Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Cell Phone Soup

Our daughter moved into her university apartment over the weekend. The place looks like a resort. Never mind that her dad and I would gladly trade places with her. The complex has a swimming pool and a Jacuzzi; basketball courts; and tree-lined, brick streets. The unit has two bright bedrooms with adjoining bathrooms; a living room; and a small, uncluttered kitchen. Sorry, I said never mind, didn't I? Forgot.

Last year, our daughter was not at all pleased with the cafeteria meals in the dorm. This year, she is determined that things will be different. She has a plan: She is going to cook for herself, even though all she can remember making in her 19 years are two batches of brownies from mix.

We bought her a Crock-Pot and a food processor. Like her mother, she's a vegetarian. Yesterday was her first cooking adventure, lentil soup, and I got to participate over the phone. It started with this:

"OK, I'm in the store. What should I buy?"
"Onion, garlic, celery--"
"Wait! Hold it. I'll call you back after I find the celery."

Somewhere in the middle of the tutorial was this:

"I can't close the food processor."
"The slicing part of the blade is supposed to be at the top with the stem down. Like an umbrella. Is that how you have it?"
"Oh. Whoops. OK, got it."

At the end of the day, scores of calls later, we had this exchange:

"How was the soup?"
"Kind of dry."
"So you added more water?"
"Oh. No. But it tasted good. I was pretty impressed with myself."

With a cell phone and a Crock-Pot, this independence thing is a snap.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Intuition Practice

I have been reading The Complete Idiot's Guide to Psychic Awareness by Lynn A. Robinson and Katherine A. Gleason. Right after I bought this book, a couple of years ago, I decided it was way too basic, so I didn't really read much of it. (I am not a complete idiot, after all, maybe just a partial one.) But all of a sudden this week, I decided that this was the book I needed right now. It is pretty basic, but it has a LOT of good practice exercises. So I've been predicting what the main picture on the New York Times web site home page will be, whether the stock market will be up or down, and what my friends will say before I talk to them.

The way intuition practice helps my writing is that it allows me to be comfortable with not knowing the right answer but choosing something anyway. And it helps me to learn to "feel" what's happening before I can see it. Intuition and creativity are closely related in my mind, so it's good for me to practice both every day.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Up Side of Falling Down

One more post on this topic, and then I'm done (I think).

Not only was there a profound message in the experience, but also actual good things happened because I fell on my face. Here they are.

1. Due to dental issues, I can't chew; I am losing weight! Woohoo!
2. People have been so nice to me! Take my husband, for instance. All last week, he shopped, he cooked, and he called multiple times from work to find out if I was OK! (I was.)
3. I got presents. My two-houses-down neighbor Julie, who only has to wait until Sunday, and then she is leaving home for UCLA, has brought me homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies TWICE. (I can't chew them, but we all know there are ways around that.) My next-door-neighbor Sumita brought over some really yummy Indian red lentils.
4. Bad experiences make great fiction. I'll use this somewhere.

Even taking the up side into account, it was a rough week. So it was a real treat for me to speak to a wonderful book group yesterday about The Answer Is Yes. (If I had a picture of them, I'd post it, but they were in Maryland, and I was in San Diego.) Whenever I talk to a group like this--smart, funny women, who truly get my books--it makes all the headaches of writing worth it. I was encouraged, touched, and grateful! Thanks for inviting me, Lisa!

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Cosmic Meaning of Falling on My Face

I'd like you to meet Dr. Ellen Miyashiro. We started seeing her when we moved to San Diego in 1990. Lately, Dr. Miyashiro and I have been spending more time together. Today, for example, we hung out all morning, even though she doesn't normally work on Fridays. She came in specially for me. Dr. Miyashiro is exactly the kind of dentist you want to have following an arse-over-teakettle adventure. Here, she's standing next to Jessie, her intrepid assistant. Jessie is holding baggies containing my broken teeth that the oral surgeon sent over.

After a morning with these two fine women, I'm all set with two shiny new temporary crowns. This afternoon, I got the stitches taken out of my chin, and all is well.

Student of intuition that I am, I believe there's a message in the things that happen, especially the big things, like seeing a guilder (see post below). Sometimes it's hard to figure out what the message is, though. Have you noticed that?

Since Monday, I have wondering about the meaning of falling on my face. I took it that the universe didn't like something I was doing. But what? At the time I fell, I was getting my cardio-vascular workout with our dog. That's good, isn't it? And I completed a book not long ago. I've been doing hypnotherapy in my new office; the people I've worked with seem really pleased. Those are all good things, right? Do I have bad karma left over from a past life or something? I couldn't figure it out at all. Maybe I should consult a professional psychic for the answer to this cosmic puzzle, I thought. But then right away I had this thought: You can figure this out yourself.

So yesterday, I took my pen and notebook, and I wrote, "What's my message from this fall?" I was talking to my intuition. You're probably going to laugh at what I wrote as the answer, because it's so obvious. I wrote, "Slow down and pay attention." Oh. Then I thought, Nah, that's just way too simple.

