The Dream of Being a Writer

“Everyone thinks they’re a photographer just like everyone thinks they’re a writer.” My coworker said this to me casually as we exited the conference room at the conclusion of our project meeting.  I nodded to her with a knowing smile of agreement on my face. As soon as we parted ways, however, my face fell as I acknowledged the sinking feeling in my stomach. Her statement bothered me. I felt disappointed for some reason. Why?

What defines people as writers (or photographers or any other label for that matter)? Do they have to be published? What about the people who spend countless hours laboring over writing projects only to never publish anything?  Are they officially considered to be writers, and who decides? These are just a few questions that manifested in my mind as I returned to my desk at work.

I do not think of myself as an “official” writer. I do not refer to myself as much to others or in my own mind. To me a writer is someone who pursues the art relentlessly and formally as a profession or as a means of livelihood. A writer to me is someone who feels compelled by an unseen force to put pen to paper and release the perfect words like a waterfall. I write as a hobby. I write because I enjoy it. I have been doing so since I was a little kid just learning to write her letters and mix them together to form words and meaning.

So why did my coworker’s statement bother me?

At a small company holiday party some years ago, we kicked off the festivities with an ice-breaker question: What is your dream job? There were some fantastic and surprising answers, such as a ship captain and a concert pianist. My answer was a writer, historical fiction to be exact, although the genre is mostly irrelevant when it comes to this dream.

I have thought about being a writer in accordance with my own definition of such for years, for as long as I can remember. I have never given it a real shot. I have not tried to write about the hard things but only focus on what comes easy to me. When I go to the bookstore and wander the endless rows of books, half of me feels inspired to know that so many people have become true writers because it makes me think maybe I’d stand a chance if I gave it a real shot. The other half of me is disheartened by how many writers there already are. There isn’t enough room for everyone.

Dreaming of being something reinforces the belief that I’m not that thing already. Sometimes a dream becomes a crutch. We dream of something for so long that we become the dreamer and accept the identity rather than attempting to become the thing in the dream. We find comfort in the certainty of the dream and grow too afraid to confront it and to try to make it reality. What if we try and fail? Then we have no dream to fall back on but instead have to face a harsh and brutal truth. In our dream we imagine whatever we want.

My coworker’s statement bothered me because it reminded me of my dream. It reminded me of the thing that I’m not. I cannot even feign blissful ignorance and be one of those people who identifies as a writer simply because I have a blog or because I write copy for corporate communications. My definition of what it means to be a writer prevents that. I’m too honest with myself to be one of the people to whom my coworker referred.

I do not think I am a writer. I know I am not. But perhaps I could be.

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Happy When

There is an abundance of things going right in our lives, but sometimes we choose to focus instead on what’s going wrong and what we are missing. We let our problems loom over us and believe they are standing between us and happiness.  We think we can’t be happy as long as we have these obstacles in our way, but we are wrong.

We feed ourselves ideas that start with phrases like “I’ll be happy when…” and “I won’t be happy as long as…”

We set rules and limitations on the boundaries of our happiness. We base the pursuit of happiness on future possibilities that are not guaranteed.  We tell ourselves that we will be happy once we lose weight.  We believe that we will be happy as soon as we start making more money.  We think we will be happy once we are in a romantic relationship.  We focus on the potential ahead, even though now is all that we have.

Research into the science of happiness has often shown that we are poor predictors of the things that will truly make us happy. We lack the foresight to consider all the influencing factors and base our beliefs on unrealistic ideologies.  Most likely they will make us happy for a time until we focus on something else we want and slip back into a state of dissatisfaction.

We all have problems and experience setbacks, and this will always be the case. This is life. We all want things that we don’t currently have, and we will always be in pursuit of things we think will lead to a better life. Maybe these things that we want will make us happy, and maybe they won’t. Regardless, the key is choosing the right focal points to calibrate our “happy” state of mind and not holding ourselves back based on endless wanting.  Life is a balancing act and so is happiness.

One obstacle I have let stand in my way is weight gain. In the past I have let it take over more of my existence that I like to admit.  At times it has become the only thing I can see.  I think, “I’ll be happy when I lose this weight,” putting all my “happy” eggs in one basket, so to speak.  I feel like hiding, become less engaged in life, and ultimately create a ripple effect that morphs into depression.

