The Book I Feared to Write

When the pandemic of 2020 crashed down like a tidal wave, I retreated into my home to wait it out.

A writer and teacher who works at home, it wasn’t a stretch to teach classes online and restrict communications to telephone and Zoom sessions. Enforced isolation seemed the perfect time to w0rk on ideas I’d been gathering for a new book. No more excuses. Time to write that book.

For the first few weeks I believed my own story. Kept my commitments. Participated in online meetings and classes. On regular bike rides with my dog, Zena, I spoke to neighbors I had rarely seen. Everyone was eager to say hello, pass the time of day, and relay how they were coping. At the park, passersby were friendlier than usual. I sat under a ramada near a favorite tree while Zena rolled on the grass. Dogs trotted over to say hello. People waved. It was interesting how being forced to separate brought us closer together.

Weeks passed. I taught my classes, worked with students, completed editing jobs, and wrote. My writing practice is decades old, so I always write, but the new book’s focus eluded me. Anxiety kept me moving but also made it hard to sit and concentrate on an intensely private subject: my relationship to Spirit.

Fiction was easier to write, so I did that. Sent out short stories. Got a couple published. Still, I felt like a skittish animal running in ever-tightening circles around the one thing it wanted but feared to approach.

Facing my new book, which my mind had told me would be short and easy to write, I trembled.

An optimist at heart, I believe we have more freedom than we realize. We aren’t victims of our genetics, family upbringing, finances, politics, or experience. These things shape us, but at every moment, we have the choice to change. No matter our circumstances, we can embark on a fresh path.

Practice what you preach, I exhorted myself as I created a new spreadsheet and listed my chapters. I forged ahead with another draft—wrote, edited, researched, and organized. But something wasn’t right.

It was time to examine my own beliefs. One More Time.

After serious meditation and journaling, I uncovered the face of my resistance—my lifelong reticence to write about who I am. Not in the external sense. What was uncomfortable was writing about my inner world, which is far more real to me than what I do “out there.”

I am one of the lucky ones. From early childhood, I have wandered the inner world. I also knew that, if I spoke of it, the outcome would be ridicule and shaming. So I kept my counsel until I got older and found safe spaces to be myself.

The roots of my personal challenges were buried deep. Not “out there” in an unmarked grave but inside my psyche and body, what I call the “biofield.” Because of early trauma, I’ve berated and second-guessed myself, agonized, and rationalized when deciding about jobs, relationships, business, writing projects, and finances. I doubted my inner perceptions and the common wisdom. Anxiety was a constant companion. No matter what I did, I judged myself, taking on more responsibility than was mine to bear, experiencing the exquisite torture of teetering on the line between worlds.

Struggling with a book I couldn’t grasp, an epiphany burst forth. I realized that, at this moment, only what’s important counts—and what’s important is what I’ve learned from sojourning with my inner self. The lessons were not complicated, but I’ve been a slow study, so it’s taken time to re-member them

  • There is a path through life which we chose before birth.
  • We walk our own path, whether or not we know it.
  • Our inner self guides us, whether or not we notice.
  • Life is easier when we heed the messages from within.
  • When we listen to the messages of our inner self, it grows into a Wise Inner Guide.
  • Spirit possesses infinite patience.
  • It’s never too late to listen and learn. 

The book, When Spirit Whispers, a journey of awakening, will be published soon, along with an accompanying workbook. This article is an amended version of its preface. I plan to write two more volumes, Visions of Healing and Doorways to Healing.

Going forward, I will use this monthly blog to write about healing, trauma, and writing, the three subjects that intersect to form my path. I hope you will find it useful

If you would like to be an advance reader for When Spirit Whispers, contact me at carol@carolhollandmarch.com. I will send you an electronic copy of the book. If you enjoy it, I hope you will be kind enough to leave a review.

 

 

 

 

 

Dancing With the Creative Self

Many of my students sign up for a writing course because they have an urge to bring forth their experiences.

They want to write stories, poems, memoirs. Many have never written before. They don’t know where to start. What to write about. How to choose fiction or nonfiction. Many have confidence issues. Fearing judgement, they hesitate to share their work.

I understand the tenderness of the beginning writer, the courage it takes to put forth embryonic work and place it under the light of scrutiny.

Even though I had written professionally for years, when I was ready to put out my first fiction, I was terrified. The marketing and training books I wrote, the manuals, web text, and scripts, even the ghost-written articles—none were as personal as fiction. It took stern conversations with myself before I started sending my work to magazines, accepting the inevitable rejections, and sending it out again.

Now, after publishing many short stories, three novels, and a few personal experience narratives, I tell my students that I learned the most about writing from the effort to produce publishable work.

My writing teachers taught me much. So did the students in the classes and workshops I attended. Every editor I hired to advise me before I sent out a piece taught me something new.

Some magazine editors were kind enough to say why they rejected my piece. Some even suggested changes. Every time I looked anew at a rejected story, I found ways to improve it. And of course there was the exquisite pleasure when  an editor said they liked my story.

