Category Archives: spirituality

#enough.

My Dear Neighbor:

I do not know you. But I do know one thing. You are NOT physically OK like the police report stated. Not just after what you went through. After your body heals, you are not going to be mentally or spiritually OK for a long time either. My heart goes out to you. The clean-cut, nicely dressed stranger, who brazenly walked into your front door on Sunday afternoon and raped you, is sick. And he may attack others. The sheer audacity of a man to walk into your front door, on a Sunday, and then just walk out the front door after the attack, is terrifying. I imagine that you will re-play that horrific experience over and over again every time you come back home. The violation; the brazen lack of fear; the violence; the planning that likely went into it.

This man may have walked away free, and may not think much about it later—but you, my dear neighbor, will likely never forget it. You are changed forever. I wish I could say that you’ll be fine. I wish I could say that you won’t have nightmares, or that you won’t get up in the middle of the night and check your locks repeatedly. I wish I could say that you’ll soon feel sexy and free and trusting again. But it will take time. And there will be flash backs.

Your friends, who you dare to tell, may not show up for you, as rape is a subject no one is comfortable with. Even the most ‘spiritual’ of your friends may forget about it a few months from now because they don’t want to think about it. You will likely avoid them, or avoid taking ubers home alone, or avoid walking into your house alone for years. Forgive your friends for not checking in six months from now when you become paralyzed and debilitated with fear. No one wants to think about rape, or the world-shattering effects it has on a person’s life.

But we need to think about it. And we need to care more. Rape is an epidemic in our country. Every 98 seconds a woman is sexually assaulted in America, according to RAINN.org. One in every six American women has either been raped, or been a victim of an attempted rape. It’s mind-blowing. It’s shocking. It’s disgusting.

My neighbor, you may feel overwhelmed, angry, helpless and hopeless. Move through all the feelings, get help from a therapist, and then fight your way back to hope again.

All men are not like this man. And even though it can seem like we women are now surrounded by misogynistic and degrading men everywhere we turn— from our president, to our favorite talk show hosts. But not all men hate women. You will feel safe in your house again. Maybe you’ll get a dog who will charge down anyone who tries to enter—like mine did—saving me from a home invasion 15 years ago.

Just know this, dear neighbor: love exists, even in the broken places.

You will laugh again.

You will get stronger.

You will love again.

You will heal.

You will not always be scared.

If you ever read this blog and want to find me, my doors and arms are open, and I will listen to you any day, any time.

Now to the pathetic excuse of a man who attacked you:

Rape is an attack of a person’s soul. In my eyes, what you did is the same as attempted murder. You tried to murder this woman’s life as it once existed.

You may have gotten away with it this time, but Karma is a Bitch. 

Maybe, as Marianne Williamson says, love is the only thing that is real, and all violence is an illusion—but I see you. I see you right now lingering in your dark, shadow vibration that wants to, and feels entitled to, hurt others. And I know deep down that you see your worthless and disgusting behavior for what it is.

You will not get away with this in the long run. No matter how many others you attack. You will get caught. And when you die, I pray that you will have to re-live this moment and any others. I pray that somehow, someway, the angels and spirit guides for all the women you have attacked, will show you just what rape feels like—from the inside out. You will feel and see their fear, their pain, their tears, as your own. Isn’t that what ‘One Love’ is all about? See, I’m one of those southern yogis who believes that the Holy Spirit moves powerfully within the flow of Universal forces that steer us in the direction of love. And love isn’t just an ethereal feeling. To love is to try to understand, and to care, and to be kind, and to empathize and to hold yourself accountable and to make amends when you don’t treat others, as you would have yourself be treated.

You will, one day, truly understand what you have done. You cannot fool God. As you sow, so shall you reap. I pray that you will be personally guided closely toward that conscious light of love. I pray that you will be steered up-close and thrust within its blinding light.

Can you feel it burning?

You will.

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Seeking the Write Life

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What a dreamy writing spot I had last year in Greece! This is where I wrote a bulk of my last novel, Between Thoughts of You.  I led a Yoga & Writer’s Retreat in a remote area of Styra, Greece on the Delenia Cliffs—about a 30 minute drive from Nea Styra port and where few cars enter, due to hair-line turns on rocky, unpaved roads. These ancient roads roll past trails leading to ruins called Dragonistas, or pre-historic Dragon Houses of unknown origin mentioned in the Iliad. What an inspiring spot to write! For me. (But it might have been too remote for some of my yogis, lol.) I have a bohemian side from my North Carolina roots where I was raised near horse farms and in what Californians would consider rustic terrain.  I love being close to nature, hiking, listening to crickets—especially when they are competing with crashing waves. Add a night sky filled with stars and you can see why I didn’t mind living in a barn for a week—even if it had bats and huge spiders! I gave the main house to the yogis, who had pool and cliff and Aegean views, as I had my private writing spot every morning and most afternoons.

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As the yogis decided to snorkel or sight see or hire drivers to take them to towns with restaurants and bars, I stayed put and wrote. Yes we had sunset yoga & meditation classes daily and three writing workshops, but days were open to explore. I mainly stayed put. Maybe I should have ventured out more, but I was focussed. I did this in Rome the previous spring—writing most of my days in seclusion, and walking around after sunset for inspiration. It helped me craft this novel and finish the first half. I was so close to finishing the whole draft when we were in Greece, that I just had to keep going.  As a full-time single mom, I get so few full days to write. You may say that I fight for the time to write, when most of my friends lament of paralysis and procrastination. I can’t wait until that’s all I’m battling! For me, I juggle school stuff and homework for the boys, cooking, laundry, cleaning and soccer during the week—and I admit that I may not juggle it all that well. The minute I start to visualize where my novel is going, I find a way to sit down and write, whether at school, on the side-lines of a game, or even in bed at 5 a.m. where my black notebook lives in my side drawer. I dream of the days when I live “the write life” —meaning a life where I can devote five hours a day to my writing. I’m not even sure how I’ve managed to write three novels and am starting my fourth as the last nine years have been filled with sorrow, diapers and now a teenager all navigated solo. But it’s my journey. While I should be proud of what I’ve accomplished, I’m not completely. I’m determined to get better at my writing and at managing my time & life with my boys. I sent my last novel to beta readers and friends and must have edited it five times. I dream of the day when I get published traditionally. I love collaboration. I’ve been an editor of magazines, and I dream of working with an editor and agent and having that contract so I can write full-time, while of course teaching 2-3 yoga classes a week for balance and sanity! Until then, I will sneak writing time. I will steal a few moments here, a few moments there, and have a messy home for it and prepare too many frozen dinners.

