Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The muse limps back

My muse has been on an extended hiatus. For awhile I tried to force it to return, to show up on the page, but just like a rebellious teenaged daughter, the harder I pushed, the more stubborn and insolent it became. Eventually I got fed up and decided to just let it go, told it to do 'whatever the heck it pleased,' and surprisingly, (just like the teenaged daughter,) when it didn't have to fight to prove its independence, it eventually began to show interest in re-establishing our relationship.

Some people would call this 'writer's block'. When on the author speaking circuit, inevitable someone will ask me how I, the author, handle writer's block. Depending on my mood I answer in one of two ways.

1. Writer's block doesn't exist. It's just a myth, an excuse writers use when the writing is hard. Who ever heard of 'teacher's block'? Or 'nurses block'? Obviously there are days when teachers and nurses and every other working person on the planet arrive at work and don't feel inspired, the work is just too hard, but they show up anyway, roll up their sleeves and dig in. Inevitably their reason for doing the work in the first place returns and they find the motivation to keep at it, even deriving great satisfaction from it. It's the same with writers. We need to just show up, force ourselves to write, write anything, and eventually the flow of words/creative ideas will return.


2. I face writer's block every single morning. No matter how well the writing was going when I quit the previous day, it takes awhile to warm up to the task again. As it is with runners who need a kilometre or two to find the 'zone' to start enjoying the run, so it is with writers. The warm-up can take a long time, it can be hard to rediscover that 'zone' again, that place where the words just flow, but it will happen if we just arrive at the page.

Either of these answers can be true, given the writer and the particular day, but my muse's hiatus has been a somewhat different experience. My muse has been, literally, numb since October 31, 2009. We all have different ways of coping with life's toughest situations. Some of us find relief by working harder, some sleep more, others turn to various mind-numbing drugs. My experience has been the involuntary shutting down of my muse.

The muse is limping back. This week I wrote the the cliff-hanger scene of a novel I've been working on for years. I've resisted writing this particular scene, even though the whole book has been leading up to it forever. I thought it was just too hard emotionally. I hold the hands of each of my characters and go through every emotion they go through, living their lives with them, so when I'm struggling in my own life, it's just too hard to add the additional whammy of dealing with the emotions of fictional characters. It's also too hard to post blog entries about things that seem trivial in the big picture given the terribly sad events that those I love are struggling with every minute of every day.

I used to enjoy blog writing, using this forum to try to articulate things I was thinking about, and needing the structure of writing to really understand what it was I was feeling. I'm hoping that the time is now right to start doing that again.

Cartoon credit:

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A funny thing happened on a BC ferry ~

Okay, maybe it wasn't so funny at the time. In fact, at first it seemed like a minor disaster, but the way things unfolded, it actually became an event that confirmed my faith in humankind.

Returning to my car after travelling to Victoria on a BC ferry, my dear friend and I noticed that one of the tires on my car had become flat during the the crossing. Feeling panicky, we asked a BC ferry employee if they had any kind of a pump on board that we could use to inflate the tire enough for us to at least drive off the ferry and find a service station. The ferry worker couldn't help us, the ferry was docking and he was in charge of that. We returned to my car to stare, forlornly, at the flat tire. Out of the blue a motorcyclist appeared at my side. In hindsight I realize he must have overheard our discussion with the ferry employee and he wanted to help. He said that if we could drive off of the ferry and pull to the side of the highway, he'd assist us in changing our tire.

For a brief moment I swear I saw a halo floating above this man's head. You see, the sad truth is, I've never had to change a tire. My dear friend felt she could muddle her way through the procedure, but it wouldn't be easy.

Sure enough, we followed the motorcyclist down the highway until he pulled over. He had my tire changed in just minutes, despite the huge semi's zooming past, practically sucking us under the wheels of their rigs. We asked this wonderful angel of a man if we could buy him lunch in Victoria, anything to repay him, but he wouldn't hear of it, just asked us to be kind to a stranger in the near future. I wanted to hug him, but, well, he was a stranger. We settled on a handshake. The poor man. His hand was covered in grease from changing my tire.

My spare tire is a pathetic thing. It looks more like a bicycle tire. The good Samaritan motorcyclist suggested we get the tire fixed much sooner than later so we stopped at the nearest garage. A wonderful mechanic agreed to fix it and put it back on the car. In the meantime, he suggested, we might want to join the crowd gathered at the corner and watch as the Olympic torch was being exchanged right there, only a short time after our arrival. We did, and it was quite the spectacle. I've never seen so many RCMP officers in one place. We decided there had to be over 100 of them.

