Tag Archive for: writing

How does blogging, journaling, writing and connecting online help to increase your happiness?

That is this week’s “Getting Happy” question from BlogHer’s Life Well Lived Series.  Here is the main post at their site.

When I started this blog nearly six years ago, it was at the prompting of a writing teacher who was just beginning to discover the wonders of instant feedback via comments from her readers.  The group of us that took the weekend-long workshop each went home, signed on to a blogging site and hit the ground running.  For someone who had yet to be published, it was a thrill to see my words in writing in a public space and even more exciting to hear what others had to say about my writing and my thoughts.  

More than 500 blog posts later, I’ve developed the courage to hone my writing skills and submit my work to online publications and traditional publishing houses thanks to the comments of many loyal readers.  Three of the original participants in that workshop are still blogging and commenting on my blog and I think we have all learned a lot about how to express ourselves, create conversation, and, more than anything, despite the fact that we live scattered throughout the United States, we have created solid bonds with each other. We support not only each other’s writing efforts, but prop each other up in times of difficulty with parenting or illness and celebrate each other’s successes in life.  

I have found that connecting with others through my blog, Facebook, or other online communities, I am able to share details of my life in real time with a group of people who are like-minded.  Rather than calling one trusted friend at a time, I can avail myself of a myriad of perspectives simultaneously and often get information I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten.  I have found out about new places to submit my work and have gotten published online several times.  I have also been able to offer advice and tips to others who might be stuck in familiar positions.  While I can’t wrap my arms around these women in person or pour a golden stream of champagne into a glass someone is holding, I can certainly offer virtual love and support and cheerlead from afar and I’ve learned that simply knowing someone is in your corner is often enough to keep you going until your partner gets home and wraps their arms around you.  

There is something magical about feeling connected to others, feeling understood, feeling like you’re part of something bigger and, while it certainly isn’t a substitute for personal, close-up relationships, my online communities are as real to me as those friendships I have with my neighbors.  Knowing that my voice is being heard and validated by others is vitally important to my well-being and has sustained my enthusiasm for this solitary endeavor known as writing.  

Head on over and enter the sweepstakes if you haven’t before.  

(in no particular order)

  • Books. Well-written books like the one I couldn’t put down today because the language and sensibility of it were so inspiring. I’m not a huge fiction reader but “The World as We Know it” by Joseph Monninger blew me away. Phrases like “‘Everything is a story. If it didn’t happen right in front of you, it’s a story,'” and “…after Ed released his fish, our shadows joined. Both of our shadows stretched across the water, and as he moved, I moved. Our arms and wrists worked the fly rods in the same rhythm, and our fly lines turned vaporous whirls around our heads. We might have been a coin, or a single dark cutout from the afternoon sun…I understood that we had been occupying the same outline of darkness in an otherwise bright world.”
  • The way my fingers fly across the keyboard when I’m typing as if they know where to go before I know where I’m headed. And sometimes they trip and automatically add a letter where they are used to putting one, like adding a ‘g’ at the end of a word that ends in ‘in’ because they are so habituated to typing i-n-g in succession.
  • The flavors of thai basil, juicy citrus and dark chocolate (not all together).
  • The soft look on Eve’s face just before I wake her to start a new day. That exhausted relaxation that comes with adolescence when the most important work you’ll do all day is rest your body and mind in anticipation of the exponential growth to come.
  • Finding one pure moment to focus on in the day. A sort of tunnel vision that allows me to gain access to all of the depth one particular experience has to offer. Generally this comes during yoga or a walk with the dog when I least expect it.
Speaking of books, my latest book review can be found here.

I’m fairly certain that growing up in the 1970s and 1980s was, for me, the moral equivalent of being sold a mirage in the Sahara. Coming of age in that era of instant-gratification and get-rich-quick schemes and ever-present celebrity news (MTV, anyone?) gave me the impression that life comes in bursts and at any moment I could expect all of my wishes to be granted simultaneously, thereby changing my life forever in a millisecond.

