with the physical body and body systems. This is an extremely high level interpretation of how tapping diverges from acupuncture and TCM. I have no doubt my friend, now in the first year of a doctoral program in TCM and Acupuncture, would give a far better explanation of these differences.

Tapping is used for emotional regulation, pain management, and healing from various forms of trauma. It’s also been used for managing phobias, performance management, and many other areas. It seems highly versatile, and while it’s not considered a mindfulness practice in and of itself, the two practices share similar goals, as stated in this article from The Tapping Solution website.

My therapist realized I have a difficult time recognizing anxiety in my body. She notices my shallow breathing or my agitated fidgeting and slowly brings me into the present where I can slow my body down with intentional deep breathing and centering. Knowing that I’m not always aware of my body’s response to stress or past trauma, she realized I might benefit not only from mindfulness, but from centering practices that require me to check in with my body. Hence her recommendation with tapping.

The technique outlined in the above mentioned article is similar to the one my therapist shared with me. What I do is less involved and meant to be a door to mediation and doesn’t contain phrases to repeat as I am tapping the various meridian points, but it has the same goal, to allow me to center within my body, to calm myself and breathe so I can sink into the now instead of being caught in the net of the past or the lure of the future.

Next week we are going to explore using mindfulness and other techniques to address blocks I have with my writing. I’m actually excited about this since over the last year writing has been like slogging through a swamp. I want the stories to flow again. I want to uncover any and all blocks I’ve created around the writing process so I can blow through them and build new practices that nurture the process rather than stifles it.

 

Grief and Story

sunset love lake resort

Photo by jim jackson on Pexels.com

I want to talk for a moment about something not writing related. Or maybe it’s tangentially related. I want to talk about grief.

One of my friends lost her brother-in-law (BIL) last week. She and her husband rushed to be by her sister-in-law’s (SIL), to help with the details while her SIL could just exist. And that’s all she was able to do in those moments. Exist. Now my friend is home and she’s experiencing the grief she held at bay last week while she was doing for her SIL.

Death is a bastard who steals from us. Rips apart pieces of our soul that it will never give back. Death’s sister, Loss, is a right bitch who mocks the pain of damaged expectations, hopes, and dreams. Together, Death and Loss try strip us of our dignity and send us into a dispair so deep we may never climb out. Death and Loss taunt us and tell us nothing will ever make us feel whole or hope again. Nothing will ease the pain of grief.

And yet grief is not our enemy.  Grief is a necessary process when we face Death and Loss. It is the probably the only thing that preserves our dignity and keeps us from languishing in that deep pit. Death and Loss aren’t lying, not completely. Our lives will never be the same when we experience death and loss, be it the loss of a person or a dream or anything in between. The trajectory of our lives change with each and every loss, and nothing will make our lives the same.

But grief does something that helps us move through these changes. It allows us to process the pain loss brings. It helps us to eventually make if not peace, an uneasy alliance with the absence death has created in our lives. It gives us purpose. It helps us walk forward step by shaky step.

We don’t talk a lot about grief in our very white and very western society. We don’t discuss the loss of dreams or the pain of lost opportunities. We barely talk about losing family and friends and what that pain does to us, how it rips out pieces of our souls that we can never get back. As a culture, we don’t like talking much about existential pain at all. And yet we all experience it. And sometimes we live inside that pain for the rest of our lives.

My friend may experience grief for years. Her BIL’s death was sudden and unexpected. There was no time to psychically or spiritually prepare. Her grief is a profound thing that needs to follow it’s own path. And we need to let it. Forcing her to follow Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief would be a disservice to her process. Telling her that time will heal what is broken inside her would be a potential lie meant to make us feel better, not her.

Here is where I circle back to writing. Where there is Death and Loss, there is also Story. Story is how we process grief. Story is how we keep our loved ones alive. Story is how we work our way through those lost dreams and dead opportunities. Story can be private, something we share only with our journal as we scribble longhand with pen and paper, or something we share with the world in the form of blogs, novels, poetry. Story is what we share with our therapists, or what we discuss with our friends over coffee.

Story is the universal language of grief, and when we pick up a novel or a biography where a character experiences the same loss we have, suddenly we are not alone with our grief. The world has become smaller and our experiences no longer take place in a vacuum. We need these stories, not because they are heavy and laden with dispair, but because they are heavy, laden with dispair, and open a doorway to hope, because they hold a shared experience. And it’s that hope that helps us move forward.

 

Revision Angst

pexels-photo-948888.jpeg

I’ve been revising my novella (which is turning into a short novel) for what feels like forever. In reality, I’ve been revising my novella since December. And only in fits and starts because of health, holidays, vacations, and dog drama.