My boys know that I’m focussed. I spoke with an executive at Random House earlier this year, showing him my synopsis and he said to me: “can you just get an agent so I can help you.” The traditional route demands representation. Self publishing demands marketing and self-promotion savvy. I don’t mind doing some, but I’m already writing my next novel. Who knew it would be harder to get an agent than to write to novel? But I continue to try and I continue to learn. I’m pitching an agent every week, as well as small publishing houses, a few have my novel now for consideration. I’m submitting to writing contests as well. It’s a business and I need not take rejection so personally, as many agents and publishing houses have specific genres/voice they are seeking and it changes constantly due to fluctuations and trends in the market place. I’m keeping an open mind and open heart.

And until that contract manifests, there is always another yoga & writer’s retreat! Next summer I’ll be in Spain watching my 16-year-old perform in opera houses and symphony halls. Isn’t that amazing? I can’t wait to watch him play violin, (and probably cry!) and then set up shop for my yogis. I’m debating between Madrid & Barcelona…I love both. There is power in creating space virtually, emotionally and physically to write while in inspiring get-a-ways. There’s just something magical that happens when taking that plunge—getting on a plane, leaving our bills, our neighbors, our little world behind that can become suffocating or distracting. It allows us to open up to possibilities. In the very least, it allows us to get inspired and talk about our dreams. As adults, it’s easy to shut down and lean into responsibilities, demands and fear. But without a little adventure and a little exploration, life becomes dull and heavy. We all need and deserve an injection of inspiration!

I can’t wait to tell you where the next retreat will be. And in the meantime, I’ll continue to juggle: to seek balance between loving my boys and supporting their needs, while striving to write another captivating novel that hopefully shows the power and survival of love—that always exists, even in the broken places.

Until then, have a beautiful month.

Laura x

Achieving Equality: A PipeDream?

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Pic from ExhaustedWoman.com

 

Did you go into your marriage, pre-children, expecting to have equitable parenting duties with your husband? Did it ever occur to you that your career would be deemed less important, therefore you’d be expected to have more time to shop, clean, care-take? Did you ever imagine that you would have less time off to replenish, while working more than your spouse? If you knew all this going into your marriage, would you feel differently about your husband?

Equitable parenting duties. Equal time off. Mutual respect. In 2018, according to multiple studies, these are still drastically missing within heterosexual couples who have children.

In reality, for most American women, these ideas are mere pipe dreams. It’s just not how our society, and how most fathers, behave. Period. End of story. There is a lot of research to back this up. See the links below for in-depth articles in The Washington Post, Forbes and Time magazines. 

Maybe in the top echelons of society among very young couples who live in democratic, liberal University settings, do you see fathers who are doing more and are behaving with more respect. But for the most part, throughout America, at every age and social and economic demographic, this isn’t the case. A woman’s career can be treated like a hobby and not as important as a man’s, by his behavior—forcing a woman to feel battered into doing the lion’s share of parenting, cleaning, care-taking of in-laws, parents and organizing of family activities.

For example, one mom interviewed said her husband “Just doesn’t get up.” She explained that her young husband will remain drinking his coffee at the kitchen table and checking his phone, while his wife, also a full-time working executive, is racing to put together backpacks, get the children dressed, prepare lunches. It puts her at a disadvantage with work as well as loading her down with stress, anxiety and bitterness—resulting in poor health and marital resentments, lack of sex drive and dissipating connection between mom and dad. And the children notice. They see what we do, much more than what we say—and model our behavior. Which is why many experts say the misogyny behind the #metoo movement, has its roots at home where mom is undervalued, taken for granted and disrespected.

In the Washington Post article Where do Kids Learn to Undervalue Women? From Their Parents, multiple studies showed that: “even progressive spouses don’t divide burdens equitably. The children notice.”

According to university research, conclusions ranged from misogyny budding from modeled parent behavior to malignant gender dynamics being passed down generation to generation.

Sadly, recent studies showed the following, reported by Darcy Lockman:

“Among heterosexual parents, fathers — even the youngest and most theoretically progressive among them — do not partake generously of the workload at home. Employed women partnered with employed men carry 65 percent of the family’s child-care responsibilities, a figure that has held steady since the turn of the century. Women with babies enjoy half as much leisure time on weekends as their husbands. Working mothers with preschool-age children are 2 1/2 times as likely to perform middle-of-the-night care as their husbands. And in hours not so easily tallied, mothers remain almost solely in charge of the endless managerial care that comes with raising children: securing babysitters, filling out school forms, sorting through hand-me-downs.”

Ey ey ey people.

I feel strongly that this lack of respect and “unawareness” among fathers who overburden their wives by not stepping up, is the root of divorce. I’ve seen so many moms become severely bitter, insecure and disconnected without hope they can ever achieve their dreams within this family dynamic. This is likely the reason why so many mothers look forward to their alcohol binging nights out with other moms, highlighted in The Bad Moms movies. And it is also why I, as a full time single mother for the past nine years, feel extremely lucky. At least as a sole parent, I don’t have ANY expectations that a partner will be, or should be, doing ANYTHING for me and my boys within the household on a daily basis. No one will be prepping for schools, buying foods, cooking dinners, planning sports and summer camps, going to parents nights or performances, yard work, etc. It’s just me. Surprisingly, I find peace and liberation with this as I have lost all my bitterness from needing that from someone. I am also never, ever going to live with someone who may be critical of my appearance, or my house’s appearance, my cooking (or lack thereof), or parenting abilities—while also pouting about my lack of sexual desire at the end of the night. I’m tired. Yet, I’m following my dreams again and writing novels and teaching yoga and my boys know that mommy needs help at home and that her dreams are just as important as their own.

