Cease worrying when you can and write about what you know

We are all human, analog creatures, never completely this or that, and we all slide in and out our of better selves as we make our path in this world.

Every so often I write something I like. I reread it and think I’m not sure where that came from but that’s profound. Then it passes, of course, and I go on writing normal stuff.

I had that experience when the lead sentence here showed up while I recently wrote a post about world peace for my qigong instructor and friend at Flowing Zen. None of us are completely this or that, and it’s worth remembering in our current heated political climate. It’s also worth remembering as we each reach inward, embracing ourselves for what we are.

What I am is a worrier, among other things, and I know in my heart that it is tied to my story-telling abilities. If you want a mind that makes up exciting scenarios from everyday events, well then, you get a mind that sees exploding cars, intricate scams and paranoid plots around every corner.

But there are limits to how much worrying a healthy person can do, and, to be honest, recent events in the international arena have catapulted my concerns to an unhealthy level. That’s where coping mechanisms come in.

Last November, I developed a new habit to calm my mind. I already do qigong, which is wonderful for creating calm, and I do a good bit of yoga as well. Gardening helps also. But sometimes I’m sitting at my computer and I read something disturbing and I need a quick reboot without leaving my seat. Sort of an “instant calm.”

And that’s when I play solitaire. I go to the World of Solitaire site, zip through a two minute game while breathing deeply, and somehow I’ve trained myself to emerge calmer. I don’t know why it works, but for me it does.

“Where do you the get the ideas for what happens in your stories?” It is a question I get asked. Okay, I do get many ideas from the things I worry about happening. But every once in awhile, I am able to get one from something that kept me from worrying, like in the scene below.

I got a real kick out of how my psychic hero Ariel finally sorted out a particularly complicated set of future probabilities. I hope you enjoy it too.

She wandered back into the hut she shared with Teddie and Vanida, and sat the kitchen table. She was trying to save the last bit of battery on her phone and her computer, so she aimlessly dealt out a hand of solitaire from a deck of cards that had been provided. She had played the game years ago on a computer, which made it more fun because it was easy for the player to redo moves.

But this would work to relax her. She started the game, doing the obvious first then moving on. Okay, now put the red five on the black six. Wait, which red five? They were identical choices. She went down one path. Not so good. Try the other five. Much better. She’d win going that way.

Geez, this game is like my life with premories, she thought. One choice is insignificant and another makes all the difference and you can’t tell the two kinds apart. And, you can’t tell which of your important choices will yield a good outcome for you because it’s not always about good decision making. Sometimes it really is random.

She kept dealing and thinking and replaying and after awhile she wasn’t so much paying attention to the cards as she was in a sort of trance. Teddie was the Two of Clubs and her mom was the Queen of Hearts and for some reason she was the Nine of Spades. The man who ran Reel News was the King of Diamonds, of course, but there were two of them; no, not really, the Jack of Diamonds was pretending to be the King which made no sense.

The worst of it was that the Ten of Clubs was trying to get that Jack to kill Queen of Hearts who could only be saved by the King but he wouldn’t know it and the Jack of Hearts who was Nell could stop the King of Diamonds but only if the Queen of Clubs who was Yuden did some random thing she probably would not do.

Ariel leaned forward and put her head between her knees and took deep breaths until the dizziness subsided. She could do this, use this, to see the arbitrary combinations and how the little things worked together in ways in she’d never understood before.

She dealt again. And again. A different sense of how events tied together began to connect for her as she used the cards to sort out a complex tapestry that would have confused her logical mind.

After awhile Camille came in and lit the gas lamp, saying nothing. A little later Fernando brought her a sandwich. She mumbled thanks but never touched it. She just kept playing.

Not long after Teddie and Vanida tiptoed by her as they went to bed. Sleep came early in a world without electricity. By then, every card had taken on at least one identity or location or time. Some had many of them. It didn’t matter. After a while the confusion subsided and the interrelation of all of them made perfect sense to something deep within her brain.

(Images shown are from the various victory images used at the World of Solitaire website. They add an extra bit of fun to the game.)

(For a companion piece to this post, see Worry about those you love and write about what you know.)

Bulletproof

Every so often one finds a song that they really like the first time they hear it, and they still like it dozens if not hundreds of times later. I’ve got a few of those, and La Roux’s “Bulletproof” is one. So when I was assembling my largely-female-indie-artist playlist for d4, I was delighted when my music expert recommended it.

Why so much love for this song? It’s always hard to say why you like something. I’m a “words” person when it comes to music, and the lyrics are just so clever. You’ve met this guy. You know this lady. You’ve seen the dynamics. But it’s more than that. The very concept of being bulletproof appeals to something deep within. It doesn’t just mean being immune to his manipulations. It also means not being afraid of icy ski slopes or catty store clerks or traveling alone. The lyrics speak to me about being stronger; for the next presentation at work, for the next nasty book review, for the next thing that strikes fear into me whatever it is.