The new torch was lit, the crowd cheered, the 100+ RCMP moved on and I collected my car from the mechanic.

"How much do I owe you?" I asked.

"It's on the house," he said.

I'm sure I did a double-take. What could have been a really difficult situation for me had turned out so beautifully. Two good Samaritans to the rescue, and stumbling across the Olympic torch relay at the same time, well, that was just a bonus.

The world is full of generous souls. I have been blessed.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Is it just me....

...or has anyone else detected a shift toward greater compassion in our collective consciousness? As well, focusing on our personal and spiritual growth seems to have become much more mainstream. The Dalai Lama's visit to Vancouver has certainly brought this shift into clearer focus in our city, prompting the Vancouver Sun to run a column where readers sent in their personal stories of kindness. How refreshing to read these wonderful anecdotes! Some were very small kindnesses, some much greater, but regardless, if we could balance our hard news stories each morning with an equal number of stories of kindness, how quickly our whole collective mindset could change, and if our mindset could change, then so, too, would our behaviour change.

(In a global community sense, Paul Hawken sums up this changing collective consciousness in this powerful video.)

About a year ago I was browsing in a bookstore and spotted the title, Me to We, Finding Meaning in a Material World. Liking the title, I bought the book on impulse but never got around to reading it. Then, a couple of weeks ago, my daughter came home from highschool with the news that she was attending a Me to We conference in Vancouver where speakers such as the Dalai Lama, Jane Goodall and many others were being featured. I pulled the book off the shelf and wondered at the coincidence. Coincidence? Maybe not.

The Daily Om reminds us that when we focus on our own personal and spiritual growth, we can't help but influence those around us. "Everything we do or say has the potential to affect not only the individuals we live, work, and play with but also those we’ve just met. Though we may never know the impact we have had or the scope of our influence, accepting and understanding that our attitudes and choices will affect others can help us remember to conduct ourselves with grace at all times. When we seek always to be friendly, helpful, and responsive, we effortlessly create an atmosphere around ourselves that is both uplifting and inspiring."

With this is mind, and with the Me to We conference still fresh in one daughter's experience, all three daughters and I have challenged each other to practise random acts of kindness each day. It doesn't matter how small the act of kindness is, each act will make a difference, and all these small differences... well, you know where I'm going. By sharing our stories at the end of each day, we hope to keep the compassion/kindness movement rolling forward....

Will you join us?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Ruffled feathers

A wise teacher told the following story as we held a pose in a Yin yoga class. I believe she credited the story to Eckhart Tolle, but I'm not 100% sure.

Imagine, she said, a quiet duck pond. Suddenly two ducks get into a squabble. There's a lot of squawking, wing flapping and splashing. What a show they put on! Then, just as suddenly as it began, the two ducks turn and float away in opposite directions. They may ruffle up their feathers one last time, give a tail flick, but that's the end of it. The incident is over. Fini.

Now, consider two humans in a squabble, our teacher suggested. There are raised voices, fist shaking, aggressive body language. Suddenly the humans turn and stomp away from one another. But is it over? Oh no. In each of those human minds there are voices still raised in anger .... "Can you believe she said that?" "The nerve of him!" "She'll never get away with that!" "He is such an idiot!"

The human mind finds it so hard to simply 'let go'.

Oh, the things we can learn from ducks.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

I found it!

I think many of us feel that the 'real' New Year begins each fall when school resumes after the long summer break. Even those of us who no longer attend school find ourselves using this season as a chance for fresh starts.

This year, as the summer days began to get shorter, I found myself poring through the fall leisure guides and night school pamphlets looking for something new to to study or explore. Absolutely nothing was jumping out at me. I didn't feel like learning a new language, fly-tying or contract bridge. I veer away from anything that sounds like Boot Camp though I did tend to return to the pages that advertised various adult dance classes, but somehow Zumba Fit or Bollywood Workout didn't sound like a good fit for me. Thinking I might just be a big chicken I went to a workshop called Cultivating Your Courage, hoping to learn how to better step out of my comfort zone. I consulted a Life Coach and I even had a psychic reading, but I was still unsure of what it was I wanted to delve into. I just knew I wanted something.

Yoga has been a constant in my life for the past two years, and today my yoga studio was offering a one-day workshop called Nia. Nia is a practise that combines yoga, the martial arts and dance. I'd heard that it gives both your body and mind a workout. It's done barefoot to music and is supposed to enhance the mind-body-spirit connection. The trouble is, even though I secretly long to dance, I'm very ungraceful and excruciatingly self-conscious about it.

