Blog

Total Eclipse of the ’80s

Transformation: Yoga, Vodou, and Mass

Some elements from my writing desk, including the new Ametrine stone. Hey, just thought of something: Ametrine, Ambrose the Writing Mouse, Anne McClane?

I’ve been thinking a lot about transformation lately. Like the caterpillar-to-butterfly kind of transformation, the kind that transitions a creature from crawling to flying.

The “lately” qualifier needs a disclaimer. Truth is, I’ve spent a good bit of my life thinking about that kind of transformation. I’ve had an affinity for butterflies since I was very small—back then it was because they were pretty and delicate and seemed gentle. It wasn’t too long before I caught on to the symbolism of butterflies, and then I was set. Butterflies were going to be a thing for me for life.

Thoughts of transformation were somewhat inescapable this past Saturday.* I went to the New Orleans Healing Center for a yoga class. First aside: the New Orleans Healing Center is a location in both novels I’ve written so far—just seemed like a natural fit for a protagonist who discovers she has a supernatural healing ability. Second aside: I’ve been practicing more yoga as my body transforms (with age). I can no longer run as often as I might like, ever since my legs and lower back decided to shout out their displeasure over the prolonged pounding. The meditative aspects of yoga have helped fill one of the voids I’ve felt from running less.

After class, I asked the instructor to clarify one of the words he had used as part of an incantation. It was prana, the breath—the “life force” or “vital principle” in Hindu philosophy (it didn’t sound like prana to me). We chatted for a little bit, and he mentioned the particular Upanishad where I could find the incantation. But here’s the thing I found remarkable: how quickly I offered up the fact that I’m a writer. I said something like “I’m a writer, so words matter to me.”

There’s definitely some transformation at work. Even just a few short months ago, I’m not so sure I would offer up that facet of my life so quickly. Yeah, so, I’ve had this blog for two years; but bringing up my writing in this safe space is an entirely different matter than talking about it in public.

And I did it again; just moments later at the “Island of Salvation Botanica” shop on the first floor of the Healing Center. Third aside: a renowned Vodou priestess runs this shop. (She is ordained into the Haitian voodoo tradition, or “Vodou,” which is why I’m using that spelling.)

In addition to butterflies, I also dig rocks and stones, and I was perusing the nice selection of crystals and stones for sale. I picked out a piece of Ametrine, which the helpful card describing all the stones told me is “a very rare quartz based crystal in which Amethyst and Citrine have formed within the same crystalline structure allowing them to amplify and augment each other; bringing strength and luck in equal measure.”

I asked the Vodou priestess about the Ametrine and one other stone, I don’t remember which one now, but yet again, I volunteered something like “I’m a writer on the verge of publication, so the transformative properties of the Ametrine sound pretty good to me.” She agreed, and I am now the proud owner of a lovely piece of opaque lavender-hued Ametrine. (A bargain at $5)

Finally, late Saturday afternoon found me at Vigil Mass (the Catholic Church offers a Saturday church-going option). And wouldn’t you know it, it just happened to be the Feast of Transfiguration. I’m by no means an expert on these matters, but my understanding of the Transfiguration is that it was when Jesus’s divinity was revealed to the apostles.

I’m also by no means comparing my transformation into confessed writer with any kind of divine event whatsoever. I just thought it was interesting that Little Rabbit Foo Foo kept bopping this field mouse over the head with transformation stuff.

And finally finally, back to the beginning, what did I notice fluttering above me as I entered the New Orleans Healing Center? You guessed it—a butterfly. 🦋 🦋 🦋

 

* I can’t mention this past Saturday in New Orleans without mentioning the transformation of our roads into rivers on the very same day. A deluge was beginning just as I was leaving my neighborhood to go to Mass. While I was away, streets in my area of the city became impassable, and many businesses (and parked cars) flooded. In my neighborhood, several cars were totaled by the flood water and the sunken areas of a few homes took on inches of water. I hung out at my brother Jerry’s house, in an unaffected neighborhood, until I was able to return home late, late, in the evening. Thing is, this was not a hundred-year-event. A similar, though less severe “rain event” occurred just two weeks prior. Have you ever heard the song “New Orleans is Sinking”? Well, it’s true.

