Category Archives: WORDS

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?

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Becoming a FIERCE Female

machureversenamaste

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!

My latest in MindBodyGreen :)

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I’m thrilled to share my recent article published in MindBodyGreen.

This stems from our Easter trip to Honolulu when I was able to visit an organic farm that also provides college scholarships and training to Hawaiian youth. I was conducting research for my next novel (Not a book about the Hawaiian region, which the MBG editor incorrectly inserted into this article, lol! But another novel (fiction) that happens to have a huge chunk of the story occurring in the Western Hawaiian mountains and on a co-op farm.) The boys and I spent a day on the farm that is backed by Michele Obama and Jack Johnson for its efforts to help impoverished youth garner education and to boast the health and wellbeing of all Hawaiians.

Here’s a link to my article that is the beginning of MBG’s summer series about travel with a purpose. Click the link below. Mahalo. L xo

Transformative Travel: How A Trip To Hawaii Changed One Family’s Entire Food Philosophy

 

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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treetops

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

Want to Get Published? Sell More Books? You Need This: Q&A w Mike Larsen

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Feeling a little fatigued or overwhelmed by the sheer amount of publishing advice out there today? There are so many options that it can leave us creative types wanting to bury our heads and surrender. But that’s not an option. Whether you plan to self publish or to garner an agent and secure a publishing deal—small or big house—you need to get on top of your own brand, marketing plan, sales goals, and platform. It’s a new world order demanding that we balance our time between business and creating. It’s not easy for everyone to juggle. Which means that some extremely talented writers may push out a book that fizzles out with low sales, making it more challenging to publish later with traditional houses. If that’s happened to you, don’t give up until you consider all the other areas to your writing career that you may not be on top of yet. For advice, I turned to Mike Larsen, author, agent with Larsen-Pomada Literary Agency since 1972, and currently an author coach.

I met Mike at the San Francisco Writers Conference (SFWC) this past February. If you don’t know Mike, and you’re a writer, you need to get to know him and his work. He is the author of How to Write a Book Proposal, which is in its fourth edition and has sold more than 100,000 copies. He also wrote How to Get a Literary Agent and coauthored Guerrilla Marketing for Writers: 100 Weapons for Selling Your Work. Mike and wife Elizabeth Pomada also coauthored the six book Painted Ladies series about Victorian houses, selling more than 500,000 copies. As agents from 1972-2015, Larsen-Pomada, sold hundreds of books to hundreds of publishers and imprints, before declining to accept new clients in 2015. As an author coach, and co-founder of the SFWC, Mike speaks at writing conferences across the country and firmly believes writers need to support and network with other writers.

Being on both aisles of publishing as an agent and an author since the 1970s—as well as currently coaching authors—Mike has a wide-range view of the industry and solid, positive advice. Today’s marketplace demands that authors do more than ever to make their books succeed—even when securing a book deal with a publishing house. For many, it’s hard to navigate time spent on business and promotion (and what that looks like or costs), verses time spent on the craft (why we are doing this in the first place). Time spent on promotion can often induce fear, thwarting, or delaying, time spent on creation. This is why inspiring writers conferences where experts such as Mike speak, are so important. (See Mike this June at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference.)

 I firmly believe, as Mike does, that writing is a life-long, ever-evolving career. You and I are already a success if we love what we do and have found the way to carve time out every week to create. Control what you can, with a positive mindset, and embrace Mike’s belief that “Now is the best time ever to be a writer.”

         Skeptical? Fearful? Daunted? Then this Q&A is for you!

Q: Friends who self publish and have not broken even financially moan about how much money they invested in marketing, editing, cover art and design, SEO optimization, travel, promotion and printing. I suggested they teach for additional income. What advice do you have for them?  

MIKE: Writers have more ways to earn money from their books than ever: movie, audio and foreign rights; a blog or newsletter that attracts advertising. For nonfiction authors, speaking, coaching, consulting, training for individuals and groups, online or off, may be a possibility. Get to know other authors in your field and see what they are doing. Maybe you can partner with them.

Q: I’m assuming that you are not just suggesting submitting to online writing contests, but are referring to crowdfunding publishing options and Patreon?

MIKE: They may be able to bring in additional funds through those tools. But an author needs to learn who his/her readers are, where they are, and reach them on the platforms were they congregate: video, podcasts, or blogging, and social media.

