A better word than joy?

I knew from the beginning that my second novel would be centered around the theme of joy. My first novel was all about our connection to others; I wanted this one to celebrate the authenticity of being oneself.

Because I’m the kind of person who gets carried away with an idea, I decided to center the action around the place on the globe that was exactly opposite of Nigeria, where my my first novel took place. Turns out that location is just south of the equator, smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This fact might have discouraged someone else, I but I was determined to introduce this symbolism of opposites into my already half-developed plot. So I delved deeper and discovered the island nation of Kiribati, and began to write a novel that encompassed a swath of the sea.

Just as “peace” seemed an inadequate word to describe x0, “joy” barely touched the surface of my overarching theme for y1. What I wanted was a word that meant

the sheer exhilaration that can only be found when a person is true to who they are.

We do need a word for that.

The book was orange in my head. Orange for sunsets over the Pacific and orange for crazy-strong exuberance and for all that glows. This had to be a book about the fire within.

I already knew that later in the series I would write a book that was blue, and it would be about the virtues that tug us in the other direction. I’m still struggling to find a single word that encapsulates the theme of my blue book, but I know that it is about something important, too.

(For more thoughts on words we need, see A better word than loyalty?, A better word than peace?,  A better word than hope? and A better word than courage?)

Why would anyone call a collection of books 46. Ascending?

I spent most of my free time over the past six years writing a collection of six novels. I’d never written a book before and, now that I’m finishing the last one, I’m starting to puzzle through what possessed me to do such a thing.

It seemed like fun? I’d always wanted to write fiction? Why the hell not?

Part of the answer lies in something I wrote today to put at the end of the sixth book to explain to any curious reader who had stuck with me exactly why I called this collection of books 46. Ascending.

Here is how I explained it.

  1. It is an I Ching hexagram.
  2. It is what I came up with when I decided that my six proposed books could be made into an I Ching hexagram. Those with a female protagonist would have two lines and those with a male protagonist a single line and book one would be at the bottom and book six at the top because I was pretty sure that was how you were supposed to do it. I thought it was a cool idea.
  3. The lines make Sheng, the I Ching hexagram number 46, as I discovered when I looked up the above cool idea.
  4. Sheng answered the question that bothered me most. The question was not “will my books make money?” or “will I sell a lot of books?” It wasn’t even “will these be good books?” or “will I enjoy writing them?” Those would all have been fine questions. But, this I Ching hexagram answered my question “should I do this or not?”
  5. Researching Sheng, I read that “it is a time of development and progress, the direction is correct” and “hexagram 46 shows a time where a steady progression will occur where the predicted outcome is positive  and “keep working on your plans and maintain confidence in their success.” Those all sure sounded good to me.
  6. My research on 46 Ascending also put this quote in front of me. It is always better to fail in doing something than to excel in doing nothing. – Chinese Proverb . It is undoubtedly a good quote for anyone contemplating anything.
  7. I learned that Sheng was also referred to as the Symbol of Rising and Advancing, Ascending, Ascension, Rising, Promotion, Advancement, Sprouting from the Earth, and Organic Growth. Who can argue with all that?
  8. Sheng’s details included “The emphasis is on upward motion, from obscurity to influence, with growth that is supported by adaptability and an absence of obstacles.” and “Make a sincere effort to apply resolute effort against the forces of inertia, bending around obstacles that arise, and good fortune will follow.
  9. In other words, everything I read about the I Ching hexagram told me loud and clear “write the damn books.” So I did.
  10. Was the universe talking to me? Was I talking to myself? Am I lucky I didn’t put the lines in the reverse order? Those are all great questions. But the one I started to consider was how well did the hexagram fit in with the books themselves.
  11. If you asked me what this collection of books was about, from the beginning I would have told you it was about how all humans have so much more potential than they realize. We can improve, we can rise, we can ascend. Climb the mountain. Move towards the light to the south. You know. Grow.
  12. So this collection of books is named after an I Ching hexagram that not only got me off my butt and writing, but just happened to perfectly describe what it was I was trying to say. Go figure. At the least, it seemed reasonable to name the collection of books after it.

What I don’t address at the end of my novel is the question “did writing the books make me happy?” It’s an important question, but it’s important to me, and not really to my readers. That makes it a more appropriate topic for my blog.

Well …

I can tell you that I wrote these books filled with a sense of energy and purpose unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life. Many days, writing wasn’t just what I wanted to do, it was all I wanted to do. It was an addiction, an obsession, and a nepenthe against all the world’s ills. I let it consume me, and I enjoyed the ride.