A Good Writing Day

Sunset, the day before my good writing day

So, Thursday of last week was a good writing day. A successful day in the calendar of Anne McClane, fiction writer. There are two bits of irony here, in that I don’t think I actually wrote much of anything on Thursday; and one of the things I’m about to share isn’t about my fiction writing. But it concerns an essay I wrote about fiction, so I’ll claim it falls under that umbrella.

Here’s what I have to share, in chronological order. I’ve included a header indicating what part of my writing life it bolstered:

  • Community: I met a New Orleans-based writer who just published a set of joke books for kids. He’s makes his living in PR (public relations), and I met him at a luncheon for PR professionals. (I don’t do a lot of PR work in my current job, but it’s something I have a fair amount of past experience with. I still go to the lunches when the topic sounds interesting). His name is Michael Strecker, and his books are: Young Comic’s Guide to Telling Jokes, Books 1 & 2. Basically, it was really cool to meet another writer, who devotes the time to writing on top of / in addition to other commitments. And I thought it was great that a publisher had picked up his work.
  • Development: I had a call with the editor I hired to do a developmental critique of my second novel. I really can’t place a value on that one hour spent hashing out plot holes, discussing character motivation, and just talking about the struggles I’m facing with the story, and how they might be fixed. After her line edits and that phone call, I have a pretty good sense of the work that needs to be done—a road map. Now, I just need to make the time to get behind the wheel…
  • Publication! I received the final proofread of an essay I wrote last fall, for an anthology commemorating the 30th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The title of the anthology is Outside In Makes It So: 174 New Perspectives on 174 Star Trek: TNG Stories by 174 Writers. It should release September 28. And the proofreader was complimentary of my essay, which I thought was really nice, considering there were 173 other pieces to proofread.

With July behind us now, I’ll conclude by sharing July’s quote from my “First We Dream” calendar:

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” –Henry David Thoreau

I’ll see what I can do to make it so.

Resistance

Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

Last week, I mentioned how I was reading Steven Pressfield’s DO THE WORK! Overcome Resistance and get out of your own way. I finished it a few nights ago—it’s a quick read and pretty entertaining. I’ve been pondering the lessons therein and what they might mean for me.

Resistance is the big, bad dragon in Pressfield’s book. Resistance is all the stuff that keeps us from pursuing what we truly long for. In my case, what I truly long for is a career as a fiction writer.

Some helpful advice from the book I plan to take seriously:

  • About the actual work of writing: “One rule for first full working drafts: get them done ASAP. Don’t worry about quality. Act, don’t reflect. Momentum is everything. Get to THE END as if the devil himself were breathing down your neck and poking you in the butt with his pitchfork.” I think resistance is the devil Pressfield infers.
  • About finishing and actually putting your stuff out there—he borrows Seth Godin’s term “shipping”: “Because finishing is the critical part of any project. If we can’t finish, all our work is for nothing. When we ship, we declare our stuff ready for prime time.”
  • And finally, an anecdote about the lengths Michael Crichton would go to when he was nearing the end of a novel (he’d check into a hotel and work non-stop till he was done): “He knew that Resistance was strongest at the finish. He did what he had to do, no matter how nutty or unorthodox, to finish and be ready to ship.”

I’m fairly certain staying in a hotel and just writing is not an option for me; even if it was, I’m not sure that would work for me. But I get the gist of it—do what’s necessary (as long as it’s within my moral, ethical and economic boundaries) to “get ‘er done.”

But there are a couple of things about resistance that Pressfield doesn’t address. Number one, having subsisted on a steady diet of Star Trek: The Next Generation in my early twenties, I couldn’t help but think of the Borg, with all the mention of resistance. For those of you unfamiliar, the Borg are a massive collection of cybernetic organisms linked via a hive mind. Their insidious goal is “the forcible assimilation of diverse sentient species, technologies, and knowledge.” (Thanks, Memory Alpha.) Pretty much the scariest threat humans ever faced.

