Category Archives: spirituality

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!

 

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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!

Mysterious Temporary Amnesia

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Who am I? Why am I here? Where do I belong? What is my purpose?

These are existential questions that I find myself asking from time to time—especially after a crisis or the death of a loved one.

But can you ever fathom asking these questions literally? What if you lost yourself— utterly and completely—all at once? Imagine that suddenly you have NO idea who you are, or where you are from, and your surroundings are completely foreign to you. Your sense of self and location vanishes in a wash of temporary amnesia. What would you do?

Skeptics wonder if temporary amnesia is possible. Many say the condition must be a hoax dreamt up by those who seek an escape to their circumstances. Others argue that temporary amnesia is some sort of subconsciously-triggered chemical reaction within the brain in response to extreme stress, or blocked memories of violence or childhood abuse as they begin to surface.

Neuroscientists and psychologists really don’t have an explanation for the documented and treated cases of temporary amnesia that have occurred around the world. But they do happen. And I’m completely fascinated by them. At one point in my life, eight and a half years ago, I slipped for a few minutes, into the unknown. It was only for a few minutes, but it was terrifying. Walking my then 7 year old to a play-date, I said good bye to the mom and then turned to walk back home. Suddenly, nothing was recognizable. NOTHING. The street, the street name, the houses. I turned and walked down a street, lost, then turned around again, not knowing how to get back home, where my baby was with a sitter. I sat down and began to hyperventilate. Now I didn’t forget who I was, but everything else was a blur. I was under extreme stress, so I’m convinced that my brain was on tilt. I had just discovered the night before (via snooping) that my husband was continuing his affair that he had promised was over. I had little sleep, as my baby was colicky.  Later that week, before my husband had returned, I fell, while holding the baby. While on a walk, picturing him with his mistress, I just couldn’t breathe. I became confused and suddenly stopped breathing, passing out. I came through due to the baby crying, but walked home in a fog, getting lost several times. I didn’t have amnesia, but definitely a mild state of dissociation from severe stress. Those days are long gone, thankfully.

But I am forever fascinated by them, and the stories of others who lapsed into complete amnesia. In fact, they have inspired my next novel (working title Orbiting Jupiter). My protagonist develops temporary amnesia while on vacation, and for three months, believes she is someone else—while everyone in her family thinks she has been kidnapped or has died. That’s all I’ll reveal now, as I delve into mysterious aspects of the self she identified with for three months.

While my novel is pure fiction, real cases have existed and been documented. In all of them, the person who develops amnesia, suddenly becomes someone else. After a period of time, they just as quickly come back to their original identity, with NO knowledge of the past days, months, or even years, while living as someone else.

How is that possible? Is it mental illness? Is it past-life transgression? Is it some sort of worm hole in time that a person slips into? (Can you tell my son is obsessed with Dr. Who?!) Those who study physics will say time is an illusion anyway. Is it possible, then, that someone could literally slip into another period on their soul journey—either past or future—by mental slip, or accident? Or is it just pure unfathomable stress that triggers a brain-chemical reaction spurring this lost identity?

Take Agatha Christie’s case. The famous author developed temporary amnesia and went missing for eleven days. Already quite famous in her mid-30s, a massive manhunt ensued to find Ms. Christie, even recruiting other famous contemporary authors, such as Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, and Dorothy L Sayers. author of the Lord Peter Wimsey series. I’ve read a few accounts of her mysterious missing days, as nearly every paper covered it, including The New York Times. Theories vary as to why she ‘lost her self,’ but unequivocally, she did. Friday, Dec. 3, 1926 at 9:30 p.m., after putting her daughter to bed, Ms. Christie got into her car and drove away. The car, later discovered abandoned, but in good condition, showed no signs of accident. Apparently, Ms. Christie then walked to Harrington Yorkshire and began staying at The Swan Hydro Inn, under the name of Theresa Neele, one of her husband’s mistresses. According to all reports, she referred to herself as Ms. Neele the entire time. Eleven days later, someone recognized her at the hotel, yet she didn’t recognize her name or her pictures in the newspaper. After her husband picked her up, she had no memory of the past eleven days, nor did she know exactly who she was or who he was. Perhaps Ms. Christie snapped due to the stress of her husband’s infidelities, as well as her pressure to write more best-selling novels, while also taking care of her daughter? We’ll never know. The author never spoke about her disappearance.