I emerge at the other end, tireder, older, fifteen pounds heavier and with six years of my life mysteriously gone. But, I was lucky enough to have five people in this world who loved me throughout this process and I was lucky enough to have a way to make a living while I wrote that kept serious worries away. Neither is to be taken lightly and for both I count my blessings.

Everybody always tells you to pursue your passion in life. I don’t think that “everybody” has much of an idea of all that really entails. It changes you in ways you do and don’t like. It’s not always fun. It doesn’t always turn out well, certainly not in the Hollywood kind of way.

But once you’ve done it, you can’t imagine not having done it, if that makes any sense. Like not doing it wasn’t even an option, or at least it shouldn’t have been.

Is that happiness? I’m not sure, but I think it might be something even better.

 

Am I sure I’m Sherrie?

“Do you want to know what I’m thinking?”

“Of course I do.”

“Why?”

It was a trick questions, and I knew it, because we were in the middle of an argument. I guessed he was about to make the point that no, I really didn’t want to know because if I did then I wouldn’t be doing blah-de-blah.

But I was trying to diffuse the situation, for once. I’m not known as the diffuser in this relationship, but every once in awhile I have a good day. So I said ….

“I do want to know, because we are all always changing. If you don’t tell me what you’re thinking, I’ll be loving an outdated version of you, someone who used to exist. I want to love the you who is here now and I can’t do that if you won’t tell me what you’re thinking.”

Oh. We looked at each other and we both realized that, for no apparent reason, I had just spoken a fine truth. I had no idea where it came from. It did kind of diffuse the discussion, though, and we both went on about our day feeling less angry.

Later, as I sat down to work on the novel I am so, so close to finishing, I read the scene I wrote last night before dinner. It was about Zane, the shape-shifting protagonist of y1, the novel that is the basis for this blog. Zane is in my nearly finished book as well, and in this most recent scene he has been forced to assume the appearance of and substitute himself for an older businessman named Warren. Here’s the scene.

Zane woke up Friday morning and he knew that it was show time. The real Warren would be safe somewhere at a location unknown to Zane. Jerry would be in nearby room listening to Zane’s every conversation, making sure Zane behaved…

Warren had a series of appointments that day, starting with the ones that were likely to be quick and easy. First up were the non-telepathic executives who oversaw Accounting, HR, and Legal. Each needed a few minutes of the big boss’s time to approve this and discuss that and be reassured that Warren’s unprecedented absence for the past two weeks had been necessary and that the issues had been resolved. His administrative aide needed time with him as well, and Zane guessed that she would be the toughest one to fool.

But really, what was she going to say. “Are you sure you’re Warren?”

He already knew how he would answer.

“Yes. Are you sure you’re Denise?”

But the conversation would probably never happen. People saw what they expected to see.

I’ve gotten a lot of good things from my obsession with writing novels. I’ve learned facts, met people, experienced a lot of personal satisfaction. But to the best of my knowledge, this is first time part of plot has worked to supply me with the perfect answer to a question.

Am I sure I’m Sherrie? If it’s the April 14, 2017 release you’re asking about, then yes, I’m sure.

(For more short excerpts from my upcoming novel, also see Worry about those you love and write about what you know, Point of View, The Amazing Things I Get to Do, and Cease worrying when you can and write about what you know.)

The real eulogy that I never gave

It was written eight years ago and it is the oldest file on my computer. I found it cleaning out a folder called “other writing” looking for any forgotten gems that I might want to roll into the book I’ve just started. It isn’t the oldest thing I’ve written of course, I’ve been doing this stuff since junior high. But most of that is all gone now. This isn’t.

I hear my own voice, from the year my mother died. I’ve changed in the passing years, and I’m not sure I agree with all of this now. But I think it is a perspective worth sharing. It’s called “Teach your children.”

You teach your children every day.  Not by what you say but by how you live your life. It is so easy to find yourself teaching them that life is drudgery, that marriage sucks, that work is to be avoided, and that you never get a fair deal.

I will never get to deliver the eulogy for my parents which I would like.  But if I could – it would go something like this.

Dalai 9The most offensive and ridiculous thing my parents ever said to me was “don’t do as I do, do as I tell you.”  They thought it was terribly funny, which made it all the worse.  And they quoted it often.  You see, my parents basically liked to drink, gamble and have sex.  And overeat. They  avoided cigarettes and drugs, although my father smoked for awhile and tried pot in his youth.  I don’t think stopping either had much to do with self restraint – rather the first was more of an aesthetes choice and the second had more to do with what vices were readily available within their social circle.

