Is it ever a good idea to spit in the face of serendipity?

I was walking home from an appointment this afternoon when I decided to walk through the Public Gardens (a beautiful fenced in garden in downtown Halifax) and spend a few minutes soaking in some sun and reading Wizard’s First Rule, the book I was talking about in yesterday’s post.

When the alarm went off to notify me I had to leave for my next meeting I packed up my things, started off, and was stopped by a man who’d been sitting several benches away from me.  He told me he didn’t mean to bother me but was an avid reader himself and needed to know what I’d been reading.  This started about a 15 minute conversation.  I found out that the man was not only a writer himself, but friends with some local people who were high up in the writing and academic world, including a successful and internationally recognized local novelist.

When I first heard he was working on editing his own book, (the topic of which seemed very interesting to me) the thought popped into my head that I could let him know that as well as being a writer myself, I also provided editing services for other writers.  Should I offer him a business card?  I wondered.  I held back, feeling like it would be slimy or something to try to get a job opportunity out of a simple chance meeting in the park.

When he started talking about his novelist friends my desire to create a connection with this man grew even more – to improve the chances of ever finding a publisher for my own novel, I know it’d be good to have people in the business who could perhaps connect me to an agent or get a publisher to at least give my words a chance.  Something held me back though.  After a few minutes of friendly chatting I went on my way, losing the chance of what could have been a potential job contract or, even better, an important literary connection.

For someone in business for herself, I’m constantly being told about the importance of networking.  From what I understand, this tool is equally important for a novelist who, despite the joy of writing for writing’s sake, also hopes to be able to share her stories with multitudes of people.  Yet something almost always holds me back when opportunities like this one present themselves.  Is it because I’m legitimately scared of coming across as ‘slimy,’ as nothing but an ‘opportunist’ out to work situations to my own advantage, or is it some other fear or shyness that makes me hold back? Did I think when I offered my services this man would be insulted that some unknown girl probably less than half his age had the gall to think she was qualified to work on something he’s been pouring years into? A combination of both I imagine.

Sitting at home several hours later I found myself contemplating the situation.  From one side of it, if I had offered a card or some other form of contact would it have been likely the man would have been offended?  Probably not.  Perplexed, maybe – but at least the education listed on my card and my status as ‘Writer/Editor’ would show him I had some justification in thinking I may be able to help him with his work.  And if he was turned off by it, despite the possibility that he might see me somewhere in the future and think of me as an opportunist he didn’t want to be involved with, I would have been in the exact same situation I am in now:  No connection, no possibility of improving my situation or helping him to improve his by my services.  ‘Cause you know what?  Despite the fact that yes, I want to find more paid work so I can have more peace of mind to focus on my own creative work, I also am choosing that type of work because I like it, I’m damn good at it, and I care about doing the best job possible for people.

So, as for this reflection today – I’m not sure I have any real answers for myself or conclusions.  I’m not 100% sure of what I should have done with this opportunity or how I should have gone about doing it, but I’m definitely leaning toward the side that says, “Charlene, you should have just put yourself out there.  How many potentially serendipitous encounters do you think life is going to send your way?”

Well . . . I guess as always I’ll try to learn from this experience and perhaps, to increase the chances of meeting another stranger with literary connections or someone in need of an editor, start reading in public places more often!

Any words of advice from my readers?  What would you have done?

The Hero’s Journey

Wizard's First Rule

Wizard’s First Rule (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the exception of  The Hobbit, The Lord of The Rings, and The Chronicles of Narnia (which I got started on before I reached double digits), I haven’t read very many fantasy books.  I’m not sure why.  I loved both of them.  They took me to places my normal reading choices don’t go.  At one of my brother’s suggestion, however, I recently started reading Wizard’s First Rule, the first book in Terry Goodkind’s The Sword of Truth series. It took me a few pages to get into it, but I’m now thoroughly hooked.

A month or two ago my father sent me a link to a writing resource: Hero’s Journey. It’s a webpage that outlines for writers the steps a typical hero takes throughout their journey. I found the resource really interesting and although I seemed to inherently realize and incorporate many of the aspects of a hero myth, I also realized ways in which my ‘heroine’ was missing a few key steps that could strengthen the work, making it more believable.  In reading Wizard’s First Rule, in which the steps of the myth are so much more clearly represented (actually dealing with a hero, a magical world, enemies, etc.), I’m seeing the way in which the values of the myth, the way the steps affect the inner workings of the character’s mind, are so crucial to creating a hero or heroine who people can root for and connect with, truly wanting to follow them on their journey.

