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No Day But Today

I’m nearing the end of THE HAPPINESS PROJECT by Gretchen Rubin, and it’s making me think a lot. I found the book in a very odd way – after our trip to Disney World in June, my husband randomly found a photo via Google of a couple going down Splash Mountain (our favourite ride) posing with a Jenga game. It’s a great photo. The woman in the photo ran 30candles.net, a “30 before 30” list, and one of the items was taking a ridiculous Splash Mountain photo (I know what I’m stealing for my “Before I’m 40” list ;).

ANYHOW, on her page she mentioned Rubin’s book, and I loved the whole idea – the list, the book, and the project. If you’ve not read it, I highly recommend it. It’s not a one-size-fits-all book, but it’s got some fantastic ideas and how they played out in Rubin’s life.

The first thing on my list of notes taken from her book is this:

Nothing is insurmountable if you do what ought to be done, little by little.

No news flash there – it’s a summation of Dale Carnegie and a thousand others’ mantras, but as I say, it’s the first thing in Rubin’s book that put my pen to notebook. I’m learning this slowly over the last few years. The other week when the Scotsman and I climbed Buachaille Etive Mòr in Glencoe, it reminded me that the first time we climbed it, I was new to hillwalking. I was nervous, especially during the scrambling bit. But I kept telling myself, “This is like writing. One step at a time. Just do what’s right under my feet, and that’ll take me to the next bit. One step at a time.” And I was amazed, and so proud, when we finished. I’m not an unfit person but this was a big deal for me, mentally as much as physically, being afraid of heights, falling, and all the rest.

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It’s a sentiment shared widely in the writing community, particularly among those of us un-agented and unpublished, with good reason. Little by little, a word becomes a page, becomes a chapter, becomes a book. Then you start over… edit, revise, cut. But it is that simple. One word at a time. I have to remind myself of this – and maybe others are the same – because I’m one who gets all too easily overwhelmed in life. One step at a time.

“No Day But Today” is one of my favourite songs (from the musical RENT). I used it as the song my bridesmaids walked down the aisle to last year, before I entered the room (I walked to my favourite piece of music of all time, “Glasgow Love Theme” by Craig Armstrong), because I think the message is universal. There’s only now and here, and I can happily say that finally in my life, I’ve gotten to the place where I’m grateful for every day and try to get the most out of every moment I possibly can, because I’ll miss it when it’s gone – especially the smaller moments. I might only get one chapter edited today, or I might not get any done if another moment takes over. But the important part that this book has brought to mind is that any mountain can be overcome if you take one step at a time, and today is your best time to do that.

#Writemotivation Update

I’m actually on track! Hard to believe, I know…

1. Finish WIP revisions. Finished this last week. Now currently Cutting All The Words (flabby, weak, soft words, as highlighted by John Skipp on the LitReactor course I did in August).
2. Send to CPs. Sent full MS to one CP, another friend has read the first three chapters, and I think a third CP to read the entire thing would be brilliant.
3. Get back to routine! Doing this 🙂
4. WF x5. Done!

I hope you’re having a great September and accomplishing little by little whatever you want to do 🙂

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Severn Estuary, Portishead. Enjoying my last few runs in this neighbourhood.
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Thankful

Westonbirt Arboretum, November 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone has a warm, cosy, family- and food-filled Thanksgiving Day! I wish I was back home with my family in WNY helping and celebrating, but instead I’ll be cookin’ a bird next week for my husband and friend coming to visit from Plymouth. As in, Plymouth, England. Which I just realised is sort of fitting given the first Thanksgiving was in Plymouth, Massachusetts, if I remember correctly from elementary school lessons. So, thanks to Lauri for bringing a bit of tradition to our Thanksgiving 😉

In honour of the day and the simple message of counting your blessings and giving thanks for what you have, here is one of my favourite quotes:

Being happy doesn’t mean everything’s perfect. It means you’ve decided to see beyond the imperfections.
– Helen Keller

I think that speaks for itself.

