The First Step in Writing Your First Book

Salty Snippet, July 16, 2021     

     What a plush job!  All I had to do was think of subjects to talk about so he could practice his American pronunciation.  His last name was Gustafsson, his sister’s last name was Gustafsdotter, which caused problems when they arrived at immigration to visit here together.  But I cannot remember his first name.  His grammar was perfect, and I learned many amazing facts about Iceland.

   For example, I was intrigued to learn that the actual religion of Iceland, underneath the façade of being Lutheran, was “The Dead” – they believe in the dead, and one in three Icelanders will go to a séance sometime in their life.  He had many intriguing stories on this…

      But he really caught my attention when he said that one in four Icelanders will write a book sometime in their life.  As a would-be writer myself, all kinds of questions jumped forward in my mind.

    “Well.  Who reads all these books?” I began. 

    “Oh, de valls of our houses are lined vid books,” he said.  “De vinters are long;  ve read a lot.”  (Many years later, in a trip to Iceland, I saw this was true!)

    “Well, what kinds of books do people write?”  I continued, questions stumbling over one another.

   “Vell,  whoops, WELL,” he said carefully, “Some people write ‘bout science or nature.  Or history. Or love stories or novels.  Lots of people write der own life stories…”

   Hmm!  Surprising to me.  How many life stories would publishers publish?  I asked him about this – “How do they all get their life stories published, and who wants to read endless life stories?”

   “Oh, if someone cannot find a publisher, dey print it demselves in der basement,” he described.  “And everbody who lives in der valley vill buy it ‘cuz dey vant to know de gossip in it!”

    Now I was really stopped.  Here in the U.S. of A., I had the impression that if you don’t know that your book will be a best seller, attract a big New York publisher, there’s no point in writing it at all.  You must somehow be sure that you’re going to be a success; then you write the book! It is a bit of a conundrum for a beginner.

    Young Mr. Gustafsson had given me a new platform to stand on:  Just write whatever interests me, or whatever I’ve learned in my life and want to share.  It doesn’t have to rock the world.  But if I’ve found it interesting there may be others who will, too.

   I have learned that there is a craft to telling a story in a more (or less) effective way.  As with all crafts, one learns it by doing it, accepting feedback, and noticing how others do the craft.  But the first step is to not worry about final “success.” Writing is, above all, a learning for the writer.  What has interested me most in my life and experience?  If something grabbed me, all I have to do is write it much the way I experienced it, honestly, humbly, completely and sensually, and then others may find it as interesting as I did.

Just go for it, make a stab. We can try to share what we have to share; then let that sharing have its own life to find others who may also be enlivened by it.

Walking in One Place

    Salty Snippet for June 2021    My Pal, The Red Geranium

  My giant red Geranium plant has lived probably longer than most house-gardeners would expect.  Back when I lived in Oak Park Illinois I planted her in the ground along the path to the garage.  That must have been just one summer, as her kind don’t last outdoors through winter. So – six summers ago she attracted my attention and I took her into my life.  As I prepared to move to Indianapolis, it seemed that she leaned towards me whenever I passed. I loved her in her spunky wild beauty and decided to bring her with.  I carefully dug her up from the ground, potted her, and she became part of the menagerie that I schlepped along to Indy.

   Geraniums are not strong physically; their arms and leaves break easily.  She was about a foot high at that point of her life, considered mature, and she made the 200-mile trip alright without much trauma or loss. Now six years later she is a good yard high and wrapped around supports, she’s maybe two feet in diameter.  I’ve fed and watered her, given her the best light available as she continued to grow.  I talk with her, kiss and hug her (largely), and she’s continued to raise my spirits by popping out with bright red blooms. I address her as “Pal.”

   Of late, each morning when I raise the shades and greet her, I’ve noticed increasing numbers of dried dead leaves on her; I pull them off and toss them.  I worry at the increase, but all seems well if there are also new leaves appearing – which there are!  And she still blooms, especially when she’s had plant food.

