Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Will it go round in circles..

Unless it’s Aaron Sorkin writing soaring rhetoric to be delivered by Martin Sheen, few State of the Union addresses will be remembered for more than a news cycle or two except by those politicians who use them as ammunition in the next election. SOTU speeches (everything is an acronym these days, of course) are rarely more than cheerleading or conciliatory words to bring a divisive people together, but just as likely to be an in-your-face diatribe that ratchets up rancorous partisanship so even less is accomplished in Washington than usual.

I don’t know if this year was anything out of the ordinary; a glance at the headlines would say not. I freely admit I didn’t watch the President’s address. After allowing myself to be drawn into the ‘hope and change’ promised during the election, only to see that hope crushed and the change watered down to business as usual, my disillusionment with politics is complete. Democratic, Republican, or (shudder) Tea Party – none of the established systems offer anything in the way of the so desperately needed real changes. Big business rules; mercenary capitalism trumps community good; and the little guy is only a rung on the ladder to boost the wealthy up another notch.

So be it. I’m done bashing my head against the proverbial brick wall. I’ll focus on making my corner of the world a little better place and leave the partisan turmoil to those who thrive on angry commotion. Regular readers will know I’ve said this before, but the SOTU extravaganza is a depressing reminder why.

Instead of wasting two hours on yet another scene of political grandstanding, where the media is more concerned about who is sitting where and how many times the speech is interrupted for applause than in what is actually said, I spent the evening with a caring, creative group of writers. We listened to each other, really listened, and offered support, encouragement and kind words. We debated, politely, about the relative merits of our work. And we left eager to share the positivity that such a gathering generates.

I seriously doubt much positive came out of Washington last night, but I’d love to be proven wrong.
There Are No Rules - Are You a Renaissance Soul? Use It to Your Advantage

Can I allow myself to function this way?! Hmmm....

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York;
And all the clouds that low’r'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried. ~ Richard III

It’s only January 22, and the ‘winter of (my) discontent’ is firmly in place, with no ‘son of York’ in sight for relief. Usually I make it until at least early February before succumbing to the doldrums. I’m tired of being cold, of shoveling snow, of shouldering layers upon layers of garments to ward off the chill. The muse has fled (probably in hibernation!); I have no motivation. The stacks of half-read books on my desk, nightstand, and end table keep growing as I start a new book and lose interest after twenty or so pages. That’s no reflection on the authors. The call of Persephone is strong – I should be sleeping, not creating new projects.

From my DailyOm horoscope today (although according to new calculations, I'm a Virgo, not a Libra...):

"Feelings of distress can plague you today, causing you to second-guess yourself at every turn. You may consequently feel frustrated because it seems that the important matters in your life have slowed to a standstill. Any effort you make to resume your momentum will likely be blocked by what appear to be circumstances that are beyond your control. Yet you easily can overcome these difficulties today by adopting a flexible approach to your personal and professional duties and responsibilities...Even when our forward momentum seems to slow to a stop, we can see the hidden blessings in our situation. Your slow pace will not distress you today when you are flexible enough to cope productively with the change in your pace."

Either way, it's pretty much a reflection of my current state of mind, at least the first part detailing the frustrations. I haven’t made it to the hidden blessings. Maybe if I can find a way to thaw out...

I’ve made it through yet another final rewrite of my current WIP, printed a copy and set it aside to proof (back to my bread analogy) for a bit. In my current state of mind, I’m less than thrilled with it, hoping that with time I’ll regain my earlier enthusiasm.

Suggestions, fellow writers, on battling stagnation? Or at least the cold weather.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

To sleep, perchance to dream...

Two hours, almost an hour, another two of fitful sleep, ending with a gasping jolt awake by a myth buster.

No, not Adam Savage or Jamie Hyneman, or any of their MythBusters’ team (Tory Belleci, Kari Byron, Grant Imahara - love you guys!).

But the jarring realization it really is possible to dream of one’s own death and live to tell about it.

Maybe the death was not explicitly detailed, but the graphic, very real sense of being in an out-of-control vehicle that hit the wall was vivid enough. The mental awareness of death was certainly there. We even commented on it, Geo and I, as we said our final good-byes.

Speeding. Out of control. Hitting the wall.

Metaphors we use every day to describe the hectic pace of modern life, taken from actions that can lead to physical death if we don’t pay attention.

Thoreau tells us, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

I want that, too. I don’t want to reach the end of the life I have left to endure in this physical existence only to realize, at that final instant, that I never truly lived the days, the hours, the minutes which give meaning and purpose to the constant struggle.

And maybe that’s part of it – to stop struggling. To stop trying to contain what is impossible to control, but to at least slow down enough to experience it instead of speeding past, eyes fixed on some distant goal that may never be reached. That journey of a thousand miles is about each individual step.

