Growing Up Alzheimer’s 2: Blog to Book

This blog post is a series about my family’s history of Alzheimer’s through three generations of women. This history is as I have experienced it, and continue to experience it. No, I have not been diagnosed with this disease myself (fingers crossed), but the signs have crept up to my eldest sister, nine years older than I, and tapped her on the shoulder. So, this is the story I want to tell in these blog posts, as well as talking a little bit about the blog to book, blog to memoir process. I am going to switch to italics for the memoir post part and stick to regular text for the writing process part.
For my second post, what do I do? What do I do!? DON’T PANIC. Like the big, friendly letters on the front of the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy say. And I don’t have to panic, and you won’t have to either. If you look at my previous post about writing Memoirs and family Alzheimer’s the answer is right there. Step three of my process is write a list. I may or may not use chronology of history as my guide. Mostly I review the list and see what scene or story or remembered dialogue or image is begging to be written. Then I go with it. Just go with it. It was on the list so it must be done. God, I love lists.

Writing lists is my #3 step in my memoir writing process:
3.) Then I write a list of scenes, events, stories, snatches of dialogue, images, thoughts, worries, interactions.
For this step I am going to focus only on brainstorming for my Mother’s journey with Alzheimer’s:
  • How she was a hermit and possibly Asperger’s and our Google before Google 
  • The stories she told me about post part-em before they knew it was post part-em
  • Her walking that everyone noticed
  • The first signs we knew: Story about giant raccoons and laser beams
  • The coins she compulsively stacked up
  • The car accident
  • The first time she got lost
  • Getting POA and a will
  • The struggle between the sisters and the aunts
  • The 600 nuns study
  • The sushi picnic and the wasabi (see Mystery of Mom blog post)
  • Taking her to Madame Butterfly
  • The research we did of support and how that support has changed
  • The change of her personality to sweet and compliant
  • The garage sale and the lie from the difficult sister
  • The uninvolved brother who missed telling me about the NM book
  • The first home she lived in “this is a really great person”
  • The second home, “stealing” and tripping out on the flowered shirt
  • The man who wanted to escape together
  • The years and sister tension
  • The decline
  • Dentistry, bladder infections, operation
  • The decision at the end
  • The end scene , cold hands, staring, my sister’s cold comment and my aunt did not want to see her body
  • The wake, the dream the amazing night before

I can see from this that this is a lot of material. In fact, I suspect that 1-3 of those bullet points could constitute one blog post of probably 1000 words each.  Just to make it easier on myself and to give you and actual story to read I will reprint a portion of a previous post where the story of the sushi picnic was told.  Here it is from the Mystery of Mom post:

She was still living independently at the time, but we soon had care workers in for her and had her on the long waiting list for a care home. At this time we would frequently ask my mother questions cautiously and her answers would always be: “I know that!” and she’d look at us like we were crazy, when in fact we rather suspected the truth was she had no idea what we were talking about. We were all testing the waters at the time, unsure of what she really knew and didn’t know.

It was at this time, my two sisters and I decided to take her up to Capilano Dam one day to the picnic area. We had each brought a little something for the picnic including some prepared sushi we had picked up. My sister carefully explained to my mother that this was sushi, and in this dish was soya sauce, and this was wasabi (very hot horse-radish), and this is how you put them together. This was something she would have known before she started telling us stories about raccoons as big as men and laser beams bouncing through her apartment.

Inevitably she said, “I knew that,” as she grabbed the chopsticks and expertly started picking up the sushi. Okay, we all thought, and relaxed until we looked over moments later and saw the entire blob of green wasabi on the end of her chopsticks rapidly heading into her open mouth. We simultaneously let out a cry of warning and lunged across the picnic blanket to stop the impending mouth-burning culinary disaster in progress. She was rescued just in the nick of time, to her dumb founded looks and our relief and laughter.

And so part of my journey of my book of Growing Up Alzheimer’s is already on the way. But, on the journey of writing any one of these posts from the list above, I know I will undoubtedly remember more.

Next post step #4 and #5 in the writing process for a memoir… the art of transitions is EVERYTHING. But that comes later in the game. Now, blogging now, is about generating material.

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Ten Ways to Grow Your Writing

Someone told me to check out this blog from a painter stating ways to grow yourself as an artist.  (https//chrisgallego.wordpress.com/2017/11/25/5-unusual-habits-to-keep-you-growing-artistically/). I decided much of this applied to writers as well but I added a few of my own thoughts and came up with ten ways to grow your writing, remembering that there is no way to separate the writer from the writing. If the writer grows, the writing can also grow.

1. Write Crap

Yes, give yourself permission to write crap. There is a reverse psychology in effect here. The freedom to not write well tends to give you permission to try things, to go on creative impulse versus trying for perfection. And as Annie Lamott observed everyone writes shitty first drafts. It is natural for any artist in any field to produce a body of work. Some or even a lot of it will be crap so that some or even a lot if it will be good and some may even be great, but keep writing. Also, I make my students do an exercise to consciously try to write badly.  Three things usually happen when they do this. They use clichés and repetition, and go so far over the top with it that it becomes good. They notice that it is not easy for them to write poorly and thus, prove to themselves that they are better than they thought at writing well. They produce a great piece of comedy.

2. Get in Over Your Head

If you feel you are over your head and in a mess with your writing project, you might be exactly where you need to be. Taking risks is brave and will make you grow. You do want to challenge yourself. You can’t do that without feeling over your head. You need to go through it. 99% of what you do as a writer is process not product. It is a messy process and often an overwhelming process if you are truly challenging yourself. It is also a temporal art. Unlike the painter we cannot see the current whole in one view, we have to read and reread, write and rewrite. Wholeness is difficult to grasp, so being over your head is allowing the process to be what it is, a process before it is “declared” a product.

