I’m giving up fear for Lent

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image from Tin House

Hidden away in a large plastic bin are years of my writing; poems, plays, short stories, articles, essays… even a finished book-length manuscript. Why are they stored in a bin and buried in my bedroom?

Because I am terrified of rejection.

I used to send my work out, but after twenty-five rejection letters I quit. I couldn’t take the disappointment and depression any more. Every rejection felt like a rejection of me, not my writing. I was the loser who poured her soul into every word only to have all that work stomped on by a heartless editor. My writing was worthless, therefore I was worthless.

My ego became intertwined with my writing. How can it not? Writing comes from the heart; it makes you vulnerable. You have to open a vein into your inner core and let the creativity pour out. No wonder every rejection letter felt like a rejection of my soul. I was just another girl who thought she could write like the millions of others who think they can write. I’m not special. I don’t matter and neither does my writing.

Vulnerability turned to depression and depression became fear. Never wanting to feel that much misery again, I put my writing in a plastic bin and shoved it behind my bed.

The other day, someone asked me what I was giving up for Lent. Not being a Christian, I just shrugged and said, “candy.” But what actually is Lent? And why should you give something up to celebrate?

According to The Upper Room, Lent is the season of the Christian year when Christians focus on simple living, fasting and prayer to grow closer to God. For 40 days, the length of time Jesus wandered in the desert alone, Christians let go of material things and focus on their spirit. For this ritual to work you have to give up something you really love, or are really attached to.

I am absolutely attached to fear. Perhaps this is a blasphemous way of observing a holy tradition, but as I said, I’m not Christian. However, I do believe ritual and symbols are important and that reconnecting to our sense of spirit is vital. Making a commitment to something greater than ourselves makes us better humans. Some people find that in religion. I find it in creativity.

For the next forty days I will submit my writing. Every day, I will send one piece of my work out into the world and will not think about whether or not it is accepted. Acceptance isn’t the goal, getting over fear is. And I will do this in the spirit of Lent. I am letting go of ego and sharing my work with anyone who may find it beneficial. I am strengthening my creativity and weakening the inner critic who tells me I’m worthless. And if I get 40 rejections, so be it. I’ll decoupage them and make a gorgeous collage.

 

 

An Introvert at Burning Man

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Dust storms. Non-stop music thumping inside my ears. Flashing, glowing, throbbing neon lights. So much light I can’t see the stars, even though we’re in the high desert where the skies should be black and clear. Hot sunlight bouncing off the white playa and slapping my eyes. The press of sweating, laughing, talking, dancing people all around me. Black Rock City: the city that beats Vegas in an insomnia contest.

What the hell am I doing here?

I came to Burning Man for the art and to see friends. The city is art, a temporary but living work of creative power. 70,000 people come together to build a city out of imagination and hard work. And then after a week, the city vanishes. There is nothing like it anywhere, and I wanted to walk the streets and experience all that raw creativity for myself. Maybe I’d take a little bit back with me.

But the constant press of noise and activity exhausted me. I longed for silence in a place where silence had been driven away. People come to Black Rock City to party and my desire for solitude was ridiculous. My camp mates were dear friends and I loved being with them, but I needed a little bit of calm. So I hunted for it.

On my first night, I found quiet at a saki bar. It was still filled with noisy partiers, but there’s something about warm saki on a chilly desert night that felt peaceful. The servers were cheerful and the other patrons relaxed. We were there to take a break from the chaos for a minute. A smiling Buddha statue above the bar gazed across the rollicking playa. It was the perfect stop to begin my plunge into the City.

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Throughout the city there are small, almost hidden, places of quiet. Not solitude, but quiet. I discovered tea houses where people could hide from the sun and wash the taste of dust from their mouths. A steam bath where you could  replenish your dried out skin. A wine bar in the back of a camp that served Pinot Noir under an awning covered in cooling tapestries. Small pieces of art scattered upon the playa that were just as beautiful as the larger installations, but attracted fewer people.

