Category Archives: dreams

Lighting the Creative Fire

Today a student of mine called to say that she just sold her novel to a major New York publishing house. She was having a celebration and would I please come.

Ah, the rewards of teaching.

As a published novelist, I know, like perhaps nobody else in her immediate universe, what it means to get a book contract. I know the heartache and the angst and the Himalayan-size obstacles to overcome to get a good story down in 120,000 words, find agency representation and get a publishing contract. I can celebrate with her on a sub-atomic level. And I will.

The interesting thing to me is that to her, my novel writing classes are all about her story. She focuses on her story, she works on her story, she does the homework using her book as her class project. And so it is with all of my students. To them, the class is all about them.

But I know the truth. I am the teacher, and as much as they think they learn in my classes, nobody learns as much as I do. My goal is to light their fire, to give them a taste, to prod them to learn more on their own. But they each challenge me every single day to new insights about my own craft.

I’m sure they think that after many books and short stories and more than a decade of teaching the basic elements, I know everything there is to know about the craft. But writing fiction is more than craft; it is engaging in fearless, relentless introspection, and there are always more layers to peel back, more depths to plumb, more insights to be had. And always, new techniques to try. 

One of the things a fiction writer must study in depth is the motivation of their characters, and while the characters I devise are not me, they are of me. Their motivations come from thoughts, feelings, attitudes, longings and imaginings I’ve had. So then, one must ask now and then, what is my motivation for doing what I do on a daily basis? Why do I teach fiction?

First, and most obvious, I enjoy hanging out with other writers. Many of those who take my classes don’t even consider themselves writers because they’re either not published or they’re not accomplished, but being a writer is more than that. It’s a state of mind, a curiosity of being. I can be my socially-inappropriate self with a bunch of other social inappropriates. It’s fun.

Second, it’s their job to challenge me, and they’re very good at it. When I stand in front of a class, I set the tone. If I’m enthusiastic and animated, asking questions and giving meaty information, they’re taking notes like mad, having insights about their own books and their own selves, and the questions start to come. Many times I can see they’re surprised by their own questions. Many times they begin by saying, “I’m not sure how to phrase this,” or “I don’t even know what it is I’m trying to ask,” and then they go on to ask a question that gives me pause and makes me search the mental databank. Many times I’ll alter whole areas of my syllabus because of one student’s question. Many times I’ll go home and try out what they were asking about, to see if it works, to see if it’s valid, to see if I can do it, to see if it makes sense.

Invariably, it does. And when that happens, I give a hoot and scare the dog, and my craft has just taken a monumental leap forward, out of my practiced tedium and into new unexplored areas.

So I’m going to go have coffee and cake with the Woman of the Hour, the new author, and I will hear her give me some kind of credit—but I know the truth.

The credit all goes to her, because she is the one who made it happen.

I just let her teach me about it on her way.

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Filed under Discipline, dreams, Learning, Possibilities, Writing

Aren’t We Lucky?

I grew up in a white, middle-class neighborhood. My dad had a good job; my mom was a homemaker, I have one brother and one sister, we had a dog and a cat, two cars and a house with a nice lawn. We went to the lake in the summer. 

All through my childhood, I was told how lucky I was. How privileged. How grateful I should be that I wasn’t born in a desolate, disease-ridden part of the world, to poor parents, starving, uneducated. And I was grateful. I still am grateful.

But that’s not enough any more. I have come to believe that The Powers That Be knew of my gifts and talents long before I was born and they put me into a privileged situation so that I wouldn’t have to scrape for food on a daily basis, but instead could be free to contemplate how best to utilize my gifts and talents to serve those less fortunate. 

I wish this had been the message given to me my whole life. I would have structured things differently, voted differently, allocated resources differently, written about different things, put my energies into different endeavors. I have come to believe that the celestial advisors are looking to me — and you — to see what we have done with the incredible opportunities we have been given. Do we use our intellect and our wealth for altruistic purposes? Or does it just fuel our greed? Are we miserly with our resources, or generous? Are we happy, joyous and free? Or bitchy and miserable to be around?

I look around and I’m ashamed. I’m embarrassed. People who profess their faith are not acting accordingly. How can we let people starve? How can we let people die for lack of medicine, or mosquito netting over their beds? How can we recklessly squander our resources and then look to those who have marshalled their resources wisely to save us?

How can we send our young people off to war?

Really. We’re sending people off to war?

Shouldn’t we be a little further along than this?

I’m searching my soul today, considering what I can do to uplift the terribly sad state of our world. If I listen carefully, I’m certain I’ll hear a suggestion that I can accomplish today. One small person doing one small thing of faith, for the betterment of my spiritual brothers and sisters.  And if you do one small thing, too, that would double my efforts.

Eventually, we could have ten billion small people doing ten billion small things for each other. Every day. Don’t you think that would make a difference?

Let’s do it.

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Filed under disappointment, Discipline, dreams, Possibilities, Social Consciousness, Spirituality

We Choose Our Lives

Those of you who are parents have undoubtedly said to your pre-teen or teen, “You’ll remember these times as the best times of your life.” We worry that they want to grow up too fast, cutting short many childhood experiences, in quest for the more alluring adult activities. I was one of those kids; perhaps we all were. Eager to get out of high school and get a job, get out of the house, get on with life.

