The not-so-magical time between stories

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Writing is a magical process…

Magical because the whole experience of creating a world from nothingness is so mysterious and so beautiful that you can’t possibly explain what it’s like to a non-writer.

But what happens when you’re done with a writing project?

Take reading, for instance… do you ever take some time to process a book when you’re done with it? Let it simmer in your mind for a while before you pick up another? I do… and quite similarly… I take some time between writing stories. When my brain is coming down from its writing high and relishing the small but earned break I give to myself before I tackle the next world I have on queue to create.

I write short stories. I can only work on one story at a time (even though I may have 10 other story ideas poking at my brain all at once). Coming to the end of a story draft is a glorious time filled with light and hope and happy dances and the feeling that you might actually be able to call yourself a writer after all.

I print my draft, feel the paper in my hands, my inked words, my tangible imagination—it feels so good!—I read it over with a pen, circling, underlining, running a line through sentences, words, paragraphs, praying that I won’t hate this draft in the morning; I email my story to a few trusted readers who promise to get back to me with feedback. And then I wait.

And I wait.

And I wait some more.

I might pluck a few guitar strings while I’m in this time zone between stories.

I might write a poem or two. Or bake some cupcakes. (I don’t bake very often, so the latter is a big deal.)

I might peruse through other story drafts, scratch my head and wonder where to pick up and continue the narrative.

I might binge on a TV show I neglected while I was being so good sticking to my writing routine all those weeks, before I arrived at “The End.”

And all the while the glorious feeling of having finished a story begins to slowly fade. The time between stories stretches along and I realize I should probably stop waiting idly for feedback from my readers and start working on another story while I wait.

But I need closure! I need closure for my finished story draft. I need it to be a final draft, which is much different from a finished draft, mind you. And so I’m working through this struggle that is moving on to the next story when the one before isn’t exactly done yet. (But can a story ever really be done? That’s another post all together…)

I’ve been doing really well with my writing routine this year and I’m proud of myself. When I’m on a roll, I’m on a roll, and I feel invincible as far as productivity goes. But when I finish a story draft… that’s another… well, story. I’m finding that I have a hard time gearing back up into writing mode again.

Does this ever happen to you?

I guess the trick is to not spend too much time away from writing. Celebrate the fact that you’ve finished a draft, but don’t hang by the camp fire long enough for it to go out at your feet. Initially, I extend this time between stories because I’m waiting for feedback from my readers… I can’t work on another story until I get feedback about the story I’ve just finished…

Excuses, excuses!

And yet… I know that taking time away from finished drafts is important for perspective. If you’re like me, you’ve read your story draft 1001 times and you can therefore no longer read it objectively. So you do in fact need some distance from your story, so you can come back to it with the fresh perspective needed to revise it fully and completely.

But I need to get better at controlling this time between stories. I can’t linger in this limbo for too long… I need to learn to set my finished story aside and move on to my next project a little faster. I’ve been getting better at consistency as far as writing regularly goes, but the juncture between one story and the next has proven to be a little trickier to navigate.

How about you? Do you linger in the time between stories? If so, how do you spend this time? How long does it take you to bounce back into the writing zone—into your next writing project? Or do you not take a break from writing at all?

I’d love to hear from you!

Deciphering Happiness

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I watched this documentary recently, simply titled: Happy. It’s a thought-provoking examination of life’s most valued human emotion, happiness, and really is a must-watch for everyone. It grapples with the questions: What makes humans happy? And how can we cultivate lasting happiness in our lives?

I learned there are two types of happiness: intrinsic and extrinsic.

Intrinsic happiness has to do with the fulfillment of your soul’s needs. Fulfillment through personal growth, living your passion, knowing your values and aligning your life’s work to them, forging and maintaining meaningful relationships, giving yourself to others (which goes back to the importance of community), nurturing self-esteem, health, and well-being.

Extrinsic happiness has to do with the fulfillment of your ego’s needs (what your mind tells you you want). Fulfillment through obtaining something external (mostly tangible desires): money, success, status, recognition, any kind of “object” that you perceive will make you happy if you could only have it.

