Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Secret of Happiness

During a period in my life in which I felt hopelessly trapped in stasis (it was about the time I started writing The Red Coat), someone suggested I try writing a gratitude list at bedtime.  You know, recounting at the end of the day all the things in your life that you are thankful for.

Counting your blessings is supposed to help pull you out of a rut by getting you to focus on what's going right instead of all the things that are going wrong.  It's the "secret" behind that book The Secret.  Namely: whatever you focus on you get more of.  Focus on your problems and you just get more of them.  Focus on the good things and they grow. 

My problem was, I felt so awful, I could not think of one good thing to say about my life!  

Moreover, I didn't quite hold to the idea of a gratitude list.  There seemed to be fear built in.  For example, the thought, "I'm grateful for my job," had a tiny little voice attached to it that warned, "You could lose it tomorrow!"  Or the thought, "Thank heavens for my health!" brought to consciousness some little pain in the body.  It was as if courting a good thing provoked its opposite.

So late one night when I was feeling stuck and worried (and doesn't stuck and worried always visit late at night!) I wondered what I could focus on that would create movement in my life.  What would make the energy go up, instead of down?

And that's when I lit on it: I'd make a list of all the things that day that brought me joy!

At first, joy was hard to find and my list was pretty short: there was that kind word from a colleague at the office, or the smile that a stranger gave away for free.  Some days all I could come up with was how happy my bird had been to see me.  Remarkably, as I began to keep track of joy, it began to show up in spades.  Writing it down at night magically brought more of it the next day.  I found that I could even go looking for it, or create it in others.  That is when I began to look forward to my day, when I began to see that joy was everywhere and all around me, in every living thing, and all I had to do was notice it.

For my picture, I chose Scuffy who always brings me joy.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

I'm Your Self

It's difficult to watch younger women tormenting themselves over love.  I try to help if there's an invitation, otherwise I don't have the patience to listen to their complaining for very long: the truth is, it's just too plain painful because I was once that woman.

I can't tell you how many times I had to put my life's work on hold while I went through a crisis over a man.  The drama is well documented in my journals.  I can go back through them now and see the pattern: I'd be making progress on my writing and then I'd fall in love and Frank or George or Ringo or whoever it was would suddenly announce that there was something about me focusing on him the way I did that made him nervous -- and he would start to pull away.  With the love taken away, I'd fall into a depression.  Every time.

At some point, as I began to mature, I realized that I couldn't go on like that.  I'd have to figure out how to love myself.

But how do you love when you don't know how?

Well there were a few tricks that worked, and one of them was this: 

One night, I was driving in the car, all alone, tears streaming down my face, I can't even remember why, and some insipid love song came on the radio and I thought, "How stupid is that!" and then suddenly it occurred to me:
"Wouldn't it be funny if said those things to myself!"  
What if I sang to my own self: "I wanna hold your hand" or "I saw her standing there" or "I need you"?  and just the thought made me laugh out loud.  For a long time after that, every time I heard a sappy love song I would sing it to me and laugh.  And so, little by little, as I learned to laugh and I practiced loving me, I began to feel better.

It's great fun!  Go on and try it!

Try this one, by Leonard Cohen, except that every time he says, "I'm your man" you say, "I'm your Self":

If you want a lover
I'll do anything you ask me to
And if you want another kind of love
I'll wear a mask for you
If you want a partner
Take my hand
Or if you want to strike me down in anger
Here I stand
I'm your man

If you want a boxer
I will step into the ring for you
And if you want a doctor
I'll examine every inch of you
If you want a driver
Climb inside
Or if you want to take me for a ride
You know you can
I'm your man

Ah, the moon's too bright
The chain's too tight
The beast won't go to sleep
I've been running through these promises to you
That I made and I could not keep
Ah but a man never got a woman back
Not by begging on his knees
Or I'd crawl to you baby
And I'd fall at your feet
And I'd howl at your beauty
Like a dog in heat
And I'd claw at your heart
And I'd tear at your sheet
I'd say please, please
I'm your man

And if you've got to sleep
A moment on the road
I will steer for you
And if you want to work the street alone
I'll disappear for you
If you want a father for your child
Or only want to walk with me a while
Across the sand
I'm your man

If you want a lover
I'll do anything you ask me to
And if you want another kind of love
I'll wear a mask for you

For my picture, I chose the photo we snapped one day of the Crapi Apartments across the street.  Sometimes you just have to look around yourself and laugh.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What's In A Button?

What’s in a button?

A button is an ordinary object, one you use every day and probably don't even notice. They are common. You’re probably wearing one right now and don’t even know it.  An ordinary object that you use all the time and don’t stop to think about.

And yet, from the first soft baby clothes that grandma sewed for you to the dressing gown of your twilight years, the button will be at hand to secure you, adorn you and tell the story of who you are and where you came from.  

Buttons are ancient.

The earliest known buttons were made in Egypt around 2000 B.C.  Crusaders brought them to Europe from the Middle East. In days of old, they were distinguishing points of bespoke tailoring, commissioned by kings and worn by great ladies to flaunt their positions and wealth.  But now buttons are hardly noticed, a result of ready-to-wear factory-style manufacturing.  A product of our times.  When was the last time you chose a garment for the buttons?  Or chose the buttons for a garment? They are entirely overlooked.

A button is round, simple, functional.  The more you look at one, the more beautiful it becomes.

The button is a perfect mandala, actually.  Like a mandala, it is round with a square inside and four gates.  Like a mandala, a button could be used, if one thought to look at it that way, as a portal.

In certain spiritual traditions, the Mandala is used to focus the attention of the seeker in order to establish a sacred space and help her to enter a meditative state in which to experience transcendent powers at work in the universe.

Sigmund Freud’s pupil Carl Jung painted mandalas as a “self-experiment” in order to come to terms with the contents of his unconscious mind.  The work sprang from his need, he said, to define the ways in which his outlook differed from that of his teacher.  He did not think of his paintings as art, only as a means to clarify certain material that had swamped him.  After completing his six-year experiment, Jung transcribed his experiences in a journal he called “The Red Book,” a richly illustrated folio bound in red leather.  

What Jung realized was that the fantastic figures he had encountered in his meditations could not be traced to any personal or biographical event.  Instead, he concluded, they were mythic, originating in an impersonal psychic realm that he called the "collective unconscious.” This discovery of an autonomous psychic realm populated by universal, inherited “shapes” of the human mind – or archetypes -- would form the basis of Jung’s psychology of the unconscious, the material for his lifetime’s work.