I’m not new to revision work. I’ve self edited several of my own (still unpublished) novels and I’ve revised based on critique partner feedback. What’s new with this particular story is that I’m working with a developmental editor and instead of just a few tweaks here and there, I’ve taken the bones of the story and am reassembling everything else around that. I’m adding scenes, fleshing out or drastically altering others. I’ve added screen time for some characters and I have cut out a character entirely.

When I started looking at ways I could incorporate my editor’s thoughts and suggestions, I thought it would take me a few weeks, a month tops.

Excuse my while I laugh hysterically into a pillow.

I have beaten myself up A LOT over the fact that it is now the end of April and I have not finished the rewrites or returned anything to my editor. In fact, I’ve had to work with her to push back when I’m going to get my revisions to her no less than three times. Which was another reason to beat myself up. She’s never complained, bless her. But I like meeting goals and deadlines and feel like total and utter shit when I don’t.

I blame being an eldest child, having a high drive to succeed, and having been a project manager in corporate America for these beliefs. I put so much pressure on myself to do better than my best, and that’s a really difficult way for me to live. It also makes me second and triple guess every character and plot decision I make. And right now I’m hesitating on every detail. Honestly, I feel like instead of making this story better, I’m making it into more of a hot mess.

In other words, right now I feel like I am only pretending to be a writer and that at any  moment someone is going to call me on my total ineptitude and let the world know that I am not a writer, never was a writer, and never will be a writer.

How do I stop this loop? I’m not sure, completely. I’m taking a course that’s helping me to figure out how my personality informs my writing. Not the stories I tell, but how I go about organizing the writing itself. It’s been enlightening. But information alone won’t turn this around. I need to actually do. I need to keep writing. Keep learning where my pitfalls are. Keep getting feedback so I can improve.

It’s a process, and as much as I want to get things perfect, there is such a thing as good enough for now. It hurt just writing that, but it’s true. Maybe if I push this weekend to get to the end (again), I can have something good enough for this pass. My editor can’t help me if I don’t turn anything in. My book can’t improve if I don’t get feedback. I can’t publish if I never hit “The End”.

Time to take a deep breath and dive in again. I’ll see you on the other side.

New Story, Old Habits

Typing

I’m working on a new story. It’s something that came to me over the last couple of months in drips and drabs. Just scenes here and there. Which was completely annoying because I’m used to a story starting and then taking off in a linear manner from there.

This story is a touch dark, but will have a happily ever after, because that’s how I roll. I don’t know if all the ends will be tied up neatly with bows, or if it will demand I leave the doors open to revisit the characters at some point in the future.

I’m not very far into the story. I barely know the heroine. The hero is still unknown to me, though I have my suspicions. And the character names keep changing.

Still, I try to attack this story in much the same way I have attacked all my other stories. And it’s not working. No matter how many times I try to sit at the beginning of the story and work my way through, I can’t. Scenes are all that are coming to me, and it’s bloody annoying. I don’t know where they fit, I don’t know if they fit, and they aren’t helping me get to know my characters better.

So, today the light bulb dawned and I decided I’m going to do something I haven’t done. I’m going to *gulp* stop fighting this story and write the story as it comes. And try to piece together the timeline later. This is scary for me as it means giving up some measure of control over the story. It’s also not like I’m a plotter who is suddenly going rogue. I’m a pantser who has yet to meet a plotting method that works, so this entire notion of control is actually making me laugh.

I guess this story is going to be a jigsaw puzzle rather than a linear journey of discovery. I hate jigsaw puzzles. *sigh*

Photo by Sebastian Wiertz via Flickr (cc by 2.0)

Of Rabbits and Writing

Hare - RIAT 2013

I haven’t shared any snippets of my fiction writing on my blog, which hasn’t been intentional. It’s more that I don’t like to share my work until it’s polished and up until the novella I’m working on, I haven’t worked with an editor to polish anything.

Earlier this fall, Lime of the A Little Bit Tart, A Little Bit Sweet book review blog, put out a call to writers to participate in a secret project. I was intrigued, and needed a break from the novella that will not end, so I threw my name in the hat. When Lime emailed me back in August with the details, I snorted, then laughed so hard I startled poor Velcro Dog.

Lime’s secret project was brilliant! Write a short story of 500 words or more based on the prompt she provided – a picture of a hare high tailing it across a parking lot with an unlit cigarette in it’s mouth. Oh, and the story had to be about a hare shifter. A were-hare.

This story was so much fun to write! It isn’t polished, since I didn’t have anyone proof read it. But it is funny and snarky and full of cursing. And were-hares. Plus a Bunnicula reference or two.

If you’re curious about my writing voice, this short story will give you a small taste. Content warning for swearing, if that’s not your thing.

The Night of the Were-Hare by me!

 

Photo by Airwolfhound via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A Gal’s Best Friend

Velcro Dog and Thunderstorms

I’m not going to apologize for not posting. These last months have been about writing the story, revising the story, finding a freelance editor, and trying to find a new way to bring order to what feels like a chaotic life.