When I was married, my older son was learning something different. He was learning that mommy’s dreams don’t count, because they don’t pay as well as daddy’s, and that she needs to do the lion share of parenting and cleaning and deserves less time off than daddy. And I’m to blame for allowing this dynamic. I used to think my ex taking our son to the park on a Saturday afternoon, after he had been gone all week and I had spent late-nights catching up on work, meant that I had an hour to clean the house and race to the grocery store. It didn’t occur to me to get a massage and let him help me do the other stuff later. Yet I was working full time as a magazine editor and taking care of our son solo and staying up late managing deadlines. Where did I get this misconception that I had to work, work, work and never rest? From my parent dynamic of a working full – time mother who did all the parenting. It really does get passed down generation to generation and women (especially those raised in the South) are taught to believe that they are just more compassionate, better organized, better at cooking, more patient and therefore, better at parenting, so it’s easier for us. I can’t tell you how many times I heard friends prepare weeks of food for their husbands before leaving for a work trip because their husbands “just can’t open a can of soup.”

This has to stop. Having a penis doesn’t mean a man can’t cook, tuck a child into bed, read bedtime stories, grocery shop, plan birthday parties, volunteer at schools, design holiday cards, and help with in-law care-taking. None of these activities are exclusively made for humans with vaginas. But I understand why women just do the extra work when they fear that it just won’t get done otherwise.

It took divorce and becoming a full-time single mother for me to realize that I allowed this toxic, old-fashioned inequitable dynamic to exist by not demanding my ex do more. If I had boycotted the home situation, protested, left for an extended amount of time while leaving our child at home, perhaps my ex would have seen what was going on. Or likely, he would have hired a full-time nanny and not fretted about the cost.

I predict there will be a shift in the American family (heterosexual) dynamic within the next 50 years where women just opt out. We’re tired. And we’re worthy of time off and help. It’s time for us to raise our hands, lift our white flags and say ENOUGH. Doing it all and being everything to everyone, enables a toxic old-fashioned view of parenting, and is just not worth ruining our health and forgetting our dreams for.

If this has riled you up, sadly, here are more articles and studies regarding the lack of gender equality in American households and society:

“A stunning chart shows the true cause of the gender wage gap.” 

“From concubine to CEO, how far have women really come?” Forbes, Dec. 20, 2015

“The Parenting Fantasy that holds Women Back” Time, Oct. 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can a Childhood Decision Shape Your Life? Anne Tyler Thinks So.

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Anne Tyler, one of my favorite authors, recently revealed that her next book Clock Dance, is based on her theory that a person’s entire life and identity can be shaped by a single decision made in early childhood. As early as seven years of age, Tyler says a child can know exactly who they want to be and what type of temperament they want to have. For instance, Tyler said in her published Note prefacing Clock Dance:
“I believe that our entire lives can be shaped by a single decision that we make during childhood as to who, exactly, we should be. As to how we should be, what kind of people we want to become. ”

She provides a few examples of decisions she made when seven years of age, after studying the two grown ups in her life. Upon comparison of her parents, Tyler decided that she’d rather be like the steady, gentle, patient one, instead of the sharp tempered and erratic one. And that being the case, she knew she’d have to not marry anyone patient, as clearly, there “is only a certain amount of patience to be had, and you don’t want it all to go to the other person.”

She leads readers to surmise that one decision to be the patient one, basically formed her life and became the catalyst for her next best selling novel.

Do you agree with her theory? Can we decide as early as seven who we will become? What our personality traits will be? Maybe. But then again, don’t we always have the opportunity for reflection and to change, to grow? Or maybe we just humor ourselves with the idea that we can or will change, yet underlying personality traits of either being hyper, dramatic, patient, shy, short-tempered, etc. are embedded into our soul like a watermark that never leaves. So are we born with any genetic predispositions, or do we choose all of our personality traits based on our environments and what we choose to become?

What do you think?

To Let Go & To Allow = Freedom

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There is an energy in the Universe that is within you and within me and is connected to a Divine Source. It doesn’t matter whether you believe in God via Catholicism, or Judaism or Hinduism or Taoism or Buddhism or are a Muslim. Maybe you don’t believe in God and you refer to It as the Universe or Christ Consciousness or Buddha consciousness, or an HP as folks in 12 step programs do. We are each eternal and connected to the Universe that created intricate flowers, tides, sunsets, animals, stars. As I say in yoga, we are human beings, not human doings. We are linked to one another, even if you may not want to be linked to that someone who hasn’t behaved in a light-filled way. There is a time to fall away, there is a time to step up and I’m becoming increasingly aware of the need to stop judging, and to embrace acceptance in a rebellious way. IF I trust the Universe, and the energy within me that is connected to that Divine Source, and I trust it is in you as well, I can accept what happens and I can let go with love anything that doesn’t serve me. IF I can think only good thoughts of you, without trying to control or manipulate, you will feel that good energy. And this is how I can flow and move on from those who have hurt me, as they are teachers. And IF I can think that the Universe only wants me to grow and expand consciously into love, I can allow everyone in my life to be exactly who they are. I can trust that the flow of my life is moving along a path toward my Dharma, my purpose. And IF I can trust that life force and energy and love that I feel when I meditate and connect to my intuition, and IF I am brave enough to follow my purpose and not cower to my fear, life will continue to flow and continue to bring in the people who will reflect and support that love and light.

 

So this Friday as I pack up and move into a house that is smaller and cheaper and will allow me to continue with my writing and my yoga, I am filled with happiness and gratitude. My boys are learning that their happiness is not based on how big their rooms are or how much STUFF they have. Happiness is based on living our lives with purpose and joy and in the flow of our inner voices. So we are simplifying and all three of us are really filled with peace about this next move, this next chapter.

 

Happy first weekend of summer! For more inspiration, watch this video by one of my mentors, Wayne Dyer (who did hot yoga every morning of his life, btw!). Love & Light!

