Timeless Images From Southeastern Appalachia

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Slave Girl, Photograph, property of the NC Archives, Asheville, NC

“And when great souls die,  after a period peace blooms, slowly and always

irregularly. Spaces fill with a kind of soothing electric vibration.

Our senses, restored, never to be the same, whisper to us.

They existed.  They existed.

We can be. Be and be better. For they existed.”

Maya Angelou “When Great Trees Fall”

countryroad

I recently went on an excursion in the appalachian mountains in TN & NC. I love getting lost on old dirt roads where history seems to drip from the branches of trees. Getting lost here gives you a perspective that can rarely be found in today’s America filled with strip malls and manicured neighborhoods. I sought to find images of a history that wasn’t always recorded. A past that can be sensed and felt from the old dirt roads, abandoned farms and barns, stoic river banks. The backdrop for part of my novel Uriel’s Mask is from this region, and from the pain of those who existed a long time ago, but were never recognized, named, seen, heard. They may never be, but their past still subtly influences the story of our present—which is especially felt in this timeless region of the country.

Here are some more images from my journey:

kudzuhouse

How old is this house, now eaten by kudzu? What stories does it have? Only the trees and soil know, and they aren’t telling! I found this cabin on an old dirt road near Townsend, TN…I was lost, but so glad I found this, as well as a few wild turkeys and one small black bear!


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This stretch of the French Broad River in Asheville, NC seems to ache in a haunting way. Neglected from its former state of importance, few visit, and yet it rolls on as if a witness to those who died silently, nameless, near its banks.

oldbarn

If you look closely, you can see the U.S. Mail sign sliding into a Blacksmith sign of this TN barn near Townsend on a winding old dirt road.

horses

How I miss horses! Gentle, powerful, sensitive, soulful—better company than most people. It was hard to see so many neglected in the mountains. Not brushed, left alone for months. These were better cared for than others I saw.

barnred

Why do I love old barns so?

fieldbird

A typical scene between Nashville and Knoxville, TN.

streamI will always love how trees arch and lean in across streams, as if yearning to touch, to comfort one another. They are silent witnesses to all who have walked near or sat on their banks.

maskA mask found in Asheville, no name for artist, unsure of age.

My time in southeast appalachia is always special. This time I researched details for my completed novel Uriel’s Mask. I am so grateful to the librarians, historians and art preservationists who bent over backwards to help me! And also to my sister Elizabeth who got lost with me, giggling the whole time. Sometimes it takes getting lost to get on the right path to be found, right?  And thanks also to Georgene who looked after the boys so I could go on this adventure… Here’s a poem that has always resonated with me, as it strikes a chord of truth, especially for southerners who can sense how much of our painful history has slipped away without witness, into the soil, the river banks, the roots of trees—and even into the boards of old barns and cabins.

“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.”

Hermann Hesse, Baume

FREE YOGA CLASSES ALL WEEK @ TORRANCE MEMORIAL!

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Who said nothing’s for free? I’m SO excited to invite you all to try out free classes all week at two different Torrance Memorial Medical Center locations! :-) The hospital is introducing many new classes (including my post-natal!) and is offering a free trial this week. :-)

So, here’s the skinny—there’s actually a lot more than just yoga…You can also try out: Tai Chi, Pilates, Salsa Dance, Belly Dancing, and Muscle Strengthening classes too. Go to http://www.torrancememorial.org/classes or call: (310) 517-4711 to register or get more information!

I’d love to have you as a guest in one of my yoga classes! Here is my schedule for the week:

MONDAY 3/2:

4:15 p.m. Malaga Cove location: YOGA BASICS:
Perfect class for beginners, those with injuries, those recovering from minor surgery and seniors. This class will help you get back into or try out yoga, and will improve your balance, flexibility, strength and lower your stress levels.

6 p.m. Lomita Blvd location beside hospital: PRE-NATAL YOGA:
Calling all moms-to-be! Breathe through the stress, meditate, gently flow, prepare mentally for child birth, and just enjoy time for yourself with other pregnant moms.

7:30 p.m. Lomita Blvd location beside hospital: POST-NATAL YOGA:
SO important for those who have recently had babies! Meet other moms with babies your age, meditate, breathe life into your sleep-deprived bodies, laugh, dance, and learn how to safely strengthen your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles. Lavender temple massages included. :-)

TUESDAY 3/3 NOON:

Noon/ Lomita Blvd location beside hospital: LYMPHATIC FLOW YOGA:
This gentle class boosts your immune system by targeting the lymphatic points throughout the body, allowing them to open and let the lymph system flow. This is a great class for those recovering from cancer, currently undergoing cancer treatment, or living with chronic pain from autoimmune illnesses. AND, it will give you a boost to just fight the common cold!

WEDNESDAY 3.4

5:30 p.m. Malaga Cove: YOGA BASICS:
Great beginner yoga class for ALL levels.

