Of Hamsters, Pantsing and Becoming Creative

COqFN43XAAMDOlhI still get a total thrill when people send me pics of my books on the shelves. Maybe one day I’ll get over it, but not so far. Could be I’m getting tiresome about it because I showed my mom a pic on my phone that someone sent and said, “photos like this make me so happy!” And she said, “I know,” in that *tone* people get, like when you’ve said something too many times.

But, hey. Look! Me and Guy Gavriel Kay!

Hee hee hee.

I’m over at Word Whores today, trying to explain more about my process and why I don’t really care about learning to pre-plot my books.

Sweating the Small Stuff

One good thing about dark winter mornings is that I’m awake for the sunrise. Not something I would otherwise make an effort for, but look what I miss in the summertime.

Today is our 21st anniversary. On this date, lo these many years ago, David took me out for a drink and to see a movie after the Superbowl. I’m terrible at dating and neither of us had much fun. Still, he persisted and I liked him, so we had a little fling.

We’re still flinging.

Funny how that works out. More and more I think that life, the universe and everything doesn’t take well to being planned out. Certainly not to being controlled. That’s why I like the idea of Tao – grab a wave and do your best to ride it without drowning.

It seems I see a lot of people grasping for control lately. Maybe it’s a feeling of instability embodied by that deathless phrase “in this economy.” I don’t even know what that means anymore, except that it somehow conveys that people are afraid. And fear often makes us hold on tighter, with clenched fists and squinched-up eyes. We might become less tolerant, rather than more flexible. Less inclined to let the small stuff go. Less able to see that it’s all small stuff.

One of my book blogger Twitter pals posted this today – a contract that an author sent to a book reviewer. It seems to be yet another attempt to control the uncontrollable – if, when and how a book gets reviewed. And, it’s ultimately an unenforceable contract. I’ve heard of other authors telling reviewers that they can only post reviews of three stars or better. Or arguing with readers who give story “spoilers.”

Ultimately it’s like trying to keep Tom Cruise from being cast in your movie: it might be terribly wrong, but it’s not a fight you can win.

As my friend Laura Bickle says, “I don’t want to die on that hill.”

A particularly poignant way of pointing out that we have to pick our battles. Fight for what you want, for what’s right, necessary and important.

But, really – don’t sweat the small stuff.

(Hint: it’s pretty much all small stuff.)

Messages in the Wind

The Buddhists have this idea that every person you encounter has a message for you. If you learn to listen, the theory is, you’ll know what path to follow in life.

I think there’s some truth in this.

I also think the people who thought this up lived in a much smaller society where they met only a few hundred people in their entire lives. That’s about two minutes  on Twitter. Do I think every person on Twitter has a message for me that will illuminate my life’s path?

Oh no no no.

That actually sounds more like a Jim Carey movie than the road to enlightenment.

So , the point is, you have to be discerning and know which messages to listen to. The crazy guy preaching on the subway? Probably not. Your well-meaning senior colleague offering advice on keeping your job “in this economy?” Hmm. The family member throwing the word “selfish” at you because you’re not doing what they want you to? Uh, definitely not.

As with many aspects of life, it comes down to considering the source.

The other day one of my writing buddies wrote a post about taking critique. She mentioned a scene that five of her six readers/critique partners loved and one hated. Because she didn’t want a sixth of her potential readers turned off, she made revisions. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this. Except that I thought I probably would not have made the revision, had it been me.

Now, I’m not saying I think she was wrong to do it. There may be a deeper level to this in that the comments of the “hater” resonated with her and that’s what really drove her to make the change. Very likely she trusted the source.

Trusting the source becomes key. When your best friend gently takes your hand and tells you that the lipstick you’re wearing makes you look like a plague victim, if you trust her, you know she’s looking out for you and not cutting you down. When a stranger comes up to and offers a piece of information that answers the question you’ve been asking in your head, trusting that is an act of faith in the world.

I think that’s what the Buddhists were getting at.

The Tao of Hummingbirds

This pic is from the same series of watercolor rain shots I posted before. This photo isn’t framed as well, but I love it for the hummingbird zooming in on the middle right, like a guided missile. (um, left to you folks)

We have about four hummingbirds in residence right now and they are practically part of our household. Every morning I wake to the sound of them whizzing past the open windows, squeaking at each other. They dive around the feeders under the front portal (pronounced pohr-TAL, for you non-New Mexico types), bulleting through at impossible speeds. Their game is intricate – one perches near a feeder and waits for another to come in, then dive bombs the interloper. They scream off over the desert, quickly becoming pinpoints against the sky, while another leisurely bobs in to have a drink. The other day I saw one, perched on the saucer of this feeder, wait while another screamed in at him, at a zillion miles an hour, then popped up, letting the other bird pass right underneath him. Hummingbird Tai Chi.