Come to think of it, extrinsic happiness is what I realized I was referring to when I wrote “happiness is a unicorn”; it comes from gaining something that you feel was missing from your life—the type of happiness that shapes the attitude: I will be happy if or when I have this.

With extrinsic happiness, we are chasing something outside of ourselves instead of looking inwards. Hence the plight of the human: we always want what we don’t have. Because of this, extrinsic happiness is fleeting. It’s not something we can ever keep or hold.

“Man is a fool. When it’s hot he wants it cool. When it’s cool he wants it hot. Always wanting what is not.”

Intrinsic happiness, on the other hand, stems from the idea that we are the source of our own happiness (“i am the compass”), and that only we can be responsible for our own happiness. As I see it, extrinsic happiness satisfies the ego while intrinsic happiness satisfies the soul. Interestingly, they directly oppose one another, and therein lies the great paradox that we experience in our hearts.

Before watching Happy, I didn’t think real and lasting happiness could be achieved in life; it seemed to me that, like every other human emotion, happiness could never be constant. I believed that happiness was a temporary high, rendering us unable to find a permanent sense of fulfillment, so that we’re constantly on a search for our next dose, the next thing that will make us happy. Each of us carries a hole in our hearts that we try to fill in some way.

But now I see that I was only thinking about extrinsic happiness. Now I see there is a constant happiness that we can achieve in our lives—one that comes from centering ourselves, knowing and being true to ourselves, and giving ourselves to something bigger than our own personal desires and ambitions. Gratitude, appreciation, purpose, a sense of connection with yourself and others… all these things cultivate a steady flow of intrinsic happiness.

I don’t mean to say that personal ambition is wrong or bad. Only that we need to find a balance between fulfilling both mind and spirit. Happiness, as I understand it now, is not just a fleeting human emotion, it’s a state of being, an attitude, a way of life, a deliberate choice to focus on certain aspects of life over others.

The documentary Happy inspires a clairvoyant understanding of this emotion that we all crave and seek. We all want to be happy. We’re all trying to figure out how to be and stay happy. We all think we know what will make us happy. Many people believe the goal and purpose of life is to achieve happiness.

But I don’t believe happiness is a goal or a prize—I believe happiness is a by-product emotion that springs from the heart, that can be achieved and maintained through actions that are driven by the heart. We become what we do every day.

Do what makes you happy and you will be happy; no action or thought is too small to inspire a sense of happiness. Chase what makes you happy and you will forever be in a chase; everything eventually loses its novelty. So what are the things that your heart longs for? And what are the things that light up your heart from the inside out? True happiness is not something to covet, it is something to be.

Watch the documentary and let me know what you think! ūüôā

happiness is a unicorn

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what i need is not on a map;
i am the compass.
i have struggled,
and because i have struggled,
i have lived and
i have overcome.
sometimes, only sometimes,
waking up
is the most difficult part of the day.
i don’t know where i’m going.
i’m making up my destiny
as i go along.
it’s better this way.
more scenic.
my brain is filled with contradictions.
my heart is a well of desire.
how will i change if i catch my dreams?
is it just the thrill of the chase?
i hear happiness is a unicorn.
when we arrive at our wants
she lingers,
but always eventually
she
flees the scene.

The Monday Frame of Mind

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I get it. Nobody likes Mondays (or whatever day your week begins). Nobody likes waking up early after taking a much needed break from the alarm clock. Nobody likes getting up and going somewhere under the pressures of obligation and responsibility, especially if you don’t particularly like your job.

Bear with me here. I’m going to risk you rolling your eyes at me.

mondayI have grown to really dislike the “Monday blues” attitude. It’s such a cliche, this way of viewing Monday. I dislike sour attitudes in general because they cloud my world and bring me down. There’s enough external junk beyond our control that we have to deal with on the daily, so if there’s one thing I strive to control in my life it’s my attitude—my way of absorbing the world around me. My way of viewing myself in the world.

