Dare to write the darkness. Also: ain’t no such thang as writer’s block.

“Everyone has talent. What is rare is courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.”

–Erica Jong

Once upon a time, I got stuck and needed rescuing, and the above quote pulled me up out of the sucking quagmire.

*squelches*

Now, my darlingest readers, in order to help you understand just what happened, I must take you back in time to a place fraught with danger and derring-do, abysses and adventures. ‘Twas a place both frightening and fabulous, and feckless wanderers found themselves fettered in both frying pans and fires.

Yes. Yes, you guess correctly, my ingenious inklings.

It was The Climax of a First Draft.

The climax of Elevator People, Draft 1, to be exact, and I had a sad. The whirlwind of writing-insanity was drawing to a close. I’d overcome the heady challenge of Beginning, Middle, and Near-End. I yearned for the Twitter cameraderie of wordsprints and communal writing procrastination. I’d dropped like a stone from my keyboard-pounding mountain peak and found myself wallowing in the Valley of Deep Post-Climactic Sorrow.

That happens sometimes. I get past the story’s climax and lose interest. I’ve written the denouement so many times in my head, it’s a chore to type it all out where other people can actually read it. I mourn the time when the story was fresh and exciting and the blank page, while intimidating, sparkles with the beauty of unmarred potential. I get sad and go off rummaging around for sparkly new things.

But the only thing that lifts me aloft again is writing itself.

So, finally, I shed my mourning veil and stripped off my black mourning bands. I delved into Elevator People once again, and with the most enthusiasm I’d felt for the story since Chapter 5. I was typing merrily along when suddenly! Out of Nowhere! There Came a Great Ginormous Wall of Writer’s Block! Zounds and Oy Vey!

I struck and was stuck. For, dismayingly enough, that Great Ginormous Wall was composed of Dark Stuff I Didn’t Wanna Write.

Lest you misunderstand me, dear inklings, let me assure you that I don’t usually balk at writing the Dark Stuff. When I was 15 and completing my first novel, I killed off about 40% of humanity at the beginning of the story. A teenage psychopath attacked the protagonists halfway through, and the climax involved the main character’s boyfriend getting shot and bleeding out with his head in her lap. (Muy tragic, n’est-ce pas?) That’s fairly gritty for a 15-year-old, conservative Christian kid. “Dark” can be relative, that much is certain.

Writing darkness in light

Writing darkness in light

So. I’m not afraid of the Dark. But on that blockety-blocked writing afternoon, I got to a point in the story where I knew the Dark Stuff was coming. I looked at my computer screen, watched the cursor blink at me a few times, and said aloud, “I don’t want to write this.” I closed the file and walked away.

(Figuratively speaking. In reality, I probably just popped over to Facebook and switched my brain off.)

A day or so passed, and I didn’t go back to my story. Why? I simply didn’t want to. That’s all there was to it.

But then a new day dawned, and it brought Twitter, and with Twitter the quote I’m going to make you read again, because I’m feeling all vignettey right now:

“Everyone has talent. What is rare is courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.”

–Erica Jong

Sometimes, synchronicity just reaches out from whatever dimension it lives in and slaps you right upside the noggin.

“Okay, fine,” thought I. Story 1, Courtney 0. Whoopee, that’s what I get for not doing my job. So instead of staring up at the Great Ginormous Wall of Dark Stuff I Don’t Wanna Write and slumping into dejected discouragement, I girded up my loins (yikes!), pulled out my trusty sledgehammer, and pounded my way through that wall until rubble surrounded me and a thick haze of dust lay upon the air.

I followed the talent to the dark place where it led, and I wrote the Dark Stuff because that was where the story needed to go.

I have come to believe this as truth: There is no such thing as “writer’s block.”

Let me repeat:

There is no such thing as “writer’s block.”

There is I’m Not Focused Block.
There is I Don’t Care Enough Block.
There is I’m Not Giving Myself Permission Block.
There is I Am Plain Too Lazy Block (this one gets me, too).*

And there is I Don’t Wanna Write The Dark Stuff Block.

But sometimes, you just gotta suck it up, gird your loins, put on your Big Girl Panties, and DEAL WITH IT.

