Progress, Hyperbole, Compassion

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Progress, Hyperbole, Compassion

Silently–without posting a photo of one of my cats on social media whenever I found 30 minutes or more to edit–I have made significant editing progress.  So let me start with the full nerd alert milestone: I just finished marking up a printed copy of the draft, and I’m now six chapters into typing up those changes.  That’s a quarter of the way.  With these revisions in place, I’ll send the manuscript back to my editor and start looking at publishing options.

No, I don’t have a publisher yet.  And no, I haven’t decided if I’ll self-publish yet.

People ask these questions as if inquiring after the gender of a child.  So, I guess I need to just respond that we’re keeping it a surprise.

That said, I’ve started a list of potential publishing houses and self-publishing resources.  It will take me a few months to finish this editing round, and I’m planning to come out of it prepared for either eventuality.  Now accepting your own suggestions.

I’ve needed to remain open to possibilities as I’ve read through pages and pages of my own work.  This humbles me, putting me on the alert for entire sections to ditch, for rocky transitions, and entire chapters that want gutting.

However, all this spinning has made a better book.  Alayne Smith, my mother-in-law and authoress in her own right, vows that she loves editing, because it makes of her raw thoughts a better book.  And I know this to be the truth.  Since late last year, I’ve examined the story of each woman throughout the narrative, then read each chapter from beginning to end for the full continuity.  And this book– my own understanding of the world— is better for the effort.

It sounds like hyperbole, yet my day-to-day experience bears the truth of it.

This is, of necessity, intense work.

And that likely best explains my own hesitancy to post my progress; I’ll get through a chapter, then discover something that necessitates an entire do-over.  I emerge with a key, triumphant, only to discover that it unlocks an entirely different door.

The Touchstone I hold close in these days is Compassion.

She reminds me to enjoy spinning through life’s cycles, to retain her sense of humor and self-care.  To retreat, if needed, and keep practicing.  I’m only one note away from the right note.

2018-07-06

Sticky Notes in Paradise

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In May of 2017, traveling home to Hawaii to scatter my father’s ashes, I flew out a week early, checking into a studio steps from Kailua Beach for a solo writer’s retreat.  I needed to structure my last two chapters, and if this book has been a cabling of fifteen personalities, then the pattern of our stories grew finely braided towards the conclusion.  I needed a knot, a bead that was both a summing-up and a jumping-off.  I needed time to think.

I also needed a fresh stack of sticky notes.

Several years ago, to motivate myself during NaNoWriMo— an online writing challenge that takes place every November— I began posting a photo of a cat every time I found more than a half-hour to work on this project.  Since I couldn’t pack Tiki and Boo, and since I would be doing more thinking than writing, I’d have different photographic subjects.  Here are my sabbatical posts, which, now in retrospect, offer a visual peek into my creative process, weaving order from chaos.

Hot Tea and Coltrane

5/20: The adventure begins on the flight over, reviewing the revisions I’d just inked to the Touchstone of Spirit. No kitties. Just some hot tea and Coltrane.

Breakfast of Champions

5/21: Fresh papaya (Mahalo, Brent and Sheri!) and chocolate-covered macadamias = Breakfast of champions. And the sorting of the sticky notes from the last round of interviews has begun.

5/21: Checked off my first writing mission of the day while looking out over the pool. Outlined my next four missions.  Then?  I took a nap.

5/22: A tide of green sweeps cross the editing table as I consolidate tens of sticky notes into one.  My reward is a little pool time.

A Distillation

5/22: This first editing assignment is really 13 assignments in one, meaning that it would have taken me about two weeks of normal time to digest these notes from over 100 hours of interviews. But, aided by plumerias and a bag of li hing mui, I’m almost across the board on day 2. Each green sticky is a summary of 10+ individual yellow stickies. A distillation.

Going Off the Map

5/23: Sometimes you have to take a detour from your regularly-scheduled editing mission to see if there’s someplace interesting that’s not on the map.

A Working Skeleton

5/23: Lots of showers blew in unexpectedly, so I kept close to home base. The sticky notes exploded onto the other table, and I’ve actually begun typing a few up, with a working skeleton of the last two chapters of the book in hand.

A Whole Chapter

5/24: The stack of sticky notes I typed up this afternoon— enough for an entire chapter.

The Last Chapter’s Backbone

5/25: The last chapter has a backbone now!

