Pointing to the Moon: Look Beyond Candidates’ Words

lunaditoThere’s one thing nearly every person is aware of at this very moment: the world is shifting and changing, faster and greater than ever before. As people and as humanity we are in the process of accelerated evolution, which is a fancy way of saying we’re all on a freight train speeding over a hill and where the track goes beyond that is as yet unknown. In the US, our current contest for who can convince enough people to vote for them is the most poignant proof of the conflict that typically comes with change. It is shining an unflattering spotlight on our foibles and flaws as a country and society—most obviously the often alarming push-pull between our desire to connect and our fear of getting too close to people different from ourselves.

As I watch our political season play out in all its splendor, an image keeps popping into my head. The candidates are lined up on a stage, all standing behind a podium, their mouths open but no words are being spoken. I know it’s difficult to believe, but they’re actually silent for a minute; just go with it. Each person’s arm is raised towards the darkened sky and pointing to their own individual moon. It took me a minute to figure out why this image meant something, but I remembered something I learned about an ancient teacher, originally in the appendices of the beautiful novel A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. (Find out more about her and her writing here.) I’ll explain.

Is the truth in the words?

Political candidates are constantly talking. Then people talk and write about what they say. Then they say some more and the cycle endures. With each discussion, the original meaning and energy of those words are distorted a bit more, often to support the viewpoint of whomever is now speaking. A twisted messaging telephone game.

Words are powerful, particularly in politics. A few well-timed and expertly delivered speeches can win a black man with a Muslim middle name the presidency. Twice. (The best example can be found here.) As a writer, I am hyper-aware of their usefulness and magic. Words can inspire and motivate. They can broaden perspectives and open people to new ideas. They can create change.

But they also can manipulate. They can validate fear. They can light a fire beneath underlying resentment. Words can transform a crowd wishing to connect with people who share some of their beliefs and hope for the future into a mob incited to reject and eject, literally and sometimes forcefully, those they feel threaten these beliefs. (Watch one example here.)

They are powerful, but they aren’t everything.

Over the years, the details of politics have become less and less interesting to me. I have very smart, knowledgeable, passionate friends and family who believe that politics is won and lost in the minutiae. What does the letter of the law actually mean? What can we actually put on the ground as a result? That used to light my fire. Let’s break it down into bits and determine how we can actually create change using well-crafted policies, government funding and human-generated power, and how I can get my hands in there.

As I get older, politics has become more of a personal philosophical pursuit. The actual acting on my beliefs is still important. I just don’t want to spend hours debating them, dwelling on the words and defending their meaning, and I’m not sure effective solutions are found within government and political discourse as much as I used to.

Still, as much as I’d like politics to be something separate from my time here on Earth, it isn’t. Nothing is, really. How and whether I vote, what I say about it, what I believe about certain candidates, what I believe the role of society should be in supporting those in need or those with diminished rights, how I treat my fellow human beings as a result of my beliefs, how I believe our laws should or shouldn’t support that, how I believe equality and justice should play out. It’s all tied to who I am as a person. And I am, as we all are, a person who lives, writes, thinks, believes and behaves in the world based on where I am in my own personal evolution.

Political candidates are no different from all of us in this respect. Knowing, as best we can, what their true intentions are is more important to me than what they say they will do. Many of my friends and family might call me naïve, and some of them have. Nevertheless, unlike some popular candidates (see story, including video, here), I believe that if the convictions don’t shift, if the pre-programmed mindsets don’t alter, neither will the system. Hands follow the heart. That’s how true change occurs.

If a candidate’s heart is genuine and ego reasonably managed (as much as a politician’s can be), the “doing” will come from the right motivation. They will play the long game and things that can truly and positively impact our society will materialize from the resulting policies—perhaps not immediately, but inevitably.

Herein lies the rub… Before anything can happen, we have to talk about it.

The Sixth Patriarch of Zen (Read more about him here.), who was illiterate, said looking for truth in books (e.g., words) was like seeking truth in the finger pointing to the moon. The moon is the truth, and words can only point the way. Writing is a beautiful and powerful art, but it’s a terrible way to communicate if you’re trying to do so indisputably. Speaking charismatically is a wonderful skill, but the words you choose are only a sliver of the truth. And for some, it’s only a version of someone else’s truth they wish you to believe is theirs.

As much as I love language, it is inherently flawed. Shared stories and ideas are limited, a reflection of one person’s perspective. They will be received the same way, through a filter of the other person’s experiences, memories and beliefs.

Words lined up into powerful messaging statements or in the most pleasingly logical order so our brain can comprehend them only wrap us in a comforting blanket of reality that doesn’t exist. They make solid something that is of the air. Truth is just floating out there, waiting for us to see it. Words manifesting as phrases, anecdotes, doctrines, plans, policies, speeches, books and all the rest of what we believe we need to understand things, just get in the way of us seeing and knowing it.

So, we need to look beyond the words.

Here’s what the image reminded me to consider… The intention and energy behind what someone says and writes is more important than the language. And what you see reflected back to you is just as critical. We need to look closely at both, with clear eyes.

It is crucial to know if a candidate is speaking frankly because they don’t want to waste time getting to the core truth of the matter or pretending to speak frankly to build credibility with a crowd disillusioned after decades of political doublespeak.

It makes a difference whether this straightforward rhetoric contains substance, ideas, thoughtfulness and empathy, or simply uses words they know we will identify with—probably via focus groups, political operatives and crafty polling.

It is vital that there be something other than verbiage to support these ideas, such as past or present behavior, established or appropriately rejected relationships, a sense of the person behind the image (for the many of you who trust your intuition on such things).

It is paramount that the intentions behind the words and the actions to follow be positive and not only motivated by ego, fear or desire for power.

With every speech, debate, rally, interview and opinion piece, we need to understand that a candidate’s words are pointing to something, but the finger is only a finger. The moon is what we should be looking at, and which one we choose is up to us.

It is a reflection of us.

Who you trust and how you vote is up to you.

It is a reflection of you.

Make sure you aren’t following the finger that simply sounds the most familiar or rousing.

And make sure you can live with the person standing beneath it.

om

The Life Cycle of Truth

dandelion_life_cycle_greeting_card-r917a25e735d04a3d81d6f384a09faea3_xvuak_8byvr_324 - Version 2Nothing makes me smile wider than when I hear a perspective or idea I once offered to someone — a friend, a family member, a reader, a client, a child — offered back to me with both confidence and no recognition of where or when they first considered it. The moment the pilot light ignited is a clear and happy memory for me. For them, the energy of it is so internalized that they only know it to be true. The moment they learned it or, perhaps more accurately, recognized it is long forgotten.

I hope those who first introduced certain truths to me, the many teachers whose offerings I don’t recall, also smile when they see things I now know in the space in the center of my head, in the movement of my cells, in the pulsing of my heart. The things I’d forgotten or rejected until I watched them lived with conviction or heard them said using the words I could hear in the right moment with the right amount of clarity.

They are mine now because they were once given freely and with love. They are yours because you are open to seeing and, like me, hungry for truth.

The cycle continues as long as one being is willing to share with another.

And so it goes.

om

A Writer Lets Go: Knowing When It’s Time to Move On

Floating Books by Fanny Brennan
Floating Books
by Fanny Brennan

Writing is a turbulent journey. When you do it for long enough, you attempt nearly every kind of piece imaginable, all with varying degrees of success. Writers learn to discern quickly when something meets the need of the moment, the client, the assignment, the vision, the expectation, the expression, even the higher purpose when a greater objective is at stake.

