Saturday, April 30, 2011

HOW TO ENJOY INSOMNIA



You can learn useful things about yourself when you're lying awake in the middle of the night not doing anything. Things that might make a difference the next time you find yourself awake when you don't want to be.  For me, it's the most mentally chaotic state to be in--my mind pings from one scenario to another, and yet my body is still.

Or is it?  What I'm learning is that mind and body affect one another equally.  It's tempting to think that insomnia is all in the mind--that the body's at the mercy of the racing mind, and if I could just slow that down...Actually, I've noticed that when muscles tighten in my back or neck, my mind reacts, jumping around faster.

If I try to use the time to think about something, say, what to do with a certain  character in my novel, maybe get rid of him altogether, I can't concentrate worth squat.  When I really get going, I'm in one thought for about 3-5 seconds before popping to the next scenario.

It's interesting to observe yourself.  Don't try to get anywhere.  It's an experiment.  The nice thing is, this approach  lets you off the hook.  You don't have to accomplish anything; you don't have to get back to sleep or solve some thorny problem.
The night isn't really barren
I manage to relax one muscle in my back, and my mind quiets...just a little bit. Or I pay attention to my breath. The breath reveals where I'm tense, and being tense is okay.  Then I try breathing in a way that feels good in my body. But maybe I'm too worked up to pull that off.  Okay, so where does my body feel comfortable?  Oh, my feet are actually feeling happy there under the covers...

It's kind of enjoyable.  And I surprise myself.  I go back to sleep.
Or maybe I don't. Maybe the concentration lasts five minutes, and maybe the five minutes is chopped up between worrying.  That's okay. It's incremental.  Writing a novel is incremental.  Raising children takes a long time.  Learning to quiet down inside is a skill, and it takes practice.

And tomorrow night, maybe you'll sleep like a kitten.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

THE BEATINGS WILL STOP WHEN MORALE IMPROVES

My creative writing students recently asked me about my work process.  I was flattered. It made me feel like an authority.  The funny thing is, although they seemed to be interested in what I said, I can't REMEMBER what I said.

The truth is, that process (whatever the heck it was) has been driving me crazy. I'm really good at sitting down, getting a bead on my work goals for the day, zapping the target dead center.  I'm dogged about revising. I'm obsessive about sending work out to magazines. But I was so focused on the frustrations of trying to get published, trying to accumulate readers, trying to finish the blinkin' endless novel, that I was turning into some post-modern incarnation of a WWII fighter pilot, who'd mark the plane with a red slash of paint every time he made a kill. (In my case, an acceptance. And for all my relentless diligence, there weren't many slashes.)

It's beginning to dawn on me that the writing-as-air-warfare model has nothing to do with why I started writing in the first place.  Being raised Quaker oughta kinda shoulda told me that my true inspiration might not be Mars, the God of War...?

Funny how we miss the obvious
Can it be that one sign that you're on the right track is: Are you enjoying the work?  No, I'm not talking about rejection letters, the financial uncertainty, the insecurity of wondering if the last revision was really an improvement.  You'd have to be crazy to enjoy these.  But the act of writing--or cooking, or whatever you do that you once found joy in doing.  Do you lose yourself in it, or does the work make your jaw tighten, your mind obsess?

I'm going to start small in my exploration of how creative work can be nurturing, not straining.  I'll begin with my body. As I work, I'll spend some time in silence, looking not into the screen of magic and disillusion, but out the window. Just look...notice how vibrant the grass is with all this rain. I won't push for a result.  My eye rests on something that causes relaxation to settle in my back and shoulders--at this moment, the motion of birds, the fast, gentle rain as it causes horizontal surfaces to dance with motion.  Words will come to me; they always do.

I'm waiting for the arrival of a new muse, a female one. A Quaker one?! :)

What about you? Can you take a moment away to refresh your body and mind?  If you don't have a room with a view, are there pictures you can rest with in a meditative way?  Does certain music reach below the tension?  If concentration is an issue, start small.  Don't pressure yourself.  Take a few seconds here and there.  Just look, just listen, just close your eyes and feel the air on your skin. See what happens.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Small Blog Seeking Healthy Tagline

I'm happy with the new title of my blog.  The next step is a tagline--a short phrase, maybe three words, that  appears right after the title and clearly promises what the reader will find.

I don't want to appeal only to people who self-identify as "Writers." I'd like the tagline to make that clear--the blog is for anyone who uses words thoughtfully, in whatever sphere of life.   I for one don't only "work" as a writer!  I'm a mother, wife, writer, manager, editor--changing roles a zillion times a day.  I'll be exploring ways that the work we do can nurture us and other people, rather than wearing everyone down. Awareness of what's happening in our bodies, which we often ignore, is a good place to start.

I'd love your suggestions!

Some possible taglines: WritingNurture: Working for Joy
or  Writing for Joy   ??
Is that...I don't know. New Age cheesy?  Sound like the title of a self-indulgent seminar?