Writers need to go events. They can give readings or interviews, attend book clubs, in person or by phone or Skype. Whether writers self-publish or sell their books to a publisher, the challenge of promotion will be mostly on their shoulders. Big and midsize publishers expect authors to be on top of their promotion. Being as visible as possible in as many ways and places helps sell books. Writers have to look at building their platform as an investment in their career.

Q: Some of my friends cringe at the idea of using Patreon as an additional revenue stream, as if it is the equivalent of begging.

MIKE: It’s high-tech patronage. Hundreds of years ago, it was fashionable for patrons to support artists whose work they enjoyed. Patrons have a deep appreciation for the arts: for playwrights, authors, painters, musicians. One must build up a following first. Then fans will want to contribute to help you keep writing. I think it is brilliant, especially at a time when writers are often expected to write for free. Writing is a noble endeavor that takes time, skill and effort. It deserves support.

Q: As a former agent and now a coach, where do you see writers most often slipping up? What are the most common mistakes writers make?

MIKE: New writers usually have no platform or promotion plan. They have to know more and do more than ever, including building communities of fans and writers. The moment you decide to write a book, maximize your visibility platform. They need clear writing and publishing goals. How big a house do you want? Do you want to self-publish? How many copies do you want to sell? At what price? Be consistent in how you communicate, building a brand to create your identity as a writer.

Q: It sounds like you’re saying writers need to take charge of their career and treat it like a business and write a business proposal.

MIKE: Yes. And it’s also important for writers to stay visible and accessible. Go to events. Support other writers, network, stay engaged. There are so many opportunities for writers to build communities of fans. But they have to be both writers and merchants, and balance between the yin and the yang of creating and writing with sharing their passion for the value of their books.

Q: Any other advice to budding authors trying to publish traditionally?

MIKE: Agents and editors need to know two recent, successful books that prove that your book is salable. Publishers are relying on authors. Prove that you can promote the book. The bigger the house you want, the more they will expect of you. If you’ll be happy with a small house, platform and promotion aren’t as important.    

Q: Parting words of advice?

MIKE: You can do anything you want. Social media can make any book sell. Be clear about where you want to go and the best way to get there. Assume it will take you five books to build an audience. Find an author to model your career after. Keep turning out books that sell each other. If you love what you do and keep doing it, nothing can stop you.

 

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

Thank you Erica Verrillo!

AND THEN I READ THIS TODAY. Coincidence? I don’t think so. I’m sharing this post by the uber helpful and inspiring Erica Verrillo, “For Writers, Rejection is a Way of Life.”

She lists painful portions of rejection letters that famous writers have received over the years from agents before securing a publisher. This list includes JK Rowling, Jack Kerouac, Anais Nin, DH Lawrence, and other award-winning, authors whose novels went on to sell millions Erica reminds budding authors that rejection is a way of life and that agents have no earthly idea of what will actually sell in the marketplace. The entire process is subjective and we need to Keep going. But man, some of the rejection letters she published, are amazingly critical and harsh.

 

For instance, William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies, was told this by an agent who turned down the novel: “this is an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.”

Ouch.

Stephen King was told this in regards to his query of Carrie: “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.”

Um, ok.

And Joseph Heller got this thumping NO in regards to Catch—22: “I haven’t really the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say… Apparently the author intends it to be funny — possibly even satire — but it is really not funny on any intellectual level … From your long publishing experience you will know that it is less disastrous to turn down a work of genius than to turn down talented mediocrities.”

Wow, shocking isn’t it?

Check out Erica’s post for all the insane rejections that popular authors have endured before finally getting published. Thank you Erica for posting this. And, if you’ve never been introduced to Erica, check out her blog which provides helpful tips for self publishing, as well as lists of agents and writing contests accepting submissions.

Stay positive. 🙂

 

Rejection Sucks

holdingbaby

I love this picture. You can literally feel this new dad’s love for his newborn can’t you? It’s so precious. As an artist and writer, my books feel like babies to me. They aren’t true stories, but fiction often digs deeper to the underlying feelings and truths within our inner lives. They reveal a bit of our soul’s path. So when an agent rejects our work, even if they didn’t read it, that rejection will sting. It’s just part of the process.