 

Becoming a FIERCE Female

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Finding FREEDOM : ALIGNMENT : DHARMA

Two and a half years ago I stepped away from what was potentially a six figure + deal with a national network reality TV show. I told only a few friends, as I knew most would think me crazy. I’m a single mom. I’m raising two boys in LA. But the TV show, from the producers of The Biggest Loser, focussed on divorce drama. It was why I had stopped monitoring and contributing to single mom chat boards for Dr. Drews Lifechanger’s show. And it’s why I switched the focus of my blog from single motherhood. That topic limited my life, defined me, attracted negative ranting, encouraged victimhood and drama that makes all participants get stuck in the past. I walked from being in a major reality TV series because it was focussed on divorce and single motherhood and I was convinced that all the pain I have lived through would be drug back up on national television and relived and rehashed in a negative light—instead of in a sustaining, inspiring way. Sure, I was cheated on and left just after having a baby. And yes, my husband was in multiple other countries with his ‘girlfriend’ while I raised two boys alone. The producers loved my story of embracing yoga and forgiveness—so they said—but were fascinated by me being alone with two young boys, while my mother was also dying, and of me giving up my editing jobs in order to better care for the boys. In the end, I knew scenes would be manipulated to create drama, foster retaliation, increase outrage and bitterness, etc … dashing all my efforts to forgive and to move forward mindfully and lovingly. Maybe I lost a lot of money, but hey, my ex and I are good friends now. He isn’t a ‘bad’ person. We are better apart. It takes effort to see that and to move forward and to strive to not always live in a black and white strict viewpoint and to always put children first. What I have learned over multiple yoga trainings, traveling solo across the world, and through my meditation and writing practice, is that we have to free ourselves—by lovingly setting those who hurt us free—in order to thrive. To thrive means being happy, hopeful, joyful, vibrant, healthy, present, abundant. Isn’t that what we all want? Why do we then sabotage our happiness by holding on to grudges and negative, distrusting thought patterns and habits? Saying no to the producers (who kept offering more money!) was my first major step into truly letting go of the past, stepping into alignment, integrity, forgiveness and Dharma, or purpose.  If you’re a single mom in pain, or just a human who has been hurt repeatedly or is depressed by life that feels heavy, this article, which outlines my new book Becoming a Fierce Female, is for you. Much love.

Ten Steps to Become FIERCELY HAPPY:

  1. FORGIVENESS. Forgiveness is like five steps in one. If you only achieve one step on this list, this is the most important one to foster more happiness in your life. Just know this:
    Forgiveness is NOT being a doormat.
    Forgiveness is NOT saying what someone did is OK.
    Forgiveness is NOT taking a person or job or circumstance back.
    Forgiveness IS breaking the chains that bind you, that tie you up mentally and spiritually in the past of hurt and suffering.
    Forgiveness IS FREEDOM. It is saying to the person who has hurt you: “You must have been out of alignment with God and your higher self when you did that. So I forgive you. But it was so NOT OK to treat me or any other human being that way, with so little compassion, that I am dropping the event and you from my consciousness. With love, I set you free. I set myself free.”
  2. Stop Talking About Past Wrongs. Every time you do this, you are telling the Universe: “More Please.” And then the big U is happy to dish up more assholes, more car accidents, more liars, just to help you prove that you are right. Stop it. Focus on the positive in your life. Sure, you may want to try to understand how you attracted a certain person or circumstance into your life, but talking smack about the person only puts you in the same lower vibration. Nothing good comes from making yourself a victim. The seeds of success are in every setback. Find your power and MOVE ON.
  3. Be Present. This is easier said than done. Take baby steps: Focus on the person talking to you and put down your phone. Notice your surroundings. Stop multi-tasking. Strive to listen. Life opens up and miracles only happen in the present moment. Don’t miss out.
  4. Be Positive. This is easier said than done as well. Maybe you are depressed by sad news in the media or by a sick friend or by a recent tragedy. Life is always in session. I know. (I expand more on this in my book as I have witnessed murder, been attacked and have friends and family members who have been as well.) But what positive can you focus on today with gratitude? Make a daily gratitude list. Even if it just says water, food, bed. It’s a start. Every day, seek gratitude and seek how you can become a better person who uplifts others and is empowered to make a difference.
  5. Meditate daily in stillness. If you want to radiate light, you must become still .We are 85% water, but water can only reflect the sunlight when still. When our nerves and thoughts are negative, reactive, choppy, boiling, restless, NO light can be reflected from above. Still your mind, still your heart, and listen to your inner guidance and watch as you bloom and lighten up your heart chakra. (More in my book, with guided meditations.)
  6. Ask how you can serve, not how others can serve you. Every day when you wake up, just mentally ask the Universe how you can be of service in order to get into alignment. Marianne Williamson said it best when she said to envision yourself as the faucet, not the water, for the Universe to flow through. Even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do as your profession for the rest of your life, start slowly and simply. Ask: ‘How can I best serve today?’ Maybe the answer will just be to smile at strangers. To give someone a parking space. To offer assistance to a senior. To listen. Start small, always with gratitude.
  7. Find Your Dharma. Explore (unapologetically) all that you love to do in life. Music, art, sports, etc. Find ways to incorporate it into your life. Single full time moms, you can listen to your favorite tunes while you cook, watch videos on art, travel, take a class or join a Meetup group. Take the time to embrace your passion. It’s why we are here.
  8. Get enough rest. It’s hard to stay positive, grateful, present, calm compassionate, forgiving if you are running on fumes. Get 8 hours of sleep a night.
  9. Take daily inventory. Before you go to bed, ask the Universe (just mentally) where you could have done better that day, or where you fell out of alignment with your highest self. Without judgement, ask to have whatever was out of alignment removed. Maybe you weren’t patient. Maybe you snapped at someone. Maybe you were being a perfectionist and controlling and not listening to your child or friend. Whatever it was, when you see it in your minds eye, forgive yourself for being human and say, “thank you. please help me remove this.”
  10. Exercise daily. I’m a passionate yogi, everyone knows that. But I don’t care what you do, just find something you enjoy and get moving. Take the stairs at work. Walk on your lunch break. Jog. Swim. Just get the blood flowing and the endorphins going every day, so you can feel serotonin flow and sweep negative cobwebs from the corners of your mind as you lower your stress and slip into your bliss!

The Power of Deep Stillness

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I’m having a hard time integrating back into the cacophony and anxious energy of Los Angeles after a contemplative weekend deep in the Northern California redwood forests at Ratna Ling Buddhist Retreat Center. Here I am yesterday saying goodbye, feeling completely refreshed, on my deck enclosed by lush woodland. The stillness and silence and peace ran deep this past weekend—at first surrounding me, embracing me—then sprouting from within. Just listen to the sounds of life sustained by these ancient trees. Maybe cut off the TV, close your door, put in earphones, shut your eyes and listen again.