And then there was the Temple. It was always packed with people , but felt comforting. People spoke quietly, meditated, cried, and shared their grief. All along the walls and altars were tokens of love for people who had died. I stood with a crowd and silently cried, feeling the weight of a thousand broken hearts. But the weight didn’t crush me. Crying with everyone else felt less tragic than crying all alone in my room at home. We all grieve. We all struggle. The Temple is where we can give that grief away and find compassion.

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Of course I made a pilgrimage to Medusa. I kissed her metal lips and thanked her for her inspiration. I sprinkled her with a little water, more precious than perfume in the desert, and asked for her continued help as I rebuilt my struggling press. She shot fire from her snake hair. I wonder if that was a blessing or a curse?

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On the night “The Man Burned,” I chose to watch the spectacle from the third story of a camp a mile from the action. Standing on the platform surrounded by friends with the wind blowing dust across my face, I felt happy. Below us, the crush of 50,000 people pushed against the fires and filled the playa with beautiful chaos. I didn’t need to be down in it.

That’s the secret to surviving Burning Man as an introvert. Black Rock City is mainly built for and by extroverts. It stimulates every sense and pushes it to the extreme. Your skin will burn and crack, your eyes will sting, your ears will throb and your heart beat will triple. Your emotions will be manipulated and you’ll want to scream from joy and overexcitement all at once. Extroverts drop after a couple of days, completely exhausted. Introverts may want to drop after a few hours. My advice is to embrace your need for quiet and seek it. Stay out of the middle of the parties and crowds. The entire place is one giant party. Sipping tea in camp while watching a thousand bicycles race by is perfectly acceptable. When you’re ready, join the parade. Then jump out again.

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The city has a strange magic. I’ve found exactly what I needed when I needed it. On one night after walking miles with friends exploring art, I became bone weary. Introverts know the kind of tired I’m talking about. It’s not a physical exhaustion, it’s spiritual. I said goodnight to my friends who were planning to party til sunrise and hiked back to my camp. While dodging racing bicycles, I passed one camp and I heard the beginnings of “Dark  Side of the Moon.” The camp was quiet with a few people lounging or sleeping on couches. One couch was in a quiet corner and I sat down. I listened to the low music and looked out across the open playa where art cars cruised and people danced. Lights blinked and strobed against the blackness and I saw flames break the dark like lightning. I suspect the others in the camp were high while listening to Pink Floyd. I didn’t have to be. That’s a great thing about being an introvert: I don’t need drugs to get high. The beauty of the city and the soft music was all I needed.

 

 

A Pornographic Elastic Heart?

First, watch this video

Then tell me, what is it about?

Is it truly pornographic?

There are so many stories portrayed in this one dance piece, which is why I love dance so much. The movement of an arm and the twirl of a head can shout a hundred words in an instant. In this video, I see a father and daughter trapped by expectation and patriarchy, fighting each other for understanding. The father is hoping to tame his daughter so she stays with him and does what he needs her to. The daughter is trying to break him down, destroy him if need be, so they can both be free. That’s just one story.

Another story is a man fighting his inner demon. If he can only tame it, he’ll have peace. But at the end, even when demon is calmed, the man is still trapped. The grief on his face is heartbreaking.

It’s sad that the only thing so many people can see is a man in skin colored trunks trying to seduce a little girl. Is it the color of his trunks, or her tunic, or that he’s a grown man in a cage with a child? I agree, all of those things could make you uncomfortable, but is it impossible to see beyond the visual and give the art a chance?

The Elastic Heart video is brilliant because it is complex, daring, and controversial. It tells a story we can all feel, while challenging us to feel more.

Art requires fearlessness, not just from the artist, but also from the person experiencing the art. Break out of your comfort zone a little bit and you’ll be amazed by what you’ll discover.

If you want to achieve greatness, stop asking for permission

This is an image and quote from Eddie Colla. For more information, go to his webiste

Eddie Colla’s image is on my laptop as a reminder. I spend so much time doubting myself. Making excuses. If only I had the time, resources, money… What do I know? I don’t even have an MFA.

Enough.