It can be difficult to see when it doesn’t, and even harder to let it go.

Most of our work is so personal, filled with love and pain and secrets we wouldn’t tell unless the story benefited. They are that friend who demands attention at the least convenient moments, who forces you to see and make peace with the thorn in your heel you pretend you don’t feel any more, who leads you by the hand through tearful memories and makes you laugh at your own ridiculousness.

A book is a stimulating, even if infuriating, confidante. The one you need right then. Some are not meant to be with you until the end.

I wrote a book. Another one, that is. Another memoir — this one named Laugh at the Sky, Kid, inspired by the Buddhist saying. I took my time. I wrote a draft, worked on it, sat with it, offered it to both professional and trusted amateur editors, revised it, honed it, fed it, talked to it, gave it time to breathe, then took the big step of adding FINAL to its filename and my address to the cover page.

It is challenging and joyful, full of jagged truth and flowing hope. It is an invitation to anyone lost and searching in the beginning of their personal spiritual journey, as I once was. It lights one path toward greater grace and purpose, and therefore illuminates the limitless number of paths available to everyone.

I love it. Most of the people who have read it love it. Friends and family, of course, but even the writers and influencers who I have shared it with have been enormously supportive. It’s one of the reasons I hung on to her for so long.

The publishing industry, not so much. The book is difficult to place neatly in a category, making it seem tough to market despite my willingness to travel non-traditional marketing paths on my own. But right now publishers don’t have patience for noncompliant, even if enthusiastic, writers.

No bother, I said. And I meant it. I was committed to this work’s message. It had something to say beyond words and I believed it was created to be shared.

I’m smart, I said. I know people. I’m willing to spend the time and money to do this “right.” I can do it myself, get creative with distribution models. Start beneath the soil and nurture a beautiful independent commerce blossom, bright enough to be seen by anyone who needs to see it.

And so, in 2014 I committed to self-publishing in 2015 if no publishing deal was struck by then. By mid-2015, I changed the date to 2016. I believed it was because I was saving enough money to do it professionally and in a manner reflecting the purpose of the book. As the second half of 2015 arrived and self-publishing seemed more imminent, I decided to re-read this beloved manuscript that had been sitting in my laptop untouched for months.

Hm.

It needs…something, I thought. It doesn’t speak as clearly as it once did, I admitted. I’d evolved as a writer, and to revise it accordingly would require a significant amount of work, but that wasn’t it.

I’d evolved as a person and a spirit. The book, forever fixed in time, hadn’t.

This invitation I issued from my heart and soul back in 2014 doesn’t speak the same language any more. The words are identical, the ideas and stories unchanged, but everything around them has shifted, including me. Especially me. The story doesn’t resonate the way it once did. My life continues, my perception of it changes as it goes, and the world turns and evolves faster with each passing moment. Our collective human tale has transformed just enough that this particular version of mine no longer contributes to it in a way that is meaningful, or at least meaningful enough for me to spend the time and energy to publish and promote it.

Forcing it would only shove something into the world simply because that was the plan all along. If it doesn’t resonate with me anymore, it won’t resonate with anyone. If it feels compulsory, that’s how it will read.

So, through tears I concluded it’s time to make space for something else.

I will miss her, but I have no regrets. I’m glad I wrote it. It accomplished what it was supposed to. I am a different, more aware, more confident, more conscious human, parent, writer and coach for completing it. I am stronger for having struggled through the tough days. I am wiser and happier for what the process revealed. The days I soared and swam and scampered through the literary wilderness, my eyes widened with wonder, I remembered why I do this at all.

Without this piece of writing, I would not be in this place and time, open to what is to come. I will always love it and always be grateful to my dear friend for walking with me for a while.

Thank you for everyone’s interest, support and help over the last few years. It is not wasted energy. I carry it with me moving forward. New ideas are bubbling up and old ideas are showing up in new clothes. I’m just going to pause a minute before I take the next leap. It’s a big step, and I’ve learned over the years to choose my friends wisely.

om

To find out more about Rebecca’s writing coaching services, visit rebeccagifford.com or email her at giffordrebecca@gmail.com.

6 Reality Checks for New Authors

Reality-CheckThe most common questions I get from folks inquiring about my writing coaching services aren’t about writing.

Most people who have written or who want to write a book already write to some extent, probably with some amount of skill. They likely believe completing the manuscript is their strength, or at least something they can figure out along the way, and they probably believe it’s the easiest part of their publishing process.

So, once some new authors get to the part where they’re considering outside help, they are already thinking beyond the manuscript. They have moved on to that imposing question we all face…

What do I do when it’s done?

Their head swimming with the mere notion of literary agents and query drafts, they ask if I have any advice for them. My response is to say the portion of the process beyond writing and editing isn’t my area of expertise. Like many, I’m figuring it out as I go along. That said, I have some tidbits to offer based on my own experience and research.

This is not even close to an exhaustive list of things a new author needs to know, but it contains the reminders I find most valuable as I go through the publishing process myself. And it’s usually enough of a reality check to propel writers new to this world to make some crucial decisions.

  1. Slow down. You’re probably not as done as you think you are.

First-time authors are notoriously full of hubris, and likely a bit naïve, which feeds the hubris. This is said with love and empathy, but it’s the truth. Completing a book is no small task, and everyone who does this should be proud and pleased. But it may or may not be the perfect tome you believe it to be. The process of getting it where it needs to be to compete with all the other books clamoring for limited publishing space will be challenging, and even the most experienced authors need lots of help along the way.

This wake-up call will happen. There’s no avoiding it. And, it’s a good thing. The most effective way to accomplish it is to attend a writer’s conference, talk to lots of people and even pay for feedback from an editor or agent if this is offered. You’ll come out the other side feeling a bit squashed, but much more savvy and wise. Any amount of research online or a browse through the writing and publishing advice section at your local bookstore may offer a similar experience.

The most valuable thing I learned was slow down. Edit your manuscript. Now edit it again. Now edit it again. Have friends or colleagues who are writers and/or avid readers and will be honest with you read it and send you their observations and reactions. Join a (good) writer’s workshop if that’s available or appealing to you. Now have at least one reputable professional editor critique and/or edit it. Take the time to thoughtfully and sincerely consider everyone’s comments and get a little time away from the manuscript. Now read it like you’ve never seen it before and edit and rewrite as necessary. Now have someone proofread it. Now go through it again and make sure it’s as good as you know how to make it before you even think of sending out queries.

The biggest mistake new authors make is rushing. Or assuming their publisher or agent or an e-book reader will forgive major story flaws, amateurish writing or errors made because they were in a hurry to get it out into the market.

Take your time to create the book you can send out without a moment’s hesitation. Most publishers will only publish books that meet the high standards they and most readers have—quality writing, engaging content, and a unique voice and/or perspective being some of the biggies. They can teach you some of the rest (even if they don’t want to), but they can’t and won’t teach you how to write.

  1. It may be more than you thought you were getting into.

The industry is evolving rapidly, mostly due to the advent of e-books and social media marketing. Even some of the larger houses are still in the process of catching up and are cutting budgets, advances and staff. This means their sales expectations are typically high, which means they have a narrowing view of what books are worthy of their investment, which means you must meet some pretty specific criteria to be published by them. This does not mean your book isn’t good or even great. It just means they aren’t convinced it will sell with minimal effort and expense.