Hope to see you this week! Again, call the hospital (310) 517-4711 or visit its website. Or, if you want more information, just send me a note.

Have a beautiful week!

Namaste ~

Laura x

Making It, or Faking It? The Messy Journey to Authentic Healing

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Sometimes I wonder if I’m actually living authentically, as I strive to do, or am still people pleasing and rushing into the idea of forgiveness and acceptance. As a yogi, meditator, writer and single mom navigating this planet, I hear messages constantly that are meant to help in times of crisis. Sometimes these messages fall flat—as there is an underlying note of criticism. For instance, if I can’t forgive and forget instantly—does that mean I’m less evolved, or am letting others down? Does that imply my “energy or vibration” will attract more negative experiences if I can’t immediately accept that “everything is happening exactly as it is meant to, for my highest good?”

Why am I exploring these yogi and self help sentiments? Well, there’s nothing worse than a healer who just throws platitudes against the wall when someone is truly suffering. Since I’m now teaching students who are fighting cancers and living bravely with chronic pain and debilitating injuries, it’s critical that I dig deep and try to relate to their struggles. For that reason, I’m starting to re-examine how I deal with my own struggles. Five months ago I was hurt physically by someone I thought was my friend, and someone I thought I was in love with. In my attempt to heal emotionally, I rushed toward forgiveness and acceptance—instead of allowing myself to feel the pain: the emotional hurt of betrayal, sadness, anger. When I reached out to a few well-intentioned friends, I was told things like: “everything happens for a reason,” or “maybe you needed this to wake up and be done with bad boys,” or “you have to forgive in order to heal,” or “on some level you knew he was like that.”

And then later in yoga classes, I heard these platitudes over and over again: “everything that happens to you is for your highest good,” “you are responsible for everything and everyone in your reality,” “forgiveness is the attitude of the strong,” or “happiness can only exist in acceptance,” or “when you keep your vibrations high, you only attract those on a high vibration.” That one really cut to the core, as I know that I’m insanely kind, forgiving and giving. Too much so…

I almost gave up yoga during this time of healing. I ran a lot to very loud music in my ears. I biked so hard I thought my chicken legs would explode. I also immediately forgave the person who hurt me and then, when I started having flash backs, I wrote a scathing letter crucifying this person’s character.

It’s the perfect example of why no one should rush into forgiveness without working through feelings—without recognizing them and honoring their soul. It’s okay to be damn angry when someone treats me like crap. Who deserves that? And it’s also okay to not understand what the lessons are in the experience right away. I try to remember this when with my students. How can I say everything happens for a reason to a student who is dying and will never see her daughter get married? What good will that do for her to hear a statement like that? None.

So, instead, I meditate for allowing a space to heal. I meditate with my students for love. I give lavender shoulder and head messages. I tell them they are strong. I tell them they are loved, infinitely. I tell them they are brave. They are beautiful. They are deserving of love and light. I tell them that shitty things have happened to them and me, but we deserve better and they have the support they need. We meditate on letting healing light in—letting it penetrate the cells of their body to wash away all the scars, the hurt, the cancer. And at the end of the class, I realize that while I may be providing a service, they are actually saving me.

I ran across this brilliant post “How to Hurt” by Angry Therapist team member Padhia Avocado. 

It’s worth reading the entire post, but I’ll quote a few paragraphs that resonate deeply for me:

“We need to shift in the way we judge pain. It is not possible to simply “get over something” that affected you in such a way that it changed who you were and the understanding you had of your world,” she explained.

“Time does not heal all wounds. Wounds can heal on their own, but only if they are superficial. Deep ones need attention and special care. The parts of you that hurt can’t see the outside world and use the logic of comparison to heal. Shame and judgment of pain only makes the injury worse. That forces you to hide your own truth from yourself and that leads to many other problems.”

Amen to that. Her next paragraph makes a lot of sense, too. I know that I sometimes get frustrated when I’m not healing fast enough. I recall feelings of bitterness springing forth, surprising me, as I thought I had “already dealt with this!” Well, it’s time to let the perfectionist go. Everyone heals at a different pace. And as long as I am not marinating in the feelings, dwelling in them, recalling them often, I’m just honoring my existence. I feel because I exist. It’s that simple. And it involves no one else.

Padhia wrote: “Other’s judgment of how “you should feel” is irrelevant. … Our inner time is very different than external time. Years may pass between things that happen in the external world, but time doesn’t work like that on the inside. … You can’t talk yourself out of the things that hurt you deeply. To be free of them, you have to learn to hold space for your feelings. Allow them to be what they are in a way that you are not feeding them (so that they gather more volume and take you over) but rather letting them bloom, so that they can then die down. Listen to the messages in them while they are blooming, and go down the paths they are calling you to go down. Only then, can they evolve into lighter feelings of acceptance, healing and gratitude.”

