Finding Story Anew

My last two blog posts have been an examination of my current mind-body consciousness, specifically my meditation practice and eating habits. I share Deepak Chopra’s belief that a change in one’s consciousness or awareness affects a change in one’s physiology at the cellular level.

I don’t remember when I did not believe in the mind-body connection but I know that reading Chopra’s Quantum Healing helped me consider what quantum healing may mean for me. I first read the book in the early 1990s and again just recently.

Old Woman Tree; KMHuberImage; Tallahassee Park in Winter

Of course, my current level of awareness is quite different these twenty years later. Then, I was completely attached to outcome—clinging the Buddhists call it—meaning my attention was always focused on the end result. Mostly, I was on a pendulum, swinging back to the past and then to the future without a thought to the moment. No wonder I never felt free.

Becoming aware that the moment is where freedom resides broke me open to Chopra’s “field of infinite possibilities” both physically and spiritually. Now, every facet of my life is fluid as I focus on what is and not what might be, which takes a lot more energy but in every moment, there is more energy.

Nowhere is this more evident than in my writing. When I began blogging, my writing focus was entirely outcome based: I set myself a certain number of words per day, I joined various writing challenges, and I troubled my readers with my angst over whether to plot out a novel scene by scene or just write it out by the seat of my pants. In nine months, I produced 220,000+ words in what I have come to regard as my daily writing practice. It is as valuable as my daily meditation practice, and  I don’t regret a word.

I was so attached to the outcome of writing– was it a novel, was it a memoir, was it a compilation of essays–that I abandoned story in search of format or genre. I could not free myself of what my words might become until I settled into the moment to write. One word after another, each sentence emerged from life rather than artifice. I re-discovered how I write.

In writing from the field of infinite possibilities, format/genre didn’t matter nor did structure, which is not to say that format and structure do not matter. They do and are critical to a successful outcome but like story, they have their moments for each writer to discover. For me, that meant having to know my story first, and I wrote in a way I have never written.

Having always appreciated a good story, I was well aware that I did not know the structure of story so I found out from those who did. I read, I watched movies, I discovered scene, and I wrote every day. I began to see snatches of story and I was reminded of John Irving’s response to the question of how he writes: “I start writing my autobiography and then I begin to lie.”

Pond in Winter; KMHuberImage; Tallahasse Park in Winter

I am writing an old woman story, and I am an old woman. If one can come of age at age 60, this woman does it. I cannot say that she is sympathetic or even likable—yet—but she exists in more faces and more places than is comfortable for any of us. Age or aging is still a thorny subject, and we have many clichés and euphemisms to avoid the word old.

But what can a woman make of a life at 60, if she has just awakened? That does sound rather autobiographical but I was lying before the end of the first paragraph–such is the way of story. For all I know, the old woman story—for lack of a better title–will remain part of my writing practice, as publication is not the outcome it once was for me. It’s too soon to tell.

For now, I go to the writing every day just to see what happens  with the old woman for I have not lived her life, although an old woman myself.

The Quiet Teachers

As I have mentioned more than once, I’m spending this year with Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening, meaning that I begin my daily meditation by reading one of his 365 observations. More often than not, a series of readings—one day after another—will seem an awakening designed only for me. This past week, Nepo introduced me to the quiet teachers.

The quiet teachers are often ignored but are everywhere and are as solid as the ground upon which we walk. We know these quiet teachers by their “lessons [that] dissolve as accidents or coincidence…offering us direction that can only be heard in the roots of how we feel and think” (Nepo).

For me, the lessons have been clear but somewhat noisy for I am in the process of completely restructuring a novel I wrote seventeen years ago. What that means is the destruction of a weakly structured novel in order to salvage a stubborn story that has waited a long time to be told. It has required me to immerse myself into an old world, awakening characters long silent and provoking images fraught with memories. There has been much shattering of ideals but the shards of those ideals proved to be quiet teachers, the first of others that I met this week.

Nepo also introduced me to an observation from Megan Scribner: “‘I’m only lost if I’m going someplace in particular.'” I could not have described my own first attempt at writing a novel more succinctly. For over 80,000 words and seventeen years, I stayed with a story I no longer believed rather than facing the story that was trying to emerge. Once I began stripping away the façade, I heard the heart of the story and found myself at journey’s beginning: “Practice letting go of your plan and discover the path of interest that waits beneath your plan” (Nepo).

