Right Now

Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” Confucius

Today, right now, in this moment, we have everything we need inside us to create the work we long to create. Some words of wisdom of the power of the present:

“Tomorrow is tomorrow. Future cares have future cures, and we must mind today.” Sophocles

“I mean to eliminate all wasted, deadness, superfluity: To give the moment whole: whatever it includes.” Virginia Woolf

“We carry within us the wonders we seek without us.” Thomas Browne

“Let go of your mind and then be mindful. Close your ears and listen!” Rumi

“To see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour.” William Blake

“Let’s not look back in anger, or forward in fear, but around in awareness.” James Thurber

“Never lose the child-like wonder. It’s just too important. It’s what drives us.” Randy Pausch

“Be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the breaking of bread.” James Baldwin

“Stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.” Leo Tolstoy

“A moment’s insight is sometimes worth a life’s experience.” Oliver Wendell Holmes

“When the path reveals itself, follow it.” Cheryl Strayed

“Be here now.” Ram Dass

And now, energized and emboldened, let’s all write on!

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Personal Independence

Just as July 4th ended, the idea to create my own Declaration of Independence as a writer occurred to me, so I’m going to declare July 5 as my own personal Independence Day. As a source of inspiration, the July 4, 1776 version is unbeatable: bold, forthright words, which sparked a revolution and changed the world:

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.“

Quoting this statement, I was struck by the phrase “unalienable Rights.” “Unalienable” means “incapable of being surrendered or transferred,” “non-negotiable,” and “sacrosanct.” “Sacrosanct” means sacred,” “respected,” “untouchable.”

What sacred, untouchable rights do I want to endow myself with as a writer on my personal Independence Day ? Let’s start with these:

I endow myself with the right to believe in my work and its intrinsic value.

I endow myself with the right to honor and nurture my desire to devote the
time needed to pursue my craft and push my writing to the next level.

I endow myself with the right to put my creative writing center stage and to
do whatever it takes to create forward motion each day.

I endow myself with the right to pursue any ideas, tools, training, and experience
that will help me improve my craft.

I endow myself with the right to see myself as part of a long and joyful tradition of
storytellers and myth makers who enrich the world through words.

Well that’s what I came up with. How about you?

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Peaceful Fourth

In honor of Independence Day, wisdom from our Founding Fathers:

“The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil Constitution, are worth defending at all hazards; and it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as a fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors: they purchased them for us with toil and danger and expense of treasure and blood, and transmitted them to us with care and diligence. It will bring an everlasting mark of infamy on the present generation, enlightened as it is, if we should suffer them to be wrested from us by violence without a struggle, or to be cheated out of them by the artifices of false and designing men.”   Samuel Adams

“Citizens by birth or by choice of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name AMERICAN, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same Religion, Manners, Habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together. The independence and Liberty you possess are the work of joint councils and joint efforts — of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.”   George Washington’s Farewell Address

“This will be the best security for maintaining our liberties. A nation of well-informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the religion of ignorance that tyranny begins.”   BenjaminFranklin

“Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.”   John Adams

“A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor and bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.”

“The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all.”

“I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”

“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” Thomas Jefferson

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Joyce Rejoices!

Every life is in many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love, but always meeting ourselves.” James Joyce

Somewhere, in the great library in the sky, a celestial bookstore, or floating over the streets of Dublin, James Joyce is having a heady time of it. Not just because of Bloomsday, the recent June 16th global celebration of his legendary novel, Ulysses, but because there’s a new novel out called The Last Words of James Joyce by James Broderick.

I was lucky enough to attend its book launch at my beloved community bookstore, Watchung Booksellers. What a joy to be sitting once again in a real bookstore among real book lovers listening to a real-live author! Here’s a simple recipe for a delightful evening:

An enthusiastic writer: James Broderick loves to write, he loves talking about books, and he loves teaching literature. And he especially loves the works of James Joyce, which he once heard described as a mountain you can tunnel through, get lost in, but never really climb. And like all novelists, he loves sharing fascinating untold stories.

An intriguing plot premise: No spoiler alert here! I’ve just begun The Last Words of James Joyce and look forward to really diving into it. Part mystery, part thriller, the novel has a wild assortment of characters connected by a frantic “treasure hunt” for a lost Joyce manuscript. Center stage is Lucia Joyce, James Joyce’s brilliant daughter, whose troubled, tragic story Broderick wanted to tell.

An appreciative audience: With a lively conversation between Broderick and fellow writer Bruce Benway, setting the stage, a lively Q&A followed. Someone asked what book would be the best portal into Joyce’s world—The Dubliners was the clear winner.

