Monthly Archives: November 2011

The Tao of Christmas Lights

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My writing takes me on some strange journeys and feeds me weird food.  Example:  today’s lunch of a banana and Triscuits – because I don’t want to be away from my keyboard long enough to make a proper lunch. 

Strange journey: from Reiki, to the movie “P.S. I Love you” to Taoism to a blog entitled, “The Tao of Christmas Lights.”

Get a snack (may I suggest Triscuits?), a drink, get comfortable – this might take awhile.

A few years back, I turned to Reiki during a time of great conflict and misery in my life. I was depressed and in a state of disrepair and despair.  It was Reiki or Prozac and I was very afraid the Prozac wouldn’t work this time.  I knew someone who practiced Reiki and knew there was little to lose.

To this day, I don’t understand how Reiki works.  I would get my Reiki Master to explain but he’s no longer speaking to me – an even longer, weirder story.

My Reiki Master was also a “life coach.”  We worked on my chakras and my attitude simultaneously.  Reiki had an almost instantly beneficial effect on me.  Way better than Prozac.  In retrospect though, I think my Reiki Master was a bit unorthodox.  Take, for example, his insistence that I watch a particular movie.  Alone.

As instructed, I rented “P.S. I Love You,” and watched it alone. I get why he wanted me to watch it alone -the torrent of tears that ensued was like nothing I’ve produced before or since.  I made my best friend watch it with me a second time.  She is a tough cookie, that one.  Her torrent of tears rivalled mine (maybe she needed some Reiki). I dutifully reported to Reiki Master that I’d seen the movie but didn’t tell him that I didn’t understand why.  He never asked; I never told.

Three years have passed. The movie was on TV this weekend, so I watched it.  Again, a torrent of tears ensued.  Worse, I still don’t understand what Reiki Master was trying to communicate to me through Hilary Swank’s romantic-comedic saga of life after her Irish husband dies.  Was it the shoes? Am I supposed to go to Ireland? 

Still puzzling this morning, I let my mind wander.  I thought about how much Reiki helped me and about how Reiki Master opened my mind to all things mystical and metaphysical.  Musing about meditation and focus, my brain leapt to Taoism.  I briefly contemplated writing a blog entitled, “The Tao of P.S. I Love You.”  Instead, I Googled “Taoism” and stumbled across something called, “The Tao of Pooh” which led me to a website called www.just-pooh.com; it was there I encountered a principle of Taoism called P’U or The Uncarved Block

  More Triscuits anyone?  Vodka perhaps?

The principle of P’U or the Uncarved Block: “things in their original simplicity contain their own natural power.”  And: “When you discard arrogance, complexity, and a few other things that get in the way, sooner or later you will discover that simple, childlike, and mysterious secret known to those of the Uncarved Block: Life is Fun.” The website maintains that this tenet applies to not only stuffed bears but also to humans.  

And now, here we are at “The Tao of Christmas Lights.”

I experience irrational joy at the sight of Christmas lights.  I go from age 50 to age 5 in a nanosecond.  I jump up and down, clap my hands, and spin around with glee.  Even while driving.  Nothing cheers me like the sight of houses decked out with strands of lights or trees swathed in faerie lights.

On a calm winter’s night, the streetscape twinkling in holiday cheer, I again believe in the magic of Christmas.  My cold cynical shell melts away revealing a happy child standing in the snow. Why do those lights have this effect on me? Who cares?  Colourful lights brightening the winter landscape make me happy.  Simple, without arrogance or artifice.  Life is fun (and pretty – at least between the end of November and the end of January).

A weird journey indeed.  Worth every step…except maybe the Triscuits…

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Holy Writing/Wholly Writing

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about holy callings.  Feeling rather adrift and bereft of inspiration in the last week or so, I pulled up Elizabeth Gilbert’s web page and clicked on the tab entitled “Thoughts on Writing.”  Her words usually jumpstart my focus.  She says, ” I believe that – if you are serious about a life of writing, or indeed about any creative form of expression – that you should take on this work like a holy calling.”