I still sometimes believe that.
Turns out that what actually comes in bursts (at least for me) are the revelations that this is all nonsense.
For so many years I believed that goals were seminal events. That to accomplish one of the milestones I set out to reach would profoundly change the landscape of my life going forward. With a few exceptions, that is total BS. But somehow, I manage to hold on to the exceptions in my mind as reality. Marriage was one of those exceptions, or at least I used to think so. In all honesty, though, Bubba and I lived together, sharing expenses and household duties for nearly a year before we actually had the wedding ceremony. And while the honeymoon rocked, when we returned to our tiny apartment with our two cats and our full-time jobs, except for the part where I had to stand in line forEVER at the DMV to legally change my name on my driver’s license, nothing much changed.
Having babies changed our lives markedly. I’ll give you that one. And graduating high school and college necessitated a drastic shift in the way I spent my days. Beyond those things, though, when I stop to think about it, there aren’t many things I can point to that created dramatic change in my daily life. And even the build-up to graduations and childbirth were gradual, so I can’t really say that any of those things came all at once.
So why is it that when I fantasize about a particular writing project or personal milestone, I expect things to change radically for me? When I finished my first manuscript I felt an enormous sense of accomplishment – the culmination of three years of research and two years of writing and re-writing. But the next morning, I still got up, made breakfast for the girls, had my latte and drove them to school. Even if I had sold the manuscript, my life wouldn’t have become unrecognizably altered.
I have a few friends who successfully published their work in the last year and while I was tremendously pleased for them and a tiny bit jealous, I have to admit that their lives are still essentially the same as they were before. Yes, maybe they are getting more exposure in the literary world. Yes, I suspect they spend some portion of each and every day selling or marketing or talking about their writing. But when it comes down to it, the most basic parts of their lives are still the same – raising children, finding time for self-care (or not), struggling to write new material. So where is that Shangri-La? That, “Oh. My. God. I’m famous. I have ‘arrived.’ I am [fill in the blank]!”
It doesn’t exist. That is truly the exception. If it even happens. Because I suspect that even those folks who become famous overnight or win a trillion dollars in the lottery ultimately revert back to who they really are. If you loved junk food and reality TV before you were elected governor of your state, you might move to the mansion the day of your inauguration, but I won’t give you long before the cupboards are full of cheesy poofs and Oreos and someone has set the DVR to catch “Survivor.”
Much like the lesson I learned from looking back on 2011 with Eve and Lola, I am reminded that it is the daily things we do that add up. Those moments where we are truly ourselves, doing what we do best without pretense or expectation determine the path our lives take.
Call it a “Duh” moment. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t qualify as an “Aha.”

I like maps. And my GPS. Even when I think I know where I’m going, I like to plug the address in to my iPhone and get directions as a back up.

When we were in Tuscany with the girls in 2004, I found the Italian approach to road maps a tad frustrating, to say the least. Not only do they seem to lack accuracy in scale, they don’t note the toll plazas and when you’re faced with the prospect of changing lanes to exit when you don’t have any change and there are locals whizzing by you at 125 mph, it often seems easier to just stay on the motorway. Except that the next opportunity to get off might be miles and miles down the road. And it is probably getting dark. And the two- and four-year-olds in the back seat are most likely getting hungry.
I decided that the Italians, who truly enjoy their hours-long lunches, complete with wine, might be better off outsourcing their mapping jobs to the Germans. They were the only ones who seemed more perturbed about the lack of accuracy than I was.
So I like to know where I’m going. And how long it will take me to get there. And I hate being late. So sue me. I get that it’s a control thing. And I’m working on that – the being comfortable not being in control part, I mean. But I still need a knock on the head every once in a while.
Cue David Whyte and his amazing book, “The Three Marriages.” I have written about it before, but I am reading the book again, having decided that I would get more out of it if I read it with some friends. So we have a mini-book-club thing going and I am much more mindful and deliberate about reading it this time and am able to go another layer deeper in to the subject matter.
It came as no surprise to me that, after a day of pinging around the house, lost to purpose and wondering when I might get some inkling of energy back to begin to engage in writing and creating, I read these words:
“Eventually we realize that not knowing what to do is just as real and just as useful as knowing what to do. Not knowing stops us from taking false directions. Not knowing what to do, we start to pay real attention. Just as people lost in the wilderness, on a cliff face or in a blizzard pay attention with a kind of acuity they would not have if they thought they knew where they were. Why? Because for those who are really lost, their life depends on paying real attention. If you think you know where you are, you stop looking.”
It was the last line that really stopped me in my tracks. If you think you know where you are, you stop looking.
And sometimes, when I am desperately seeking a path TO somewhere (home, the dentist, Eve’s friend’s house), my vision hones in so tightly as I look for clues that I fail to notice the breadth of the world around me. I am so focused on the end point, the goal, and what I imagine it to look like, that I might drive right past it because it doesn’t seem to fit my expectations.
In the case of my writing goals, I am reminded that it is more fruitful to pay attention to where I am right now and simply take the next step than it might be to fantasize about what the final product will look like or how it will be received. I may well discover an entirely new path that contains delightful surprises or challenges me beyond what I thought I could do or leads me on the journey of a lifetime.
I need to get lost more often so that I can pay more attention.

“When I look on you a moment, then I can speak no more, but my tongue falls silent, and at once a delicate flame courses beneath my skin, and with my eyes I see nothing, and my ears hum, and a wet sweat bathes me, and a trembling seizes me all over.” Sappho, Ancient Greek poet, 610-580BC

Despite the beauty of the words, what struck me first about this quote as I first saw it were the dates during which this poet lived. Nearly 2,500 years ago. There was written language. Like this.

Forgive me for being terribly consumed by the age in which I live – the age of high speed internet and bluetooth cellular capability and routine air travel via jumbo jet. When I look back at my own life (nearly forty years long) and realize that most of these things haven’t been around that long – heck I started out life with rotary dial phones and didn’t get my first computer until I was a junior in college – I am astonished at what remains. In the last hundred years, automobiles were invented, rail travel was perfected, the telegraph came in to being. I often take for granted that our world changes drastically in small increments from generation to generation. I have seen movies go from reel-to-reel to beta to VHS tape to DVD. Phones go from rotary dial to push-button to cordless to cellular to smart phones. I will not be surprised in the least to look back on my life from my 80s to discover that something I thought impossible as a child has come to fruition.

But to be struck with the notion that over thousands and thousands of years, one thing in particular has remained for humankind, I truly did feel shocked. Communication. From the beginning of humankind, we have felt the need to converse with each other, tell each other stories, find a way to express ourselves. Before written language, there were oral histories, songs, musical instruments, sign language. And although written language has changed dramatically, from handwritten letters between two individuals to digitized e-books, the ultimate purpose remains. Communication. Sharing our ideas and needs and knowledge with each other.

Families with non-verbal members have long struggled to find ways to communicate among themselves. Technology has afforded many of these families with the ability to better understand each other, by circumventing the spoken language with keyboards and iPads.

Upon completing my first manuscript, I began to worry that the publishing industry would go the way of the dodo and I would be left scrambling to find a way to share my work. I needn’t have broken a sweat. The simple fact is, human beings are who we are because of our need to communicate with each other. We will always find ways to accomplish this – radio, blogs, ebooks, rallies, pamphlets, songs, things I am sure I haven’t yet considered. As a writer, I am heartened to realize that what I do fulfills such an integral need of humanity. Not everyone will read my words, and not all who read them will agree on their accuracy or importance, but the simple knowledge that language and discourse has stood the test of time and will find its way through like a weed in the sidewalk grounds me.

…is having your work shared. Follow the link and find my most recent essay for BuddhaChick Magazine. This is the third one I’ve had the pleasure of seeing “published” online and I hope for many more. When you’re done with this, look through the entire issue. There are some pretty amazing writers and women’s voices contained within.


For those of you who don’t know about Michelle O’Neil, let me introduce you. She is a beautiful soul, mother of two children, wife to a darling man, and brilliant writer. She is many more things than that, but I’ll let you find her blog if you so desire. The purpose of this particular post is to draw your attention to her new book. She has written a deeply touching, funny memoir that anyone who enjoys memoir ought to read. Just in case you’re looking for a book to wind down the dog days of summer, I suggest you head right to Amazon via the link above and buy this book.

The other link I found today, completely by accident, will be of great interest to those of you who love photography. Especially if you take gorgeous pictures and aren’t much of a Crafty McScrapbooker (like me – I’m hopeless at it). If this sounds like you, or if you just have a few minutes on your hands, please go check out Blurb. They will help you put together a book (yes, actually bound) of your photos or artwork, add some text, and ship as many copies to you as you want for less than $3 each. You can sell them, give them away, line the chicken coop with them – whatever you want. What a cool gift that would be for a wedding party or a sweet sixteen or a 50th anniversary….Wait! Hmmm, I’ve got one of those coming up. Gotta go!

I was helping out a friend. And, if I’m being totally honest, I have to say I was intrigued. I can’t imagine being able to justify hiring a Life Coach, either to myself or Bubba. It seems like such a frivolous, privileged thing to do, and my life is pretty damn good. But the notion that someone could look at my life objectively and help me figure out where to go from here is pretty tempting. I am a person who likes a road map. Give me some expectations and I will deliver the goods. Give me some vague idea of a goal and trust me to figure out the details by myself and I’m scared. What if I don’t do it right? What if I make a mistake along the way? What if I waste precious time mucking about and learning things other people already know?

So when my yoga instructor announced that she needed to complete ten hours of Life Coaching in order to get her certification, I leaped at the chance. You know, to help her out and all….

At our first meeting she explained that she was there to help me with whatever I wanted – solidifying career objectives, clarifying personal relationships, creating emotional health, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, etc. And so I began by talking about what is nearest and dearest to my heart – writing. I talked about my need to create balance in my life so that I can have time to write consistently in the midst of parenting and managing the household. I talked about my first book project and how the research and writing lit me absolutely on fire but the agent-querying/selling/marketing portion gave me the creeps.

It took her all of five minutes to break it down. She asked some insightful questions, many of which I have answered before for prospective agents and publishers. She wanted to know why I wrote the book and what my ultimate goal was for it. I explained that I write primarily to create dialogue around difficult issues. My purpose is to offer the reader a perspective that seems unique at first but becomes universal. I want to get people thinking about their own lives and how they relate to others and prompt them to talk to others about those situations. Being able to make money is so far down the list of priorities (Bubba is cringing right now, poor guy). It makes me feel almost dirty to look at creative ways to convince people that they ought to pay me to write like this.

I know that money is how we express worth in this culture and, if I’m being pragmatic, I spend a lot of my valuable time writing and thinking about writing and engaging in dialogue with others. The thing is, doing so is part of what makes my life so full. I believe that, in this currency of worth, I deserve to be paid for my time and efforts. It is just that asking for that feels skeevy. I was the girl who felt bad hawking Girl Scout Cookies to my neighbors. I felt as though I was intruding on their lives in order to make money (even if the money didn’t necessarily go to me, personally). If they came to me and asked, I’d gladly sell them as many boxes as they wanted. But going to them always made me wonder if they truly wanted the cookies or if they felt coerced. This could be part and parcel of the fact that I have a tremendously difficult time saying no to little entrepreneurs attempting to sell me things.

In any case, Jen was able to re-frame the entire situation for me. She fully accepted my discomfort with “selling” the book to an agent or publisher. She asked how committed I was to “sharing” my work with the world and I assured her I was. I fervently believe that this subject is one that desperately needs the spotlight of dialogue in American society and would be thrilled if my book could help spark that.

“What if you changed the focus from ‘selling’ to ‘sharing’?”

It took a moment to sink in, but when it did, it was like a drop of food coloring in a glass of water. The notion spread out and filled up the space. Yeah. In effect, selling my manuscript would achieve the goal of sharing the message. If I hone in on my desire to spread the word and see selling the book as a means to that end, it suddenly feels much less smarmy. And even, dare I say it, exciting.

I’m so glad I could help her out.

In a (rare) quiet moment last weekend, while the girls were otherwise occupied throwing rocks into the lake, I admitted to Bubba that I’m feeling a bit scattered, writing-wise. Following the Writer’s Boot Camp I took with Lisa Romeo in January, I was energized to work on my travel memoir. And then life crept in, slowly at the edges, and then more rapidly as water does when it finds a void, rushing to fill up every available space with carpools, after-school activities, and random, small writing projects.

Since then, I have submitted a few small pieces here and there for consideration, renewed my efforts to sell my original manuscript and all but abandoned the travel memoir to attract dust and yellow in the corner. A few rejections later, and I found myself questioning my path. Am I working on a larger project like the travel memoir or content to write blog posts and submit essays to magazines and writing contests? Can I do both?

Again, I asked myself to just be in this moment. Bask in the feeling that my writing is being acknowledged on a new level and appreciated. Be grateful that my words will reach new and different audiences and create dialogue that ripples out farther than this blog.
If you haven’t checked out either of these sites, please do. They are rich in content and driven by women who believe in the power of the written word and harnessing the positive energy of women to make change and create awareness.

The table around my laptop is a nest of magazines I want to submit essays to and books about editing and finding agents. The digital bookmarks on my laptop are peppered with “submission guidelines” and “editorial submissions” and “writing contest entries.” Every day after I drop Lola and Eve at school and find myself with at least four empty hours stretched out before me, I race home to…to…

Write? Not exactly. You see, I’ve done a lot of that. And I hesitate to do more without some direction. I have a small pile of rejection letters to show for my completed manuscript, none of which add up to one piece of advice on how to make it better. Despite email responses to each of the people who read it asking them if there were specific things they didn’t like about it, I have no feedback. I got no answers.

A few months ago I got excited about writing an essay for an anthology. The idea for the essay had actually occurred to me independent of any publication – it was just a story I wanted to tell and I thought it was compelling. So I kicked it around in my head for a few days and then stumbled upon an anthology seeking submissions that were Right In Line with my idea. I took it as a sign. I wrote the piece, polished it, let it sit for a few days or a week, and then worked it over again. I sent it in with one day to spare and waited. Last week I got a lovely, apologetic email from the editor saying that they had had so many submissions…not enough room in the book…went with a particular theme that my essay didn’t quite fit…if they found some extra room, they would be sure to let me know….

Last week I spent some time soul-searching about whether or not my manuscript ought to be published. So many people I talk to about it are enthusiastic and encouraging. They seem to want to read it. But I have to go back to the reasons I wrote it. And every time I do, I get that same old fire in my belly. That electric sensation in the soles of my feet that spur me on. Yes, I still have passion for this project.

Ultimately, it’s that part of me that needs boundaries and expectations that is holding me back. The part of me that thrived under my Marine-Corps-father’s clear-cut rules because I knew, knew, knew what was Right. That little girl is casting about for an authority figure. An agent or editor or publisher to say, “Here is how this needs to go. This many pages, this is your thesis, we need it by Wednesday.” I could do that. Instead, I send out sample chapters and query letters and CVs in hopes that I can convey to someone, anyone, what this book is really about. And, in the meantime, I’m losing my perspective. I find myself slowly beginning to wonder whether the manuscript is really crap and people are just afraid to tell me honestly. And I wish for someone to say that, if only so I could rise up and fight. Or go back and make it better.

What I think I know is that I won’t be able to put the manuscript away and never think about it again. Not because of the time invested in it, but because the reasons I wrote it were so important. Throughout my life, this one thread runs strong and clear, of understanding others from the inside out, an attempt to shine light on our human-ness and our similarities and the importance of connection. A new way of talking to each other, engaging with each other, comprehending each other – that is what this project is about, and I can’t abandon it. But I honestly don’t know what direction to take it in, so it sits. Occasionally I will rework the query letter and send it off to someone else. Each time I get fired up again and think, “This is the agent/publisher/editor. This is the one and once he/she accepts the project, I’ll know why it couldn’t be any of the others.” And I think that’s how it is supposed to be, but the question keeps coming up: then what? Am I expecting some nirvana moment where the clouds part to allow the sunshine in and the birds sing in perfect harmony and butterflies erupt from the daphne bush next to me?

What I know I know is that I can’t not write. Regardless of whether or not anything of mine ever gets published in a traditional sense, I won’t stop writing. I believe that each of us has a unique way of relating to the world and ourselves. Writing is mine. It is what smoothes the wrinkles in the cloth of my psyche and illuminates my understanding of the people and events around me. It is what connects me to my own roots in time and space and allows me to reach ever higher and stretch forward into a hopeful future. And maybe that is where the problem lies. It is writing that I enjoy, that stokes my inner fire. The marketing bit only stirs my stomach acids. I am convinced of my message; its importance and relevance. But I felt that way about Thin Mints, too, and I was never really all that comfortable knocking on my neighbors’ doors to proclaim their virtues. I was not that elementary student who won prizes for selling the most magazine subscriptions. I was the one who begged her father to take the order form to work and put it in the lunchroom for a week and wasn’t surprised when he brought it home completely devoid of any writing at all.

I am coming to the conclusion, however, that unless I dig deep and find some way to convey my passion about this project, it is not likely to be published. I need to stop being the Girl Scout selling someone else’s cookies and become the recipe-master, chest-bustingly proud of herself for this unique invention, off to share it with the world. In that way, it becomes less about foisting it on some hapless neighbor who answers the door to a child and more about offering a new perspective, a gift of writing. Somehow, I need to stop apologizing for what might be wrong about the book and start singing its praises. I need to come to a place where I’m not justifying or defending my work, simply holding it up to the light and proclaiming that I like what I see.