There are a lot of specialty and small publishing houses, which is where you (or your agent) may have better luck. But just like the larger houses, they are tightening their belts, offering little to no advances and asking for extensive rights to your book and often future work.

Before approaching any agent or publisher, you must have a strong sense of how to market your book and a willingness to do the vast majority yourself.

To that end, you will need a stellar query letter and a solid marketing proposal. You can find great advice and some good examples of these documents both online and in the myriad of books about them. I often tell new authors to start with Writer’s Market’s online subscription content, then figure out for themselves the experts and lists that are most helpful to them. There also are some professionals who specialize in getting you through this part of the process. (Here are links to Rabid Badger and Author Biz Consulting, as examples of folks who are happy to help.)

You will be expected to have not only a detailed idea of who will want to buy your book and how to reach them, but already have an impressive number of them in the hopper via social media, blog followers, podcast/newsletter/website/YouTube subscribers, radio show listeners and TV viewers, students/clients/customers, etc. The magic number will vary depending on the size of the house you or your potential agent approach.

At minimum, if you don’t already have a blog, start one and start promoting it more assertively. If you haven’t signed up for Twitter or don’t have a website or Facebook page related to your book or its content, get that going. There’s a ton more to talk about here, but it’s not my wheelhouse and it would take days to detail all the potential outlets and offer advice about the best ways to market via the web and social media. A good Google search will reveal the many, many much more qualified professionals and resources that are happy to offer advice along these lines.

  1. Know your book and why it is worth it.

The benefit of being forced to write a great query and marketing plan is that you have a built-in opportunity to soul search. It’s also a necessary business-oriented wake-up call, don’t get me wrong, and an opportunity to figure out how (and maybe if) this is all going to work. But it also is an opportunity to commit to words, as briefly as possible, why this book is worthy of your attention and the attention of potential readers.

[A quick note: If you’re in it for the money, stop reading and go find some other outlet for your energy, time and hard-earned cash.]

Why are you passionate about this story or topic?

Why is your perspective or story unique?

Why are you willing to commit to the publishing process knowing there likely isn’t a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?

What will readers get from this book and why is it important for them to get it?

Are you propelled by vanity and ego, or do you have something meaningful to say?

Are you willing and able to speak openly and authoritatively about everything in your book to whomever will listen?

Bottom line: What is your intention, are you able to carry it off, and is it enough to sustain you through what will be months of pounding the literary pavement?

  1. Don’t be afraid to do it on your own, but do it well and go in with your eyes wide open.

If you don’t think you can or you don’t want to do it in a way that satisfies the traditional publishing industry, you have options. Self-publishing is more respectable and a lot easier to do well than it used to be. Depending on how you do it, it allows you to keep all of the rights and all or most of the profit.

I recommend doing it with an eye toward quality and professionalism. That means more than putting it on Amazon for a couple of dollars. If you don’t know how or you’re not comfortable doing it yourself, there are professionals and services to help you do everything from cover design and e-book formatting to setting up virtual book tours, depending on how much you’re willing to spend.

It’s a lot of work, but if the intention for the book and your commitment to it is strong enough, it can be done and done successfully. Ingrid Ricks self-published her memoir Hippie Boy: A Girl’s Story and ended up on the New York Times Bestseller list for e-book nonfiction. Then it was picked up by Penguin Random House’s Berkeley Books. More on this fascinating and inspiring story here (Ingrid Ricks’s Great Escape).

That said, self-publishing also is not for the faint-hearted. More than 400,000 books are self-published every year. A great article on the reality of self-publishing can be found here (What Your Friends Can’t Tell You About Your Self-Published Book).

  1. Believe that you will reach who you’re meant to reach.

This is a lot. I know. I can feel all of your heads being cradled in your now-clammy and overwhelmed hands. Once I offer various versions of this advice to current or potential clients, some lose heart. That’s okay. There are no wrong choices. The good news is that if you’ve gotten this far, you’ve probably got the goods to make a go of it.

If you believe you are meant to reach people with the message of your book, then you are. They are there. Every book has an audience. Every book with positive intentions affects someone positively. Even if you have a message that’s been offered before, it has never before been offered by you. Because you haven’t said it yet, there are some who haven’t been able to hear it yet. If you’re okay with the notion that it may only be a few dozen people hearing it instead of 100,000, then I encourage you to move forward.

  1. Enjoy it. Own it.

What we focus on is what we cultivate. Though the reality check of the post-writing publishing process can be a jagged pill at first, especially for typically introverted writers, it also can be extremely gratifying and even joyful. Allow yourself to fully experience it and even like it.

See the feedback and editing process as a master class in writing.View the query process as a creative exercise and opportunity to own and spread the energy of your book. See the rejections and non-responses as preparation for the inevitable (but hopefully rare) negative reader reviews. Approach the marketing process as an opportunity to affect people directly and get immediate feedback, not just a necessary evil.

Along those lines, don’t be afraid to spread the good news about your book. No matter the outcome, it’s a great accomplishment, so own it. Once you’ve gone through this process, you should have the language to do just that, and do so genuinely, comfortably and confidently.

Remember, speaking well of your book and your expertise doesn’t mean your ego has taken over the henhouse and suddenly you’re a braggadocios rooster. When you do it with heart it just means you believe in your work and you know it’s worthy of being read and discussed.

And you know what? You’re right.

Stay strong!

Happy writing.

om

Rebecca is an author, copywriter, writing coach and editor. Find out more about that here and here. Her next book, titled the same as her blog, will be available in 2016. Find out more about that here.

Why losing your work is the best thing that could possibly happen

oh-noThe world is crashing. First United Airlines, now the New York Stock Exchange. My mind fills with conspiracy theories, but I truly have empathy for anyone feeling the pinch of these hacks…er, system glitches. In honor of the day’s excitement, I’m re-posting an earlier blog proclaiming the virtues of a clean slate and a fresh start. Whether it be created by an evil virus or simply a symptom of poor planning, it’s an opportunity to (re)create something great.

Seize it! And happy writing.

————–

My friend Rita recently posted a social media rant. It was peaceful and polite, but still a rant. She’d just spent hours on a beautiful short story, her computer did something-or-other and all of her work disappeared into the virtual equivalent of that place where all lost socks go.

She was understandably devastated, angry, frustrated and cursing her faulty auto-save feature and back-up gods. It was the first story in a collection she’s working on after being away from writing for some time focusing on her photography business (click here to go to Knots and Tots Photography) and other pursuits. She was proud of what I’m sure was a connected, creative and beautifully written piece. She was proud she’d finished it at all. Now she has nothing concrete to show for that time.

To find out more about Rebecca’s writing coaching services, head to rebeccagifford.com or send her a note at giffordrebecca@gmail.com.

It’s terrible. Heartbreaking. I’m sorry it happened to her. It’s happened to many of us at some point, and to me several times, including to an entire chapter of my most recent book. It is a loss and I have empathy.

But losing her work was probably the best thing that could have happened to Rita in that moment. It’s a lesson I share with my writing coaching clients, but often it doesn’t sink in until something like this happens.

All art, even very personal art, is only temporary. Writing is just energy. It’s frequency, intention, ideas and emotion made manifest into conscious form through words. It can and will be reimagined, reformed, recreated and reborn infinitely. It will be absorbed, perceived and reacted to (or not) differently by everyone who experiences it – often not just a little differently, but vastly differently. Once the reader absorbs it, it becomes something else. This lovely, thoughtful, creative, edited, downloaded, uploaded and intimate labor of love…it shifts, melds with the reader’s energy and essentially disappears the moment it’s been shared.