And while my parents were busy enjoying life and telling us not to, they were also, in a way they never suspected, busy teaching me and my sister.

And what were we learning?

  1. If you want to have a good marriage, have all the sex you want but only have it with your partner. Nothing else will result in love after 40 plus years and having someone love you when you are 60 is about as good as it gets.
  2. If you are going to drink alcohol, only drink after five o’ clock except on holidays and special occasions. Only get drunk on weekends and not on all of them. This works a lot better if you can manage to be a happy, or at least not a belligerent, drunk.
  3. Gamble all you want, but never ever what you cannot afford to lose.
  4. Keep you weight to within 40 pounds of your ideal.  There are a lot of ways to die and frankly odds are yours will have nothing to do with your weight if you keep it somewhere under obese. Meanwhile, you will enjoy your life a lot more.

So today – I am slightly chubby and happily married for 26 plus years.  I drink less than my parents did, which is good, but I do drink only on nights and weekends. I hate most forms of gambling but play the stock market as hobby, but of course only with what we can afford to lose. I pretty much have a great life.

It is a shame I will never get to deliver this tribute, because it brings two things to mind which should be said.

  1. I hope my husband and I have taught our children as well.
  2. Thanks Mom and Dad. I am doing what you did, not what you said, and it’s working out just fine.

My Imaginary Time in Witness Protection

I finally figured it out. When I first moved here five months ago I thought that my main problem was exhaustion. I had been working long hours, living various places, and moving heavy things for months before the move. I would be happy here just as soon as I got caught up on sleep. Or as soon as I got finally got unpacked, or found the right drapes and got them hung.

Psychedelic 14After a few weeks, I realized that my restlessness wasn’t just caused by fatigue. I had left friends and family a thousand miles behind. I had no cell phone coverage and no land line. I knew no one here, and no one I knew had ever been here. I’ve died, I thought. This feels like I’ve died. Well, my husband was here with me, equally discombobulated. Maybe we’d died together? Scenes from the movie “The Sixth Sense” kept running through my head. Was it possible?

I looked out the window and saw the gorgeous mountains and bright blue sky and amended my assessment. Clearly if I’d died, I’d gone to heaven, whatever that was, and I should be happy. There were reportedly far worse alternatives. But I still just felt confused and disconnected. Being in heaven didn’t turn out to be such a great thing.

I was also unemployed, by choice, and this should have made me wildly, deliriously joyous but it didn’t. I had hoped to write for forty to sixty hours a week, but the open expanse of time was overwhelming and for the first time in my life I could barely write for an hour.  I signed up for yoga classes mostly for an excuse to get dressed, look at a clock, and get out of the house. The yoga turned out to be wonderful on many more levels, and one day one of the wiser instructors managed to give me a key clue to my dilemma.

“Today, let go of whatever it is that defines you, to you,” the instructor suggested.

That’s it! I almost said it aloud. What defines me to me! It was my job. Rather my profession and all the people who knew me as such. It was where I had lived. It was the places I liked to go, for lunch and ice cream and shopping. It was the clothes I wore to work and my habits and the way I lived my week and now all of that was gone.

It made perfect sense. I’d come to define myself by a fairly shallow set of behaviors and now that I had none of them, I needed to redefine me and I wasn’t doing a particularly good job of it.

I’ve gone into Witness Protection, I thought. Nice home, just enough money, and none of my old self to fall back on. No one knows me here, or knows what I can do. I’ve lost myself and I need to make a new me.

I mean, being in witness protection is an amazing opportunity if you think about it.  You get to leave a lot of baggage behind. You can be nicer, more fit, interested in birds or herbs or any old thing you want and no one is going to ask “What’s gotten into you?”

A little bit of looking around established that a lot of people of all ages have moved to this area, and some have taken on some amazing challenges once they did so. Who knows what they were like before. I could redefine me too.

What do I want to be? Well, I am and always will be a writer and now that I’m making sense of the void that intimidated me at first, the writing ought to come more easily. But writing will also always be a solitary part of me, and it’s the social, interactive parts that are needing the fleshing out.

I’d already taken steps to reconnect with loved ones.  I’d gotten a new cell phone carrier with coverage at my house. Some friends and family came to visit and that helped and now I’m making plans to visit some of them. But I had to figure out what else defined me besides a connection with those who will always be close to me.

bolder7Well, I want to help people; I want to put something back for all the good fortune that I’ve had. So over the last week I’ve found four or five volunteer opportunities I’m excited about and looking into. It turns out that I don’t like being broke or never working as much as I though I would, and it looks like I’ve also found a chance to work a day and half a week. The money and the structure will help. Better and better.