And that’s really the key. As a good friend and therapist told me, there’s a fine line between self exploration and self absorbance. To allow my feelings to exist—no matter what they are—without blowing them up into something bigger, or hiding them and shaming them—I will heal. I feel it already. I’m on that path. And what I’m learning, is that when I allow myself to be okay with feeling angry, sad, disappointed or angry—when I sit with it, recognize it—I begin to acknowledge my worth and honor myself. I don’t need to rush to forgiveness and to “finding the lesson” to prove that I’m evolved. First, I need to sit with the feelings, tell myself that it’s not okay for someone to hurt me and that I’m going to grieve first.

This process doesn’t create victims, martyrs or self pity party holders. In order to let these feelings morph into acceptance and forgiveness, they have to be seen and heard and felt—like a dear friend who listens without judgement. I’m convinced that those who don’t allow themselves to grieve will get stuck in a life with unrelenting bitterness and fear.

As Khalil Gibran so eloquently wrote: “your joy is your sorrow unmasked.”

The only path to joy is through feeling and acknowledging sorrows. Once recognized, the sorrow can be let go—allowing space to live again, to try again, to love again, and to let joy float back up to the surface.

Namaste ~
Laura

The Power of Sound: And How it Can Heal Families

Water exposed to the word Ubuntu: Zulu for human kindness.

Water exposed to the word Ubuntu: Zulu for human kindness.

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. Remember that little saying? Well, I just don’t buy it. I’d rather break my arm any day than to go through another episode of raw, explosive, uncontrolled anger. Why am I talking about this? Well, recently I overheard a parent yelling at his children. I became suddenly overwhelmed. My heart raced, tears sprang to my eyes and a deep, sinking, sick feeling overcame my body. The child had not done something right. Whatever he didn’t do, clearly didn’t merit this explosive, uncontrolled reaction. Nothing. Ever. Does. Intellectually, I’d guess that most of us agree. But this type of situation doesn’t stem from making a rational choice for peace. It is something that explodes, out of control, like a monster that breaks free in the heat of the moment  This dad screamed at the top of his lungs with such hatred that all I wanted to do was grab this child, hug him and tell him that it wasn’t his fault. Well, maybe he didn’t do something right, but he didn’t deserve to have his soul crushed or to feel unlovable, to feel worthless. I’ve experienced a few outbursts like this in my lifetime from abusive people who at their core, are kind, scared children who have been abused in the past—just reacting like their parents did.  It’s always a surprising flash that catches a child completely by surprise. Uncontrollable anger is terrifying. And when it ends, that angry person may act as if it never happened, but the effects on the target of rage lingers for weeks, sometimes years. It’s as if the words, and vibration of hatred, wounds in a physical way, to those unseen places—on a cellular level.

My hunch is on the mark. Now there’s scientific proof that sound heals—or kills. A few years ago I discovered Dr. Masaru Emoto a Japanese scientist, who played classical music and folk songs through speakers placed near water. He later experimented with heavy metal music as well as words of hatred taped to the sides of glass with water. He would then freeze the water to make crystals which he would then compare with crystalline structures of different samples.

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When different musical pieces were exposed to the water sample, it formed unique beautiful geometric crystals. If he then played heavy metal music or taped words such as demon, Hitler, or “you make me sick” to the side of the glass, the crystal basic shape would break apart.

One of my absolute favorites is how the water responded to John Lennon’s song “Imagine”:

Water exposed to John Lennon's song Imagine.

Water exposed to John Lennon’s song Imagine.

Since our bodies are approximately 60 % water, it’s hard to argue that words and anger doesn’t hurt us physically as well as emotionally and spiritually. Dr. Oz recently did a show about uncontrolled anger that proved how it also hurts the person who can’t control their outbursts. A working mom of 5 children kept finding moments of road rage, of “being set-off” over little things. (To see a clip of this show, click HERE.) It was shown that she had no “me-time,” little sleep, lack of help and was basically a ticking time bomb. Her heart would race, her blood pressure would soar and she’d explode. Later, she’d be overwhelmed by guilt and communication broke down, making it impossible to teach life lessons, or help her children navigate mistakes or choices. It was compelling, as the woman was bravely honest and I’m sure she helped many parents as the person who has outbursts isn’t necessarily evil. He or she needs help. Dr. Oz suggested more sleep, exercise, carving out one hour a day for me time. YES. (And I’d say YOGA!! My life has changed forever because of it…)

And I’d also suggest introducing music. Let sound heal. We know that anger and outbursts hurt, so use sound to your advantage. Play music all the time in the house and in the car. Tune into frequencies of love, joy, silliness, beauty through music. Mix it up. Country, Reggae, Pop, Classical, Folk, it’s all good. And if you have the ability to let your children learn how to play an instrument, even better. I stumbled upon this TED X video called “This is Your Brain on Music”. Wow, so powerful. It showed how all areas of the brain, including joy, light up when playing music. Many light up when listening, but almost ALL areas of the brain— from problem solving, to logic and critical thinking—light up when playing music. Check it out: This is Your Brain on Music: 

