Grrrratitude

2019 has been a peculiar year. It’s felt both static and rushed. I’ve been pulled in all directions while being completely stuck. I am hopeful yet perpetually flipping the Universe the bird.

My intention for 2019 was to rest and refocus, allowing creativity to flow to other endeavors. To a degree, I’ve achieved that. I’m proud of what the L.A.L.A. Society is becoming and where next year will take it. Meeting so many extraordinary local authors, new writers and fabulous booklovers has been energizing. My super secret app really needs to happen fast, as the wave I felt coming in that arena is hitting others along the same lines, which is fantastic and totally pressurizing. Novel 3 is growing impatient, though. I don’t blame it. I think about it all the time, write down scenes, craft dialogue. It’s all there, but I’m not. To encourage more focus, I signed up for NaNoWriMo (again). Halfway through November and I’m only a couple hundred new words into it, falling very short (again) of the 50,000 I’m meant to write before month’s end. It shouldn’t be that hard. All I need is the time to sit still and a little room to breathe.

I am finding my breath, though. Four days a week, I breathe, sweat and flow. Eighty-five classes in and I can fly my crow, rock my bow and Chaturanga all day (or at least the one-hour class). I’m even attempting to run again, which is sort of a big deal for this asthmatic. Sometimes, you need to push yourself to remind what you’re truly capable of doing.

Like I haven’t had chocolate or caffeine since July. But I have had whiskey, tequila and French fries. It’s all about balance, my friends. I’m making this self-care thing a thing. Permanent style. The fact that I can now discern what it is to feel tired instead of dead fatigued is epic. [Pro Tip: If you feel like crap, it really is what you eat, no matter how healthy you think you’ve been. Like cooking-every-meal-from-truly-fresh-organic-plastic-free-ingredients-and-removing-all-dairy-eggs-grains-and-nightshades-from-the-menu-level healthy. It’s a lot, but totally worth it.]

What it comes down to is making choices. Sometimes we forget we have that ability. Or worse, we go about making them absentmindedly. I’m becoming much more choosy about mine.

This year, I’ve made new friendships, shed some, too, and deepened others. I’m (still) comfortable speaking my mind, even if it makes others uneasy. I don’t feel the need to apologize for being right or being in charge. I also don’t have a problem saying “I’m sorry” or admitting when I’m wrong. I won’t make myself smaller to make someone else feel secure. There’s no need to ring-lead a circus that isn’t mine. It’s possible to be kind and compassionate without being co-dependent. Honesty is everything. But, if you’re going to dish it, you’d better enjoy taking it.

What’s easy to forget is that all of this cultivation and caring for “self” isn’t egocentric indulgent; it’s nourishing the inner artist. That might sound like a load of crap, but what do you think fertilizer is? One thing that has flourished in 2019 is my sense of gratitude. Sure, there’s a hint of frustration mixed in (hence the grrrr), but I am able to find my center and hold my ground when so much is shifting. I am able to embrace what is unfolding, even when it’s not going to plan. (I am über grateful when something actually does go to plan!) Writers know that achieving one’s goals is rarely (if ever) a linear path. So, as it winds and twists and curls, it’s important to be present. That’s when we need to take in a deep breath and say, “Thank you.” Especially, to yourself.

 

 

Author, Deal with Thyself

I don’t think writers are particularly good at self-care. I don’t mean that in any sort of Oprah, granola-type way; I mean it at a fairly basic level. Adequate sleep. Basic nutrition. Occasional exercise. Returning emails or texts.

Introverts by nature (even if we’re good at faking otherwise), we stay in and up late, getting minimal sleep and maximal stress from day jobs or deadlines or both. There are dependency issues (doomed relationships, Postmates), over-indulgences (of alcohol or ego), tedious addictions (to substances, social media or praise). We subsist on caffeine, carbs, sugar and scotch. Whatever takes the least amount of effort to collect and ingest. This is not because we are lazy, per se; it’s because we are utterly drained from creating people and places and things, all day every day. We don’t have any energy left for ourselves. Even if we did, we’d find something better to do than shop, cook or tidy. We’d force ourselves to be social or binge Netflix. But, if we’re being honest, we’d skip all of that and just go back to whatever draft we’re working on or set off on a new idea. We grow paler and weaker, in more than just a physical sense.