Eventually I get tired of feeling miserable in this self-induced state of unhappiness and come to my senses, but I can’t get those wasted days back. We cannot get any of these days back, so why do we let them pass us by and continue to make our happiness contingent on future things that may or may not come to fruition?

We can practice being happy now by taking action, showing gratitude, and being present.

It’s great to recognize the components of our lives that we want to change, that we want to improve. Identifying them allows us to then create a plan of action to make those changes and in turn create better lives for ourselves.  When I am unsatisfied with an aspect of my life and I know I need a change, I only feel better when I take steps to remedy it.  I think about why I want the change and what I can do to start.  Once I start putting forth effort to improve my situation, my “happy” state improves and I feel more in control of my life.

In the meantime, we can recognize the vast array of positive things that already exist in our lives. We can think about the things we have earned, accomplished, and experienced in addition to the natural wonders that surround us every day.  Thinking about them when we wake up in the morning and before we go to bed at night will bring them to the forefront of our minds.  Writing them down will make them sticky and even easier to see as we flow through our days with an increased sense of appreciation for all that we have.

We think about how happy we’ll be when this or that happens in the future, all the while missing the amazing things that are happening now. Being mindful of the present moment will help keep us grounded.  It will decrease our stress and worry over things yet to come so that we can focus on today.  It will decrease our dissatisfaction with the current state of our lives and help us pay closer attention to the important things that are right in front of us.

There is no reason to hold back and wait for when certain things fall into place. We can enjoy our lives, have fun, explore, and engage.  We can be happy now.

A Confession: Looking for the Bad

“When you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will.”
-Pollyanna

“Hate” is a strong and powerful word, and I usually refrain from wielding it towards anything or anyone. It has become casually and commonly used, and I often hear it as part of the phrase, “I hate people.” It is a phrase I seem to hear more and more frequently, and it’s one with which I often find myself nodding in partial agreement.

I don’t really like people. Other than my few close relationships, I mostly keep my distance, which would be a shock to the social butterfly of my youth. “Why?” I hear her asking. “Why do you dislike people so much and how have you become so cynical?” Good question. It’s one I have been asking myself a lot lately. While I don’t have all the answers yet, I recently realized that somewhere along the way I have developed a habit of looking for the bad in people.

It’s hard not to be disappointed and disheartened by mankind. We constantly hear about the horrible things we do to each other and to other forms of life with blatant disregard for everything but ourselves. The dark side of humanity is always evident via news and social networks in formats that take advantage of and build on our fear. We see these things, hear about them, talk about them, and latch onto them. The bad things are endlessly tossed into our line of sight. It’s overpowering.

My disenchantment has overflowed into my more personal, intimate relationships. I have gradually become less trusting, less open, less engaged with others. When I meet people, I begin immediately evaluating their words and behavior in an attempt to glean their real agenda underneath the façade. I am quick to pass judgment with little information and automatically assume people are being disingenuous.

Ultimately, I have been looking for the bad. Many of us have grown cynical towards humanity (or lack thereof), and it has soured our personal interactions. It’s time for a change. It’s time to look for the good.

How do we change our perception? How do we begin looking for the good instead?

1) I think it starts with ourselves. Once we understand our own triggers, we can take them into consideration when we are in the throes of casting judgment on others. If we better understand what angers us, gets under our skin, or sets us off, we can learn to better manage those emotions and project them in a more positive way instead of towards an increasing sense of animosity.

2) Elie Wiesel said, “We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph.” Every person is unique. We are all living out our own stories. Being curious about others and their experiences allows us to humanize them in a way that can create commonality and a sense of compassion. Ask people questions and make a genuine effort to piece together a more complete picture of who they are.

3) Everyone has positive character traits. Everyone has something they are good at doing. In elementary school we sometimes sat in a circle and took turns saying something nice about our classmates. Consider the people we encounter from family members to strangers. In our interactions with them, we can think of something we like about them, something we appreciate, or something they are good at doing.

4) Most people we encounter are not going out of their way to make our lives more difficult. We are all focused mostly on ourselves, so why do we assume others are focused on us? Assume positive intent. Everyone is simply trying to make their way in the world as best as they can. This concept cured me of my road rage. We all think we are the greatest drivers and that we do no wrong. We can’t all be right. The person that cuts us off on the freeway is simply trying to get to a destination, same as us, same as everyone. It wasn’t an intentional act of meanness.

5) Every time we encounter someone in life, we have a new opportunity to learn something. We can look for those lessons, especially when we experience more challenging interactions. We can ask ourselves what we can learn from this person, from this situation? Other people often act as mirrors that show us what kind of people we are or what kind of people we want to be.