Don’t shy away.
Hold your head high, grit your teeth, buckle down, and rubber-cement your buttocks to the chair.
ART HARD, GORGEOUS.
Art hard through the Dark Stuff.
Write the thing.

Not every story will need to go to that Dark Place. But some of them will. (I’d venture to say most of them will. Truth, even beautiful truth, is a scary, vulnerable place.) And when your story goes there, writer, don’t hide. Acknowledge your fear, but don’t be skittish. Don’t quit. Do as I say, not as I do: don’t let it make you quit for even a day! It’s too easy to let one day turn into two, then four, then twenty. That Great Ginormous Wall of Stuck (read: FEAR) gets higher the longer you let it stand.

Every time you give in to fear, that Great Ginormous Wall gets thicker.

Write the Dark Stuff.
Let it flow.
Let it be what it needs to be.

Your story will benefit–and you’ll be stronger for it.

*There are other forms of so-called “writer’s block,” but they are another story and shall be told another time.

The Next Big Thing (and New Novel Excerpt!)

Two of my fellow writers, Josh and Laurie, did this chain blogging thing a few weeks back. It’s called “The Next Big Thing,” and it’s an interview on upcoming writing projects. Josh tagged me to do it, so here I am, doing it. Josh’s own post is here, and you can find Laurie’s post here. Go read, it’s fun stuff. : )

elevator--vertical

The Next Big Thing

Okay, now that you’re caught up and have returned, please to enjoy my contribution to the blogging chain:

What is the title of your next book?

The working title of my next book is Elevator People. (A few months ago, I challenged readers to come up with a better title. The jury’s still out on who won, by the way. I’ll work it out soon though. Promise.)

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The idea for Elevator People originated where most of my story ideas originate: my dreams. In the dream, I saw a young man in a steampunk-style elevator that could move up, down, sideways, forward, backward, and diagonally. I knew the man was traveling in the elevator from one planet to another, and he was going to be set upon by thieves at his next stop. This turned into the opening scene of the novel.

What genre does your book fall under?

Is “low sci-fi” a genre? It’s definitely sci-fi, what with the interplanetary and possibly transdimensional traveling via mechanical conveyance. (There is, however, no time-traveling.) And there are laser rifles at some point. Also space shuttles and nanotechnology. But I don’t delve into the science of how it all works, so readers shouldn’t expect the intricacies of Asimov or Heinlein. Hence the “low” sci-fi.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Uffda, that’s a hard one. I rarely cast real people in the roles of my characters, although I know many writers use that as a visualization technique. That’s never been my habit, so Ima have to give this some extra thought.

Okay. Wentworth Miller (of Prison Break fame) for my main character, Went Banning — and not just because Miller is my Went’s namesake. He’s got the acting chops for a quiet, reserved, yet passionate and determined adventurer. I can easily see him stepping out of the elevator and, five minutes later, needing rescuing by two adorable urchins. ; )

As for the urchins…once upon a time, I would’ve wanted Dakota Fanning for Jop, but she’s too old now. The same probably holds true for Chloë Grace Moretz, but she would also be a top choice. I can’t think of anyone else right now.

Ooh! Abigail Breslin. I bet she’s the one.

For my second urchin, I am thoroughly impressed with Pierce Gagnon, who plays little Cid in Looper. The kid’s scary good. He might be a little young to play Skee, but a couple more years and I think he’d be perfect.

With apologies to Jason Isaacs, he would make an excellent villain in Carrigan Bell. *shudder*

As for Risk, Went’s female co-star…another toughie. Emma Stone? Deborah Ann Woll? Anna Popplewell would probably be too young. I dunno. Like I said, I’m not great at this casting thing!

(As an aside, I talk a little more about the characters here.)

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Ugh. I’m not good at these either. Even though they’re supposed to be a big part of my job. *sigh* Okay, here goes….

When loner Went Banning loses the codes that operate his “magical” elevator, he realizes he must rely on two street urchins and a damaged former slavegirl to help him find the mythical Mr. Banjoman…who might just be Went’s father.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Um, yes. ; ) You can expect the book sometime in 2013 from indie publisher Consortium Books.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

It’s not done yet.

