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Posts Tagged ‘positivity’

Theodora Goss recently wrote one of those lists of what she’s learned in her life. The entire post is worth a read, but I was particularly interested in her #9:

“Your habits create who you are.”

I completely agree with Dora. Our habits are the building blocks of our lives and of our identities. I actually love this truth because while changing habits can be difficult, it is very possible. So that means if we don’t like our lives or identities, we can work towards doing something about that.

Photo Credit: Celestine Chua via Compfight cc

Take the identity of being a writer, for example. (How could I not go there?) Some people are satisfied with the daydream of being a writer, which is fine but unlikely to bring about the reality. But for people who seriously want to claim the writer identity, it’s all about habits. It’s about making the time to write on a regular basis. It’s about making a commitment to finish projects. It’s about revising and reading other people’s work and thinking critically and educating yourself to become better. All those activities can be developed into habits over time.

This works for personality traits to a certain extent, too. We all have our original set points for different traits, and some of us will have to work harder than others to change and maintain those points, or will have limits to where we can move those points. But we can choose to encourage new habits that develop a certain trait. I used to be quite shy when I was younger, but I decided it wasn’t really very fun to be shy. So I practiced meeting people, I practiced inviting people to do things, I said yes to invitations, and I cultivated new hobbies that encouraged me to be social. I still have my shy moments, but now I often look at those moments as a challenge or game that I can try to succeed at as opposed to a miserable experience. And really, most of the time I’m not very shy at all because of the habits I eventually formed. I’ve talked to several other people who have had similar experiences.

And finally, habits even affect the kind of thoughts we have. That’s what Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is all about. If we decide we want to be more positive, we can explicitly practice framing our thoughts in more positive ways until it becomes second nature. If we want more self esteem, we can practice thinking kinder thoughts about ourselves until, you’ve got it, those thoughts become second nature (or at least more frequent). Sometimes a lot of how we see the world is affected by our individual thought patterns, which are really just habits of thinking we’ve picked up over time.

When I think about it, I realize how strongly my habits shape my life, from how I spend my time to what and how I think to what my actual expressed priorities are. Of course, habits can arise FROM those priorities as well as shape what those priorities are. I think that’s why I care so much about living an examined life, so I can be more conscious about choosing those priorities and figuring out how to express them rather than have priorities happen TO me.

What habits have you chosen to develop? What habits do you want to change?

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“I’m not interested in blind optimism, but I’m very interested in optimism that is hard-won, that takes on darkness and then says, ‘This is not enough.’ But it takes time, more time than we can sometimes imagine, to get there. And sometimes we don’t.”

Colum McCann (by way of Jonathan Carroll’s Facebook page)

I think this is important to remember. Hoping for the best without taking the time to educate ourselves is not particularly helpful. Blindly doing the same thing we’ve been doing over and over while expecting a different (and better) outcome is Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity. Looking at silver linings to the extent that we’re blinded to reality and won’t look for changes we can make to better our situations keeps us stuck in one place.

But taking a real look at our lives and making change, real change, takes optimism as well. Optimism allows us to believe we’ll be okay whatever is happening. Optimism allows us to think change is possible for us. Optimism allows us to create a vision of a better future. Optimism gives us courage. And optimism gives us a greater capacity for both kindness and happiness.

The trick, then, is in being able to tell the difference between the optimism that holds us down and the optimism that lifts us up.

Photo Credit: Ira Gelb via Compfight cc

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Guess what time it is? Birthday week! I’ve been spending the past week celebrating, and there will even more celebrating through the weekend. (Battlestar Galactica the board game! Fancy tea! And also frozen yogurt!) And today is my actual birthday, so I am spending time doing fun things…and also revising. Because revising seems to be a never-ending process in my life at the moment.

For the last couple of years on the blog, I’ve made a birthday post listing five happy things. But today I’d like to take a moment to think about one BIG happy thing: gratitude.

The reason thinking about five happy things every day is supposed to increase general happiness is that it helps us cultivate a sense of gratitude. This year has been a tough one for me, and what I’ve learned is that in the face of adversity, feeling gratitude is even more important. It’s so easy to get caught up in a tidal wave of difficult emotions, but being aware of all the positive parts of life helps keep things in balance. And because of the contrast, the good and the sweet and the special feel even stronger and more important than they normally do.