As I’m finishing the first draft of the novel I’m working on and about to do my first full read through; seeing what needs to be added, removed, and rearranged, I don’t think I’ll be adding any epic battles or wizards to the story of a young woman from rural Nova Scotia, but I will try to be more aware of the inner journey she takes and the outside influences that need to help shape that journey.

And who knows, if I get fully engrossed in the world of The Sword of Truth  maybe novel number two will actually have a magical world, fights to the death, and a dragon or two!

* Fellow writers – any stories of ways in which you’ve had fun incorporating the hero myth into works in a modern setting?

Never leave the playground

I watched a video today that had me smiling in moments.  It was about a 71 year old man , Steven Jepson, whose philosophy in life is “never leave the playground.”  For Jepson, that means keeping active, agile, sharp, and exuberant by daily play.

Jepson had me wanting to head outdoors and find somewhere to practice my agility and balance, but as night has fallen and I’m not in an overly safe neighbourhood, I’ll reflect on some other desires he gave me.  He says to people, “be bold in your life choices because it’s just going to make your life richer.”  Words that can apply to our physical choices of course, but words that reach a lot further as well.  How often do we think of that burning thing that’s on our my minds or hearts to do, or even that little spark of a desire we’ve always had and yet never really acted upon?  I think of my father (sorry Dad) who for years has talked about all the stories and story ideas he used to keep in his journals and about the novel he’s never written – and all the other people I’ve heard say similar things – Well, be Bold!  Write it.  I think of myself and how I miss acting so much since being out of school and yet though I’ve looked up possibilities a few times, I’ve never auditioned for a play.  Well, I say to myself – Be bold! Audition somewhere. (And I smile as well, because if you read my post yesterday, you know I’m being bold about one of those burning desires.)

Dear reader, think of your own life and the choices you’re not making . . . is there some way you can decide to be bold?  Even if you do ‘fail’, I bet Jepson’s right, I bet the growth and experience from trying will make your life richer.

And finally, another thought to leave you with from the energetic and endearing Jepson – not because it relates but just because I loved it – “There is beauty in almost every day in almost every person’s life and all you have to do is look for it.  It’s there, there to see and find.”

 

Following my bliss

For the first time in a well over a week I was able take a few consecutive hours to work on what will be my first full-length novel.  I’m mere hours away from having the first draft completed and unlike the last few times I went to write, when I often became stuck or lost or fearful that I wasn’t going to be able to make this work what it has the potential to be, today the writing flowed.  I couldn’t get ideas down fast enough on the page (I actually opened a new document once to write out a scene that I knew couldn’t come for several pages, but the heart of which I didn’t want to lose). Connections I hadn’t previously thought  of came to me, little ways to make the characters more real popped into my mind, and tidbits of foreshadowing that would draw my would-be readers in floated across the screen like little jewels.

It took all my discipline (and an adamantly grumbling stomach) to pull myself away from the keyboard, make lunch, and head back to the more practical and time sensitive work I knew I needed to finish today.  But the writing gifted me with one of those rare days when I feel like all my anxiety for spending so many hours on something that may never bring me income but that I call ‘work’ to justify the hours I’m not spending on endeavours that are more likely to keep a roof over my head and food in my belly is worth it.  One of those days when it’s not really even important whether the novel ever gets published, whether – next step – it actually does become a source of income.  One of those days when even if my close family and friends are the only ones to ever see the words and get to know the characters I’ve poured so much into, it’s okay – heck, it doesn’t matter if even those few don’t read my novel.  It’s been one of those when I know I write because it’s in me,  because it brings me joy and makes me feel more me than just about anything else in this life.  One of those days when I know that the decision to spend a significant number of my “working” hours on something that in the world’s eyes may never come to fruition is a hundred percent worth it because it’s a decision – in the words of the much admired entrepreneur and fashion guru of Clutch Culture* – to follow my bliss.