 

All weekend, I became more reflective, less talkative and deeply relaxed. I meditated, took silent walks, sketched, read, wrote, and yes, did amazing daily yoga classes with soulful Gloria Baraquio. (For those who wanted more, there was a sound bath with Lauri , essential oils workshop, sacred texts talk, sacred art class, FOOD (and more delicious FOOD), a library full of Tibetan literature and art, as well as a variety of massages and therapies to indulge in at theMandala Wellness Center.) For me, however, this weekend was mainly about reconnecting with nature. As a little girl who was raised in the South on property jutting against a horse farm, I used to sneak into the woods, the pre-Civil War trails, and lean against the trunks of huge pine trees with roots softened by emerald and sage moss and icy white lichen. I’d listen to the wind make shushing sounds through the branches above, as winking bursts of sunlight pierced through. Sometimes a deer might wander over curiously, just as they do here at Ratna Ling.  This past Memorial Day weekend I welcomed a relief from the intensity of LA. As a child, however, I sought nature as a refuge from the loudness of our house with its large family. older siblings who’d fight, or parents fighting, or TVs and stereos on simultaneously, teenager phone conversations, usually drama of some sort. The energy was too charged for my sensitive ears. The sounds in those southern horse trails were similar to those of the redwood forest, and just as calming, yet still vibrant with activity; a celebration of life. In Ratna Ling I could hear mocking birds, wood peckers, sweet singing Wrens, bellowing toads, screeching crickets, scurrying geckos—all creating a mesmerizing chorus. On my birthday I sat on the rustic deck of my cabin reading, and at one point, a huge butterfly landed on my book. Another moment, a large turkey vulture landed on a branch a few feet away. I watched as a momma mocking bird dive bombed it over and over, likely protecting a nest, finally bothering the vulture, 5 times its size, to spread its mammoth totem pole wings, shading my chair on the deck, as it flew away. The energy felt in this forest was calm, peaceful, purposeful, relaxed. My mind cleared of distractions. I focused. Thank goodness there was no cell reception. I needed this mental clearing.

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Perhaps that’s why returning to Los Angeles was especially hard. The high-pitched beeps and announcements at the airports, then screaming tourists at a local fair, loud intoxicated fiesta goers in my beach town, neighbors blaring music and TV news that wafted through my window like toxic gas—all creating a stunned anxiety within me. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t relax. Even talking with a friend, at first, was jarring as I could heard her blender going, her TV on, her dog whining, then barking, the dish washer sputtering to a start, some more water flowing in a sink, all as we spoke on the phone. Am I like this? I worried. And the answer is yes. Yes I am. I expect that most Americans juggle. We rush, do, do more, multi-task, barely listen fully, worry, pile on more commitments that we can’t complete and keep going—while allowing ourselves to be bombarded by anxious news announcements, or negative talk shows, eliciting a fight or flight response within us and amping up our cortisol. It’s no wonder we can’t hear our intuition. Our center for calm and knowing and creativity.  It’s no wonder every-day life that is hectic creates confused, interrupted thinking. It’s hard to finish projects in this state of mind. It’s hard to prioritize and focus on what’s really important, what your Dharma is, rather than seeking object referral or approval. We have to clear out the noise, sweep away the distractions, center ourselves and listen without judgement to what comes up. Our frenetic life, especially for many parents who are frazzled by over-scheduled activities and interruptions, can feel the drain. I didn’t know how drained I was, until it all stopped and sat still and I breathed deeply. There is another way to live.

Today, I miss the woods. I miss the simple focus. I miss going to sleep with the sounds of crickets and waking to birds singling as the sun rises, illuminating redwood limbs reaching toward each other, like fingers making an ink stain on my window. I thought a yoga class would help me integrate, but the music was too loud, the thumping music was too loud and a teacher was screaming over it. I wasn’t relaxed when I walked home.

So I guess it’s a good thing I was asked if I’d like to come back to Ratna Ling to host a yoga and writers retreat later this year. I get to return and I get to take some dear writer friends with me. I can’t wait to introduce them to this haven that will allow them to get centered, ignore their fears and focus on their writing, their unique stories they all are compelled to share. We’ll flow to vibrational yoga, breathe deeply, take meditative walks in the woods, enjoy Tibetan meditation movement with an expert … and write from a place connected to Source. Stay tuned, as I work out the details. Proceeds will go to Dharma Publishing, created by Ratna Ling’s founder, Tibetan Lama Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche, who has spent more than 45 years preserving sacred texts, literature and art. I’m honored to support such a worthy cause, while helping fellow-writers tap into their inner voice, find peace, calm, stillness, confidence. I’ll write more later when details are sorted. 🙂

In the meantime, maybe you’d like to join me this week as I meditate with the intention of re-claiming stillness, letting go of distractions, and finding mindful focus while at work, while at play. Here’s to a week where we can feel calm, peaceful, playful, free, content, loved, secure, safe, inspired, centered, clear, balanced and compassionate.

Love & Light,

Laura xo

Digging into New Books this Mother’s Day

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I’m digging into these gems this mother’s day! Last night, after teaching my hot yoga class, I went to a book store and walked around. I had cancelled on a friend who offered to take me to the Trocadero in Hollywood since my nanny had cancelled. I really wasn’t that upset about it. Yes, it’s the quintessential ‘Hollywood spot’, but I’m not that into Hollywood. I’m more into creating and dreaming. So, I decided to treat myself to a dream walk, exploration, of the book store isles sans kiddos for an hour. A top expert in publishing, an agent for 20+ years, told me in an interview last week that trying to get published in the genre of literary fiction, is nearly impossible for new writers today (via traditional publishing houses.) Hmmmm. There’s a lot of fear in that statement. And I’m not one who needs to mire in fear or let it inchworm inside my head as I write my 4th novel. I respect his opinion, but it is not the definitive voice deciding whether or not I will ever get published. So I took a stroll down the isles and among the ‘new voices’ and low and behold, there are many in both literary and women’s fiction. My new intention is to read a ‘new voice’ every month until next mother’s day. Why? Because I want to support my fellow writers and new voices who are trying to give birth to their babies in this daunting publishing arena. So, I picked out The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney published by Harper Collins in 2016. It is Sweeney’s first book to be published by a major publisher, and soon to be made a movie. Family drama, addiction, inheritance, sibling squabbles, are all contained within its pages. I can’t wait to start!