The whole process was a learning experience. It toughened me and eventually became fun. Not to say I enjoy rejections, but they no longer stop me. It’s not personal. It’s the work. Which can be improved.

What’s important for new writers, especially those who start later in life, is to honor the urge to create. To bring forth and shape the nascent idea nagging at you. The images you know are part of a story. The characters who spring to life in your mind. The feeling that your experiences matter. Which they do.

We live our lives according to the story we tell ourselves. We change our lives by changing our stories. Whether we fictionalize our experiences or write searingly honest memoir, the benefits of getting them out of our heads and into the world are enormous. It helps us, and it helps others.

The drive to create is in everyone. It’s part of being human. Honored, it makes us more human.  Our Creative Self urges us onward. It wants to be expressed. It wants to dance, with joy and abandon. Honor it.

So, write! Sing! Dance! Paint! Make a poem! Outline your novel! Decide you’re going to tell about all that you’ve learned!  I promise, you won’t be sorry.

Is the Story of Your Life Changing?

The stories of our daily lives have changed. We had no choice. We’re working at home. Not working. Home schooling the kids. Can’t travel. No baseball games, concerts, movies, or parties. We learned to operate on Zoom and discovered you can order anything, literally anything, on Amazon.

The changes were abrupt and startling. We adjusted and asked a lot of questions.

  • When will it be over?
  • Am I safe?
  • Is any of this true?
  • When will life go back to normal?

For answers, there’s no lack of stories.

  • It will end in the summer.
  • The virus will run its course like the flu.
  • Only old people are at risk, so don’t worry about it.
  • We don’t know what’s going to happen.
  • The way the story ends depends on how we behave.

We find ourselves in the role of protagonist.

But is that anything new?

There are so many stories to choose from. As much as humans love inventing stories, then repeating and elaborating on them to entertain each other, this is different, isn’t it?

Yes, and no.

Before written language, people told stories. They relayed what plant was safe to eat, what trail led away from the lion’s den and which one to follow for water.

Stories based on facts won.

When the story is about our health, safety, how we work, and how we provide for our families, we want a story based on the best facts available.

But when the story is about how we respond to abrupt cultural change and how we feel about it, that’s different. It’s about our lives. We get to make it up.

We tell a story about how we’re doing. What adjustments we’ve made. What’s going to happen. What it all means. It’s how our brains work. They want to know the next step. An unfinished story makes them squirm.

We tell the story of our lives all the time. To friends, to colleagues, when we’re interviewing for a job, or talking to a realtor about buying a house. The stories may be snippets, short stories, or in some cases, novels. This is who I am. This is what I did. This is what happened. This is what I’m going to do.

Our story makes up our personal myth.

  • I’m the kind of person who always . . .
  • I love a challenge.
  • Nothing stops me from reaching my goals.
  • If my family had been supportive, I could have . . .
  • Relationships never worked out for me.
  • Boredom is the worst, so I go where the adventure is.

Now that life has changed, are you changing your story? Developing a new plot? Inviting new characters into it?

In fiction the hero’s journey is a familiar plot. The protagonist ventures forth, meets allies, vanquishes enemies, and after conflict and difficulty, seizes the prize. Whether the prize is a princess to love, treasure, or hard-won knowledge, he meets his destiny. He was brave and developed skills.

Another journey is that of the heroine, taken by both men and women. It does not require a quest, but instead follows an inner path where memories, feelings, and beliefs are examined. The goal is to be authentic. The heroine examines her values, decides how much of the common wisdom applies, and who she will be in the future.

This time seems perfect for the inner journey, a pause to examine our lives, notice our reactions to the changes we’ve had to make, and decide what can be left behind. As we move forward, we may need a new perspective. New plans. A new attitude.

If you’ve thought about writing the story of your life, for personal development, legacy, or memoir, this may be the time. Especially if that story is changing. Writing helps sort things out so you can become the conscious narrator of who you are and who you will become.

I offer a class on Writing the Story of Your Life through UNM Continuing Education. Contact me to learn more about it.

Now Is The Time

Well, here we are. It’s been a month since I’ve attended a meeting outside my home. A month since I’ve taught in a classroom. Since I’ve had lunch with a friend, gone to a movie or stood in line at the grocery store. Even for an introverted writer who loves solitude, staying home this much gets weird.

Every day I bike through my neighborhood with my dog. She’s well over a hundred in people years, so we don’t go far. Lots of stopping and sniffing. I want her to keep her muscle strength as long as possible, so I persuade her even when she’s reluctant. She gains enthusiasm as we progress and on our way home, she trots along beside me, wagging and smiling. I put her inside and go out for a longer, harder ride. Sometimes I walk a Bosque trail. Most days I visit the local park to sit under a Ramada and watch people playing with their dogs and kids.

Everywhere I go, people greet me. They wave from cars and porches. We exchange anecdotes about our dogs, our shopping challenges, the weather. I know twice as many of my neighbors as before the pandemic. Maybe because more people are home. Maybe because community is our only bulwark against the waves of tragedy and fear sweeping our land.

It’s so odd that now we express our love for each other by keeping our distance.