We all have the ability to lower our stress, let go of unresolved anger, soften our voices, raise our vibrations—no matter where we’ve come from. Last Valentine’s Day I wrote an article about finding a Vibration of Love.  I had just been exploring sound and vibration and had read some of Dr. Emoto’s books. I recall thinking instead of looking for love outside of ourselves, create it inside and let it flow with every soft, compassionate sound voiced to friends, to our children, our loved ones. This sound heals and attracts those on a similar frequency. Clearly, we aren’t perfect and don’t behave in a zen way ALL the time. But we can become more aware, take care of ourselves, limit our triggers and alcohol, apologize when necessary, rebound, begin again…I’ll leave you with a simple line from that Valentine’s Day article I wrote last year, that seemed to resonate truth:

“I’ve come to believe that sustained love lies in the subtlety of how we speak to one another—much more than what we actually say. It’s about speaking kindly and respectfully, at all times, even when voicing concerns. I’ve always loved the James Taylor lyric: “It isn’t what she’s got to say, or how she thinks or where she’s been. To me the words are nice the way they sound.”

~ With Peace,

L.

Queen Latifah, My Matchmaker? You Decide!

QueenLatifahshow

This Valentine’s Day I will likely be celebrating with two handsome loves of my life. No, I’m not seeing two men simultaneously! I’ll be having an indulgent meal: pasta, chocolates and gelato with my two boys before they go ski with Dad. So, I won’t be sad this Valentine’s Day—but I have to admit, it wouldn’t suck to have a bit of romance in my life, either!

So, with that in mind, I agreed to be a guest on The Queen Latifah show when her show directer and friend called. If you want someone to laugh AT, tune in! It airs February 12 and March 26th. (Go to her website to find local times/channels.)

Queen Latifah resurrected the Dating Game show that was on TV from 1965-1986, in order to level the playing field for some of her celebrity friends. According to my friend and director Gene Bernard, Queen Latifah was successful with previous Dating Game segments on her show helping celebrities meet “non-biz” people. (You can see clips from her segments with Sheryl Underwood, Florence Henderson and Lamorne Morris here.)

The idea, according to Gene, was to help celebrities meet potential dates in a way that allows them to genuinely find out if they have anything in common and assess real chemistry. Queen Latifah thought the original Dating Game show set-up—with a bachelor or bachelorette behind a curtain, with three contestants on the other side who don’t know anything about the bachelor or bachelorette—did this. Blind dates with her friends might not go as well, as some people might not be as authentic in their conversation once they know someone is in the biz.

I have to admit, the show was so much fun to do and silly and I’m glad I did it! At first, however, I wasn’t sure I should do it, I mean, my boys would likely watch it. But then I thought, why not? How bad could it be? Gene reassured me it would be harmless. A few months earlier I had turned down a NBC producer who asked me and my Ex to be on a reality TV show for 6 weeks. (How that happened or how they found me, I still don’t know!…) While the potential money sounded great, and I knew that my EX and I would be fine together as we’re still friends, we both thought the idea of being dropped into a jungle with 7 or 8 other divorced couples who might actually tear us down, or act dramatically, or bring up touchy topics within our divorce—that our boys might see … Well, there isn’t enough money on the planet to make that pain worthwhile.

Gene insisted that this harmless dating game wouldn’t get me in trouble with my boys. So with the hopes of jumpstarting a little romance, I said ok—with one caveat—I wouldn’t be too flirty or sexually suggestive in my answers as I knew my boys would later watch. :-) 

The Queen Latifah Show Season 2

Well, so much for good intentions!

Watch the show to see how Queen Latifah twisted my answers into suggestive innuendo! And, the audience roared with every embarrassed face I made!

What can you do? :-) I can’t say a love connection was made, but it was silly, light-hearted fun—something this single mom doesn’t get enough of these days. And, I got to meet some amazingly talented people. In the green room, during hair and makeup, I sat next to Sheila E. Hello! How amazing is she?

So, perhaps I didn’t meet my soulmate, but the producers gave me a very cool gift. Before they chose me as Bachelorette Number 3, they asked me to shoot a video to explain what I am looking for in the love of my life. I had never done that before! I’m so busy writing my novel, teaching yoga and raising two boys solo, that I hadn’t given it much thought. Isn’t that sad? The only quality in a man that I knew I absolutely had to have is respect. As a single mom, I can’t respond to last minute invites, late night texts/calls, etc. as I often have to hire a sitter ahead of time. But really, isn’t that a given? I mean, shouldn’t ALL women expect that?! It’s not exactly soulmate material to call ahead and set up a date. Sigh, my standards after living in Los Angeles, must have been lowered! So, to make this video, I dug deep, and came up with a great list of qualities in the person I’d like to meet. Qualities such as a good sense of humor, a good listener, positive, NOT A GOSSIP, a music lover, affectionate, likes kids, creative, balanced (doesn’t drink too much, work too much, exercise to extreme, but has his own interests and respects that I have mine) outdoorsy, spiritual, open heart, open mind, yin and yang personality: so can camp and hike and appreciate my bohemian heart, but also will consider traveling to Europe with me, going to a museum or dining out. Or, in the very least, be a bit amused/accepting of  my Gemini multi-faced personality. So, in the end, making this list has helped me be a lot more discerning with who I might let into my life. Maybe he’s out there? And, in the end, I had a fun time on the show!