Not to worry, what you create is yours for a time. It’s connected to you, even a part of you. Most of the time it’s extremely personal. That’s why it’s so hard to watch it go earlier than you intended because you forgot to set up your iCloud backup. Once it’s released out into the world, it’s no longer yours anyway. It becomes something universal and collective. It’s a wisp, a wave, a series of codes.

There are three important lessons the universe reminds me of every time I lose my writing:

  1. There are no coincidences. If you lose a piece, even a brilliant one, there is a reason. It wasn’t meant to exist in this form. Perhaps it was a sacrifice so you could learn the universal truth that everything is always changing. Perhaps your ego or identity was too connected to it. Perhaps expectations about publication, reaction or success were too present in its creation. Whatever the reason, somehow the universe knew that it would have a greater impact if it went away and your perception was forced to shift. So it did.
  2. If you can let it go, what you create next will be even better. Every time – I mean every time – the next version of the work I lost was better than the first. And often not just a little better. Usually it’s a lot better. With time and space to germinate and reimagine its creation, you have an opportunity to tell a better story. With no ties to the previous structure or word choices, you have the freedom to explore a different path. With a sense of urgency to make up for the lost time, you are more inclined to write economically and make more thoughtful choices. As you revisit the same content again, your comfort level with it is greater. In its second draft, as with all second drafts, it becomes something more. Only this time you have the opportunity to work from a clean slate, and the result is always much better than the first.
  3. Writing well requires unconditional love. You need to love and embrace what you’re doing, every part of it, including the blocks, the doubt, the fear, the rejection. Even what Anne Lamott refers to as “shitty first drafts,” the computer glitches, the time you’re stuck in a meeting or in traffic while the fantastic idea or story you just wrote in your head floats away. These are all critical parts of the process and, as #1 clarifies, it’s all meant to happen on the path to the work you can’t wait to share with the world.  More importantly, writers need to have unconditional love for themselves as they experience all of this. Great writing is truly a labor of love and more. In this day and age there isn’t a lot of material or professional gratification to be found at the end of the Road of Persistence. The path is absolutely worth it – for the promise of great work, storytelling, connection, growth, self-expression, fun, contribution to the greater good, reaching the people who need to hear what you have to say, and the potential of at least enough abundance to continue your work. But it isn’t easy, you will make “mistakes,” and you won’t always handle them well. It’s okay. All the more reason to love yourself, forgive yourself, believe in what you’re doing and move forward.

So, Rita, please keep writing. Make sure you save early and often and have a computer back-up plan in place, but keep doing it. Because of this temporary setback, you will be a better, stronger writer and ultimately more people will benefit from your stories and perspective. I promise. Whatever you wrote once the fury subsided likely was fantastic. I can’t wait to read it.

To find out more about Rebecca’s writing coaching services, head to rebeccagifford.com. For more info on her upcoming memoir Laugh at the Sky, Kid, go to laughattheskykid.com.

Why losing your work is the best thing that could possibly happen

book-disappearing-textMy friend Rita recently posted a social media rant. It was peaceful and polite, but still a rant. She’d just spent hours on a beautiful short story, her computer did something-or-other and all of her work disappeared into the virtual equivalent of that place where all lost socks go.

She was understandably devastated, angry, frustrated and cursing her faulty auto-save feature and back-up gods. It was the first story in a collection she’s working on after being away from writing for some time focusing on her photography business (click here to go to Knots and Tots Photography) and other pursuits. She was proud of what I’m sure was a connected, creative and beautifully written piece. She was proud she’d finished it at all. Now she has nothing concrete to show for that time.

To find out more about Rebecca’s writing coaching services, head to rebeccagifford.com or send her a note at giffordrebecca@gmail.com.

It’s terrible. Heartbreaking. I’m sorry it happened to her. It’s happened to many of us at some point, and to me several times, including to an entire chapter of my most recent book. It is a loss and I have empathy.

But losing her work was probably the best thing that could have happened to Rita in that moment. It’s a lesson I share with my writing coaching clients, but often it doesn’t sink in until something like this happens.

All art, even very personal art, is only temporary. Writing is just energy. It’s frequency, intention, ideas and emotion made manifest into conscious form through words. It can and will be reimagined, reformed, recreated and reborn infinitely. It will be absorbed, perceived and reacted to (or not) differently by everyone who experiences it – often not just a little differently, but vastly differently. Once the reader absorbs it, it becomes something else. This lovely, thoughtful, creative, edited, downloaded, uploaded and intimate labor of love…it shifts, melds with the reader’s energy and essentially disappears the moment it’s been shared.

Not to worry, what you create is yours for a time. It’s connected to you, even a part of you. Most of the time it’s extremely personal. That’s why it’s so hard to watch it go earlier than you intended because you forgot to set up your iCloud backup. Once it’s released out into the world, it’s no longer yours anyway. It becomes something universal and collective. It’s a wisp, a wave, a series of codes.

There are three important lessons the universe reminds me of every time I lose my writing:

  1. There are no coincidences. If you lose a piece, even a brilliant one, there is a reason. It wasn’t meant to exist in this form. Perhaps it was a sacrifice so you could learn the universal truth that everything is always changing. Perhaps your ego or identity was too connected to it. Perhaps expectations about publication, reaction or success were too present in its creation. Whatever the reason, somehow the universe knew that it would have a greater impact if it went away and your perception was forced to shift. So it did.
  2. If you can let it go, what you create next will be even better. Every time – I mean every time – the next version of the work I lost was better than the first. And often not just a little better. Usually it’s a lot better. With time and space to germinate and reimagine its creation, you have an opportunity to tell a better story. With no ties to the previous structure or word choices, you have the freedom to explore a different path. With a sense of urgency to make up for the lost time, you are more inclined to write economically and make more thoughtful choices. As you revisit the same content again, your comfort level with it is greater. In its second draft, as with all second drafts, it becomes something more. Only this time you have the opportunity to work from a clean slate, and the result is always much better than the first.
  3. Writing well requires unconditional love. You need to love and embrace what you’re doing, every part of it, including the blocks, the doubt, the fear, the rejection. Even what Anne Lamott refers to as “shitty first drafts,” the computer glitches, the time you’re stuck in a meeting or in traffic while the fantastic idea or story you just wrote in your head floats away. These are all critical parts of the process and, as #1 clarifies, it’s all meant to happen on the path to the work you can’t wait to share with the world.  More importantly, writers need to have unconditional love for themselves as they experience all of this. Great writing is truly a labor of love and more. In this day and age there isn’t a lot of material or professional gratification to be found at the end of the Road of Persistence. The path is absolutely worth it – for the promise of great work, storytelling, connection, growth, self-expression, fun, contribution to the greater good, reaching the people who need to hear what you have to say, and the potential of at least enough abundance to continue your work. But it isn’t easy, you will make “mistakes,” and you won’t always handle them well. It’s okay. All the more reason to love yourself, forgive yourself, believe in what you’re doing and move forward.

So, Rita, please keep writing. Make sure you save early and often and have a computer back-up plan in place, but keep doing it. Because of this temporary setback, you will be a better, stronger writer and ultimately more people will benefit from your stories and perspective. I promise. Whatever you wrote once the fury subsided likely was fantastic. I can’t wait to read it.