The button is just a metaphor.  It is a way of being in the world.  A way of approaching one's life, one's work.  Pay more attention to your clothes – but not in the way that others have decided for you.

For my picture, I snapped a picture of my mom’s green button (compare it to a Tibetan mandala painted in the 17th century).  Her collection of buttons was passed down to me, canisters of vibrant reds, greens, purples, blues, a whole bin of pearly whites.  A tin of blacks.  A tray of metal ones for uniforms.  It is an inheritance I am just beginning to understand and appreciate.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Opposite Inside You

The way to get at a difficult thing is to take on it’s opposite.  

Czech filmmaker Yaroslava Vosmikova (or Barbara as her friends in L.A. call her) gave me this advice when I started to write The Red Coat and found that it had pitched me from broad daylight down into the Aladdin caves of my psyche.  Rather than help me get clear on who I was and what I wanted, writing the book seemed to propel me further and further into darkness and doubt.  

“Go against what you are aiming for to get at it,” Barbara told me.  “Work in streams of consciousness. Throw out agitating, seemingly unrelated images to get at the deeper meaning,” and she gave as an example the bible quoting hitman from Pulp Fiction.

The Samuel L. Jackson character in that film who delivers a righteous sermon from Ezekiel even as he takes the life of another human being burned an image of irreconcilable opposites into our hearts and minds in the same way that 40 years earlier Robert Mitchum’s sinister preacher in Night of the Hunter would tattoo the words “Love” on his one hand and “Hate” on the other. 

Pitting two characters of comparable strength opposite each other creates a powerful drama, but placing those same opposites together inside a single character describes what it means to be human.  Nobody is all good or all bad, and it is the essence of consciousness to be able to look down into the deep wells inside yourself and see the dangerous Jinn as well as the jewels that abide there.

Interestingly, I think women tend to more readily identify with their negative character traits than acknowledge the positive ones, which remain weak or latent inside them. 

The main character of my book, Marla Piper, would be the one to show me how to exercise my latent but formidable powers, the “opposites” inside me that I dared not let loose.  Like the sister that saves Inanna from certain death in the underworld – her perfect complement – Marla would be my surrogate, the deputy that I would appoint to solve my daunting personal problems. Where I was shy and cautious, she would be bold. Where I was numb she would awaken to pain and to life, and where I was paralyzed in fear she would take action.  

My literary persona would help me become the whole, graceful and self-loving person that I needed. 

For my picture, I chose Joan of Arc, because at one time she was my antithesis.  Where I felt hopeless and was easily deterred, Joan believed in and followed her visions with all of her heart, regardless of the outcome.  Although I’ve gotten more sure, I know I still need to develop faith in myself and my ideas if I am going to succeed.  p.s. did you notice that Joan wears a suit of armor and carries a sword?

So tell me, what is the opposite inside you that has got to come out?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Vital Behaviors

At our October mastermind this past weekend, we were all running a little behind and had to do our "check in" in Cindy's kitchen while she prepared the main dish for the dinner that we would all share when the meeting was over and our families arrived.  The theme for this month's potluck dinner was Dominican Republic cuisine.  (We've had so many meetings we've run out of standard ethnic cuisines like French and Mexican food!)  Cindy was at the stove cooking the sauce for what would prove to be a flavorful plantain, meatless ground beef, cheese casserole and the rest of us were helping out. 

While I washed dishes, I shared with the others that sinking feeling I had that I would not make my goal of finishing my book by the end of this year.  I was feeling insecure and asked the others what they thought of that.  My fellow masterminds are always helpful and encouraging and Linda offered that it was okay and Barbara said to just keep trying.  Cindy turned to me while aromas from the West Indies wafted from her stove and asked, "How does it make you feel?"  I smiled sheepishly over my pots and pans and said that over the years I'd set countless goals to finish The Red Coat (usually on my birthday or by the end of some important year) and I always failed.

I couldn't understand what my problem was...

Cindy, who knows me pretty well, said she thought making goals was important but how one goes about achieving them is the real question!  She recommended I read Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, a book about how to create the change we'd like to see in the world -- or in ourselves.

"Take weight loss," she said, citing an example from the book.  "How do you lose weight?"

We all offered our opinions: eat less, exercise more, basically burn more calories than you consume.  "'What you're talking about is an outcome, the goal," she said.  "The formula "burn more than you eat" describes how weight is lost, the goal, but it doesn't tell you precisely what you're supposed to do to get there, the little baby steps you have to take along the way to 'eat less or burn more'."

According to the book she mentioned, a person who wants to improve the situation should look for and identify those "vital behaviors" in herself or others that actually work.  "For example," Cindy said, "One behavior might be to quit buying snacks at the grocery store so they're not lying around the house to tempt you -- or to avoid walking by that candy shop on your lunch break."

In my case, the goal is to write faster but a vital behavior might be to refrain from doing other things in my writing sessions (like checking email) or to do a 10 minute timed "freewrite" about what I want to say when I feel I'm getting stuck.

Whether you are a visionary with a dream or just somebody with a big problem that won't go away, the book describes how focusing on vital behaviors (actions), as opposed to the results, can lead to profound change.  And what's great is that you can always test your results!  Just come up with a list of behaviors, implement them and see if they yield the results you want.

For my picture, I snapped a shot of my time pieces -- the alarm clock I set the night before my morning writing session and the egg timer I use for my 10 minute timed writings.  I want to change my relationship to time because I never seem to have enough.

What change do you want to make happen?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The House You Must Go Into