I hope all of you get warm Valentine’s hugs & kisses—even if they come from kiddos and/or furry friends. It’s all love. ((<3))

Love & Light ~

Laura, xo

The Year to Surrender

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I read this quote today from The Buried Life“Don’t be afraid to let things fall in or out of place.”

Simple, yet profound, especially for those of us who struggle to make things happen, or to control our lives. This I know for sure: it takes strength to not push, to not force, to trust in something bigger than ourselves, to wait, to listen, and to see what evolves. This type of advice used to make me cringe. It seemed so passive, as if telling a person to sit around and not DO anything to manifest their dreams.

But I now see that’s not what this message implies. 2014 was a year of hard and beautiful lessons for me. What I know now is that the biggest accomplishment, the highest goal to attain to, is to follow my inner voice,  my boundaries, my dreams, my intuition, and my journey home to myself. So that takes courage to continue walking towards dreams. It takes energy. But then it requires that I release heated expectations, or nagging thoughts filled with worry, or any mental struggle that can come from wanting something to emerge, or to develop, in a specific way. It requires being still in moving waters. Trusting the flow is going to take me where I’m meant to go.

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Louise Hay said it perfectly: “We must place our order in the cosmic kitchen, and then let it go. Don’t follow the waiter to the kitchen and hover and make sure he places your order correctly and that the chef is cooking it per your specifications. Make up your mind, place your order and then trust that it is being filled.”

For me, this is about trust and surrendering to the process, in all my relationships, my goals, my dreams. And if I do nothing to make these dreams come true, than likely they won’t. But if I take babysteps each day, put in a little effort, and then trust the process and let it go—who knows what could happen? I have to let that cosmic waiter take my order to the Universal kitchen. And then surrender. Surrender to the process. Surrender to the possibility that the results may fall within my expectations, or outside of them.

Like the splashes from a water fall, I have to wait to see where the pool forms, where the waters converge and divide. Perhaps my dreams, our dreams, will manifest in exactly the way we want? But maybe, just maybe, if we open ourselves up to the possibility that they can manifest into something far more beautiful, far more unexpected, we might just float into a pool that is wilder, more tangled, more rooted in the unknown—until it rings the truth of something meant to be. … But only if we let go, with excitement, with gratitude.

So, friends, here’s to a 2015 filled with joy, excitement, gratitude, anticipation— without rigid expectations, fear or worry.

Namaste ~

L. xo

What Can You Do In Eight Weeks?

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My dear friend, Linda Baffa, reminded me this week that there are eight weeks left in 2014. She plans to explore one chakra per week in her yoga classes. I’m beyond excited, as chakras have become a passion of mine…But when she discussed what she wanted to do in the eight weeks left of the year, it dawned on me that I rarely, ever, really plan. I might set an intention, but that’s different. And so much can, and will, happen in an eight week period. What you consciously focus on, expands, right? Instead of just floating with the current, I might want to think about what specific areas and goals to magnify, instead of just trying to stay afloat with whatever life steers my way.

Think about it. In eight weeks, you can fall in love. Have your heart broken. Pick up the pieces. Finish writing a novel. Lose 10 pounds. Lose your way. Find your passion. Help a friend. Find stillness. DeClutter. Travel to another country. Forgive someone. Forgive yourself. Earn a lot of money. Donate to the poor. Learn how to say no to those who ask too much of  you. Detach with love when it’s necessary. Become a good listener. Discover how to listen to yourself, to your body, to the inner cues and intuitive voices. Learn something new. Do something that scares you. Start a project. Confront someone when it’s needed, and when it’s helpful. Eat more raw, organic food. Start flossing daily. Read a classic novel. Attend a concert. Go dancing. Stop drinking. Quit smoking. Run a marathon. Start playing with your children.

Where do you want to set your course? What areas of your life do you want to put more emphasis on? Or is it just too much pressure to even think about? Will the current just take you, let you drift into unchartered waters without a conscious effort to steer? Maybe you are stuck in a place where currents don’t even flow: living with the same-ole-same-ole without the slightest change of scenery. And that can be really comforting sometimes. Or, like me, maybe each day, each week, fluctuates so much that there seems to be quick sand underfoot?

