The here and now

“Eternity has nothing to do with time.  Eternity is that dimension of here and now which thinking and time cuts out.  The experience of eternity right here and now is the function of life.” These words were spoken by a man who died mere months after saying them.  I wonder if he believed them as he said them.  I wonder what they meant to him?  The first part seems clear enough.  How could eternity have anything to do with time if it’s eternal?  If something’s eternal, there’s no way to measure it.  Measurement is essential to time’s existence.

It’s the here and now that’s harder to deal with.  If those words are true, and I have an inkling that they are, then this very moment, and this, and this are eternity. It saddens me.  It’s so hard to be here and now.  Though I suppose it should excite me.  It means each moment is endless – I guess.

It means I should be aware enough of my moment to recognize what it’s offering.  Or at least to know that I can be – if I so choose.That’s hard work, it’s tiring . . . but also a gift.  I just did it. I sat down at the computer feeling tired and disheartened and basically like a failure because of a series of things I’d failed at in some way in the past hour.  One mess up leading to another to another and to add to it, increasingly becoming frustrated at the way it seems my body has been betraying me lately (disconnected from the failures but disaster builds upon disaster.)  And so, wanting to test my words I closed my eyes and tried to focus on the now – feeling everything around me – my foot propped on the window ledge, the pain in my gut, the frustration in my soul, until I hit upon something that allowed me to feel the moment.  A song I’ve perhaps never really listened to and that in that here and now took me away from myself to something beautiful.  It also gave me a vision of a scene in what’s shaping up to be my next novel and as a result, though nothing’s really changed from 15 minutes ago, I feel more connected to me. That moment, at least, wasn’t a waste. This one isn’t either.

Maybe that’s all it’s really about.  Working to compile as many moments as we can that aren’t wastes, learning to do that naturally, and not beating ourselves up for those ‘other’ moments.

It’s so easy to live our lives focused on tomorrow, next year, ten years from now, or in hope of an afterlife.  And yes, there’s definitely some value in planning for some of those ‘times’ but at the same time  it makes no sense to miss today because of it.  One thing about time, we can’t go back in it.

“The experience of eternity right here and now is the function of life.”  Yeah, I think the guy who told us all to follow our bliss may have gotten this one right too.  Wherever you are, thanks Mr. Campbell for some words to ponder.

Check the rest of this post out at norfolknovelist

What great suggestions! For any fiction writers out there I’m sure you’ll take something away from this. I know I will.

Maggie Cammiss

It was my turn to take our writing group last week and as my theme I chose a topic I’ve written about in the past – Characterisation.

As well as what the story is about, readers are interested in who it’s about. They want a protagonist they can empathise and identify with throughout the story, but these characters won’t necessarily be nice people; some memorable characters from literature have been downright horrible – think Heathcliffe from Wuthering Heights, Vanity Fair’s Becky Sharp, Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, Pinkie Brown from Brighton Rock.  Whether likeable or thoroughly villainous, we need to believe that the characters we create are real, breathing people or our readers won’t believe in them either.

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Thanksgiving reminders

Sometimes it amazes me how easy it is to just get busy.  And how in getting busy we let other things, things that are important to us, slide out of focus.  This blog is one of them.  Focusing on getting the first several pages of my manuscript in proper condition to send to the publisher who was interested in it is another, and making time for the people in my life is the most important thing that I’ve let slide out of my focus in the past several weeks.

This past weekend was Canadian Thanksgiving.  It’s a time to spend with family and friends, be gluttons, and take a moment to be thankful for all of the blessings we have.  I was able to go visit my family in NB for the early part of the weekend, and then come home in time to spend Thanksgiving Monday with my fella’s family, which meant I was a glutton twice!

I also definitely took some time to relax and let the worries of work leave me for several hours.  A drive through what to my mind is back woods NB, a hike among the fall colours, and taking in some beautiful views with my love were certainly some of the highlights of the weekend.  Beyond that though, I found it particularly hard to let go of the life that was awaiting me back home.  It was hard to be fully present with my family.  Hard not to think of the way time away would steal from the time I should be working.  As a pertinent side note, I had a sample life coaching session several weeks ago. The most revealing thing this life coach said to me is that she noticed I used the word ‘should’ a lot while talking about my life.  Apparently I have what seems to be a ridiculous, presumably stifling and perhaps damaging sense of responsibility about the many ways I feel I should be spending my time.