3. Read Bad Writing as well as Good

Reading bad writing reminds you what makes writing good. You will notice more about things to both avoid and include in your own work when you read bad writing, more so than when you are perhaps overawed by good writers. A good writer can freeze you into feeling too small and imperfect. This is ego and in your head. But also, when you are judging bad writing as bad, test how much is your judgement, notice where there is craft even in what you considered bad writing. Notice that you may have the notes to make something better. If it is really bad, give yourself permission to not finish it but be forever grateful of the experience, and then used that saved time to work on your own writing, gratefully.1medium_writingadvice_writerswrite

4. Get Lazy

Writing can be work, hard work, but it needs to be half play too.  If it isn’t we burn out.  The muse likes your effort but if it is all effort and no play then the muse can get turned off too. Sometimes you need to walk away and get lazy.  Don’t, for god’s sake, tell yourself you are having writer’s block. If you have been trying and it is not coming together that’s not writer’s block that’s pushing too hard. Take a walk. Consider those wonderful “Ah ha” moments, they happen at some other moment when you are laughing with friends, or generally goofing off.

5. Rearrange Your Writing Space

Have you put any effort into your private writing space?  We cook in the kitchen. We sleep in the bedroom. We take care of our bathing and toiletries in that room. Do you have a writing space? Do you like it? Do you give yourself nice things to look at? Does it have light and a window? Writers need light as much as painters. Do you have some words that inspire posted in your writing place? Words that remind you of who you are? For years I had a question, “Do words change reality?” and a cartoon with a character that said, “If you want to say something smart, think of something really dumb and write the opposite.”  I hope one day in the future to have the courage to take my desk and plunk it down in the best spot in the apartment or house and I won’t care if it is the living room or dining room or in an alcove at the top of the stairs.

6. Write in Other Places

After number five, this may seem like a contradiction, but you sometimes need to write away from your special designated spot and sometimes you have to. Writing in other places can mean other cities, other situations, maybe with someone else sitting writing across from you. Or, yes, it can mean in your local cafe or the cafe across town, or the cafe you always dreamed of writing at in Paris. Does it change your writing? Are you more inspired or less? I like writing retreats. I have been trying to figure out why I like writing in Mexico for years and I have lots of answers and none of them need to be real, I just need to know that it is a good place for me, but not the only place either. You should be able to write everywhere, so prove it already.

7. Go to Beginner Writing Classes

There is a famous, talented actor I know that went repeatedly to beginning acting classes long after his success, because the basics of any craft need to be renewed. Once they are ingrained it gives you a lot more freedom and ability to write without fretting. But, believe it or not, we forget things. So, don’t take the attitude of thinking there is nothing more you can learn or relearn. It is okay to learn again, and for some of us it is fun to share in a group. We are so often distant in time from our readers, that it is nice to share immediately, hot off the press in a writing class.

8. Don’t Write Everyday

1_500I know lots of people say, write everyday. But, I bet even those people don’t. What they mean is have a writing discipline. Plan your writing days and your days off. When a project is getting to the wire, the deadline is nigh, or just when you are on a hot streak, you may well find yourself writing everyday to get it done. But not everyday, all the time. Know that this is true so that you don’t feel obsessively stupid, or not a writer when you are not writing. Remember you will have a process and a writing discipline. You can churn it out when you want to and need to.

9. List All Your Own Deepest, Darkest Fears

Especially when you are uninspired, go to your most vulnerable place. The places you don’t want to show the world. Peter Shaffer did not write Amadeus from the point of view of Mozart himself, but from his contemporary Salieri who was a mediocre composer. Shaffer said he did this because that was his deepest, darkest fear that he would just be a mediocre writer. Make a list of your own deepest darkest fears, about your writing, about your life, about anything and everything that makes you feel naked and vulnerable. Have you written anything about these yet?

10. Write Faster

I myself have come full circle, from writing fast so it was both practical and not fully finished, to slowing down and getting hung up on the details, to realizing that career writers need to write fast and edit (with help) later. Learning to write fast can be your best friend and it means you are not letting the perfectionist in you take the wheel but some other right brain gremlin that knows how to fly.  You can learn how to write fast and well, but only if you let yourself write fast.

My final note is from the original blog post that I referenced: “Quit killing yourself trying to become a great painter and work relentlessly on becoming a badass editor” After you have written fast, you and your editor can have fun polishing BUT I think what Chris Gallego means is that you learn, to begin with, not to put everything and the kitchen sink in your work, you will streamline and that should be the goal to make your writing process efficient.  If you focus on that, good will come, but you also need to focus on continually growing.

Let me know which ones serve you and how it goes.

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Blog for Blog’s Sake or The 99% Decade

I haven’t blogged here since last year. I have two unfinished  blog ideas in my drafts folder that no longer inspire me. My blogger friend Lorraine (aka Raincoaster) would be ashamed of me. Every three days to a week is more her schedule. At very least every three weeks. But what is up with me?

potential mock-up cover for my new book

On the weekend I was at a party and the weird subject of disposing of a cremated loved ones ashes came up -only at a good party can such subjects come up- and I told the whole hilarious and profound story of disposing of my mother’s ashes that had everyone engaged. I realized I could not have done that if I had not written a blog post about it a number of years ago called, The Mystery of Mom. That’s when it hit me that I had not blogged for a very long time. I went from about once a month to every three months to every six months and now once a year.

On the upside I have a new book I have finished a first draft of, The Happy Hammock (I am still seeking beta readers if you are interested in reading the first draft – please contact me). However, some of the chapters of the book-which is about our misadventures and wacky community in our small Mexican town-are taken from some of my blogs, albeit expanded and sweetened. So how could I stop doing this important exercise? On the one hand, I am still writing, perhaps more than ever, but on the other hand I am not sharing enough. My last blog statistics were horrendous. This is not good for my marketing efforts which let’s face it are more haphazard than I care to admit.