Why am I meandering down this path? Well, I think it’s time to put some concerted focus and planning into my last eight weeks of the year. Sure, there’s still room for surprises, for serendipity, for coincidences, and hopefully for much-needed spontaneity. But at the same time, I need to steer a course, even if I don’t have an outlined, defined ending. It doesn’t have to be anything too rigid, or too unrealistic. It may just be as simple as the writer’s group I’m starting with trusted friends whom I can support, and who will support my writing in return. Yes, within eight weeks I will likely be finished with my novel (just one more chapter to go!). But at the same time, if I’m not, that will be okay. Life happens. If another child breaks an arm, or gets pneumonia, I’m thankful that I have the ability to take care of them. I love yoga and meditation for how it allows me to be become more flexible, to go with the flow more often, and to open up into trusting that I’ll still arrive at my destination—even if I don’t arrive as I had planned. Do I always go with the flow? No. (Especially not in love! But that’s for another venue!) But if I start a course, if I have a plan, it should help.

I love the picture above for so many reasons. My son William became obsessed with the sailboats in Luxembourg Gardens the last time we were in Paris. I was five months pregnant with his little brother. It would be the last family vacation in Europe that we ever took. I’m so proud of that vacation. I found my voice, even through the waves of ever-present nausea. I demanded that we slow down and let a little boy, be a little boy. Our constant walking and museum going was driving him crazy. There was magic and importance in just sitting in a garden, in people-watching, in sailing a boat. This is what William and I had always done. While daddy was in meetings in various cities in Europe, I would stop and let William dig for worms in botanical gardens in Madrid, Paris, Lisbon. It was our thing. It was how I compromised. We’d go to a piazza in Venice and play with other children, and then later sit still and behave in an adult restaurant. It was my way of honoring him and me. Well, it reminds me that even back then, before I did yoga and meditated every day, I still knew the value of slowing down, of watching, of being, of playing. I even convinced his father to go to the dreaded EuroDisney instead of yet more museums. And you know what? I’m convinced it became one of their best memories together. And so with slowing down in mind, I tiptoe toward my eight week goals with the intention of still being able to find space. Of finding time. Of finding ways to just ‘be’ instead of rushing, demanding, stressing and getting distracted from what really matters.

What matters to you? Focus on it. Magnify it. Write it down. Marinate in it. Imagine it coming true and give thanks for it. Work toward it, even if just for an hour every day. And have a wonderful journey to the New Year.

The Power of Eloquent Lines of Fiction

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There is no disputing the power of eloquent lines of fiction. Whether they plunge us into forgotten sorrow or lift us up into sweet contemplation—they move us. They resonate. They pull at the emotional strings that allow us to truly seek to see another human being in a light that could rarely happen in another medium. They inspire us to keep reading—to hear the whole story. To continue with a process that allows us to unfold into a slow melting of empathy.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of a few phrases. Fiction has never been more important than today. Our world of instant communication via texting and social media, should, in theory, allow us to better heard, seen, acknowledged, understood. Yet, I find, more often than not, I get, or receive, fragmented, misunderstood and quickly judged or dismissed text messages. And social media has become a PR vehicle where pictures convey what we want others to see.  We are rarely understood. Rarely accepted. And often isolated. Today, more than ever, fiction is vital. Why? Because it allows us to dig deeper. To look closer. To care. To connect to a truth in someone, or in some circumstance, that is completely different, yet essentially the same on some level, to our own.

It allows us to truly see the essence of another’s soul. To see their true beauty. Even to see their lack there of. But to see someone’s raw essence and to try to learn more, understand more.

Take Liz Moore’s beautiful novel Heft. I dare anyone to read this book and not fall in love with the chronically obese, homebound Arthur Opp, with a soul as kind and large as his 550 pound body.

So, this post is dedicated to finding those lines of fiction that allow the magic to start. Those lines that truly hook us and gut us. You know what I mean. I might be 100 pages into a new novel, but am just not committed until THAT line.  So let’s go there and share our favorites. Take John Green‘s well-loved phrase from The Fault In Our Stars: “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”

Or what about this paragraph, that I instantly connected with:
“Okay, maybe I’m not such a shitty writer. But I can’t pull my ideas together, Van Houten. My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.”

During a brief conversation with my neighbor, a screen writer, he shared his two favorite lines from Ernest Hemingway‘s The Old Man and The Sea, both metaphors for obsession, competition and the mentality of war:

“Looking at his damaged hand, he reflects that “pain does not matter to a man.”

“The old man thinks that the fish is killing him, and admires him for it, saying, “I do not care who kills who.”

Here are some of my favorites, although I have so many more:

“I’m beginning to think that maybe it’s not just how much you love someone. Maybe what matters is who you are when you’re with them.” – Anne Tyler, The Accidental Tourist.

“Fear tastes like a rusty knife and do not let her into your house. Courage tastes of blood. Stand up straight. Admire the world. Relish the love of a gentle woman. Trust in the Lord.” – John Cheever, The Wapshot Chronicle.