So today on my birthday, I am feeling gratitude and appreciation. There are so many wonderful people in my life, many of whom will be reading these words today, and my life is so much richer because of you. Whether I am learning from you or having fascinating conversations with you, having super fun times with you or offering and receiving support, you make a difference in my life. I only wish I could see those of you who don’t live close to me more than I do.

Taken during birthday week! Nala is too excited to hold still and look at the camera.

Taken during birthday week, by Yvette Ono. Nala is too excited to hold still and look at the camera.

I have been lucky this past year in many ways. I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time doing creative work that is important to me: revising The Academy of Forgetting (and revising some more), starting on the Space Novel, thinking of future story ideas. I’ve gotten to spend time in Seattle and New York and Boston, Chicago and Toronto and Detroit. I’ve reconnected with some people who matter to me, met some new people who have been fantastic, and deepened my existing friendships. I’ve been on the receiving end of a whole lot of generosity.

I live somewhere I feel comfortable and safe. My knees have been cooperating, and my allergies have improved. My friend Ferrett survived his triple bypass. I learned a lot about myself, and I’m on the path to creating the life I want. I have a little dog who brightens every single one of my days.

So here’s to another year! I know there will be challenges, but there will also be so much joy and gratitude that I get to be here experiencing life in all its glory.

What do you feel grateful for today? Let’s spread the happiness around.

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As I write this, Nala is sitting right next to me keeping me company, as she usually does while I write blog posts on my laptop. Actually, in this case, she is sprawled upside down, limbs akimbo, the top of her head smushed up into the side of her bed so I can’t see her eyes, only her white ear and lots of paw.

Sleepy dog.

Sometimes, she curls up in a little ball instead.

Four years ago this month, I saw a photo of Nala on the Silicon Valley Humane Society’s website. She looked scruffy and scrawny, and I fell instantly in love.

When I met her, she wasn’t interested in me. She didn’t want to snuggle, and she seemed nervous around people. She was much more interested in exploring the shades covering the window. I put her on a 24-hour hold so I could sleep on such a major decision. But I went directly from the shelter to the pet store to get everything a little one-and-a-half-year dog could need.

Nala loves to howl when she gets excited.

Nala loves to howl when she gets excited.

When I first got her, I was really excited every time I was on my way home because I knew I’d be seeing her soon. I figured that eventually this feeling would fade. But four years later, it hasn’t changed a bit. Whether I’m coming home from an errand or a long trip, I always look forward to seeing her.

Nala, Wisdom Dog

Things aren’t always easy. Nala has been suffering from increased separation anxiety the last few months, and I worry about her even while I’m trying to help her adjust. And Nala worries about me too sometimes, even while she’s licking my hands and staying close, doing her best to cheer me up. But we get through the hard times together.

She's also a great listener.

She’s also a great listener. (Photo by Yvette Ono)

Adopting Nala has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. She is my constant companion and my best doggie friend. The flow of unconditional love between us is one of the most beautiful parts of my life. She makes every day better with her presence.

I love my little dog.

Best friends!

Best friends! (Photo by Yvette Ono)

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I went to my city’s New Age bookstore today because I wanted to buy a calendar. (And I did! It has cool pictures of fractals.) I ended up buying myself a card because the text made me so happy. It says:

Be who you really are and go the whole way. -Lao Tzu”

I wanted to share a photo of my card, but then I started worrying about copyright issues, so instead I used the new Google+ photo tools (well, new to me, anyway) and made this photo to share.

Amy and Lao Tzu wisdom

I love this saying. It’s so fierce. Telling someone to be who they are isn’t enough. (And it’s also incredibly vague advice, especially if you don’t exactly know who you are.) But telling someone to go the whole way implies that there will be that moment of decision, when you could back down or mute yourself or hold yourself back or pretend to be someone you really just aren’t. And then, THEN, MY FRIEND, that’s when you have to go the whole way. That’s when you have to commit to who you are, who you’ve worked to become, who you want to be, and how this moment will be woven into your own personal narrative of self.

This is the essential truth of how to be a badass.

Going the whole way means stripping yourself of the things that don’t matter. It means being unwilling to apologize for who you are. It means celebrating the awesomeness that is you. It means letting yourself shine, and if you shine so bright some people have to look away, so be it.