I have so much to be thankful for – my husband, our memorable wedding day this past May, my family back in the U.S., my friends both there and here, good health, a roof over our heads, and so much more. It’s easy to focus on what I don’t have, but that’s the story of mankind, really; we’re always focused on what’s missing rather than what’s present.

I have been job-hunting, trying to get my foot into a career since graduation 2.5 years ago. At my age, as I’m often reminded, this is not a great situation. It’s frustrating mentally, and also frustrating our plans and goals of settling down. As wearying as these things are though, I’m trying to learn to choose to be thankful. Every morning (well, okay, most mornings) I jot down at least 3 things in a journal that I’m thankful for; 3 positives. Some days the best I can come up with (and most days if this is true, it’s on the list) is that the sun is shining. In the UK, that’s cause for breaking out the champers.

I’ve also been learning this year to just focus on today. I believe God meets our needs daily. The example for prayer includes the phrase Give us this day our daily bread. It doesn’t say Give us what we’ll need for the next year in advance so we can feel safe and secure. The reason? I think it’s so we learn to trust Something bigger than ourselves. We have to trust that tomorrow will take care of itself, but for today, we will have our current needs met. Even if this means what we think we need, we really don’t. Not yet.

I find this hard because I’m a planner, and a bit OCD. I make 10 lists before going on a trip, check the kitchen about 5 times before leaving to make sure everything’s off, check that the door is locked multiple times. I struggle with it a bit. I’m the same way with future plans. It’s wise to make arrangements for what’s to come so when it comes you’re not left scrambling, but I think in many cases, there’s only so much planning you can really do until the need arrives. So I have to let go of needing to know how things will be on the 8th of February four years from now, and just focus on today.

I hope you have a fabulous Thanksgiving, and have a lot to be thankful for!

– – –

On another brief note, my #Writemotivation updates have been scattered this month but I think that’s expected, given NaNo. My update is a positive one, though:

1) 50k on WIP (which will bring the word count to ~70k): I’ve written 34,306 NaNo words bringing my WIP first draft to a grand total of 76,476. Yay!

2) MS#1 x3. Done.

– – –

Best of luck, you NaNoWriMo and WriteMotivation writers! And enjoy your holiday, Americans! 🙂

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Video Games and Goals

As some of you know, I’ve been waiting for my new visa to be processed by the UKBA, and because they have my passport while processing, I was unable to go on a three-day trip to Paris my husband booked as a belated birthday trip for me. We decided he should go on his own because it was non-refundable and would give him time to get his head down in a nice hotel and focus on some work he had to do. He’s been to Paris a lot for work, so he scoped it out for exactly what we can do when we go. Eventually.

Which only makes me more eager for the UKBA to hurry up. While he was away, I raced (see here) with some writer friends and got 4 chapters revised, but also did some fun stuff that I usually feel “too busy” with writing and job-hunting to do: I played video games.

I’ve always loved video games. My first foray into the world of computer games of any kind was at age 4 when my parents bought a TRS-80 (Radio Shack) computer that hooked up to our TV. We had graphics games as well as text adventures (Infocom was the BOMB). Then we moved up to an original B&W Apple Mac with games like Dark Castle, Gemstone Warrior, and many more Infocom games. Then on to NES, SNES, and so forth. And I loved me some time in the Aladdin’s Castle arcade at the Summit Park Mall in Niagara Falls during my elementary and middle school years. Gauntlet, Castlevania, Golden Axe, Marble Madness. Arcade games rocked. To this day when I hear the Peter Gunn theme, I think of Spy Hunter at the arcade. Oh yeah. You know what I’m talkin’ ’bout. (Okay, maybe you don’t).

We recently invested in a PS3. Bit behind the times but better late than never. There were a few games specifically we wanted it for, one of which was Journey.