Fifteen years ago, when I started to write The Red Coat, I had a dream, which I wrote down in my journal:
"It is some kind of complex of buildings.  It is dark.  The streets are empty.  Something is going on at one end of it.  I set out toward it.  I find somebody.  I ask them about the complex.  I know I have to go straight for that building (the answer lies there) but why? Why? What is there?  Then I see Celeste, the serene woman at the pool who reminds me of the Mona Lisa, but instead of her usual self she is RAGING.  I hold her at a distance from me and we start to rotate in the air.  She is ranting and raging (about something).  She is mad.  She is yelling AT ME and I am so utterly terrified, so frightened, I throw her over the counter and she is knocked out by something she hits over there."
In the journal, I describe how I wake from the dream shaking with fear, unable to get enough air to breathe, shielding my head with my pillow.  Why am I so afraid? I wonder. Why Celeste? and why now raging?  I try to analyze the dream.  I remember someone saying that characters in a dream are different sides of your own personality and I realize that Celeste is the good girl, me, who is raging because of what I’ve done to her, repressed her, her true nature. 
What is her true nature? and what is the house I know I must go into?
I flip a few pages forward and find another entry, written around that same time, a period of unemployment: 
"I called my sister to gather some concrete reasons why, why, why plagued by the wish, constantly, the unhappy need to express myself for my whole adult life... and still, despite all my efforts, all my trying, am no further along than when I started, worse in fact: no work, no income, no food...while others more ? succeed…"
I had been laid off after I came back from my maternity leave and had lost my footing in the world, not to mention my income.  I finally had some time to write, but I was blocked, and terrified about money.  It was during that time, right after the birth of my son, that I began to withdraw from projects and people and associations I was taken up with and started on what would prove to be a long descent into and through the deep layers of my psyche to find, I now see in retrospect, answers to those questions.
The response my sister had to my call would provide a roadmap, whether or not at that time I could consciously and conscientiously adopt it:
"Marianne encouraged me to accept myself and all the shameful emotions that I possess and to write about these true things.  She encouraged me to accept myself, all of me, even the bad stuff and to be who I am...not looking for, not requiring other people's approval." 
Accept myself, all of me, and write about these true things.
That is why Inanna and her story resonate with me.  After reading my last post, Jack commented that those virtues of hers aren't all nice.  I agreed but said that the ability to take action in the world means that one must have the power to be both bad and good, to be repugnant as well as pleasing, to be cold as well as caring, to make war as well as peace.  Too often we women deny essential parts of ourselves -- we make nice, we hide, we avoid, we push our power down below and out of sight, we silence ourselves -- to be accepted and loved by others. 
But at what price? 
For my picture I chose a collage I made several years ago that I call Underwater 2.  It is the uncertain, sometimes abysmal place of the unconscious world, of fear and depth and murk, but also the place where lies the buried treasure.  For me it is that complex of buildings I had to go into in my dream.  It is the house of my writing.
What is the house in your dream?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Queen of Heaven and Earth

On my quest for an image of a woman that would serve as both mascot and role model on my journey to wholeness and self-loving, I considered the goddesses of ancient Greece.

There was one goddess who ruled over wisdom (Athena), another love (Aphrodite), another chastity (Artemis), and another the hearth and marriage (Hera) -- yet the choices felt unsatisfying to me.  Why were the goddesses (and gods) of ancient Greece so fragmented, so compartmentalized?  You know, one was good to have at your side in an argument, another when you went on a date (or were looking for one!), another when you took up housekeeping and another when you needed to retrieve your childlike divinity -- but not one of them was the picture of a complete woman!

Here I was in the golden age of our Western Civilization, and not one fully-formed deity!  (What was the significance of that, I wondered.)

And so I traveled father and farther back in time looking for "her" until I came to the cradle of civilization, the land of the ancient Sumerians.  Here, in the Fertile Crescent, I found an image carved in stone, of a woman holding a sheaf of grain in her hand and a quiver of arrows at her back who had long curling hair tumbling down her shoulders, a crown of horns upon her head, bright eyes -- and a smile on her face.

She made me laugh!  Who was this woman who had such a sweet smile but was ready to fight?

The image, from 2400 BC, was much older than the other stone carvings from the Bronze Age that caught my attention.  Nevertheless, I was immediately struck by it's freshness and accessibility, attributable no doubt to her amiable countenance.  She seemed like someone I could get to know and like.  I had to find out who she was!

I learned that she was Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth.  Unlike the goddesses in the Golden Age of Greece,  Inanna possessed all the virtues.  She was a whole person.  The ancient Sumerian tablets were translated and retold by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer in their book Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth.  In it, they tell how Inanna got all the virtues.  The story goes like this:

Inanna went to visit her father, Enki, who was a great god and knew all things, and after paying her respects he invited her to drink with him at the Table of Heaven.  Inanna accepted and she sat down and they began to drink beer together.  They drank more and more beer until, swaying with drink, Enki toasted Inanna:
In the name of my power! In the name of my holy shrine!
To my daughter Inanna I shall give the high priesthood!
Godship! The noble, enduring crown! The throne of kingship!
Inanna replied: I take them!
Through the driving mists of his drunken stupor, Enki gave Inanna all of his me (virtues) and each one she took: the virtue of war, of incantation, of truth, of dagger and sword, of the black garment, of the colorful garment, of fear, of lovemaking, of forthright speech, of slanderous speech, of song, of power, of lamentation, of the perceptive ear, of the power of attention, of treachery, of straightforwardness, of kindness, of deceit, and so on, until Enki had no virtue left and he fell fast asleep.  Inanna fell sleep too and when she woke she loaded up her boat with all of the virtues that now belonged to her and she sailed home.  When Enki woke, still reeling of drink, he asked: "Where are all my virtues?" and his assistant explained to him what had happened.  Enki sent wave upon wave of sea monsters after her but Inanna held her father to his word and with the help of her secretary she drove back the monsters and delivered the virtues to her people.

What virtues are yours?  Take them!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Crown of Doves and Bull's Horns

I studied political philosophy in college and never forgot Niccolo Machiavelli's advice in The Prince:
"Men nearly always follow the tracks made by others and proceed in their affairs by imitation, even though they cannot entirely keep to the tracks of others or emulate the prowess of their models. So a prudent man should always follow in the footsteps of great men and imitate those who have been outstanding. If his own prowess fails to compare with theirs, at least it has an air of greatness about it."
My professor raved about this passage because it provided a roadmap for "ordinary" people like us to follow -- but it always bugged me.  Why not say imitate great -- people?  I mean, weren't there great women in history too?  The truth is, I didn't know about many of them.  All of the philosophers we read -- from Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Kierkegaard, down to de Tocqueville and the Founding Fathers -- were men.

Like many women who feel invisible to men and struggle with feelings of low self worth and are unsure of themselves, I kept quiet about it.  But later on in life, on my journey to wholeness and self-loving, I began to ask myself, is there an excellence of women?  Are we so different, and, if so, what would it mean to be a great -- woman?  Since I am a visual learner, I began to look for images that inspired me.  How did I want to look and feel?  And who would be my role model?

Like most women, I turned to what was at hand: fashion magazines.  While the women were beautiful, I couldn't find any that inspired my imagination.  So I turned to art books, and found myself drawn to some of the earliest images, from the Palaeolithic era and Bronze Age, of the female figure in a "gesture" of epiphany.  Unlike the demure images of women that I found in magazines for modern women and much more recent art, this ancient gesture of the raised arms signifying a sudden, intuitive perception or insight into the reality or essence of a thing, really spoke to me.

