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?