So I phoned into a psychic radio show. I told the psychic that I fell down while walking my dog and cut my chin and broke some teeth. The psychic said that teeth represent the family of origin. "You must be going through some kind of upheaval with your family now." Nope. She was taken aback. "Are you sure?" I am really sure. "OK, well, the dog means loyalty." She was fishing, I could tell. Finally, she said, "You need to slow down and pay attention."

OK, I think I got it. I know it's simple and obvious. I bet if I'd asked the dog, he would have told me the same thing. But that's the answer that came, so that's what I'm going to do, starting now: Slow down and pay attention.

I've come to agree with Laura Day, who says that everything that comes into your consciousness means something. Most of the time, the meanings of events are simple and obvious. But if you want to know what they are, you have to do two things:

1. ask
2. listen for the answer.

Sometimes I forget those two parts.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Arse over Teakettle: In which I See a Guilder

Yesterday, I was having such a good day. I wrote some new stuff AND I did some laundry AND I had dinner organized. I was walking the dog (for the second time--see how well this was going?) at a little after 1. We were just charging along at a really good clip, when all of a sudden, I found myself sprawled on the sidewalk, my glasses at some distance from my face. I had tripped over an uneven part of the sidewalk. I still had Sammy's leash in one hand, and my clip-on sunglasses were still attached to my glasses. Good, I thought, everything's fine. Then I noticed the blood--quite a lot of it--and I started spitting out pieces of teeth. So Sammy, who didn't seem at all fazed by my plight, accompanied me back home, where I inspected the damage. Lots of teeth (in the back, thank goodness) were broken. I was a bloody mess. When I called the doctor's office, they said to go straight to urgent care. Do not waste a moment--just go right now, they said. I called my husband, and he came right home to drive me--really fast--to the place where injured people go when they need treatment right away.

Four hours later, I said to the nice doctor who sewed up my chin, "I have never been treated in an emergency room before."

He said, "How old are you?"

I said, "53."

He said, "Then you're really, really lucky." He's right, isn't he?

Today, I went to two dentists, my regular one and an oral surgeon. (It would have been three, but the root canal guy is out of town.) Over the next eight months, I'll get some crowns, one or two root canals, some bonding, and an implant. We already got the ball rolling with an early morning extraction.

Things can change so fast. One minute I'm breezing along the street feeling smug and--how ironic is this?--in control. And the next minute, I'm face down on the sidewalk. In Dutch, when someone falls down, people often say, "Did you see a guilder?" (Only now they probably say, "Did you see a Euro?") Mean, I know, but even so, that line has made me laugh a couple of times. Another expression for falling down is going "arse over teakettle." I Googled it and found this picture. I'm sure I looked even less graceful.

This afternoon, I was sitting here with ice bags on my face. The phone rang. When a cheerful voice said, "Hi, it's Kate," I paused for a second, thinking, Kate? Now which dentist's office does she work in? But it was my wonderful writing student Kate, calling for her weekly chat about her work! Sorry about the pause before the recognition, Kate. I hope you understand. You see, yesterday, I saw a guilder!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Will Write for Bubble Bath

On another blog recently, I read about how a writer punished herself for not completing her daily word quota. She didn't allow herself to do something she really enjoyed and had looked forward to all week. Sometimes people feel that the way to writing success is to force themselves to write and to punish themselves if they don't. If that worked, we wouldn't have a thing to worry about. Most of us are pretty good at being mean to ourselves for not producing. But it doesn't work, as you may have noticed. If you took psychology in college, you may remember that as a behavior reinforcer, reward is many times more powerful than punishment. This holds for teaching a pigeon to press a lever right on up to training yourself to complete a novel. I advocate being kind to yourself every time you write. Take bubble baths and watch movies you love. Give yourself treats. Make a list of nice things you can have or do for yourself for writing and reward yourself frequently. Develop an association between writing and pleasure, instead of between not writing and deprivation. Nurture and encourage the writer in you.

And another thing. Pushing yourself hard isn't the way to get out your best material. Sometimes in classes, I use the metaphor of trying to catch a cat. If you're trying to grab a cat, it doesn't help to run fast and grab hard. The cat will always be able to scoot faster and jump higher than you can. Instead, you've got to sit quietly and let the cat come to you. When it jumps into your lap, make it feel welcome and give it affection. It's the same with writing. Be there every day for it and love it (and yourself) when it comes.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Does My Dog Look Fat?

When we adopted our dog, Sammy, he was overweight. I might have mentioned that he was an only pet of an elderly woman before we got him. She had to move to a nursing home. Otherwise, I'm sure she never would have given him up. One thing we noticed about Sammy immediately was that he did not seem familiar with dog food. When I'd put his bowl of food on the floor, he'd sniff at it and walk away. But when we sat down at the table for our dinner, Sammy would come over to the table and sit, looking up at us as if expecting a reward for his awesome behavior.