As a writing teacher/coach my students have heard me said that after teaching writing for about ten years I figured out that I wasn’t really teaching people to write. Sure I gave them the technical tools in story structure and dialogue and all of that, but what I figured out I was really doing was empowering them to share their writing. That is the scary part. That is the part that holds people back. So, my friends, under that wisdom I can’t argue with because it is my own, I say today I am blogging for blog’s sake. I am not even doing it on a separate Word doc first. I am putting it direct into WordPress as I think it. I am live.

to-blog-or-not-to-blog

I know I am not all that crazy and carefree an artist however because I noticed that I am hitting the “save draft” button fairly regularly. The point is I haven’t been inspired to blog (remember the two unfinished draft ideas) but I am doing it anyway. Hoping something good will come of this pondering.

Pondering is great for the ponderer but can be boring to read, you maybe have to switch it up. So here goes. A scene between two writers talking:

A: “Do you remember that part in the book Eat, Pray, Love, where she and her Italian friends are figuring out the one word that sums up each city? Rome is sex, Naples is fight, Stockholm is conform…”

B: “Sure. That’s a great part.”

A: “What do you think our city’s word is?”

B: “Hmm. I have a feeling you already know, so are you going to tell me?”

A: “Well I am torn. The first idea is technically two words and it is Real Estate.”

B: “Yeah, our city is obsessed with that.”

A: “Even I’m obsessed with that.”

B: “What’s the other word?”emily_-carr-in-studio

A: “Airbnb”

They start laughing.

B: “Yup, that’s about it these days.”

A: “I am coining this The 99% Decade – where most of us are battling depression, trying not to think about Donald Trump and are madly trying to make ends meet. We are not the 1% and we don’t know any other way to fight it than Airbnb.”

B: “But this is everywhere, not just our city.”

A:”True. And for writers and artists and women it has always been thus.”

B: “What do you mean?”

A: “I keep thinking of Emily Carr who took in boarders to make ends meet so she could keep painting. She had a little studio in her house and hung chairs and various things up on the rafters with ropes and pulleys to bring them down when she needed so she could have enough room for her canvases.”

B: “You mean there have always been people struggling and we have always been pragmatists.”

A: “I guess so.”

B: “And there have always been the very rich too.” She pauses. “So what’s the outcome of this?”

A: “I guess, just keep blogging, painting, dancing, doing whatever you do however best you can. And if you need to airbnb, you airbnb.”

B: “Right.”

A comfortable silence is broken.

B: “Should we just accept the 99%dom then?”

A: “I don’t think anyone wants to emulate the 1%, do they? What does it say about you if you want to be mega rich? That you are selfish? We should hang on to our values when we struggle and be proud, 99% proud. They are 1% rich but they can be 99% as miserable as anyone else.” Another pause. “One thing I know for sure is no one is friends with us for our money.”

They laugh again.

B: “You are an optimist.”

A: “No, I just create characters who are optimists.”

B: “Still, it’s a good thing you blogged today.”

And so ends my blog for blog’s sake with a neat little snapshot of this corner of history right now. Maybe it is good I blogged today.

075a0286Kathrin Lake helps writers write all over North America but particularly in Mexico where she holds writing retreats every January.

Contact at kathrinlake4@gmail.com

The Purpose Puzzle: What Is My Purpose?

There are a lot of people wandering around looking for their purpose in life which I call the Purpose Puzzle. If you are pondering the Purpose Puzzle then the first thing you may wonder is if you are in a position to pursue your purpose physically and psychically. We can look at Maslow’s hierachy of needs pyramid and see that the top is self actualization, fulfillment or your higher purpose. But first you have to make sure all the other physical and safety needs are met, and all those other needs piled on top of them.  But is this fair?maslows-hierarchy-of-needs

The thing that doesn’t work for us in Maslow is: 

1) It’s set up as a hierarchy as if you are moving through all these stages, climbing to self-actualization or fulfillment like it’s a destination on the life train express. However, sometimes these stages come and go in our lives, many things we are working on simultaneously and it truly can be two steps forward one step backwards and some periods are whole hog backslide. So my two cents worth is, you are probably ready for your purpose if you are thinking about it.

2) The other thing that trips up Maslowian progression is that many of us don’t know the difference between really having our basic needs threatened and worrying about having our basic needs threatened – this is where Buddhism, Sufism and other practices on consciousness can help where you work on your mental state and being free from suffering such things as worry.

3) What Maslow also doesn’t answer-but Jungian analysis that often lasted years was supposed to-was, that no one but ourselves can say what self-actualization or self-fulfillment actually is. And this is a little of what today’s blog is really about.

If you are a life coach or have been to a life coach, the question, “What do you want?” followed by, “What do you really want?” is standard operating procedure. And then the probing comes. It sometimes lasts for a long time. You think this, you think that. Almost always Maslow’s lower needs of how am I going to pay the rent while I do this or that comes up too.

Essentially, when it comes to finding your purpose, I have found that everyone falls into one or sometimes more than one of these three categories:

1) You know what you want to do to feel fulfilled, but are afraid.

2) You don’t know.

3) You find the whole pursuit thing stressful and you would rather help someone nice accomplish their cool purpose, but are not yet doing that.

  1. You already know what you want…

Some people already know, or believe they know, what their purpose or passion is and have known for a long time. They know what they love to do, but it scares them silly. It scares them because they don’t know how they are going to make money at it (or that’s a popular excuse), or it scares them because they don’t know if they will be any “good” at it. That is a combination of a fear of failure and a fear of success, which are really both sides of the same coin.