 

* . . . and Joseph Campbell

A dreary day in this harbour town

It’s a wet and dreary day in Halifax.  Halifax gives its residents a lot of these days, however, on days like today, when it’s been awhile and we’ve been blessed with sun, I treasure the rain and the fog. It’s somehow endearing in this harbour town, the way a Leonard Cohen song is endearing and brings a mellow sense of peace. It’s a day that makes me we want to cuddle up with a good book or get lost in a world of my own creation, or grab an umbrella and take a walk under the canopy of branches and along the muted streets of the western North End.  It’s a day when I want to let my environment take over and produce words.

Unfortunately, I have a lot to do today and so I can’t do any of those things. The day reminds me though, of the aura I felt while walking through the Night Display last year at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. On that day, I took inspiration from the sights, sounds and feeling the exhibition gave me. Each part of the exhibited prompted more words.  Here is the result: (For some reason this format won’t let me not double space . . .)

Inspired by the Night Display at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia

Alone

In an ever changing,
Ever beating,
Ever breathing sky.
The pulse quickens

I fly
Feet firmly planted to the ground
I soar
To open my eyes and fall into
Disbelief.

Alone

In an ever changing,
Ever beating,
Ever breathing darkness.

I crouch
Turn ever so slightly at
A breeze that startles,
Teases of another’s breath.
Hope rises and plummets
Into the antonym of ecstasy.

Alone

In an ever constant,
Ever beating,
Ever empty kitchen
That is my own.

I throw up the windowpane
Stand, frozen as the snow drifts
Around me
Covers my cup and bowl,
Slides across the counter and
Tickles my toes,
Awakening me to numbness and
The realization

Alone

I’ve waited
Still
I wait
Ever breathing,
You said you’d come
My heart
You said
Ever beating,
You’d come
My pulse
I’ll wait
Ever changing.
You said

I wait
Feet firmly planted
You left
Soaring where I would not let you
I pushed.
My eyes open in sight of your fall.

Alone

I sit as the snow cradles,
Covering,
Sheltering,
Hiding
My truth.
Slowing
My pulse.

As breeze after breeze reminds me . . .

Copyright 2011

Walk on up to the buffet of life!

Today I volunteered at my local YMCA.  I was the first presenter in  their kids’ camp ‘try something new’ week.  The new thing I presented was Zumba, and it really was new.  Not a single child had done it before.  Now I was told there would probably be about 15 kids there, along with a few group leaders.  When I arrived and looked into the gym, I’m pretty sure there was closer to 40 kids, and I was told it was one of their biggest groups so far.  Pushing aside my sudden nervousness, I started to set up.

As the kids trickled back into the gym after their snack a number of the boys said Zumba was stupid or boring and asked about other activities they wanted to do: Two of the those boys were bursting with excitement and energy by the second song.

By the time we were about half way through the ‘workout’ probably only about 15 kids were still participating.  A part of me felt disappointed about this, wondering if perhaps I wasn’t being as engaging as I could have been, if I could have picked better music, if the kids stopped because they were tired, bored, or simply because they were mostly preteen boys who didn’t think it was overly cool to be dancing it up with a bunch of girls and the few boys who didn’t look like they could have been a day over six.

Another part of me quickly turned the first part off and focused instead on the kids who were loving it – and they were loving it!  They crowded so close up to the front I had to constantly make sure I didn’t trip over them and two little girls even decided to dance right along beside me, telling me after that they helped ‘lead’ the group! 🙂

A number of the girls asked me when I was coming back, one said her mom would be so excited that they could now do Zumba together since she’d learned how, another said “this is like exercise – but it’s fun,” a shy looking little boy who’d been concentrating the whole time to follow the moves (though he’d hardly gotten any) rewarded me with a smile of satisfaction when we all clapped for each other at the end, and another little boy looked up at me, gave a massively big smile and said, “That was great!”

As I walked home in the heat, dripping with sweat and feeling good, I contemplated how differently the day could have been for me if I’d let my initial focus on the kids who drifted to sit on the sidelines take over. I could have spent the time I was there feeling as if no one was enjoying it, I could have left feeling like a failure.  Instead, I know I just made a positive impact on the lives of around 15 children!  And maybe more . . . one shy little girl who watched from the sidelines the whole time came up to me as I was leaving and asked when I was coming back – I told her I didn’t think I’d be back – I’d like to think that next time she has an opportunity to try something new she’ll remember she missed her chance this time, step outside of her shyness and join in.