The Borg’s mantra? “Resistance is futile.”

Taken in context of DO THE WORK, it sort of makes resistance a little less scary. Like, all the resistance you face in trying to complete something might be futile in the end. If you stick with the project (for me, a series of stories featuring Lacey Becnel, a protagonist of my creation) and don’t let obstacles derail you completely.

HA! Take that, Borg!

So, I recognize that might be a bit of a stretch. I know myself—I’m not that optimistic, to think that I can consistently face down resistance by cheerily turning one of the scariest-ever lines of dialogue on its head.

My number two point feels a little more thought out. And it’s this: Resistance makes you stronger. I know this from my two favorite forms of exercise—running and swimming. Running wouldn’t offer all the same benefits if there was no pavement to offer resistance. Swimming would just be kicking and flailing about if there was no water (bet it would look pretty funny, too).

It never feels good when I’m “doing the work.” Struggling for breath, or feeling the impact on my aging bones. Or suffering through crippling self-doubt while writing. While that pain may be necessary, it’s also of limited duration. And ultimately, worth it. I’m a healthier human from the running and swimming, and (hopefully) a better writer from the work of producing manuscripts.

New Smyrna, Part 2

This post was supposed to contain some deeper musings about my time in New Smyrna Beach. About how Tim and I wound up there because of a successful silent auction bid last fall. We bid on a week’s stay on a condo during the Deo Gratias fundraiser I wrote about last November. Or how I finished Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 during vacation (it’s one of those books I never read during my school years—a deficit I’ve been seeking to correct for some time.)

I could have written something about time and the seasons linking up, how Deo Gratias led to another type of journey. Or something about how the lessons in Fahrenheit 451 still resonate today—how a majority can be persuaded to choose ignorance over the wisdom that comes through experience.

But, no. In a “vacation’s truly over now” kind of moment, I’m having some work done at the house and find myself without wi-fi. I got rid of an old modem as part of the whole process, but I can’t install the new one yet. Because I can’t get the old cable out of the wall. My finger and thumb are pretty raw from trying to get the nut to budge (and yes, I know which direction it’s supposed to turn: lefty-loosey).

So whereas I endeavored to unplug last week with limited success, here I am now left with no choice.

Resistance is pervasive.

Which brings to my final vacation discovery. Sunday night, I was already back home, but had not yet returned to my job (so by my rules, technically still on vacation). I encountered Dee Todd’s post, a review of Steven Pressfield’s DO THE WORK! Overcome Resistance and get out of your own way. I was compelled enough to download the book, and am about a quarter of the way through.

Pressfield’s premise is that any activity “that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity will elicit Resistance.” He includes a number of endeavors in those activities: writing, painting, launching an entrepreneurial venture, a new health regimen, and more. Essentially: “the more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”

He writes: “Resistance is a force of nature. It acts objectively.” I’m thinking of that coaxial cable nut. I know it’s not out to get me as it resists all my efforts to dislodge it. Even though it feels like it. And since it’s forced me to unplug, it’s turned into something of a benefit.

Pressfield also writes: “Like a magnetized needle floating on a surface of oil, Resistance will unfailingly point to true North—meaning that calling or action it most wants to stop us from doing. We can use it as a compass.”

Hmmm. I already know that writing’s a pretty big deal to me. And when the time I set aside for it gets spent on something else—when I push back instead of going with the flow—it weighs heavily.

Right now, I have two pieces of writing that are so close to fruition. My first novel is set to republish in two months, after another round of editing. My second novel is in draft form, and it’s chock full of line edits, awaiting my review and revision. Maybe the lesson is this: when I say I’m going to unplug, I really should, so that I can get my butt in gear and Do the Work.

New Smyrna, Part 1

Sunrise on July 11

Right now, I’m on vacation with Husband Tim in New Smyrna Beach, on Florida’s Atlantic coast. I’m attempting to unplug from everything, including WordPress. I’ve not been 100% successful at that.