An enthusiastic author! A tantalizing new book! A bookstore! Devoted readers! What more do we need? Bravo, James Broderick.—write on!

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“Define Yourself”

Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.” Harvey Fierstein

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” Oscar Wilde

Nature never repeats herself, and the possibilities of one human soul will never be found in another.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Sometimes we forget just how special each of us—we all are. there’s no one who’s lived our lives, had our experiences, felt our pain and joy, and pushed on from day to day. And no one who can write the way we do. Whatever it is we feel called to say, it is unique to us.

When I was young and green, I had a wise friend. We were opposite personalities in many ways, but I learned a lot from her. One day I told her I was hesitating to put my work out, to share it, because I was afraid someone might take my ideas. Without skipping a beat, she said, “If you hold everything too close to you, it will wither on the vine. No one can steal your mind.”

Her message rang out loud and clear: Get out there and say what you have to say—no one can say it the way you can. What a gift her words were and how often I’ve thought of them!

So let’s not let accept anyone else’s definition of who we are!

Let’s define ourselves!

We define ourself when we say what we have to say clearly and boldly.

We define ourself when we refuse to let other people’s opinions or judgments about our work get in our way.

We define ourself when we believe in our work and its value.

We define ourself when we see that we can change and grow, and improve or craft through trial and error.

My inspiring friend and mentor Dr. Rob Gilbert often says, “Anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but no one can count the apples in a seed.” How true this is! No one, not even ourselves, knows our full potential. So why accept anyone else’s definition of who we are and what we’re capable of? Write on!

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Brain Boosters

Exercising your brain through complex thinking is the most fruitful way to build brainpower, “your mind can’t thrive on thoughts alone,” notes the Center for Brain Health. Here are four simple steps we can all take to boost our brain’s capacity to create:

Eat well:  “What’s good for the heart is good for the head. A Mediterranean diet — more olive oil, vegetables, fruit and fish — is generally the best diet for brain health.”

Sleep well:  “Get 7-8 hours per night. Sleep is one of the best remedies for improving brain health. A good night’s sleep cleans out toxins in your brain, let’s your brain process information and emotions from the day before and sets the stage for a mentally productive day. Your brain makes neural connections as you sleep.”

Move more:  “Exercise for at least one hour a day, three times per week. Recently published research shows that aerobic exercise stimulates positive brain change and memory gains than previously thought possible. Adding regular aerobic exercise that elevates your heart rate will increase blood flow to key memory centers in the brain and improve fact retention. When you combine complex thinking with aerobic exercise, brain benefits are amplified.”

Stay connected and engaged:  “Establishing important social ties is a key aspect to remaining mentally vibrant. Your mind hates status quo, so having relationships that build on your current interests or encourage you to discover new things are very beneficial to moving your brain forward. Finding like-minded friends can help you explore interests for which you share a passion. Finding friends who have different interests and opinions are also great brain boosters. They will continually challenge you to attain new perspectives and get out of routine thinking and behavior.”

A simple strategy: eat well, sleep well, keep moving, and keep engaged and growing. We can do this! How wonderful that we writers love to build our tribes: By sharing our passions with others through kindred spirits in communities like the Write Group and “The Rejection Club,” and in critique groups and workshops, we can find not only joy but brain-boosting stimulation. A win-win in every way. Write on!

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Failure Frees

Fail seven times, stand up eight.” Japanese proverb

An inspiring story from Puppies for Sale by Dan Clark:

“Did you ever fall flat on your face as a total failure? One lousy lawyer did.

“He came from a wealthy family and was the pride of his parents. He had everything advantage: the best schools, a law degree, and an introduction to important people.

“But he had to prove himself a capable lawyer—without the help and influence of his father and his social standing. In the courtroom he presented a terrible image. He was too frightened to stand up to the opposition and was easily overwhelmed.

“As he reached into his lowest, most wretched level of suffering, he realized there were people worse of than himself. He began to consider how he could help.

“He never did become a prominent lawyer. Instead, he developed his own philosophy, which led his native country of India to independence from British rule. His name was Mahatma Gandhi.”

What an inspiring story! It reminds us that failure isn’t permanent and that often it holds within it the seeds of opportunity. Failure can knock us flat or it can free us to take a new path, as Gandhi did—or to find a better way to accomplish what we’ve set out to do. So let’s not fear failure! Instead, let’s mine it for the gold it has to give us: The gold of renewed purpose. The gold of igniting our ingenuity and pushing us to work harder and smarter. The gold of spurring us to make a course correction and get back on track.