If this describes you, we could be very harsh and just say, “Get doing it for Pete’s sake. There is never going to be a right moment or a safe time. You CANNOT figure it out on the sidelines.” However, to get beyond your anxieties we suggest you get some help, from professionals, from books, watch videos, enlist coaches & mentors, sign up for courses and then, and only then, “Get doing it for Pete’s sake.” After all that help, rest assured that there still will never be a right moment or a safe time. You will still never be able to figure it out on the sidelines. You don’t want to waste a lot of time trying to figure it all out because you can’t. Or as Yoda said, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

Also, consider this, you are lucky that you know what it is. So many are in the next two groups.3purpose

  1. You don’t know…

You are not sure what your purpose is, or haven’t chosen or created a purpose yet. Let’s assume you have thought about it, maybe searched, and even tried a few things but nothing was “it.” Maybe you have a few more ideas but are still not sure. Consider this, other than our loved ones as a purpose for meaning in our lives, we choose a purpose or create one. When you choose and then commit to that kind of purpose it has to mean something to you and it often has to serve a specific group. But for now, make a choice, a choice you can see yourself doing for 10 years+, even if you are not absolutely clear where you will be in that ten years. My observation of those that do really have “it” is that they simply chose AND they added a firm measure of commitment to it.  The message here is, if you are a wishy-washy person you are bound to suffer OR you should start accepting that you like variety and take up and drop purposes as you see fit. You may be one of those people who like to have multiple ones and you may even have one foot in the next camp…

3) You find the whole pursuit thing stressful and you would rather help someone nice accomplish their cool purpose, but are not yet doing that.

I wish more people liked and valued this category and recognized that they belong here. On this planet and the way our culture is going we stress the self in self fulfillment. We think of ourselves as lesser or lesser expressed if we are not the spearheads, or the innovators, or the sole creators. As a writer, I certainly fall into this trap. Also, I am amazed at hearing people say, all the time, “I can’t change anything.” But they don’t offer help to others that can. I am thinking of all the wonderful volunteers who have helped me and all the volunteering I did to help others. I am thinking of how change has always happened in history with groups of people, not solos. So if you recognize you are not a leader, not a solo artist, not an entrepreneur then I ask, have you knuckled down to helping someone or some organization in their fine pursuit? You can do this and do your “day job” and you can help more than one organization. Help them the way they need help OR help them using your own strengths and talents. Again, the feeling of purpose comes with the level of commitment. And after ten years you may move on to something else. I never regretted much of the volunteering I did or helping others, but there was always a point to move on and I did that too.

Maybe this blog post has helped you in your own Purpose Puzzle, a little. Maybe it has just re-stated what you already understood. Or, maybe you are ready for something deeper and you need to be knocking on Buddha’s door.

The Human Dance in the Void

This Saturday, I am down at my local Starbuck’s at English Bay cashing in on a gift card and doing what people do there. People watch.

This is the scene I see happening before my eyes. Two young men are sitting outside at a table and I am sitting inside. Along comes an elderly woman with the look of a poverty line statistic, who, without a word, pulls up the chair across from them, shakily sits down, and lights up a cigarette. It is obvious they don’t know her. It goes without saying she is not carrying a Starbuck’s product (which I secretly admire her for). She just wants a place to sit, rest and smoke. With my front row seat through the glass I feel the young men squirm. One looks into his phone the other keeps checking out the summer babes crowding the sidewalks.  The old woman draws on her cigarette, her hand shakes all the way from hand to mouth for that precious drag. What will happen?

1_social disconnection

2_social disconnection

4_social disconnection

Not a word is spoken. Is this tolerance, apathy, social disconnection, generation gap? I am glad no one chases her away. Even though if it were me sitting outside, that cigarette would make me a little zoodles. How long will this social contract to ignore each other go on?  Will anyone break it? Will anyone acknowledge the void? I am waiting for the men to leave… or maybe the woman. Care to hazard a guess?

 

5_social disconnection

One young man leaves without saying a word to the other. I had assumed the two men were friends and clearly they were strangers sharing a table and nothing more. Does my assumption reflect the story I want to see? Then the woman leaves, unsteady and plodding. Then the other young man with the phone moves off.

7_social disconnection

The dance is over. I present it here to make of it what you will but consider that there are millions more dances like these happening everywhere all the time.

Magic 8 Ball: My Relationship with the Future

2KathrinAsFortunetellerI have an uneasy relationship with the future. I am not the only one. If I were, there would be no such thing as divination in the form of astrology, tarot cards, chicken bones and of course the Magic 8 Ball.

tarot20-20220tarot20cards20image

Last week, I bought a Magic 8 Ball. Why? Because I never had one before and it held for me mystery and nostalgia. Everyone else around me seemed to have had one at some point. Can anyone ever forget the episode of Friends where Ross repeatedly consults his Magic 8 Ball in regards to Rachel?

The Magic 8 Ball has been around since the fifties thanks to Mattel, but I don’t recall it being in vogue in my ‘hood until the late 70s (we were still lost in our Ouija boards).

So, I wanted a Magic 8 Ball, but not urgently just curiously.  I even asked for one for my birthday to my sensible husband, who promptly ignored the request and got me a pedicure, a meal out and flowers. I didn’t miss the Magic 8 Ball. But, suddenly I was invited to a grand opening party of my friend Gary’s newest toy store, The Toy Box (Toy Jungle chain) and the opportunity presented itself.

The way the Magic 8 Ball is packaged you can use it in the store and test it before you buy it. So, I decide to ask a stupid test question: will it still be raining when I leave the store? Its answer: all indications pointed to yes. I realized right there that this was a stupid question because since I was at a party I wasn’t sure when I was going to be leaving, so it was not a question I could verify a correct answer to right away. It also meant I would have to buy the Magic 8 Ball in order to see if the question was correct or be caught for shoplifting. So I buy it. I leave the store an hour later and it is still raining. All things look good, except for the fact that it really is raining hard and I have no umbrella. However, I do live in Vancouver and the weather forecast is probably about as accurate as a Magic 8 Ball and rain is always a good bet. A better bet is to carry an umbrella.???????????????????????????????

