Questions To Ask This Writer

In June, Brenna posted 10 questions never to ask a writer.

I’ve been meaning to write a response, and well, because I’m a turtle, here I am a month later. I wanted to write 10 questions I love being asked. Or, well, we’ll see how many questions I get to. I have a slight aversion to the listicle format. So it might be 10 questions. It might be 5. Brenna also posted 10 questions to ask.

Dahlia

If you run into me at a party, or on the bus, or in the cafe, here are some questions you might try asking:

  1. Who are your favorite writers? The ones who open my mind in a hundred new directions, starting with Madeleine L’Engle, Ursula LeGuin, and Nicola Griffith. If you want more current names, go check out my Goodreads account.
  2. What kind of stories do you write? Not in terms of genre, because apparently what I think counts as within a genre others don’t.
  3. What inspires you? This is waaay better than “where do you get your ideas.” Who knows where ideas come from. The idea market.
  4. What book are you recommending right now? Why thank you, I thought you’d never ask. Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley is phenomenal. It’s about two young women in the south dealing with the impact of desegregation. Also, Letters to Zell by my friend Camille Griep. It’s a retelling of the fairy tale princesses, investigating love and what it means to stray from the story lines that have been plotted for us.
  5. What do you think of going to conventions? Nevermind. I lied. I don’t want to answer that question.
  6. How do you find community and support for your writing? For me, it’s been a slow process. I tried in my twenties and didn’t find people, so I gave up for a while. Then I tried again in my thirties and got closer, but still not close enough. My most recent attempt has been far more fruitful, although I have a feeling this is going to be life-long process. There are tremendous people I’ve met on Twitter in particular, but going to workshops, going to cons, and going to local readings have helped me feel less alone, too.
  7. How’s your writing going? Brenna said she doesn’t like this question, but I like it. I’ve specifically told my friends to ask me, because it helps me. I don’t use it to self-flagellate, as I know many artists do. It’s like a reality check. Am I writing? Yes. Then the writing is going well. Or even if it’s going frustratingly, it’s still good, because I’m making the effort and trying.
  8. What can I make you for dinner? Seriously? That’s so sweet that you offered. Do you clean houses and do laundry, too?

Okay, I made it to eight. That’s as arbitrary as ten. And that’s what I got for you for now.

Share

A man, a plan, a canal ..

I’m a person who likes order. I like predictability. I like feeling in control. The first half of my life, I had a plan. Things went according to this plan. I had no reason to question why plans wouldn’t be a good idea. Until the plan stopped working. As soon as I no longer had a plan, I floundered. I believe they call this “your twenties.”

At the end of my twenties, I came up with a new!improved! plan. I went to graduate school. I learned things. I found work that paid better and was more satisfying, until it wasn’t. I left that job, spent a couple years working with a therapist, and felt that my life was getting back on track. I tricked my brain into thinking we had a plan.

Moore theater ceiling

Which leads me to today. From the outside, things are great! Awesome! I have a fantastic partner, a good job, and time to work on my writing. This was my latest plan. Get a job that supports my writing. Except … this plan isn’t working quite the way I thought. I felt I had set my expectations appropriately. It would take time to adjust to full time work and I probably wasn’t going to be writing A LOT. I’ve created a structure to support my writing – I meet up twice a week with friends. I’ve been writing, and mostly just wandering around in the weeds (cf. “floundering” above).

I thought more about my current dissatisfaction. Why was I so unhappy? I mean, my life is good. I realized it was The Plan. Plans come with built-in expectations, like old Craftsman houses with built-in cupboards. Unlike the Craftsman cupboards, though, these built-ins are often promises that don’t work out.

I thought about what Greg (my therapist) would say to me, when I was feeling like utter crap. “You don’t have control, but you have a choice.”

And then he would ask me:

What do you want?

Those four words seem so simple. It turns out I *always* know what I want. Kurt Vonnegut knew that. He said, “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” My desire is clear, and yet complicated by American culture. Many of the things I want are not what I was told were desirable. I have a strong desire to please others, but ultimately, I have to please myself. Not at the cost of others, but not by sacrificing myself either. This is a delicate dance for me. I yearn for a bit more narcissism, so I can stop caring so much about what other people think of me.

The other thing I know about myself is that structure supports me. I feel best and get the most done when I have structure. Structure. Plans. Control. I assume by now you are detecting a theme.

The problem is, these things aren’t working for well for me. I thought I just had to get through winter and I would feel better. (Yes, I’m still judging my feelings. That’s probably a whole other blog post. What if feelings were just feelings, and I didn’t have to categorize them?)