The thing is though – the time I didn’t make to really spend with the family this weekend, the time I don’t make to call that friend I haven’t called in too long, to meet for that cup of tea with another, or that I don’t give to spending some time with me is the time I’m really wasting.  Yes, work needs to be done. Yes, responsibilities need to be met.  There’s no denying that.  But I have this sneaking feeling that if I put those other things first (within reason) I’d still get the work done, and probably have more energy and mental clarity in the process.

It was a weekend to be thankful and I have so much to be thankful for.  And so much that I don’t show that thankfulness for enough.  At the end of a Thanksgiving day run, the fella, upon seeing a rundown apartment, started commenting on just how lucky we are and just how often we don’t see that.  We let our stresses, our pains, our frustrations blind us to the fact that we’re some of the most blessed people in the world.  If you’re able to read this you’re probably wealthier than a staggering number of people in the world, not to mention more educated.

I’ve read so many times in so many ways the importance of being thankful daily, of taking the time to acknowledge the things in our lives that we are grateful for and though I do, it’s certainly not consistently.  I challenge myself, and you (if you don’t already) to do that.  Just be thankful, take the time each day for a brief moment to think about what you’re thankful for.  Ask a loved one what the best part of their day was and be thankful for that – together.

The land of peace

“For it is one thing to see the land of peace from a wooded ridge . . . and another to tread the road that leads to it.”

                                                  – C.S. Lewis

The above quote is taken from Lewis’ Surprised by Joy. Reading through the excerpts I’d copied out of the book years ago, I found myself again awed and challenged by this man’s thoughts and made uncomfortable by what they brought back to my mind – thoughts I often choose not to deal with.  There was fodder for any number of posts but most of them would require me to open with topics and in ways I’m not quite prepared to be open with on this forum . . . largely because there are people I know who read this! Perhaps that will be saved for a semi-autobiographical novel one day! 😉

Back to the words above – they struck me – yes, it’s definitely one thing to see the land of peace, and another thing entirely to tread the road that leads to it.  And even if we start that journey it’s, again, another thing entirely to allow ourselves to enjoy that land of peace rather than find/create stress or problems where we are and look ahead to what must really be the long desired land of peace.

I wonder if it’s a personality thing – I think it probably is.  There must be people out there who are generally satisfied and content with their lives, who feel that they are living in the land of peace, who can look at the problems, concerns, wrongs, offences, stresses, etc. in their lives and still stay in that land.  I seem incapable of it, at least consistently.  Now don’t get me wrong, there are certainly moments when I feel peace, but most of the time I’m in a semi-state of stress.  This may be heightened by the crazy amount of work (paid and otherwise) I have right now – which is great – but even in slow times I find I often find ways to push peace from my life.

I often find ways not to be as happy as I probably could be . . . Now in one sense that keeps me striving toward those things that I desire, but in another it wastes so many of the precious moments I have.  And of course . . . thinking of those wasted precious moments does what? Stresses me out! Prevents peace.

Now let’s see . . . what is peace anyway, perhaps I don’t really understand it.  My handy Oxford Dictionary says – quiet: tranquility, mental calm; serenity.  Yeah – I understand it, and although I have had real moments of mental calm and tranquility in my life (generally while in nature, during a tender moment with one of my nieces or nephews, or dancing in one of those states of ecstasy I sometimes get), for the most part a state of mental calmness is something non-existent for me.  I can’t seem to turn my mind off for a moment.  I’m analyzing  observing, assessing, critiquing, contemplating.

Meditation comes to mind – although I have a feeling I’d have major trouble with that too.  But, I suppose it’s probably something that improves with practice . . .

Okay – no great realizations, no answers, only the belief that if I could learn or figure out how to not only see that land but exist in it more I would do better justice to this gift of life I’ve been given.

Relatively speaking, I’m young.  From someone who perhaps has more experience than I do, from someone who has figured out how to let peace into their lives – any words of wisdom?

* I think it was actually Augustine‘s quote – which Lewis put in his book

* Another observation as I read through this . . . my moments of mental calmness seem to come when I’m fully engrossed in love – be it something or someone that allows my love of it to engulf me.

* And another addition! – I took the above picture on a walk home from staying at a friend’s house in Daegu, Korea – I was up all night hacking with a horrible cough and left as soon as it was light enough to not disturb her slumber any longer. (Although she was amazingly hospitable and didn’t show any signs of annoyance at the horrible noise I was making all night!) I was awed by the scene and the peace that flooded over me as I took the city’s morning beauty in.