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina.

“These are the quicksilver moments of my childhood I cannot remember entirely. Irresistible and emblematic, I can recall them only in fragments and shivers of the heart.” ― Pat Conroy, The Prince of Tides.

“Rape is a crime against sleep and memory; it’s afterimage imprints itself like an irreversible negative from the camera obscura of dreams.” — Pat Conroy, The Prince of Tides.

“You see if you tell yourself the same tale over and over again enough times then the tellings become separate stories and you will generally fool yourself into forgetting you started with one solitary season out of your life.” — Kaye Gibbons, Ellen Foster.

“Again, I feel misplaced, dropped into a life not my own.” — Patti Callahan Henry, The Stories We Tell.

I have TOO many favorite lines…I’m dying to know yours. PLEASE chime in!!! L. xo

Want to be a Great Writer? How You Live Matters.

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Photo by: Laura Roe Stevens

I was recently reminded that what I do when I’m not writing, may be as important to the creative process as writing itself. Well, almost. Clearly, I still need to put in the work. But if you, like me, get stuck often or procrastinate, take a look at your daily habits to see if they are helping or hurting. I attended a seminar a few weeks ago that suggested specific lifestyle changes in order to better tap into the subconscious mind, energize the non-dominate side of the brain, find an authentic voice and banish crippling fear.

The main tidbit of advice? Put down that martini, tumbler of scotch, wine glass and/or cigarette and take a long, cool drink of water. Yup. We all can’t be Hunter S. Thompson and go down in a flame of booze, cigarettes and drugs. Writers and bad habits often go hand-in-hand. Partly, it’s cultural. When I was a newspaper journalist, I remember more than one editor drinking on the job. In graduate school in New York, most writers I knew met up at bars and pubs to ‘talk’ into the wee hours. I was working too many jobs to do this often, but when I did, I remember how many of my creative writer friends seemed to idolize Thompson, Ernest Hemingway, John Cheever and Truman Capote. All iconic writers. All alcoholics. I know this much: good writing comes from the depths of our souls. It can come from an inner whisper of trauma. It can be a vulnerable place to live. Yes, you may be writing fiction, but the truth that may emerge can painfully mirror fears, demons, love, longing, insecurities, loss, heartbreak…It’s all raw. And strangers will read it. And being raw, in and of itself, takes a toll. I know. Last Christmas I wrote the most painful chapter of my novel Uriel’s Mask. My boys were with their dad. I was alone for nearly two weeks. I started to slip into a depression as I wrote about abuse seen from a six-year-old’s eyes. I was having night mares. I slept with the light on. I wanted to drink. My relationships suffered. What I was experiencing must be close to what actors feel when they are in character. Some days I walked on the beach and cried after writing for hours. It wasn’t explainable to friends, so I didn’t bother. But I was raw and I was needy without knowing what I needed. But there it is. That vulnerable place of truth leaves us feeling exposed, uncertain, adrift. The feelings can be overwhelming—even if cathartic or beautiful. It’s understandable to have the urge to swallow them. But here’s the rub: in order to keep writing and finish that powerful novel, screen play or short stories that will resonate with readers…FEEL those damn feelings and push through without relying on stimulants or depressants. This is what I’m currently trying to do. It’s hard. And that’s why it’s so easy to push the writing aside. Don’t.

Here are some tips to help:

  • Exercise! Dean Nelson, Ph.D., founder and director of Point Loma Nazarene University’s Writer’s Symposium, Behind The Scenes, shared recently at the La Jolla Writer’s Conference that many of the best-selling authors he has interviewed over the years link their career longevity to exercise. Running is Nelson’s choice. When he’s stuck, he says he’ll step away, go for a run in San Diego where he can find a great vista, and just let his mind drift.
  • Meditate. Giving my brain a pause lets me detach and float up into my subconscious mind. It also gives me a break from my fear of failure—or success—and gives me a mini-vacation from my life. Not only is meditation great for creativity, it has amazing health benefits that can’t be disputed. From keeping Alzheimer’s at bay, to reducing blood pressure and anxiety, meditation is life changing.
  • Yoga. I place yoga in a different category from exercise or meditation, although outsiders may wonder why. Yes, it is a form of exercise, and yes, there is meditation at the end. But yoga, in and of itself, is like mindful movement that improves my focus and goal setting. Deep hip opening poses have surprisingly released memories, grief and grudges. While heart-opening poses force me not to close down with my alignment—which then influences my actual being. And, finally, yoga helps me embrace my authentic, timeless self. And, it just feels damn good. I smile. I’m surrounded by heart-felt people. I leave energized and suddenly ready to tackle the next project, the next chapter, the next assignment. It’s amazing.
  • Reduce caffeine. This is SO tough for me! But I know that 3 to 4 cups of joe just makes my heart and thoughts race. Plus, I don’t sleep as well. It doesn’t help me craft eloquent lines.
  • Write a few pages long hand. Step away from the computer, go outside (if possible) and put pen to paper. Something magical happens. Maybe it’s tactile, but somehow, if I’m blocked, the words start flowing again. Try it.
  • Write a few paragraphs with your opposite hand. It’s supposed to jog that non-dominant side of the brain. When I do it, I’m amazed at what I actually say.
  • Paint or draw. Painting just takes me away from my fears, anxieties and my daily grind. I become razor focused on the present moment. I come back refreshed and grateful.
  • Cut off the cell phone and internet for a few hours a day.
  • Read other books! Seriously, it just gets me so excited to read my favorite authors, even if only for just 30 minutes at bedtime.