   Picking off the dead leaves, cutting off the dead flowers, seems healthy so she can focus her energy on the present moment of her life. And I’m surprised to see myself as in a mirror here.  I notice these days how the past seems to fade! Being a sentimental person, I hold tenaciously to memories of people, events, experiences – these are the treasures of my life!  I can’t believe how far behind and fading are memories that were so vivid and carried power for so long.  It’s as if I were walking a path and inevitably getting farther and farther away from the city of Oz. 

   Yet I feel I’m circling around.  I see Oz come up again as I walk along the yellow brick road, as if Oz is also my destination, plus its presence accompanies me. A place, with the same munchkins, to which I come and go and will return.

  But – right now there are things happening to attend to!  New people, unexpected events, always occurring around me. Also, surprising helpers magically appear, and I must pay attention to all.  Many little brown leaves of the past are best dropped by the wayside, experiences that enabled my growth “back then.”  They are now inside the bigger me. I don’t need to carry and feed their physical presence while I pay attention to what feeds my life right now.  My Pal and I – we keep “walking” on, even while we appear to stay in one place. We grow and bloom where we are – right now. 

How to Make Good Choices

Salty Snippet, May 2021    

“Each step leads to the next in our lives.”  -Ambrose Worrall, in The Gift of Healing 

   All my life I’ve had difficulty making decisions.  I consider too many things – how will this affect others? will I be happy with this choice? what if it’s too difficult?  what if what I want isn’t what “God” wants? what will people think?  Maybe I can’t even see how to proceed towards something I want – it looks impossible.  The best book I ever found on this topic, a book that changed my life, was/is called Elegant Choices, Healing Choices, by Marsha Sinetar.

   Here is the line that helped me most:  “As we are able to stay centered on the present, as we focus ourselves in all purity and with full attention on the now moment, we can see that one thing is better than another.”   Using this as a guide, I began changing what I was saying to myself.  Instead of saying “I don’t know what to do,” I would say “I DO know what to do,” and I’d see what arises inside.  I do know what I want to do, what I feel would be the best choice, but there are factors influencing me. 

    Ms. Sinetar has a nice quote from Augustine of Hippo:  “the only difference between the happy and the unhappy is that happy persons love their own good will.  They enjoy doing what is good and what is good for them.”  As Augustine was big on the sinfulness of human nature, I’m not sure from the quote alone what he meant here; it brings up one problem in decision making: trying to impose ideals on ourselves – oughts, shoulds, etc. and calling them the good.  Ms. Sinetar’s position is that “willpower” is something we can choose to use gently, step by step, to increase our freedom in choosing.

   For me, the very notion that it is okay to seek happiness took some learning!  I was raised in a religious atmosphere which taught that suffering is good!  We demonstrate to God that we love him by courageously suffering!  Perhaps this is a kind of Puritan stoicism that says “too much happiness goes with not being serious enough, with self-indulgence.”

   Actually, suffering takes a toll on our bodies and spirits; it does not feed vitality, the impulse Mother Nature puts in us to stay alive and thrive.  Nothing in Nature tells us to choose a dangerous and difficult path for the mere sake of being noble.  Occasionally a life situation calls us to sacrifice but generally we see in Nature that the impulse inside each life is to take care of itself and thrive.

“If we are to be happy, we must first decide what we want to do with our lives, intend to make it happen, and then we must begin to work on our intention,” says Sinetar.  Sometimes we use worries, concerns for others, distracting thoughts, to keep us from seeing and doing what we want!  That is because happiness is not the same as pleasure.  Making the vital choice, going with the deep enthusiasm inside, might require the work of clearing out the garden bed so the dream of our life can grow.

   Choosing momentary pleasure, e.g. feeling good by consuming a substance to feel good, is not a choice that gives long life and ongoing vitality. True happiness is the same as enthusiasm, the Greek word for the breath of the gods inside us.  Enthusiasm gives us the energy to do even difficult acts.

   “We have the power and the responsibility to choose on our own behalf,” says Ms. Sinetar.  This is the love we look for outside ourselves!  Taking care of our life is our own first responsibility, and choosing what gives us vitality and enthusiasm blesses the life force inside us with peaceful long-lasting happiness.