The way we approach every day really is a matter of choice.

I wasn’t always this person who strove to be happy. I was the opposite. I lived under a veil of pessimism and unhappiness for a long time, but ironically, those years inspired me to find a renewed sense of joy and optimism in my life. I realized nothing was going to change for me if I didn’t change for me.

1004650_495422900533919_350052237_nThat said, I used to be on the “I hate Monday” band wagon too… until I realized that it’s actually pretty silly to hate a day, and it’s actually pretty awesome waking up because you have something to do.

Mondays represent having to go back to work, sure, but they also represent a new beginning, a new week, a new day of being alive. You woke up today, on this day you dread called Monday, but you woke up. Waking up to a new day, Monday or not, is something to be glad about, I think. No?

At least you didn’t wake up as a giant bug? (Kafka, anyone?)

“In your mind, change the name of every day to Saturday… change the name of work to play.” Matt Haig from The Humans

What is it with Mondays?

I’m stubborn and I hate cliches, so I’ve rebelled against this anti-Monday attitude. I don’t want to be another “I hate Monday” zombie who’s only saving grace is a shot of caffeine and the fact that the day will eventually end. And I feel genuinely better now that I’ve changed the way I view and anticipate Mondays.

1345678621940074Yes, I’m that happy person at work on Mondays, but I’m also that happy person (I try my best!) any day of the week. Why? Because I want to be happy no matter what day it is. Because the opposite of happiness sucks, quite frankly. And because happiness is a good kind of contagious. People who are sour will be sour regardless, so people who strive to be happy should strive to be happy regardless.

Changing your attitude about Monday is not about changing your attitude about your job necessarily. (External circumstance rarely brings internal happiness; we will always be wanting of something—it’s our inherent flaw as human beings to believe we’ll be happier if or when _________).¬† (So if you can’t be happy Now with what you have then you won’t be happy ever.)

Changing your attitude about Monday, rather, is about seeing Monday as simply a new day, as opposed to a day of going back to the reality of work. It’s about seeing Monday as a new beginning, as opposed to the end of the weekend. It’s about seeing Monday as a day you get stuff done, as opposed to a day you have to do stuff.

Monday-12-2Wake up, people! You are alive. You lived to see another day. Who cares if it’s called Monday (or whatever day your week begins)? Let’s see and treat Monday for what it really is—another day of life, the refresh button for a new week. Monday is like New Years Day once a week! (Is this too much? Maybe…)

Bottom line—begin your day blah, and you will be blah; begin your day grateful, and you will be grateful. So choose your frame of mind for every day—and watch your world change, or not change.

Thanks for bearing with me.

Happy Monday, world.

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“Cool” kids

woodstock-snoopy-joe-coolIt makes me sad when I see loud-mouthed pre-teens cursing so confidently on the train platform during rush hour. Their school bags dangling from their backs a blatant testament to just how oblivious and silly they sound. They curse like the words are new toys, like they want all of us boring adults (safe strangers who won’t tell them off), standing around on the platform with our boring work pants and purses and buckled flats and ties and buttoned shirts, to know that they know these words— they are cool and they know how to use them (but not really). As if¬†they’ve¬†uncovered some secret insight to a¬†realm reserved only for adults.

It makes me sad not because I don’t curse or because I was an angel at their age, but because they know so little of this world—they have yet so much to experience and to curse about; they know so little of just how powerful (and empowering) words can be, and just how much words can cut. Or maybe their little curse words are just a reflection of how much the world has cut them, and that makes me even¬†sadder.

Good luck to you, kid. One day you will curse and actually mean it and feel it and you won’t feel so “cool”, just sucky, and most likely frustrated, and you will curse under your breath because you wouldn’t want anyone to hear you… you’d want everyone around you to think that you have it all together. That you are all right. And that you have no need for curse words because you are much too cool and sophisticated and content with your life. And because the serious matters on your mind cannot be translated by those words, only exasperated by them.