Be passionate. Be silly. Be provocative. Be serious. Be warm. Be witty. Be quiet. Be no fun. Be the life of the party. Be honest. Tell lies to strangers about your adventurous past. Love what you love, whether that be writing or fly fishing or crafting or singing or traveling or golfing or playing board games or teaching or making or building or boating or gardening or talking or spinning around in the middle of a big field until you’re so dizzy you can’t stay standing.

Relish the freedom of being you. Try to avoid relinquishing that freedom, and if you lose it by accident, channel your inner fierceness to gain it back again.

Think about what going all the way might look like. Try it on for size.

Revel in it.

 

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Here is a beautiful thing.

In the midst of stress, there is connection. In the midst of sorrow, there is laughter. In the midst of fatigue, there is anticipation. In the midst of loss, there is appreciation. In the midst of chaos, there is the act of kindness that matters because of its mere existence.

In articles about dealing with stress, the idea of gratitude is repeated over and over again. Whether or not it is an active strategy, I find that gratitude and its cousin appreciation bubble up so easily these days. Perhaps because I need more help I have more to be grateful for. Or perhaps the contrast makes my appreciation keener. Or maybe I’m always this way and I just don’t usually pay as much attention. It is hard to know.

I stood in the grass at Shoreline Amphitheatre this weekend, my vest zipped up against the cool evening air. I watched Passion Pit play their song “Take a Walk,” and I was so happy to be there. I watched a friend of mine win the Andre Norton Award on Saturday night, and in the middle of tearing up, I was so happy to be there. I ate a late evening snack at my favorite local crepe place with a group of friends old and new, and I was so happy to be there.

My Taos buddies and I at the Nebulas this weekend. Photo by Valerie Schoen.

My Taos buddies and I at the Nebulas this weekend. Photo by Valerie Schoen.

A friend told me this weekend about a friend of hers who read my blog post about stress last week. Apparently it had a big impact, being the right post at the right time for this friend, who has been going through a lot herself recently, but she was embarrassed to write and tell me. I laughed and said, “I was embarrassed to write that post too.” I am so happy I decided to write something that mattered to someone.

I am so happy that so many of you have reached out to offer support and tell me it’s totally fine to spend some time staring at trees. And I completely agree. Staring at trees can be pretty great. So can eating pie and reading fluffy novels and petting little dogs and wearing a fantastic dress.

I am so happy to be here right now.

I am always looking for reasons to be happy, and I found so many of them this weekend. And perhaps that’s what I feel the most grateful for: my ability to find those reasons, and your willingness to create those reasons with me.

Thank you.

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I’ve been going through a bunch of my boxes of old memorabilia, trying to consolidate and store stuff in boxes that aren’t collapsing from age. It has proven to be a fascinating experience–albeit an allergy-inducing one–punctuated by shrieks whenever I come across an unexpected bug. Good times, good times.

In the excavation process, I found something I thought was lost in the mists of time forever: my first book. Written when I was seven years old, it is called “The Princess and the Cave” and reflects my undying love for fairy tales, and also probably for The Princess and the Goblin, which I believe I’d read shortly before writing my own story. Here is the cover:

The Princess and the Cave

 And here is a taste of the artwork inside:

Amy's cave drawing

We can see two things from these photos: first, that I was fascinated with the idea of caves, and second, that it’s not surprising I didn’t go on to have a career in the visual arts.

I loved writing “The Princess and the Cave” so much that I promptly sat down and wrote a second book:

Too Much CandyI find these books to be noteworthy because it was when I was writing them for a classroom assignment that I understood that the books I loved to read were actually, really truly written by other people. And I decided that when I grew up, I wanted to be an author.

I never changed my mind. I decided I wanted to be a musician too, and I devoted many years of my life to primarily focusing on music. But even then, I was writing bad poetry or memoirs or short stories or lyrics or the book of a musical. And I always held onto the idea in the back of the mind that one thing I wanted to accomplish in my lifetime was to write a novel. I thought I might not do it until I was fifty (I’m glad I was wrong about that), but it was always a part of my vision for my life.

Having a vision for our lives can be so powerful, whether the vision was formed when we were seven or it’s brand new. A vision can give us purpose and direction, something to aim towards as we make the decisions that shape our lives. And in times of change, it’s the powerful vision of what we’re striving for that carries us through. I’m not talking so much about visualizing what we want, which some research shows actually makes us less effective at carrying out our plans. Rather, I’m talking about knowing what we want (or learning what we want if we don’t already know) and believing it could become a reality.