Although I’m generally not overly shy and when it comes to something like dancing I’ve been the first on the floor more than once, that little girl  reminded of the times I have let shyness or insecurity hold me back from the opportunities life tosses my way.  Two important reminders today: 1) When I have the opportunity to try something new – do it – who knows when or if I’ll have another chance and who knows how much I’ll end up loving it.  2) Just like I’m learning to ignore that voice that tells me what I can’t do, I also need to ignore the voices that draw my attention to the negative in a situation and focus instead on the voice that tells me to open my eyes and take joy in all the positives.

On a little side note – the flower above was something I saw sitting in the middle of the sidewalk on the way home – I picked it up as a memento of a beautiful morning.

Let it come . . .

Driving from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia today I was blessed with that simple joy that comes from feeling content just to be alive and where you are in a particular moment.  I usually find the drive long and monotonous, with constant checks to the clock.  I’m not sure why, but today was different, the music I listened to (throwbacks to high school) may have had something with getting me in that state, but for some reason all the scenery outside my window seemed covered in a slightly golden haze.

The pinnacle of this peace, joy, and thankfulness for being alive came while listening to an album with a song from more recent years, Brendan McLeod’s All This Trouble.  The way he sung the words reminded me that despite the fact that trouble is a part of life, an unavoidable part, I am alive.  That means with every breath I take there’s the possibility of more trouble – be it large or small – to come my way, but also the possibility for joy, love, excitement, and simple moments of peace.

The drive was the embodiment of peace and with it came a renewed love for life and the people in it, with all the troubles they cause myself and others, and all the troubles they endure.  Driving past the little houses nestled among the hills of the Cobequid Pass, I thought of all the individual lives and families they held; looking at the elderly man driving alone and passing me by, I wished for some moment of joy or happiness to alight on him before he reached his destination.

It’s amazing how if you take the time to be aware, to contemplate, something as simple as driving along a rode you’ve driven on dozens of times before can be one of the most meaningful and life affirming   moments you’ve had in a long, long time.

Love is a verb

The first CD I ever bought was a Christian rap group’s album: DC Talk’s Free at Last. One of the songs, “Luv is a verb,” was the catalyst to the way I’ve tried to view love throughout my life.  As a result of this song, various things I’ve read, observations I’ve made, and wisdom I’ve gleaned from those whose experience far surpasses mine, I fully believe that real love is an action (or series of actions), not a feeling, and something we choose to express whether we feel like it or not.  Of course it’s always nicer (and easier) when the feeling is there too. I believe this applies to love for family, friends, romantic partners, and humanity in general.

Despite this wholehearted belief, however, there are times when the massive stream of tv shows, movies, music, books, and magazines that talk about and treat love as if it were a feeling, plays its toll on my psyche.

I was reminded again of the notion that love is not a feeling from reading Peck’s The Road Less TraveledHe reminded me that real love is a commitment to love, to act lovingly, and to act for the betterment of the other person whether we feel like it at any particular moment or not. I think this idea is particularly important when it comes to romantic relationships, probably partly because most of the false information we receive about love from the media relates to romantic love.

Peck asserts that sooner or later all couples fall out of “love” (in a similar way that they “fall” in love) and it is at this point that real love either begins or never gets a chance to really live.  Real love, love that is a verb, takes choice and action – it involves our will – it is us making a decision to love.

I think if people really knew and believed this, if we were taught it from childhood and saw examples of it throughout our lives divorce rates would be a heck of a lot lower*, affairs would be nearly non-existent, and couples who made a conscious decision to be together would stay together instead of questioning the relationship and walking away for something seemingly more appealing or in search of that excitement and rush of falling in love.

I like as well, Peck’s thought that although our feelings of love toward people can be “unbounded,” our “capacity to be loving is limited” and, therefore, we must carefully choose to whom we direct our will to love. Reflecting on it, I think this knowledge and choice brings freedom: an ease of conscience. I can choose to direct my love to my family, my close friends, my partner, and on a smaller scale, humanity. It also allows me to not feel guilty for those I make the conscious choice not to ‘spend’ my love on.  It frees me from the fear of infidelity as well – if I choose to love my partner and know that the feeling of falling in love is nothing more than that I know also that the allure is nothing compared to the security of knowing I have chosen a person worthy of receiving my will to love and that that person has chosen me.