If a person has figured out what turns their crank – be it writing, veterinary medicine, or making waffles – that pursuit needs to be…um…pursued with laser-like focus.  Someone who knows they were put on this earth to make waffles must make the waffles; he or she must become deaf to the naysayers and immerse themselves in the world of waffle batter, waffle irons, and pray at the altar of waffles on a daily basis.

Oh God, now I’m hungry…

My holy calling is writing.  It is, I am certain, what I was put on this earth to do.  Whether I achieve what other humans would label “success” or not doesn’t matter.  The act of writing, of immersing myself in words all day long, is what brings deep happiness and satisfaction to my very core.  Nothing else, not even watching my kitten sleep or eating delicious waffles, brings such contentment. 

For many, many moons, I allowed myself to be dissuaded from this calling – I listened to the naysayers, I wandered down other paths that promised easy money and a posh lifestyle.  Now, I clip coupons and write.  I buy my jeans at the grocery store and write.  I don’t eat fancy restaurant waffles.  But I don’t mind.  I’m doing what I was meant to do and I am willing to sacrifice a great deal to do it. 

Of course I’ve read the words often enough, “Do what you love and the money will follow.”  I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t mind if a stack of money appeared on my doorstep (note: stack of money should ideally be higher than stack of bills).  Holy callings are often unpopular and financialy unrewarding.  Elizabeth Gilbert is one of the very lucky few to have had a stack of money appear on her doorstep – after years of bartending, losing everything, and never giving up when things looked bleak.

Life likes to throw roadblocks in the way.  I have a family to attend to – they need love, affection, and the odd meal.  My house needs cleaning, the kitten needs feeding.  I cannot closet myself in a convent and write while my world falls apart around me.  What I can do is not give up.  What I can do is work around everything else, write around everything else.  What holy writing means (to me) is wholly writing – immersing myself in what I love – but finding a way not to drown.  Drowning wouldn’t do me any good but I must jump in all the way.

Finding a Niche to Nestle In

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Many moons ago, I took a class on writing for magazines.  Even then, those in the know said nonfiction was the best way to make money as a writer. Our instructor was a tall, stern looking woman who reminded me of a lumberjack (she had a preference for large flannel shirts). She introduced herself to the class by telling us a story, her story.  She relayed how she came to write nonfiction articles for magazines – her husband dropped dead, leaving her with five children to raise and support.  Alone.

Even now as I think back on this, I don’t know how she did it.  If that were to happen to me, I think I would sprint to my local Starbucks and beg my friend Carol for a job as opposed to diving into the uncertain, perilous waters of freelancing.  I still think what she did took an incredible amount of blind courage.  After we picked our jaws up off our desks, hand after hand shot into the air.  “Tell us how!!” we chorused.

The first thing she told us, even before she taught us the mechanics of writing an article, was to think about niches.  Not those cute little alcoves people clutter up with dried flower arrangements, but a place where you, me, other writers can call our own to write about consistently, knowledgeably, and prolifically. 

Ah, the old niche question.  It paralyzes me even now.  It’s like when somebody asks me what my hobbies are. I go absolutely blank.  Umm…I love to read.  My husband would say my hobby is spending money we don’t have.  So, reading and spending imaginary money – could I possibly turn either of those things into a marketable niche?  Maybe.

Some niches are large and brimming with competition.  Take parenting, for example, the most obvious (legitimate) niche for me.  Every other blog I read is a parenting blog.  Editors of parenting magazines and ezines are inundated.  Being a parent is not enough – what sets you apart as a parent?  Are you a Catholic parent?  Minority parent?  Single parent? Parent of a child with a chronic illness?  Alien parent who married an Earthling and who is now enjoying the challenges of raising a half-Earthling, half-alien child?  That niche might prompt a magazine editor to think, “Hmmm…we haven’t run an article about hybrid alien children in awhile…” and presto, the article is picked up.

If you haven’t had the good fortune to give birth to an alien baby, what other niches might there be?  Back to hobbies. There are as many different hobbies out there as there are people.  If you think you have a weird hobby – Google it and I’ll bet you’ll find you have company; there might even be a quarterly or monthly journal that highlights your weird hobby and who better to write for such a publication. 

