The Body (and Life) You Want without the Suffering

Thursday, April 7, 2011


I'm writing. Not taking writing classes and making myself sit down for one hour everyday. I'm writing because I'm reading some really great books, and I'm watching some great movies, and I'm enjoying telling stories to my freelance clients.

I love storytelling. I'm not deep. I just like making connections with other human beings. I like making them laugh. I like laughing. I like it, most, when we all laugh together.

So, I'm going to take some time to hang out at Ria's Bluebird on Fridays and shoot the shit with strangers on Tuedays and Thursdays all over town.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

What do I Read?

Recently ran into an college acquaintance. A beautiful, funny girl. We started talking about business - as we are both small business owners who left the corporate life - and she asked about my reading list. I floundered. I think I came up with How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and Who Says Elephants Can't Dance by Lou Gerstner. Here's the thing: I read all the time. My reading list isn't just business, certainly seldom focuses on writing and definitely has more than a smattering of science-fiction involved.

For instance, Paolo Bagucigalupi's book The Windup Girl pretty much nails where medicine and agriculture are headed. Then there is Sex at Dawn, which dovetails nicely with The Windup Girl, and presents a perspective on the history of humans before agriculture and an examination of the basic psychological and anthropological needs of human beings.

I read a little Seth Godin every morning because of his RSS feed, Godin integrates everything from Bagucigalupi, Carnegie, Gerstner, and Sex at Dawn into pithy 4-5 paragraph examinations of business and personal interactions.

Each of these books strengthens my ability to observe humans without projecting myself onto them. I'm better at business, and I'm a better storyteller. So, here are the books on my closest shelf at this moment. This is what I read:

Hokum: An anthology of African American Humore (starts with Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman" and the perspective is skewed and skewered from there)

Dream State: A History of Florida (thought I would write a novel based there. Could still happen).

Me, Myself and Why?: A mystery novel with a detective who has multiple personality disorder in a serious way. - MaryJanice Dickenson

The ENTIRE Sookie Stackhouse Series (from Dead Until Dark through the most recent release Dead in the Family): Sookie's troubles make mine feel irrelevant and each character is gloriously rendered.

The Fighter's Mind by Sam Sheridan: While focused on Mixed Martial Arts, the inspiration and the systematic breakdown of how to train your mind to keep evolving, and grow stronger, is always appreciated.

Traveling Mercies: some thoughts on faith by Anne Lamott - Radio KFCK'd is a classic.

A Guide to Quality, Taste, and Style by Tim Gunn - Nothing feels as good as looking good on your own terms. Reading Tim feels good and I always rearrange my closet afterward.

Dale Carnegie's Lifetime Plan for Success - I worry a lot. Dale talks about the futility of worrying a lot and how to have better interactions with other human beings. I read it daily.

Simple Abundance by Sarah ban Breathnach - Life slows down when I open this book. I can always use a little slowdown.

Then We Set His Hair on Fire by Phil Dusenberry - The title refers to the Pepsi commercial where Michael Jackson's hair caught on fire. But the book is about Insight - how to train yourself toward seeing the universal truth in the most mundane of situations (GE "We bring good things to life" - that's Dusenberry).

Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss - a curmudgeon's hilarious look at modern grammar. I can only read a couple of pages at a time before I'm vomiting with laughter.

Everything I need to know, I learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum - Bless this man. Bless him twice.

Cleopatra: A Biography - This is dense, fun reading.

That's what I'm reading. What about you?

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Second-Rate Berlin

From Dale Carnegie's "Seven Ways to Peace and Happiness"

Be yourself. Act on the sage advice that Irving Berlin gave the late George Gershwin. When Berlin and Gershwin first met, Berlin was famous but Gershwin was a struggling young composer working for $35 a week in Tin Pan Alley. Berlin, impressed by Gershwin's ability, offered Gershwin a job as his musical secretary at almost three times the salary he was then getting.
"But don't take the job," Berlin advised. "If you do, you may develop into a second-rate Berlin. But if you insist on being yourself, someday you'll become a first-rate Gershwin."

