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Posts Tagged ‘positivity’

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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A few weeks ago I got to have a conversation with a respected Buddhist teacher. I asked him if it ever got discouraging, working with people who are stuck in one place and seemingly unable to dislodge themselves. And I’ve been thinking about his answer ever since.

People change when they want to change, he told me. And if they don’t want to change, there’s nothing else to be done. Even when they do want change, the process is difficult and sometimes the desire alone is not enough. And sometimes people are so caught up in their own stories that they really don’t want to change. They’re comfortable in their suffering.

I know exactly what he meant, because I’ve been comfortable in my suffering in the past. It’s a strange way to think about things because of course, being comfortable in suffering is often vastly uncomfortable. The key is in its relativity: that however uncomfortable the suffering might be, it is less uncomfortable than the alternative. It is less uncomfortable than the prospect of what change might mean.

Photo by Graham.

However, it is not only fear of change that is a driver here. It is also an inability to imagine anything different. It’s so easy for us to become caught up in our worldviews to the point that we don’t remember that other worldviews even exist, much less have the possibility of being equally valid. It’s easy to become blinded to anything outside of our experience. It can be easy to expect the worst, and by expecting it, summon it into our lives. (And we might not even realize we’re doing this, because it might not feel like expecting the worst; it might simply feel like maintaining the status quo.)

We act based on what we know. So when we wish to change, we often must change not only what we are doing but also what we believe to be true. We must question what we believe to be within the range of possibilities for ourselves.

I believe in our capacity to change with an almost desperate fierceness. I have to believe in it that way because I’m right in the middle of it, and it’s hard, and I don’t want to falter in my resolve. I often feel like I’m working five times as hard as usual. This process rinses and repeats, often from the tiniest stimulus: how do I feel? where is that feeling coming from? is there a way I can think about this differently? is this part of the new me or the old me, the new world view or the old one? if it’s the old one, can I let it go? how can I use this to open more to the world?

It is quiet work. For the most part, the outside world remains unaware that it is happening. Sometimes a friend offers me a helpful hand. Sometimes that help is a distraction, the space to laugh at it all, or just the reminder, “Take some downtime, Amy.” Because while it may be quiet work, it is also tiring, making myself new.

But I’ll let you in on a secret. My imagination is working, and I can picture it now: where I want to go. Where I am going. And who I’m going to be. There was always that part of me imagining what I secretly wanted but thought could never happen. Only now I believe in it. That belief makes it almost close enough to touch. (Maybe I’m already touching.)

Whatever it is I’m doing, it’s no longer a comfortable suffering. Instead it’s something that reminds me what it feels like to be alive.

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I’ve been trying to think of what other 2012 life lesson I should write about today. It’s problematic because I feel like I’ve learned so much, and I don’t want to choose only one thing. So I’m going to bypass this problem by making a list (and you all know how much I love lists).

Things I Have Learned in 2012:

  1. Being assertive is important.
  2. Ditto being open and authentic.
  3. I know how to make a mean cranberry sauce.
  4. Setting boundaries means I have more energy for being social.
  5. Chicago has a world-class art museum. I want to go back.
  6. Hurricanes can hit when you least expect them.
  7. First person point of view has a lot of nuances that are fun to play with. So do unreliable narrators. These two things are related.
  8. I am happier when I make my writing a top priority. I also accomplish a lot more.
  9. When you are confident, you hold your body differently. When you hold your body differently, you become more confident.
  10. Nobody is perfect. (This is quite a relief for all concerned.)
  11. Starbucks serves their pumpkin spice chai lattes all year round. Although I’ve yet to test this.
  12. People say wise things all the time if you pay attention.
  13. It doesn’t actually rain every day in Seattle.
  14. There is such a thing as too nice.
  15. Too much stress, and I’m in pain and/or sick.
  16. I’m better at making hard decisions than I give myself credit for.
  17. Life really is stranger than most fiction. Things happen that you could never get away with putting in a story.
  18. It’s okay to ask for help.
  19. New Year resolutions can sometimes be a very good idea.
  20. I like pie. (All right, I already knew this one.)
  21. Feeling an urgent need to succeed is something that happens at the beginning of the journey to mastery. Somewhere in the middle of the journey, I chill out and can focus more on the actual work.
  22. No matter how many books I have to read, I can always find more books I’d like to read, particularly if I venture into a bookstore.
  23. It can be useful to learn to embrace failure, since being okay with it allows you to take bigger risks and accomplish bigger things.
  24. Change takes time.
  25. People are infinitely adaptable.
  26. Seeing life through a lens of gratitude increases levels of happiness.
  27. So do little dogs. Probably also cats.
  28. So does loving yourself.
  29. Time keeps passing. And passing. And passing. No matter what happens or does not happen.
  30. Suffering and adversity can reveal great beauty.

What did you learn in 2012?