We can become so limited by what we believe to be impossible. Obviously we aren’t capable of every thing under the sun, and sometimes we don’t want to set the corresponding priorities or make the sacrifices necessary to make something possible, and that’s fine. That’s different than experiencing a failure of imagination, imagination being the capacity that perhaps allows us to have vision in the first place. We get to choose our vision, after all. But we can become stifled by a narrow view, or by exhaustion, or by fear.  We can forget that so many amazing dreams are worthwhile not so much because of the end result (although that can be quite nice, of course) but because of the journey we take to follow them.

Do you have a vision for your life?

 

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Today I started writing another novel.

It took a long time. In addition to actually typing some words, I did the following activities:

- I ate a Japanese cinnamon flavored mini Kit Kat, an extra peanut butter cup, and way too much cranberry sauce.
– I pet the dog. More than once.
– I spent time on Craigslist.
– I spent a little time emailing before throwing up my hands in despair at how far behind I am.
– I did laundry.
– I played Minesweeper.
– I emptied the trash can in my study.
– I took the dog to the park.
– I worried about the novel.
– I worried about things having nothing to do with the novel.
-I worried about other things having nothing to do with the novel.
– I practiced music.
– I played Solitaire.
– I thought about texting people and then didn’t get around to it because if they texted back, that would be the end to any pretense of productivity.
– I wandered around the house.
– I rinsed out a glass jar of jelly.
– I looked at the clock a lot.

Really, it’s a miracle I squeezed a thousand words out of my brain somewhere in the middle of all that activity, the majority of which was based around me not wanting to start the new novel.

It’s not that the actual writing is so unpleasant. I like writing. Even when it’s difficult, it’s still generally very satisfying. But even so, there’s a certain amount of resistance that I have to push through at the start of any new project. And I expect that resistance to continue for at least another week or two.

I’ve become very good at Solitaire, let me tell you.

The beginning is hard because I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know my characters very well, and my outline is full of vague comments like “They come up with a plan” (Fabulous! Now if only I knew what the plan was) and “She does something awesome” (if only I knew what awesome thing she could do) and “She’s given an important assignment” (but who knows what that might be). I don’t feel comfortable in my world. I can’t remember everything I’ve thought about it, and as soon as I commit sentences, I realize all the things I haven’t figured out yet. And then I realize all the things I know that I have to make sure the reader knows too, even though it would be so much easier to just breeze past those bits.

Beginnings are like that in general, aren’t they? We don’t know what to expect when we start something new. There’s no routine to fall back on, fewer tested assumptions to use as mental shortcuts. It’s scary because we don’t know if we’ll be any good, or if we’ll like whatever new thing we’re starting, or if we’ll be somehow screw things up because we don’t know any better yet. They’re uncomfortable and uncertain.

But beginnings are also a time of great promise. We don’t know what to expect so maybe amazing things will happen. It’s exciting to strike out and start something new. It lets us learn more about ourselves and more about the world around us.

So tomorrow when I sit down and begin the whole lengthy push-a-thousand-words-out-of-my-head process again, that’s what I’m going to try to think about. That even though I’m uncomfortable, maybe amazing things will happen.

I hope they happen for you too.

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I think a lot about how to live life and how to be happy. And the more I think about it, the more I realize how often the Rule of Awesome applies.

What is the Rule of Awesome? It’s the idea that when you’re dissatisfied with yourself or your circumstances, you do something awesome. You make the choice to take an action that is positive and exciting and cool. You focus on yourself and how you can be a more fulfilled person instead of focusing on those things that you cannot change.

Following the Rule of Awesome might not fix your problems, but what it will do is put you back into a place of empowerment. And it makes life a lot more fun.

Of course, cultivating the awesome and noticing it when it presents itself can be difficult. But it’s just another mental muscle; with attention and practice, finding awesomeness gets easier over time. And as you make awesome, the opportunities for more awesome tend to multiply.

There’s also our old friend, the fear of failure, trying to discourage us from pursuing the awesome. After all, what if the awesome turns out to be merely mediocre, or even flat-out bad? Which is why I think the more awesome things you’re doing or planning to do, the better. That way when some of them don’t pan out, it doesn’t matter as much since there are more awesome things on the horizon. And when we focus more on the process than the result, we have more time to enjoy the awesome even if everything doesn’t work out perfectly in the end.

Taking a stroll in Central Park the day before a hurricane? Definitely awesome.

Taking a stroll in Central Park the day before a hurricane? Definitely awesome.