Not being attached to outcome or plan reveals the story waiting to be written. It is only when I have the courage to face failure do I heed the lessons of the quiet teachers. Accident and coincidence dissolve into the direction of the story. I am struck by the synchronicity of my own life’s direction with that of my writing life. Not for the last time, I am in awe at the oneness that is all.

“‘Be serene in the oneness of things and erroneous views will disappear by themselves'” (Seng-Ts’an) became clearer and clearer to me as I separated the heart of the story from the remnants of what was once a novel. All of the tearing apart and leaving of words is less difficult than I imagine. There are thorny moments but eventually, they give way to the relief of no longer having to hold up the façade of novel.

While the shininess of a new structure of a novel is a gift, the fear of idolizing structure at the cost of story, wherever it may wend, is a battle that will wage until structure and story support one another as a whole. I am confident in the lessons of the quiet teachers but mostly, I am vigilant for like life, writing is fraught with accident and coincidence as is the beating of my heart.

“As you enter your day, try not to reach for life. Try not to leave or arrive. Try to let life into you” (Nepo).

Final Days of 59

“… Transformation always involves the falling away of things we have relied on, and we are left with the feeling that the world as we know it is coming to an end, because it is” (Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening).

This past February, I wrote a post about some unexpected milestones at age 59 ½. At the time, I was struck by the synchronicity. Still am. As this is my final week at age 59, I decided to revisit those milestones before I step into my sixth decade, one that promises even more transformation.

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I have continued to lose weight beyond the 59 ½ pounds of February; I am down 69 pounds with another fifteen-twenty to lose but no more than that. My eating habits have not changed in the past six months but my taste buds have adjusted to other options, and I enjoy eating again. I found millet-buckwheat bread made with chicory root and without refined starch, absolutely critical for me.  Almond butter sandwiches are now a staple. While my future remains gluten, yeast, sugar, dairy and soy free, my grocery list items are crisp and fresh.

In my last week as a fifty-nine-year-old, I am in better health than I was at 58, sans an arsenal of allopathic medicine. I remain convinced that Eastern medicine– Ayurveda and Chinese–has a better understanding of autoimmune disease. Ted J. Kaptchuk’s The Web That Has No Weaver is an excellent overview of traditional Chinese medicine, and I am searching for a similar Ayurveda text. Until I find it, I am enjoying Deepak Chopra’s Perfect Health, an informative volume regarding Ayurveda traditions.  This Tuesday, I have my first meeting with a practitioner of Eastern medicine.

KM Huber Image

But in these final days of my 59th year, it is my writing that is undergoing the greatest transformation. My numbers alone are major personal milestones.  I no longer publish blog posts twice a week as I did in February but on June 2, I began writing the initial draft of a nonfiction manuscript. Currently, I am producing over 9200 words per week on this manuscript alone. At my 59 ½ milestone, my word count was 9800 words for the entire month of February.

While I do not write for a specific word or page count, numbers gauge a manuscript’s size so I knew the end of the nonfiction manuscript was close: currently, it is 330 pages or just over 91,000 words. But even before I tallied the numbers, synchronicity had come to call; what Deepak Chopra calls “a quantum leap of creativity…a relinquishing of the known for the unknown.” And like milestones, coincidence comes wrapped in the ordinary.

In February, I included my participation in ROW 80 as part of my regular blog posts.  Frequently, I discussed the initial draft of a novel that I wrote seventeen years ago; in some blog posts I’d opt for rewriting the novel and in other posts I’d refer to the novel as a life once lived. Rather than letting go, I was very like the speaker in Linda Pastan’s poem, “Ethics,” unable to decide whether to save the old woman or the painting.

So, I signed up for an online workshop, Conflict and Idea with Bob Mayer, and learned about “kernel idea.” I have not been the same since so I consider it my toehold in the unknown, a piece of a milestone.

Bob says that the kernel idea is what initially inspires the writing of a novel–it is the Alpha and Omega of a book–it starts and completes the creative process but here is the key point: the story that you write may and probably does change but the kernel idea of a book does not, ever.