Slow down and live – another common mantra transferable from the highway to personal existence, another myth busted. There is no inherent need for speed.

And I could really use a nap...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Loving words

I find myself dwelling on my self-editing post from last week, because I’ve realized I carry that same habit into my online life. I have a number of Facebook ‘friends’ with vastly divergent ideological leanings, and far too many of my shared commentary, news items, etc., evoke passionate, often rude, response. The really rude ones I block; I don’t need more negativity in my life. If we can’t have a calm, rational debate about the issue at hand, don’t bother commenting. I try very hard not to post inflammatory items, only thoughtful opinions from various viewpoints.

Maybe too hard?

I’ve noticed that in the past few weeks, after a particularly disheartening series of exchanges with a family ‘friend,’ my habits have changed. First, I’ve blocked his posts. They are nearly always accompanied by snide tags that do nothing to further useful debate. They seem designed to incite argument. But now I find that, when it comes to my own posts, I’m second- and third-guessing myself. Will this news story offend someone? How will my ‘friends’ react to this editorial? Am I, in my random expressions of commonality with other writers, fanning the flames of the dissension I avoid on his wall? How productive is that, especially since I’ve chosen to avoid his thoughts? Maybe he is just as sincere in his desire to engage as I am, but simply less skilled in expressing himself. Or not.

Yes, I know, way over-thinking again, as always. However, I’ve found I keep coming back to the whole self-editing thing, at least for the past year or so (here: 120909 and here: 021110) as I’ve gotten serious about my writing, so it’s obviously an issue I need to resolve. Author and blogger Elle Strauss has a related post today called ‘Watch Your Mouth,’ so I know I am not alone in fretting over this.

I want my writing, and my life, to be open and honest as I share my journey in a search for truth in whatever form it may appear. Not a beat-an-opponent-over-the-head variety that will slam-dunk an argument, but a liberating freedom from falsity that can relieve the suffering we all face. In the Christian Bible, Ephesians talks about speaking the truth in love, something I try to do always. And in Martine Batchelor’s wonderful The Spirit of the Buddha, she talks about sati and sampajanna. Not only are we to be mindful and conscious of our actions (sati) but to “have a clear perception of one’s behavior” and its effect on the greater community (sampajanna). “One will therefore have to restrain certain desires... because one knows that it will be beneficial for each individual, who is also part of that community.”

That needs to be my focus in all this internal debate. Are my words – whether original or shared thoughts – loving and beneficial to my community?

Friday, January 07, 2011

Hey, I heard this hilarious joke the other day...a man, a dog and a fish walk into a bar. No, that’s not right. How about: Geo told me another groaner...a man, a dog and a fish walk into a bar. No, not that either. How about just: So a man, a dog and a fish walk into a bar...

AARRGGHH! Constant mental self-editing...why do I do that to myself? Before every phone call, every meeting, every Facebook post (okay, almost every one – sometimes I respond in haste, and usually regret it), I compose and edit and rethink what needs to be said and how to say it. And then of course there’s the constant replay after – why did I say that?!

I’m a writer, so when putting together a formal piece, be it correspondence, an essay, or fiction, I want to choose my words carefully. Then of course the editing and rewriting process takes forever because I’m constantly second-guessing those choices, but at least that’s on the computer screen. The only criticism I face at that point is my own.

Mental self-editing is a real drag in conversations. It’s (one) the reason I’m not so good at social chit-chat. What if I say the wrong thing? If I disagree, I may offend someone, or start an argument. I hate confrontation, so I tip-toe around delicate issues. What if my obscure Classical references lead someone to think I’m being condescending? I’ve been accused of that more than once, but it’s completely unintentional, I assure you.

Today’s DailyOm calls this kind of behavior a defensive mechanism. My earlier paragraphs seem to bear that out. I’m afraid – of offending, of being misunderstood or ridiculed, of eliciting scorn. So I edit, and over-think, and hesitate, and often avoid any such communication until the last possible minute, sometimes beyond. How many opportunities have I lost by being timid? How many great people have I missed connecting with because my brain freezes when I try to speak?

I’ve been rereading Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go, There You Are for a book discussion group at the Yellow Springs Dharma Center. It’s about mindfulness, being in the moment, being aware of each second of life instead of wallowing in the past or fretting about the future...all those things my self-editing is not.

Maybe now that I’m aware of my self-defeating practice, I can get past it and leave the editing in my writing, where it belongs – mindfully, of course.

A dead man fell from the sky...: A book giveaway to celebrate the Oz release of The Pericles Commission

A dead man fell from the sky...: A book giveaway to celebrate the Oz release of The Pericles Commission

I won Anthony Pacheco's giveaway of this great book last month - now's your chance to do the same! I like the cover of the Austrailian edition even better.