Back to the theme (another structure! The layers of meta run deep.) – what if I could let go of my plan and just focus on what I WANT? When I asked myself that yesterday, the miasma and shame and sadness started to lift (or maybe it was the handstand). I wasn’t a failure, just because The Plan wasn’t working. Some of you know I’ve spent some time considering what failure is and what it means to me.

What if failure is the inability to access and respond to our own desires?

I decided that rather than focus on the future (i.e. The Plan with its attendant expectations/results) I need to return my focus to the moment. What do I want? Like meditation, I expect (ha!) this to be challenging, but instead of pushing satisfaction to the future, I can focus on creating it in any given moment.

My good friend Kristin is a huge inspiration for me. She’s got a laser focus and she just wrote a post about focusing on what you want.

Mary Oliver asks:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

I’m replacing plan with want. What do you want?

Share

On Rejection

CakeSpy has a lovely post up about the process she went through when her book proposal got rejected. As an artist and creator, it’s incredibly hard to separate rejection of our work from rejection of ourselves. In my own process, if I am being true to my work, I put pieces of myself in it. These artifacts are extensions of myself, little arrows I shoot out in the world, with the hope they will hit their mark.

love every wish

It was when I got to this part that I recognized my own response to rejection:

But I’m not anorexic or bulimic anymore.
I let myself have the freaking cake, and raised it one by adding a cup of milk. And then, while I was eating that cake, I acknowledged to myself that I was deeply, deeply hurt.

In some ways, it felt awful “sit” with the awful, gnarly feelings of rejection. But even less bearable? Trying to ignore those feelings and then constantly feeling them on the periphery of my thoughts, lurking in the shadows.

When I can recognize that I feel hurt and can sit with those feelings and then articulate what I believe those feelings are telling me, I always come out the other side realizing that thoughts generated by those feelings aren’t true. Something happened recently and I felt awful. I went for a swim and let myself listen to the thoughts that arose. They told me I was unlovable. Once I stopped avoiding the pain and actually faced it, I realized those old beliefs aren’t actually true. I am loveable. I am worthy of love. We all are.

Learning to face those painful feelings was hard. I’ve already detailed what I learned from therapy. My conclusions was:

I had to learn that what I had to offer was enough. That I am enough. That I have value and what I have to offer has value. If what I have to offer doesn’t work for someone else, it’s not my fault. It’s not their fault. It’s just not a fit.

But I have another piece to add – or perhaps an addition to it’s not personal. I can think of two concrete examples where decisions were made behind-the-scenes that had nothing to do with the people who were affected. There is so much that we will probably never know about the decision-making process, particularly when it comes from an organization with a lot of people.

Cakespy also said:

By strengthening connections to people and things that don’t have to do with my work, I don’t have to place all of my self-worth on the work.

This is the other thing that rang like a bell. I make my best effort and put it in out in the world, but how the world receives it isn’t an indictment or endorsement of me as a person. It’s just a piece of information that what I’m offering doesn’t fit. It might have nothing to do with me OR what I’ve put into the world. It find that incredibly comforting, and I return to those examples as reminders that there are often reasons I will never know that have nothing to do with me.

I hope you find that a source of comfort, too, and I’m curious like Cakespy, how you respond to rejection.

Share

52 Photos: Gold

It’s been a while since I’ve done a 52 Photos Project post! I have a few moments and wanted to participate in this week’s prompt: gold.

This is a piece of gold leaf that was left on a ruin in Sukhothai, Thailand:

gold leaf

When I was in Japan, we visited a town called Kanazawa. There is a lot of work done with gold leaf there, and we got to see a demonstration. This man works with gold leaf and I was enchanted with all the dust that covered him – including his lips!

gold lips

Here’s a tiger lily from a hike I did in the Olympic mountains:
gold and purple

I cannot resist a dahlia bursting with color:

crimson and gold

Nor the green and gold bacterial mats in the geysers at Yellowstone:

gold and green

And finally, any excuse I have to share a Buddha picture, you know I will take it:

hand of the buddha

Share

Do. Try. Do be do be do.

At the beginning of 2014 my friend Louise Knight encouraged people to pick a word as their theme for the year. I loved doing it so much, I decided to do it again this year. Last year my word was return. That turned out to be a great word. It was the same idea as meditation. In other words, whenever I noticed that my focus had changed and I was distracted by something, I could gently return my attention back to what I wanted to create.

Last year, while working with my therapist on issues around fear, he told me: Curiosity is the antidote to fear. Armed with this knowledge, I began experimenting. I would try something out and see what kind of results of got. Fear leads to paralysis; curiosity can unlock that frozen state.