I’ve always been conscious of that work/life/creative balance—the times I’ve been somewhat successful at it, and the times I’ve utterly failed. It’s like that quality triangle given to clients for a reality check: Good/Fast/Cheap—pick two because you can’t have it all. Work (financial stability)/Life (socializing and self-care)/Creative Endeavors: which two do you pick? 

Exactly.

Life falls to the bottom of the list and self-care is the rock it rests upon.

For the past two years, I have utterly sucked at the Life category, so much so that Creative Endeavors suffered as well. The past twelve months have been especially meh. Work is the reason. Financial stability is a nice thing to have, but jobs offering that often come with a fair degree of responsibility and stress. I’ve only recently recognized the level of pressure I was operating under. I know, in this, I am not alone.

At first, you think, “Be patient. It will soon pass, things will get back to normal and so will I.” Then you come to understand it won’t pass; this is the new normal and you’d better figure out how to live in it. The only way to do that is next-level adulting. You can’t bullshit yourself any longer. Hard choices have to be made. Like waking up early and eating your vegetables.

That’s what I’m doing, finally: accepting adulthood. Creative adulthood, that is, which innately has an aspect of Peter Panning. It was time to face the fact that youthful patience needed to shift to mature focus. Whatever we’re waiting for (stress to reduce, life to normalize, dreams to come true) can no longer be the central point(s). Only what we are in direct control of matters. Which actions we take, how we divide our time and energy, the projects we prioritize, the relationships we tend—including the one with ourselves—are the primary concerns. Everything else has to take its place in line.

Knowing this full-on adult thing would be no easy feat, I started plotting back in April. I signed up for a new yoga studio then, though it wouldn’t be open until late June. My diet of LPQ gluten-free tartines and Indian take-out of chicken curry and aloo matar, sans rice or naan, would no longer do (I haven’t had the energy to shop let alone cook). At the tail end of 2017, I’d purchased The Autoimmune Solution (because EBV, asthma, allergies), but wasn’t ready for the culinary commitment/restrictions. (Like I said, this was going to take time.) With my fatigue at an all-time high (or six-feet-under low), I finally opened the book and checked my calendar for a date. August, after travelling and before the holidays, was the perfect time to make that change. Giving up coffee, eggs and chickpeas will be something to mourn (July has been serving as that wake). But, when I look back at when I was my most balanced, it was when I was a six-days-a-week gym rat (easier to do because I worked from home and the economy hadn’t yet crashed) and followed a hybrid diet of low-glycemic and right-for-my-blood-type. I was writing screenplays, started my first novel and was blogging on the reg (back when people did that sort of thing). Granted, financial stability came and went, but there’s something to be said about that level of self-care. I had energy for myself, my loved ones and my creative work. It was a better balance. That whole “put on your own oxygen mask first” way of doing things has something to it. Taking care of yourself takes care of a lot of other stuff, too.

I’m now in my fourth week of 5:30 alarms and 6:30 yoga. Heated practice isn’t my bag and I’ve already dehydrated myself once (because I’m all shades of awesome), so ultra-hydration is also on the list of things to do. Coordinating breakfast afterward without coffee, carbs or eggs is going to be another magic trick to perform before work (but I don’t have to worry about that until August). Getting to bed before midnight (or 1 AM) is something I’m still trying to do. But I am getting a rhythm, making choices, setting priorities, and it’s starting to feel good.

I am still stressed. There are still expectations I’m not meeting, too many projects crying for attention and a third novel giving me the stink eye, but first things first. This summer is about resetting, returning to the person I used to know and the creator I need to be.

 

 

 

Seeing Things

My birthday was this week. One of those major milestone birthdays. So, I decided to take the week off to relax from a busy period at the day job. A grand staycation to focus on Novel 3 (which has been neglected due to a draining work schedule that’s lingered too long). The staycation/celebration started last weekend when a friend arranged for our fearsome foursome to take in some culture at the Marciano Art Foundation.