If you liked this article, try Finding the Sweet Space of Between.

First Creative Writer’s Conference…with Kids in Tow!

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I’m writing this post from my hotel room in San Diego at the La Jolla Writer’s Conference. What an amazing two days so far! At first I almost cancelled coming, as I didn’t have a sitter Friday and Sunday I’m throwing a birthday party for my youngest munchkin..So, not only would I need to bring my children along Friday and part of Saturday, I wouldn’t have the extra time and attention needed to throw a perfect birthday party back in LA on Sunday. You dads out there might not get this…but man, don’t you moms know that need to throw a perfect party? :-) I could spend hours arranging flowers, cleaning house, making cupcakes etc. even for 6-year-olds. It must be a southern thing…I’m trying to recover from this.

So, it’s clear that I need to let go of that perfect parenting bug I’ve been bitten by. AND, I’ve realized that it was a wise decision to go to my first creative writer’s conference and let my kiddos tag along. Why? Because how often does my life revolve around them?  From soccer games and practices, to violin lessons, homework, concerts, doctor visits, etc.—I’m at their beckon call. And it struck me, as a single mom writing a novel, that it’s okay to ask my boys to come along and sacrifice some of their agenda in order to support me and my work. So that’s what we did. It was no problem.  My 12-year-old babysat my just-turned 6-year-old while I attended two lectures Friday. They watched a movie and I garnered amazing advice. It was a win-win. Instead of going to the networking event Friday evening, the three of us hit the pool, had a yummy dinner, rented a good movie and snuggled. Saturday morning started at 6 a.m. for me and I raced from lecture to events all day with a lunch break at the pool with my boys. My nanny picked them up this afternoon and took them back to LA for me, so luckily, I was able to participate in all the afternoon lectures and even my own terrifying pitch session, where I described my novel to two agents and a filmmaker and screenwriter—talk about frightening! I’m still speechless at their responses, encouragement and requests to read my work. I’m so filled with gratitude and excitement for next steps. :-)

So, I have a few things to say about this experience:

First, my years interviewing experts as a parenting editor suggested this —but I now know without a doubt—that it’s good for children to see and support their parents working toward goals. This is especially true of single parents. If all children see are moms sacrificing their identities, dreams and goals for their children, these children may grow up with a sense of self importance, a false sense of entitlement and little patience for cooperation or compromise—not to mention out-dated views on spousal roles.

Secondly: WOW the writers, film makers, poets, agents, publicists, attorneys at this conference have been amazing!  Their willingness to give their time, insights and support have been invaluable to me. I haven’t been to one lecture that didn’t provide incredible information and inspiration. I have a lot of advice to digest from the business of publishing and negotiating contracts, to writing the perfect query and synopsis, to marketing strategies.

It’s a lot to cover. And that’s not even touching on the part that I love most: creating and how to keep those negative voices at bay that can stall the writing process. I’ve gotten a lot of support at this conference. I love the writers that I’ve met. I’m inspired by their honesty and their bravery. Each one is an artist who is baring his/her soul to some degree. In order to write well, a person must “find those tender places,” as Patti Callahan Henry,  a New York Times best-selling author, eloquently explained today. It requires cutting off the fear of being good enough and being able to close the door on that negative critic inside that worries about what others will think. And in doing so, we can keep working and getting better at our craft, while finding our unique voice as writers. I loved what Callahan Henry said today: “Our voice is buried in that compost pile from our youth.” The best writers bravely go there. And clearly, Henry does this. I picked up many books by this southern writer, and am excited to read all of them. I’m half-way through her latest: The Stories We Tell, and know I won’t go to bed until I’m done. I’m immersed in this Savannah-based tale and want to learn the truth lingering between the couple who seem to have it all…Her characters are compelling and believable, who live in a world that invites me in to sit a while and marinate in their truth—which may just resonate with my own. And that’s all a writer can hope for isn’t it?

If you’re a creative writer or artist, please chime in. What helps you find your voice? What helps you stay on track? How do you keep negative voices at bay and continue creating when the world—or your world—might be telling you to do “better” things with your time? I look forward to hearing from you. x