Yet it is more than the lyrics. The infectious beat and sing along melody is part of what make it all work for me. I found this video from a live performance at the Isle Of Wight Festival in 2010 and it captures every bit of that. I can hardly keep from waving my arms along with the crowd while I watch.

No, I can’t explain why I like this song so much. But I hope you enjoy it too, as well as the short excerpt from d4 showing how I mentioned the song in my book.

She decided to take Friday off work, and Eoin did not object.

“Any special plans?” he asked.

“No. Just preparing,” she said. He didn’t ask for more.

The day turned out to be one of those unusual winter days when the sky is bright blue and the temperature climbs into the sixties. Ariel smiled at her good fortune as she took the little car the company leased for her and headed north out of Dublin, planning to drive for as long as it sounded good, and then to stop and do yoga somewhere along the shore.

Ireland doesn’t have much in the way of sandy beaches. Much of the coast is ancient granite and volcanic remains, and much of its rocky core is old limestone, formed from the remains of tiny sea creatures that led happy lives nearly half a billion years ago, back when Ireland was located near the equator and no mammal had yet set foot on the Earth. Ariel reached for her music, and spent a minute picking her song. She decided on “Bulletproof” by La Roux; it was the perfect choice.

 She drove far enough to find a rocky bit of shore that was deserted, spread out her mat, and worked on clearing her mind. The poses came to her in a random sequence, without thought. The table. The cat. The bow. The plough.

Her goal was to calm down, and gather her strength. To make herself as bulletproof as possible.

Downward dog into a cobra into a sun salute and repeat it again. Warrior poses. Low warrior. Warrior two. Warrior three. She had skills, she had advantages, and she had back-up. She finished her routine concentrating on balance, holding a strong tree pose while she gazed at the far horizon.

She was ready. Now, she needed to go do what needed to be done.

You can also listen to or buy La Roux’s “Bulletproof” at Amazon.

Prepare for the worst?

I’ve always been a believer in “hope for the best and prepare for the worst.” I suspect that is why my monkey mind is staging a quiet revolt today in my yoga class.

The instructor says “be totally present in the now.” This is a common prompt for anything involving meditation, but the problem starts when he takes it one step further and asks us to reflect on what keeps us from doing so.

dream“I know, I know” the eager student in my head clamors.  She likes getting answers right. “I replay scenes from the past, and I concentrate on tasks and I worry about the future.” But another voice in my head speaks up, and it is less anxious to please.

“You don’t just worry,” it says. “You prepare. You plan ahead. Those fantasy scenes you love to invent allow you to try on various scenarios and practice problem solving before it is crucial to your survival.”

“You mean I’m not a day dreamer and chronic worrier?”

“You probably are that too,” my monkey mind concedes.  It tends not to sugar coat things for me. “But if you never let yourself live in the future, you wouldn’t make plans. You’d pay a ton more for airfare, and find every Bed and Breakfast you ever want to stay in is sold out. Admit it, you do more if you plan, and you do it better.” Monkey mind is convincing and I’m thinking maybe this yoga instructor has it all wrong and I should be living more in the future, not less.

evolver 1“So you’re going to turn into one of those crazy survivalists who waste their life and resources stockpiling a cellar to live in in case the word falls apart?” I appear to have grown a second monkey mind, and this one is having none of this focus-on-the-future argument.

“You can prepare without paranoia,” the first monkey shoots back.

“You can plan ahead while still being in the here and now,” the second one retorts.

“You can have this discussion later,” my inner self says firmly. Both monkeys disappear, along with the dreams and worries that matter so much to them. I breath slowly. For just this moment, tomorrow will take care of itself.

My character Ariel has a special relationship with the future, having an innate ability to see the most probable outcomes in front of her. It doesn’t stop her from worrying either, as this excerpt from d4 shows.

“I am glad I met you,” he said. With that he turned and left the little conference room quickly, like he needed to use the restroom badly or had just remembered an important call he had to make. Ariel watched him go in silence, as the remaining board members left still talking among themselves, oblivious to the bit of drama that had just occurred.

There was no question that Baldur had just set off the most unusual premories that Ariel had ever experienced. Ariel considered whether it was because the man would somehow play an important role in her life. Was it possible that he too had her curse? On the other hand, she had been so shook that she might have imagined his response to her. Finding another person with precognitions like her own was incredibly unlikely. Ariel had decided long ago that what she could do had to be very rare, or the world would be so different.