My compromise is that I’ll post a few brief observations today, and save any deeper musings for next week. I still wish, like Bil Keane, I had a Little Billy to sub for me. It’s the only enviable thing about The Family Circus. But far be it from me cast any further aspersions upon that comic strip. Last time I did that, I spurred the ire of my brother-in-law Jim. I was unaware he was such a big fan.

This is our first time visiting New Smyrna. Here are a few things I’ve learned:

  • Beforehand, I read something about New Smyrna’s “drive-on beaches.” Wasn’t quite sure what that meant until I saw it. Sure enough, you can drive your car onto the beach and park in certain designated areas. We are staying within walking distance to the beach, so we opted to save the $10 vehicle access fee.
  • Famed painter and art instructor Bob Ross was from around these parts. He was born in Daytona Beach, and died in New Smyrna. All the happy little clouds I’ve seen while here now have special meaning.
  • Catching the sunrise yesterday, I encountered a gentleman who told me, “Florida is the only state where you can see the sunrise over the water in the morning, drive across the state, and watch the sun set into the water in the evening.” (I’m paraphrasing here). Thinking about it, I would guess you’d also be able to do this in Hawaii. But I appreciated his observation nonetheless, and it did give me an occasion to reflect upon the geography of peninsulas.
  • The gnats in New Smyrna are thick before sunrise. And they bite.
  • I might be wrong on this, but I think the locally accepted way to pronounce the name of the town is New Sa-Mur-Na. Like Smyrna is three syllables instead of two.

That’s it for now. Just a few more days before I have to plug back in. Gonna watch some more happy little clouds.

The Writer’s Almanac

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch. ®

From Friday’s walk

“Be well, do good work, and keep in touch” is Garrison Keillor’s sign-off for each edition of The Writer’s Almanac. I assume it’s trademarked by either Minnesota Public Radio or American Public Media, who distributes the daily five-minute program.

I know of Garrison Keillor through The Writer’s Almanac. I’ve never listened to A Prairie Home Companion. I’ve never even seen the movie, which is my usual cheat to acquaint myself with things I feel I should know more about.

As it is, The Writer’s Almanac is such a rare treat for me. New Orleans’s public radio station, WWNO, plays it around 9am each morning, right at the end of their broadcast of NPR’s Morning Edition and right before On Point. I’m usually at my job by that time, and I don’t listen to radio (or anything else non-job related, really) when I’m at my desk.

I always get a little charge when I hear the opening piano notes for the program. (Wikipedia tells me it’s a version of a Swedish song, performed by Richard Dworsky). And it was rare indeed that I heard it twice in a week—last Friday and this Monday. I took the day off Friday, and was late into work on Monday because of an eye doctor’s appointment.

My mind always feels a little more expanded when I get to hear The Writer’s Almanac. I hear poems that I’m not likely to encounter anywhere else, and hear of fascinating people who would not otherwise cross my frame of reference. Unless they showed up in a Google Doodle.

One of my favorite poems—John Updike’s “December, Outdoors”—was first introduced to me via the program. And June 30—Friday—was the birthday of poet Czeslaw Milosz, someone I’d never heard of before. He was born in Lithuania in 1911, and raised in Poland. He moved to the United States around 1960, and wrote the following about this country:

“What splendor! What poverty! What humanity! What inhumanity! What mutual good will! What individual isolation! What loyalty to the ideal! What hypocrisy! What a triumph of conscience! What perversity!”

That kind of resonated with me. Especially considering the inhumanity Milosz witnessed in his lifetime.

Anyway, after hearing The Writer’s Almanac on Friday, I was inspired to do something a little off my routine. I went for a walk along the lakefront—that’s how New Orleanians refer to a certain section of Lake Pontchartrain’s shoreline. I could go on about this shallow, brackish, body of water; how it and the Mississippi River define the geography of New Orleans; how it pervaded the dreams of my youth. But maybe that’s a post for another time.

So, I’ll conclude with this: I always consider it a small success when I’m able to “be well, do good work, and keep in touch.” In the past week, I’ve gotten my eyes checked out (they’re healthy), I’ve written about some things I find inspirational, and I’ve posted here. If I can keep myself from worrying about either the magnitude or measurement of these actions, then I will have truly succeeded.