Well, I decided I had nothing to lose except my dignity, so I showed up at the studio this morning feeling awkward and without any real idea of what to expect. The teacher gave a brief history of the practise, then turned on the music and we were off. She led us through some high-energy dance steps which were not too difficult, even for a klutz like me. The dance steps took on some martial arts movements and eventually we moved into some yoga stretches and balances and, just as in yoga, the teacher had some powerful messages to share.

I haven't had so much fun in a long time! I also worked up a good sweat, and when the session ended I overheard another participant saying she felt calm and joyous, all at once. I knew exactly what she meant.

I have found exactly what I was looking for, and better yet, the classes that are being offered fit perfectly into my weekly schedule.

Happy New Year!

The above image is found at

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Birth, death, and everything in-between

This is not my daughter, but it could be. She passed her driver's test today and she's one 'happy camper'.

Watching the joy cross her face when the examiner told her she'd passed reminded me of what a huge milestone this is in a young person's life. One step closer to true adulthood, which they think brings them so many freedoms.

Talking to her about the importance of this achievement reminded me of an assignment I did in university. We were given long scrolls of paper and asked to draw a line from one end to the other. At the far left point of the line we drew a mark and labelled it "birth". At the the other end of the line, we placed a mark and labelled it "death". The assignment was to draw peaks in the line for all the major events that had happened in our lives to date, and those we saw in the future. We were given about 45 minutes to complete this, so were expected to put in a lot of peaks!

We set to work. Some of us put in peaks for learning to crawl, learning to walk, entering kindergarten. A lot happened in the first 5 years. Then some of us skipped ahead to getting our driver's licenses, part-time jobs and highschool graduation. We all drew a peak for university entrance, but after that, our lives were up to our imaginations. Most of us put in peaks for starting our careers, getting married, having children, buying cars and homes. Some of us even thought to put in peaks for our children's achievements (crawling, walking, school) and this took us to about mid-span on our lines. A few of us noted retirement, and some might have imagined travel, but for the most part, our lines were rather 'peakless' after about the age of 40.

I did a lot of assignments in university, but this is one of the few I still remember. At the end of the allotted time, the professor asked us where most of our 'peaks' were clustered. He asked where the least were clustered. We discussed the reason for this. Of course, most of us could not even imagine reaching middle age, so we didn't concern ourselves too much with the flat lines after that point, but the image stuck with me. The professor pointed out that, typically, there are less 'peaks' after after middle age, other than giving up our driver's licences and, maybe, moving to carehomes. (And it could be argued that those are not 'peaks' but dips'.)

But now I'm there. Past the midlife point. I have reached those 'peakless' years that I once imagined. But does it have to be that way? I am healthy and fit. There are many things I can still learn and experience. I can imagine many more published books. Peak peak peak. I can imagine grandchildren. I can imagine new friends and relationships. I can imagine new activities. Adventures. Peak Peak.

We all have a choice. We can allow the second half of our life-lines to remain flat, or we can find ways to continue living, and maintain peaks. I've talked about taking up piano again, and I recently climbed back into a kayak. As I get better at the things I still do, I'll imagine them as peaks, (though they may, actually, look more like foothills.)

At our celebration lunch today, I thought of telling my daughter about this assignment, and how passing the driver's test may be one of those major peaks in her life. But I didn't. Instead, I outlined the rules about driving, about sharing my car, and the consequences for breaking the rules. In short, I lectured. Afterall, she's too young to care about life lines, and clusters of peaks. She's too busy living.

And that's what I intend to do too.

Image from:

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Cover Art

Isn't this a stunning photo?

I stumbled across it among my daughter's photos when I was looking for something else. At first I thought it was a photo she'd taken, but then I realized that those are her legs. Not too likely that she posed and took the shot. She's flexible, but.... even she has limits.

The image has stayed with me, I guess because it's such an unusual subject, the ballet slippers against the backdrop of a chain-link fence in an industrial area.

Then I remembered that the novel I'm working on features a dancer. Wouldn't it be wonderful if I could use this photo on the cover of the book? It would be so perfect to have my daughter as the model. And this is exactly the kind of photo that my last two books have featured, photos that show only one part of the body, the part that suggests what the theme of the book might be... Maybe if I rewrite the setting into a more industrial area....

Okay, I just gave my head a serious shake. I am getting way ahead of myself. The book is only half written. I haven't signed a contract. I may never get it finished and even if I do, chances are that it won't be publishable. And even if I do get it finished and someone agrees to publish it, the publisher always determines what the cover art will be. I've rarely heard of an author having any say on what goes on the front of their books. Their job is to write the story. It is someone else's job to design the book.

But I can dream. And it IS a stunning photo. And I AM a proud mother.