And he did. I challenge you - and myself - to be a first rate Us. Not a second-rate (insert name of your favorite author). In my case, I will not be a second rate Toni Morrison, Neil Gaiman, or Dale Carnegie.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Snowballs & Sh*t Storms

I don't look to jump over 7-foot bars: I look around for 1-foot bars that I can step over.- Warren Buffett

I'm reading The Snowball an authorized biography of Warren Buffett for the second time right now. Buffett takes great pleasure in teaching and he has a fan in me. All of the insecurities I harbored as a zygote (still in my first quarter of life here, so I was a zygote before, now I'm more embryo) have largely played themselves out. The biggest trick to getting where you want to be in life? Compounding. Put your money away consistently and let it draw interest - compounding. Learn what you can from whomever you can and then try that knowledge out for yourself, make it your own - compounding. Keep saying "yes" even if later you rather wished you'd said "no" a few more times - compounding.

Whatever you do the most of, you get more of. Doesn't the bible say that? Maybe it was just Billie Holliday. Them that's got, keep getting and all of that.

Can you look at your life with the same simplicity? Can anyone? Is that what we're after as writers, understanding our lives? I ask myself this question, it's one I've often used as an explanation to others for why I work out my compulsions in tiny script on paper, but it's not true. I write to amuse myself and to feel as though I will last longer in this world than I actually will. I write to draw attention to myself. It's like dancing - you get some training and it feels good to surprise other people. AT least, it does for me.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Pull The Trigger

***Special guest post by Ashia R. Sims of***

When I was 10 years old, I used to write stories, put them into construction paper-bound books and take them to school for my friends. I wrote these stories, and often illustrated, them myself. They got rave reviews and people would ask me to write more. I actually did two or three of these books during my fifth grade year. I was self publishing before I even knew what it was.
Fast forward to no, and I’m much older and determined to realize my dream of being an official writer with published work and everything. I can’t seem to fully pull the trigger on it. I have notes all over the place of great story ideas and lots of half-started stories saved in various notebooks, my computer hard drive and in my Blackberry. It’s amazing, what I was able to successfully accomplish when I was 10 I can’t seem to do now that I’m…not 10. When I sit down to write, it’s as though I have a temporary case of ADD. When I sit down to write, I remember at least three other things I should be doing and can’t shake my to-do list from my brain long enough to concentrate on my story. I can’t focus on my story enough to write more than a few hundred words even though the characters are moving around in my head with a definite story to tell.

I call it failure to launch. I am failing to officially launch my writing career even though every cell within me screams to be doing it. It’s odd because I think about writing all the time, even when I’m partaking in one of my favorite pastimes, reading. I’ve been racking my brain to figure out how to pull the trigger on my burgeoning career (yes, I’m calling it a career even though I’m in the start-up phase. I call it positive thinking.)

Recently, I stumbled across something that pushed me more into the direction of being an official writer with published work and everything. It was a writing prompt. In my quest to become a better, more prolific writer who actually finishes the story, I signed up for several e-newsletters about writing. I figure if I’m receiving regular emails about writing one of them will spur me on. I’d been having no such luck until I saw a message from one newsletter that invited people to submit stories of 600 words or less, each story starting with the same sentence. Easy enough, right? 600 words weren’t very much and the writing prompt gave the story an initial direction.

In spite of the easy requirements, it still took me a few days to dive in, but I did. I finished it before the deadline, submitted it (the hardest part) and actually got decent reviews from visitors to the website where my story was ultimately featured. I breathed a sigh of relief. It’s been quite a few years but I finally finished a story, and it wasn’t bad. I wouldn’t say that this one writing activity was enough to turn me into a writing machine, but it did push me toward writing more.

I realize that I need to make a concerted effort to write more. Although my characters still rattle around in my brain, they’re more imaginary than real. I’m much more inspired to actually write when I’m lead to do it by either deadline or duty. Now, while I plug away at my latest story because I’m determined to finish it, I am also looking for other deadline-oriented writing activities like writing prompts and contests. Below is a list of some of the e-newsletters and websites that I have joined to help push me closer to my life-long dream of being an official writer with published work and everything.