It’s funny to me to observe their busyness and compare it to my own. The emails screaming in, one after another. The phone calls and conference calls, an intricate dance of back and forth. And while you’re busy dealing, someone else slips in and takes a long drink of your nectar.

So it goes, eh?

I told David this morning that today looked pretty hairy for me and we talked about why. Then he said, “why do jobs have to be that way?”

It’s a good question. I suppose we should seek the Tao and be One with the universe. Then the politics, the pressures and deadlines wouldn’t matter.

I don’t know anyone who can do that.

What I do see is that the hummingbirds seem to glory in their games. They are beautifully vital, vibrantly alive. They make me laugh, to see them whizzing past.

I love that.

Morning Glories

When I planted these morning glory seeds, I had a vision of the wisteria vine taking off and climbing up the portal, with the purple morning glories winding through. Gardening is a lot about grandiose visions that reality sometimes can’t quite catch up to. Our dry winter and even drier spring slowed things down. But, now that the monsoon rains have started, look! I have a blossom. With more promising.

It thrills me to to see it.

Saturday, at the local post office, the guy there was saying to everyone, I can’t believe summer is almost over! Someone else – not me – piped up and pointed out that we’re just heading into August and that we have at least two more months of warm weather. Really four, because we don’t get freezes around here until around Thanksgiving. Post office guy shrugged that off. “But the kids start school in two weeks!”

You all know this is the part I find interesting.

This week at Word-Whores, the theme is made-up holidays. Already Linda and Laura have said interesting things about Holy Days and traditional holidays vs. special and intimate ones. We have all these layers of schedules in our lives, rhythms dictated by the turn of the seasons, the ebb and flow of work, the divisions of school breaks, the intensive celebrations that require tons of preparation. We plan around these things, always looking ahead to which train is coming down the tracks.

Never mind that the school schedule is changing. We set up summer break originally to correspond with labor-intensive planting and harvesting schedule. Now schools go through summer, start early, have longer winter breaks. But still we associate school starting with harvest ending and the onset of winter.

There must have been something about Saturday, because the woman at the gym – not Crazy Gym Lady, a different one with her own special, gentler brand of nutty – was telling everyone who came in that Christmas is only four months away. Someone else – not me – pointed out to her that it was really almost five months. Which, when you think about it, is far closer to being half a year away than actually looming. Still, she was undaunted, keeping her gaze on that Christmas train.

The Taoists say that the key to serenity, to real spiritual understanding, is to keep ourselves in the present as much as possible. In their view, only the present is real. Being awake and fully aware of what’s happening right now allows us to enjoy our lives. No anticipating the future, for good or ill. No dwelling on the past.

After all, how can you enjoy summer when you’re thinking about it ending?

So I’m enjoying the transitory bloom of my morning glories. I have them now, and that’s all that matters.

Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Karma

Okay, I’m going to take a leap and say something that no one will like or agree with.

Oh, wait – I do that all the time.

Anyhoo…

I don’t think book pirates are such a big deal.

Yes, pirates offer Petals & Thorns for free download – I’ve seen the links from Google Alerts. No, I don’t go look at them. I don’t send take down letters. I don’t mention it on Twitter or really give it much thought at all.

This is why:

I think I’ve said before here, that if I were asked to put a name to my religious/spiritual affiliation, I’d say I am a Taoist. I believe in individual responsibility, that we reap what we sow, that what goes around comes around. Everything is about the exchange of energy, the natural balance of the universe.

Money is only a symbol, really. Our paper and electronic dollars in the US are based on gold. (Yeah, I know – not so much anymore. We won’t go there.) Gold is pretty; it makes for nice jewelry, but really it has no intrinsic value. Gold won’t keep you alive in a blizzard. However, because we all agreed at some point in time that gold is nifty stuff, you could trade some of your gold to live in a warm hut someone else built and cook some meat from a rabbit someone else killed over a fire burning wood someone else cut.