Breaking and Entering in my Own House

April 2021

   I was “irritated” with someone and so decided to do some errands to let this go and get into a better mood.  I went out to Trader Joe’s (always fun) and Staples, had enjoyable interactions, came home.  I pulled up to the garage in the dark, reached for the garage door opener on the visor – it wasn’t there.  Felt all over, turned the inside car lights on, couldn’t find it.  Got out and went to all car doors (in the dark) but from no angle could I find where that darn thing might have fallen. I usually try to keep a flashlight in the car but, of course, not now. I always enter my house through the garage, so now I had to find plan B To get in.  Found my back door housekey in the dark, in my purse, went up to the back door, but -oh no-I’d locked the thin storm door from the inside.  Weather had turned nice, I had pulled the screen open on the top, left the heavy door open for awhile and locked the outside from the inside.  Could not get to the lock through the locked screen door.

Walked around to the front door, trying to be optimistic that this key might open the front door.  In the dark, gave it a try.  No luck.

How to get into my house?  I guessed, must try a window! Nice weather had brought window-opening: which one might be easiest to get into?  I decided on the corner dining room windows -low and often loose.   I clamored through the vines, aware that I saw poison ivy there last fall. Usually people are out on the street jogging, walking dogs etc. But all was dark and quiet now.  This was good and bad:  No one would see me try to get through a window, but I was on my own. 

  I tried the first window: no budge.  Went around the corner: this was probably my last hope!  The window was open far enough to push on the screen and the bottom of the screen pushed in.  But no further; the screen did not want to just gently fall inward for me, no.  It did not want to give at all and this, of course is good news for me, if there were someone else trying to enter my house!  But for me here now, bad news.  Well, I would have to bend the screen, maybe damage it.  I had been carrying my cane with me so I gave that screen a good shove with hand and cane and somehow it fell forward.

 The window was just a little high off the ground for me, short as I am.  I leaned in, pushed the big floor plants out of the way.  Tried to get one 76-year-old leg up over the sill but this was definitely a no go. Leaned in.  The window seemed just a smidgeon tight.  Was I going to have to just fall on my face inside, butt in air, pull myself in?  Looked around, still no one anywhere, either to see or to help.  At this point, independent as I am, yes I would have asked for help. 

   I finally realized what I had to do.  It’s what soldiers do as they charge forward in war – one has to get your energy up for the job – anger is the best.  I turned my problem-solving mind off, and from my  pocket of past skills I pulled my swear words; then mustering together anger and energy and determination and not even knowing how I did it, I just – “did it!”  I have no idea how,  but I got through the window and was kind of stumbling forward on the floor.  

    Actually, I felt pretty calm.  I rearranged the plants and then went to the garage and pulled the car in.

    From there, I went to my computer, emailed the person I’d felt “irritated” with that I did not want to feel angry and argumentative – they could feel free to do X as they chose;  I don’t want to be an angry argumentative person, I do not want to be that kind of person.  I felt at peace and went to bed.

Next day I went to the car and looked around for the missing garage door opener. Where could that darn thing have jumped to?  And lo, there it was, on the visor where it was supposed to be but facing the wrong way!

What to make of this?! It was hysterically funny, and yet – puzzling.  The ending turned a funny experience into a puzzling one.  Kind of like a Zen koan or a parable that leaves something unfinished in your mind.  Something about the irony made it all seem “set up.”  Had some “teacher” set this up for me to learn something here? “Grasshopper, think on this!”

Ultimately this is what I see:  While being angry is not a healthy state to permanently be in, there may be times when only anger will get you through.  There are times when one actually needs to get MORE angry in order to get oneself to do what needs to be done. Or life needs to make you more angry!

I always remember both the feeling of embarrassment and of freedom that I felt when I first let myself “swear.”  My children were little, the work was more than I felt up to, and I just let it out.  It did feel – wonderful!  Nothing quite matches that counter-cultural release.

   As toddlers we learn to speak by listening to the adults around us.  As I grew up, I did hear both my dad and his dad swear.  My mother worked endlessly to get my dad to stop – “Don, don’t say that in front of the girls!” Eventually he did stop swearing – out loud, at least.  But then he’d go huffing and puffing around the house when he was mad and no one knew who he was mad at!  And Grandpa – it seems in my memory that gruff old grandpa never opened his mouth without something foul coming out with whatever he said.  He’d endured a lot of misfortune, and maybe it was part of his French Canadian backwoods character, I don’t know.  But I did know those words when I needed them!