1 Week in Paradise = 3 Months of Writing Practice

5/26: I now have the structure of the last two chapters of my book typed up in big, bossy, ALL CAPS notes. I fit probably three months of work into this last week, when you consider I normally only get 1-2 hours a weekday before work. I’m having a blast in paradise, but I’ve also been “writing” 5-6 hours a day, with plenty of time for reflection to weave all of the stories deftly. Today marks an excellent accomplishment. The family arrives tomorrow, and anything else that gets written on this trip is gravy.

Persistence, Paying Off

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Persistence, Paying Off

If all you knew of me came from this site, surely you would have thought this project defunct.  After all, my last post was two years ago.  Life happened.

Death happened too.  I said goodbye to more than seven people in 2016– including my father, aunt, dear childhood friend, and next door neighbor.

Many mornings found me unable to write at all.  I feared my process and despaired in my results.  But I persisted in my practice.  To shake my perspective free, I traveled: Losing myself in the souks and sands of Morocco, paying my respects to my hometown of Kailua, Hawaii, and investigating patterns at Burning Man.

Whenever I felt tempted to wallow in self-pity, I picked up my copy of Captain John Riley‘s 1817 book, now retitled as Sufferings in Africa.  An ancestor of mine, he was shipwrecked on the coast of Western Africa, enslaved, and ransomed to freedom in the Moroccan city now known as Essaouira.  He held the complexity of his captivity, reminding me to never surrender my compassion.  He reminded me to persevere.

I set aside a full week in Kailua to structure the final chapter of my book.  I surrendered to dawn walks along the beach, followed by full-on sticky-noted insanity in my small rented studio.  I had never afforded myself the luxury of a writer’s retreat before, and it felt . . . magnificent.  I’ve since written the last chapter, and there’s a certain peace to my breathing, now that I know where I wind up.

And playing the role of fortune teller at Burning Man, reading the Tarot from a small circus nook on the Esplanade, I stepped further outside myself to regard the larger cycles of our years.  The patterns in our behaviors.  I stepped through my fears to recognize that I’ve been living a creative life for some time now, which was always the truest intent of the project.

And so I still rise every morning at 5:45, stretching while the French press steeps, the sit down with a cat to tackle my next editing assignment.  I’m reviewing the story of each woman for continuity, preparing for an in-depth analysis of the back half.  If the pace continues, I’ll begin looking for a publisher later this year.

So here’s to 2018.  Where creative persistence pays off.

Our Inspiration Conversation Winner

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Our Inspiration Conversation Winner

The conversations that this contest initiated have already dumped magic all over my days.  (And nights.)

From feeling into my worth as a quantum being, to reconnecting with my raw journaled truths.  From sassy spicy book clubs, to courting dream time visions and blowing bubbles and taking long, luxurious showers.  Dusting up my hands with flour in the kitchen.  Getting my jam on to live music, or just sinking into an ooey gooey playlist.  From downshifting between multiple projects, to witnessing the million shades of maple leaves on the long hill of life.

Twelve women shared some of their innermost inspirations, the paths they pursue when adrift in creative doldrums: Abby, Brandie, Cat, Erin, Heidi, Jaidra, Julie, Lauryn, Majda, Monet, Nancy, and Teejei.  Thank you.

And so, coffee in hand, I reread all of your words this morning as my first act of 2016, brimming over with hope and thanks.

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I wrote your names on slips of paper and slipped them into my singing bowl, because as Teejei told me one night, “Gratitude is magic you can wield.”

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I sang for awhile, let the bowl do some singing of her own, then closed my eyes to swirl the names about.

I selected one, opened my eyes, and smiled.  The recipient of a seat within the year-long Birthing Ourselves Into Being circle is Monet.  Welcome, sister!

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I will burn all of the slips later today, and scatter the ashes in my garden.  May this be symbolic fuel to all your creative fires in 2016!  Sally forth and CREATE!

Start an Inspiration Conversation!

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I began working on the basis of The Enrichment Project in 2010, and the mornings spent in my writing nook ever since have been legion.  With the first loving reader’s response from an editor pointing me towards another year of editing, I’m feeling the need for a little extra oomph to help me sustain the course.

So I thought I’d start an inspiration conversation.

If you share with me one of your creative practices– how you get inspired, how you keep going when the going gets tough– I will enter your name in a drawing to win a seat in the 2016 Birthing Ourselves into Being program.

(You should know that this year is the inaugural year for The Riverbed track for men, so everyone is welcome to participate.)