I’m one of the lucky ones who can work at home and order what I need. And suddenly there was plenty of time. The perennial excuse evaporated overnight. Without appointments, errands, and classes, I could be wildly productive.

But it’s a month in and I’m just beginning to settle down. I have written. I always do. But my productivity did not escalate with the additional time. I found myself dithering, staring into space, watching shows on Netflix I didn’t even like.

My old responses to stress—procrastination, obsessing on unimportant details—re-appeared. My thoughts and fears about the pain and suffering hovering over the world like a black cloud was the culprit.

I meditated and prayed about it. Took the practical steps feasible for me. Reminded myself that I am safe. I am healthy. At this moment, I have a place to live, food to eat, beautiful animals to keep me company, friends to call and zoom with. And now, I’ve started offering writing workshops via zoom. Why not? Virtual training may be the new normal.

Finally, it occurred. This is the time. To stop making excuses. To look at my reactions to the changes in our world without flinching. To walk the talk. Be honest. The reason I’m not working on my new book for six hours a day is because I’m nervous!

When I’m nervous, I procrastinate. I read every email, news reports, the latest statistics. Being informed is fine, but knowing all the details doesn’t help.

So what does? What helps us live with uncertainty? This is what I came up with

  • Acknowledge feelings. It’s okay to feel anxious, stressed, impatient, depressed. Feelings denied only pop up later. Now is the time to admit that I’m human. I’m upset. I don’t like this. I want it to end.
  • Make self-care a priority. A walk, a bike ride, a yoga tape, an online exercise class. Deep breathing, meditation, stretching, dancing around the living room. Now is the time to move—bodies and emotions so those negative thoughts don’t dig in
  • Keep in touch. Call, skype, email, zoom, wave from the porch. Make a new friend while out walking the neighborhood.
  • Help someone. What can I do? Who needs help?
  • Tolerate uncertainty. There’s no telling how any creative project will turn out, so that’s nothing new for a writer. It’s a good skill to master. Now is the time to let go of trying to control things. It was mostly an illusion anyway.
  • Take small steps. Now is the time to say, I don’t know, and move forward. The best cure for paralysis is action. One foot in front of the other.
  • And most important, notice negative thoughts. The what if’s. The it might’s. None of them are real. They’re just thoughts. And thoughts can be changed. Dissolved. Replaced.

I am safe.

I am healthy.

I have what I need.

I can adapt.

I can create.

I can do my work.

I can love.

What’s In Your Closet?

An irresistible urge to clean out a closet came up the other day. I attacked it with gusto and deposited in a cardboard box shoes I’ll never wear again, clothes that don’t fit, worn out bags, random books, and a lamp I hate.

After finishing, I realized I had been looking for something. Not that elusive black shoe to match the one in the box. Something more important. I was looking for my point of power. The place of stillness. The present moment.

I’ve often been stymied by resistance, which is a great catch-all for negative ideas and beliefs—the programming that lives in what some call the subconscious mind. It’s taken years to understand that what stops me from 1) starting and  2) finishing projects is hiding inside me.

Every spiritual teacher I’ve encountered, in person or books, emphasized the importance of the Now. In the sixties and seventies, as meditation and eastern philosophies integrated into western culture, it became an often-spoofed catch word. Be Here Now! Allen Watts exhorted us.

The truth is, he was right.

The only way to create anything new is from the present. If we try to create from old patterns and memories, we end up re-creating old situations, even if dressed up in new clothes.

If you prefer dwelling on the past, you may identify yourself with childhood experiences, past wounds, slights, or resentments. Hold beliefs about how limited you are, how it’s too late (or too early) for what you want. Think you need more security, money, or free time before you create. You tell stories of what happened.

If you’re oriented to the future, you’re always planning. You have goals, vision, motivational tools, a to-do list. You’re so focused on what you will do that you don’t notice what is happening now. You tell stories of how great things will be.

If we don’t question where our ideas come from and if they are still true, we risk repeating patterns we don’t understand. A stuck pattern is a lens of perception.

If you feel at the mercy of time, other people, or your responsibilities, and can’t seem to start that novel, exercise program, or job hunt, maybe it’s time to look inside. The inner way is not often valued by the outer world, but it’s essential if you want to know yourself.

Here are some simple ways to start:

State a clear intention.

  • Decide what you want.
  • Write it down.
  • Don’t share what you’re doing with anyone. Make this a private space, just you and the contents of your mind.

Spend fifteen minutes a day alone.

  • Sit quietly with yourself. In nature. In your favorite chair.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Breathe, and notice what thoughts come up.
  • Listen to the voice within, even if it sounds like your dad.

Get a notebook

  • Commit to three sessions a week, twenty minutes each.
  • Write what’s going on in your life and how you feel about it.

A practical way of clearing the mental residue is to look around at your living space to decide what you don’t need. Cleaning out closets, bookcases, attics, and garages is a physical correlate to cleaning out old ideas. It’s satisfying to cart away physical objects. Plus, it gives your resistance a heads-up that you mean business!

And who knows, you may find your point of power hiding behind that old tennis racket!