My other books I purchased last night are bite-sized spiritual instruments of wisdom to inspire my meditation practice, which helps me focus on what I can do and create, and stay out of fear. I can turn to a page, within The Art of Peace by Morihei Ueshiba or the Dalai Lama’s Little Book of Mysticism, and read one teaching by these masters daily. Here are two examples. I adore Ueshiba’s art representing movement as I’ve never been able to separate movement of dance and yoga with the spiritual. That’s why meditation was hard for me to embrace five year ago, yet dancing and yoga have always been my conduits to calm my mind, improve my mood, let go of fear, etc.

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Dala Lama’s ‘little book’ is perfect to inspire meditation themes as it’s just enough to start the conversation that can be released to the Divine within meditation. For example:

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Busy moms don’t often get to spend hours at a time reading on a Sunday. But I got a few hours in this morning and I’m grateful. I’m now off to the California Science Center to explore King TUT’s tomb with my nine-year-old. It’s the perfect Mother’s Day for me as it started with books and poetry (poem by my little guy); will marinate with wonder at the museum, will move with music, as we go to a concert this evening, and end with picking up my oldest at the airport. It’s my first mother’s day in 16 years without my wonder William. I can’t wait to give him a big hug!

I’m sending so much love to all my fellow mums. May you feel at peace with yourself and with your Dharma. May you feel inspired to reach for your dreams. May you feel healthy and supported. May you always feel your divine light and self worth. And may you always, always embrace your sense of humor—God knows we all need it!

Love & Light XOXO

Can Balance Cultivate Inner-Peace?

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This Thomas Merton quote was brought to my attention this week and it makes a lot of sense. I am rarely happy, serene or at peace when my life is moving at mock-speed with demands that are out of my control. I read somewhere that one of the highest stressors in life are during times when other people’s emergencies suddenly become our problems demanding immediate attention. Maybe you have been in that sort of environment at work where a boss suddenly throws a situation at you to fix, frustrating you as you need to finish your own work? Maybe you’ve had family members or loved ones with addictions or health care issues or lots of drama that suddenly require immediate help? This sort of intensity that is injected into our lives, requiring us to stop, drop everything and run,  is a false sense of excitement, leaving us breathless, winded, exhausted, and off center. Raising children in America can certainly feel that way at times, when coaches change game or practice times and venues at the last minute, requiring parents to leave work or change plans. Kids get sick, hurt, forget their lunches, homework, etc. too, and we often have to drop what we are doing and run to their assistance. This, I don’t mind so much. But you get the idea. When I feel out of control, I feel off-center, ungrateful, out of balance, and out of sync. Some of my relationships have been this way too. I’ve had a knack in my life to choose men who don’t choose me, or don’t choose to honor our agreements. The last minute cancel; the last minute change in plans; or the worst: being an hour late for a date or dinner, has been a theme with everyone I have ever been with. It’s an out-of control feeling as it’s outside of me, reflects them, but it requires me to be inconvenienced and stressed. My past job as a full-time editor and journalist, felt a little out of control too: stories change, publishing dates get pushed back, re-edits are requested based on outside interests. I think I have become used to rolling with the punches. I think I have become a master of juggling and staying calm. But it isn’t peaceful.

As an artist, it’s super important for me to squeeze in a schedule, a routine, a rhythm that I try to adhere to every day, so I can balance my time spent writing, with time spent assisting to the needs of others: editors, yogis, children. Lately, I’m finding more balance through a regular meditation practice and sitting with my feelings as they arise and not reacting to them. Yoga, deep breathing is powerful. Walks on the beach, in nature, help to connect to beauty and God.

Art is an amazing source of peace for me. Writing, instantly drops me into that place of calm, allowing me to authentically co-create with the Universe. From a sense of calm and peace, I can feel centered, balanced and less stressed about the future, about ‘being on track.’ From this quiet place, I can allow ‘happiness’ to bubble up to the surface.

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In my youth, I chased excitement. Happiness was this unauthentic, elusive feeling that erupted from attention given to and received from others. It sprung from crazy demands and switching up venues or travel. I loved writing three of four stories on deadline and racing to get them done on time, then going for a run with tunes blasting, later meeting friends for drinks while dressed up in heels and a short skirt, maybe flirting. You get the idea. My source of happiness came from outside sources, sometimes caffeine or wine and always adrenaline. Today, it springs from time in quiet, listening to my inner guides, my intuition while I write, meditate, do yoga or listen fully to a friend, share from an authentic space with another soul. It may not seem as intense, or as exciting, but it’s a way for me to create a balance and a rhythm and an order to my life that feels closer to nature, closer to God.

Admittedly, my life has been out of control for most of my life. I can’t control a spouse leaving. I can’t control someone choosing to be violent, or those who chose to kill friends, or drunk drivers killing friends, or disease taking friends and family. I can’t control others who spiral into addiction and hurt themselves and others. But I can control my breath. I can control my schedule and get up early and meditate, giving thanks for another day. I can control whether I stay in a stressful job that hurts my health. I can control whether I continue with unloving, unbalanced relationships. I can choose to pause and not react. I can choose to eat and drink what will support my mental clarity and wellbeing.

I can ultimately choose to live a different life than what I witnessed, experienced in childhood and in my youth. Today, I am embracing this shift, letting go of the chaotic past, creating order, balance, harmony, so I can continue to create my art, my novels, while making space to forgive myself and everyone in my life.

Have a beautiful weekend.

Namaste x

Diane Frank Reaches Beyond Romance: Erotic, Lyrical, Cultural, Poetic Fiction

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A few novels cross genres with perfection. Diane Frank, however, weaves multiple genres to create a tapestry of writing that could almost become a new category of its own. Blackberries in the Dream House, her first novel, is described as magical realism, yet some could argue that it is a form of poetry, erotic romance, mystical and or spiritual fiction, new age, historical/cultural, pseudo-paranormal romance or romantic fantasy. You get the idea. I am fascinated when an author boldly crosses boundaries within genres, as well as cultures and periods of history, with such precision that it is barely noticed. It’s much like watching a prima ballerina who makes strenuous work appear elegant and effortless.