Temporary amnesia, however, doesn’t always occur due to extreme stress. While doing more research, a friend sent me this New Yorker article about a woman who continued to experience temporary amnesia throughout her life. Hannah Upp disappeared for weeks at a time. In one instance, she left her Manhattan apartment to go for a jog. Wearing a jogging bra, shorts and running shoes, Ms Upp shifted mentally during the run. That’s all she reported. She went missing for weeks—her friends and family thinking she had been abducted. Tapes within an Apple store show the young woman looking at computers, still wearing her jogging gear, but looking a little raged. The school teacher had no keys, no wallet, no phone, no identification and must have wandered around New York City aimlessly. She was found floating in the East River, remarkably still alive, but not knowing who she was until she came through while receiving treatment in a hospital. Ms. Upp’s story is intriguing because in two of her cases, only mild stress could have triggered her lapse of identity. The beginning of the school year is hardly a major life stressor. Yet that was when these situations occurred. Both parents reported that she had no abuse or trauma in childhood. Her father, however, was an evangelical minister, perhaps she had a conflict within her faith? We’ll never know. Her last jaunt into the unknown, tragically is still happening, as she is currently missing and considered dead. Just before she ‘left’ Ms. Upp had said goodbye to her boyfriend and was helping the principal of the school where she taught in St. Thomas, prepare for another storm. The principal reported that Ms. Upp was responding to her in a monotone tone of voice while providing one sentence responses—something not usual for the friendly, chatty woman. Some speculate that Ms. Upp slipped into a state of dissociation before completely transitioning into amnesia.

Another bizarre case is that of Ansel Bourne (the inspiration for the character Jason Bourne). Ansel Bourne was an evangelical preacher from Greene, Rhode Island, who took a trip to visit his sister in Providence on January 17, 1887. However, for unexplained reasons, he ended up withdrawing his savings instead and traveling to Norristown, Pennsylvania, where he opened up a variety store and started a new life as Albert J Brown.

When Bourne woke up on the morning of March 15, he had no idea where he was. In his mind, it was still January 17 and he had no memory of being Albert J Brown or owning a variety store. Ansel found his way back home and back to his family, resuming his life without any recurrences of Albert J. Brown. It was documented that he had suffered from a psychiatric disorder described as a ‘fugue state.”

What do you think? Is it possible to just suddenly forget who you are? Can a person slip into another identity and over time come back to their original one without any memory of the lapse? And if so, how do they pick that identity? It’s a mystery. And one I’m exploring. I hope you’re becoming as intrigued, as I am!

Laura

 

 

When Did You Last Have a BIG HUG?

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Photo by: by ラルフ – Ralf RKLFoto

When is the last time you received a big bear hug? The kind that doesn’t release instantly? The kind where you feel accepted, supported and loved for who you are?Fake, pseudo LA hugs where a person lightly touches your shoulder-blades and releases, while looking away to see who witnessed it, doesn’t count! I mean, good friend hugs.

And when did you last give a big bear hug, and to whom?

Hugs are so healing. And when life is kicking you when you’re already down, you really need one. Amma the Hugging Saint lives her life giving hugs to relieve suffering (while also raising money to support charities working to reduce poverty and help the environment). But if you, like me, find yourself rarely hugging others deeply and authentically, ask yourself why? Or do you, like me, often pull away before the hugger is done, feeling embarrassed, or uncomfortable because you weren’t raised in a hugging, loving environment and aren’t used to letting others hug you?

I’ve come to know a few things with complete certainty. One is that if you didn’t receive hugs as a child, you need the power of hugs in your life today. Start by giving them and receiving them. Hug your children. Hug your best friend, sibling, parent, dog, deeply today. I gave my sister five hugs yesterday. It felt amazing!