I don’t have a hobby but perhaps I could write about the search for one- and the misadventures that would certainly ensue. 

In this increasingly competitive world that we live in, are, generalists are a thing of the past?  It’s true in the workforce – my peers with Bachelors degrees have all gone back to get Masters degrees and more. WOW! Women on Writing’s latest newsletter focused on whether or not specialization is key to success – I think the answer is yes.  As the newsletter says, it doesn’t have to be just one specialty – if you have more than one, write about it!  For more on this topic, check out this month’s newsletter at www.wow-womenonwriting.com  

I’m still not sure about my niche.  Is it too late for me to have an alien baby?

 

 

 

Holiday Cheapskate Challenge

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My husband and I talk about winning the lottery…a lot.  We plan.  We think.  We smile.  Then, reality interrupts…

It’s not that we would live lavishly if we won the big one; we have always maintained that our primary goal is to merely get out from underneath the ever-present Matterhorn of debt that looms over us.  We would pay off our debt, ensure our retirement, ensure the kidlets university educations, make healthy charitable donations and THEN we would sit back and decide which exotic location to holiday in.

Although Scottish, I have none of the legendary thriftiness.  I have a great love of the finer things in life with no real thought to how they’ll be paid for.  That said, I’ve come a long way in my adult life. Shopping sprees at Lord & Taylor have given way to shopping sprees at a local thrift store where my biggest purchase cost a whopping $5.99.  We are still always broke.

And, so, as the holidays approach at warp speed, panic has set in.  How to avoid going even deeper into debt to pay for birthdays and Christmas, entertaining, and dare I say it, some fun?  The holidays should be a time of merriment, not worry.  And, so this is my Holiday Cheapskate Challenge: to have fun, make merry, and not go broke in the process. 

 First on my list of things to investigate:  entertaining on a budget.  We love to entertain during the holidays.   Now, in mid-November, we are scurrying around like squirrels, gathering ingredients for all of the goodies we will be baking in the next month.  We have family visiting at various times in December and January.  As tempting as it might be to try, we can’t just sit in our living room in front of the fire and feed them homemade baked goods.   We want to do right by them – they’ve paid dearly just to get here.  Showing guests a good time costs money.  Or, does it?

 Speaking of a good time, let’s talk booze.  We’re big wine drinkers and we like good wine – a taste we developed before we had children.  All of our friends and family love fine wine too which leads to the inevitable debate on how to entertain cost-consciously and still serve good cheer.  Or, conversely, when attending a party, what wines can be had that won’t break the budget or poison the host? 

Oh, the things we do in the name of “research.”  I’m off to do just that (hiccup), safe in the knowledge that it’s five o’clock somewhere…maybe I’ll start online with the Ontario Liquor Board’s website (always a good resource for information and also killer recipes)!

In honour of the Holiday Cheapskate Challenge, all those who have great tips and ideas -feel free to share please!!  I’m interested in everything from smart shopping tips to entertaining/cooking tips to cheap weekend getaway ideas. 

Here’s to a Happy (and Solvent) Holiday Season…

Help Wanted

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Emerging from my 24-hour pity party, it’s clear I need to find a way to earn money with my writing.   Although the 93 posts I’ve written for the Write or Else blog are distracting and sometimes amusing, it’s getting me exactly nowhere on the job front.  Or is it?  Within this blog lies a wealth of information about me and my writing.  It covers everything from silly to sad, angry to gleeful.  Hanging my head in shame, I admit I’ve even covered Kim Kardashian. 

I have looked for freelance writing opportunities (online)before; I usually leave the sites in a state of panic complete with flop sweats, heart palpitations, and a serious case of knee-knocking.  I don’t exit these sites, I flee them at full speed.

So today, I returned to see if time and desperation quieted my fears.  Nope.  Same result.  I’m still trying to get my heart rate down.  Why do I experience anxiety attacks when scrolling through these pages?  I feel woefully unqualified for the jobs posted. 