I already like the ways I’m starting to define me as me, to me, and once I’m comfortable enough I won’t be in witness protection anymore. I’ll just be Sherrie, the lady who works from home on her computer a little and volunteers over there every week and writes books on the side and does a lot of yoga and seems very happy in her new life.

(Read more at “My Imaginary Prison Time“)

 

Am I a shape shifter now?

I never expected to be able to reshape my body the way my characters Zane and Nell do. I’m not planning on sneaking into executive offices after morphing myself into an indistinguishable cleaning lady and I’m even more unlikely to stop a killer his in tracks by taking on the appearance of his latest victim.

shutterstock_33520513However, I’m discovering a mental sort of shape shifting and it has its uses. As I see my extended limbs become glowing rivers of light that stretch for miles out into space, the kinks in my back evaporate with the image. I have an excellent yoga studio to thank for this. I relax my muscles, my brain and even my soul as I become a happy baby or a resting child. I can be a tree, a cobra or a pigeon as I improve my balance and my flexibility.

I might not take to all this so easily if I hadn’t been lucky enough to find an excellent qigong instructor a couple of years ago. He has a knack for taking a secretive and sometimes indistinct discipline and making it come alive to twenty-first century Americans. My whole sense of balance changed when he shared the concept of “bottom heavy, top light”. My brain now sees my rooted foot or feet as made of iron, or as being a strong plant with roots that twine deeply into the earth. My reaching arms become gossamer wings, lighter than air as they stretch into the heavens.

Psychedelic 15You might think this is just a mental game, until you watch me change a light bulb. I mean a real light bulb, in my real living room. Or watch me paint the top of the wall next to the molding. “Wow,” my husband remarked. “Has your sense of balance improved. How did you reach that?”

Do you have any idea how much easier it is to do yard work when you can lower into an easy squat and stay there till the task is done? I’m not doing yard work, of course. I’m a Hungarian archer riding a wild horse, thanks to the qigong exercise called “riding a wild horse”.  I admit that the shape-shifting is entirely in my mind. The resulting physical prowess is entirely real.

Have I turned into a shape-shifter? Or should I keep trying?

(For more about my recent adventures, metaphysical and otherwise, see my posts Wise and Quiet, If You’re Going to be an Old Car and Greener Grass.)

with a breath of kindness blow the rest away

New Year’s Eve plays a role in y1. Each Dec. 31 since I wrote the book, I find myself thinking of adolescent Zane throwing up on coffee liqueur as he attempts to greet the new year like an adult. Creating this scene required a better sense of balance than most. I meant to capture both the fear and joy of letting go of childhood, and in fact of letting go of anything, in such a burst of determination that it leads to inappropriate behavior. I wanted my readers to cheer on Zane as he tried to be older, in spite of their hopeful disapproval of children drinking alcohol. I wanted them to empathize with how the process of releasing the past is seldom an easy one for any of us. Metaphorically, a lot of us end up with our heads over the toilet bowl when we try to move on.

farewell 2014That is what New Year’s Eve is about, isn’t it? Drunk or sober, alone, with family or friends or surrounded by loud strangers, we each find out ways to release the joys and failures of last year as we resolve to be stronger, better, and happier during this next trip around the sun. Some of us do it from the comfort of our couches, others while setting off fireworks in our front yard. (At least if we live in the country in Texas we do.) Some will acknowledge the moment with a quick sigh as they go on about their work, keeping hospitals running, drilling rigs drilling, and streets safe for those who had the luxury of deciding what they wanted to do tonight.

New Year’s Eve is an ending and a beginning, whether we like it or not. Maybe that is why so many of us drink so much. There will be jobs, relationships, possessions and habits that won’t go with us through 2015 and we know it. Replacements and voids will be there instead when we greet 2016. They’re gone or going. Say good-bye. It’s not an easy thing to do.

A friend shared the above saying with me, and it has become my New Year’s resolution. I’m going to work a little harder to keep what matters healthy. I’m going to make a better effort to send the rest softly on its way.

Here’s a gentle kiss, 2014, with gratitude for all the good times, and for all the lessons, too. Welcome 2015. With a breath of kindness, blow the past year away.

 

 For more thoughts on letting go, check out my post Face Painting for World Peace.