Some day soon, we’re going to fail at something we set out to do—maybe some of you are coping a failure right now. If so, then, take heart! Just as Gandhi found inspiration in his lowest moments, so we can do the same. We can see failure as feedback, as a stepping stone to something bigger, brighter, and better. Write on!

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Something Wonderful

Night

Over the drowsy earth still night prevails;
Calm sleep the mountain tops and
  shady vales,
The rugged cliffs and hollow glens,
The cattle on the hill. Deep in the sea
The countless finny race and monster
  brood
Tranquil repose. Even the busy bee
Forgets her daily toil. The silent wood,
No more with noisy hum of insects,
  rings;
And all the feathered tribes, by gentle
  sleep subdued,
Roost in the glade, and hang their
  drooping wings.

                     – Alcman, circa 650 B.C.

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Courage Counts

The secret to happiness is freedom, and the secret to freedom is courage.” Thucydides

“Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees the others.”   Aristotle

Those ancient Greeks knew a thing or two about courage, didn’t they? Its root comes from the word “heart,” which says it all, doesn’t it? Here’s one definition of courage I read in an article called “Some Thoughts on Courage” by the author Barry Farber: “It means the the quality of the spirit that enables one to face danger or difficulty instead of withdrawing from it.”

We often tend to think of courage as a quality we’re born with – we either have it or we don’t – or we have less while other, more fortunate, people have more. But Barry Farber takes a different view: “There is a deep core-based sense of courage and confidence that is not something we are born with. It comes from having tried and failed and risen to try again. It comes from experience, from having confronted one’s fears.” Or, as Ruth Gordon once said “Courage is very important. Like a muscle, it is strengthened by use.”

There’s something so encouraging about this view, isn’t it? Courage isn’t the absence of fear – it’s our ability to act in spite of our fears. As Barry puts it, “Courage and fear are inevitably intertwined. We become courageous when we have faith and we take action.“

Courage shines through in extreme situations, like saving someone’s life, but we all show courage in our day to day life as well. When we struggle to overcome obstacles and press on, despite a difficulty, we’re showing courage. And the more often we do this, the stronger and more courageous we grow. As writers, we show courage in many ways:

When we decide that we have something worth writing and confront the page.

When we make the decision to create characters and worlds out of wispy ideas.

When we decide after revising and polishing, that our work is finished – it’s complete.

When we make the decision to share our writing and put it out into the world.

When we bounce back after rejections from the publishing world and press on.

All these actions take courage. We are brave and our pens are mighty! Write on!

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Quiet Days

Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.” Lorraine Hansberry

I love this bit of writerly wisdom. It reminds me that sometimes it’s enough just to think and be. So often, I’m focused on doing, accomplishing, getting things done, and moving forward, wherever that is, that I forget, it’s also important to sit and think.

Right now, things are quiet on the writing front. I’ve done all I can on one project and another isn’t going to happen for a while. So I’m in limbo. I’m having a series of quiet days.

Quiet days. Frankly, they’re making me a tad angsty. I feel I should be working away at something. When I do, I feel anchored and focused. Right now, I’m feeling unmoored, as if I’m drifting. Do you know that feeling? Like you are waiting for something to happen, but you are not sure what? Like you might just keep on drifting along and never be busy and productive again?

When I get this way, I remember a time when I was struggling with a play I was working on. It just wasn’t going anywhere. I was frustrated and upset with myself. I had other work that was moving ahead, but this project was stalled. Finally, I came up with a little plan. I decided that I’d sit with the play every Monday for an hour and see what happened. Just show up—that was my idea.

And that’s what I did. I just sat at my desk. I waited. I listened. I was quiet. I didn’t pressure myself to write. I just showed up. And one day, a whole scene dropped into my head. Something fresh and new—a gift from the universe. From that moment, I moved ahead again.

I’ve always felt that scene came to me, not just because I showed up, ready to work, but because I was willing to “sit a while and think”—to wait quietly. I showed my commitment, but also my calm. I was willing to be still, to receive and accept.

Sometimes we experience these slow periods. Like me, you may be in one right now. It can be scary—or freeing. We can remember that sometimes fields are allowed to lie fallow. They’re plowed, but left unseeded—they’re allowed to be inactive, so they can rest and replenish their strength. They’re given the gift of quiet days.

Quiet days aren’t quit days! If you’ve hit them, take heart (that’s you, too, Karin). We’re not giving up. We’re just resting and replenishing, watching and waiting. And soon, we’ll hit our stride again and write on!

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