* I don’t know Peck’s thoughts on this, but I think it’s a different story when there are forms of abuse, etc. and the abusive partner is unwilling or not making the choice to change.  I’d see that as making a conscious decision to withdraw love (which, in a sense and in some circumstances I suppose could be a form of true love in and of itself).

Past the Witching Hour

Last night my parents, niece, two of my aunts, and grandma were sitting in the living room talking and being tormented by mosquitoes. Trying to kill the beasts was bringing out our frustrations and our aggressiveness.  It’s amazing how something so small, something so seemingly insignificant in the scheme of things can turn otherwise peaceful, rational people into skittish, violent, slightly deranged attackers.

It reminded me of another night, approximately six years ago, when I was living in South Korea and also being tormented by these blood-sucking atrocities.  That night I took pen to paper to help get out my frustrations:

Slowly, gently a sound increases, wavers, then grows in intensity until finally a buzz, equivalent to a roar in this my semi-conscious state, sounds in my ear. My body spasms, jerks uncontrollably. The jerk brings full wakefulness as frustration seeps into every pore of my body. Again? Not again, I thought the battle was over for this night.

Slowly, but deftly my hand reaches into the darkness, my ears attuned to the slightest sound. It brings back my glasses, placing them upon my face. Again, my hand reaches into the darkness, this time it brushes across the lamp. The room is flooded – slowly I rise.

I must be fully aware; fully ready for action. My eyes scan the walls, the crevices, the corners. Just above my bed, I see another. He’s in a precarious position – has the advantage, but if I’m just fast enough . . . SMACK!! Dead. I hope this is the last but fear my trial has not yet ended. It is far past the witching hour and my eyes burn as they continue in their scan once again. 

I move towards the overhead light, flip the switch and wince as the room is bathed in a stronger brightness – What’s that? A black speck in the corner? I step up, walk across my bed to get a closer look. yes . . SMACK! Drat!! He’s got away. My ears and eyes sharper than ever I pursue the search. Over there, on my makeshift curtain, ah, a tricky place but if I move in closer until –SMACK- the blood smears on my fingers – this one has already had a taste. The thought makes the bites on my hands and wrists sting and itch even more. I carry on with my search – another by the ceiling. Quickly – SMACK!

I scan once more – my eyes and my body crying for sleep. This is the second night of this madness, though last night, my body weary from sickness and too incoherent to realize the course that needed to be taken, I lay in bed, woken almost a dozen times through the night by the buzz, blindly and uselessly swatting myself in the darkness with the vain hope of killing the vile creatures. Not this night.

I scan and see nothing, hesitantly I lay back down, place my glasses on the table, and turn off the light. But these words need escape. They whirl around in my head. A required prelude to my rest – I hope. I search, and tear a piece of letter paper away from the pack. As I write, another vermin of the night approaches. It eludes me once, twice, three times, but finally I destroy it. Victorious, I settle down onto my pillow, pulling the blankets around me contentedly. I will sleep. They will not have unending power over me.

I am the mosquito hunter.

Wordless already?

I’m only five days into this blog and already I felt a struggle today to write and pressure to ‘have’ to think up a topic because I decided I would contribute something every day (as long as circumstances allow).

I’m visiting my family and to take the discipline and concentration to write is making my head feel heavy. But I did want to get a little something down.  To get some inspiration, I decided to look online for thoughts on why writing is important.  I came across a site with advice for creative writers.

The author mentioned that to write is good for the soul.  He continued that it’s good for our characters to be observing, interpreting, producing, and not just consuming.  He reminded me how true that is.  Through my adolescent years (when I was often quite the introvert) writing was how I grew, it was how I understood my own life and the world around me.  In recent years, as I’ve become more open and started sharing my thoughts and feelings, my trials and tribulations, with others I’ve written less and less. I think as well though, that the habit to write less and talk more has also meant that I contemplate my life and the world a lot less.  Rather than thinking about my experiences and actions, what they mean in the big “scheme” of things, what they say about me and how they help me to grow, more and more I just accept . . .

I often feel less of myself than I used to – and I think this lack of taking the time to contemplate and interpret is largely the culprit.  Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living – I think the fella really had it right on that point (as well as a number of others!).  Here’s to examining life, and realizing for ourselves the importance of making this day in and day out of existence hold real purpose.