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I generally don’t do New Year’s resolutions. For me, they conjure up the idea of things people kind of want to do but don’t have the commitment with which to follow through. They have a half-hearted, wistful kind of air that frankly, I find a bit depressing.

That being said, for 2012 I made a resolution. Only I called it an intention to make myself feel better.

What I wanted to do this year was to focus on my friendships. I wanted more friends, and I wanted friends with whom I could discuss the things that are important to me. And I made a specific but modest goal: that by the end of the year, I would have two close friends, at least one of whom lived locally, with whom I felt comfortable being really open.

There were times at the beginning of the year when I felt very discouraged about this goal. I thought I was going to fail. I want to be clear that this had very little to do with the people around me, and very much to do with myself. I knew I had closed myself off in various ways, and that was hard to change. I had to force myself to take uncomfortable risks. I had to be assertive. I had to jettison the “I must always appear fine and happy and perfect” messages I’d been taught in childhood.

And now?

Photo by Ferran Jorda

Now I am surrounded by the most fabulous group of people I could have ever imagined. Each one of them is different, with their own superpowers, their own weaknesses, their own ways of being a part of my life. They have fun with me, they teach me, they comfort me, and they laugh with me. They welcome me with open arms when I visit, and they text and email during hurricanes. They dress up with me for James Bond because I think it’s the best idea ever, and they feed me, and they give me another chance. They encourage my writing and offer to help and give feedback so I can become better. They celebrate with me, and they hug me while I cry. They talk to me, and they listen to me, and we swap advice. They let me into their lives, and I let them into mine. Some of them even laugh at my jokes.

Some of them have been in my life for a long time. Some of them I’ve met recently. Some of them I see all the time. Some of them I rarely get to see. I feel like I’ve known some of them much longer than I actually have.

All of them have something in common: they support me being myself, flaws and all, and they support my vision for my life and who I want to be and the changes I have been making.

I love my friends with all my heart. They make my world brighter and my smile bigger.

No doubt some of them are reading this. I hope they are because it gives me another chance to say thank you. You are awesome, and I’m so glad we get to spend some time in each other’s excellent company.

A piece of common wisdom states that you should surround yourself with the kind of person you want to be. In other words, you want to spend most of your time with people who lift you up instead of bring you down.

Thank you, dear friends, for your lifting. I only hope I can do the same for you.

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I normally don’t write a post for Thanksgiving Day because I figure a lot of you will be too busy inducing food comas and hanging out with people to read any blogs. But some of you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, and others of you might want a well-deserved five-minute break from all activities Thanksgiving, so this year, here I am.

And guess what. I’m not even going to be talking about gratitude. Revolutionary, I know.

Although I will post a vanity pic of my first ever homemade cranberry sauce.

Instead, I want to talk about emotions. Our culture often puts certain value judgements on emotions. We have the “We must always be happy” myth. We also have the “tears are for wimps” myth. And we have the “Emotions are bad and must be suppressed–yay detachment!” idea.

I’m the first to agree that the ability to reframe and see the positive side of life is a great gift. Those of you who are regular readers have seen me write about that several times. Positivity helps with emotional resilience, and I think it tends to make people generally happier. All of which is fabulous.

But it’s fine when we have emotions besides happiness. It’s fine to sit there and admit to yourself that something really sucks. It’s fine to be frightened, or angry, or sad, or confused. It’s fine to be completely and utterly miserable. It’s fine to have a bad day. It’s fine if you don’t like Thanksgiving, or if your family is stressing you out, or if you’re worried that the mashed potatoes aren’t going to turn out. It’s fine if you feel shy because look and see all of these people you don’t know.

You don’t need my permission to feel however it is that you feel right now. You don’t need anyone’s permission. Go ahead and feel it. You don’t have to do anything about it, after all. A feeling doesn’t have to propel you into action. It can simply be.

We can repress and get down on ourselves when we aren’t feeling exactly what we’re “supposed” to feel. Or we can celebrate the fact that we’re alive right now and we get to feel the full spectrum of emotions. Some of them are tougher, for sure. Some of them we wish we weren’t feeling. But most of them happen to most of us at one point or another.

The idea that we must be constantly happy at all times is not particularly helpful. In fact, I find it downright exhausting. My favorite people are the ones that are okay with me however I happen to be feeling right then, even if I’m feeling cranky, or stressed, or really sad. The ones that need me to be happy all the time are not privy to the entireness of Amy, and I think that’s too bad. But regardless, I get to experience the entireness of Amy, just as all of you get to experience the entireness of who you are and how you feel. This is a beautiful thing. And it is part of being human.

Maybe there’s some irony in me being positive about not being positive and having emotions like sadness and fear and anger. But I don’t think we hear this message enough. It’s okay to feel how we feel. It’s okay if we don’t exist in an ecstatic cloud of happiness all the time.

It’s okay to accept the humanity of emotion.

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