Friday, December 30, 2011

Monkey Brains, V: Lazy

It's hard to get dressed on winter days. My new fleece pajamas and thick, yellowed old hotel-terry bathrobe swaddle me like bear fat.

My daughter is on vacation this week. She and a friend are sleeping in the living room after a Harry Potter film marathon last night (Blue Ray!) Structure has crumbled.  I fit in freelance work around what my kids are doing.  Dust and crumbs and hair gather in corners.

Cabin-fevered, I took a long walk last night in the dark, and I felt my heart open, gradually, thinking of longer days now unfolding.
This morning, a moment stretches to an hour. New emails come in. Old ones lie blinking at me like necessary mammals. (I should have answered that one last week.)

Will I ever finish my novel?  Why does the washing machine smell bad, and what should I do about it?

For me, this is the way forward:  It's both a discipline and a splurge of relaxation.  Sit with what's happening right now. Pay attention. Meditate.  Hello, body.  Hello, mind, breath, feelings. Hello day.

Then I'll get dressed and see what's what.

If I looked this good, I WOULD stay in jammies all day.

Friday, December 16, 2011


See below to purchase in multiple formats!
I'm very excited to announce an interview with Catherine Stine, the author of Fireseed One.  Her new YA sci-fi novel made me think...Didn't I always know that teenagers have it in them to save the world?  

Here Catherine talks about the genesis of the book, the spiritual aspects of her writing process, and the joy of creating her own art work.   Pop over to her blog for more goodies: Interviews, giveaways, and excerpts (plus a special discount for Nook users).

Catherine, welcome! Tell me a bit about Fireseed One:
Thanks! Here is a two-line synopsis, the hardest thing in the world to write. I’m giving you this because others in the launch party are doing a great job of focusing on Fireseed’s plot, and your blog concentrates on more esoteric matters. Here goes! In 2089, Varik travels to a lethal desert with his enemy, Marisa who’s destroyed the world’s crops, for a mythical hybrid that may not exist. How’s that for brevity?

How did you come up with the idea of floating farms, a USA transformed to having Vegas on the coast, a devious female terrorist, and hybrid plants with magical breeding ability?
I’ve had versions of this on my mind since the late 80s. I created an 80-page text, with complex illustrations of floating ocean farms, an army of dolphins and a psychic scientist. At that time, you could walk into a publisher and show your goods. I took it to Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The AD gaped at it and said, “You ought to take this to California.” Translation: This book is wacky, and probably ahead of its time, like those weirdoes out on the west coast. I put the thing in a drawer and sat on it through my subsequent publications. But I never, ever forgot about it. It was always percolating, transforming, like the strange hybrids in Fireseed One.

You say that you have an unorthodox way of figuring out scenes.
I do creative visualizations. Not so unorthodox, but a sort of quasi-spiritual exercise. I’m also an artist, I’m highly visual, so this comes naturally. I call on my creative force—you could call it a higher power, instinct, whatever you like—and I concentrate on my fictional characters moving through scenes. It runs like a magical film. It almost feels as if the book has already been written, and I’m given pieces of it, on a need-to-know basis. It’s amazing what complex worlds are stored in one’s brain.

So, would you consider yourself a spiritual person?
Not religious, but spiritual. That means the coming together of all parts; taking brave actions. That means writing, even though it’s a continual challenge. I like the quote from Steven Wright, who wrote a novel about his time in Vietnam, Meditations on Green: “Be primal. Write from beyond what you know.” That quote speaks to how ideas flow out, flow in, flow out. Having finally illustrated Fireseed One, I feel that fusion strongly—that my art and writing are one—thus creating a more fully imagined world. 
JUKO, art by Catherine Stine

Where can people purchase Fireseed, and where can they find you on the web?

Many places!  It's available for Ipad and Iphone, etc. here:


 “Like” Catherine's Fireseed book page!
Goodreads author page:

Thursday, December 15, 2011


For a long time, I've been wanting my writing to be a spiritual practice, but I didn't have much idea what that would look like.  I think I had this idea it should be a more exalted experience than the plain old hard work that writing is.  It wasn't becoming meditative or prayerful or anything otherwise new.

In the years since grad school, I have had serious doubts about my work.  It's incredibly hard to get published.  Why is it taking me so long to finish the novel?  What's wrong with me? Are my stories irrelevant?  Am I irrelevant?  What's the freakin' point, anyway?  I play the comparison game: "So-and-so won a big literary prize, but can't get published.  I didn't even make the freakin' finalists in the same contest.  What does that say about MY chances?" There are times when I turn the writer's life into a losing game of Snakes and Ladders. 

The thing is, considering what I have accomplished wasn't really helping me.  This doesn't negate its intrinsic value, but it keeps me in Snakes and Ladders mode.  I'm on Rung Two!  It's better than being on Rung One!  Yes, but I'm not on Rung Twelve!  And I just went down that really long slide! The fact is, as Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals put it in the wonderful album Lifeline: "There's always someone younger, someone with more hunger/ don't let 'em take the fight outta you." As long as I'm thinking Younger, Published, Not-Published, Well-Published, Crap Published, whatever, I'm stuck in competitive mode.  And this does not energize me. It takes the fight outta me. 

Envy mode.

I needed a whole nother approach--a spiritual approach, in fact. So a couple of weeks ago, I went unsuspecting to my writing group (we work on our own stuff rather than critiquing); had a miserable couple of hours fighting to get some writing accomplished while sliding around on the Snakes and Ladders board in my head, and afterwards during our tea and discussion, I let it all spill.
Confusing, isn't it?

Being wise souls, my friends didn't encourage me to consider my accomplishments.  They suggested a practice to undo my feeling of isolation and competitive envy.  In Buddhism, Mudita (Pali) is rendered in English as vicarious or sympathetic joy. Sharon Salzberg puts it: Sympathetic Joy is the realization that others’ happiness is inseparable from our own. We rejoice in the joy of others and are not threatened by another’s success. I've already found one of her talks on the subject very helpful.  

Because it's a practice, I don't have to beat myself up for still feeling envy.  But I enjoy writing again, and even better, I am not separated from the community of writers.  I never really was.  I belong, but  not because I have to prove anything.

The lesson is still there to learn, of course.