As I took my treasure home, the quintessential adult kid with a new toy to play with, I start to ruminate on my first, big, important question. My first thought was I’d ask: will my screenplay be bought? It is currently under option so it’s important to me to go to the next step and sell it and see it produced. My next thought is, what if the answer is negative and the answer influences me negatively and I give up on trying to sell the screenplay. Better not ask that question. I should ask questions where I have little influence over the subject.

So I went down that path, trying to find a question that was important to me but I have very little control over the outcome so if the answer is negative I won’t be influenced to change my ways, possibly in a self-fulfilling prophesy kind of way.  If you are following this, I salute you. Now, I suddenly realize how many things I actually have influence over.
Will my book sell well?
Will I have a good meeting next week?
Will I be able to help my family with their present problems?
All of these kinds of questions I have a lot of influence over and I wanted to think positively about them and keep that power. I did not want the Magic 8 BaMagic8Ballll to come out with an answer that may affect  my thoughts or actions in a detrimental way. Clearly these questions were off the table.

So I moved to questions where I had absolutely no control over. At least I was thinking I did. If you ask, for example, will I win the lottery, the very minimum you have to do is buy a lottery ticket. And, don’t you have to buy the ticket first to ask a question? You again have influence, or an active role at least in the outcome. Was I going to rush out and buy a lottery ticket just to ask the Magic 8 Ball if I was going to win it? No. Truth be told I don’t even think I want to win a lottery. That is not my idea of fulfillment.

Other things that were both important to me and I thought I might not have influence over the outcomes, were for other people. Will my friend, who has the big “C,” ‘s health return? Do I really want to ask that question? Would the answer influence how I talk to them, or even if I wanted to talk to them? Would they know on the phone by the tone in my voice that I had a psychic indication positive or negative? Was I supposed to put my friends health in the frivolity of the Magic 8 Ball?

Pretty soon after going through all the questions that really make a difference to me, but I have no control over, I came back to one. The one I started with. The weather. Anything considered an act of God. Once again, I was pretty sure we had weather forecasts for this exact reason. And even if forecasts weren’t always correct, they weren’t vague either. That’s right, I went all the way from desiring the Magic 8 Ball, to finally getting one and realizing I could not use it.

The silver lining was seeing, not into the future, but seeing that I do have an influence in life, however great or subtle it is, over, many, many things and I use it everyday without even thinking. And you do too.

Maybe I always knew the Magic 8 Ball was going to be too good to be true, because I never took it out of its package. I will not take it back to the store. It is not defective. But perhaps I will give it to someone who needs to learn that the future is at their feet more than they realized.

cropped-a556288-r2-023-10.jpgKathrin Lake is the author of Writing with Cold Feet, and leads Writing Retreats in Mexico every January and February through the Vancouver School of Writing http://vancouverschoolofwriting.com/events/writing-retreats/. She also teaches Yoga for Writers at her retreats. See http://kathrinlake.com for more information.

An Argument for Thinking

rodin_thinkerRodin's Thinker

 

    “To Think or Not to Think”

Over the past decade or so, it has become fashionable to talk about “being in the present,” or “being in the now” and “not thinking.” Some of this is for meditation, some of it is for performance enhancement, some of it is for better awareness and some of it is for active listening. This all came to a peak with Eckhart Tolle‘s ground breaking book, The Power of Now, which was a guide for spiritual enlightenment but became the layman’s mantra for “being present.”

Much of this new revelation about being in the present (which has long been a Zen Buddhist ideal), is to stop the epidemic tide of “worrying” thanks partly to our world of information overload. Even I recommend meditation in my book, Putting Fear in Reverse Gear to help thwart worrying,  and included links to a site where you can hear my voice delivering guided audio meditations and visualizations (one I called The Power of Wow – sorry Eckhart) 

No one knows better the damage worrying has wrought on our frail systems. Worrying is anxiety. It is stress. It overtaxes our adrenalin reserves and puts us into fight or flight responses that were meant only for life threatening scenarios that lasted only minutes (not days and weeks). Some of you have trouble sleeping because of worry. Worry doesn’t work for us. It is a very bad, nasty habit that doesn’t even have the highs that other bad, nasty habits have.  So what’s up with that?

But through all this fascination with the idea that we should exorcise our worry by meditating, staying in the”here and now” and “not thinking,” I have a concern.

an_argument_for_thinking_Kathrin_Lake

A yoga instructor recently cooed to her students, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could reincarnate as animals and stop thinking?” To which my instant response was: “Hell, no!”

I don’t think people should stop thinking. Thinking, is one of the things that put us at the top of the food chain in the first place. Let me give you my take about the joys and treasury of thinking and why we should be thinking, and even at appropriate times, daydreaming, to better all of our lives.

Point 1:  Those of us who sit and think are happy

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When asked to ruminate and reflect on the happiest moments of your life, you may go to specific events, and happy milestones, but, I confess, some of my happiest moments are when I just had time to sit and think.  Just look at all those people lined at street side cafes and you will notice that some are reading papers, some are on the inevitable electronic device and some are just sitting there, sipping a coffee quietly, perhaps people watching and thinking. I would have to say that person is me, when I am at my happiest.  It doesn’t matter where I am, Paris, New York, Mexico or Vancouver, this sitting and thinking is blissful.  And, I am not alone. We don’t have to be at a cafe, we can be walking on a beach, sitting on a porch or bench, or laying in bed staring at the ceiling. These moments are not only soothing and warm but they are also when some of our best ideas come to us … which leads me to argument two.