I’d never heard of it before, but back after my husband announced we needed to get it, I saw the soundtrack on sale on iTunes and fell in love with the music. Soothing and rousing and all by itself it takes you on a journey, so when I started playing the game on Thursday night, alone in the flat, it was like greeting an old friend, hearing the familiar music as backdrop to the beautifully-rendered landscapes.

If you’ve not played this game and get a chance, I highly recommend it. I don’t even quite know how to describe it, so watch this video instead:

You play an unnamed character who travels through changing landscapes to reach a peak far off the distance. There are no typical computer game features like endless baddies or an array of weapons. The game is short; both times I’ve played it’s only taken me about an hour and a half.

You can read all about gameplay elsewhere, but I’m here to say how surprised I was by how moved I was. I experienced that the first time I played Final Fantasy 2 on SNES, but that doesn’t even compare to this. I watched the credits roll and sat somewhere between peaceful contentment and bittersweet loneliness at the end. The best part of the game is that occasionally, you’ll be playing with another player online. You can’t communicate through words, and you don’t know who this person is, but you can help each other, follow each other, or leave each other alone. In my first game, I was helped along or followed by 3 separate players at different times, and by the end I really felt like I’d been through something unspeakable but special with them. My husband simply described it as, “not a game but an experience.”

All I can say is, thank GOD there are still people out there with creativity! I applaud the makers of this game, including Austin Wintory, the composer.

It made me feel hope and joy and sadness and all kinds of emotions; not on an overwhelming level, but just gently bubbling below the surface. It sounds simplistic to say it’s about cooperation, and that’s incorrect as well because I think you can finish the game even if you never meet another player. But it’s much more moving when you do.

The goal of the game seems to be to reach the peak that you see throughout, but at the end–and as it came so quickly–it felt more like the goal was just to experience the journey. Seriously, it seemed as simple as that. While I can say graphics and gameplay in other games is beautiful, Journey is just a beautiful experience from start to finish. It made my heart happy.

And at the risk of sounding cheesy, this brings to mind a quote my husband recently pointed out to me.

Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.

-Guilaume Apollinaire

We’ve both been so caught up in future stuff: when my visa will come, when we’ve decided where to settle, when we’ll get our own house, when I’ll get a job. We’re learning to remind each other and ourselves that we’re allowed to be happy right now, not just then.

And that’s all. I was going to find a clever way to work this into my update on my monthly writing goals, but nope. I’m leaving it at that. Just go play this game, if you haven’t already.

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On to my September Writemotivation goals:

1. Reach 70k word mark on WIP first rough draft. Slightly worrying, I’ve not done anything on this because, as I noted before, I feel like a firecracker’s been lit under me to get MS#1 fully revised thanks to inspiration from Leigh. 
2. Revise 1st MS based on any beta feedback received. Doing pretty well.
3. Send feedback for beta reading (if not done by end of August). Not doing too well here. Currently have 3 manuscripts to read and feed back on. Apologies for slowness & thanks for understanding 😀 I will get there.
4. 1st MS x3. Hope to do this at the end of the month.
5. Revise query for WIP to include changes. Done!
6. Set aside specific time weekly to read blogs/comment/cheer! Still not making as many rounds as I’d like but trying to do a little each day. You guys are awesome!! <3

So, three weeks left in the month. How are your goals going? And if you’ve played Journey, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

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People-Pleasing: Just Say No (nicely).

That was me, far right. While I love playing bass, I think more often than not I wasn't pleasing other people with my performance--especially my band mates 😉 Joke. I wasn't that bad.*

My characters have become unintentional catalysts for learning about myself, and the things I need to work on.

I didn’t sit down to write manuscript #1 (or #2, my current work in progress) with the intention of “finding myself” or examining my own neuroses. Writing is about putting the stories in my head down on paper, and I was simply trying to build character traits, flaws, and interesting bits into the characters who make up the story I want to tell.