Time to accept the truth that I am hiding behind poor self esteem and the only way to gain confidence is to try. I have a lot of knowledge and experience in publishing, editing and writing and it is time to trust myself. And so, I am actively seeking more editing clients as well as people who need a book shepherd. Plus, I’m collaborating with two other writing professionals to create something exciting that should help struggling writers. I’m looking for more teaching and speaking engagements. And I’m finally publishing my book on creating a publishing company. How ridiculous to write a book on self-publishing and then not publish it!

I’m never going to get over my insecurities and shyness, so I might as well accept that fact and go for it. I feel… no… I know I have the ability to help others.

So, what’s stopping you? What are you afraid of? Why are you hiding your own, unique and wonderful voice? Like I said, the fear doesn’t go away, but it gets easier to ignore.

Protests, Riots and Creativity

image by “Mighty” Mike McGee http://www.mikemcgee.net

I have been glued to Twitter all week, reading real-time updates from protesters all over the country. The killing of Eric Garner and the decision of the grand jury not to prosecute the officer who killed him has sparked a wildfire of rage and frustration. Most of that anger has been seen in the protests, and too many people calling themselves protesters have turned those actions into riots.

But many people have transformed their frustration into art. For example…

This song by Rising Sun All Stars  https://risingsunallstars.bandcamp.com

This spoken word poem by Tia Nache Yarbrough

This performance piece in New York’s Times Square

This image   http://heartacheandpaint.com/I-Can-t-Breathe

image by Damon Davis

image by Damon Davis

 

And this one  https://lockerdome.com/6272859261640513/6865575687363604

And this    https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7558/15331991803_36bc4215c1_b.jpg

artist unknown. please help me identify to give proper credit

Creativity is a force that can heal, scream, question, destroy and unite. Creativity can open minds and change the world.

Art has power. How will you use it?

One breath at a time? Of course, but first I need to study, clean, investigate and doubt myself.

Why is it so impossible for me to sit still? Is there such a thing as creative ADHD? I think I managed to focus on breathing for two days before my brain went back to habitual overthinking. So many questions to solve. Should I get a PHD? How can I help Medusa’s Muse grow? Do I keep publishing books, or stop? How can I find more editing clients? Do I need neck surgery? What is the name of the yellow moth in my front yard? On and on my brain goes, adding to a list of possibilities and defeats. If I’m not tackling a problem or creating something, I feel itchy.

That is why I forced myself to stop. For two weeks, I made myself climb out of my head and only do things that required moving my body. No writing. At first I felt guilty. Then, I felt relief.

Hyper-creative people forget the importance of rest. Driven by the need to express our inner selves, we burn bright and fast. And then we drop. Once we’ve used up all our energy, depression sets in because our thoughts are still rushing while our body is not. Or we try in vain to capture the right word to make the scene perfect, only to discover we don’t have the energy to type.

This is what I learned while forcing myself to stop: I will never run out of creative energy. In fact, if I rest my body, my creativity burns brighter.

Try it. Set down that pen, close the journal, shut down the lap top and go outside. Spend 7 full days doing nothing that requires you to be creatively productive. Instead of writing, make a collage. Work in your garden. Go for a long walk and absorb the sites, sounds and smells of your community. Cook. Read a book. But do not write. When you finish your seven days, you will discover your clarity and creativity has improved.

Right now is the perfect time to try it. NanoWrimo is next month.

The Writing Process – a blog tour

Thank you so much Natasha Yim for inviting me to the Writing Process Blog Tour. It’s fascinating to learn about each writer’s creative process. Click the link to Natasha’s blog and learn more about her process. Then follow the links backward for some great insights on writing.

But first, read my responses to the writing process questions.

1) What Are You Working On?

Currently I’m writing a middle grade fantasy chapter book for Goosebottom Press, but I’m sworn to secrecy on the exact subject. Let’s just say it’s about a really feisty girl with the power to change the universe. I’m also writing another play, this time set in the 1980’s. This new play is more dramatic than my previous two plays, but will still have plenty of comedy.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Writing for middle grade readers is a new adventure for me, one I’m really enjoying. After reading several middle grade books to familiarize myself with the language and nuances of the genre, I’ve learned that middle grade readers are more savvy and sophisticated than I realized. Your average 11 year old loves a scary scene. Maybe we can thank Harry Potter for that. I can’t really say how different my work is, because I’m still learning. All I know is that I love writing for this age group and hope to write more books.