Failing is something queers do

This brings me to this year’s theme. Yes, I realize it’s the end of February, but I chose it at the beginning of January. I’m just now getting around to writing it up. I first thought it should be curiosity, but that wasn’t a verb. It didn’t impel me to any action. I considered experiment, but that too wasn’t compelling enough for me. And then I landed on the sticky verb try

Those you familiar with Star Wars will remember Yoda’s famous injunction:
“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Yoda gives this instruction to the young Skywalker after he watches his ship sink in the bog. For many years I subscribed to this approach. But recently I’ve come to realize that this sets up a false dichotomy: Do, or do not. There is no room for effort, for error, for learning by failing, which is how we all learn.

When I speak of trying, I speak of failing. I mean making the effort and not getting it quite right, but learning something with each round. There is a wonderful children’s book, The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires that describes this process wonderfully. There is a little girl and in her mind, she envisions the most magnificent thing. She sets out to create it, but her first attempt doesn’t hit the mark. Nor does her second or third. But in each attempt, she learns and sees something that she can adjust that will improve her product until she attains her goal.

When I try to do something, with focus and intention, and I see the result isn’t what I intended, I have hopefully learned something that I can apply when I go back to do it again.

I read in the book Art & Fear a story about a ceramics teacher who demonstrated this very concept I’m describing:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

By Yoda’s definition, those focused on quality were “trying.” I like to think of those focused on quantity were trying in the way I’m describing. Even young Skywalker kept making the effort. In today’s tech world, people talk about iterating. Would Yoda say, “There is no interate. Only do.”? I don’t know, but I like to think of him exhorting Luke to iterate!

Do, or do not, it’s not a zero-sum. I wrote last year about failure, and it’s the fear of failing of that keeps us all from trying. What if the first effort is a failure? Or the second or third or tenth? At what point do we define our efforts as a failure? For me, I’m going to put that at the end of my life, so I can have as many chances as possible.

We can all make the effort. We can keep aiming our arrows and drawing back the bows. As one of my yoga teachers says, “No effort is wasted.”

Share

52 Photos: Fragrant/This Smells Heavenly

This week’s prompt revolves around scent and fragrances. There were so many ways I could have gone with this, from various dishes that make me salivate to blossoms that make me swoon. There are scents that calm me, and scents that invigorate me. There are unsavory scents, of which I will not speak further!

At the top of my list is the daphne odora. This is a small cluster of blooms that radiates the most amazing scent. I think it smells like a hand lotion. If you stick your nose in really close, it gets pungent like a jasmine or gardenia, but from a few feet back, it’s pure bliss. I love this time of year in Seattle because I walk around, hopping from bush to bush and inhaling like I’m going to run out of air.

pink blooms

A few other blooms that make me swoon:

Sarcococca confusa or sweetbox

Sarcococca confusa

Lilacs

Lilacs

Mystery Blossom in Portugal. Would love to know if any of you know. When I smelled it, I just wanted to stay where I was and keep sniffing.

divine blossom

And finally, this pair of balsam pillows. My grandmothers always had them around their houses, bringing a little bit of the outside in. Now I have my own, and my collection is growing. We love it when we catch a whiff of that dry, piney scent.

Balsam buddies

Share

Wild Life

This week’s prompt from 52 Photos: Wildlife. I take so many pictures of birds, I thought I’d give you a glimpse of a few other animals I’ve captured in pixels.

An ibex on Mont Blanc, in France:

closer look

Great horned owlet at Nisqually NWR, Washington:

Great Horned Owlet

Otter in Yellowstone National Park:

streeeetch

Mangrove Skipper at J. N. “Ding” Darling NWR, Sanibel, Florida:

mangrove skipper

Pink and purple (and possibly dying) sea star, West Seattle, Washington:

pink and purple sea star

Share

52 Photos: Teal

I haven’t done a 52 Photos post in WEEKS! And I checked for the latest prompt and it was teal. I nearly died. I have so many teal things to wear it’s a little insane.

For your viewing pleasure, I present the accessories: a (new) pair of gloves, a pair of earrings, and this hat!

Teal

Other teal items I own that are not included: boots, a cardigan sweater, another hat, and a pair of pants.

I also love photographing birds, as you all know. I just happen to have two different teal ducks!

There this adorable pair of blue-winged teals:

blue-winged teal

And this pair of cinnamon teal ducks:

cinnamon teal pair

Share

What I learned from therapy

I feel like I could make this a super duper short thing, a medium thing, or a super looong thing. I’m going to aim for some happy medium, though.

For the tl;dr crowd, here is the distillation of what I learned and what I apply in challenging moments: Ask yourself: What do I want? Be honest (about what you want). Be kind (to yourself and others). Tell the truth.