I met Diane Frank Valentine’s week at the San Francisco Writers Conference(SFWC) where we spoke at length, like old friends, touching on a variety of subjects. We are both writers who are meditators and yogis. We are both fascinated by Japanese and Buddhist culture and art. We both love music and dancing. We have a little in common. Diane’s first book was a bit of risk, in terms of publishing in the 21st century, as her main character is a Japanese geisha from 150 years ago. The writing is poetic, erotic, spiritual and infused with musical, historical and Buddhist overtones. Each chapter is short, and could read like an individual poem or a recounting of a lyrical dream. Some agents today might consider this novel daunting to represent—as agents at the SFWC admitted trepidation over representing first-time novelists who write within differing cultures or gender viewpoints. (To read more, see Voice, Authenticity & the Right to Write.).

 

With that said, I strongly believe readers will always resonate with powerfully artistic writing that transcends such constricted boundaries. Which is likely one reason why Blackberries in the Dream House was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Diane has published nine books and is currently writing another, while also teaching creative writing and poetry in San Francisco and Iowa. I interviewed Diane recently about Blackberries in the Dream House: her process when writing it and her advice to other budding authors willing to tackle subjects and characters outside of today’s defined publishing norms.

 

Q. What first inspired you to write about a geisha and a Buddhist monk in Japan? Can you pin point your first ah ha moment that sparked your journey toward creating Blackberries in the Dream House?

A. I’d like to begin by telling you how this book came into being. While I was still living in Iowa,  The Winter Life of Shooting Stars, my fourth book of poems, was published. When I called my Grandma Helen to share the good news, she said to me, “Diane, I don’t understand poetry.  Could you write a novel?” I said, “Sure, Grandma, I’ll write you a novel,” even thought at the time I didn’t know what the book would be about.

I don’t know how it is for other writers, but I feel that the story I tell in Blackberries in the Dream House chose me. It began with a deja vu in my bathtub. The tiles turned deep blue, and I felt like I was in Kyoto in a public bath during the late Edo period. The geisha and the monk were there, and the story started telling itself to me until it was told.

Blackberries is a forbidden love story about a geisha and a Buddhist monk in Kyoto 150 years ago. It’s written in the genre of magical realism which means that extraordinary things can happen in the waking state. The story is told from inside the soul of the geisha, and it begins with an epigram from Rumi…

“Lovers don’t meet along the road somewhere.

They’re in each other all along.”

Blackberries in the Dream House comes from a deep place in my soul.  My strong intention is that this book will have a gift for everyone who reads it.

2. Are you a Buddhist?

I’m not a practicing Buddhist but am strongly influenced by Buddhism and Buddhist philosophy – especially Tibetan Buddhism but also Zen. I learned to meditate when I was twenty years old and continue to meditate twice a day. My spiritual practice takes me to a place of deep peace and provides a grounding I maintain as I live in the world.

Traveling in Japan and Nepal strongly influenced this book. I loved living among the Buddhist people.  I deeply admire the Dalai Lama and have been strongly influenced by his teachings. When I was trekking in Nepal, I had the opportunity to ask the Tengboche Rinpoche (the High Lama at Tengboche Monastery) a question that was important to my spiritual growth, and his answer has guided me for many years.

When I was in Japan researching Blackberries in the Dream House, all of the people I met believe in reincarnation and felt that I was returning to Japan from a previous life. The Noh Sensei (Master teacher of Noh drama and singing) asked me, “How does it feel to be back in Japan?” The geisha from Kyoto who mentored me had me walk in her maiko (young geisha in training) sandals to see what I would remember when I wore them. Walking the streets of Pontocho, the geisha district where my novel takes place, was non-stop deja vu.

My 400 mile trek in the Nepal Himalayas was a spiritual quest. I write about this in Letters from a Sacred Mountain Place: A Journey through the Nepal Himalayas, which was published two weeks ago. My new book takes you into the mountains, with stories, poems and 53 color photographs. My early readers have told me that my new book has a similar feel to Blackberries, especially with my “Buddhist friend,” who is like the inner lover in Rumi’s poetry.

3. There has been much dialogue about the risks authors take when writing outside of their nationality, gender, sex, or even period of history. Yet Yukiko’s and Kenji’s voices are authentic and every scene within this book is believable. How much research went into crafting the elements within the dialogue to create believability? For instance, knowing the various Japanese musical instruments and art techniques of the day, or describing the temples.

I believe that as human souls, we have lived in many times and places. But yes, I did a tremendous amount of research. Years ago, I was drawn to a book by Liza Dalby called Geisha. It’s the definitive anthropological study of the geisha community of Kyoto. I’ve also written several scripts for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, multi-image presentations to introduce their traveling exhibits. These included “Footsteps of the Buddha,” to introduce an exhibit of Buddhist art and sculpture, and “Japanese Ink Painting,” an exhibit of the Japanese Sumi-e artists through the centuries. Yukiko, the geisha in my novel, is a Sumi-e artist, and this is how she meets the young monk, as part of her training. My research for LACMA educated me in the subtle aspects and techniques of Japanese ink painting. My book also has a subtle layering of Tibetan Buddhism and Kabbalah, which I have studied.

After I began writing my novel, I had a hunger to read everything I could find about Japan, Japanese art, Zen Buddhism, and the geisha community. I also had guidebooks and maps so I knew the shrines, the streets, the rivers, the mountains.  I worked with two Japanese advisors, who were students at the university in Iowa where I was teaching. Izumi Nakamura made lists for me of names appropriate for my characters in the late Edo period. I would give her the sound I wanted, and she would give me a choice of names with those sounds. She also made lists of flowers and trees that grow in Japan. Paul Shimura shared his experience growing up in Japan and saved me from a few cultural mistakes. In the late Edo period, there were no mirrors. People used water to see their reflection. No clocks – people told time by the ringing of the temple bells. No mangos in Japan – use a persimmon. He never gave me praise – which is the opposite of the way I teach – but made sure I stayed within the Japanese culture as I wrote. Later, when I went to Japan, Izumi hosted me and translated.