Point 2:  Thinking and great ideas go together.

napkin_ideaThis may seem obvious to say you have to think to get great ideas but many of us don’t have time to think. We have to get away, stop and allow ourselves to have a time and space to think and for our brain to meander as it were. Perhaps we are in a semi-dream state too as sometimes great ideas come when we are thinking before bed, or when we get up. But it is thinking. I knew of several great thinkers that liked to go on a drive and get away in order to think. This is more than a meditation. It is thinking in a relaxed state. The true inventor of the modern computer, John Vincent Atanasoff, was said to have been trying to work out the details that had confounded him to make it work when he decided to go on a drive. He ended up crossing a number of state lines and kept driving for over 12 hours, but by the end he had figured it all out.  This idea of a relaxed state and thinking is important and brings me to another argument.

Point 3: What if day dreaming (or positive visualizations), are in truth, a high form of thinking?

I was always accused by my mother of being a daydreamer. Especially in the mornings over breakfast. I would be lost in thought and she would ask me questions and I would always answer, “yes.” Then she would put another piece of toast on my plate and I would say, “why are you giving me more toast?” She would say, in an exasperated voice, that she had just asked me and I had said “yes.”  Well, that’s about as un-present and unaware as you can get. My mother called me a daydreamer and made it clear it was something to be ashamed of. Now, however, I see that day dreaming may be the best form of positive visualization and creative thought that you can get. Granted, you don’t want to be doing it while doing something that should take your focus. No heavy machinery, or brain surgery, or any of those small tasks in anyone’s jobs where you have to “pay attention.” However, it has also been proven that visualizations are critical to success. From entrepreneurs, artists, generals and sports legends have all projected their thoughts into the future to see a positive outcome. Wayne Gretzky said that he would see the puck going where he wanted it to go. Walt Disney visualized his famous theme park. Performers and speakers take time before they go on-stage to visualize a fabulous performance. And it works. I have done it, and many others. You can dream your success. So next time you shame a day dreamer, and I admit, I have done this myself, be careful. It begs the inquiry, what is poor dreaming and what is good dreaming? To me, poor dreaming is unthinking. It is not grounded in some plausible reality. One has only to see the auditions of some of the more humorous and heartbreaking American Idol contestants to know some people are not that grounded and are only dreaming without the thinking part, which is the prudent and judicious part. I applaud their courage, but to get the stupendous benefits of dreaming you have to balance your dreaming, or positive visualizations, with a thinking or critical mind, beyond mindless faith. Which brings me to my next argument.

Point 4:  Critical thinking is what we need on this planet to thrivecritical_thinking

Maybe it is easier to do as the yoga teacher wished and be an unthinking animal, only focused on survival, but to thrive personally, communally and globally we sure the heck need to be thinking. When we embrace not thinking, or mindless faith, we do not have a curious and open mind. When we do not explore and make connections for problem solving it can have horrible political results where there is much suffering. The antics of the Tea Party on the American political scene is a case in point. There are so many prejudices, pat beliefs and blind religious dogma being touted that they are willing to let their people suffer rather than listen to reason. Canadians watch this in horror. Beyond Tea Party members embracing unthinking, partisan beliefs (beliefs not arguments), we actually see Americans going against their noble Declarations and censoring people who are challenging thought and shedding light on real issues. People like Michael Moore and Bill Maher. Why have these people been censored? Why do my American friends tell me they have never been able to find any of Michael Moore’s films in U.S. theatres when they come out? Why did Bill Maher get kicked off public networks to finally go to the paid HBO channel? This is censorship. Argument and dialogue is something everyone says they want, but you will also want it to be grounded in logical and reasonable facts to ensure health. We need to have interaction and a “group think” to really get cooking. This group thinking should be based on informed, thinking arguments and dialogue. What is the opposite? Well, terrorism depends on unthinking  intimidation. To be afraid to speak “your mind” because it might be either unpopular or punished is very much like the environments in Nazi Germany or in China, or other places where freedom of speech is curbed and threatened.  Yes thinking is not easy; it may even be dangerous, but worth it. 

So here are some tenets on great thinking:

  1. Make sure you are thinking not worrying. You will be able to tell by how it feels. If it stresses you, it’s worry, if it soothes you, and gives you relief or solves some problems, then you are likely thinking. Avoid worry, embrace thinking.
  2. Find out how and where you can go to get away and just think. Give yourself time and space. Is it in the bathtub, on a walk, at a cafe or going on a full retreat? Keep returning to this; if you don’t have enough of this time to think, you are missing something special.
  3. When you have the time, place and space, give yourself lots of permission to day dream.
  4. Use positive visualizations to dream your way to success.
  5. Let your thoughts wander and meander.
  6. Interact with others and apply your critical thinking skills.
  7. Open your mind and say yes to someone else’s well thought out argument, or debate using some of your own. This is freedom of speech for all.
  8. Be proud to be a thinker.

Get into the glorious mud of thinking and make yourself happy. Your next great idea awaits, or perhaps your next best dialogue (or a good blog post), and who knows, you may even save the planet, just by thinking both freely and well.

My Secret Passion is …the Movies

I have some good news to crow about that goes along with my secret passion. Okay, maybe it’s not so secret but it is real. It’s the Movies.

If you are one of those people who have been practicing their Oscar award-winning speech for years (secretly of course), you will relate to this dream.

Many of you don’t know that my degree is in Film and then later, Theatre. I love the Theatre; it’s where I really learned about dialogue and character development, and improved my writing in leaps and bounds. But, as with most people, I haven’t seen near as many plays as I have movies.

My Dad gave me a super 8 film camera when I was about 14.  At that time, my less than secret passion was still horses. Yes, it had not switched to boys completely, and it was fueled by my best friend, Tracy, who had a horse. A black horse. Her friend, had a white horse, or mostly white. And thus, my first short film was born. A Western, entitled, “Good Guy, Bad Guy”

shootoutIt had a less than subtle moral theme, and used the iconic music from Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti Westerns.  The story line is two gunslingers (played by Tracy and her friend, with their horses), who meet for a shoot out.  The gunslinger all in white on the white horse rides down into the valley. Then the gunslinger all in black rides down the opposite side of the valley at high noon. They meet and dismount for the classic shootout quick draw. They fire! For several seconds you don’t know who has been killed until the gunslinger in black falls over. Now, the moral resolution to the film: the gunslinger in white, having killed, goes over to the dead gunslinger in black, takes his black hat and gets on the black horse and rides off.