Of course you could go out and do all these things yourself: you could cut wood, build a hut and stack firewood next to it. You could kill and clean your rabbit and cook it over the fire (or your carrots, whatever). If you don’t have time to do all that, or if you really suck at snaring bunnies or digging up carrots, you can trade with someone else. Over time, we substituted tokens in lieu of direct trade: I’ll give you this piece of gold (or vial of salt or packet of saffron) which you can give to someone else for whatever they have that you want.

So, for a storyteller, someone gives us tokens so we can keep fed and housed while we sit at home and make up stories.

Yes, I hear you now. If people steal your stories, then you can’t keep fed and housed. It’s much easier, I freely admit, for someone like me who’s getting a pile of gold tokens for other work I do. I don’t depend on those stories to keep me alive yet.

The way I think of it is, money is just a stand-in for the exchange of energy. A balance of their efforts and mine. If someone downloads my story, reads it and loves it, then I believe that they do pay me. They send little happy feelings of gratitude out into the universe for me. Can I quantify this? Of course not. Is it still valuable to me? Yes yes yes.

I believe that we all know, on some visceral or spiritual level, what we owe to other people. And I believe we’re driven to repay it, on whatever level we can. Sometimes it’s a pay-it-forward thing. The good feelings I generate in one person gets passed on to someone else, who then passes it along. I get paid in thousands of ways in all the tiny blessings of life.

Are there jerks out there who just take? Of course there are.

But, I’ve learned in life, as I’m sure most of you have, that people will do nasty stuff to us that we may never see justice for. I’ve had my share of people undermining me, stabbing me in the back, what have you. I’ve been involved in court cases where I paid money to people who didn’t deserve it, simply to extricate myself from the situation. We all have.

And we all have to find a way to let that stuff go, or it poisons us.

I believe in Karma. I trust that the universe will take care of it. One of the people who’s wished me the most ill in this world is a miserably unhappy person. It’s sad, but I also think that’s what happens.

We all get back what we put out into the world. I truly believe that. The best part is, the universe tracks this for me, so I don’t have to.

I just sit in my little hut and write the stories.

Look at This!

I’m a pretty upbeat person.

No, really, I am! I believe in positive thinking, in realizing your dreams, in doing whatever it takes for any of us to make our lives the most wonderful and fulfilling as they can be. I believe doing what I can to support other people in their efforts.

But I just hate inspirational shit.

You know what I mean. The kind of thing some determinedly cheerful person would slap on the photo above that’s meant to draw our attention to beauty and joy and the angels singing.

No no no.

This is possibly tied up with my issues about being nice. I’ve just never been very good at it. At the same time, lately people have been telling me how helpful I’ve been to them. I can see that, because sometimes being helpful means that you can’t be nice. The Taoists say that you have to be very careful about helping people because it’s difficult to know what people really need. Sometimes people need something really terrible to happen to wake them up to their real dreams. Like the proverbial story of the business man who ignores all but his career until the devastating event, after which he quits his job, sells everything and becomes a painter.

None of us wants to be the devastating event. Fortunately the universe generally takes care of that.

So, most people resort to the cheerleader method of helping. The rah rah, you can do it! variety of helping. It’s innocuous. You can’t really lead anyone astray doing that, not like saying “you should really quit your job, sell everything and become a painter.” We all love hearing our supporters cheer us on and it feels good to cheer for other people. It’s all good until someone decides to start making money off it.

This is where the life-coach types come in.

Yeah, the life-coach types bug me like inspirational posters bug me. And lately they’re infiltrating twitter. It’s like a termite invasion, where first you see one, then two, then the walls are covered with them.

Clearly someone pointed out to the life-coach types that twitter is a great place to market themselves. They can post pithy 140-character inspirational sayings (along with a link to their site). They can RT each other and convince us we need them. There’s more of them, too, as people seek careers that will bring income without being dependent on a corporate structure.

What bugs me most – and obviously I have issues here – is that they use command language. Think about this! Be happy and productive! Where you or I might slap the gorgeous sunset pic on twitter and say “gorgeous sunset in Santa Fe last night” they’ll say, Look up more often! See what you are missing??

Oh yeah, I unfollow them. But then people I do follow retweet them, because they think it’s just a happy, positive thing.

It should be a happy, positive thing, but somehow it’s not. It smacks of intrusiveness to me. Of manipulation. At worst, of playing god in other people’s lives. Nobody else can “coach” us into following the path we need to follow. That’s part of the deal: we have to find it for ourselves.

The best we can do is give other people help when they ask for it.

And cheering. Lots of cheering.