But life doesn’t usually work out the way we intend or expect.

In my last post, I talked about this simple yet earth-shaking realisation: No matter how hard you try, you can’t please everyone and you can’t make everyone like you. Humans are fickle, myself included. I can spend my life bending over backwards and apologising for my existence at every turn, but I still won’t win everyone’s approval. So finally, after 33 years, I’ve decided I need to stop. I need to be me—confidently. I need to stop apologising for every move I make. And I need to stop being so anxious to fulfil everyone else’s expectations, and not be afraid to say what I really think.

That’s not to say I’m endorsing narcissism or bad behaviour! But all I can do is try my best, be respectful and kind, try to treat others as I would like to be treated, and the rest is up to them. If I don’t live up to their standards of perfection & acceptability, there’s not a lot I can do about that.

I’ve come to see that I’ve spent – no, WASTED – so much time in my life trying to be what I think other people want, saying “yes” to every request, in the hopes that other people will like me, will approve, will include me, and will not be angry at me. I’ve used up so much energy trying to keep on top of all this that I inevitably lose sight of what makes me happy, let alone what’ll make someone else happy.

My MC has this problem. She didn’t at first – she had a host of other issues that got her in the predicament that incites the plot. But revisions have revealed that, at her core, she’s a people-pleaser. She will never win trying to juggle the approval of everyone she meets. Not just friends and family, but acquaintances, teachers, employers, customer service reps and delivery men. She elevated the opinions of everyone in her life above her own, to the detriment of her self-esteem and her relationships with those people.

I didn’t write this trait into her because I wanted to write about me. I wrote her this way because it’s how her character evolved, based on herself and the situations around her. And afterwards, I realised that’s how I’ve been living most of my life. While researching this topic, I found this: (from Jen Smith’s blog)

…It is a fact of life that you can’t make everyone happy all the time. What you can do is be authentic and do what you feel is right. We all upset others at times. It is inevitable. Sometimes people are jealous; sometimes they don’t like other people being happy or successful and sometimes they may be upset with you and they just don’t know why! You cannot be responsible for other people’s happiness but you sure as hell are responsible for your own. Start being confident about your decisions and what you want to do.

I think it comes down to say what you mean, mean what you say, and if it’s not said with ill intent but respect, then other people can either accept you, or move on. And the ones who stick around are the ones whose opinion you should count as meaningful in your life. (Isn’t that what Hanson’s “MMMbop” was all about, after all? LOL).

But seriously, you can’t ever base your life solely on others opinions. That’s when it becomes approval addiction, and you end up making yourself and the other people unhappy anyhow. I’m responsible for my own happiness, and while I always want to make everyone else happy, that’s just not in my power. I need to be confident about my decisions, communicate more clearly, and then just accept that other people are responsible for their own happiness as much as I am for mine.

Some people just aren’t going to like me for whatever their reasons (which they’re totally entitled to), and that’s fine. This is when I need to stop losing sleep over whether some random person on the street likes me, or the not-so-random person whose standards of excellence I’ll never achieve is happy with me. Tough. That’s life. Next!

And the side note to all this has actually become Important Point #2. I’m realising that both my MC and I need to have this enmeshed into our skulls: Only you are responsible for your own happiness. Others may want you to be happy, and make efforts to help you be happy. But you have the choice in the end, and if you choose to be miserable, grumpy, judgemental, or pessimistic (as we all choose now & again), that’s completely up to you. But we can also choose to be positive, forgiving, hopeful, sympathetic, and so many other, better, things. That’s my goal, anyhow.

* Photo credit: unknown. I apologise. I was given an 8.5×11 print of this performance, which was a benefit show put on by Fido coffeehouse (where I used to work) in Nashville, Tennessee at the Belcourt. Many a better performer has played that stage, but that was an awesome time in my life. But I am not an amazing bassist. I just had an amazing teacher and fantastic people around me 🙂
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