#ROW80 check-ins, personal journeys, simple living, spirituality

The Practice of Stillness

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Creative Commons Photos | Dreamstime.com

“The Page of Cups is sentimental. She is a true romantic at heart, and in a world that is filled with so much noise and bustle, she longs for the time and space to simply breathe and to truly take in the pleasures that abound. She listens to the still voice from deep inside that speaks with understanding and intuition, and she longs to believe in the impossible.”—Stephanie Pui-Man Law and Barbara Moore, Shadowscapes Companion

The other night I was reading Tarot with my beloved Shadowscapes deck, and I stumbled across this beautifully written description of the Page of Cups. It resonated with me on so many levels, but most importantly because it’s a great description of the life I am striving to cultivate. A life in which stillness is appreciated, revered, and celebrated. A life where intuition is listened to as a trusted guide, its voice never silenced. A life where creativity emerges naturally because it is given the space to do so. A life where beauty is celebrated for its own sake.

I think the first step to a journey toward a simpler, more purposeful, more creative life is to cultivate stillness. It doesn’t have to be a monthlong vow of silence, or an hour-long practice per day. Even five minutes of stillness can go a long way toward creating a space for a new way of life to emerge.

This week was a perfect example. Tuesday night, I honored the super blue blood moon (you heard that right—lots of power wrapped up in that name) by drumming and meditating. It was a space to connect with spirit; a space to honor the earth, moon, and stars; a space for reflection, pause, magic, and connection.

Stillness, in the right quantities, doesn’t create disconnect or foster loneliness. The right amount of stillness, especially for introverts and highly sensitive persons, cultivates warmth, compassion, gratitude, and creativity.

When we are still, we are open to ideas that will take our creative practice to new heights. When we practice stillness, we create a small space inside of us that is filled with calm and connected to our intuition. We can then call on that calm and intuition during the more frantic, busy, chaotic moments of our day.

This week, in a quiet house, since my husband was away on business for most of the week, I connected to stillness. I worked magic. I listened—to my heart, to spirit, to my intuition, which are all perhaps one and the same.

I find myself recharged, reenergized, ready to get back to the business of making art, ready and energized in a way that I haven’t been for a while.

It doesn’t have to be a lot. It doesn’t even have to be every day. Look up. At the full moon, the stars, the patterns of the clouds, a flock of geese, a hawk soaring high above.

Once we’re still, and we’re looking, we can then begin to listen.

I’d like to end with a brief ROW80 check-in. Again, I’ve divided my goals into three categories: creative living, simple living, and healthy living.

CREATIVE LIVING

The big news for the week is that Oak-Bound is finished and out on submission!

I also wrote a new opening scene for my novel Spellfire’s Kiss, the first in a series. I did a ton of brainstorming for that series. I realized one of the key ingredients that was missing was a strong sense of setting. My theory is that if you could pick up the characters and plot and plop them down in another place, if they lift right out of the setting, there’s something off. And I wanted a town where magic, while not necessarily openly acknowledged, could coexist with our world. Enter Gladewood, Virginia, bordered by Emerald Creek. Thus, the new series name is Emerald Creek Magic, and a new fictional place is born. Now that Oak-Bound is submitted, I’d like to revise a chapter a day, but that might be pushing it with all the changes I want to make. Some chapters might take two days.

SIMPLE LIVING

Some meditation, and making a point to be present, to savor the moment, and to practice slowness and stillness this week. As I do so, I feel my creativity opening up like a flower to the sun, and I’m reminded of how closely linked simplicity and creativity are.

On the decluttering front, I used to have a tote bag crammed full of stuff sitting beside the sofa—in addition to a small, round storage ottoman full of stuff. I dumped everything out on the floor and sorted through it. Now, the tote bag is empty and tucked away upstairs to be used for trips to the beach, and the storage ottoman is organized, with a few essential items neatly tucked inside.

Saturday, I took a few things up to the attic for temporary storage. I have developed a system where I label the box with the date I packed it, and if I don’t need anything in that box within six months, I’ll take it to the thrift store. This is mostly to appease my husband, who has more trouble parting with things than I do. I boxed up another box of stuff from the kitchen and that is heading to the attic as well.