Looking at humanity as a whole, we are exposed to more examples of the dark side of our nature than the bright. We have to take it upon ourselves to seek out the good. We can find it more easily in individuals we encounter in our daily lives. The good is right in front of us every day; we just have to teach ourselves to see it.

I am striving to be less judgmental, to practice showing more love, kindness, and compassion, and to see others in a more positive light. I am looking for the good in mankind, and perhaps if everyone tries to do the same, the world will be a better place.

Be the Change

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.”
-Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi

Some days in this world are harder than others. Some days there is more uncertainty and unrest. We shake our fists at the institutions, at the broken systems, and at each other. We rage against the injustice of it all. We yell and scream, unleashing an exhaustive amount of negative energy that wraps us in a fog and seeps into everything around us.

We draw lines in the sand. We distance ourselves from our family, from people we once called friends.   We subject ourselves to demoralizing media, and we feel isolated, powerless, and scared. We act out, set things on fire, and hurt each other. In our misguided displays of loss, anger, frustration, and fear, we deepen the darkness of the time. We make things worse.

If we want change, if we are inspired to take action, we have to start with ourselves. We have to take a step back and take a long hard look in the mirror. Are we behaving like the people we think others should be? Are we practicing what we preach? After all, we can’t expect others to follow a way of life that we do not follow ourselves.

The key is to set the example. If you want to influence change, do and be all of the things you think others should be. Lead and show others the way by exemplifying the character traits you value the most, such as honesty, integrity, tolerance, and kindness. Hold yourself to the same, if not higher, standards that you hold others.

When we are angry and frustrated, we want to be heard. We want others to listen to us. But when we feel those words and actions swelling up in our chests and rising up ready and desperate to explode out of us, it’s time to take a step back to gain some clarity. If we want others to listen, then we must do the same. Take deep breaths and listen to the wind, to the birds, to the rustling leaves. Listen to the sounds of home and comfort, to life happening around us, and calm your thoughts.

Then open your mind to the thoughts of others. One of the greatest things about being human is our ability to discuss ideas, to share and debate opposing viewpoints rationally and without raging at one another. Wipe away those lines in the sand and reconnect with others. Listen to your loved ones, your teachers. Talk and share your thoughts and ideas, but also listen. In listening, we open our minds to new possibilities.

Attempting to understand the perspectives of others helps us grow and gain insight. We are all walking our own unique paths, trying to follow a way of life that we believe is the best way. We make decisions based on the knowledge and experiences that have contributed to our individual perspectives and that have formed our ideologies.   We cannot all be wrong, and we cannot all be right.

If we believe others should practice tolerance, then we must practice as well. It is important that we look beyond the point immediately in front of us and try to understand the viewpoints of others, their experiences, their passions and belief systems. We then begin to better relate to each other.

We don’t like what we don’t understand. We are scared of the unknown, and we allow fear to push us in whatever direction it wants. Sometimes it pushes us to run away, but no matter how far or long we run, fear will be right behind us. If we want others to be brave and seek to understand, we have to do the same.

We have to face our fears. Fear is a powerful tactic, and throughout history it has been used as a tool of influence and control. We cannot let fear goad us into thoughtless action. We cannot let fear dictate who we are. We cannot let it lead us down a path of hatred and judgment and anger. We must learn about the things that scare us or that we don’t understand, deconstruct them and put them back together.

We are all fallible and must take responsibility for ourselves, even when we feel inclined to blame something or someone else. None of us like to be judged, especially by others who lack the knowledge and proximity to understand us. None of us feel good when we are treated as anything less than what and who we are.

It is the golden rule of human interaction to treat others as you wish to be treated. If we crave more kindness and compassion in this world, then we have to create it. We start by simply being kinder to the people we encounter. Love and kindness have a ripple effect. When we experience it, we are more likely to pass it on to others. The energy we put out into the world increases exponentially and eventually makes its way back to us.

Positive change starts with ourselves, but there are many direct social and community contributions we can make. Rather than let feelings of hate, fear, or self-righteousness control and weaken us, we can share and spread messages of love, kindness, and tolerance. We can teach our children to be tolerant and brave and guide them along the pathways of morality and compassion. We can educate ourselves on the needs of our community and take action, volunteer our time and skill sets to causes we believe in and wish to positively influence.