What image speaks to you?

For my picture, I chose two images from Bronze Age Crete that I found in a book by Anne Baring and Jules Cashford called The Myth of The Goddess: Evolution of An Image.  The figure above is a Mycenaean seal with goddess and worshipers from 1500 BC.  The one below is a goddess with a crown of doves and bull's horns from 1400-1200 BC.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Woman's Beauty

Before our office moved from Century City, I went to the Annenberg Space for Photography on my lunch break to see the Beauty Culture exhibit that features photographs of movie stars and models by world famous art and fashion photographers such as Tyen of the House of Dior and Albert Watson whose celebrity portraits have appeared on more than 100 covers of Vogue Magazine.

The purpose of the exhibit, which runs through November and features a must see documentary short, is to show the power of the still image in shaping our cultural ideals of feminine beauty and a woman's sense of self.

Take your friends and family, sons and daughters as the exhibit sparks a lively discussion about our relentless pursuit of beauty and how power co-opts our sense of self for its own end.  You need only take a look at the Wall Street traded multi-billion dollar corporations that surround high fashion photography today to see that they are always trying to expand deeper and deeper into your body and psyche -- and for what purpose?  The answer is simple.   Just ask yourself, "Who profits?"

But you don't have to buy into it. One of the women featured in the exhibit is my personal heroine, Sophia Loren. She's an icon of feminine beauty for sure, but even the exhibitioners don't quite know where to put her. When you go you'll see what I mean. She stands out from the other beauties as having an undefinable, uncategorizable, incongruent "something".

In my own attempt to define what beauty and "the red coat" means to me, I came across her book Women & Beauty.  I never followed Ms. Loren's career but the book made me a huge fan.  In it she gives tips on wardrobe, hair, cosmetics, exercise, dieting and though these are important, she says, the essence of a woman's beauty is something much more.

Looking back on her career as an actress, she tells a story about working with George Cukor. Cukor was considered a “woman’s director” who had an eye for beauty and a special instinct for developing a woman’s potential. To Loren's great surprise, he did not spend time fussing with makeup and costume. One day, in the course of explaining how a character should emphasize her attractiveness, Loren recalls that Cukor said something that she has never forgotten:
"Beauty without self-confidence is less attractive than ugliness with self-confidence.   
If you are confident, you are beautiful.”  
Loren, elaborates.
"If you turn to your friends or even to women who appear in the media, you will see that the beautiful ones, those who catch your eye and make you delight in them and perhaps envy them, are the ones who believe that they are beautiful.  Somehow they have discovered that they are beautiful, and they radiate the pleasure of their discovery, even though their features or their figure or their makeup are not perfect.  You recognize immediately their confidence in their own appearance.  Indeed, I am convinced that nothing makes a woman more beautiful than the belief that she is so.”
What would happen in the world right now if women everywhere believed that they were beautiful and radiated the pleasure of that discovery?

For my picture, I chose a photograph of me when I didn't know how beautiful I was. Do you have one like that too?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Art of Haute Couture

I wanted to take a trip up to San Francisco this summer to see the Balenciaga and Spain exhibit at the de Young museum before it closed, but I never did. It was just too hard to find the time to make the trip so instead for about forty dollars I purchased the book by Hamish Bowles that the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and Rizzoli's published to commemorate the exhibit.  The book traces the influence of the Spanish masters -- from Zurbaran, Velazquez and Goya to Picasso and Miro -- on Balenciaga's designs.

I am thinking of this tonight because one of the assignments for our mastermind meeting this month is to bring in something that you bought that you considered expensive or unnecessary at the time but are glad you splurged on it.  There was a time when buying a book like that, much less taking a flight just to see an art exhibit, was a hard decision for me - even if it could be considered research for my book.  I didn't have enough confidence in myself or my work to justify the expense.  Or perhaps it was just extremely low self worth.  At the time, I envied other artists who invested in themselves, spent money renting out an office to work in, purchased a proper writing chair to sit in, bought gorgeous picture books that helped to stimulate their creativity.  What was wrong with me that I couldn't do that too?

There was one book that I really wanted called "The Art of Haute Couture" but just couldn't afford.  I saw it at the Barnes and Noble on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica while I was enjoying a rare night out with my girlfriends.  It was 1995 and the book cost 75 dollars.  I had just begun to write about Marla Piper and the fabulous red coat that she would sew and the book spoke to me.  It was beautifully photographed by Victor Skrebneski with breathtaking closeups that revealed the way couturiers work with line, texture, drape, volume and ornament to create illusion and drama.  I had to have it, but there was no way to assess how or when or if the purchase would ever pay off.

How do you know that the thing that you are working on will be hugely successful one day?  That's the question that was posed in our mastermind.

Well I did buy the book -- thanks to the urging of my friend, Barbara -- and for my picture tonight, I chose my favorite photograph in it of a design which I realized only tonight is by the very same Balenciaga.  But the reason I chose it is not because it's a Balenciaga.  I chose it because one of my fellow masterminders mentioned that it reminded her of The Red Coat Portal that I had painted last year, perhaps unwittingly after the couturier.  Or perhaps Balenciaga and I both drew our inspiration from the greatest of all masters, mother nature.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Mindful of Thoughts

I know that my subconscious mind reacts according to what I think each day, so I choose these thoughts:

Success.  I was born to succeed.

Plan. I have a definite written purpose and plan that brings me freedom, creativity and happiness.

Time.  Time and money expand to meet my dream.

The Status Quo that I Am Changing.  Women see themselves through the eyes of others and do not recognize their worth.

The Idea That I Am Spreading.  By remembering our women’s arts of friendship, sewing, birthing, rearing, mourning, weaving we reclaim parts of ourselves that bring us closer to one another and to our nature.

The Picture of the Future that I Am Painting.  We honor the natural world.

The Red Coat Promise.  Bestowing certain charms not offered by other fineries.

Faith.  I have faith in all things good and live in joyous expectancy of the best.  Others believe in me because I believe in them and in myself.

Chasms.  Though I may sometimes feel foolish and afraid, I remember that I bear chasms, heavens, eternities within me and can travel unopposed.
Help.  Invisible counselors speak to me through the natural world, which I cultivate by being observant and listening.

Give Thanks.  I am thankful for my life, for the endless possibilities for creation, for wholeness, for joy, for deep meaning and contentment.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Do You Need This Hedge?

The company I work for moved offices over the weekend and folks had to jettison a lot of their stuff because we were going to a smaller (more posh?) space in Beverly Hills.  I had a cactus that had grown so tall and skinny and lopsided I had to prop it up against the window sill to keep it from falling over.  There was no way I was taking it with me.