I get strung up on the words “experience required.”  I have no experience, per se.  Although I’ve written 93 posts for WordPress and quite a few “articles” for sites like Suite101, I’ve never seen an ad, applied, and been accepted for an assignment.   In the freelance world, what counts as “experience” and what kind of experience gets a writer hired?

Wise people say fiction doesn’t pay; I’ve been advised to write nonfiction, earn some money, and then save the fiction for later.  Ok, fine.  Sign. Me. Up.  And then I flounder.  Aside from a lack of experience, I might be having a slight self-confidence issue.  Time for a little pep talk, banshee. 

Strong points:  I’m a  very intelligent writer.  I grasp ideas quickly and can convert them to copy that’s easy to read and has good flow.  I can condense large ideas into synopsis form.   I’m a fast writer and can turn revisions around very quickly; moreover, I take constructive criticism well – an important point when working with editors.  I have a strong command of the English language; I know how to use a dictionary, a thesaurus, and spellcheck.   I know how to research and extrapolate information from a variety of sources.  I adore reading  as much as writing; I am curious about a great many subjects.  I have a quirky, irreverant sense of humour but I can also grasp complex issues and write seriously about them.  I work well independently but do not shy away from asking for help if I need it.

Hey, I’m not half bad. 

I’m a parent (teens!), a wife, a pet owner, the child of alcoholics, and am the sibling of someone who suffers from acute mental illness.  I’ve worked in a variety of fields from real estate to legal to major fundraising.  I suffer from migraines and chronic back pain.  I love to drive very fast; I generally loathe slowpokes.  I have a love/hate relationship with the act of traveling but love exploring new destinations.  I’m an expat American living in Canada.

In sum, I could write about anything.

There.  C’est moi.  I am a veritable gold mine of smarts, talent, and willingness to prove myself.  Now what?

Hard Green Tomatoes

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There sits on my kitchen windowsill, a tiny pale tomato; a symbol of something that ran out of time.  I leave it there as a reminder of my writing – an unripened fruit, a precious thing that might not grow. 

That tomato’s mother plant was placed in the ground with the utmost care because I was a novice to gardening of any sort.  I followed the planting directions to the letter – I mixed compost with fresh dark earth and for good luck, added a healthy sprinkling of Miracle-Gro.  The vine grew to stupendous heights with a girth like a small tree.  Literally hundreds of tiny green tomatoes sprung forth from this most willing of plants.  I had such hopes – of bruschetta, of homemade tomato sauces and fresh tomatoes on summer salads.  Not one tomato ripened.

I’m not one to sit around and wring my hands over a bunch of green tomatoes.  Maybe I could’ve made something – mince, perhaps – out of the green ones but I just kept waiting and hoping.  I just couldn’t believe a vine that showed such promise, that reaped such praise from the neighbours and towered over the fences could not produce one ripe fruit. 

As is customary, August heat gave way to the chill of September.  The nights grew ever frostier but warm sunny days seduced me into thinking the plant had more time.  The tomatoes were trying  (if tomatoes could breathe, these little guys would’ve been panting).  Their  green skin slowly warmed to yellows; some made it  to the palest of pinks.  Those that approached red were then attacked by calorie-hoarding squirrels.  Then, one or two frosts ended all hope.  Although the vine still stands, its leaves are shrivelled and blackened.  The vine stands as a stark reminder of something that was started with great promise in too short a growing season.

The plant reminds me that the time allotted to me for writing – my growing season –  might well be over.  Should not talent, fuelled by still-strong desire and love, be allowed to ripen?  Should someone be cut down because of too few successes and is  success only measured by currency deposited in a bank account?  Do progress and promise mean nothing?  Financial reality, much like falling temperatures, cannot be ignored for long.  They both take their toll eventually. 

My eyes return to the tomato plant leaning against the back fence, its branches still heavy with unripened fruit that refuses to let go.  Was there not enough light?  Was the soil too acidic?  Were there not enough hours in the day?  If I had planted the vine six inches to the left, would it have gotten just a precious bit more sunlight to allow those little fruit to burst forth in juicy redness? Was the plant betrayed by the false promise of an extended summer?  Was the little plant put in the ground just a few days too late?