We must aim high and practice becoming the people that inhabit our visions of an ideal world. Bit by bit we can transform, and all of that love and light will radiate outward and warm the people around us. We have to channel our passion and energy into the things we believe in, and we have to do it in a positive way and productive way. Then we can influence change within our communities, our neighborhoods, our cities. Together, we can influence the world.

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Finding Creative Inspiration

The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. -Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

Many great writers have said plainly that writing is hard work. From Ernest Hemmingway to Stephen King, they emphasize the importance of commitment and toiling over your work, even when you don’t feel like it. I imagine this truth is the same for other art forms – painting, composing, design, and all the rest. I understand the importance of work and putting in the time, but where do you start when your treasure chest of inspiration is empty?

Tomorrow is my birthday, my own personal new year and a time I traditionally make a resolution. In the year ahead I want to focus more on writing. To my frustration I have lacked the inspiration and motivation to write much in the past few months. It is a struggle we all face from time to time.

Here are a few methods (some I have tried and others I plan to try) for finding creative inspiration:

Change your environment. We are creatures of habit and tend to work in the same spaces. One option is to change an aspect of those spaces. Hang some new artwork. Light table lamps or candles instead of overhead lights. Rearrange your furniture to face a different direction. Sit on the floor instead of the couch. Do whatever makes sense for your workspace and art form.

A second option is to work someplace else. When I was in high school, two of my favorite places to write when I needed more focus were the roof and my closet. Change to a different room in your house. Sit on your front porch or work in your back yard. Go to a café, library, a park, anyplace that gives you a different view and a different ambience than your usual space.

Meditate. Sometimes the more you focus on a creative project, the more clarity and inspiration seem to slip away from you. Then your frustration makes it even worse. Meditation can help clear your mind of all the noise and bring you back to your point of focus. I recently downloaded the Headspace app per a recommendation. It has a mediation series for many things, including creativity.

Listen to music. Music stirs up emotions and memories. Indulge in your favorites or check out something new. When I was in elementary school, one day a week I attended an alternative program for gifted kids. After recess, we would all lie on the floor with the lights off, listen to a piece of instrumental music, and let our imaginations take over. Afterwards we wrote about the thoughts, images, and stories that emerged in our minds. It was my favorite part of the day.

Seek out visual stimulation. We are very visual creatures. On a recent episode of Gretchen Rubin’s podcast “Happier,” she suggested finding inspiration by reading three magazines you would not normally read. You can gain exposure to new subject matter and ideas by reading the articles or by simply flipping through the pages since magazine are image heavy. There are also many great books of photography and art prints with striking imagery. Buy them, check them out from the library, or browse at a local bookstore.

Read poetry. Poetry, like music, is concentrated emotion and ideas. It is lyrical, beautiful, and often ambiguous. It leaves room for interpretation and imagination. It is also short and often easy to read. I recommend Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and Rumi, just to name a few.

Go for a walk. Sometimes a breath of fresh air can work wonders on your creative aspirations. With each step and brush of the wind, you feel more a part of the world around you. You can listen to the sounds of daily life happening around you and focus for a bit on simply living in that moment and observing all of that life. It is refreshing and inspiring.

Take yourself on an artist date. I got this idea from the book The Artist’s Way, which I highly recommend reading and practicing. Take your self some place new or to one of your favorite places that has inspired you in the past. Artist dates of my own include visiting a local museum and hiking through the nature reserve. Taking time out from your daily routine to spend some quality time with just yourself in a creative space helps bring clarity to your thoughts and is a great way to find creative inspiration.

Free write/paint/draw/knit/etc.   Sometimes we over think things, and the best way to pave the way for creativity is to stop the chaotic thought process. Set a timer for 10 minutes and just do your thing! Do what feels right and trust your creative outpour. What you create though simple instinct may surprise you and inspire you to keep going.

Regardless of the pathway to creative inspiration that works best for you, the key is to let go of your frustration. Negativity will inevitably block the flow of ideas. Relax, open your mind, and trust that inspiration will come to you.

Happy creating!

2011 Northern Spark

Photo credit: Northern Spark via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Topic of Conversation

You are with a group of people, at lunch or at a party, and there is a lull in conversation. Then someone brings up her favorite TV show. Suddenly there is energy and everyone has something to say. They talk animatedly, interrupt each other, and raise their voices in excitement.

A co-worker of mine recently posed this scenario and subsequently asked, “Why is this happening?” It was an interesting question that got me thinking.