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.

Last night I came across some words on a post-it note.  After staring at them for a time, wondering why they were written there, where they had come from, I remembered it was the message in some little newspaper where the reader had to rearrange the words or some such thing.

Typing the words into google, I discovered that the quote is attributed to Lin Yutang.  Typing Lin Yutang into Wikipedia, I discovered that he was an acclaimed Chinese writer and inventor. The words?  “Society can exist only on the basis that there is some amount of polished lying and that no one say exactly what he thinks.”

They’re words that ring of truth but that also leave me with an uncomfortable, queasy feeling despite, or perhaps because of the truth they so often express.  Society as a whole is made up of a big bunch of liars: politicians, teachers, mothers, fathers, best friends, ourselves, heck, we even lie to ourselves – perhaps at times even more than we lie to others.  And as Yutang professes, it seems as if some of these lies are unnecessary, their polish saving us all from grim truths we couldn’t peacefully exist with.

Part of me wants to believe and hold to the ideal that truth is essential, is always the best choice.  Is that a noble belief or a childish, naive, blind one?  I’m really not sure.  But I think often, whether I like it or not I lean toward the latter options.  As a child these were called and understood as white lies . . . little untruths that don’t hurt anyone and perhaps help.

” . . . and that no one say exactly what he thinks.”  If I think a bride looks commonplace and unsuited for her dress, despite the fact that it’s supposed to be the day she is more lovely than ever before – should I say it when asked?  If I think, even further  that she shouldn’t be marrying the man she’s marrying and imagine she’ll regret it within the next year – should I say so? (These are clearly not of equal weight. Does it matter?) Would I want someone to tell me? – probably not.  But is that from fear that I’ll be hurt, or fear that they may be right and the desire to not have to deal with that truth?

Is the problem with not saying the truth or is it the fact that I have these thoughts in general – should I rather have the ability to see her for non-aesthetic beauty and her relationship for the potential it possibly could have underneath the dysfunction?  Should we tell the dying child that they are dying, and there’s most likely no reason, and nothing that can be done, and it’s unfair and sucks but that’s just life . . . if that’s the truth?  Which raises the question – who can really determine what truth is?  Maybe one person believes those words were the truth and another believes this dying child will have the opportunity to experience the tenderness of life and the beauty of recognizing one’s own mortality, the gift of being able to prepare for one’s own exit from this world and so is blessed.  Who’s to say whose truth is the truth?

These words remind me of lines from one of my favourite poems, features a decidedly pathetic yet intriguing, lovable, and insightful protagonist – T.S. Eliot‘s The Love Song of J. Alfred. Prufrock:

 

“And indeed there will be time . . .

There will be time, there will be time

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet; . . .

Time for you and time for me,

And time yet for a hundred indecisions,

And a hundred visions and revisions,

Before the taking of a toast and tea.”

 

So often we prepare a face to meet the faces that we meet. . . so often that face is a lie, but if we prepare it enough it begins to feel like truth.  This post is an example of ‘a hundred indecisions’ of which I’m not sure any explicit choice can be made.

English: T. S. Eliot, photographed one Sunday ...

T. S. Eliot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dear readers, this has been unclear and undefined, but what are your thoughts?  Is truth above all?  Is it possible for there to be one truth? Do we need those polished lies. . . could society exist without them?  And are there times when preparing a face to meet the faces that we meet is the ‘right’ thing to do, even if it may not be the ‘truthful’ thing?

 

 

 

And here’s to The Pitch

A few days ago I posted about a pitch I was afraid to do, well, I’ve done it!  And I didn’t faint, and my leg didn’t thump like it was trying to outdo Bambi’s Thumper, and I only tripped over my words a time or two.

I didn’t get much feedback on the plot of my novel, there wasn’t really time. I got some feedback on my pitching ability – two things I could have done better, and I got just a glimpse of that dream outcome.  One publisher said he was interested – I’m not exactly sure what that means – he has my written pitch and C.V. so if I don’t here anything from him I’ll probably submit to the publishing house and another said specifically that she wanted to see it!  What I learned after is that I’ll have to go through the normal submission route for her publishing house, but she’ll tell the lady who handles the first rounds to look out for it and that she wants to see it – she’s one of the final round decision makers!  Pretty, pretty, pretty good. (Not sure why Larry David just popped into my mind – that hasn’t happened in months!) 