The first time I took him to the vet, the doctor brought out an illustrated chart titled "Canine Obesity." The skinniest possible dog was labeled 1, and the fattest possible dog was labeled 5. "Sammy is 4.5," the vet informed me. "He has probably been living on table scraps." I pictured lasagna and Oreos. He outlined the dangers of obesity in dogs: diabetes, heart disease, and shortened life span were among them. Sammy weighed 33 pounds; he should weigh 28, according to the vet.

(That's my mom, drawing a portrait of one of our cats, as Sammy strolls by--on his way to the kitchen, of course.)

Five pounds are no biggie, right? Sammy went on a strict diet and exercise program. I measured his food meticulously, and we never EVER gave him human food. I walked him twice a day. This was more complicated than it seems. He had never walked on a leash before. At first, about every half block, he stopped, lowered his head, and planted his splayed feet firmly on the sidewalk. "Aww," passersby would comment, "Puppy wants to go home. Puppy's tired." I'd snap the leash and say "Ch!" just like Cesar Millan on The Dog Whisperer, and eventually, Sammy would follow me . . . for 20 yards until he stopped again. When we got home, even if we'd only managed half a mile, Sammy would pant and puff for several minutes. I kept it up, though. I was relentless. At first, it wasn't much fun for either of us. Diabetes, heart disease, shortened life span, I reminded myself, forcing us both out the front door.

There were a couple of diet setbacks. Once I found him standing on my son's bed, devouring a left-behind chocolate chip muffin. Another time, I caught him trotting down the hall carrying a white MacDonald's bag in his teeth. But for the most part, he stuck with the program. He had no choice.

After a month, he had to go back to he vet again (ear infection), and I worried that I'd find out I was starving and overexercising him. The weight drop would be dramatic, I imagined, after all of my hard work, and the vet would admonish me to ease off. Sammy was down by half a pound. "Good job, Sammy!" the vet said, high-fiving his paw. "Keep it up!" Half a pound?! I thought. Is that all?

As more time passed, Sammy's walks improved. After 3 months, he actually got used to walking on the leash. Now I could easily take him 2.5 miles twice a day. (Note that this took considerably longer than the 5 minutes it takes Cesar with even the most difficult dog on TV. What's up with that? Must be my pronunciation of "Ch!") On the weekends, my husband walked Sammy 3 miles in the morning and the kids each took him on a shorter walk during the day. He ate dog food and lay down in another room while we ate dinner. We started to see a slight indentation between his ribs and his hips at his "waist." After 6 months, he had lost 3 pounds. We were all so proud!


(That's my daughter out for a coffee with Sammy.)

Then we went on vacation. A very kind friend allowed Sammy to stay at her house. I gave her his leash, his bed, and his food with strict instructions: "Sammy gets 1 1/4 C. dog food per day ONLY." I got emails about Sammy's vacation: "Sammy's enjoying his daily social time with all the doggies in the neighborhood!" and "We're taking him to Mammoth for the weekend!" Life was good.

Maybe it wasn't all good. He chewed up a pair of underpants and the handle of a suitcase, and he made a couple of "mistakes" in my friend's beautiful, clean house. And when I picked him up, he looked different. "Did you get him shampooed?" I asked. "He looks so fluffy." My kind friend had had him washed. I was so grateful.

Unfortunately, the shampoo wasn't all that made Sammy look fluffy. He had gained weight. Another friend stopped by to visit. "Whoa!" she said. "Is that the same dog? How did he get so fat?" I know we were only gone two weeks, but in that time a lot can happen. His "waist" was gone again. And now, when we sit down to eat dinner, Sammy rushes to the table and sits, looking up at us expectantly. When I put his dog dish down for him, he walks away, disgusted. After just a short walk, he huffs and puffs a long time.

Back to Before again:
OK, I guess we all know what to do.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Ring in the New!

Happy New Year! I 'm saying that because my son is going back to school today, so it feels like a fresh start for new things. Yesterday, I cleared my desk of anything that didn't contribute to writing progress. (To be completely honest, though, my pencil jar is still badly cluttered.) Today, I'm starting a new project.

The last time I started a new project was January. Are you seeing a pattern here? I have several new students this month too, because they also feel that it's a good time for a fresh start. We keep each other going; it's a beautiful thing.

Obviously, moving forward with writing projects has a lot to do with our psychology. Over these many years that I've been writing, I've found out that progress has more to do with psychology than anything else. That's why it's so important to stay fired up about the work. I'd say that feeling motivated is the most important thing--way more important than whether or not you have an MFA or who your agent is, for example. Since I've been doing hypnotherapy (over the phone and in person), most of my clients are coming to improve their writing focus and motivation and to overcome creative blocks. (Weight loss is a popular goal, too, but that's another post.)

So today, I'm using the fact that it's the first day of a new school year to get me scribbling with renewed energy and motivation. Here's wishing you all good things in the New Year!