Before completing the novel, I knew I had to go to Japan and spend time in the geisha community. When I wrote to Izumi, I did not know that the Japanese people revere their teachers or that I was her favorite teacher. Izumi invited me to stay with her family, and she offered to travel with me to Kyoto, introduce me to the people she felt I should meet, and translate, since I don’t speak Japanese. She offered to plan my whole visit, and as an art-centered person, she wanted every day to be beautiful. At that time, she was studying music with a Noh Sensei who lived in Kyoto. Her Sensei arranged for me to be mentored by a famous geisha in Kyoto – you can find photographs of Masukiyo on my website,   If you enter the pages that feature Blackberries in the Dream House, I share a lot of information.

It is almost unheard of for a Western woman to be allowed into the geisha community, but as a gift from the Noh Sensei, that door opened for me. Izumi asked three of her friends to come with us and help her with the translation, as she had never become completely fluent in English. Masukiyu, the geisha who mentored me, shared many things about her life and answered provocative questions. She has a beautiful singing voice and has entertained visiting dignitaries and the Prime Minister of Japan. Everything about her is deeply feminine and artistic – her lovely voice, the way she moved in her green silk kimono, and her skill in making everyone feel comfortable around her. Even the simple act of watching her serve green tea and mochi was deeply pleasing. Before I left, she asked me to try on her maiko sandals to see if I would remember anything. They fit my feet perfectly.

Geishas take the mystery of being a woman and push it all the way to the edge. They are artists and feisty independent women. If they have a lover, it is their choice. Blackberries in the Dream House is narrated from the soul of the geisha, but what surprised me most when I was in Kyoto was how well I knew the monk. I went to Buddhist and Shinto temples every day, but as I approached Ryoanji, which in older times was called Oshidoridera, I immediately knew that the monk lived there.

And about the musical instruments . . . When I was writing about Japanese ink painting (sumi-e) for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, I listened to every recording of Japanese music available in San Francisco at that time. I know the instruments; I know the way they sound.  Also, because I am a cellist, I know the discipline it takes to learn and master a musical instrument.

My book has been praised as having an authentic Japanese voice. I think you have to love Japan to do this, but I don’t think you have to be Japanese. I think the novel feels authentic to you because it comes from such a deep place inside my soul.

4. The eroticism and spirituality weave together flawlessly. Did you intend to write such an erotic love story?

The whole process of writing a novel is mysterious to me, but the weave of eroticism and spirituality is at the center of the way I view the world. I believe that sexuality is sacred and can open the way to the spiritual. As you can tell from reading my novel, I don’t believe in a separation of the erotic and the spiritual.

One more thing …  I was living in a spiritual community when I wrote this book. Many of the men in the community thought they were monks or tried to be monks, even though they were not this way by nature. It gave me a lot of material for this book. I think many people who are deeply involved with a spiritual path get confused about their sexuality. When Blackberries was featured in Tricycle magazine, a popular Buddhist journal, their topic was “Where is the Edge?” They used a chapter of my novel to explore this.

5. What/ who are your influences?

As a poet, my major influences are my teachers – Stephen Dunn, Kathleen Fraser, Robert Bly, and Daniel J. Langton – and the poets I love – Rainer Maria Rilke, Mirabai, Rumi, Kabir, W.S. Merwin, Mary Oliver, Jane Hirshfield, Thomas Centolella, William Carlos Williams, Yehuda Amichai and too many others to list here. Because of Robert Bly’s teaching and his translations, the Spanish language surrealist poets have been a powerful influence – Pablo Neruda, Antonio Machado, Cezar Vallejo, and Juan Ramon Jimenez. My life is filled with poetry.

With fiction, I’ve been strongly influenced by magical realism, the Spanish language poets and novelists, and authors who do similar things in English: Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude; Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate; and anything by Tom Robbins, but especially, Jitterbug Perfume. While writing my novel, I also read Damage, by Josephine Hart, as a model for writing with short chapters; and novels that gave me permission to go way out there, like Hard‑Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, by Haruki Murakami. 

Pierre DeLattre, author of Walking on Air and Tales of a Dalai Lama, was a major influence. This is what he wrote about my book: “What would happen to us if we were to undertake the discipline of turning our life entirely and self‑consciously, into a poem? Through Yukiko, who becomes both a contemplative Buddhist and a geisha skilled in the refinements of sensuous pleasure, Diane Frank allows us to live within the soul of a young woman who has undertaken to create a life imagined and expressed as a poem, in every moment, waking and sleeping, making love or meditating. With its power of language, Blackberries in the Dream House will seduce many readers into considering whether a prosaic life is the only choice we have.”

6. Do you have advice for other poets who want to make the leap into lyrical fiction?

My huge breakthrough came when I realized that to write beautiful prose, you need to work the language the same way you work every line of a poem. Sentence by sentence, I did this. Since I am primarily trained as a poet, I had two rules while I was writing – one extended metaphor per chapter and every sentence has to be beautiful. I worked the language line by line, the same way I work the language of a poem. 

I feel that a novel, like a poem, is a magic spell. As an author, I feel a responsibility to take the reader to a positive place by the end of the book – regardless of where I’ve taken them during the journey.  Most of my books have a long dip into shadow material at some point in the narrative, but I like the bring the reader back up transformed.

I use an intuitive writing process instead of planning the whole book in advance. In that way, the book surprises me and delights me as I am writing it. There are times when I finish a chapter and start weeping about what just happened. And times I am filled with gratitude. When I start writing, I fine-tune the previous chapter, and then ask myself, “What comes next?” Then the soul of the novel starts speaking to me again. It’s a mysterious and wonderful process. The other thing – since novels take more time than poems, you need to put yourself on a writing schedule.

When I began writing Blackberries in the Dream House, it felt like remembering something. But early into the book, the characters took over and created their own lives. They did unexpected things and frequently surprised me. The inner world of each character flooded through me day by day until my life became transparent. My visions, conversations, and dreams poured into the novel. I felt like I was Japanese as I was writing, and over time the novel became large enough to embody every important image and insight I have ever known.

My major advice to all writers … Make your writing a messenger for what is in your soul. Work your language so that it is powerful and beautiful. Work each line until every line sings.

I hope you enjoy my novel, and I would love to hear from you. I’m available to come to your book club, your favorite book store, your writers group, your library, or a university where you live. To schedule readings and workshops in your area, please get in touch with me!