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During the course of the workshop, I came to understand that the “kernel idea” for my novel was not the story I had written. The kernel idea had not changed but the story I wrote moved away from the idea within the first 100 pages. Finally, I realized what I was hanging onto for seventeen years—my kernel idea and 100 pages—yet, it took me a while to understand just what that might mean but when I did, it felt like a “quantum leap of creativity.” Still does.

Thus, as I started writing a new nonfiction book—my current manuscript–I discovered the way to tell the story of my original kernel idea. Maybe the years sorted themselves, maybe I was letting go of what no longer serves but with transformation there is also revelation. In letting  go of a seventeen-year-old-story that no longer served, I discovered the kernel idea for a new nonfiction book.

“When faced with great change—in self, in relationship, in our sense of calling–we somehow must take in all that has enclosed, nurtured and incubated us so when the new life is upon us, the old is within us” (Nepo).

Go for the Metaphor

Eleven days ago, I stopped blogging regularly on Wednesdays and Sundays and my mind shutdown, leaving me alone with my ego.  It had been years since that had happened, and I did not want to go there, again.

And so I begin my second Round of Words in 80 days, the writing challenge that knows I have a life and probably has similar suspicions about my ego. Wayne Dyer refers to ego as “Edging God Out,” and when it comes to God, I’m with Joseph Campbell:

Joseph Campbell
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 “God is a metaphor for that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought. It’s as simple as that” (PBS Power of Myth Series with Bill Moyers).

It is always advantageous to define one’s terms succinctly, if possible, and if not, find others who can and do.

Our fearless ROW80 leader, Kait Nolan, provided an initial inspirational post for her ROW80 ranks of writers.  In particular, Kait dispelled a popular fallacy for many writers: if writing were their full-time job, writers would write as many as three or four novels a year, at the very least.

Once again,  ego spins falsely into fantasy.

Before I retired to writing, I, had that fantasy, which faded–frankly, on my first day– with full-time watching of Turner Classic Movies, then PBS, then British television, simply seductive. While some movie/television gazing can be considered studying the craft of scene and dialogue, reading and actual writing are closer to the grindstone.

As a writer and a human being—at times, known to be one and the same—my ego chatters constantly but I want the metaphor, aware  that I cannot know what transcends all intellectual thought but I can contemplate.

Frankly, ROW80 is what got me pursuing metaphor, in a most practical way. When I began round one in January, I was determined to publish a Sunday and Wednesday blog post for the entire round.

I did.

However, success has consequences, often overlooked in the glow of self-satisfaction, but for every action, there is a reaction.

The amount of time I spent writing blog posts, thinking about blog posts, and trying to have a week’s worth of posts written so I would not be always writing to deadline took on a life of its own, admittedly, a life bigger than screen gazing but it was not the metaphor.

So, here I am writing this post on the afternoon of April 2, the deadline for my first post of the second round of ROW80, battling my ego that says, “Post a couple goals. By Wednesday, you’ll be organized.”

No, I’m following fearless leader Kait Nolan:

“I want to help you develop that discipline and establish those good habits in your everyday life.  I want to help you take YOURSELF seriously as a writer, treat YOURSELF as a professional, so that bracket of time you can devote to writing, be it an hour or a day, becomes set in your mind as Writing Time–something you protect with the fierceness of a honey badger.”

See what happens when you go for the metaphor?

ROW80 Goal Posting

I have a separate blog page for the precise accounting of my R0W80 goals and updates, although I will probably  include a summary on main blog posts. Frankly, I can decide that later but for now, here we go:

Writing and Reading

Writing: Beginning April 4, 2012, write 500 words five days a week on my current manuscript. Word counts will be updated every Wednesday starting April 11, 2012.

Reading: Beginning April 4, 2012, read at least 50 pages every night to re-establish my reading routine. Am currently reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Beginning Sunday, April 8, 2012, I will comment on my reading progress each Sunday.

Blog Posts

By Sunday, April 15, 2012, I will have at least one week’s posts written and scheduled so I am not writing to deadline. 

Honey badger, honey badger….