Well maybe a filmmaker was not born but I did get two films out of it. It seems when you put a camera in front of experienced horsewomen, suddenly they don’t know how to get on and off their horses. The horses themselves also added some clever and hysterical moves and we had enough out-takes to have a second film that got much more interest than the first.  Since then, it seems all my plays, screenplays and films were imbued with a sense of humor.

I did have some humble successes in plays, small screen, large screen attempts, including co-writing with others, but I had to pay the bills too, so I put a hold to that pursuit to do the happy day job while on the side, I wrote articles, edited and contributed to newspapers, and taught writing in night schools. Eventually, I left the day job to write non-fiction books, give writing coaching and workshops, and run the Vancouver School of Writing (VSW). But, those plots for movies kept running in my head and so earlier this year I wrote a screenplay for the first time in many years and started to immerse myself in that craft, and find the online communities for screenwriters.  My friend and author, Eileen Cook, who read it, suggested Praxis and I remembered that several years ago me and my writing partner at the time, the very funny, late, great Irwin Barker ( who passed away 3 years ago RIP Irwin), had been shortlisted in the annual Praxis competition. I looked online and realized the deadline for this year’s competition was a week away. Eileen gave me some fast notes, but there was no time to get beta readers and, as the screenwriters call it, “coverage” (notes from readers), so I registered it with the WGA and tossed it in on the last day of the deadline.

Recently it was announced that my screenplay, The Princess and the Thief, was a semi-finalist and ranked in the top 8% of entrants.

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Some feedback was:

“Witty dialogue, charming story, classic fairy tale characters. A script that leaves you

feeling like you’ve just been read a beautiful bedtime story. Magical realism raises it to
the level of The Princess Bride. Caveats: Feels a bit long at times.

 “Completely charming and whimsical. Fun set ups, good interweaving of stories.
Clever problems and solutions along the journey.”

Gee, what if I had had more time before putting it in?!  Although I missed the big prizes, one of the anonymous judges asked if they could contact me. That judge was very complimentary and may be helpful for the next steps, a redraft and on to selling, and I may have a great new relationship or even a collaborator, so I am thrilled. It seems I am back into my passion again and coming out of the closet.  I have since gotten a great deal of constructive feedback from some excellent readers to whom I am most thankful, so I have to schedule some writing redraft time, and start making some serious Hollywood connections. The truth is, I am already working on another screenplay that I like a lot, but as usual, will probably not get to it in any depth until the Writing Retreat in Mexico in January (where do you think I did the bulk of my writing on the Princess screenplay?)

PS – When I started this post, I noticed this WP report that I had been hanging onto since New Year’s that WordPress.com gives you about your blog in the past year, and thought, Wow, that’s an awesome and prophetic parallel! Was this an omen that I missed? Or perhaps it is still an omen of things to come? My advice, as always, is… just keep writing.

Here’s an excerpt from the WordPress report:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 21,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 5 Film Festivals

Click here to see and read a sample of Kathrin’s newest book Writing with Cold Feet or click on the cover below. Read Kathrin’s writing blog here. Or the Blog for VSW here.

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My Husband Jim Gets Romantic on National TV

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PLAY TO GET TO HUFFPOSTLIVE RECORDED TV BROADCAST:

Mid-Life Marriage

NOTE: Turn off the volume on the live feed and then play the video or you will get both audios simultaneously.

A spin off of my blog post and wedding speech video, Why I got Married at 50, was that Huffington Post Live wanted to interview my husband, Jim, in a panel about Mid-Life Marriage.  I was poised to jump in but, alas, unwanted. They already had too many women on the panel. So they quickly phoned him in. He had an hour’s notice.  I think he is the most romantic one of the bunch and was all too flattering to me. Kudos and kisses, to Jim.

Granny Yoga Heals Frozen Shoulder…

A year and a half ago I was afflicted with the mysterious condition known as frozen shoulder.  It does exactly what it sounds like. It freezes a shoulder to the degree you can’t raise your arm over your head. It is painful.  This condition is commonly (but not always), found in women who are entering menopause, however replacing their hormonal loss doesn’t seem to help. Once it’s got you, it’s got you.

My doctor sadly shakes her head and says to me, “I know this is hard to take, but its going to take two years to recover.”

What! I don’t believe her. I go online and see some places where it takes three years. I also meet someone who had it for three years. Some others were quicker, a few had it in one shoulder and then once they finished that shoulder it went to the other, another common occurrence. The whole time I am thinking, wait a second here, I am no wimp, I dance swing and tango every week. This isn’t going to be me.

Then I start the process. The process that becomes familiar to every person who gets this. You start the therapies, one by one, with hope, and optimism, slowly melting to absolute pessimism. I go through physiotherapists, acupunturists, massage therapists, Bowen Therapy experts, naturopathics, craniosacral people, ostepathy, infra red therapy, on and on. I thank the lord that Jim has a great benefits plan, but nothing is working and I have spent $1000 dollars of my own money beyond the benefits plan. And these therapies cost me more than money, they take a great deal of time. Time I don’t want to give up.

I interject all these therapies with both prescribed exercises at home and with my own exercises. Some days I think it’s working and other days nada. I am thankful it is my left shoulder and not my right, being right-handed. I know I am completely at risk with my profession as a writer by being on the confounding computer so much. I have to slow down and take long rests from the computer. I get some help from volunteers I can delegate to, and I waste more time and money trying both voice-to-text software and handwriting recognition software. Nothing suffices. I have to slow down and listen to the body. It wants a break. It wants gentle unrepetitive, un computer-like movement.