The cactus towered precariously over the two other much smaller cacti in its pot that for some reason had never "progressed" the way it had.  The three of them looked like a sorry lot.  Surely no one else would take them, but I couldn't bring myself to throw them out.  Better let someone else do the dirty work.  So I shined up the pot, affixed a yellow post-it note with the words: "Poor little cacti - orphaned - lost their home" and carried it (very carefully!) into the lunchroom.  I set it on one of the tables, waited to make sure it wouldn't fall over, and then bid it a wistful goodbye.  A few hours later, I went in there to dump some trash and was astonished to find that it was gone!

I was telling this story to one of my colleagues, thinking that somebody must have thrown them out, and he told me, on the contrary, he'd seen the person who took them -- and assured me they'd found a loving home.  I couldn't imagine who would become attached to such an ungainly arrangement and then go through all the trouble of moving it! 

Was it possible that my little note about orphans (we were all feeling a little uprooted that day) may have bestowed a certain charm not offered by other plants?  I recalled one of my favorite posts by marketing guru Seth Godin about how the best brands, the ones that make a connection with the public, are mythic -- that is, they tell stories that people connect with on a spiritual level.

I didn't happen to take a picture of the three cacti before I abandoned them (would you have!), but I do like to take photos of misfit plants, and thought I'd share this photo of one of my favorite hedges in Century City.  It's located across the street from our old office and always made me laugh and wonder what it said about our community. 

Next time, if you're unsure if you've got something worth keeping, ask yourself does it have a mythology that helps you live?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Choice You Make

In dramatic writing, you want to establish the basic need or object of desire in your main character and then set up obstacles for achieving it – the more obstacles the better! The formula they teach you in film school is the same: boy meets girl, boy gets girl (Act One), boy loses girl (Act Two), boy gets girl back (Act Three).  The key is to make things worse as the story progresses – not out of mean spiritedness but because how your character deals with problems reveals her character. 

You know.  When a person’s back is up against the wall that's when you find out who they really are.   

What’s the worst that could happen?  That’s the crisis in your play.  The forces of opposition can no longer avoid collision and the worst thing your main character could have imagined comes true – so what does she do? That’s the rest of your play!

My playwriting teacher said it was Oedipus’ character that made him gouge out his eyes when he realized that he had murdered his father and slept with his mother.  Other characters might have just skipped town.

I was thinking about this when I found myself in my own crisis.  I’d been working full guns for six months on the book, writing before work and for several hours each day on the weekends and trying to paint at nights, when it got busy again at work and I started to become exhausted and depressed.  The company was moving offices too, so I had to give up taking the bus, which is when I do all my reading, and swimming on my lunchbreaks, which is the thing I do to keep my energy and spirits up. 

I was getting pressed on all sides, and started to feel my dream slipping away... 

At first, I felt shame for all my failures.  Then panic as I went round and around my schedule and found no breaks.  Then I got sick.  Then, I blamed Jack for not rescuing me.  Then I remembered a strategy that our teacher had taught us in playwriting class.

You set a timer and for 5 minutes you write what happens from the crisis point to the end of your play.  Write whatever comes to mind in as much detail as you can.  Then you go back to the crisis point and somebody (say your main character) makes a different choice.  For 5 minutes write what happens from that choice to the end of your play.  Do that 5 times, so you have 5 different endings.  Then choose one – and that’s how your play ends!

Do that for your life and then, given all the different scenarios, ask yourself what is the choice you will make?

p.s. I chose 6:00am M-F at the Culver Plunge! 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Knight of Faith

Why is it in the spirit world anything is possible but in life we must pass the same old traces? 

Jack and I just finished watching Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal and I asked him why it was one of his favorite films.  He said because it deals with the deepest questions facing human beings -- and still is very funny. 

I'm reading the screenplay to Fanny and Alexander, and notice that in both films, Bergman juxtaposes the choices people make between cruelty and kindness.  In Fanny and Alexander it is the choice that is made in a marriage and in The Seventh Seal it is the choice that one makes during a time of extreme crisis, in this case the period of profound social, economic and religious upheaval brought on in 14th Century Europe by the Plague.  The Knight, played by Max Von Sydow, and his Squire return from the Crusades to find the world turned upside down.  Reacting in terror to the Black Death that has taken nearly half the population, the townsfolk have gone out of their minds, torturing each other and flagellating themselves. 

Why do some people choose cruelty -- and others kindness? 

Why is it in the spirit world anything is possible but in life we must pass the same old traces?  

Jack and I pondered these questions.  Yes, I thought, I am afraid to die but why must it define me? When the Knight witnesses these displays of cruelty, feels his own fear, he replies, "My body is afraid, but I am not."   

I repeated that line to Jack.  "That is what I shall say."  "Then you have faith?" he relied.  I was surprised.  "I have been fooled before," I said with a sly smile.  "What do you mean?" he asked.  I told him how many years ago when I was pregnant I had thought the birth of my child would transform me, but the experience was something very different.  I forewent pain killers in order to be completely present but I had no idea how excruciating it would be.  The labor which lasted for 36 hours was unabated pain until at last, in exhaustion, I submitted to cesarean.  

And still.  I was transformed.  

"Perhaps it was because of the pain," I said to Jack.  It was for that reason, I told him, I wasn't sure I wanted to be sedated in the last moments before death.  Jack related what he'd read in a biography of Montaigne.  He'd had a nearly fatal fall from a horse and witnesses reported he was in agonizing pain, yet Montaigne's own recollection of the experience was very different.  He said it was peaceful.

I told Jack that was probably because Montaigne was in shock as the consciousness began to leave the body.  And then, all of a sudden, as we were discussing this, my mind made a leap.  My consciousness lighted on the possibility that things were not as they appeared at all.  I was staring at the bookcase, I remember.  The lamp was on and Jack was sitting there on the couch beside me.  "Perhaps all of this," I said waving my hands to indicate the world around us as we were sitting there experiencing it "...perhaps all of this is an illusion."  What if it didn't matter?  Or, more precisely, what if we weren't bound by it?  Then what was true?  I tried to focus my mind.  What if we bore, as Bergman has his hero in Fanny and Alexander say,  "chasms, heavens, eternities" within us? 

Though I seem small and insignificant in the face of this,
I bear chasms, heavens, eternities within me.
I carry my lantern in the darkness;
I make the movements;
And though my body may be afraid,
I am not.

If I could see this, remember this, what great things would I accomplish?   