WritingNurture: Body Mind Joy
Does this make me sound like a yoga teacher?  I don't do yoga!

WritingNurture:  Writing, Life, Balance   Kind of like that one.  I think this may be it.

How about Live, Balance, Write  ?  Too vague?

I would really appreciate your feedback.  Let me know if you have other ideas for a tagline!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

WWJC, or, Which Chaplain Would Jesus Choose?

I am going to change my blog.  Not my life, mind you. That's too much of a project.  In weeks to come, the look of it will change.  No more drab, 70s powder-room decor with vague birds flapping off somewhere!  This is the age of clean white possibilities. Oh, and search engines.  (Soon. I promise.)

The new focus will be on the writing process and spiritual growth. So there's going to be humor, natch.  For one thing,  I've got a lot of religious ambivalence. Choices!  Who's right?  Aaagh!  One thing I like about being a Quaker is that it can contain all that.  You can be all, Which end is up? and still be an okay Quaker.

So, forthwith, my first post takes a "searing, compellingly readable look" at the smorgasbord of religious options available to us here in the US through a sociological sample of a representative population. (I stole the quote from the back of someone else's book.)

Observations on viewing photograph portraits of the various chaplains at a large university.  READ AND CONSIDER:

The Zen chaplain looks like a cancer patient without any hair, but she actually looks really healthy.  She seems happy.

The Evangelical Christian chaplain looks friendly and happy but unhealthy and blowsy, like he might drop dead from corroded arteries during a service.

The Historically Black Church chaplain looks like someone you'd want to invite to a tense family gathering, because he'd get everyone talking and help them to relax.  Ergo, he looks happy.

The Islamic chaplain looks extremely intelligent and his eyes sort of bore into you.  He might be happy.  He probably has 3 PhDs.  He has a tasteful little beard.

The Pagan chaplain looks like she would rather not have her picture taken.  She looks like she would be happy if she weren't being frozen in film.  She looks healthy in an earthy sort of way.  But clean.

The Protestant Christian Ministry chaplain has a very funny name which I can't repeat here.  It's good that he has a funny name because his picture is so boring.  His surname rhymes with that of a famous porn star.

The Episcopal chaplain looks very smart and friendly in the way of person who never got a bad grade in her life but saw right through the popular kids.  Possibly her legs are quite heavy, but if so she doesn't care. She's so beyond that.

The Jewish chaplain seems to be the oldest one in the group.  He might be happy, but he's doing something self-conscious with his mouth.  He is never seen without his jacket and tie.  Of all of 'em, he probably spends the most time sitting at white-linen-covered tables at fundraising banquets.

Maybe the Lutheran chaplain has to wear the collar, but with that wide lapel blue jacket?  Her photo looks like the kind of high school graduation picture you'd hide in a drawer.  Ooohg, this is getting petty! Hey, it's a photo, not a biography.

The Baptist chaplain looks like someone's awkward teenage son.  I said "awww," when I saw his picture, and I hope the students are nice to him. He looks like he's trying really hard to look happy, but like he doesn't understand half the foul language the college kids use.  He tries to fake it with this anxious smile.

Judging from the hooded robe, the Roman Catholic is an actual monk--a Vote in his Favor.  But his haircut is middle management.  He looks happy and fun, as if he's about to say, "Please. Call me Tony."  (Interesting that the guy has the first name of a famous cartoon character.)

--So, based solely on my completely superficial interpretation of their photos, which chaplain would you go to for spiritual counsel?  And what, pray tell, would Jesus do?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Art of Silence

I suppose being raised in Quaker meeting predisposed me to learn to meditate.  Meeting for Worship is based on the notion that sitting in respectful group silence is a way of directly hearing from God.  Really there's a lot of faith involved. As I grew up, I always felt confused in church services, even run-of-the-mill Protestant ones.  What to do with the bulletin? How do you know you're turning to the right hymn? Then there was the agony of shaking hands with strangers, and all of this was somehow supposed to have to do with prayer.

In Catholic services, I was so lost I didn't even try.  Plus there was worship stuff non-Catholics either didn't need to do or weren't supposed to do, so I was safer as an observer.  

Along with First Day (Sunday) Meeting, I've been going to a "secular" Buddhist center a couple of times a week for the past year. We sit for 30-45 minutes, then there's teaching.  The kind of meditation they teach focuses simply on the breath. I love the fact that meditation is experimental, that it doesn't seek results.  This diminishes anxiety--the goal isn't to relax, but to notice.  Where is the tension in my body?  Does it hurt? Does it move? What happens if I relax my jaw?

There's nothing passive about it, but it's blessedly without a goal.  In my writing life, I'm so driven to get the work written, to be published.  I needed a counter to all that--ambition can dominate the mind and throw everything off.

What do you do to relax?  Does your mind ever race for more, striving for achievement, then tumbling downhill into worry? How do you deal with it?