Saturday, November 24, 2007

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Pre-Given Thanks...

We often say "thank you" in return for a good deed or a kind word. But why wait? Henry Simoni-Wastila, my minister husband, raised this idea last Sunday before our Unitarian Universalist congregation. He says it much better than I, so here's an excerpt from his sermon:

If you are thankful, you cannot help but feel that you have been blessed, that you have been given something good. We can be expectantly thankful - pre-grateful - having a priori gratitude. Now, logicially, that may not make sense. Logically, we should wait for good things to walk our way and then be thankful afterwards. After all, it's a little rude to be thankful for something you haven't been given yet!

I am suggesting that we be grateful first. But isn't that jumping the gun? Yes. But pre-existing gratitude can be a general philosophical attitude towards existence. Gratitude before the fact can be a religios response to reality as a whole. You don't need to have a specific thing or event to be thankful about.

In psychology, it is said that in trying to be happy, we can start acting happy and then real happiness will start to develop on its own. Sometimes, when I am tired or sad, I just smile. It makes me feel a little better. The Buddha's smile is on a face that has seen it all, and yet can still, while being aware of the impermanent nature of all, still smile. So tune yourself into that Buddha's smile.

This same psychological principle of "acting happy in order to be happy" might apply to a religious pre-positioning of gratitude, If you think of your life as something you should give thanks for, then there may develop in your life things that you will be thankful for.

Pre-Gratitude. Nice. Sort of like "pay it forward". Pre-positioning my gratitude, here are the things I give thanks to:

--My husband, for being himself and always stretching in new ways, and my children for evolving into the fascinating individuals they will become

--My parents, for sharing their truths so I can understand mine

--My sister, for sharing her joys and fears

--My fellow writers - Chrys, Jimmy, Deborah, Kim, Marg, Steve - for sharing their lives and their stories and their successes. Their generosity knows no bounds...

--The friends I have now, and the ones I have not yet met.

--My mentors, they are so numerous, I am so blessed...

--My mind, for not failing me and leading me on wondrous journeys

--Each morning, for it signals a new day, a new adventure - and isn't that what life is all about?

EVENT!!!!!!! If you're in the vicinity of the Big Apple this weekend, check out THE BEST MEMOIRISTS PAGEANT EVER. Both published and deserve-to-be-published writers will be reading their memoirs at the The Bowery Poetry Club. My personal fave is my writing buddy and friend Chrys Buckley. We finally met this week, but that's the subject for a future blog. She's a brave, lovely, sweet young woman who wields a fiery pen and a powerful voice. Catch her reading from MOONCHILD this Saturday, 24 November 1 2007 at 3:00 pm. The Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery, NYC.

For what are you grateful now and in your future? Peace, Linda

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Better Living Through Chemistry?

Your Brain on Happiness

As a society, we're into quick fixes. And when it comes to health, those quick fixes usually come in compact form. Very compact - Americans consume more prescribed (and over-the-counter) drugs per capita than do citizens of any other nation.

There are many reasons for this medication of the masses: wide availability, considerable choice, and a medical-based model of health firmly built on capitalistic legs. This nation also is one of the few developed nations which doesn’t operate a national formulary, or list of approved medications. Indeed, US docs choosing pills for their patients’ ailments run the same baffling and overwhelming confusion Russian émigrés encounter when shopping for cereal at the grocery store: too much stuff. But we are a capitalistic people and we like our meds - and we like them new and shiny and expensive. Medical bling.

But I can't help thinking... maybe we're so into synthetic panaceas because of an ennui unique to American culture. The fact that Americans also drive global demand for illicit drugs - marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens - further supports my niggling suspicion that something’s not quite right in the land of the free and brave.

Maybe it’s the pace (we work more hours per week than the Japanese now) or the push to always be on top ‘o the heap. To succeed in that awfully narrow way that only our culture defines success: money, power, title, a sweet car, flat stomach, and sexual prowess in bed. The expectation of endless happiness and worry-free living coupled with the imperative to banish sadness, anger, and all those other ‘negative’ emotions because they drain our productivity, self-esteem, and even our youth (yes, anxiety does cause wrinkles) drives us, well, crazy.

Better living is just a pill away.

Perhaps. This week, the New York Times reported on two independent studies with the potential to thoroughly redefine the way we consider and treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other behavioral conditions. One study imaged the brains of over 200 children with and without ADHD for ten years and found ADHD kids had an average 3-1/2 year delay in the development of the brain areas responsible for focus and control. In other words, ADHD children do NOT have a flaw or defect in their grey matter; merely, a delay. The second study, epidemiological in nature, found children with ‘behavioral problems’ in their early elementary years performed as well as ‘normal’ children by the fifth grade.