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Explores A Question

I started a playwriting course last Tuesday at UCLA taught by Leon Martell and the first assignment made me light headed with a kind of nerdy anticipatory fever!  Leon asked us to bring in three germs for a play: a situation, a title, an image.  He said a play begins with a question and gave as an example his award winning play, "Bea[u]tiful in the Extreme," which explores the question why Lewis (of Lewis and Clark) shot himself after he returned from his historic expedition.  

In my favorite book on how to write a novel, "The Art of the Novel," Milan Kundera ("Unbearable Lightness of Being") says exactly the same thing!  A novel explores a question.  In fact, Kundera says, the history of the novel is not the sum of what was written but the "sequence of discoveries" along the way:
"In its own way, through its own logic, the novel discovered the various dimensions of existence one by one: with Cervantes and his contemporaries, it inquires into the nature of adventure; with Richardson, it begins to examine 'what happens inside,' to unmask the secret life of the feelings; with Balzac, it discovers man's rootedness in history; with Flaubert, it explores the terra previously incognita of the everyday; with Tolstoy, it focuses on the intrusion of the irrational into human behavior and decisions. It probes time: the elusive past with Proust, the elusive present with Joyce. With Thomas Mann, it examines the role of the myths from the remote past that control our present actions. Et cetera, et cetera."
How exciting!  Not only do we write with a question in mind, our questions form the history of the artform itself!  And it made me wonder.  What are the questions people are asking these days in the books and plays and videogames they are writing?  And where does mine fit in?

It made me think about the question behind my book.  There are many questions, actually, because over these 15 years I've used my book to learn many things.  But the question that is central to the main character is this: "What is the 'Thing' I am constantly searching for but never find?"  And the form of my book?  What if there were a form, the writing of which could create consciousness in the person writing it?  That is the form that I would pick!

So what is your question?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Divine Child

I remember once complaining to my therapist that all the men in my life were puers, you know, the Peter Pan type that never wants to grow up, never wants to commit.  It was so funny.  Jessica just looked at me a little sorry and said, "Well You know, Diana, you're a little bit like that too."  I was shocked!  Wasn't I a responsible mother? hadn't I held down a difficult job? wasn't I the committed one?

Jessica pointed to my book, The Red Coat, which was the subject of many a session and still unfinished, and she said, "Being grown up is about making choices.  So is writing." 

I eventually graduated from therapy, but I have yet to finish the book.  Completing it will be a milestone for me, probably the hardest thing I'll have ever done.  Jessica said I succeeded because I was one of those clients that did all the homework, including the suggested reading.  She assigned me a book called "The Problem of the Puer Aeternus" by Jungian analyst Marie-Louise Von Franz and it changed my life.

I learned that resistance to the adult world (e.g., giving up one's infantile fantasies, committing to a plan, overcoming impatience, buckling down) is a common problem for creative people.  It is the dark side of the personality that otherwise possesses a tremendous capacity for play, for honesty, for spontaneity, for letting go and having fun. 

The problem, for the creative person, then, is how to pull yourself out of the fantasy life of the child without losing its value?  How to grow up without losing those feelings of totality and creativeness and being fully alive that propelled you in your youth?  According to Von Franz, the cure is the same for men or women: work. 

"The work which is the cure for the puer aeternus is where he has to kick himself out of bed on a dreary morning and again and again take up the boring job -- through sheer will power."

For me, it was an agony to have to work at the level of words, as absurd as that is but true.  After all, I was writing a book, right?  But for years, I resisted.  I imagined myself at the bottom of the ocean, stuck in sludge, enraged that even were I to kill myself down there I wouldn't get back up.  I could stay down in that hell forever, I realized, unless I learned.  Sooner or later, I'd have to write.  Even if it felt like senseless, useless writing, even if I'd have to throw all of it out, it would have to be done, letter by letter, word by word, until characters were created, actions and whole scenes. And I'd probably have to make them up.  Every one of them.  From nothing.

For my picture, I tried to imagine the single thing that saved me.  Where did I find the will?  At first I thought it was faith, but then I realized it was an actual force inside me.  It was my divine child, that irrepressible little wild one inside me.  The divine spark. 

What does your divine child look like?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Through My Water Glass

I took an art therapy class ten years ago from an artist named Leah Matson, who was also a licensed therapist.  There were about seven of us women who sat together in a room for three hours on a Saturday afternoon and did art and talked about whatever came up.

Each week it was a different medium, watercolors, acrylics, oils, pastels.  Once we made masks.  I remember when Leah brought out the oil paints I cried.  The smell of the linseed oil brought back a flood of memories.  I used to paint with oils when I was a kid.  I painted the things I didn't know, like the giant panda bears that the United States received as gifts from China, Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing, straight out of the National Geographic, which is where I got most of my subject matter back then.

But now, at the table of the seven women, I painted from somewhere inside me a murky green landscape that looked like mud, and then I put a leaf on top and painted more mud over that.  I hated it.  I watched as one woman painted portraits in intense, chalky reds with bright blue auras, staring faces with other-worldly expressions that had an aboriginal feeling to them.  Another woman painted a soft and lovely landscape with a luminous figure in it and then suddenly etched across the surface of her drawing in yellow pastel the words "take dominion."  I was so enamored of her and her startling impulse, the action of marring a beautiful painting with force, that I asked her if I could have her painting.  Sometimes we see in others the latent qualities that we need to develop in ourselves.

Later, I began to see Leah on a one on one basis.  I had started my book but was too identified with my writing to allow myself to make mistakes with it.  To be identified with something in psychology means that you can't separate yourself from it.  You don't know where you end and the other begins.  During one of our sessions I remember Leah asking me if I was shy and my feeling very upset by that.  Shy was so far from who I knew I was but for some reason it was true.  Completely.  I felt desperate, as if I were at the bottom of a pool and couldn't make it to the surface.

The mystic Meister Eckhart wrote:

"When the soul wishes to experience something, she throws an image out before her and enters into it."

My book The Red Coat is an image that my soul threw out that I stepped into, like a bubble rising to the top.    

Tonight, I went through my file from Leah's class (I have a file for everything!) looking for that murky green painting but couldn't find it.  I must have carried it around for years and then finally threw it out.  So I imagined a photograph I could take that would capture the feelings I had back then and I decided to snap a picture through the bottom of my water glass!

So tell me, what picture does your soul want you to enter?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Her Voice

Lots of women suffer from having, or feeling like they have, no voice.  I had no problem when I was young getting up in front of a crowd and telling stories, but when I was older and began to look more closely at myself I didn't like what I saw and my creativity froze.  I was terrified to speak up.  To make noise.