HEALTHY LIVING

I did a lot of walking with Leo this week, so I definitely got some good exercise. I didn’t eat a lot of sugar or fatty foods, but I need to get better about making sure I don’t skip meals during the day. Often, I get so caught up in tasks that I forget to stop and eat something healthy, and then by the time I’m hungry, I just grab the first thing I see, which isn’t always the healthiest thing to eat.

(A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge for ordinary folks who want to set their own manageable goals and find a supportive community to cheer them on in their journey. Click here to join us.)

What about you? How do you make room for stillness in your life? How did you practice living simply, creatively, and healthfully this week?

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#ROW80 check-ins, dose of inspiration, personal journeys, simple living

Digging Deeper, in Life and Art

Mountains and Clouds in January

One of the most magical years of my life was spent living on a farm in rural Southwest Virginia. I’d rise in the morning and, before it was too hot, work in the large garden I tended. Afterward I’d sit on the porch, read poetry, work on my master’s thesis, write poetry—I even tried my hand at making jewelry.

It was a creative time in my life, one full of possibilities. Surrounded by mountains and forest, with the New River just down the hill, I was connected to nature and spirit in a way I hadn’t been in a very long time.

Though life has since moved me into town, I still strive to remain close to nature. The photo above is from Monday’s afternoon walk with my dog Leo. Though I live in a townhouse, I’m blessed to have a park filled with walking trails just steps from my backdoor, and we walk there daily.

During Monday’s walk, Leo and I were walking the hills. I paused to admire the way the clouds hung close to the brow of the mountains. I breathed in cool air, aware that cold air was soon to follow, perhaps bringing with it a dusting of snow.

This is digging deep. It’s savoring these precious everyday moments. It’s listening to the flow of things and being present. It is only when we’re connected to the flow that we can live both simply and creatively.

I returned home, where I curled up with a cup of tea and my laptop and put the finishing touches on my novella. It is officially query-ready. I’m still waiting for some feedback on my synopsis, and once that’s revised, I will be sending Oak-Bound off to editors, in hopes of finding a home for a story that began whispering to me five years ago. I wasn’t ready to tell it then, but last summer, I realized it was time.

I’ve done several drafts, each time listening intently to my characters and their reactions. Each time letting my world unfold on the page, helping the story to shine.

This is the creative process. This is why revision is so vital. Too often I’ve dreaded revision, but when I think of it not as the dreaded chore of revising but instead as the magic of digging deeper, it becomes less of a chore and more of an adventure.

With any luck, 2018 will be a year of digging deeper into my life and my art. On the home front, I’m paring away the excess, parting with objects that no longer serve me to create the sort of home I’ve always wanted: cozy, soothing, tidy—with a touch whimsy and a hint of magic. On the writing front, I’m listening intently to my stories, allowing them to unfold in their own way, not forcing them into prescribed criteria but instead letting them happen organically.

I’m a firm believer that we must envision the life we want and then find ways, slowly but surely, to bring that vision into being. What’s that saying? That goals are dreams with deadlines? Sure, maybe sometimes. But I think, perhaps, that goals are dreams made tangible. It’s not so much that we need a deadline (although sometimes, for us writers, that helps) as it is that we need a way to help dreams take root and find form.

Digging deeper allows us to pare away the excess to find the authenticity that lies beneath. Too often, our lives are buried under the stuff we own, the trappings we carry that no longer serve us. To dig deeper in our lives, we must work toward a vision of what we truly want to make of our “one wild and precious life.” To dig deeper in our storytelling, we must listen to our characters, make them and their worlds come to life.

I’ll leave you with an excerpt from my newly completed novella, Oak-Bound.

He landed hard against cold, damp earth. The smells of rich, fertile soil mixed with moss and mushrooms tickled his nose.

The light was diffused gray here—wherever here was. Tendrils of silvery-white mist snaked along the ground as though they were living, sentient things. One began to crawl up his leg, wrapping him like a boa constrictor. Nick took a few quick steps back.

What are you? The mist seemed to whisper in a thick, raspy voice.

He is not from here, another, higher voice hissed.

Human? The first voice.

“Yes,” Nick answered, the single word laced with uncertainty.

Ah. Welcome to The Crossroads.

“The Crossroads?” He furrowed his brow. “The place between life and death?”

High-pitched laughter met his ear.

This place is so much more. Here the roots of every tree, every plant, the energy of every living thing weave together to create a tapestry of life. The dead pass through here on occasion, but this place is not death, young one. Not at all.