Center of the Universe

You are not the center of the universe” is a pivotal line in my unpublished novel, written eighteen years ago. Actually, Center of the Universe was the novel’s real working title, which I do not believe I have never told anyone until now but I’m old and every day, my memory is kinder. For most of my novel’s years, I called it Spirit Song or a still favorite phrase, In-Between Dances.

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Anti-Spoiler: At no time in this post or any other post will you be subjected to excerpts from any novel or story I may write. This blog may  look at the 10,000 things of the Tao but my novel or story excerpts are excluded.  My writing has its place, which is not my blog.

“Center of the universe” was an unusual concept in the early 1990s  for me and for the small, coal mining community where I lived. Amazingly, I played a pivotal role in that community for a short period of time, if not as the center of the community, it was close enough for me forever. It doesn’t take much in a small community.

Fresh from a university setting, I was teaching the  basic composition course for the community college outreach program. The course was required for anyone pursuing an associate degree but I did not let that hold me back. I launched my (and the community’s) writing life with Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. Zen Buddhism completely captured my heart; I was so in love.

Edgar Allan Poe Wikipedia Image

Everywhere I looked, there was analogy after analogy. In teaching Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher,” a classic story of sentience, I nearly brought to life the house’s  weeping walls and the Tao of 10,000 things. I was ingenuousness personified. At best, I only knew half of what I thought I knew but I tossed all my sentience out there.

It stuck.

For the next few years, former students liked to introduce me as: “This is (My Name), and she thinks this chair has feelings.” Yes, a chair was offered to a somewhat startled, formerly secure person. It kept people on their feet, and for a moment, made me the center of the universe. Only now do I appreciate how truly amazing those years were.

By the time I began writing my novel in 1994, I had pulled away from the community and in all fairness, it had pulled away from me, too. We had reason to separate—it seems fair to say we had forgotten our sentient selves—it is so long ago who knows whether  there was any reason left in any of us. We just were.

Regardless, my novel was about finding community again; I wanted to discover where we had gone so wrong, all of us. Somewhere after 60,000 words, my protagonist was informed: “You are not the center of the Universe.” Truly, I remember the moment.

As a writer, I recognized the importance of the sentence but as a human being, I sensed enlightenment, albeit briefly. It would take another seventeen years to fully appreciate the center of the universe but there was light, and toward that, I moved.

In 2011, I read Stephen Hawking’s books—Grand Design and A Briefer History of Time—and learned of the multiverse, a considerable blow to my centered universe–momentarily–for I found the joy of quantum entanglement and Oneness. The reality of joy is once you experience it, you move in that direction always. Dark just does not have the same hold in Oneness.

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However, Oneness translates hard for a writer, sometimes.

While I had known for a while—sixteen years, eleven months, and twenty days—that I might glean only dribs and drabs from my first attempt at a novel, I always believed I had the center of the universe. Not so. Seems it really was a bit of fiction.  And there was something even worse: my center of the universe was a Little Darling, in writing, a death knell.

True to form, I kept silent about my Little Darling. Perhaps I hoped I would forget there was a multiverse–I promise you there is real merit in this possibility–yet, sentient human or no, once the heart knows, it knows.

Yesterday, my universe imploded, victim of  my first assignment in a writing workshop: write the idea of my novel in one sentence of 25 words or less. Surprisingly, I managed to find a sentence, not a cogent one, but the center of the universe was gone.

Note: For one of the best explanations about Little Darlings and how to get help for this alarmingly prevalent addiction, please read Piper Bayard and Kristen Lamb, proud sponsors of Little Darlings Anonymous.

ROW80 Wednesday Word Marking:

My word total for January was 8250 with my goal of writing at least 250 words per day; in February, I began writing in 30-minute stretches to focus my writing and the word total for the month is 9814;  in March, my current word total is 2118.  My total Round of Words so far is 21,182, which is a raw total, meaning a lot of free writing/brainstorming with a goal of writing consistently, which I have accomplished. I generate an additional 1200 to 2000 words per week as blogs, fiction, and nonfiction.

For the remaining days of this ROW80, I am focusing on scheduling my blogs so I am not on “deadline” ever or always on deadline.  Oneness is confusing in this regard.

Bob Mayer’s Idea and Conflict Workshop  is just incredible, and I mean that sincerely. I can honestly say I have not been this excited about writing in years. There is true joy in my work.