On the darkest part of my journey to be a writer, I worked with a personal coach named Breck Costin who assigned me the path of "voice."  He said whenever you are on your path it will bring up the worst feelings, but staying firm on the path will heal your life.  For me, the feelings were mostly feelings of worthlessness and fear of repercussions for things I said.  Breck taught me that having an awful feeling about something was no reason not to do it.  And what was even more remarkable was that it was not important to succeed at it.  The important thing was to bring up the terrifying feelings that you were pushing away.  That's all.  In fact, Breck often coached people to fail.  Play to Lose, he always said.   

I am a good student and did what I was told and tried my hand at failing all over the place.  One of the things I did to bring up my awful feelings was to take a voice acting class near the Warner Studios in Burbank with Bob Bergen the "voice" behind Porky the Pig.  In class we had to get behind the microphone in the recording booth and audition for parts in front of the others -- I was terrified but astonishingly adept at all the animal parts, I guess because I could sympathize with dumb scared animals.  Anyway, I got the voice of the dog in the class production.  It was humiliating to never get picked the female roles, but I tried not to show it. 

My willingness to fail, to feel the awful feelings that came up whenever I was on my path -- to play to lose -- finally opened up my creativity.  Focusing on the path rather than the results, it came as a complete surprise when my friend Cynthia Wylie asked me to narrate the audio books for her newly launched online game for kids.  You can hear my voice narration by registering to play and then going to the schoolhouse and clicking on one of the books at Bloomers! Island.

Incidentally, Cynthia is up for a 2011 Excellence Award from the Association of Virtual Worlds.  Please support her efforts at teaching children gardening concepts and vote for her by selecting her name at the top left of her profile... and then tell me...

...what is your path?

For my picture, I chose a picture of Wolfie, the wolf dog I rescued in the Venice Canals where I lived with my son.  Here he is hiding under my house.  He was undernourished, flea bitten and absolutely terrified of people, but for some reason he came to me.  I wanted to keep him but he kept jumping over my fence, so I found him a loving home in the Santa Monica mountains with an eccentric old lady.

I will always love and remember him.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Good Enough

We were at dinner party with friends last week and two of the women, one a therapist and the other, a mother of two who had just been told by her marriage counselor that she was a perfectionist, were discussing the ravaging effects of perfectionism on women's lives.  The therapist was saying that women unduly suffer from this compulsion much more so than men apparently, and was encouraging our other friend to accept "good enough" as a standard she could hold herself to, rather than the impossible expectations that were holding her back from accomplishing anything at all.

I thought of that conversation when I sat down tonight to write this week's post, which I admit is late.  The fact is, I'm not sure I can keep this up.  Something's got to give.  Although I'm still on track to finish my book by year's end, I'm getting pressure at every turn.  There's so much work to do at the office right now, this past week I've had to come in early every day and work straight through my lunches, which means I've had to swim at night, which means I've had less time to write in the morning and to paint at night.  Moreover, there doesn't seem to be an end in sight to the research piling up at work!

The only way I'm going to be able to get through this is to work much faster.  Which to me can only mean one thing: not good enough.

In "Addicted to Perfection," Marion Woodman describes the problem as personified by Lady Macbeth who is "glued to the sticking place of insatiable power, unable to countenance failure to the point of rejecting life."  This archetype or pattern functions in modern women, petrifying their spirit and inhibiting their development as free and creative individuals and arises, Woodman argues, from the cultural one-sideness that favors productivity, goal orientation, intellectual excellence, spiritual perfection, etc. -- at the expense of listening, receptivity and relatedness traditionally recognized at the heart of the feminine.

I can just blaze through all of this and end up shocked and demoralized like the chalk lady I saw in the cement sidewalk on my way home from work on Thursday night, or I can try and imagine what "good enough" might look -- or feel -- like.

Can you?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What to Do About My Purse?

 My purse is falling apart again.  They never last long.  Should I repair it (it's leather but for some reason they made the handle out of cheap fabric)?

Should I buy the $350 purse I tried on today in the Coach store across the street from where I work (it's so well made - and my birthday's coming up!)? 
or should I create something completely me (who knows how long it will take or whether it will turn out okay)?  

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Quilter Extraordinaire

I love the old fashioned women's calling cards and my mother's read: "Quilter Extraordinaire." As you can see from these closeups of her work, it's true!

I got a lot of comments on last week's post (Her Legacy) including a request to see details of my mom's applique quilt (the inside corner of "the fantastic white quilt" as someone called it) and a couple people asked to see the all satin quilt I described but didn't show, the one I call Ruby Red.  So here they are!

The quilting in gray thread on Ruby Red was difficult to capture in a photo, but just imagine how beautiful the quilt will look when, per my mom's instructions, I finish it in Trapunto style.  By the way, each of the squares on Ruby Red is a different design, in a form of Pennsylvania Dutch folk art called hex signs, the kind you'll see on old barns back in the Midwest where I'm from.

p.s. if you want to see the practical cotton backing on Ruby Red I talked about you're going to have to come to my house to view it.  Mom wouldn't want her undersides showing in public! 

In addition to her quilts, Marlene was a good writer too.  When I'm finished with The Red Coat,  I'm going to put together a book of the letters and quilts she sent to me over the years, after I left home and grew up.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Her Legacy

I have so many things that my mother made for me during her lifetime or that came to me after her death.

 I’ve not counted them, but there must be nearly twenty of her quilts in my possession, including the Ukrainian Quilt that hangs in my living room, the white wedding quilt that she gave me in an unwrapped white box when I was thirty and said “now go get married,” and that fabulous appliquéd, beaded and embroidered art deco masterpiece that is heavier than a queen’s mantle at coronation. 

Once I had the idea for her to make an all-satin quilt from yards of sumptuous ruby red, coral and blush satins I found on incredible discount at the fabric store in Santa Monica.  I purchased and sent them straightaway to her Blue Ridge mountaintop abode, including a wealth of the ruby red for what I envisioned would be the all satin backing of the quilt.

What came back was a skirt for me to hem and one whole-cloth, queen-size quilt, topped in ruby red, backed with soft white cotton flannel, bound along the edges by bands of the blush satin, and quilted with pale gray thread in twelve simple but startling Amish Hex signs.  Instructions that came back with it were to finish the quilt in Trapunto style, which is a whole cloth quilting technique producing a raised effect on the top of the quilt that originated in Italy during the 16th century and became popular in the United States during the Civil War.  The round shapes of the Hex designs were to be stuffed with tufts of cotton batting inserted from small slits made in the backing of the quilt and then whipped stitched closed. A second satin backing could then be added to the quilt and normal quilting done all around: however her idea, pragmatic as she was, was to leave the flannel cotton backing exposed to keep the satin quilt from slipping off the bed. 