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The Yayoi Kusama exhibition was delightful. The Glenn Ligon was so powerful, it left the four of us silent. All of the art was evocative and inspirational to the degree that, at one time or another, each of my three friends said, “Heh, I could do that.”

Clenching my BFA, I finally blurted, “Of course you could. But you didn’t. The difficult part is finding the time and courage to actually do it. Then you find out how hard easy is.”

My good friends simply blinked and politely bit their tongues. They know I know how to kill a mood. I also know that kind of comment is the verbal equivalent of someone coughing during an opera. A music teacher explained that phenomena as, “When something is too moving, some need to disturb it without realizing what they are doing or why.”

Art is intense, even when it seems simple. And simplicity can frustrate.

So can writing a damned book.

The irritating thing about this third novel of mine is that I’ve never had something go so slowly, especially when I know the whole story. I see everything that’s going to happen, that needs to happen, from the beginning, through the middle and to the end. All that needs to be done is the doing. Simple, right? But I sit with three chapters completed, another four in fragmented form and an estimated twenty-five to write in total. I’m a far from finished on a book I envisioned more than six years ago. And maybe the problem is that I’m seeing it too clearly.

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Fun fact: I went to film school. That’s what I hold my BFA in. I see my books in a cinematic sense and have to pull myself out of that scriptwriting story style. My process begins with pondering which tales need to be written in novel form, and which want to be screenplays. Or which screenplays are ready to be novels now.

Straddling those two mediums, I see the different ways storytellers are viewed. Authors aren’t considered visionaries — not unless they’re writing fantasy or about other, future worlds. Film directors, however, are often lauded as that, even though they are going off what a writer put down on a page. Rarely is the director the screenwriter as well.

Writers are visionaries, almost by definition, even if we are writing about the mundane. Even if the worlds we create mirror our own. Writers see things in the world (this world, that world or another), people and places and bring them to new life. Yet, if that story or its people are too close to real life, the creativity comes into question.

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I’ve had a friend refer to my first novel as a “memoir.” I’ve had another author make a dismissive dig about the kind of writers who “write themselves.” Both comments make me grin. I’ve admitted that my stories start from something that’s happened to me or a situation I’m introduced to that makes me ask, “How would I handle that?” Which is the reductive way of posing how an unmarried, no-kid woman in Los Angeles would confront those challenges. Would she allow herself to change, or fight it? I write this way because I think there’s a need for that kind of female voice — stories of women who don’t make marriage or children imperatives. That choice does not make my books autobiographical. Not by a longshot.

Taking aspects of oneself or the folks we know to form the amalgam of characters we create is what makes them relatable. Those who strive to write as far away from themselves as possible sometimes end up with characters that are difficult to connect with. A tad less authentic. To some degree, we want to recognize the people we read about, whether we see ourselves in the characters or recognize those we know. It makes me wonder what those writers don’t want to know about themselves. Or what they refrain from sharing.

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As my week off winds to a close and I prepare for the Los Angeles Times’ Festival of Books, I must admit that didn’t write one word in my third novel. Not a single word. It continues to run through my head as it waits to be hatched onto the page. It’s not a writer’s block stopping me, but a creative embarrassment of riches. The week before my vacation, a brilliant idea struck and that has been the priority. I’m in a fortunate place where ideas are bountiful. I’m able to see multiple possibilities. And that fragments my focus.

My life has been shifting since I started writing that third novel. I’m becoming a different writer and, perhaps, a different person. Art changes the artist. I went through a similar thing in film school where I cranked out so much work I didn’t have anything else to give and had to pivot. I went into CalArts with aspirations of being an experimental narrative director and came out a traditional narrative screenwriter. I know that I’m shifting out of the chick lit genre, and this book is a bridge to that, but I’m not sure where that will lead me. Aside from writing, I have other creative projects and goals to achieve. Happily, I see a great deal of potential.

That’s a common problem with visionaries.