I started it in November 2011.

*sigh*

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I never like this question. To compare my story to other books feels like I’m expecting everyone to agree with me. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the writing business, it’s that no two people view the same story the same way. I honestly can’t think of a novel I’d feel comfortable naming here.

But if you like character-driven sci-fi with interplanetary travel and hints of the transdimensional, I think you’ll like Elevator People.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Inspiration came from my dream, as I mentioned above. I tend to have “story-seed dreams” right when I’m wrapping up a project and am mentally ready to move on to the next one. Call it synchronicity, divine providence, spooky coincidence, whatever. I’ve learned not to question it. It’s there when I need it, so I go with it.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Went is a man of deep, inspiring conviction, and he’s just despairing enough to win and break your heart; Jop and Skee, the urchins, are clever and adorable; female co-star Risk is smart, strong, and sexy; and their collective enemy, Carrigan Bell, is terrifying and utterly despicable. (Oh, and wait’ll you meet the vampire who’s after the lot of them….)

Together, they’ll take you on a great ride.

In closing, I hereby tag my fellow writers Aaron Pogue, Jessie Sanders, Becca Campbell, and Pam Davis to post their own “The Next Big Thing.” (And don’t y’all forget to send me your links!)

Bonus Round

This isn’t part of the interview, but I figure a New Year’s treat is in order. Here’s an excerpt from Draft 1 of Elevator People. Enjoy. : )

From Chapter One of Elevator People by Courtney Cantrell

…They hit him again. Went’s arms felt limp. He coughed, choking on blood. They kicked him again and growled words he couldn’t understand. Metallic heels rang harshly against the pavement, receding.

When the echoes had died, Went finally moved again. With greatest care, he slid his knees up toward his chest and tried to roll to his hands and knees. His ribs screamed, and a small noise escaped his lips. The list. What of the list?

He forced his knees to cooperate and pushed himself up on his elbows. Leaning on his left arm, he clutched at his waistcoat. The waiscoat didn’t feel bulky enough. Another groan escaped him. It sounded like a whimper.

Damn.

He had to get back in the elevator. Even without the list, the elevator was his only hope for…for….

A hoarse, bitter sound escaped him. Hope for what? It was over. Was there any way he could go on without the codes list?

No.

Wait. The elevator hadn’t yet yielded all of its secrets. There was hope. Perhaps there was hope. He only had to get back inside first. Went spat blood, then clenched his teeth against the pain as he planted one foot and pushed up. His world spun, a black and gray blur of rectangular pillars and twisted metal. He thrust out a hand and groped for the wall. His fingers met flesh.

He jerked his hand back, and the momentum sent him tumbling farther away from the elevator. He slammed into one of the pillars. Rough, hard material slashed his palms as he rebounded. He dropped to the floor again and curled into a ball as the impact shot pain through his ribcage.

“Cose!” said a small, high voice. “We’ll a-help! Can you walk?”

Went felt hands on his arms again. But these hands were smaller than his attackers’. Their touch was soft, hesitant. He blinked up at the gloomy ceiling high above. The face of a young girl wavered into view.

Below dark, worried eyebrows, her darker eyes were enormous in her thin face. Her hair was long and stringy. He glimpsed a ragged, grayish brown tunic. She bit her bottom lip and shook his shoulder. “We’ll a-help,” she said again. “You’na get back in the cagey, yeah?”

“What?” Went coughed, then spat blood again. His jaw hurt.

“The cagey!” The urchin threw a glance over her shoulder. “Skee! Come ya over. Candles ain’t skeerin’ back here awhile.”

The girl turned back to Went and shook him again. A small shadow bobbed up next to her, and another pair of small hands tugged at Went’s white cotton work shirt. The newcomer was a boy even thinner, dirtier, and larger-eyed than the girl. Both children were pulling him toward the still open elevator doors.

Went rubbed at his jaw and winced. “I don’t understand most of what you’re saying,” he managed. “But it were well I got back in there.” He nodded toward the elevator.

The girl gave a few quick, vigorous nods. “The cagey, yeah. Come on, Skee. We’re a-help.”