To find out more about Rebecca’s writing coaching services, head to rebeccagifford.com.

Other People’s Stories: Helping writers realize their dreams keeps joy in mine

let-the-light-guide-your-life-storyI love what I do. Truly. It took me a long time to figure out:

1) how I wanted to spend my time

2) how I was meant to spend my time, and

3) how to make it all come true.

It’s still evolving to some extent. The scenery is always changing, the players come and go and shift on their own paths, and words written with certainty transform and grow with each new day and new lesson. New opportunities may offer more than expected, more than the pursuits that have proven their grit and loyalty over the years by never, ever going away even when I kind of want them to. They are as present for me as my husband and son, and just as engaging. My purpose will never fade, but its appearance may alter from time to time.

These days I’m spending at least as much time helping others with their writing dreams and business goals as I am writing anything in my own voice. My writing coaching services are starting to appeal to folks. I have some fascinating clients, each so different from the next it’s like walking down a twisty literary path as scenes from different worlds play out among the trees and bramble. Add a road full of copywriting work (which I am always grateful for) and a surprise shower of cold and allergy season and you’ll get why I haven’t written a blog worth sharing in three weeks. The novel I’ve begun hasn’t been getting much attention either.

But I have to be honest. I don’t mind the break. One can get tired of the sound of one’s own voice, especially if you’re talking just so there are words on the page because I said I would blog something every other week and damn it the rules of social media say not to let your audience go too long without hearing from you because other people who are talking to them louder will draw them away like the pied piper and you’ll never get them back and what are you gonna do then?!

Loving what others do too, and helping them do it

Right now, the sound of other writers’ strange and beautiful voices are far more interesting to me than what that one might say. These brave souls allow me into their hearts, their psyches and their perfectly imperfect worlds, so I can help them tell the story blossoming inside them. They are still somewhere in Phase 1 or 2, but at the end of each session we smile at each other (through the magic of Skype) and know we got a little closer to 3. This fills me with joy and gratitude. Right now, just for a little while, that’s enough.

Writing is meant to be shared. I adore the interaction, the energy exchange, the perception shifts and infinite lessons we provide one another. But it is more meaningful when the perspectives are thoughtful, fresh and come from life lived outside of an office. So, the blog furlough will continue just a little longer. Projects, clients, guests and travel will make my writing time and online presence scarce for the next few weeks. That’s okay because I will come home to my writing full of new ideas, new energy for my work and many blog-worthy stories experienced with people I haven’t seen in way too long.

Meanwhile… I hope you writers keep writing and living and then writing about the living. May the characters, scenery and ideas shift just often enough to keep you working and playing with enthusiasm. May your voice be confident and stories be clear whether you have everything figured out or not. And may you love what you do, even if you’re not sharing the results with the world just yet.

Om_Symbol

To find out more about Rebecca’s writing services, visit www.rebeccagifford.com. To read an excerpt from her upcoming memoir and sign up for updates, visit www.laughattheskykid.com.

Your Story Matters: Finding your authentic voice and a way to share it

breath of lifeExquisite voices are everywhere and within us all. Some of us sing like an angel or a rock star or the best freeway vocalist we know. Some speak with grace dripping from every word. Some rouse laughter with a whimsical tone. Some provoke change with harsh truth offered with love. Some make people smile with only a hello. Some write with an idea that a well-told story can move mountains one boulder at a time. Some tell their own secrets to illuminate the perfectly flawed beauty in us all. Some voices defy descriptions or, like Harper Lee, offer words so moving that generations jump for joy when she decides to publish her second novel decades later.

No matter what your authentic voice sounds like, it is unique and worthy. It deserves to be heard. Someone is meant to hear it. And if you share it, you are contributing to our collective story and inherent connection.

Who the heck cares?

As I begin to work more with clients who are seeking their authentic writing voice and trying to get more comfortable sharing it, it’s not surprising this question arises as a very common stumbling block. I get it. Most writers do. In fact, a well-timed hike with a friend a few years ago forced me to answer it for myself. It gave me the push I needed to get back on the writing horse I had neglected for years. It’s the energy I rediscovered that day that keeps me writing, not just for myself but with an intention of sharing it…

Your exquisite voice.

One foggy day, as we climbed a brushed and muddy mountain outside LA, I asked a dear friend a question. After she yet again shared an engaging story containing some very wise and eloquent advice, I asked if she ever had considered writing a book.

“Yes,” she replied. “But why would anyone who doesn’t know me want to hear anything I have to say? What can I possibly say that hasn’t been said before?”

It’s the writer’s dilemma, the human dilemma, the same doubt anyone who has a pen or a computer or vocal cords faces. At least on those struggling days as we sit with ourselves wondering how we dare to presume our words are worthy of being heard or if anyone cares what our story is or what ideas swirl in our hearts and imaginations.

When my friend asked these questions of the mountain sky I was fifteen years and one published cancer memoir into a writing career. I had asked these questions off and on for that many years, usually in particularly vulnerable moments – while questioning the invention of the printing press, my mere existence as a result or why Madonna’s brother was a best-selling author as my little memoir struggled to sell those last five remaining copies in Amazon’s “why can’t we get rid of these” storage lockers.

Your story matters, believe it or not.

Every day as I wrote and then promoted this book, I asked why my story, shared by so many young cancer survivors, was worthy of anyone’s attention? Why was I so compelled to share it nonetheless? Until the mail started coming in. They said no one was telling this story – my story, their story – so honestly. No one else knew what they were going through. In fact, there were several young survivors telling lots of stories, many very similar and some much more fascinating than mine, including pre-scandal Lance Armstrong who had a best-selling autobiography on his shelf next to his many trophies. But these readers were convinced I was the lone voice in a sea of folks they couldn’t hear yet. And they were grateful I was willing to share it.

So, I understood my friend’s doubt. But I remembered this lesson learned years before and heard the message meant for us both. I offered it to her and the same sky she’d asked. It’s what I tell myself and my writer clients in those dark moments. It’s what we all need to remember every time we open our mouths…

Your voice will be heard by anyone who can and wants to hear it. It’s different and worthy because you are the messenger, and there is someone out there who can’t hear yet because you haven’t said it yet.

Not everyone will care what you say. Not everyone is meant to. But in this moment, with your story, with your energy and words, someone is getting the message, the information, the healing, the inspiration, the provocation, or the perspective they need and have been seeking, perhaps without even realizing it.

You deserve to be heard.

In return, you will know you are heard. You will feel the frequencies unite and your experience, shared as you will, will combine with those you shared it with to become something even greater. You will understand that you don’t need a book or a blog or a microphone to communicate something exquisite that can be exquisitely heard. But look at what you can do if you try.

Every day I thank my friend for reminding me why I write. We all have an authentic voice that offers transforming beauty, healing laughter and truth that transcends what we think we understand. The lesson is in knowing you do and rising above your fears to offer it to a world that will be better off for having heard it.

For when we are brave enough to tell our stories, we all benefit.

When you speak with your authentic voice, the world can hear it.

breath of life

If you want to find out more about Rebecca’s latest book, please go to www.laughattheskykid.com. If you’re curious about her writer coaching or other writing and editing services, feel free to email giffordrebecca@gmail.com or visit www.rebeccagifford.com. Thanks for reading!

Allergies and ego trips

allergy2It just makes me laugh. How the universe brings the lessons and messages so perfectly timed and in such a perfect package—the one I can see and hear in that moment.