Here are some more pictures from Friday’s walk:

Am I a Plotser?

My favorite jeans. I can no longer wear them outside the house, because of a hole in…the seat of the pants.

There are two terms I’ve encountered in fiction-writing circles: plotter and pantser. A “plotter” is just like it sounds: a writer who composes a story by writing an outline first. A plotter gets the elements of the narrative down in some way, shape, or form—be it index cards, a synopsis, or an old-fashioned Roman-numeral type outline.

A “pantser” is a writer who composes by “the seat of their pants.” No outline or sketch, little to no prep work. A pantser just sits down to write and sees what happens.

In an article I found via Google, the novelist Cindi Myers suggests that there might be some shame in admitting you’re a plotter, because being a pantser could be considered more “artistic.” In it, she goes on to list the benefits of plotting. (Though, this article is housed on a site for an online editing tool called AutoCrit, which I assume has a vested interest in converting more writers into plotters.)

Assessing myself as a fiction writer, I’d say I began as a pantser, but have evolved into a plotter. And I still exhibit traits of both in my day-to-day writing life.

I’m definitely a pantser with these blog posts. Their short length is the reason why I can write them without a plan. If I go off on a tangent, I can afford the time spent on that thread. Because it’s typically portions of an hour, not portions of days or weeks (or months). And even if that thread gets cut, I find the time writing it was usually well spent, because those tangents often help clarify my thoughts.

But, with fiction, I can’t afford to be a pantser. I’ve spent some time in this space bemoaning the breaks I’ve taken from writing. (Some self-induced, others not so much.) It took me six years to get The Incident Under the Overpass to a point ready to publish. I want to be more expeditious with subsequent stories.

Part of the reason my first novel took so long was because I spent the first three years without a plan. I can’t say things got easier once I outlined the story, but I can say my approach to the work improved. I like to think my output improved, too.

I’ve started writing the third and final story featuring Lacey Becnel (the heroine of my first novel.) I outlined it a while ago, and I foresee many changes to that original plot. Also, about nine months ago, I started using some writing software. (I purchased Scrivener—I was sold by numerous testimonials from writers claiming how expeditious it made them).

The point I’m trying to get to is this: in a pantser-ish move, I began to compose the opening to the story before importing/updating that old outline into the program. I was a little surprised to find out that what I wrote hewed pretty close to the outline. So what originally felt like a little pantser rebellion was in truth a loyal plotter move.

Short stories get the same plotter treatment. It’s been about a year since I’ve written one—way longer than I’d like it to be—but I blame Lacey for that. Anyway, it might just be three sentences at the top of a document, outlining the short story arc, but I find it helps tremendously in getting me to the finish line.

Slow and steady, wasn’t it the plodding (plotting?) tortoise who won the race?

Solstice and Solnit

Sunrise / Moonset in San Luis Obispo. Around the time of summer’s end, last year.

Last night at 11:24 pm (Central Time), summer began. It feels a bit ironic that the point when we mark the most daylight in the Northern Hemisphere—the most we’re going to get in 2017—happens in the middle of the night here. I think this has something to do with New Orleans being five hours behind the prime meridian, but I could be wrong.

I wrote a few weeks ago about looking forward to the solstice. I’ve always been a summer person. Maybe the thing I like most about the summer is the sunlight. When things feel uncertain—and so much about everything feels uncertain right now—I’m grateful that abundant daylight can illuminate the shadows.

To mention a few geographically-specific uncertainties: there’s a tropical storm (named Cindy) currently headed for our coast. And one of southern Louisiana’s Congressmen lies in serious condition in a hospital in Washington, DC, after a horrific shooting. These are some bleak shadows. While I don’t need to hope that the sun will come out after this storm (because barring something catastrophic, it will); I am hoping that abundant light and goodwill will help Congressman Scalise to a rapid recovery.