My mother will always be something of a mystery to me. Unlike other women I’ve known who sewed, she never joined a sewing bee and rarely sought the company or comfort of other women.  To me, she was a “lone sewer.”  The quilts that she left behind were more than expressions of love, gifts that she gave on birthdays, weddings, anniversaries.  They were magnificent, color-laden quilted works of art that seemed to issue from a deep need inside her to create. 

Indeed, she once said that you make the things you don’t have or you never got. 

Through my fairy tale for women that I am writing entitled “The Red Coat,” I want to show how a woman sews in order to create her life.  Sewing is all about gathering, arranging and binding and as such it is a very meditative art.  Like thinking a thought over and over again, hand sewing with a needle and thread can have a powerful effect on one’s inner – and outer – world.  I hope my book will inspire other women to explore their powers, to think more deeply about who they are and what they want to become. 

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Who Will Take A Risk

I made some great headway this week -- revised 6 chapters! 

I think I overcame some confusion I had about the play.  (In my book, The Red Coat, a troupe of actors stage a play inspired by an ancient Greek myth about true love.)
When I first wrote those chapters, I had a lot of technical issues.  Mostly it came down to how to present the play.  Do I describe it in prose or do I put the scenes in dramatic form with dialogue and stage directions?  I tried writing them out in dramatic form, but the transitions to the rest of the novel, which is written in prose, seem abrupt.   

The other problem is I'm trying to capture the world of the theater, but I don't have much firsthand experience with it.  I went to film school and have worked in the movie business, both on and off the set, but I didn't study drama, don't have any experience writing plays or too much experience acting in them either.

So, I've been immersing myself in that world, reading plays and essays on playwriting and going to the theater whenever I have the chance.  I saw Annette Bening in Medea at UCLA and the production of Electra at the Getty Villa. Thanks to an invite from my fellow masterminder, Linda, I'm going to see Moliere's Tartuffe at the Actor's Gang (Tim Robbins' acting company in Culver City) on Friday night.  A couple weeks ago I immersed myself in Benjamin Britton's opera The Turn of The Screw in a day-long program at the Getty that the museum puts on annually in conjunction with the LA Opera.

I don't have it figured out yet, but one thing I'm going to try to do -- is take a risk.

My picture this week is a snapshot of some of the books I was reading this week.  What inspired me most was reading the plays of the ancient Greek comic poet, Aristophanes, and the introduction to the collection of plays by Moses Hadas, who wrote: "Aristophanes erases the world that is and constructs another."  That is what I want!  Another!

In one of the plays (see an excerpt below from The Frogs translated by R. H. Webb), Dionysus goes to Hades to bring Euripides back from the dead because Athens has no good tragic poets left.  Before he leaves, Dionysus tells Heracles (whom he's consulted on how to get around in the underworld) that he wants a poet who takes a risk:
Heracles: But surely myriads of little men
Still scribble for the Tragic Boards up there,
Ouprattling your Euripides a mile.

Dionysus: Mere nubbins, with a silly gift of gab;
Shrill swallow choirs, murderers of Art!
One single play produced, and they are spent -
Small piss-ants, fouling up the bed of Tragedy!
What potent poet can you find today,
To father one full-bodied, ringing phrase?

Heracles:  Potent? You mean...?

Dionysus:  A poet who will risk
A bold, a reckless utterance, such as
Aether, the Inglenook of Zeus; Time's tread;
The mind refused its solemn oath to plight,
The Tongue was perjured, in the mind's despite!

Heracles:  You like that stuff?

Dionysus:  I'm mad about it!

Heracles: Pshaw!

Aristophanes, who wrote those lines in 405BC, made me think, what would happen if I took a risk like that?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Whatever You Focus On

This week, I found myself struggling for a topic.  Was I really so smoothly engaged in my writing that there were no hitches?  Could that possibly be?

I started to wonder if by looking for places where I had resistance and fear I was actually creating resistance and fear.  You know, that idea that whatever you focus on you get more of.  Like in therapy: if you only dwell on your problems -- and don't give energy to what's actually working -- you won't move forward.   Then I started to wonder if the blog was a good idea at all.  After all, I confessed to Wylie as I was telling her about all this the other day, I can spend hours (I mean hours) working on a post.  And THAT really is keeping me from my work!

Wylie laughed.  She suggested I do my posts as timed writing exercises like we did in our Thursday night writers group: you give yourself a topic, press the timer and then go. Ten minutes.  Write non-stop whatever comes to mind, no thinking, no corrections, no going back.  It's a fun way of getting everyone in the group focused and ready to work.  But for some reason I couldn't commit to that idea.  What if the writing was crap? What if it didn't make any sense to others? Who would want to read it?  That kind of writing can be really hit and miss.

So Wylie suggested I riff on something I was working on in the book.  Immediately, that ode to Eros came to mind.  It was a prayer from antiquity that I found in a book by a Jungian analyst -- it was the closest thing I ever came to discovering my true religion.  But I couldn't commit to that either. I felt (and still do feel) that the book should not be discussed here.

After my conversation with Wylie, one of our other masterminders, Linda, who seems to channel ideas from the gods, gave me another great idea for a blog topic.  She sent me this link to, which connected me to this whole "painting a day" community on the blog-sphere, where painters use their daily blog to crank out one painting a day.  A great way to foster creativity and innovation!  What if I used my blog in a similar way, say, to work out ideas for a poster series I want to do relating to one of the characters in my book?

All these great ideas were running through my mind about how to change the blog to support my work.  And then yesterday, I realized:  I actually did have one fear this week that's been holding me back. 

I skipped every painting day this week.  In fact, I have not painted one illustration for my book in almost two months!  I painted the cover art and the first illustration, a portrait of my main character, and then I stopped.  What happened?  Looking back, I think I freaked out when the style of the portrait didn't seem to match the style of the cover art.  The cover (the flying coat) was very orderly while the portrait felt a little "outside the lines" (colors actually mixed!) Not only that, ha ha, but try as I may, I couldn't get the portrait to look like the main character as I've described in the book, with thick dark curls, etc.  Instead, she kept coming up looking like me!  Ha ha!

I'm such a control freak! When am I going to get out of my way????