Yesterday it was this video of a Seattle event hosted by Matt Kahn and Julie Dittmar of True Divine Nature, which offered wisdom regarding several of my current challenges (to some extent, all four of his “inflammations” spoke to me) but especially one.

The last few weeks I’ve been experiencing the classic struggle of every author: the transition from talking through my book to talking about my book for the purposes of getting it published, distributed and read by those meant to read it. Among many other things, in my memoir I describe my recent struggles with understanding ego, the role it plays in a conscious life and my own set of lessons regarding it. Now, immediately following completion, I’m faced with this challenge.

Ironic? Perhaps. More like the universe at work. During the shilling process I’ve felt everything from humbled by the amount of help freely offered to irritated at the need to ask for help at all, even from more-than-willing colleagues and friends. And the social media. God help us. Websites, list services, Facebook pages, Twitter engagement, and what is this Google+ thing and should I be on it? I just spent a year writing and revising and rewriting and editing the damn thing, I thought. Can’t that just be enough? For many of us with the greater good intentions behind our work, isn’t it easy to question why it should be challenging? If it’s truly in the best interest of all concerned, why should we have to work so hard?

Perhaps I am simply allergic to the process, I thought.

No, I’m just allergic to seeing it as a burden or a chore rather than an opportunity. There is a lot of inflammation going on but the allergen, the toxin overstimulating my nervous system, is nothing more than my own ego believing I shouldn’t have to do any of this. That the major life lessons built into this path aren’t worthy of my time and full attention.

As I watched Matt’s video, I began to open up. I could hear the wisdom in his words. They were my own higher self’s message that I hadn’t been able to hear yet for all the swelling around my ears. Walk the walk, she said. Find the balance by freeing your soul’s personality and its story so those who are seeking it can find them in the clutter. Let the book—or the cause or the small business or the passion project—be your voice and your guide. Encounter everyone and everything along the journey with an open heart, true interest, acknowledgement of their beauty and gratitude for the lessons they carry with them. Meet your own allergic reactions with love and healing compassion. As long as you are true to who you really are—not the entitled author your ego says you are—the rest will take care of itself.

I hope this video speaks to you as much as it did to me.

Blessed lack

sitting-stillI woke this morning thinking about this blog. What to write. What’s on my mind. In my heart. What’s important. I found myself thinking about lack—of motivation, of a driving notion aching to be expressed. The absence of a great idea.

Perhaps I just need the quiet for the inspiration to come, I thought. Yes, that’s it. Sit. Comfortable chair. Quiet room. Deep breath. Open wide. Let it run. Birds outside the window. Breakfast in the kitchen. Lavendar oil on my t-shirt. Deep breath. Moment. Quiet. Peace. Blessed peace. Blessed lack.

In this notion sat the space to be and time enough to see. The welcome memory that lack doesn’t exist. There are always infinite possibilities and just as many answers. Even in the feeling there is a hole to fill or fissure to fix, there is supreme humanity ripe for compassion. In conscious absence there is wisdom. In the quiet is the sacred music of bliss.

Vibration and frequency: a return to music

Young Clarinet by Tony Macelli (http://www.ndoylefineart.com/macelli1.html)
Young Clarinet by Tony Macelli http://www.ndoylefineart.com/macelli1.html

At age nine my fourth grade music teacher told me I needed to start playing an instrument. Whether I liked it or not, whether I did it well or not, it was required that I try as part of my proper music education. I’d been taking piano lessons for two years at that point, but that wasn’t an option in the Longfellow Elementary fourth grade band. My parents pulled out my sister’s old clarinet—picked up and quickly dropped once she completed her required musical instrument segment, even though she was pretty good—and suggested I give it a try.

I looked at the scraped up keys, beaten up cork and the thin pieces of wood I was supposed to soak in my mouth and then blow across to make something resembling music. When my sister played it, the higher notes made me wince but the sprawling vibrations of the lower tones rattled through my body like a big truck barreling past the house. Truth be told, it kind of frightened me. But the keys were shiny and complicated, and I did love finding out what buttons do.

Ten years, two performing arts schools, thousands of hours of rehearsing and practicing, dozens of shows with bands and orchestras and ensembles, hundreds of reeds, days of sore lips and one very old and expensive wooden clarinet later, I was still playing that crazy contraption. I was working my way up the ranks of the Ohio University orchestra woodwind section, still taking weekly lessons and master classes, still enjoying it even though it was not my major nor my career focus. It helped there was no more pressure to perform or compete.

After a bit of working together, my faculty clarinet teacher proposed I try out for a coveted student woodwind quintet position. He told me it would require more rehearsal time as they prepared for multiple performances around the state.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m not even a music major.”

“Well, then I guess you have a choice to make,” he said.

I’d chosen OU primarily for its prestigious journalism school. Words, I’d decided, were my expression of choice. They were much more specific and impactful, I believed, and I just didn’t love the clarinet enough to do what it takes to make a living playing it. As I looked at colleges and contemplated majors, I justified writing was still an art; it just made more sense to me. And luckily research revealed there were lots of ways to continue to play in college even if it wasn’t my major.

But now in my sophomore year, the more demanding journalism courses were starting to kick in and my adviser began asking what I was doing in my precious non-class time to build my resume and get some practical experience. The school newspaper is one of the best in the country and the yearbook always is looking for staff, he mentioned several times. At that week’s clarinet lesson, my teacher asked yet again if I was going to audition for the quintet, and maybe we should increase our lessons to twice a week if I really wanted to make a go of it.

The next academic quarter I put my treasured clarinet in the closet. Ten years later, I sold it to a music store in suburban Los Angeles owned by a man who could restore its loose keys and nourish the old wood back to its original splendor. He was sure a promising young clarinetist in the community would buy it and use it well.

I hadn’t played the instrument in years, but when I said goodbye I felt a clear sense of loss. Neither choosing writing over music nor selling my clarinet were difficult at the time. My talent, my contribution, is as a writer. But not until it was gone did I recognize a bit of what it offered: comfort in knowing I could pick it up whenever I liked and express myself in this familiar way.

Playing was so clear, so simple. It always seemed like a miracle to me that it worked at all, let alone made music. If I blew air at the right speed across a thin piece of wood strapped to another piece of hard rubber and pressed some buttons to determine where the air goes, I can make a pleasing and unique sound. Playing with these frequencies and incorporating my own voice into the music wasn’t something I understood or knew how to do consciously when I was younger, but I must have gotten it on some level.

Two days ago, I opened up a box and pulled out a brand new (plastic) clarinet, a high-end mouthpiece and ligature, a full set of Vandoren reeds and two new books of sheet music. It was a birthday gift to myself, something my higher self brought to my consciousness only a week or so before. Well, in the universe’s crafty way she’d been bringing it up periodically over the past year in casual conversations, in articles about local adult orchestras, etc. More recently she’d told me I needed to return to this familiar expression, but this time it would be different.

My son watched closely as I slowly put the shiny contraption together. I tossed a reed into my mouth to ready it for squeakless sound and then lovingly placed it on my new mouthpiece and tightened the ligature. It was all so familiar, but completely strange under the watchful eye of my son seeing it for the first time. I walked outside on to the deck for the first blow, unsure if it would be a pleasing noise after so many years. A loud, confident note sang down the narrow passage along the upper level of our home and rang out over the trees. A bird rustled in a nearby bush and flew away. My fingers moved hesitantly, but they knew where to go for the most part.

