Saturday, October 25, 2014

Revising My Life

I just completed a workshop in which the first five pages of my young adult novel, were constructively critiqued by other writers (First Five Pages Blog). It was a valuable experience. I have never enjoyed revision; once I am done with a piece, and the novelty has worn off, it is time to move on to the next creative project. New projects induce fresh energy that accompanies the creative process.  But this process forced me to revise my writing, and by the end of the month long workshop and feedback from writers each week, I feel that my pages are stronger. I still have a slight revision to make and I look forward to it. In the process, my characters became real and well-rounded, and I am planning on a rewrite of the entire novel using the advice I received from my fellow attendees.

As with the creative process, asking for help with revising my personal life is difficult. Although I do know from experience that every time I ask for help and actually accept that help, my life changes in some small beautiful way. I am able to see certain things differently when they are explained by a trusted friend or advisor. I tend to have my own uniques view of the world, and it takes another person to help me to see other solutions, and to change my perceptions. Because it really does come down to perception. I have a perception of life that is unique to me. When I am reading the first pages of my novel, I see my character as I have imagine her, with all of her quirks and idiosyncrasies. Those quirks might not come clear on the page however, and it takes someone to read and give feedback in order for me to see what is missing. Same is true for many other issues including my recent job search. I had blinders on; the only jobs I could apply for were teaching jobs with a 20 mile radius of my house. Which, if you know where I live, doesn't really give me much to work with. So I asked for help, and I received valuable advice yet again from Hearn College and Career. I was given tools to work with that helped me to broaden my search to jobs with an education slant, as well as brush up on my networking skills. I was exposed to possibilities I would not have come up with on my own. I feel a greater sense of hope that I will eventually land where I am supposed to be.

As with my novel, my personal life needs constant revision. I need to be aware of problems that may arise and make the necessary changes in perception in order to stay in the flow of life. I am no longer that starry-eyed high school graduate with dreams of becoming a veterinarian. I am an English Teacher who writes, or possibly even a Writer who teaches English. Who knows what revisions the future may bring. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Engaging in Controversy

I know I shouldn't do it, but sometimes the appeal is there: the act of defending one's honor, the adrenaline, the irritation and self righteousness that surge through the body. Sometimes I just want a fight. The entire interaction is covered in my other blog: Grateful Girl Goes Vegan. I will not get into it here, other than saying that I engaged in controversy, and it felt good - until it didn't.

Self righteous anger, sometimes it can be delicious. I believe that it is a human trait to need to be right. After all, so much violence is perpetrated because of disagreement; wars are fought and millions of people have died because some people think that they are right; that their way is the only way. Self righteous is defined as "confidence of one's own rightness, especially when smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behaviors of others." The word originated in 1670-80, Good thing, as the Salem witch trials were right around the corner.

Why the need to be right? Mel Schwartz wrote an article entitled "Why Is It So Important To Be Right," in Psychology Today. He said:
Our educational system is rooted in the construct of right and wrong. We are rewarded for what are deemed to be correct answers and the ensuing higher grades, which generally lead to more successful lives. Being right affirms and inflates our sense of self-worth. As students we learn to avoid as best we can the embarrassment of being wrong. Getting the right answer becomes the primary purpose of our education. Isn't it regrettable that this may be inconsistent with actually learning?
We go through life being either right or wrong. Education reformers spout the standardized test movement, reinforcing this black / white mentality. Is it any wonder that we grow into either Democrats or Republicans, Pro Choice or Pro Life, for gun control or against it, and on and on. If we are not right, then we must be wrong.

I wanted to, I needed to be right. After all, I had compassion in mind when I began the argument. He was being mean to other people. What ended up happening, was that I engaged in the same behavior, I needed to be right, and he needed to be right. In the end, no opinions were changed. I am still a vegan and he still eats bacon and hates Muslims. There, I have continued the controversy by judging another human being. What happens when the ego steps aside, and I listen to another person? Maybe I can see that we are really the same, we are both afraid, afraid to be wrong, afraid to go against our own ethical code, afraid of being judged or excluded. My opponent is really just a mirror image of myself. And he is taking up too much space in my head without paying rent. So for today, I will let go of this controversy. I cannot make anyone abstain from eating meat, nor can anyone change my mind about the vegan lifestyle I follow. For this moment I will accept the world as it is, flaws and all.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Looking For Balance on the Equinox

The autumnal equinox was yesterday, a day where light and dark are balanced. It also signals the beginning of autumn, a season here in the northeast of great change and beauty, foretelling the months of harsh weather and darkness. I asked myself, as I was on my daily run: Am I living a balanced life today? Am I balancing the active doing part with rest and inner searching?