There’s another thing I like about summer. It may be a holdover from my school days, but I still appreciate the freedom summer affords. To learn outside of textbooks or prescribed courses. I write this even though I’ve been out of school a really long time—by now, I’ve been out of school longer than I was ever in school. But I have a mighty long memory.

Speaking of learning and shining a light, an essay from the writer Rebecca Solnit popped up in my social media feeds last week. There’s a specific reason I hold Rebecca Solnit in high regard, but I’ll get to that in a bit. The piece that was making the rounds was a very eloquent essay on our President. Here’s a link to it, but fair warning: if you are pro-this-particular-President, it is not a complimentary assessment.

One of the reasons why I know of Rebecca Solnit: she co-wrote a book titled Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas. I don’t own this book, but I have given it as a gift. But here’s the real source of my admiration: she wrote an essay last fall that I keep (permanently) on my phone’s browser. It’s called: “How to be a Writer: 10 Tips from Rebecca Solnit.

I refer to it whenever I need to shine a light on my writing habits. Or just need a little encouragement. Every bit of advice in it is thoughtful, useful, and truthful. I’m hard-pressed to excerpt a “favorite,” but No. 9 feels particularly salient for a little-known writer with earnest intentions (guess who?)

What we call success is very nice and comes with useful byproducts, but success is not love, or at least it is at best the result of love of the work and not of you, so don’t confuse the two. Cultivating love for others and maybe receiving some for yourself is another job and an important one. The process of making art is the process of becoming a person with agency, with independent thought, a producer of meaning rather than a consumer of meanings that may be at odds with your soul, your destiny, your humanity, so there’s another kind of success in becoming conscious that matters and that is up to you and nobody else and within your reach.”

Illuminating words, indeed.

My 100th Post!

12 million blogs.* One writer.

The odds are against Anne McClane…

That’s just the way she likes it.

 

Thanks to my Die Hard poster for letting me paraphrase some promotional copy. It seemed an appropriate way to open this most auspicious of posts—WordPress tells me this is #100!

When I began this venture in 2015, I had no idea what would fill this digital space. From then to now, I’ve never worried too much about it. (Any regular visitor here has probably figured that out by now. Bless your heart.) My intention with all this remains the same as it ever was: to give my writing ambitions a public face. And, essentially, to let anyone who may be interested know that I am a fiction writer.

Posting once a week for the past two years, I’m hitting 100 right on pace. While I just wrote that I’ve never worried too much about the content, I’ll admit it hasn’t always been easy to meet my self-imposed weekly Wednesday deadline. There have been times when I’ve concocted something in the wee hours of a Wednesday, or used my phone’s data to post something from an airport. Or written something in a hotel bathroom because I was sharing the room and didn’t want to disturb my sleeping roommate.

Since I haven’t missed a Wednesday yet, I feel inclined to reference another Bruce Willis character, and another great, preposterous, movie: Harry Stamper in Armageddon. In the scene where he’s fighting with Colonel Willie Sharp (played by William Fichtner), trying to get him to turn off a nuclear bomb, this is what Harry Stamper says:

“I have been drilling holes in the earth for 30 years. And I have never, NEVER missed a depth that I have aimed for. And by God, I am not gonna miss this one, I will make 800 feet.”

Okay, so, I haven’t been at this for 30 years, and the fate of the planet definitely does NOT depend on my blog posts. But for those times when I think of skipping, I think of this scene, and it gives me just enough fire to put something together.

In keeping with the number theme and my “come what may” attitude, here are a few stats:

  • Total views over the lifetime of this blog: 7,550
  • Only time I’ve ever topped 100 views in a day: my 2nd post, about a prescient letter my father wrote eighteen years before Katrina hit New Orleans
  • Post where I explained the whole Anne McClane / Die Hard thing: post #3
  • Tags I’ve used the most: Writing (20 times), New Orleans (13 times), paranormal romance (6 times), Star Wars and Lent are tied at 4 times apiece (go figure)

So, there you have it. Post #100. Hopefully I won’t be writing #101 in a bathroom.

*12 million blogs is completely fictitious. I have no idea how many blogs there are in the world.