Some people start to say swimming works, others say yoga. Of course, the health plan doesn’t cover these (which I have always thought of as very short-sighted towards health). Though I love swimming, I can no longer stand getting into cold pools, especially in a cold climate (they say they are heated but it’s never enough). The only swimming I ever do now is in Mexico.  Having done yoga on and off for years I know that there is a variety to choose from but with the shoulder, my downward facing dog is going to look like a downward falling three-legged dog.

I try a course given by Kyra, a woman who teaches what she calls Yoga Therapy. The participants in this class have their own afflictions which make my frozen shoulder look like Tai Chi in the park.  Comparatively speaking, I can consider myself lucky.  There are many people struggling through many kinds of physical challenges and recoveries and my heart goes out to them. I am tickled with Yoga Therapy but after the four sessions I get in on, Kyra is going away for several months. Now what?

With little progress, less money, and less energy, I feel like a shut in and get into a mental funk that yo-yos until I spot an ad in the Spring Guide for our local rec centre. Yoga Over 50. It promises gentle yoga two days a week in the a.m. and the drop-in cost is $1… wait, am I seeing that right. One dollar!  As it turns out, it is $1 for over 60 and $2.50 for over 50. Didn’t I just turn 50?  Well then I guess I can just squeak in. I try it.

Thus starts my dedication to a very unexpected and amazing group that I have come to call Granny Yoga.  I call it this because the women (although a few men come and go), are twenty years my senior.  The one who leads the exercises is Nan. She is 86. We can’t properly call her a leader since she is not trained in Yoga, she just took over for Lilo, the original teacher, who is now well into her 90’s and no longer able to come to class, though a number of the grannies still visit her at home. I get the idea it is her mind more than her body that took Lilo out of the picture. However, you perhaps get what I’m thinking here. Is this a fountain of youth class or what. Well, perhaps, though true Yoga aficionados have been saying this for years haven’t they.

Nan, who has a wonderfully loud Scottish brogue, is also a little deaf and that’s why she talks loudly and everyone can hear her directions clearly. And I’m thinking how wonderful a world is it when you can take Yoga instructions in a Scottish accent from a feisty octogenarian.

The Yoga is perfectly gentle for my injured shoulder. Enough to stretch it but not too much, meanwhile the rest of the body is really enjoying getting its fair share of movement, and I realize that I used to do this a lot, and got out of it somehow. My favourite exercises are for the areas we forget, like the eyes (I later find out Paul McCartney is all over Yoga eye exercises See here). Your whole body needs movement and benefits from a regime. After all, all of it is going to have to get you through this life. All around the room I have a testament to this. But these grannies dish up Yoga class their style. There is a walk and sing segment and they stop in the middle for “comments” better known as yack.

During the comment time, we hear from Rebel Granny who is making us aware of the evils of the new proposal to let more oil tankers into our harbour that destroy the Indian Arm and the bay area (see petition here).  There is Canucks Granny who reminds us to cheer on our boys on the ice trying fo the Stanley Cup (sorry boys). There is the Singing Grannies who lead us in a chorus of “When the Saints Come Marching In.” There is Nature Granny who tells us about the birds and flowers to watch for, “Doesn’t our parks board do a great job!”

There is also Eastern European Granny who talks about her grandkids and all the Easter eggs they painted, over 100. And of course there was the Easter egg hunt itself. “They found one from last year,” she tells us.  She is always the one to know the holidays and bring in treats. To instill on me the importance of coming regularly to Yoga she tells me, “If I miss one day, I am stiff.”

Then a familiar male face comes in, a man I know. It is Micheal who I met years ago at Toastmasters and we had bonded as fellow writers.  Michael had written a fabulous memoir of his time in India he spent working with Mother Theresa.

“Did you practice Yoga in India?” I ask him.

“Heavens, no,” he says, “I could never do that.” I’m not sure if that was because they were too good or it was too authentic, but I do know that Michael likes to come to yoga to socialize with the gals.

I am starting to become self-conscious in this class. They start to call me the purple lady because I continually come in my favourite purple exercise suit, but that’s not why.  I know they are all wondering why “the kid” (I’m only 50), is coming to this class during the day.  So I take a chance and on the next comment time and decide to pipe up. I try to explain that I am in menopause and experiencing the phenomenon of a frozen shoulder and ask if any of them have had it. I get interrupted early with, “Speak up dear, we can’t hear you.”

“What’s she saying?”

“She says she’s going through menopause!” Nan’s buddy yells loudly into her ear and across the room and down the hall. “She says she has a frozen shoulder!”

“Oooh.”

During this comment session none of them seem familiar with my condition, but afterward a few of them, including Nan, comes up to me with stories of others and what they did.

Four weeks after I have told them why I am there, my arm starts to unlock by itself, so after a year and a half I can raise my arm over my head. You can’t imagine how nice that feels.  It’s not perfectly okay yet, but it is really a relief to see great progress

I start to believe that I owe a lot of it to Granny Yoga, and perhaps some diet shifts I made as well, but mostly Yoga. I am now a Yoga believer in a way I never have been before. Yoga will keep me young.  I decide to drop into another yoga class on the weekend where I can actually practice a downward facing dog. So I do and it’s nice and certainly more challenging, but they don’t give me eye exercises. And, even if they did, there ain’t no way I am giving up my Granny Yoga classes.

For more writing and teaching by Kathrin Lake go to kathrinlake.com or Vancouver School of Writing.com

Try this Video for further Yoga inspiration.  Thanks to Matt:

YOGA HELPS 47  YEAR OLD MAN WALK UNASSISTED AGAIN – CLICK PHOTO FOR VIDEO LINK

 

FINALLY, FINALLY I have the VIDEO of Lilo Pederman – the original instructor –  showing her Yoga routine!

(Sorry for the poor quality)

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