Now, if you want to ask me about my plays, the number one thing that makes my work different is that I typically write more parts for women actors than men. It is a common complaint in the theater that plays seem to be written for and about men. Unfortunately there are far more actresses looking for parts than actors, so competition for good parts is horrible. I decided to do something about that. Plus, having a background in drama helps me create plays that provide theater companies what they need: parts for women and simple sets. Most of my plays take place in one setting, which means a theater company can save money on scenery design, or go full out on one set.

3) Why do you write what you do?

When I was a child, Zilpha Keatley Snyder was my favorite author. I devoured her books! When I grew up and started writing, I longed to write for that age group (middle grade) and explore some of those darker subjects. Now I’ve been given the opportunity to do so.

I started writing plays because I’m lazy. Writing description is hard for me, but dialogue is easy, so I followed my strengths and discovered I can create great stories with just people talking. And it helps me finally use my BA in drama.

4) How does your writing process work?

Typically, I start with a situation. I’ll get an idea about people in a setting and one of them wants something from the other. But at first, I don’t know who the people are. So I’ll start writing the scene, just letting the language lead the way. Suddenly, one of the characters will take center stage and her desires will become clearer. I’ll hear her voice in my head and once I have that, the plot develops. Now the real writing can start. Occasionally I might discover that the character I’m following isn’t actually the main character. A different character will take charge and the story might go a direction I didn’t imagine. How do I keep any control over this chaos of my imagination? By focusing on my original idea, that one scene that started it all. If I write too far from that original point then I know I have a new story and I have to decide to pursue it, or go back. But generally, the first image is so strong it guides me.

I don’t like too much of an outline at first; I like to follow the characters. Once I have a very clear idea of who all these people are and what they want,  I’ll plot the scenes. Ultimately, there has to be a story, not just characters interacting.

Before I even brush my teeth, I write in the morning for an hour. If I start doing anything else before I write, I won’t write at all that day. I’m also a mom and a publisher, so those two jobs take a lot of my time. If I say, “I’ll just start the laundry before I write,” I will start doing other things “for a minute before I write.” Then my writing time is gone. Let the laundry wait. Write!

The blog tour continues on June 9th with writers Shannon Drury and Kirsten Imani Kasai. Follow the links in their bios to visit their websites and next week you can read their answers to the Writing Process questions too. 

SHANNON DRURY is a writer, at-home parent, and feminist activist. She writes a regular column for the Minnesota Women’s Press and served six years as the president of Minnesota NOW. Her book, The Radical Housewife: Redefining Family Values for the 21st Century, will be published by Medusa’s Muse Press August, 2014. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.

KIRSTEN IMANI KASAI writes horror, erotica and sci-fi/fantasy. She is the author of the novels “Ice Song” and “Tattoo” (Del Rey/Random House), “Private Pleasures” (Renaissance), and “Rhapsody in Snakeskin” (Renaissance), a collection of poetry/short fiction. She is the co-founder of the horror/spec fic literary venture “Body Parts Magazine.” Her experimental prose/poetry piece, “mice,” will be published in the spring 2014 issue of Canada’s “Existere Journal.” In May 2014, she participated in a 10-day artists’ residency and festival in Romania, where she dined with the mayor of Borsec and read her locally-inspired poem “The Truth about Decay in Transilvania” in English and Romanian. She’s recently completed a poetry chapbook “The Atmospheric Mysteries of a Steaming Corpse” and is the recipient of the Anitoch Los Angeles Library Research Prize for her critical paper “Redefining Utopia: How Feminist Utopian Literature Can Serve as a Model for Creating Workable Futures.” Originally from Denver, CO, she lives in Southern California with her children and her partner. Visit her at www.IceSong.com and www.facebook.com/kirstenimanikasai.

And for fun, write your own responses and post them here as a comment, or on your own blog. I’d love to learn more about your writing.