  And I did know that I could get through that window!  I could feel myself on the other side, it would not be impossible, it would just take much more than my ordinary determination.  I stepped into an alter ego, allowed myself to be different, and wow!  What I could do in my different self!  Something in me feels freer now and glad to have felt all my power; I will remember what I am truly able to do – when I want to!

Use Your Connection

Salty Snippet March 2021  

I awaken with a songline, as I often do, and to me this is one way my dreams of the night carry me forward.  Here are the lines;
No you are not

lost and alone in this world, yes you are

Guided each day.  No you are not

lost and alone in this world. Yes you are

Cherished and safe!                                       [copyr. Diccon Lee]

We don’t always feel cherished and safe, guided each day.  What reassures me is my own experience of being a mother, a parent.  I’ve never experienced anything as mysteriously strong as the concern I feel for the offspring of my body.   I know some parents fall short of this but I think even the worst parent wishes good for their offspring while not knowing how to do this, or finding their own needs too strong.  Whatever awesome Force, creative Intelligence, Life Source has brought us into existence must surely be the source of the natural parental instinct to protect and nurture life.

   I can also speak from experience on being guided each day.  The early morning time is surprisingly the best source of new approaches to the challenges I face.  The time of awakening is a special spiritual state, when we need to keep our connection to our Source and be open to newness.

   I’ve been enjoying the poetry of David Whyte; here he speaks my mind in What to remember when awakening:

“What you plan is too small for you to live.”   And later:

“To remember the other world

in this world

is to live in your true inheritance.”

The plans we make in the evening for the following day, we must be ready to scratch should the morning bring us to a different view!  We do the best we can with our rational minds to direct our lives toward what we think we should be doing.  But there often/always seems to be other forces affecting our plans. Are these other forces friends or foe?

It’s important to get ourselves to a place of confidence in the life process itself.  Here’s one negative view held by many today:  We are each captain of a little boat run by a computer motor, each all alone trying to direct our boat forward where we choose, over water, against winds and forces that may stop or hinder us from getting anywhere.  Life is a battle against Fate; Nature is an enemy. Our only tool is our good rational mind and we are quite alone in the universe.

But when our bodies and rational minds are taking sleep, long hours pass, and scientists have discovered (as “simpler” people have always observed) that while we sleep, other parts of our minds are somewhere off doing very interesting activities.  Modern science is still being born in its study of what we are doing during sleep, but if we pay attention, I know from experience we find new insights into our projects.  We find “guidance,” if we will be guided.  During our sleep, some process has taken all the ingredients of yesterday and my whole life, even considered my forward direction, and has revised the plan in a possibly better way.  Maybe even with a vision and knowledge larger than I the little boat captain could see!

   I call it “wisdom” to pay attention to guidance that comes in ways the rational mind cannot understand.  Recently I was helping my grandson study Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, a story of Fate versus Will.  Over and over advise came to Caesar not to go to the Senate on the Ides of March.  People had dreams that warned against it, Nature was displaying lightening, earthquakes, strange events, psychic people/seers prophesied the danger – and yet he went, and went to his death.  What does it take to warn us, if the Universe itself wanted to help us?  Do we, also refuse guidance in order to stick with our rationally set, egotistically grounded goals?  Of course, Caesar and all of us must die someday, but there is the necessary death and death that seemed avoidable with available precautions.

I say that Yes, we are guided and safe, if we are willing to be guided and safe.  And as regards the guidance that may come to us in the quiet slow dawning of the day, how best to take advantage of this?  Especially for all who must arise and be functioning somewhere with others by a particular time?  Deepak Chopra says that “Waking up with an alarm clock is detrimental…The brain transitions from deep sleep in a series of waves, each one getting closer to being fully awake.”  My daughter, Anne Marie, actually has awakened for years without an alarm clock!  She goes to sleep expecting to awaken as needed and even in times of pressing deadlines has always been able to awaken slowly without an alarm.  Perhaps setting that intention as we fall asleep is a self-hypnosis that sets our mind to do as we intend. 