My mouth found the right shape as it remembered a proper embouchure is formed when you smile.

I walked back inside where my family was waiting patiently for me to share this old but new ability with them. They’d heard the music I’d sung to the forest, and now Henry jumped up and down with excitement yelling, “More! More!”

When the high-ceilinged room filled with sound and echoes, Henry’s eyes went wide. He ran over to me and sat directly beneath the bell of the clarinet, peering up into it trying to figure out where it all came from. When I started a chromatic scale down to a low E, he giggled and involuntarily wiggle-danced, the sprawling vibrations shaking through every cell of his body and mine. He and my husband began to clap and cheer.

The smile of my embouchure remained even after my mouth left the reed. I’d almost forgotten how that note, stretching the length of the instrument, requiring breath from the depths of your soul, could make you feel. It’s a vibration, a frequency that can’t be described by words. It’s an energy that communicates at a different level.

I guess I was finally ready for it.

Help

stepping_stones_of_memory_by_nwwes-d3krg59I have lots of help. I am surrounded by a community of family and friends who, despite not always understanding my choices, support and trust me. I also benefit from the broader “help” available to me, a community larger than those who appear as flesh and blood in this life and on this earth. I am continuously humbled by the support I receive from both when my intentions and actions match a greater purpose.

As I’ve discussed in earlier blogs, I’ve written another book in an attempt to reach a broader audience. While the process hasn’t been without obstacles — that’s where the lessons are learned, after all — the validation; the offers of help, resources and creative support; the loving and wise feedback; the number of folks who “get” what I’m trying to do here… It’s overwhelming. And the process has only just begun.

I’m writing this partly so I have it to refer to on those days when I doubt my purpose or why I’m making myself, my secrets and my family so vulnerable. Or when I wonder why my book merits the attention of anyone outside my doting and biased inner circle. I will need to be reminded that reaching people, touching people, lighting a path, holding up a mirror and allowing them to see themselves in my story is a major part of my soul’s purpose in this lifetime. I will need to remember all the assistance I enjoy and that they wouldn’t be with me unless there was a grander design behind it all.

I have a lot to be grateful for. But today I am grateful for this phase of the journey and those walking beside me, holding my hand, whispering in my ear lovingly when the doubts and fears arise, helping me see the next stable stone across the rushing river, and cheering when I successfully jump onto it.

In the truest sense, I wouldn’t be able to do it without you. Thank you.

Unsafe choices

LeapOfFaithMy son lives in a world that wants to make all his choices for him. Others want to tell him how often to brush his teeth, when to cross the street, whether to wash his hands after he goes potty, when to start kindergarten, whether to wear a jacket, how long to play at the playground. As most young children testing their boundaries and figuring out how they fit in the world, he resists this, but that doesn’t stop the adults around him from trying to protect him.

When he’s climbing on a precarious chair or I see the mischievous twinkle in his eye as he considers darting into a crowd, I often say, “That’s not a safe choice.” This awareness may or may not deter him from the activity, but most of the time it does.

As we get older, that external voice moves inside our own heads and egos. Is this smart? Are you prepared? Is this really a safe choice for you right now? For years I let that voice deter me from countless experiences and opportunities. I still do too often.

My family and I recently made what some would consider a string of not-so-safe choices. In fact, my friend Beattie might say we’re on a “risk bender.” A year ago my husband quit his well-paid, stable job to start his own business. We then went on a month-long road trip in a rented RV down and back up the West Coast. Then a month ago we moved from Seattle to Central Coast California without salaried jobs or any other external catalyst to propel us there (except the 30-day notice from our landlord telling us they want to move back in to their home; thank you for the kick in the pants, universe). We simply wanted to live somewhere else, somewhere we loved, and since both my husband and I work out of home offices we had no reason not to go. Others might disagree with this assessment, and have, but most are too busy admiring the relative size of our balls to voice it. I get where their trepidations came from. With few major employers in the area, we were finally and fully committing to our freelance lifestyle and entrepreneurial spirit, all in a down economy. We locked into place our dependence on our talents, business sense and good intentions to earn enough to keep a roof over our heads.

To top it all off, I recently completed and soon will publish a memoir, titled Laugh at the Sky, Kid like this blog (more on that soon), that basically outs me as a practicing clairvoyant and energy healer. This is something I’ve never before written or talked about publicly for fear of the inevitable skepticism and criticism from those who only know me outside of that world.

I’m done making only safe choices. Safe doesn’t bring about change or growth. Safe words don’t reach or move people. Safe actions rarely affect anything below the surface. The old ways, the safe or “proven” ways, don’t move things forward. Inside a cocoon of security, it’s rare to find true happiness or your true purpose. Nothing shifts and there is no reason to search for or even be interested in anything beyond the end of your nose. That is no longer acceptable to me and to so many of you. Thank ever-loving-goodness for that.

As a society we are quickly learning that within the presence of infinite possibilities we all enjoy, there are no wrong choices. There are only ones we are comfortable with in this moment and those we are not.

When the inevitable fear arises as I start down a riskier path, I let this truth wash over me like healing waters. And when I can turn off the narrator in my mind asking me to consider whether this new path is safe or not, I find freedom. I find a place where I can fully be.

Your exquisite voice

Kids ListenOne foggy day, as we climbed a brushed and muddy mountain outside LA, I asked a dear friend a question. After she yet again shared an engaging story containing some very wise and eloquent advice, I asked if she ever had considered writing a book.

“Yes,” she replied. “But why would anyone who doesn’t know me want to hear anything I have to say? What can I possibly say that hasn’t been said before?”

It’s the writer’s dilemma, the human dilemma, the same doubt anyone who has a pen or a computer or vocal cords faces, isn’t it? At least on those struggling days as we sit with ourselves, wondering how we dare to presume our words are worthy of being heard. If anyone cares what our story is or what ideas swirl in our minds and hearts.

When my friend asked these questions of the mountain sky I was already fifteen years and one published memoir into a marginally successful writing career. I had asked these questions off and on for that many years, usually in particularly vulnerable moments – while questioning the invention of the printing press, my mere existence as a result or why Madonna’s brother was a best-selling author as my little memoir struggled to sell those last five remaining hardcopies in Amazon’s “why can’t we get rid of these” storage lockers.

Every day as I wrote said memoir I asked why my story, shared by so many young cancer survivors, was worthy of anyone’s attention? Why was I so compelled to share it nonetheless? Until the mail started coming in. They said no one was telling this story – my story, their story – so honestly. No one else knew what they were going through. In fact, there were several young survivors telling lots of stories, many very similar and some much more fascinating than mine, including best-selling Lance Armstrong. But these readers were convinced I was the lone voice in a sea of folks they couldn’t hear yet. And they were extraordinarily grateful I was willing to share it.

So, I understood my friend’s doubt. But I had an answer, offered to the same sky she’d asked. It’s what I tell myself and my writer clients regularly. It’s also the notion I offer silently to my son – and me – as he struggles to find his voice in a world that expects him to communicate differently than is natural to him. It’s what we all need to remember every time we open our mouths…

Your voice will be heard by anyone who can and wants to hear it. It’s different and worthy because you are the messenger, and there is someone out there who can’t hear yet because you haven’t said it yet.

Not everyone will care what you say. Not everyone is meant to. But in this moment, with your story, with your energy and words, someone is getting the message, the information, the healing, the inspiration, the provocation, the perspective they need and have been seeking, perhaps without even realizing it.