To give and receive love requires compassion. In a me, me, and more me-focussed world of today, let go of yourself and your needs for just a moment and embrace mindfully, focussing on the other person with complete compassion. What a gift! To do so says: ‘I see your pain, I feel your pain, and I wish I could help.’

A big hug, like the best gifts in life, doesn’t cost a thing, and is exchanged on a deep, emotional level without the need for words.

This virtual hug is from me to you.

Have a beautiful Sunday.

Laura xo

To Self Publish or Not … One Writer’s Positive Experience

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Today I met with a talented poet and artist who self published her first book in 2017 with Amazon, for less than $2,000. That’s amazing. And it’s gorgeous. Shani’s Whispers of Grace is a delicious compilation of paintings and spiritual poetry, inspired by her time in silence “with Shiva” at the holy hill of Arunachala in Tamil Nadu. Mystical, lyrical and emotional, Shani could have sought out an agent and tried to publish traditionally. Instead, she chose to self publish and to hire a friend to create her cover. As we chatted today about her next book, now in the works, we both began discussing the pros and cons of the self publishing route. As most of you reading this know, I’m pitching agents and have written three novels, now working on my fourth. Intrinsically, I worry about the costs of self publishing and managing all the self promotion, printing costs, pr costs, platform management and search elevation, contractual issues, etc. by my self. I’ve always held agents in high regard and read experts advice such as Shawne Coyne (who published this article today lauding what good agents can do: What it Takes: Art + Commerse = Better Art.).

 

But after speaking with the kind-hearted and spiritual Shani today, I see that in the end, whether a writer decides to self publish or pursue traditional publishing, it all boils down to expectation and time. Shani is happy to let her book grow organically through word of mouth referrals (including mine, buy it please!). She allows placement to happen organically within appropriate settings, such as spiritual book stores, or yoga and meditation retreat centers. As Shani said: “if I touch one soul, I am happy.” She isn’t bogged down by what frightens me: all the time consuming PR, self promotion pitching and travel and speaking engagements. And her work is doing just fine since she kept creation costs relatively low.

I love her perspective and choices. Because in no way does her choice to self publish affect the quality of her craft. In fact, I think this journey of Shani’s has allowed her to focus 100% of her time on her art, and perfecting that art, without worrying about the business side. She lets her art speak for itself—and it does.

I love this last line of her poem Song of the Self: “It is only the Supreme non-dual “I” that destroys ignorance and pure Knowledge shines forth as Self.”

I think all of us writers could learn from Shani. When one continues to write for the sake of writing and for the gift it gives us by honing the craft—while enjoying the journey—the writing will intuitively and intrinsically get better. And it is more likely that an author will make deep connections with her readers as well. From the heart-felt intention of creating an inspiring piece of art, for the sake of art, that art, in turn, will flourish and the right organic opportunities will arise.

Thank you Shani for your words of wisdom today. I can’t wait to see your paintings and your next book!

Namaste ~

Laura xo

 

The Artists Guide to Finding Time Step 2: Trust the Universe

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Photo by Chloe Moore Photography

Hmmm, what does THAT mean, I imagine many of you fellow writers and artists asking. When a yogi says you need to “trust the Universe” it can sound vague at best and spiritually superior at worst. But as a writer for 25 years and a yogi for only 8, I can tell you that trusting the Universe requires specific actions in order to create more, produce more, and live in an abundance consciousness that can create a vibration of attraction and opportunities. And it’s a daily achievement, as each day will be different. But if you, like me, are focussed on your art and know that it is what you are born to do, then trust your instinctual voice and your universal guides—even if you aren’t completely sure you believe in their existence. If you do, you will banish your FEAR that is ultimately what is standing in your way in the first place, right? The FEAR of not being good enough. The FEAR of ‘who am I to think I can be X (insert: published, artist with gallery exhibit, musician with record deal, etc.)? The FEAR of what if I don’t make it? The FEAR of what if I can’t pay rent?