Something inside Nick relaxed, a coil of fear inside his belly easing slightly. Not for himself, but for Cassie. He still had time.

What about you? How are you digging deeper into life and creativity? I’d love to hear from you!

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#ROW80 check-ins, creativity, dose of inspiration, simple living, the writer's journey

Seeking Magic and Whimsy in 2018

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Creative Commons Stock Photo | Dreamstime.com

By now the glitz and glitter of the holiday season are behind us, a time of brightly colored packages tied up with ribbons—but also a time of harried running around for many of us.

Perhaps, now, we can pause. We can catch our breath.

And we can look forward to another year on the calendar. We’re still deep in the belly of winter. For Pagans, we’ll mark Imbolc on February 1, a celebration of the slightest quickening of the earth, of impending spring. And it’s still a long march forward to Ostara, the spring equinox, when daffodils trumpet the season and robins sing their merry tunes.

No, those of us in the northern, colder climes can look forward to trudging through snowdrifts and returning home to curl up under a blanket with a cup of steaming tea and a good book.

But there is a gift in these colder months. Winter is a time of stillness, of reflection, of rest. We can renew ourselves and look forward to the year ahead. We can plan our goals for the year just as we would plan our gardens.

Too many times, we sally forth without a clear vision. I am called, again and again lately, to Mary Oliver’s lovely phrase in her poem “The Summer Day”:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

I spent much of 2017 scattered, and through that scattered energy, I found a renewed call to my purpose: to live a life that blends simplicity with whimsy, the everyday with the magical, creativity with calling. Above all, I am a storyteller. I took on too many things in 2017, trying to be and do too much, trying to make everyone happy, trying to live a life that satisfied other people’s definitions. I was exhausted. On the day before Yule, I woke up feeling awful, burnt out and stressed. It was a wake-up call to focus on what mattered, to return to my creative center. Out of that scattered chaos I found renewed purpose. To eat healthier. To care for my body, my mind, and my soul. To focus on my creative gifts. To simply be. To create from my center, my heart.

My goals for 2018 are to revise and polish several of my manuscripts and send them off on submission. As far as the first quarter–or “round”–of the year goes, I have several upcoming, self-imposed deadlines. My deadline for submitting Oak-Bound is January 8. My deadline for submitting Spellfire’s Kiss is March 3.

I’d also like to finish a draft of another story finished by the end of March–possibly Riverspell, the sequel to Spellfire’s Kiss, or one of my unfinished novellas, such as Fates Entangled or Silver’s Stray. Both of these have drafts finished but aren’t ready to be submitted yet. I’d like to get a draft of either finished, but Riverspell somehow feels more pressing.

On the home front, I’d like to continue various projects in our townhouse and continue my massive decluttering project. If I can tackle one project per month related to this goal, I’ll be satisfied with that.

I’ll also continue teaching English as a Second Language and, perhaps, branch out to animal rescue and take in a foster dog or two.

Magic. Simplicity. Creativity. Whimsy. These are what I strive for as I move forward.

The winter solstice has passed. The days are growing longer.

Perhaps, the signs of quickening are here. Even in the cold, short days of winter, the promise of spring remains. One need only look to the evergreens to remind us of the sleeping promise of the earth.

What about you? What are your plans for 2018? What are some of the words you’d use to define your “purpose?”

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#ROW80 check-ins, creativity, personal journeys

The Problem with Perfectionism

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Shirley Hu | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Confession time: I am a recovering perfectionist. I am striving to embrace my human imperfection because I have come to realize that is the only path to meaningful fulfillment in life. And I am recovering because I know my struggle with perfectionism is lifelong. The seeds of perfectionism will always be waiting to sprout inside me, if through self-doubt and self-unkindness, I water them and provide them with fertile soil.

Reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly helped me realize what a tremendous burden my perfectionism was—and more importantly, why it had developed. Perfectionism is a form of armor against vulnerability. And vulnerability is scary. But it’s also necessary. Without vulnerability, there is no true love, no vibrant joy, no great adventure. Afraid of judgment or ridicule, I wielded perfectionism like a shield. This is especially harmful because I am a writer. I exist in the creative arena. To create anything meaningful, vulnerability is necessary.

One of my biggest epiphanies as a creative came to me in the middle of the night. As a self-professed night owl, I’m prone to midnight epiphanies, and so I wasn’t surprised, though I was moved by the awakening this realization stirred.