Had I ignored my parents’ insistence that I get a “real job” and started writing seriously in my twenties, would I be a self-sufficient author now?  Would I have had enough success enabling me to stand tall among the doubters and ignore the accountants?  Would I now be able to sustain myself and not be subject to the whims of unpredictable economics?  Had I listened to my own shy inner voice, might I have avoided the devastating decision to postpone the dream again?  Had I been raised with praise instead of doubt, would I be able to withstand the betrayal of early frosts and harsh financial droughts?

I’ll never know.  I can’t turn back the clock and the days are getting shorter. I’ll never really know why my tomato plant, so full of talent and promise, was not able to produce any ripe fruit but I’m betting time was the culprit.  I gaze out the kitchen window at the once healthy vine and I don’t know if I have the strength to start over again next spring, so painful is this season’s disappointment.  Maybe I should rip it out of the ground and toss it behind the shed so its failure to produce doesn’t constantly remind me of my own.  Maybe an early snow will bury it.

I’ll chop the vine up into little pieces with my pruning shears and stuff the bits into a leaf bag along with the hundreds of unripened, rock-hard little tomatoes. I’ll bury the remains under millions of fallen leaves.  I’ll drag the leaf bag out to the curb and figure out what to do next.

The Fear of Not Doing

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Maybe because the Big 5-0 is fast approaching  I’ve been thinking about what I want to do before I’m…well, too old to do it.  It could be called my Bucket List (although it’s not really that big – the size of a small plastic beach pail, really).  Is this List the beginnings of my mid-life crisis?  

Most of the items involve travel.  As I rattle off the list to myself, it occurs to me if everything on the list were to be accomplished, I’d never be home.  I’d be a gypsy although to do any of it, the lottery would have to be won.

Some of these things go against everything my loved ones normally associate with me.  For example:  I want to pilot an Ultra-Light aircraft.  Not only am I afraid of heights but I’m afraid of flying and yet, I’ve wanted to do this for a very long time.  My father had his pilot’s license and his…er…flying “skills” were enough to turn me off flight for a lifetime.  But the idea of flying open to the winds with nothing but a lawn mower engine puttering away behind me is very seductive.  I can’t explain it; I just want to do it.

I want to drive the Nurburgring in Germany.  Those who know me are familiar with my love of speed. In fact, there are quite a few highway patrolmen in the province of Alberta who are also well acquainted with my love of speed; however, I want to do it legitimately, with the only consequence being…well, I guess my death.  I would train and learn as much as I could before so as not to endanger myself or others on the track.  I get a tingling feeling in the base of my spine every time I see an aerial shot of that hallowed altar of speed.  Oh, and I’d want to do it in a proper car.  Perhaps an M5.

I want to see Africa and India.  Venice is near the top of the travel list as time is not on Venice’s side either.  Europe has to be a return address not just a tourist destination at some point.  There are deserted beaches in Fiji and misty moors in Britain to be walked.  I want to see the red dunes in Namibia.  There are photographs to take and languages to be learned.  I want to sail on the Mediterranean and paddle the countless bays around Stockholm.

Now that it’s written down, there’s more on this list than originally thought.  For some of it, I may already be too late.  Are my reflexes already too slow for the Nurburgring?  Would I cause a five car pileup in the parking lot?  And same goes for the Ultra-Light…my vision and reflexes aren’t what they used to be – does this matter?  Of course it does.  Time’s a wasting…

I envy people make living and experiencing a priority. This doesn’t have to mean climbing Everest; to some, just getting on a plane is a huge adventure.  Some might scold and say, that’s foolish; you need to settle down and be responsible.  No, you need to Live.  Thus far,my entire life has been a catalogue of caution, fear, and excuses.  I don’t want my kids to make the same mistake.  Get out there, do stuff, experience the world and other cultures.  Don’t wait. 

Going to check my Visa points and formulate an argument in favour of racking up more points so that some of these things can happen before I’m 80!