As Went grabbed the pillar and pulled himself upright again, he heard the boy’s tiny whisper. “We’re a-go?”

“Hush-a, Skee. Maybe.” The girl pulled at Went’s sleeve. “Can you walk?”

Went nodded. “I think so. I’m–” He took a step and sucked in breath through clenched teeth. “I’m not as damaged as I look.” Still, he was grateful as she pulled his hand toward her shoulder and held it there a moment. He hoped his last statement wasn’t a lie.

He didn’t lean on the girl; her small frame wouldn’t have borne his weight. But the feel of her bony shoulder beneath the thin tunic did steady him a little. He tottered forward while she shuffled along at his side. Darting ahead, the little boy peered into the open elevator, then looked back at Went and the girl and grinned. His upper front teeth were missing.

They reached the wall, and Went put out a hand. “A moment, please.” They were only a few feet from the elevator doors, but just the seven or eight steps from pillar to wall had brought another wave of dizziness. He put both palms flat against the cold, jagged stone, ignoring the sting of cuts in his skin. If anything, the sharp pain restored a little clarity. The world stopped spinning and instead only rocked slightly, as though he were standing on the deck of one of his father’s clippers.

The thought of Father was enough to send nausea washing through his gut. He sagged against the wall, groaning.

“They’s all meanie-like, them Candles,” said the girl. “Skee and me, we a-stay clear of ’em. They’s the new dogs, and big ones. Rough-like, cose?”

Went turned his head left, then right. It was as much of a shake as he could manage. “Candles?”

“New dogs,” said the little boy from next to the open elevator. “Bite.”

“Candles and Haggs,” the girl said. “All new since B-line fell in. All new and a-fight over the U. They’s a-wantin’ new digs, pall it? So Skee and me and the other yoolers, we all in the way.”

“Haggs’ is bad.” The little boy frowned. “Candles…badder.”

Went’s beaten body wouldn’t let him think clearly, but he made a small connection in what the children were saying. “Then, these Candles are the ones who’ve robbed me?”

The girl raised one skeptical eyebrow and looked him up and down. “Well-a yeah. Candles pat anybody gets in their digs.” Her expression hardened. “Our digs. Was, anyway. Now, we’re a-look for–”

“Jop,” said the little boy in a pleading, warning tone.

The girl shook her head. “Well-a right, Skee! I’m a-not say, I’m a-not.” She looked up at Went. “Ready, cose?”

He took as deep a breath as he could without offending his ribs. “Ready enough, I suppose.” At least the dizziness had abated a bit. The girl took slow, careful steps toward the elevator, her gentle tugs on his arm urging him on. He used the wall as support. The fabric of his shirt caught on tiny, rough protrusions as he staggered along. He thought of how the Spillaines would rail at him for his torn clothing, and burst of energy shot through him.

It lasted until he reached the elevator doors. As he rounded the corner and into the cabin, his legs gave out, and he slid to the floor. At the same time, there came an angry shout from behind him. Above him, the girl’s huge eyes widened, and her mouth opened in a round “O” of horror. His ribs shrieked at him, but Went turned.

A man was rushing toward them from the darkness. He was yelling words Went couldn’t understand, his eyes trained on the spot where Went’s left hand gripped the corner of the rough wall. Went’s golden ring flashed in the light spilling from the elevator.

The ring. They missed it the first time. Came back for it

“Rotten blagger’s back!” The little girl rounded on Went. “The cagey’s it, cose, ’less you’re a-want us all to get the scroby. Come on!”

Went hardly understood a word but thought he couldn’t agree more. He tried to get his feet under him, but his body wouldn’t cooperate. On his knees, he slumped. He couldn’t even pitch himself forward to fall headlong to the elevator floor. A banker’s son’s not meant for street brawls. He laughed.

With the onrushing “blagger” not twenty feet away, the little girl stepped behind Went and gave him a solid push. Now, he did fall headlong, scraping his left hand on the edge of the door as he fell. His ring gave off a clear, bright tone as it hit.

“The doors, Skee!” the girl yelled. She grabbed Went’s feet and pushed and pulled them into the elevator cab. “Close ’em, or we’re a-get the scroby for sure!”