These are all serious concerns, for sure, but what you focus on grows. I’m not advocating everyone throw caution to the wind and go bankrupt, but there is more time in a day than we actually realize. There are ways to find more time to slip into a creative space on a daily basis. There are ways to minimize fears, produce more effectively and live with more joy—while you’re reaching for your dreams. This way, you can enjoy today, the moment, so much that reaching your goal almost doesn’t matter. Why? Because you’re living your art, living authentically, and enjoying your life more. Here are tools that are currently working for me:

  1. Reduce the hours at work in your day job so you can focus more on your art. Over the years I’ve encountered this lesson time and time again. At one point, I left a high paying consultancy gig with a New York PR firm. Why? Because it was taking up all my time and I couldn’t actually finish my 2nd novel. (The first I wrote in graduate school moons ago, so this was my second attempt to return to fiction in more than 12 years!) I also recently let go of co-managing a yoga studio because the hours were long, the work labor-intensive in the heat (a hot yoga studio) and I was exhausted after taking care of the kiddos every night and not actually writing. So now I just teach yoga classes and write for magazines when an editor reaches out. Yes, the money is less, but I finished my 3rd novel and am now jamming on my 4th! My days feel yummy. I enjoy the hours I write and I love the balance I’m creating.
  2. Start your day early and set positive intentions. If you aren’t a meditator, consider it. You can literally download free guided meditations from DavidJi (one of my favorite human beings) or from The Chopra Center and just listen for 15 minutes with ear plugs. All have messages to light up your agni (internal fire) and help you tap into your intuitive, creative center to manifest your dreams. We often have to let go of mental baggage, or negative fear-based programming from childhood, that trigger our less-than thinking. We have to let go of that and embrace our Divine right to infinite possibilities.
  3. Commit to your art every day, even if some days that means a mere 30 minutes. This is hard, I know. Some days I don’t write or work on my fiction. Those days are usually consumed with a sick child, or work from a day job that required extra time. But I’ve realized that the more I try to stick to this goal, the easier it is to achieve. By letting go of social media and 15 hours a week at a low-paying day job, I’m able to find an hour or more every day to write or pitch an agent, or enter a contest…getting me closer to my goal of publishing traditionally.
  4. Put aside art-focussed weekends. If you are single without children, you can really do this. 🙂 If you are married or a single parent, this can be a little challenging. I’ve asked my former mother-in-law to watch the children for weekends when I needed to get away, flying her across the state to help, even if I just went down the road to write. I’m also considering swapping kiddos for a few hours every other Saturday with another single mother who is an artist, so we both garner more time and our kids get to play. Find creative solutions!
  5. Take breaks to exercise & breathe deeply. This is important, especially when fear is creeping back in. If you can’t afford yoga classes or a gym membership, exercise in your house, or jog or take a walk. And breathe. Take 3 deep breaths, holding them at the top, then releasing slowly, visualizing all the stress melting away with the breath.
  6. Pay attention to the energy you surround yourself with. If you listen to the news first thing in the morning, or read your social media scroll, or check your email—before meditating or planning out your day—you may sink into a fear-based mentality. If you often talk with relatives or friends who doubt your abilities and don’t support your artistic endeavors, think about cutting down your time with them. Start to allow in other artists or supportive friends if you aren’t all ready. Find them via Meetup groups or start your own. Cut off the news and turn on music that inspires you when you’re home. Create the energy that fosters creativity.
  7. Read from the experts! Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird and many others, is beyond inspirational. Check out her Ted Talk video: 12 Truths I learned from Writing and Life. Steven Pressfield, author of 17 books, is another favorite of mine. The Art of War is Pressfield’s eye-opening book that explains why artists and writers often stop or get discouraged, just when they’re on the verge of a breakthrough. He describes it as the Universal Law of Resistance that manifests in procrastination, self-sabotage, fear, arrogance, self-doubt. His weekly advice can be emailed to you as well, a helpful tool of inspiration!

Believe in yourself. Be good to yourself. You are on this planet for a reason. I’ve come to believe that art is the universal language of love and compassion. It is a worthy endeavor. Anyone who tells you differently, must never have cried during a movie or at the end of a novel or when finding that perfect song that speaks to his soul. And isn’t that sad to imagine? To me, nothing trumps that soul connection via art.

Have a beautiful day. As always, thank you kindly for reading my humble suggestions and prose.

Laura x