In return, you will know you are heard. You will feel the frequencies unite and your experience, shared as you will, will combine with those you shared it with to become something even greater. You will understand that you don’t need a book or a blog or a microphone to communicate something exquisite that can be exquisitely heard. But look at what you can do if you try.

Every day I thank my friend for reminding me why I write. We all have a worthy voice that offers transforming beauty, healing laughter and truth that transcends what we think we understand. The lesson is in knowing you do and rising above your fears to offer it to a world that will be better off for having heard it.

For when we are brave enough to tell our stories, we all benefit.

It’s okay. Just scream.

My son Henry has started screaming. Sometimes at the dog. Sometimes at me or my husband. Sometimes at no one. Often for no obvious reason at all. But almost always with a hint of a smile.

Of course at times he’s frustrated. Toddlers are, after all, easily aggravated, since they firmly believe the world is theirs and when anyone gets in the way of what’s theirs they must be punished. But mostly he seems to take great joy in it. As if he’s finally found his unique voice, a way to express exactly what he needs to, and right now it needs to be very, very loud.

It makes sense, actually. He’s part of this world, this humanity in the process of breaking open, breaking apart, releasing the pressure that’s been building for millennia. The entire planet is filled with souls quickly building to, in the process of, or in desperate need of a magnificent release. The earth itself is enjoying a much-needed good scream via extreme weather, earthquakes, natural disasters and massive change. Henry’s just following its lead.

If you ask me, and apparently Henry, we’re all not screaming enough.

This past election season is a perfect example. Many of us, including me, experienced much of the “rhetoric” of the day via social interaction and social media. Except, like me, most of the concerned citizens, political junkies and reasoned voters I know were conspicuously quiet. When we discussed such things, often instead of discussing the issues at hand, we all instead agreed that expressing even balanced political opinions or relatively benign jokes caused enough conflict with our vocal friends on the other side of the aisle or issue that it just wasn’t worth the hassle and frustration.

“No one’s mind has ever been changed by a Facebook post,” I heard more than once as I nodded in agreement. “It’s not worth creating conflict and contributing to the noise. I don’t need to be reminded that half the country thinks I’m an idiot.”

So, political opinions were left mostly to talking heads on the cable news channels and those on either end of the political spectrum who were just angry enough, and often more than judgmental enough, to continuously express their rage against those who dared to disagree with their beliefs to some degree and the organizations connected to such issues. The extremes, the angriest and most self-righteous of us all, were being heard loud and clear.

Meanwhile, most of the rest of us sat quietly in our ideas and explorations, safe in the knowledge that at least we weren’t contributing to the divisive language of the day, hoping against hope that once the election was over the screaming would soften to a simmering roar and we’d all accept and contribute to the tasks at hand – that we’d put down our pitchforks and work together toward the greater good.

Naïve? Perhaps. It’s wouldn’t be the first time someone’s optimism has been labeled as such. Naïve or not, so far this is not what has happened and if we stay on our current path, it doesn’t look good.

The angry are angrier. The self-righteous are even moreso. Everyone knows they are right and few with a loud enough voice want to compromise for the sake of progress.

Okay, universe, I hear you. Lesson learned…again.

When we don’t allow the release, the healing light can’t get in.

When we don’t allow some space for everyone to scream when they need to scream, then we all suffer.

My son gets it. He screams when he needs to. He lets it go. He laughs and plays and eats with joy the rest of the time, and he sleeps like a baby.

Here’s a radical idea: Let’s all speak our truth.

Be “brutally” honest. Say what you feel, even when it’s not politically correct. Express that emotion that’s been building in your throat for weeks. Stop apologizing for having unconventional ideas. Tell someone about them. Stop feeling ashamed for buying in to stereotypes or hanging on to old programmed beliefs. Instead, release them. Post that provocative political meme if it’s truly what you want to say. Be yourself, even if that self is exceedingly angry or sad or frightened or confused. Let everything just be what it is. Express it. Release it. Scream. Let it go.

In exchange, we agree to allow everyone else to do the same. We will support everyone’s vulnerability and release equally. We will allow everyone a voice, even those we desperately disagree with. We will openly accept and cheer on everyone who says anything that self-censorship previously kept them from expressing. We will hear everything they have to say. We will welcome disagreement, even angry (but not violent) disagreement, with love and enthusiasm. When people or organizations use negativity or power with the intention of quashing an honest opinion or manipulating a heartfelt belief, we will defend ourselves and others by laughing and enjoying that they are releasing that fear and anger – that soon it won’t be there at all. We will understand that even when you feel it’s being directed at you, it’s not about you at all. It’s personal only to those expressing it.

We’ll all let it flow out as long as it needs to. We’ll all keep screaming and cracking open and listening and cheering until enough of it has vaporized into light and love. We will wait. We’re all in this together – the country, the world, the universe. We’re not going anywhere. It’s okay. Just scream.

Then, when we’re ready, when enough has released and the cracks are big enough for the light to get in…

That’s when the healing will begin.

Are you in?

Communication liberation

I’m finally willing to acknowledge it. Publicly, in fact. Words are an inherently flawed form of communication. As a writer, you may think this is a strange thing for me to say — in a piece of writing, no less. (The irony, it burns!) But I find it liberating. In fact, I’m guessing most writers are well aware of this. Who hasn’t struggled to find a word or phrase that can satisfactorily convey an emotion, a thing of beauty, a horrifying experience, a grand concept or an intuition, only to resign to the “next best” description?

You’re not a bad writer. It’s the words, I tell you. They just aren’t equipped for the job.

As a couple of you may have noticed, I haven’t offered a blog in more than a month. The sheer amount and scope of energetic changes going on in my/the world is boggling. There are stories to tell. But the words simply don’t match up yet. They may never. Heck, I’m having trouble writing an anniversary card to my husband. Words aren’t enough. And truly they’re not meant to be.

By their nature, words are a limited reflection of one person’s perspective and they will be received the same way — through a filter of the other person’s experience and perspective. With words we try to boil down even the greatest things into a few marks on a page. That’s why writing is an art. It’s a beautiful and powerful art, but it’s a terrible way to communicate if you’re trying to do so clearly. So, I’ve given up trying.

My three-year-old son Henry doesn’t talk a lot, and when he does in the conventional sense he tends to speak in a mix of the English he’s been surrounded by since we brought him home from Taiwan at 11 months old, toddler sign language and his own uniquely organized collection of sounds.

He is the most effective communicator I know.

He always is heard when he wants to be. He almost always is able to tell me what he wants and needs or what he’s afraid of. He can share a lesson with a look. He can tell an entire story, what happened and where, complete with how he felt or how he reacted, acted out with exaggerated facial expressions. And some days he may use only ten clearly understood words.

He talks to me all the time. His intention, his energy, his heart and where he is in that moment are always honest and usually crystal clear. He doesn’t need words to communicate them. Even when I don’t hear him quickly enough, he doesn’t try that hard to say it differently. He may get frustrated, but I think he knows he’s saying it as clearly as necessary, he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be and I will hear him if I open up my heart to a different way of listening. And then he waits until I do.

I love words, but I’m freeing myself from any expectations for them. I’m giving in to their undeniable nature — to the limitations, to the lack of clarity, to their frequent un-necessity. When there are no words, then don’t say any. When the intention is unclear the words probably are too, so choose the quiet. When I rely upon them too much to understand or see or hear, take a breath, open my heart and use different eyes and ears.

I feel better already.