It went something like this: There is no such thing as a perfect book. The best of books has its critics. What one reader loves, another loathes. The best we can strive for is to create a story that moves someone, to stir human emotion, whether joy, sorrow, hope, sadness, excitement, or passion. Or, perhaps, all of these.

This seems obvious, but perfectionism is sneaky. It has its tricks to convince us otherwise.

This dawning was liberating. It freed me from the sharp briars of perfectionism. It renewed my joy in the creative process. It doesn’t make writing easy, but it does make it more enjoyable, more exciting.

Brown opens her book with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt that I think can serve creatives and recovering perfectionists well:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

So, onward I march, flawed and imperfect. Fumbling and failing all the while, I strive forward, toiling at the page, living the life of a storyteller. Starting next year, I will be sending my stories out to editors and agents, daring greatly.

This week I started the second draft of Oak-Bound. The plan is to incorporate my critique partner’s suggestions and a few changes of my own I want to make and then send it to my husband for his feedback. After that, I’ll make some more changes and hopefully by January, it will be ready for submission. I also want to start the next draft of Spellfire’s Kiss this month and try to get that ready for submission early next year.

I’ll share another quote from Theodore Roosevelt that I think can serve creatives well:

“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

Or, as Buffy more succinctly said:

“The hardest thing to do in this world is to live in it. Be brave. Live.”

Be brave. Live deeply. Dream wildly. Create passionately. Embrace imperfection.

What about you? In what areas of your life have you struggled with perfectionism? How are you daring greatly?

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#ROW80 check-ins, personal journeys, the seasons

Autumn Whirlwind

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Photo by Bellemedia, Dreamstime Stock Photos.

Wow. My life has been a whirlwind these past few weeks. Some of it amazing. I started teaching English as a Second Language, which is promising to be a life-changing journey for me. Some of it not so amazing—like a beloved family member being diagnosed with a serious illness.

So, in the midst of all of the craziness, I’ve been plugging away at my novella Oak-Bound and trying to get it done by the end of this month. I’m close, guys. It will probably be 25-27K, and I’m right around the 22K mark as I type this. I hope to get another 1K or 2K words in before I go to bed tonight.

So. Close. This is a story half a decade in the making. I remember sitting at my friend Amelia’s kitchen table and going over critiques of the first first chapter of this story. And then I set it aside. I wasn’t ready to write it then, but Nick and Cassie kept whispering in my ear, and I knew I couldn’t give up on them.

Five years later, a first draft is close to being completed. And yes, there will be a happy dance when it is done.

So, where does this leave my progress on my goals for this quarter? Well…

  1. Finish a draft of Oak-Bound. On track, and I hope to finish this in the next few days. Fingers crossed!
  2. Revise Spellfire’s Kiss,once I receive feedback from my kind and helpful beta reader. On hold until I finish Oak-Bound.
  3. Participate in one or two community events each month. Going to see author Sharyn McCrumb at the local library on Sunday, and hubby and I bought tickets for a hayride next weekend.
  4. Meditate or do yoga twice a week. Nada.
  5. Continue paring away the excess in our home and making the townhouse our own. Ordered new chairs for the living room and library, and I’ve piled up a large quantity of items to take to the thrift store. I’ve also hung some photographs in our hallway and in my library.
  6. Bonus Goal: I just found an upcoming call for submissions for an anthology based around the mythology of Baba Yaga, this fascinating figure from Russian folklore. I’d like to write a draft of a Baba Yaga novelette—somewhere in the 10-12K range, so I’m adding this goal.

I am hoping the rest of autumn will be calmer, as I settle into a teaching routine, dig deep into my stories, break out the cozy sweaters, and move closer toward submitting some of my stories for publication. I currently have one short story out on submission and will hear back sometime next month.

What about you? How is your autumn progressing? And please, because I love this season, what is your favorite thing about autumn?

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#ROW80 check-ins, creativity, dose of inspiration, personal journeys, the writer's journey

Round 4: Intentions

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Triberg waterfall, in the Black Forest region of Germany. Photo by my husband, Ryan Spoon, August 2017.

Since my return from my trip to Germany in August, I’ve entered a period of quiet introspection. What direction do I want to go in my life? Am I on an authentic path that will allow me to drink from the wellspring of creativity? How do I define success, and how have I internalized society’s definition of success?