So, hurdle number one conquered – now time for hurdle number two!  The people who’ve been reading the first revised version of my manuscript and I both agree that the first few chapters of my novel are the weakest.  Unfortunately (but for good reason), submitting it to a publishing house means I only get to submit the first few chapters.  I’m hoping for some brilliant idea or burst of creative energy to turn it into something that will really grab the reader . . .

Oh, and remember how scared I was about making that pitch?  Well, not only did I conquer those fears and deliver to the best of my ability, it paid off – out of the 13-14 other pitches the three publishers all voted mine best pitch.  I was shocked . . . but pleased. 🙂

Now I just have to hope my pitching ability doesn’t surpass my novel writing ability!

A creative jog

Over a month ago I wrote a post that talked about the way some simple impression can be the spark to new creation.  It also talked about my seeming inability to let my creativity flow in new directions while trying to edit my novel.  Now that the editing is on pause while I await to hear from its first readers, I’ve been so busy with my paying work I’ve still not allowed myself to do the work I love.  I decided today I needed to awaken those muscles a bit.

The photo on that post was put there because when I saw it I thought – that should prompt something!  Here is what it prompted:

Sovann took a long drag of his cigarette.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw some tourists staring. ‘Screw them’.   He was only in this Monk’s garb because of family tradition . . . honour.  He tried to hold back a smirk.  Honour.  As the oldest son he had to fulfill his year’s sentence.  Sovann took another drag.  He cared nothing of honour.  He was putting his time in because if he didn’t his father promised to cut him out of the will.  Sovann had grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle.  Work was too pedestrian.  He noticed the water girls, pandering to those same tourists.  Scraggly, dirty little things walking around all day just trying to ‘make a buck’.  Not that he’d ever have to do such degrading work, even if his father did cut him off.  His family name, the education he’d been forced through would prevent that. The idea of being in some stupid office though, or working in a bank, made him cringe.  He was above that.  His time would be better served in other endeavours.  He smiled at the thought of the first thing he’d do when he got out of these garbs.  Ten more months . . . Sovann sighed.  It might as well be ten years, the first two had crawled by.  He took another long drag.  They were staring at him again.  He stifled a glare.  One of the wenches had just taken a photo.  He put out the cigarette and stood.  He tossed it in the river, grimacing at the woman and her child bathing in the garbage infested water.  How could people succumb to such filth?  He cast a sidelong glance back at the tourists.  They’d probably taken a picture of that too.  They came to his country looking for experience.  He bet they knew nothing of the true experience Cambodia had to offer.

Sovann passed a group of monk’s from his monastery.  He smiled peacefully and gave them a nod.  It’d be interesting to know many of them truly believed and how many, like him, wore a mask.  He’d believed once, when he first entered the monastery.  It’d been six months at that time, and they’d flown by.  He remembered the sweet peace he’d felt during prayer and meditation.  He was so young, so naïve. He shook his head at the memory of his 11 year old beliefs.  It was all a lie.  He knew the truth.  What was that saying?  The truth will set you free.  He wasn’t fully free yet but he would be soon.  He thought of Channary, of the world she’d introduced him to, of the exquisite delicacies his father’s money would provide.  Entering the shrine, he put his palms together and bowed before his teacher. Oh what he’d do with that freedom.

Journey within

If you’re like me, you often have somewhere in the back of your mind (and often in the front) the desire to grow, to be a better person, to improve upon the person you once were and become the person you want to be. Over the years, you can look back at yourself, your ways of thinking and doing and being and realize, yeah – okay, I’m doing better. I am better. I’ve ‘matured’.  It’s not often though (at least for me) that the realization that I’ve grown and am not entirely the person I once was smacks me in the face . . . the type of smack that brings a smile.

The other day I had one of these moments. A person I don’t know very well, but who I’ve had generally positive, friendly interactions with was suddenly not so friendly. I interacted with this person a few times throughout the day.  The first time I was a little shocked and perturbed at her seeming rudeness, her apathetic attitude. The second and third times I was hurt and a little miffed at her blatant rudeness. My natural reactions were to wonder what I could have done to offend her, and finding nothing, to be annoyed and give her an aloof and equally rude response. Within seconds though, before I had the chance to respond, another, newer thought came to me. Maybe her attitude and rudeness had nothing to do with me. Maybe I should stop having the automatic assumption that a person’s behaviour toward me is necessarily based on our interactions or that when negative, it gives me any right to fling the negative back toward him or her. Maybe . . . just maybe this person’s attitude was about something completely different and I was only the recipient of emotions she had not yet had the time to process or overcome.