Once we lose our fear of being tiny ...
Once we lose our fear of being tiny, we find ourselves on the threshold of a vast and awesome universe which dwarfs – in time, in space, and in potential – the tidy anthropocentric proscenium of our ancestors. ~ Carl Sagan

By the end of 2010 I was a worn-out husk of a human. I’d managed to leave my job gracefully, but not without paying a price. I’d lost all my self-confidence. I didn’t trust myself. I thought I was just exhausted and needed to rest. But after two years, it became apparent that rest wasn’t the only thing I needed.

I knew I was having problems when I was interpreting everything with the same level of fear. It didn’t matter what it was. My internal sense of things was waaaay off, but I could only tell by extrapolation. So I found a therapist.

There were many things that I worked on over the almost two years I worked with G:

  • There was learning to look for support. Everywhere I looked, I saw a threat. Learning to scan for support was HUGE.
  • There was the piece about needing to be seen. I’d learned at my previous place of employment that being my whole self was unacceptable (or had interpreted various signals that way). So I made the choice to stop sharing the parts I felt weren’t acceptable there. As anyone living in the closet can tell you, it’s exhausting. And demoralizing. So I worked on being brave and telling the truth when people asked me questions that I thought they didn’t really want to know the answers to. And guess what? I started having amazing conversations. And I don’t remember anyone running away, screaming, as fast as they could. But maybe I just blotted out those memories.
  • We spend A LOT of time talking about my feelings. As I joked recently, if I’m talking about my feelings, I’d better be paying you to do so. But seriously, I didn’t understand my emotional landscape. I felt totally out of control. I had to learn that it was a) okay to have feelings; b) okay to feel them; and c) okay to not act on them.
  • Which brings me back to fear. Everything I talked about ended the same way: “And then I’m going to die, alone, in a gutter on the street.”
  • Which is patently not true. Saying these things that I feared out loud took the power away, in a profound way. Saying them to a compassionate witness was life changing.
  • There’s a Part II to fear: the illusion of control. I hate feeling out of control. As I began to relax and breathe and learn to understand my feelings, I became less and less overwhelmed. For me, it turned out, my sense of control and safety were directly tied to my inability to understand what I was feeling. When I couldn’t understand what I was feeling, I felt out of control. In other words, my sense of control had nothing to do with my ability. Learning to be present in the moment, slowing down, and uncoupling my response from my reaction was probably the core of the work I did with G.
  • The antidote to fear is curiosity. I’ve been trying this one out. When I feel afraid, I don’t “whistle a happy tune” like Anna in The King and I. Putting on a brave face equals dismissing my own experience. Instead, I take my cue from Doctor Who. He is always curious, even when it appears that death is imminent. I’ve been experimenting and testing it out. Turns out, curiosity is a like a magic wand that releases the straightjacket of fear. If you are feeling gripped by fear, I encourage you to give it a try. Start with something small. Something that feels doable. You can do it!
  • I had to move from criticism and judgment to observation.
  • I was crabby about happiness, which I now find hilarious. So G encouraged me to consider what might satisfy me. So much easier for me to work with than happiness.
  • I had to learn what I value matters to me.
  • I had to learn that I am safe. Always.
  • I had to learn to bloom at my own speed, in other words.

Learning to pay attention to what I want in any given moment has been an interesting process. I’d say most of the time, what I want does not cause me to feel any internal conflict, so getting it is easy – or falls under the category of “wishful thinking” (like an extended trip around the world).

All of these things were layered over time, building on themselves. It was in this way that I learned to neutralize the things that I felt held power over me.

I felt broken and damaged, unloveable and lacking value. I had to learn that what I had to offer was enough. That I am enough. That I have value and what I have to offer has value. If what I have to offer doesn’t work for someone else, it’s not my fault. It’s not their fault. It’s just not a fit.

Solar blooms

I love that I picked slow bloom as the organizing principle for my blog. It gives me permission to focus on opening up in only the way that I can. I can let go of comparing myself to others and continue to return to my desires.

Share

Update on Liberated Life Marketplace

I’m still selling my cards (through January!) at the Liberated Life Marketplace.

I decided that in addition to offering up the dahlias, I’m also making sets using images from SE Asia, Japan, and Florida. Here are some sample images to give you some idea.

Japan

torii hall with lantern

Kinkakuji

orange pagoda, green hills

crossed knot

SE Asia

tree framing door

faces in stone

sunrise

Some variation on the apsara:

apsaras

Florida

brown pelican in flight

ibis

burrowing owl

So apparently Florida IS for the (snow)birds. I have a couple other images with birds – a snowy egret as well as a triad with an anhinga, roseate spoonbill and an egret.

Also have:

Triple dolphin action

And something similar to this one:

cypress reflections

Also, if you are in Seattle, I’m happy to meet up and hand off pictures, minus the shipping charge. Or if you don’t want to use PayPal, let me know and we can work something out!

Share