If any self-discipline is needed here, it is not in keeping our nose to the grindstone, ignoring guidance as it comes, but in going to bed at a regular and appropriate time, slowly, gracefully, doing soothing activities to fall into good sleep.  Then arising slowly, open to the many impressions that come in their own language as we emerge back into this world.  If we sleep with another, maybe we should discuss this and respect the space we each need to honor this natural process.  As David Whyte said eloquently “To remember the other world in this world, is to live in your true inheritance.”

Interior Housecleaning

Salty Snippet for February 2021

Hello dear friends!   I’m sitting here looking out my picture window at the snow coming down in “spitters,” as the Scots call small wind-driven flakes, and the little birds are scurrying about to quickly find something to eat.  I’ve written my monthly “Salty Snippets” for my website and decided to share it with some of you others who I remember lovingly.  This month I’m writing on “Interior Housecleaning”, a.k.a healing, which seems to me a good exercise for a month when we just want to lay around on the sofa.  

Interior Housecleaning

    It is my observation that February is a special month with its particular purpose.  You may be noticing (and feeling irritated with yourself) that we feel an inclination to sleep, rest, nap more in February.  Even though the longest nights have passed with December 21st, now is when the couch calls like the siren tempting Ulysses – “Come!  Come to me!”  We have finished the deep Rehm sleep beyond remembrance and soon will awaken with March.  Now we experience the last sleep just before awakening, the sleep with strange images and stories that are easy to remember and seem to ask for our attention.

   This time of rest and laziness can be the perfect opportunity for HEALING.  Here are my suggestions for some valuable interior healing.

  • Whatever you can remember of your dreams, do not judge them, just record every element you can remember.  They are a part of nature and come to us for some reason.  Welcome them and be open to their guidance.  It has been my experience that I’ve dreamt about important events two years before they happened!

 You don’t have to analyze dreams, just allow these dream images into your consciousness as natural guidance and insights from “somewhere.”  Even if they cause you fear, just welcome them as valuable and having purpose.  If you want to understand them, think of what the symbols mean to you personally; ask for further understanding from your subconscious, pay attention to insights that come during the day.

Now the Interior Housecleaning:

  • As you rest, take in deep breathsand hold them; let them fill every corner of your body.  Then release.  You will find memories hiding in your body! Subjects will come up, events, emotions.  When we’ve experienced fear, anger, etc. our bodies contracted and nerves, muscles, and cells recorded these events.  They can eventually cause physical problems if they fester!  Allow wonderful air into every crack possible and then let the air out; with it is going these tensions that are memories.  Do this until you feel lighter in spirit and body.
  • Practice this healthy procedure, particularly good for Americans:

Say to yourself frequently:  I have all the time in the world!  Can you feel how good this is for your heart, stomach, your lungs as they breathe more relaxed?  Can you feel that it’s the opposite of what you’ve been saying?  Your muscles now feel more ready to go then they did when you tried to drive yourself forward.  Say this constantly, as needed….

  • When you’re not resting, take time to allowyour body to move freely.  Move in any way that feels good.  Don’t push.  Just let go!  This is fun, energizing, freeing, awakens imprisoned parts of our bodies.  You might remember movements you’ve done or seen in yoga, dance, swimming, physical therapy, tai chi, etc. Use music if you want. If you’re doing this right, you quickly get to where you want to do it; you don’t have to make yourself do it. Respect your age and abilities but free your body! 
  • The last Interior Housecleaning:  Consciously forgive everyone and Life itself for anything you’ve experienced that felt hurtful to you.  We do this not because the other deserves it, but for our own sake

Here is a wonderful prayer from Theravada Buddhism that helps me:

                    Loving Kindness Meditation

   If anyone has hurt me or harmed me knowingly or unknowingly , in their thoughts, words, or actions, I freely forgive them.

   If I have hurt anyone knowingly or unknowingly in my thoughts, words, or actions, I ask their forgiveness.

May I be happy,

May I be peaceful,

May I be free.

May all those I love be happy,

May all those I love be peaceful,

May all those I love be free.

May all my enemies be happy,

May all my enemies be peaceful,

May all my enemies be free.

May all beings be happy,

May all beings be peaceful,

May all beings be free.