Funds for Writers ( This is a great website with both a paid newsletter and a free one. I currently receive the free one and find it chock-full of goodies. Not only does the newsletter list writing contests and paying markets, it also lists residency programs, grants and publishing opportunities. This is a website all about writing for writers. There are different levels of membership, both paid and unpaid. I currently have an unpaid account and it’s great. When you post your writing pieces on the website, people can comment on it. Since it’s a website for writers, the people reading your work will largely be writers themselves. The comments can be very constructive and helpful. There are also writing prompts, contests and other things to get you to write more. Another great thing is that there are genre specific newsletters and groups. This is a website and freelance writing ezine that you can either read directly on the site or subscribe to receive regular emails. This is cool because it involves both commercial writing opportunities as well as creative ones. It has job listings, publishing opportunities and contests. One great feature is the Whispers and Warnings section where you can read up on companies that mistreat writers by not paying them.

These resources have really helped me to keep writing more in focus. I make it a habit to read through the writing newsletters I receive, keeping an eye out for contests and writing prompts that interest me. My time issue has not magically disappeared, but my perspective has improved. I realize that writing is a journey and although my ultimate goal is to have a published novel, every word I write leads me down that path. Completing a 600-word story has given me a touch of the writing excitement of my youth. I figure that if at 10 years old, I could focus long enough to write a story, illustrate it, bind it and self publish it, I can finish a story now. My new perspective helps when I want to beat myself up for not being further along in my writing. I still may occasionally feel a little down, but rather than dwelling on it, I can go find a short story contest to enter and let that sense of accomplishment keep me moving forward. In addition to using these tools to keep me focused on my writing, I’m also putting more of my writing out there and slowly becoming an official writer with published work and everything. It’s a win-win!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Dog Days Are Over

What are your impediments to expression? Do you come from a culture of stiff-upper lip and stoicism? Have you been sick, or worse, lobotomized? Do you lack access to clean water or nutritious food? Do you work 4 jobs to support 6 children? Are you lacking formal education? Do you just lack time? What are the impediments?

Every one of us has a reason, or quite a few reasons for not expressing ourselves. Personally, I like the coziness of conversation with the voices in my head. In contrast, they are quite difficult to commit to paper. Also, I have utter meltdowns when my body betrays me in some specific ways - say if I bleed a little too long or feel fatigue or find I cannot get my jeans up past my thighs. I stop thinking creatively and begin wondering if there is enough money for a funeral.

Sir Ken Robinson makes an excellent point in his TED talk about creativity and the value public education places on the arts. His asserts that public education places no value on creativity or the arts. Robinson’s driving point is that children are educated in a way that separates the head from the body, and the body is reduced to a carrying case for the head, which isn’t hot. At least 90% of the body’s bass is below the neckline, it doesn’t make sense to act as though the head is all that matters.

Contrast that mode of education with this quote from legendary boxer Joe Frazier, “Kill the body and the head will die.”

The tongue is a muscle. The brain is a nerve-rich area with muscles. The jaw, the skull - they are just bones like the bone in your pinkie toe. So, as a collection of muscle and bone we can take heart in training ourselves beyond impediments. Some people cannot think without moving. I am one of those people. My day’s thinking is usually accomplished in a 30-45 minute block while I swim laps in a pool. That’s all the thinking I do in a day, the rest is just expression of thought on paper, verbally, or through music. Any new physical activity depends on my ability to add length and speed over a period of time - the same with writing.

Every day since starting my Real World MFA I have written a half a page of a story. One-half page. It isn’t a full page, it isn’t Stephen King or James Patterson-worthy 8 hours of hammering out story. It’s a half page a day and I find myself satisfied at the end. I get it in between swimming and work and I go through my day feeling pretty good abut myself because my story either progressed halfway through a new sheet of paper or it progressed enough to finish a page. It’s very cool.

In many disciplines you must start small and take things as they come. Writing isn’t so different, it’s a physical exercise of expression and relies on the hands and brain. It can be taxing (as all those who just wrapped up National Novel Writing Month can attest), and it must be refined over time. The youngest writer, out of sheer persistence, can produce a work of formidable length. Imagine!

No matter where you are in your life you can get somewhere else by slow, steady work. It adds up, it builds upon itself. And while it may feel contrary to all you’ve been educated to understand - that’s the way all things happen, it’s how all things work.