Well, the same holds true for today. Now that I’m “of an age” I’m in no hurry to get older, but am I taking advantage of who and where I am right now? Am I enjoying my life today to the degree that some day I’ll look back and say, “Man, those were some good times.”? Or am I too busy worrying about this and that and making appointments and meeting deadlines and paying the bills to stop and think: “I’ll never be a human again. I’ll never be in this type of material body with its strengths and its difficulties. I’ll never live on such a magnificently beautiful planet like this again. I better literally stop and smell the flowers.” It’s true that I don’t know what lies on the other side of the veil any more than anybody else, but I have my idea about that, just as you have your idea about it. My point is, from every place I find myself in the future–whether it’s next week or a thousand years in the future–I want to be able to look back and say, “I took advantage of everything that was offered to me back then.”

We’ve also probably counseled our children not to burn bridges or close doors on our options, because they don’t know what the future holds. The same holds true for us. We don’t know what doors we’re closing on our future when we act irresponsibly.

There are long ugly stretches of my history that I would just as soon forget, but those are long behind me and that is not the way I choose to live today, or tomorrow, or for the rest of my days. I want to be conscious, aware, engaged, happy with who I am and what I’m doing. I want to be able to look back and know that I was present, not pining for what was, nor spending my days daydreaming about what could be in the future. There’s value in some of that, certainly, but I believe that we will some day have the benefit of perspective on our lives that we currently have on our childrens’ lives.

We’re only here once. Let’s do good works, be kind to one another, and be proud of who we are today.

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Filed under Aging, Death, dreams, Dying, Fun, Goodness, Possibilities, regrets, relationships, Social Consciousness, Spirituality, time, years

The Invitation

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interst me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dreams, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals, or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, or to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can hear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. I want to know if you can be faithful and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see beauty even when it is not pretty every day…and if you can source your life from its own presence. I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the shore of a lake and shout to the silver of a full moon, “Yes!”

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done for the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you are, how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where, or what, or with whom, you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away. I want to know if you can be alone with yourself, and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer, Native Elder, 5/94

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Filed under Beauty, dreams, Possibilities, Social Consciousness, Spirituality

Dealing with Anxiety

Fear of the unknown is the worst. Well, it’s really the only fear there is. If we knew what was around the next corner, unless it was life-threatening, there wouldn’t be anything to fear. But this not-knowing…

It seems like our lives are always in the hands of someone else: a boss, a partner, an application, a teacher, a diagnosis, the weather. Wondering how they (or it) will affect our lives while we stand by helplessly watching and worrying, is the stuff of anxiety. That’s silly, isn’t it? To worry about things over which we have no control?

In fact, I have to continually remind myself that I have little control over anything. My attitude is the only thing I really have control over, and I’m not entirely in charge of that, either.

Right now I’m worrying. I have anxiety. It’s not life or death, but it’s important to me, and it’s out of my hands, and I am absolutely powerless to do anything but fret.

What a waste of time and energy this is. 

I’m going to go to my quiet place and spend some time in contemplation. I’ll try to reason my way out of this. 1. What’s the worst that could happen? 2. Is the person into whose hands this has been given competent to handle it? 3. How important is this, really, in the greater scheme of things?

The answers to all of those questions are obvious and make my worrying seem silly, yet they did not entirely alleviate my stress. 

Perhaps it is merely a rhythm. Perhaps we need time to be stressed out so we appreciate those times when life seems to be running smoothly. It’s the yin and the yang. The darkness and the light. There is no joy without a little grief. There is no spring without the winter.

Maybe I need to contemplate this instead of dwelling on my uncertainty. Maybe I need to appreciate this time of doubt, knowing that it is temporary, and there will be more confidence and a good lesson learned on the other side.

I’ll work on it, because today, I can do little else.

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Filed under disappointment, dreams, goals, Stress

And because tomorrow is the Rose Bowl…

I love my ducks.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UQAr0x32tA

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Filed under dreams

Kick Start Your Novel

In November, I’ll be teaching the four-evening Kick Start Your Novel class in Eugene, Oregon.

This series of four classes is an intensive, hands-on novel-writing workshop designed to get your novel going in the right direction. Classes are structured so you will learn about the internal structure of fiction and the key aspects of writing a novel, then you will work on your book in class.

This workshop is for the writer who has basic writing experience, is highly motivated and has at least a nodding acquaintance with the novel that dwells within. While you may work on a novel-in-progress if you insist, I strongly suggest that instead, you work on something fresh for the purposes of this workshop. Leave your old work at home and let the spirit of the moment move you. Trust the creative process and watch the magic happen. Trust me. I’ve taught this class many times, all over the country. I know what kind of magic we can conjure up. 

Plan to attend all four sessions, and spend non-class hours working intensively on your book as well. Momentum is important.

This class is not for the faint of heart, the weak-willed or those who are afraid of the intense internal examination that novel writing entails. Your level of expertise is not as important as your dedication to the process.

The class will take place over four consecutive evenings, 6pm-9ish November 9, 10, 11, 12. Space is limited to six participants.

Come with your writing materials, an open mind and a willing heart. You will be amazed at what happens.  For more information, or to register, pop me an email.

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Filed under concentration, connections, Discipline, dreams, Learning, Possibilities, Writing