I have written about balance before, on numerous occasions. It is a concept that has always eluded me. Right now I am traversing through the world of underemployment, so I have more time available to meditate, run, practice yoga and eat home cooked healthy meals. But what happens when that forty hour a week position becomes a reality? What will I have to let go of in order to take care of my body's basic needs, such as actually sleeping. It would be nice if I could survive on five hours a night, but alas, I am an eight hour gal. 

If I create a blue print for a perfect day, maybe I can adjust it when I do start working longer days, using a mathematical formula perhaps? If today I spend one hour running and one hour in yoga, if my time reduces by 50%, would a half hour of running and half hour of yoga still meet my needs? Here I begin to overthink and stop paying attention to what my body needs. Part of what the Autumn equinox teaches, is to first come to a place of balance, and slowly, minute by minute, begin to slow down as winter approaches. In this world of doing doing doing, we tend to ignore our bodies and the signals we receive from them. Winter is a time to sleep longer, go within, and find the peace and quiet in the dark. Our cave person ancestors weren't hunting and gathering at 7pm in the middle of winter. They were huddled around a fire, perhaps quietly making spears. 


Perhaps the secret to a balanced life begins with paying attention to the rhythms of my body. To sleep when I need sleep, to run when I am restless, and to sit and meditate when my mind needs calming. But how does one do that in the "real" world? First, when time begins to become scarce, I must look for time drains. Honestly, how many hours a day are spent watching Netflix? These precious hours can be used more efficiently. One hour of yoga versus one hour of "Ally McBeal?" No contest there, the yoga, will benefit exponentially more than mindless television. Just for today I will practice some balance, I will pay attention to what my body needs and maybe I will actually listen. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Decorating the Hallway

When one door closes, another door opens, so they say. That in between time, the transition period is often alluded to as the hallway. I have been in the hallway for a few years now, picking up temporary jobs here and there and obtaining my Bachelor's and Master's degrees, I have come to think of the hallway as a permanent space, a long narrow room that is in desperate need of some decoration. Maybe what I keep calling a transition (it does seem as if I have been saying I am in transition for a long time now) is not really a transition at all, it is the resting place for the moment. I keep waiting for the full time job, the marriage, the (insert huge life event here) and completely ignore the fact that there is merit in a so-called transition. There is movement, I don't seem to stand still, I am actively searching, seeking, changing. When I am in the hallway, I am moving from once place to another, I do not get complacent, I don't take a seat on the couch, kick my feet up and fall asleep. In the hallway I am searching for that small beam of light signifying an open door. What is behind that door a mystery and  when I am in the hallway I am in the mystery. Why not make that mystery a bit more comfortable, maybe some pictures on the wall, a vase filled with Spring flowers, my favorites, daisies and sunflowers, maybe with a few sprigs of baby's breath and eucalyptus? I could paint the walls a sunny yellow, and enjoy my time here. Today is a beautiful day: the sun is shining; I am working a few hours; I have enough food in the refrigerator; I have a man who loves me and will take me to dinner later today; and I have a beautiful space in which to live. I need to steep myself in the mystery. Will I be teaching full time some day, or does God have something different in store for me? Just for today, this moment, I will enjoy the mystery of it. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Coming Back to the Beginning

I started this blog in May of 2009, and at the point I had let go of a full time job to head back to school. I was fumbling, wishing to write, completely terrified of what the future might bring, and clueless as to how I would support myself and make it to graduation. My first post was an experiment to allow my writing to seep out into the world. I was scared of what you might think of me if I actually put the words to page and sent into cyberspace. So far, no one has called me mad. It has been five years and over 200 posts. My writing has matured since that first post. I have asked for help, taken writing classes, read numerous books, written a novella and some magazine articles. I have published a book of poetry and a choral composition. And I feel as if I still have so much more work to do. I feel as if I still have a long way to go. I went back through the blog to those first posts, and see that although I have matured,  I still find myself with those basic feelings, fear, helplessness, and confusion. I now have a couple of degrees, but I still get scared when I don't get my way. I still do not live a life entirely steeped in Faith. But who does? What would be the challenge in that? Part of life is the struggle to come back to what I Know is True. I know that I am taken care of, that God's got my back. I know that when I step out of the way and allow miracles to happen, they actually do. I know that I have no clue what is in store for me and that it is far grander than I could have imagined. I am just not as creative as God, although I tend to tink that I know what is best for me.