Most of the time, though, the Rule of Awesome tends to work out pretty well for me. So to inspire you, I’m going to cook up some ideas for more awesome in the months to come. (Yes, this does mean I get to make a list. And yes, lists are very obviously made of awesome.)

- Try vanilla ice cream with the following toppings: chocolate syrup, strawberry jam, maple syrup, and M&Ms. Really I think maybe having both jam and maple syrup is too much, but I think I’m going to try it anyway. Why? Because it’s awesome.

- Drive down to Santa Cruz with someone who thinks the following is as awesome as I do: mini-golf, air hockey, crepes, and ice cream. Oh, and freezing cold beach time, when the wind is ripping through your hair and your cheeks are getting numb and you taste salt on your lips.

- Battlestar Galactica the Board Game. Enough said.

- Dye my hair red to see what it looks like.

- Go see this guy perform live.

- Write a novel set in space. Even though it’s freaking terrifying. Why? Because its awesomeness factor makes it totally worth it.

- Throw a big party and convince everyone to dress up in fabulous costumes.

- Buy lots and lots of dominoes and make a huge standing domino pattern until I can’t wait any longer and have to topple them all.

- Go to Iceland and attempt to see the Northern Lights in October before heading down to Brighton and World Fantasy con. Seriously, I can’t think of anything much more awesome than this. Obviously this is a thing that all of you who are SF/F writers should do with me.

Most fun list-making game ever. Help make my list longer. What’s something awesome you might do in the next year?

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This weekend I got a question on an old post of mine that I thought deserved a longer response. The post is on the topic of the difficulties of being a free spirit, and the commenter asked: “”What do you do when you falter? How do you stay strong in the face of judgement?” Both excellent questions.

What do I do when I falter? And oh wow, do I falter. Most of us do. It’s hard to make unconventional choices, and it takes a fair amount of courage, and sometimes my supply of courage feels like it’s running short. What to do about this indeed?

One answer is to pay attention as much as we can, so at least we have a chance of noticing when we’re faltering. And once we’ve noticed, we can allow ourselves to be gentle about it. It’s fine to feel the fear, the discomfort, the wish that the choices that seem so much easier would be the right choices for us. But we also need to remember the why’s. Why do we like being free-spirited? Why do we prefer considering options instead of making the default choice? Why is this better?

When I falter, I remind myself of my experiences of doing what others expected or wanted rather than what I wanted, and how that usually turned out poorly. I give myself my own personalized pep talk. And because I’m a planner, I develop a plan for getting myself back on track, which might include getting additional support.

Photo Credit: bogenfreund via Compfight cc

Far more difficult in my own experience is staying strong in the face of judgment. Being judged is such a creepy-crawly, uncomfortable experience. And even though it so often is all about the person doing the judging rather than the person being judged, it still feels very personal.

The first place to look is to ourselves. If we encourage our own minds to be judgmental and critical of ourselves, then we’ll feel that same sensation of judgment coming from the outside as well…even if it doesn’t actually exist outside at all. So we need to be kind to ourselves while developing our own sense of worth. The more we believe in ourselves, the more confident we become. And the more confident we become, the less it matters what other people think, and the easier it becomes to remember that their judgments are more about them than about us.

It’s harder when the judgments are coming from people whom we care about: our family and friends. Sometimes their voices become so loud that we internalize them and can hear them criticizing us even when they aren’t present. And because we value their opinions, it can be harder to tell the difference between genuine concern and viewpoints respectfully expressed and more manipulative and painful judgments.

For this, I am a big fan of setting boundaries. When we’re not used to having boundaries, it takes a lot of practice. Really a lot. And not only that, but people can become quite judgmental about the fact that you have boundaries in the first place. But it’s psychologically healthy to have boundaries, and over time they become super effective. You’re allowed to decide what you’re going to do with your life, and you’re allowed to take care of yourself. (I could write entire books about boundaries. In fact, people have, and here’s my favorite.)

So, in summary, here’s what I do when I falter and when I’m having trouble with the judgments of others:

1. Be mindful so I notice what’s going on.
2. Self pep talk, reminder of why what I’m doing is awesome.
3. Get support, make a plan if necessary.
4. Work on increasing self esteem and minimizing my own critical judgments.
5. Set boundaries with other people and take those boundaries really seriously.

What do you think? How do you stay strong in the face of judgment?

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