So she needed to get a grip, and do her job and stop worrying about this future stuff. She needed to become far more familiar with exactly what Baldur’s professional needs were and do her best to see that her firm met them. She thought that it would also be a good idea to find a way to avoid touching him ever again.

(As for what my monkey mind had to say about focusing on the past — see my post Bring back the good old days? on my z2 blog. For thoughts about my never ending focus on performing tasks — see my post Frittering life away? on my c3 blog. And find out what my yoga instructor thought the problem was at Are you performing, or performing? on my y1 blog.)

Putting your mother’s fears to good use

Ariel is in her mid-twenties and is adept at yoga. I’ve practiced a much simpler version most of my life, and only recently begun to explore the art more. I’m now taking classes, learning to breathe better, to chant, to try harder positions, and to be open to the unexpected.

There was such a surprise on Friday. “We’re going to go back to when you were in the womb.”

“We’re going to what?”

Apparently I was attending a class for a branch of yoga that believes that we inherent issues from our ancestors in general, and from our mother in particular during gestation. In fairness, maybe all branches of yoga believe this, I’m not sure.  Anyway, the goal of today’s session was to heal some of the problems arising from our pre-birth experiences.

“That’s ridiculous,” the cynic in my head says.

“Oh be open,” I reply. “Give this a try.”

As my breathing slows, becoming deeper and more regular, I recognize that I do know quite a lot about my mother’s state of mind when she was carrying me. She was afraid, very afraid that she would lose me. She’d had two miscarriages already, and she and my dad had begun talking about adoption.

I feel her fear. I breathe. I tell her it’s going to be okay, I will be her first child.

zig ziggler 2But wait. She’s scared about more. She’s scared that I will be born, and will change her life in ways that do not entice her. She’s never particularly liked babies, and she feels bad about this. She has a job she loves, directing the content at the local radio station.  She’s good at it too, and obviously will be quitting soon. Some guy not half as capable as her will take over, and get to do all day what she loves.

She adores my dad and their dates, she loves to dress up and fix her hair to look like Liz Taylor and go out to dinner and have “highballs”. She likes trying to be glamorous, she’s driven to have a lifelong love affair with my father. A baby is not going to make that any easier.

Oddly enough, I am not at all bothered by her ambivalence at my arrival.  It makes sense to me. When I had my own children, I was conflicted about work and child-raising, but I had choices.  She has none and it seems a shame. I understand why a part of her dreads my birth. I want to tell her that much of it will be okay.  She will come to love me, she will do a reasonably good job of raising me, and decades later we will be friends. She’ll never get back her career, but she will keep my dad’s love and do many other interesting things.

I tell her that I think she should let go of the guilt about the way she feels. Unfortunately, I also know that wrapped in that guilt is another layer of fear. She is afraid that her lack of enthusiasm is somehow causing the miscarriages. She is driven to please my father, and having children is very important to him. If she loses me, she strikes out for that magical third time. She will be deemed not capable of producing his child, as they move on to adoption. The adoption will really be for him, because she is even less excited about the prospect of raising the child of another woman than she is about raising her own. But she will do it, for him, even though she is afraid that she will do it poorly and that he will think less of her because of her failures.  So much fear, so much worry.

“It’s really going to be okay,” I tell her. “You’ll have a second daughter eighteen months later.” I know that problems in that pregnancy will convince her not to try for more, but my father will adore his two children and be content. Raised in a highly patriarchal rural culture, he will insist that he has the perfect family and he will instill confidence in his two daughters and give them every opportunity. I will benefit greatly.

“See? It’s all going to be okay,” I assure my pregnant mother.

“You never lose the emotions that overwhelmed your mother while she was carrying you,” the instructor says. “But you can learn to work with them, and mitigate them.”

Seriously? Okay, maybe I am a little inclined to worry. I do fret a bit about all the possibilities. In fact, when I wrote about Ariel’s premories and how the futures she sees the near fringes of probability cause her distress, I was thinking about my own tendencies to imagine less than likely possibilities and get concerned about them. “You know, a tornado could come through and blow that thing over.” That sort of thing.

Good grief.  Am I life long worrier because of my poor mom? That seems a very unfair thing to lay at her feet.

True voice 7Of course, all that worrying about the outliers is where my stories originate. Every plot, and every plot twist, comes from the same part of me that frets about finding a bear in the woods. The instructor has moved on and in fact the entire class is moving into the restful meditative savasana pose that finishes each class.

I know that I am now supposed to clear my mind. Let my thoughts turn into wisps of clouds that move on in a bright blue sky. But I have one thing I need to say first.

“Mom. Just in case this guy is right and you’re the source of these crazy worry stories that fill my head and my life and my books, I just want you to know that I’m putting all those fears of yours to really good use. So thank you.”

That’s it. On to wisps of clouds and blue sky and total relaxation.