I’ve posted before that I’m not working. My full time job is all about managing my chronic health issues, trying to keep on top of house stuff, and writing. Oh, and being Velcro Dog’s entertainment and food service. One would think that having so many hours in the day would mean I could get it all done and be rested and relaxed.

Excuse me a moment while I laugh/sob hysterically.

Here’s the thing, not only are there only so many hours in a day, there’s only so much energy a person can expend during a day. With my brand of health issues that energy varies from hour to hour let alone day to day. Every day I start with some goals and a task list. And every day I have to prioritize and reprioritize those lists so that I get the absolutely most important things done. Things like pay the bills, feed the dog, take my meds, interact with my husband. On crazy low energy days this may mean I eschew showering and instead feed and exercise the dog so he won’t plot ways to kill me in my sleep. Or I skip making my word goals so I have energy enough to have some quality time with my husband. Or toss my blog plans out the window so maybe I can work on my wip.

This is what I mean by chaotic. I can’t create a schedule and just stick with it. I have to be flexible with my energy output. In order to do this I need to be okay with leaving things undone.

Which is HARD for me! I am that typical first born child who wants to excel at everything I do. I’m a recovering perfectionist who is learning what good enough looks like. And trying to make peace with the fact that even good enough changes from day to day.

One of the things that helps me the most, aside from some amazing friends, is Velcro Dog. When I was in grad school for my psych degree I met a woman who trained therapy animals. We got to talking one day and she told me just how important animals could be to the therapy process. We had a different dog at the time, a big white fluffball who always seemed to know when I needed to snuggle with him. I told my colleague about our fluffball and she told me about her animals.

Then I graduated and didn’t think much more about therapy animals until I had to leave my day job and spent most of my days at home. Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. And yes, months have turned into years. Pain and fatigued filled years.

Last year I started thinking again about therapy animals. Velcro Dog is not a trained therapy dog. He’s just a very loving dog who happens to think my days exist to serve his needs. I’m not complaining. I love my dog and I am happy to spend my time playing with him and snuggling with him. Even when he’s driving me up the wall because he has energy we weren’t able to burn by going to the dog park.

But I think of my life without him and how these last years would have been very different if he wasn’t with us. I would probably be way more depressed than I am. And I would not move around as much as I do. I wouldn’t be laughing as much without his antics to bring me out of myself. There is something incredibly life affirming about Velcro Dog and I’m so glad he loves me enough that he never plots ways to kill me in my sleep. I hope.

Writing Update

Autumn's whisper.

It’s 5:30am and I’ve been up since 9am yesterday. I can’t sleep. I want to say it’s because the story is burning inside me and I have to get the words out before I burst. But I rather think it’s because of my FM and the strange weather we’ve been experiencing.

Friday was the first day of fall and the weather is anything but autumnal. It was 90°F  yesterday (or 32°C). The average temperature for this date is 68°F/20°C. And it’s humid. And storms have been brewing for the last few days, mucking up the barometric pressure and making me feel like an alien in my own body.

I shouldn’t be surprised that I have insomnia.

So I do what I usually do and try to fall asleep, and when that doesn’t work I try to make the best of things. I caught up on Outlander. Finished knitting some fingerless gloves. Planned meals for the week. Updated my task lists. Shopped for a Happy Planner (thanks for your enthusiasm around your planner, Erica). Laid on the floor to comfort Velcro Dog as he freaked out during a brief thunder-storm. And still awake at 3:30am I decided maybe I should write.\

My FM has been in flare mode for about a week and a half, and the revisions I’m making on my novella are still in my head instead of on the page. Which puts me behind my personal schedule by a week. I hate being behind. It makes me itchy.

I’ve spent the last ninety minutes working on a new scene, one that I hope ramps up the tension and gets the antagonist onto the page. I know, I know, how can I have a story without an antagonist? I thought I did, but it was the wrong person. Or people as the case may be. I needed deeper motivation for some of the decisions that my heroine makes. Something the hero can relate to on a visceral level.

So I’m adding scenes for the antagonist to become a three-dimensional character who creates obstacles.  for my heroine. She’s gifted at creating her own obstacles, which is a little bit of myself bleeding onto the page. But for a story to work and work well, there needs to be something external as well as internal creating the chaos and dissonance that leads to growth and change.

Ninety minutes later I’m still working on that damn scene. I have three different versions of it. Something’s not working. I may just pick a version and when it’s time to send this to an editor, wait for feedback. Sometimes I know something’s not working even if I’m not sure why. The joy of being an intuitive writer.

Now it’s almost 6am and I need to at least pretend to sleep. And hope my subconscious will work out this scene so I can write it and move forward with my revisions. I really want to finish them this week. Fingers crossed I can meet that deadline!

 

Photo by Silvia Viñuales via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)