My head spinning with such questions, the universe brought Tami Lynn Kent’s book Wild Creative into my life. I didn’t devour the book. I read it intently, studying some passages over and over and taking my time with the prescribed exercises. A few of my favorite quotes from Wild Creative:

“Most of our current work and life structures have been devised to emphasize production and how much we can accomplish rather than the nurturing of the soul. This routinely takes us away from our natural inclinations and the flow of our energy field.”

“Taking ownership of one’s creative life force is a conscious act to change the focus from exclusively monetary values to modes that value life.”

“Though we may tend to take note of visibly productive years where we have ‘something to show’ for our work, the less visible years are equally important and essential to the overall creative journey.”

Too often as writers, we’re obsessed with word counts. There’s the #1k1hr hashtag. There’s NaNoWriMo, in which we’re given the daunting task of writing 50,000 words in a month. There’s the infamous 1-millionth word we pen. And there are countless prescriptions out there for how many words we should write in a day.

Naturally, wanting to “succeed,” I followed such models, only to find myself burnt out. The wellspring of creativity was dry. I would write in short bursts when inspiration struck, or force myself through a revision, only to grow burnt out and exhausted once more.

So 2017 will not shape up to be a year of epic word counts. Instead, I believe, it is a year of introspection, of peering deep inside myself and trying to ascertain the life I truly want.

That life is authentic. It is imperfect. It is one of individually defined success. It is sometimes messy, often beautiful, filled with countless moments of joy. Watching Leo chew on sticks in the yard while I sip my coffee and read a book. Enjoying the color of the rose bushes as they bloom. Cooking a simple meal. Making my own home products—so far this year, I’ve discovered recipes for laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, and lavender goat’s milk soap. Owning less and living more. Travel as a form of discovering self and connecting with the world around me. And, of course, creating art, stories that, if I do my job, will enchant and inspire.

My latest work in progress, Oak-Bound, is one that came to me five years ago. I wasn’t ready to write it then, and it came out flat and forced. I tried again a year ago. Same result. Back in July, I stopped and I listened. Like a tree, I stretched my roots deep into the loamy soil of inspiration, and I soaked up what I found.

I am finally ready to give form to this story, a novella-length work about loss, grief, trauma, and healing, and the human relation with the divine and nature. I want to tell stories that spring from my heart, stories that are vibrant and authentic, and Cassie and Nick’s story feels like one of those stories. I very much hope to share it with you one day.

Thus, I have no “goals” for the last quarter of 2017. Instead, I share with you my intentions for the rest of the year:

  1. Finish a draft of Oak-Bound.
  2. Revise Spellfire’s Kiss, once I receive feedback from my kind and helpful beta reader.
  3. Participate in one or two community events each month.
  4. Meditate or do yoga twice a week.
  5. Continue paring away the excess in our home and making the townhouse our own.

As the Wheel turns toward Samhain and the seasons cycle toward winter, I will continue to dig deep, to listen closely, to spend time in nature, and to move toward authenticity.

What about you? What are your intentions for the rest of 2017? Have you read Wild Creative? Do any of the quotes above resonate with you?

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#ROW80 check-ins

Very Simple Round Three Goals

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It’s hard to believe that my last post was in early June. This summer has turned out to be a hectic one, and I’ve struggled to fit both writing and blogging into that. And I must admit that with everything I have planned for the next few weeks, my blogging will be sporadic at best until late August/early September.

Nonetheless, I wanted to post my goals for the rest of this round. According to the ROW80 website, there are 53 days to go in this round.

My goals are simple. First and foremost, I want to finish a first draft of my novella Oak-Bound. This story started as a tiny seedling of an idea probably five years or so ago. It’s been rattling around in my brain ever since. I feel strongly connected to the lead characters, Cassie and Nick. It’s new-adult paranormal romance, and finally, after all these years, I feel ready to get Cassie and Nick’s story out of my head and onto the page. My goal for Oak-Bound is to write 3,500 words/week. I wrote 3,867 words last week on this project.

My other goals are to continue with my goal to read 30 books this year and to start some sort of workout regimen.

That’s it. Like I said, simple. I also want to check in regularly with fellow ROWers, but I’ll have a lot on my plate, especially in the next few weeks, so if you don’t hear from me, I’m not ignoring you, just a little overwhelmed.

What about you? What project are you currently working on? What’s on your summer reading list?

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