This was a light bulb moment.  Rather than succumbing to insecurities and narcissism, rather than adhering to old patterns, I took a moment to try to see the world from someone else’s perspective.  In that realization, I realized I had also come a long way. The Charlene of 10 years ago, heck, the Charlene of three years ago probably wouldn’t have had that thought, or at least not fast enough to change my response in the moment.

Now the thought that hit me – this may have nothing to do with you, she may not even realize she’s directing this at you – could have been wrong.  I could have unwittingly annoyed her and she could have been intentionally trying to take it out on me. I could have been justified in feeling slighted, and hurt, and in colouring my future interactions with this person by the wariness and scornfulness I could have let it provoke in me.

It turns out the new thought was probably right. The next time I saw her she was pleasant and friendly and we had a great little chat.  But whether I had been right or wrong the point is that I took the time, before I spoke, before I acted to consider my actions in the world from a broader perspective. I displayed growth I hadn’t even fully realized I’d developed.

I guess this work on myself is paying off. Slowly but surely. I guess I’m not quite the child I once was.  Here’s to us all not being the children we once were.

To Pitch or Not To Pitch?

The question my post title asks isn’t much of a question anymore.  I’ve signed up for Halifax’s Pitch the Publisher at The Word on the Street . . . and I’m scared.  Basically how this works is that each ‘pitcher’ pitches in front of a panel of three publishers and an audience (I wasn’t aware of the audience until after I signed up).

Our pitches should answer:  What is your idea for a book (Describe it in two sentences or less).  Why are you the right person to write this book? Why would people buy your book?

This must be answered in 2-3 minutes.  So yes, I’m scared.  So scared part of me wants to pull out.  How am I supposed to sum up a book I’ve spent 10 years (off and on) writing in two sentences, convincingly enough to make someone want to publish it?  What makes me the right person to tell this story besides the fact that I thought to tell it? – It certainly isn’t a story that represents my experience, as far as events are concerned.  And why would people buy my book?  Well, that one’s not so hard – because it’s about a person who’s struggling and lost and does her best to find her way back to a sense of self – a story all of us can relate to in some way.  So . . . all of this in 2-3 minutes!

I know I won’t pull out though, because nervousness aside and potential embarrassment aside if I stumble over my words and look like a crazy amateur compared to the other pitchers there are two main outcomes here, both of them good.  Dream outcome: one of the publishers loves my idea, reads my manuscript, and publishes one of my books.  Great outcome: none of the publishers are interested but I get some valuable feedback.  Even if the feedback is ‘this story isn’t worth publishing’, I’ll dig for the reasons why and either figure out how to adjust those reasons or figure out a different market, because I really do trust that it’s a story of worth.  Side outcome: I’ll have the experience of this experience, and of conquering fear and nervousness.

Has anyone reading this post ever done a similar pitch?  What was it like?  Do you have any suggestions or advice for me?

A peaceful memory I’ll try to take myself back to me when nervousness overwhelms me!

At such an age

I sat down to write today and felt like I had nothing but that I needed to write anyway, not just to try to meet a quota but because although I had a very positive and productive day I also had a very busy and draining day.  I read a couple blogs, looked at some notes I’d written down recently for inspiration but still, finding nothing, I decided to pull out my old quote book.  I flipped open to a random page and the second quote I read, written in pink fluorescent ink, brought a smile to my face and a certain energy to my mind.

Oh, to be alive at such an age when miracles are everywhere and every inch of common air throbs a tremendous prophecy of greater marvels yet to be.”

                                         – Walt Whitman

When I was a child I saw such wonder in the world – in nature, in words, in music, in people.  I find as I’ve grown so much of that wonder has ceased to be quite so . . . wonderful.  I’m sure that’s the case for many of us.  The thing is though, to an extent, it doesn’t have to be that way.  Yes, we may never quite capture that childlike innocence, excitement, and awe at the world that we once did but without a doubt we are still alive at such an age when miracles are everywhere.  If we take a moment, open our eyes – perhaps our hearts – and really look we can see that wonder in a budding plant, in the smile of a stranger, the amazing canvas we’ll see if we take a moment to actually look at the sky, or in the gentle touch of a loved one.  It may sound a little ‘hokey’ but I believe it to be true, and I believe that in taking those moments to marvel at the world around we’ll also be taking a moment to let go of or put aside, if only for a moment, those things that have stolen the childlike wonder we were born with.