Maybe these studies are the beginning of evidence that might slow down the Medication Express. Maybe. But somehow, I doubt it because it’s just so much easier to take Ritalin twice a day then to deal with rambunctious children for 3 years while waiting for their brains to catch up…

Writing Notes: Today I started marketing BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT. Yep. Sent to a few agents I met at conferences who requested the first three chapters. They’re perfect. As perfect as they’re going to get this year. Putting them into their fedex envelopes felt good. And scary as hell. Halloween may be over, but the mailbox will be my boogeyman for the next few weeks - and likely not my friend. But it’s time to clear the plate, get ready for PURE, which I’ve been dreaming about, an excellent sign I’m ready to move on to another two-year novel writing binge. Here’s a snippet:

Later, much later, after the shock began to wear off, people asked, “Where were you when it happened?” I remember exactly where I was at that precise moment - doesn't everyone? Tuesday was the one day of the week I didn’t have to rush out early to lecture the spoiled undergrad minions or schlep glassware and slides for Tien's lab, so that particular morning found me in the kitchen with a mug of coffee uncharacteristically lazy and happy due to my earlier twelve mile run. “One of the ten best days of the year,” the weatherman promised as my feet swept my willing body along the Charles River, the dawn cracking into a perfect cerulean canvas. But later, alone in my apartment, for some reason I felt an urge to turn on the television, which I rarely do because it's mindless, loud, and I’m too damn busy. So it was a total fluke I flipped on the tube and watched the north tower flame into smoking clouds. And as it telescoped into itself, collapsing into dusty, horrifying rubble, I vaguely wondered if my father was in Japan…

Peace, and happy writing... Linda

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Brainstorming, Barnstorming, and Breaking through the Block

Writer's Block. Like carpal tunnel, another malady of those who make their living with the pen, but worse; a severe constipation of the brain. There are times when the page stares blankly at me, mocking me. But usually my block is more along the lines of I know what I want to say - I can see and hear the entire scene in my head - but I can't find the words to describe it. That sort of resistance is easy to fix: exercise the right brain with rock-and-roll or a sweeping symphony, go for a run through crunchy, ochre-colored leaves, peruse the local Mona Lisas hanging in galleries, or pull out the watercolors and just do it. Myself, I withdraw to making tiny glass beads, little universes of Murano glass twisted and twirled in the heat of my torch, interspersed with slivers and gobs of silver wire and leaf.

But what happens when the ideas simply do not generate? When you, the writer, face a well sucked dried from a drought of inspiration? Brainstorming is one approach. The idea behind the concept is to generate ideas in an environment of suspended judgement. in other words, the right brain pontificates without that left interrupting. In a group situation, the ground rules for brainstorming are simple:

1/ avoid criticizing ideas.
2/ the more the merrier - the emphasis is on quantity, not necessarily quality (sort of like NANOWRIMO, now in full swing).
3/ be free-wheeling. No censoring here, simply spout.
4/ listen to other ideas and jump on their band-wagon.
5/ avoid any discussion of ideas or questions.

Now brainstorming is a Jim-dandy approach for folks who work in groups, but we writers are often a solitary, curmudgeonly bunch. We work... alone. So how to generate ideas whilst sitting holed up in our unheated cabins in the furthest reaches of rural-dom?

My friend Jimmy reminded me of the OBLIQUE STRATEGIES card deck created by Brian Eno, musician and producer extraordinaire, and his friend and collaborator, painter Peter Schmidt. Back in my college days, Dave, a fabu guitar player, turned me on to all things Eno, including introducing me to his OS deck, which he himself used to generate song lyrics. Eno and Schmidt intended the cards to help them get into the creative ways of thinking that they found increasingly difficult to attain. In other words, Oblique Strategies helps to jog the mind to new thoughts and ideas. Voila - creativity!

So what's in a deck? Depends upon what edition - there are five of them. And the format; the 'hard' decks contain words, phrases, and questions, and some editions were illustrated. There are on-line versions as well, using the same texts created by Eno and Schmidt but featuring art by others. The first OS said "Honor thy error as a hidden intention" (What a great philosophy). Other sayings:

State the problem in words as clearly as possible

Try faking it

What to increase? what to reduce?

Only one element of each kind

To get your creative juices flowing, head over to Brain Eno's random OS generator (and check out the very cool site, too).

And Elizabeth Friedman has figured out how to generate random haiku based on OS cards (but this is cheating the creative process, no?)

In other words, a provocative writing prompt. And fun.

How do you generate ideas for your writing and other artistic endeavors?

Hope this keeps your mind in the flow... Peace, Linda

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Leftbrainwrite added to Project 20/20 Build My Blogroll

And what is PROJECT 20/20? It's the way Maria Schneider, editor of WRITER'S DIGEST, spreads her cyberlove in her blog The Writer's Perspective. Since September, her goal is to add 20 blogs (on writing, of course) to her blogroll. And this baby made it on week 12. I am honored and privileged to share blogroll space with writing and blogging luminaries such as Georganna Hancock's A Writer's Edge, Writer Mama, and JA Konrath's A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, among others. Check 'em out, some great stuff in these blogs.

So thank you, dear readers, for reading LEFTBRAINWRITE. Knowing you drop in every now and then to see what latest musings have kept me up into the wee hours of the morn are my biggest inspiration for writing another post. Knowing you care gives me more jolt than a triple espresso. And it's nice to know I'm not simply venting into some void.

So blog on and pay it forward - cyberlove... Peace, Linda