I’ve come to believe that all artists have to feel these emotions, pause, take some time off, then get right back into the arena again. Feel the fear then take baby steps forward anyway. What I don’t agree with, is swallowing the hurt feelings and leapfrogging intellectually into a fake persona of gratitude and bliss. I’ll explain. Yesterday I spoke with a friend who has a degree in spiritual psychology. As I was telling him that the query process deflated me and inflamed my insecurities, he interjected that I needed to explore my judgements based on past experiences. Well, the query process is hard, I replied. Before I could elaborate, he then asked, “Is it hard? Or is that the judgement you choose to live by based on past experiences?”

I SO get where he is coming from as I do believe that most humans live a pseudo Pavlovian life, trying to avoid repeating things that they decided hurt, or is scary from the past. Sometimes it’s tragic, like not dancing or traveling or dating due to past hurts, anxiety created by ‘stories’ or pre-determined outcomes. BUT, and I say this will so much respect, I disagree with this expert when it comes to trying to get my book published.

The query process hurts. There’s no way around that. Am I wrong? Since I finished Between Thoughts of You I’ve received 4 rejections from agents. Now a few others and a publisher are still considering it, but the rejections still give a walloping thump to my confidence as a writer. EVEN if they didn’t read a word of my writing.

For instance, on Thursday the president of publishing agency rejected my synopsis and pitch saying that she was ‘extremely selective’ based on her list of established authors and for that reason she wouldn’t be asking me for a writing sample. Interestingly, she responded to me within a day and thanked me for a great pitch and for doing research about her and thought I was talented, so she strongly encouraged me to pitch one of her junior agents. Ok, ouch. It was a bizarre rejection. I tried not to get into my ego, but I felt as if I was holding my baby in my arms and she had thrown it into the trash before even looking at it. I’m selective too. I didn’t think her junior agents, most just out of college, would have the contacts to help me get published. I wondered why she had told someone at Publishers Weekly that she was open to queries from new voices, as it sounded like she wasn’t, or had changed her mind.

So, I needed to feel the sting of that rejection and then distract myself by taking a day off from pitching. I’m not giving up. And intellectually I know that maybe she and I aren’t in alignment and that I’ll find an agent who will read my writing and who will feel strongly that I do have some talent and have two other novels under my belt with another on the way, so can be pitched easily to publishing houses. Right? Intellectually I understand that I need gratitude for the process. But, stuffing emotions so I can put on a spiritually evolved persona, doesn’t do me any good. One of my friends said, “What a blessing! The Universe is sending you the perfect agent who will be completely in alignment with you. BE HAPPY!” Um ok. But can I at least feel this disappointment first? Why are so many Americans afraid to feel?

Kind of like my other friend last night. He wanted me to call into question all the judgements I hold about the query process, insisting that the mind is powerful and I could just think it into a fun process. Ok, yes the mind is powerful. But so is the heart and our world of emotions where my creativity lives. Let me feel bad for one day regarding this rejection of my baby, I won’t wallow in the sadness, but I think I need to feel it.  I’ll get back into the arena and pitch another agent next week. We really do need to feel and move through the feelings, don’t you think? Not being allowed to feel, like many of us in our childhoods, just builds up a lot of resistance and anxiety that lives in our tissues and demands to come out somehow, someway eventually. It creates an unauthentic existence in my mind. Like a woman smiling and laughing and saying how blessed she feels as she’s burying a child. It just doesn’t work that way. Every rejection calls into question whether I should continue writing and birthing new babies, or just bury the ones I have with the understanding that maybe, just maybe my writing isn’t good enough. And that, my friends, is painful. There’s no way around it.

So today, I feel a bit better after a day off. I’ll take the weekend to just breathe, hang with my boys, teach yoga, I’ll get back at it on Monday. I will take my friend’s advice on this point. When I said I wonder when I’ll get my signs that it’s time to give up on trying to get published traditionally or venture into self publishing, he advised me to pause and not force anything out of fear. I won’t change the course of my goals based on this one rejection. I’ll wait, give myself some time, and then see if I feel any different. Self publishing is daunting for this FT single mom as I feel as if I’d have to give up my paid jobs of teaching and freelancing to dedicate myself solely to it, while also investing to pay for it, and that pulls me out of creativity and into self promotion with less money coming in… which is daunting for me…

Any of you writers out there know what I’m going through? Any advice? How did you navigate this choice? Chime in! I could use some words of advice from experience, instead of criticism for allowing judgements to filter into my statements, lol.

Love & light ~

Laura

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

blackberries

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!