Why do we default to this topic of conversation? Surely we have something more to talk about than the TV shows we are watching. Why aren’t we talking more about our own stories and connecting through personal experiences? Have we all become boring and uninteresting?

Don’t get me wrong. I like TV. It’s a form of storytelling that we all connect with and understand. There is nothing wrong with the bond we experience over our “shows.” I have my own indulgences (currently House of Cards, Girls, and The Walking Dead). We all need to escape reality sometimes, but when the credits start to roll, our real lives are still there.

Perhaps we are struggling to lead more interesting and passionate lives. We all fall victim to the doldrums of routine and obligation. It quickly becomes boring and uninteresting. Perhaps we would benefit from spending more time creating and improving our own lives so that we can live out and tell the true stories in which we are happy and proud to be the main characters.

We are meant to experience life, not simply observe it.

Observation means you are sitting on the sidelines while the action is happening without you. There are so many adventures awaiting us outside our front doors. Every passing moment is part of our story, so what are we doing during these moments? How are we spending our time?

The characters we love on TV aren’t sitting around watching TV (an observation by another insightful coworker). There is an incredible flow of things happening all around us that we can experience and share. We can actively pursue lives of passion and interest or we can sit passively by while the clock continues ticking away.

We are all unique and interesting, and we all have something to say. We can tap into that by spending more time exploring life, trying new things, and experiencing the world for ourselves.

Maybe we are scared to share our stories, to share our passions and interests with others. It makes us feel exposed and vulnerable. TV shows are neutral territory. But passion and interest are contagious and can ignite that spark in others and even inspire others as well.

What are you contributing to the conversations around you? Are you sharing personal joys, trials and tribulations, epiphanies, ideas? The next time there is a lull in conversation, are you going to relay an episode you watched on TV, or are you going to relay an episode of your own life?

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An Open Door

Call it the Universe. Call it the Ether or the Energy. Call it a Higher Power.  When I open a door to it in my mind and in my spirit, sometimes amazing things flow in to my life.

OpenGardenDoor

I sit on the couch cross-legged with my computer in my lap while my husband sits across from me entranced in an episode of House. I sigh loudly. I tap on the keys. More drama emanates from the TV. I sigh loudly again. My husband looks over at me questioningly.

“I can’t figure out what to write!” I say. We both know he can’t help me with this. I sit a while longer staring at the screen and finally shut my laptop. This is getting me nowhere. I need to relax and just let my mind wander. Just let it be.

The next morning I’m daydreaming about nothing in particular, and suddenly an idea pops into my head and I know what I want to write. This has happened before, and it truly is an amazing thing. I have been more focused on writing in the past few months than I have the past few years. It’s like I have tapped into an infinite well of thought and ideas and inspiration just by thinking about it and trusting that it’s there. I feel so much more aware.

Perhaps being open and more mindful of the world allows the energy of the universe to flow through you. Perhaps it even brings you something that you thought was lost forever…

Quite a few years ago, I experienced a series of emotional events while spending a weekend in San Francisco. When I got on the plane to fly back to L.A., I was struck with an overwhelming need to get my experience down on paper. I wrote furiously, the words pouring out of me and into my notebook, not stopping until I reached the very end, my hand tired and cramping. I stirred a curiosity in the man sitting next to me who politely waited until I was finished and then felt compelled to ask me about my writing given my intense focus for the duration of the flight.

When I got home, I transcribed everything I wrote onto my computer and saved it. A couple years later, my laptop crashed and I lost everything on it. It was crushing to know my writings were trapped forever in a place I could not reach, including the story of that weekend in San Francisco. I knew I could not recapture it.

Last week I was looking for something random and unimportant, going through closets and drawers. I opened a drawer and laid eyes on a brown folder I had not seen for quite some time. I opened it, began flipping through its contents, and stopped, in shock at what I saw. Tucked into the folder were the small half-pages on which I’d written about my experience so desperately on that flight home.

I still cannot believe I have it back. I thought it was lost forever. It feels like a gift from the universe. It feels like a sign.

I think this works for things other than writing and creativity. Perhaps if we are open to the energy around us, focus on the good and go with the flow, we will have more inspiring experiences. Or maybe we simply become more mindful and notice more of the coincidences. But I think it’s something bigger than that. Maybe it’s actually nothing. But maybe it’s something.

 

Photo credit: Thorbard via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA