Today’s Tarot

Tarot #1My dear friend Danielle and I have a Motherpeace tarot deck in common, and yesterday we talked about meditation and daily tarot cards as a part of our shared desire for spiritual renewal.

Here’s my card(s) for the day (click to embiggen):

9 of Discs: in this deck, the nine of Discs depicts a woman creating a sand painting in the desert. The card meaning indicates the beginning of a solitary, creative period.

The Hierophant: in most tarot, a representing order and hierarchy. Here, the Hierophant directs worship toward himself and blocks access to nature, “a direct source of information and authority.”

The Social Media Fast

This past week, I chose to spend 7 days off Twitter as part of a “reading deprivation” exercise.

Sounds a little silly and self-indulgent, does it not? Would avoiding social media and reading be difficult? CUE TINY VIOLINS OF PRIVILEGE

The reason: I’ve been parsing through Julie Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, which is ostensibly a 12-week course in spiritual creativity. I’ve essentially spent an average of three weeks per week in the course. Whatever my initial skepticism, Cameron’s approach has been incredibly helpful to my personal development (without really intending to, I have made 2014 my Year of Healing, between CBT and hard life changes, following fast upon 2013’s Year of Living Dangerously, quelle surprise). During week 4, Cameron suggests reading and media consumption fill one’s head with distracting noise serving as “tranquilizer” to the creative impulse and a “shield” against the outside world. “For most blocked creatives,” Cameron says, “reading is an addiction.” Cameron pushes her students to avoid the words of others for just one week.

I felt resistant to this idea, as you can imagine. I thrive on words for inspiration. Ideas of others inspire me, their triumphs and sorrows and artful expressions fill my creative well. But I tried anyway, and mostly stuck to it. Although I’m an avid reader, avoiding books was easier; the fact that Jeff VanderMeer’s Acceptance waits by my bedside is comforting. The rolling timeline of Twitter is a different story.

(TL;DR) What I learned from the Social Media Fast of 2014:

1. I sat in silence more. As a neo-Quaker, this part was disconcerting but appealing. I noticed how frequently I turned to my phone to fill space. This didn’t translate into more productivity or heaps of found time. I just noticed and sat with a sensation of emptiness, eating in silence or when waiting for appointments. I did more people-watching and felt more self-aware.

2. I dearly missed connection with people. I’m fortunate to be acquainted with creative folks all over the world, and since I’m not on Facebook, Twitter is the main way I keep up with what is important to those folks. Plus, they make me laugh. Missing their voices for an entire week felt lonely. I filled that need by writing letters to a few of my favorite people, and now I have a new creative way to connect and a list of people I plan to write to next.

3. I fell out of the loop on world events. I get most of my news from Twitter. I know this may sound ridiculous to some, but it’s completely true.

4. I realized how much I value Twitter as a tool of self-expression and creativity. I share, I give and receive support, I contextualize my life experiences. Even though I refrain from broadcasting the most private details, my online presence is, weirdly, a part of me. Tweets have replaced my more frequent blogging of the past as the journal of my life story.

I can’t say I recommend this strategy, but I’m glad I tried it.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to let me know your thoughts, here or on Twitter.

 

What Cognitive Behaviorial Therapy looks like

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while.

“Everyone Here is in Therapy”

Early this year, I embarked on a deliberate campaign to reassert myself into my own lived experience, the flow of life, to be intentional about how I spend my moments and how creative, connection-oriented or self-reflective I want those moments to be.

In other words, I started seeing a therapist. It didn’t last long, but it wasn’t supposed to. I chose cognitive behavioral therapy, which is designed to be short-term and diagnostic: find the problem (usually self-damaging thought patterns) and pursue specific solutions. I chose CBT because struggles with depression and regular panic attacks were impacting my quality of life, and I’m a solution-oriented person who resists being medicated for almost everything. I wanted to write about it because mental healthcare has a stigma attached to it, in spite of clear evidence that self-care and mental health are vital to overall wellness. This stigma seems especially prevalent in the south, where I’m originally from, perceived as a sign of weakness or only for very serious problems. I remember jokingly telling my father (who thinks California must be a strange place) that “everyone here is in therapy.” I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that I was.

What Cognitive Behavioral Therapy was like, in brief

I picked Dr. G off of a list, prepared to go through a long search to find a good fit. It’s like finding the right hairstylist! Or so I told myself. I enlisted a “therapy buddy,” a friend who was also nervously pursuing therapy options, to motivate me with texts and encouraging emails, and I returned the favor. I drove to Dr. G’s office once a week and perched on the edge of a leather sofa while Dr. G sat across from me in a chair. I talked while she took notes. During some sessions, I just rambled and for others I had specific goals; occasionally Dr. G interjected or asked me to further explore a particular thread of thought. But sometimes it felt like talking to myself (which I’ve always done quite a bit but had virtually zero alone time to do in those months that I was attending therapy). A couple of times, I cried, and that was alright. Tears came when I spoke of a hurtful thing that felt particularly true upon articulation. Crying felt safe, though it took me by surprise when it first happened. I didn’t sob, no catharsis occurred.

What I gained

Through talking with Dr. G, I learned some things about myself, and not necessarily because she did anything special. Dr. G gave me someone to talk to. I talked out my frustrations, my grief and anxiety. I spoke a little about my birth family (like you do), the people I was living with, and about my son. I talked about the grief I felt concerning the loss of meaningful relationships in my transition from Florida to California, and about the sadness I felt about difficulties in current ones. I talked about the cumulative toll of providing counseling of my own to distressed students at my job. It was helpful to look carefully at the complexness of my life, to realize that it made sense that I might be feeling overwhelmed.

Dr. G gave me tools and suggestions to try between sessions, kind of like homework. I offered to journal about the process, and she encouraged that. Mostly, she gave me tips sheets to review and try out. This seemed so ridiculously simple that initially I doubted her effectiveness as a therapist. But then I reflected on my choice of this kind of therapy, which puts the responsibility for change squarely on the patient.

Some of the tips pertained to realigning the stories we tell ourselves, the thought patterns that form the basis of our thinking and coping. Some of them were metaphors, like (for anxiety and fear) The Sentry, who stands on your shoulder and whispers constant warnings in your ear about perceived threats that keep your adrenal response in overdrive.

Here’s a resource link about CBT.

What I’m thinking now

The Thinker and Death, by Bel17b (Deviant Artist). Image used under Creative Commons.
The Thinker and Death by Bel17b (Deviant Artist). Image used under Creative Commons.

Drawing, which I’m not doing.

Writing, which I AM doing, no matter how gross or stolen (or sometimes perfect) those moments feel.

Heteropatriarchy and the damage it does every day.

Women Destroy Science -Fiction, which is practically the best thing ever.

My third, most recent Interzone sale, which I will say more about later.

 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Ursula K. Le Guin and the hermeneutics of love.

Clarion West, which is four years ago for me and right around the corner for others.

The desert, Trickster mythology and motorcycles.

Changing my name.

Clarion West Write-a-thon Wrap-up, 2013

This year marks my second year of participation in the Clarion West Write-a-thon! The fundraiser means a great deal to me, as the anniversary of my own CW experience in 2010, and as a way to pay it forward in gratitude for this life-changing experience.

My report
I’m excited to say that while I did not meet my wordcount goal for the 6-week period, I made significant progress on my novel! This madcap narrative began as a story seed last summer and then grew into a novella project for the 2012 fundraiser. Now it wants to be a book. I also finally completed an emotionally challenging short story during a dry spot in the novelizing.

The sponsors who generously donated to CW gave me a boost of confidence. The money is for the workshop, but gratifying FEELS occur when other writers give in your name. So, thank you. If you’d like to hear about the project itself, read further. If not, please accept my heartfelt gratitude for your support of Clarion West.

About the book
Since Clarion West 2013, I’ve sold a number of short stories, and I’ve been ducking the long form. But this one kept bugging me until I let it in. I’ve kept fairly quiet about it so far, because it’s my first long form attempt (other than a manic dalliance with NaNoWriMo). However, it’s picking up steam and overcoming some of its shyness. A measure of that steam comes from the extraordinary generosity of Mark Teppo, who offered to listen to my pitch back in March at the Rainforest Writers Retreat 2013 and gave me useful, hard-hitting feedback about structure and believability.

He also gave a cool talk called “Nuns With Guns,” in which he asked, “Are characters fighting you because they know the scene they’re in rings false? Ask yourself if there’s a simpler way. What if they fail? How badly could it go? Are you having fun?”

Well, yes, I’m having fun.

The Pitch
Myths to Live By is a post-Event novel that follows the travels of Bailey, a dedicated scientist and Asema, an increasingly dangerous woman she’s sworn to protect, through an apocalyptic landscape populated by motorcycle stuntwomen, talking animals, hippies, wasteland demagogues and tree-dwelling Amazons. Between the two of them, Bailey and Asema hold the power to save the world or utterly destroy it.

Would you read that? I kinda think I would.

Where did THAT come from?
At Clarion West, one of my instructors was the formidable Maureen McHugh, who advised us to write our obsessions. I think it’s a fair representation to say that she credits the success of her award-winning novel China Mountain Zhang to this principle. Rather than trying to guess what publishing markets want, go with the story that only you can tell, the one that’s eating at you and incorporates subjects about which you care the most. A combination of two of McHugh’s obsessions formed the basis of her novel and created space for risk-taking and invention, producing a unique and exciting narrative.

My obsessions, apparently, are tricksters, nanotech, intentional community, sex, and motorcycles. But it started with “trickster plus nanotech.” It grew and shifted as influences other than these folded into the early novella and gradually the novel outline.

When I’m in the thick of creative process, my writer-brain does a katamari thing, and everything I roll past sticks to the story I working on. Sometimes I fight the katamari impulse, and other times it’s serendipitous. I was reading Joseph Campbell’s Myths to Live By when I started the project. The book is classic but problematic; I purposefully distanced myself from it by giving my ragged paperback (purchased at a used bookstore in Seattle during my stint at Clarion West) to a high school student who expressed growing interest in Campbell’s work. I read Fight Club for the first time, and found Palahniuk’s eye for violence and its motives, satisfactions and consequences intriguing. I fell headfirst into Lewis Hyde’s Trickster Makes This World, and began to see connections between aspects of characterization I’d been struggling with in the novella. The main characters, who had felt flat and resistant, like they do when they’re bored with shouldering the weight of the author’s obsessions, sprang upright. They pushed off the packs they’d been carrying for me and began intruding into my thoughts when I wasn’t writing. They started arguing with each other. It was exhilarating.

The Outcome
Now, I’d be lying if I tried to claim this all happened during the Write-a-thon; it didn’t. I’ve been wrestling with this story all year. Writers I trust told me to keep going when I fretted about my novel “jumping the shark” right in front of my eyes. A few folks even said, ah, yes, that’s it.

So, here I go, off into the wasteland. Thank you for all your support, and wish me luck!

 

 

 

What Became of the Kerfuffle

the Goddess Cybele

In late March, I posted an open letter to the Goddess Temple of Orange County concerning a Sunday service which focused on the Goddess Cybele and the delivery of a controversial message: the Temple services for women are not for transgendered women. When the post was picked up by The Wild Hunt nearly a month later, directing attention to my post, a volatile and intense conversation began, which included input from women both trans and cis, as well as some prominent voices from the pagan community and a few feminist bloggers. The conversation went even further into the issue when Ava Park, the presiding priestess of the Temple, joined in.

I appreciate every person who spoke up on this issue.

Two very important things happened: Ava defended her actions and the policy of the Temple in a way that made her stance very clear, for better or worse, and participants in the discussion pointed out the main problem with her stance, that while the Temple has every right to set women-only policies, it does not have the right to define “women” for others.

Second, after a great deal of back and forth, a call for reconciliation went out (twice) from commenter Karen St. John:

“Will you join us in letting us share ourselves and our stories? Lessen the fear and making peace?”

“Has anyone considered the opportunity for dialogue in a trans woman and cis woman only service, bringing together the two groups of women in learning and understanding?”

There’s been no response from the Temple, at least in this forum. I, for one, would like to see a dialogue of this kind. I also invite those invested in the issue to continue the conversation on this post. I’ve closed comments to the previous in the interest of clarity.

I invite those same people, including Ava, to participate in discussion of the issue in another forum. SageWoman magazine is THE journal of Goddess culture, and editor Anne Newkirk Niven contributed this invitation to the post:

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS:

I am looking for letters from women for the “Women & Men” issue (SageWoman 84, winter 2012) on the topic of transwomen in female-only ritual space, (aka Z Budapest PCon ritual controversy) 500 words or less, NO HATE SPEECH on ANY side of the issue, please. If you identify as a trans- or CIS-woman and wish to be identified as such, please note that in your letter.

If you’d care to add your voice to this conversation, email SageWoman (editor2 AT bbimedia DOT com) before August 1. Niven has indicated that only the first names and last initials of contributors will be published in the magazine unless you explicitly request otherwise.

Breathing the Air, Clearing My Head

I’m spending the week at The Rainforest Village Resort in the Olympic National Forest. It may just be the most beautiful place on earth, and it’s a fantastic location for a writing retreat.

The Village is remote and quiet, and surrounded by glorious natural beauty. At any moment, I can turn from my work and look out over lovely Lake Quinault, ringed by spruce-covered hills and wreathed in swirling mist. When writer’s block strikes, I can step outside and enter a trail just feet away that takes me under mossy trees dripping with rain. Sigh. Dirt-loving pagan paradise.

Another particularly enjoyable aspect of the retreat is the company of other writers, several of whom I’ve only met previously on Twitter. I feel like I know them well, and meeting them in person for the first time was like greeting old friends. Opportunities to meet new friends, too. These are my people.

Where is your happy place as a writer?

 

 

I Submit!

Getting a little cranked up by the Clarion buzz, so I submitted a piece to Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, in Australia. The Internets make such things possible.

Now, I have a spreadsheet set up for tracking submissions, and I plan to fill it up. This gives me something else to look forward to while I wait for word from Clarion, even if this means more rejections.
I also considered submitting to Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, but since the story’s protagonist is gay and OSC is against “that kind of thing,” I think I’ll pass. No need to beat my head against that wall, even if he’s passed the helm onto another editor. Maybe next time.

Crittin’ Helps!

I am very pleased to say that I got a fresh eye on “The Conduit” yesterday, and it really helped. This story had been hashed over by yours truly so many times that it felt dead. I couldn’t even read it anymore, but this reader helped me see some obvious places that needed strengthening. Many thanks to Aika, and all the other readers who’ve helped with this story so far. The revision effort I put into it today made me feel more confident about sending it out again to face another possible rejection.

Advantages of critique demonstrated! However, I still haven’t decided whether or not to join an online writing group. Some of the candidates on my shortlist are getting mixed reviews from other writers. I think I need to focus on discipline at the moment, to get more viable pieces closer to completion.

Finding the Groove

I don’t want to toot my horn just yet (not too loudly, anyhow), but I am pleased that I seem to have settled on a writing routine that works. For the past four days (not counting Sunday), I wrote for at least an hour each morning.

This means getting up before my family at 5:45 A.M. and getting straight to work. Since I am not a morning person, this is challenging. Couple this with the fact that my family tends to keep me up late, and this is VERY challenging. However, the knowledge that the characters are waiting gets me moving after a couple of snooze-button mashes.

In this relatively short time, I’ve revised and submitted a short story to Strange Horizons. I also finished a new flash story (dream-inspired) temporarily titled “What’s That Pinging Sound?” that clocks in at just under 1K, and I’ve added over 700 words to a story seed, as yet to be titled.

At the risk of sounding trite, routine periods of isolation are the most important gifts writers can give themselves. If writing is your job, or you wish it was, you have to set aside time to do it every single day.

I have shared outside the blog (and a little here) the value I’m getting out of Stephen King’s On Writing. A few people have made disparaging remarks about the quality of King’s work, but I am not deterred because his advice is solid and honest (and his success speaks for itself). It’s not told me much that is radical and new, but it’s given me permission to do what I know I should be doing. It’s like having a mentor I can peek in on every few days, and when I do, he says “Try this,” and “What are you waiting for?”

Routine writing, every day, AT HOME, is one piece of advice he gives. Stop hiding in the library carrel or at the coffee shop with your laptop. Your work needs to be housed in your space, as a part of your life, not away somewhere else.

I am happy that I’ve given myself permission to find this groove and stick with it.