To enter, simply enter your practice into the comments below, or share your message on social media, tagging me to be sure I see it.  You have the rest of the month of December; I’ll draw the lucky winner’s name on New Year’s Day.

I’d love to begin an avalanche of positivity– for I suspect your words will affect more than just me– so please: Post as many entries as you wish!  Stack the creative cards in your favor!  Start an inspiration conversation!

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Progress and Patron Saints

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When this year began, I harbored grand dreams of blogging more frequently as I delved into editing the chapters of this book, wrestling with the concepts, retracing my journey a bit more publicly this time.  Life, it seems, has had other plans.

A catastrophic health event in the life of my father completely rewrote my family narrative, and after months spent with him in the ICU, in a sub-acute rehab center, he is finally home and beginning treatment for Stage IV cancer.  What little time I had at the end of these long days has been spent blogging about his journey on a CaringBridge to keep friends and family up to date on the latest.  The fact I’m still posting about his recovery is, in itself, a miracle walking.

I have spent many nights and days sitting by his side, navigating these chapters, and they are the richer for being exposed to the hospital’s psychic chaos, to my own struggle for compassion in the face of crisis.  Surely it was no accident that the chapters of aging and dying were those next in queue when I picked this manuscript back up.

I am continually the richer for continuing this journey of Enrichment.

And I grow ever nearer to being able to share my words more broadly.  As of this afternoon, I am 94.62% complete with writing and a first edit of this draft.  I am conducting integration interviews with the Enrichment participants– that’s 14 interviews in total, including the three honorary participants– and I’ve completed the first six.

Most of my editing now takes place in my writing nook again, instead of medical settings, which is a fact heartily approved by my Siamese cat Tiki, who has vocally declared herself to be the Patron Saint of this project.  An office which apparently entitles her to the length of my lap.  I must balance my iPad percariously atop her purring frame, as evinced by the photo below, where she twisted towards the camera to sniff at my tapping fingers.

It is entirely possible that I will have a completed draft by the end of this year to begin circulating with editors and potential publishers.  As autumn takes over the skies and the trees, I’m even more acutely aware that the next phase, the next chapter of my life, is about to begin.

Tike: The Enrichment Project's Patron Saint

Tiki: The Enrichment Project’s Patron Saint

Être: To Be

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Être: To Be

All good philosophers begin with what is.  The defining of the terms.  The metaphysics.  In many regards, this book I’m writing already exists.  It breathes within the lives of the women whose stories have shaped it; I’ve even been confronted with the physical fact of printing off all 240+ pages for editing.  I have hefted the weight of my own thoughts.

But the cadence of each day begins with the painstaking task of placing one word in front of the other, with asking whether each paragraph is substance or shadow.  The editing process is grueling, questionsome.  It requires a ruthlessness, but one that discovers what I really meant by a string of words.

And in this transition between the writing and the editing, I ran across some long-forgotten papers: My high school philosophy class final exam.  Heady subjects for a seventeen-year-old.

Question #1 of our take-home final exam

Question #1 of our take-home final exam

Touching these pages more than twenty years later awakens a cache of memories: Pouring through Bartlett’s Quotations in my room to a CD soundtrack of ocean waves, swirling watercolors and Berol Prismacolors in mad midnight frenzies, painstakingly copying my collection of quotes and musings into a small blank book while my family rummaged an outlet mall.

For each of the ten questions, I submitted my own journaling wrapped around quotes that resonated with me, with a picture as an elaboration.  The nature of the universe?  For my seventeen-year-old self, it was encapsulated in the French verb “Être”, to be.

Être: To Be

To Be

“And there was a huge explosion,” my little chapbook reads, “which, as you know, is the quickest way to get things done.  The explosion was not the beginning– just the next change . . . We are all divisions of it, down to an elemental level.  We change it changes itself.”

In my rush to change, to grow up, to evolve beyond the painful patterns of my past, I can’t help but be filled by wonder at the clarity of my young self, at the truths she perceived, then lost along the way.

Despite all the changes, how similar our inner compasses are.  How could she have known how much comfort her words would bring me today?  This time capsule reminds me that in my rush to gut the draft of this book, to be ashamed by my awkward phrases and wayward digressions, even here, tender words of wisdom have already taken root.

I’m dreaming of the world where this book is already written.  Of the comfort these words will spark in me another twenty years hence.

“Now my suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose . . . I suspect there are more things in heaven and in earth than are dreamt of in any philosophy . . . And that must be my excuse for dreaming.”

— John Haldane