My first post, written in May of 2009:
Dictionary.com has 13 definitions for the word "grace." Two daughters of Zeus and Euryone, the Graces, were goddesses of beauty. Grace is a prayer said at the beginning of a meal, as well as moral strength, mercy, or elegance of form. The word itself bears special significance to many religious organisations. I met a Labrador Retriever at Kennedy Park one day who stole my heart. Her name was Grace, and a bumper sticker on her owner's vehicle read, "Grace Happens." Does grace happen or is it something that must be sought? The ballet dancer would say that it takes years of hard work, the priest might say it is an act of God. Originally a derivative of the Latin word gratus, or pleasing, gratia is a favor, kindness or esteem. Maybe today, being in Grace is as simple as showing kindness toward another. Smiling at the woman giving you a cup of coffee in the drive thru, or withholding an angry horn when cut off in traffic. There are 13 ways to come into grace, might as well start small.

Today:
What does Grace mean to me today? Remembering to connect, showing kindness, doing service whenever possible, practicing radical gratitude, and allowing beauty and God into my life. I wonder where I will be five years from now. Right now, just for this moment, I know that my life will continue to be a miracle if I just allow it to be.


Monday, September 1, 2014

Creating a Spiritual Practice

Creating a spiritual practice is much like painting a masterpiece. You sit down at the canvas and just pick up
the brush. Where do you begin? First some colors must be gathered, mixed, prepared...then maybe just maybe you feel as if you should start painting with cerulean blue. Just take a dab of paint at first, try not to go too heavy handed in the beginning. Now remember, this will not be done overnight. I have been creating a spiritual practice for years now. Layers of paint have added, colors mixed, a little turpentine comes in handy when something didn't work.

I am writing this as I am reentering society, "reality" as some might call it, after a week on Cape Cod. I spent this week running, attending spiritual group meetings, walking my dogs, daily yoga classes, eating healthy vegan food, and relaxing on the beach. Most of the week was spent in silence, on my own. It was a beautiful week, and by the end, I began to feel like a person again. It was a week I would have never been able to take had I been hired at my "dream job." It felt as if my spiritual practice was supercharged. I already have a daily practice: prayer in the morning, running meditation, and spiritual meetings with others. I also write a daily gratitude list and eat vegan food (a practice of non violence.) But the week on my own, near the ocean and an abundance of yoga classes and running trails, allowed me to, as Emeril would say, kick it up a notch. And today, as I have no full time employment as of yet, I can continue this daily practice. But what happens when I find employment? The hour of yoga and two hours of running, followed by prayer and meditation and an evening walk with the dogs, might not fit so well when working 8 hours and commuting. Plus, I am adding too much to my daily practice at one time. I have noticed, that a habit sticks when I add one at a time, and a doable goal. If I were to say, plan on adding a full yoga practice while increasing mileage and meditation time while simultaneously juggling a life, a relationship, a grown child, animals, a household and family and friends, I might internally combust. Or the new routine would just not stick.

What color can I add to my canvas today? Might it be a gentle stretch in the morning while I am brushing my teeth, and maybe a few minutes of alternate nostril breathing to calm my mind with the goal of continuing to take at least one yoga class per week?  I would love to end each day, feeling just like I did while on my retreat. But life is what happens when we are making plans. And a full immersion in a complicated spiritual practice might not pay the bills or make my partner happy. Just for today I will add a few small pieces from my retreat into my daily practice, see how the color looks on my already paint splattered canvas. I can always add more paint later. And it only takes a small shift to make a change.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Running Downhill

Uphill takes forever and no matter which direction I run, there always seems to be more up hills than down. Why? I guess because we take longer to run uphill. Downhill I speed up and it is over quickly. Same with life, the harder hills seem to take forever, but once you crest you can cruise down. It all comes down to this: is it worth the climb? If you ski, you might say yes. When I am running full speed down a hill, the wind in my hair and a smile on my face, I say hell yes. There are always going to be climbs, times throughout the journey where it is just so hard, when you are breathless and ready to collapse. For me, my mind wants to give up right before the crest, but I know if I just hang on, the view will present itself. I reach the top, legs sore, lungs burning, and slow for the descent, the delicious, glorious descent. The descent is why we run, that feeling of being alive, the absolute joy of losing control. It is over soon, and life returns back to normal, maybe a few gentle bumps, some flat open spaces, and a few twists and turns. What I need to remember, while in the midst of a life climb, is that the crest will appear, and the freedom of the downhill only comes after I climb. I worked hard to earn my college degrees, and the feeling of freedom, of joy and accomplishment after receiving that diploma...that is why I brave the hills. Today, jobless, I slowly make my way up another hill. I send out resumes, I search online databases, and I ask for help. I climb. I don't know when the crest will come, but for this one moment, right here and now, I believe I will make it up that hill, maybe with sore legs, but the downhill will be so much fun.