“How, Jop?” came the boy’s small voice.

She fought with Went’s feet. “The buttons!”

Went raised his head. Eyes wide and lips askew in confusion, the little boy stood beneath the elevator’s control panel. The panel’s brass buttons gleamed.

“Push ’em, Skee!”

Went reached out toward the boy. “No, wait!”

The onrushing Candle had almost reached the elevator. Little Skee turned, saw the “blagger,” and froze. Only his arm kept moving. His palm slapped the control panel, hitting several buttons at once.

Went’s panicked mind could barely keep up with what was happening. Still, one clear thought remained. The list! The boy’s hand came down on the buttons again. Wait! I have to get the list!

The girl gave Went’s legs one final heave, pulling them over the elevator’s threshold. The doors moved. The attacking Candle stretched out his arm in a desperate reach. Went caught a final glimpse of a snarling, mad-eyed, filth-caked face. The doors snicked shut.

Then the elevator was moving, and Went had no idea where they were going.

Remarkablogger and El Edwards Told Me To Write This

Universe? Is that you?

I talk a lot about synchronicity. That’s when a bunch of unrelated stuff happens, but it’s all pointing toward the same thing, and it happens and points over and over again until you turn your stubborn head and open your eyes to it and say, “Okay, I get it!”

And then you do something about it.

The Synchronized Universe Hits You in the Head (Ouch)

I guess this is what people used to call “serendipity.” But I prefer synchronicity, because I like the idea that a bunch of coolness in the universe gets synchronized in order to get a person’s attention. I think synchronicity affects every single one of us every single day — we just don’t pay enough attention to realize it.

I also believe that synchronicity is a conscious force that rejoices in our every breath and wants to permeate our every moment with beauty, truth, and goodness.

(At this time, I’d like to insert yet another plug for Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, the book that taught me to pay attention to synchronicity.)

I walk through life as half asleep as the next person, I guess…but sometimes, synchronicity slaps me upside the noggin and says, “Yo! Human! Get your heart and mind out of this befuddled daze you’re in and look! I’ve got all sorts of cramazingness waiting for you — all you have to do is reach out and embrace it!”

You get hit in the noggin often enough with love like that, you’ll eventually start looking for it.

I’ve been looking for it. And this week, I found it. Without further ado or adon’t, here’s what synchronicity plopped into my lap this week.

Remarkablogger

In comments on his post WARNING: Perfectionism will Kill You, Michael Martine and I had the following exchange:

Michael: Do what feels right to you but be aware of the edges of your comfort zone, your self-censoring and your perfectionism. …Being a little scared to hit Publish because you were raw or personal or opinionated is a good thing. : )

Courtney (that’s me): You really do hit the nail on its proverbial little head, don’t you? ; ) It’s true, I do censor myself too much. I’m still overcoming lifetime of training that says, “Don’t say that; you’ll offend someone. Don’t say that; you’ll hurt someone’s feelings.” Not that I want to hurt anyone’s feelings — but I do want to write truth, no matter how gritty it gets.
Oh crap. There’s another new blog post to write. *sigh* ; )

Impassionate

Every morning, I listen to El Edward’s Impassionate, audio posts designed to start your day with a little kick of joy and optimism. A few days ago, El talked about going big or going home. She encouraged her listeners to get out of our ruts and get out of our comfort zones. If there’s something we feel passionate about — or something we could become passionate about, if we’d only allow ourselves — then it’s time to stop dithering and worrying. It’s time to get out and do.

Go big.

Dream or Nightmare?

Sometime along in there, between impassioned audio posts and admonishing blog comments, I woke up one morning from a very disturbing dream. I’ll spare you the rather awful details, but here’s the gist of it:

I dreamed that I was marooned on an island with a large group of people. Most were strangers; some were acquaintances. But while I was on this island, the whole group — strangers and non-strangers alike — regularly attacked me. I endured the torment for weeks before I managed to escape. “Escape” consisted of submerging myself in a pond beneath a dock by day, then creeping around at night to find food.

Eventually, the dream switched to a later time at which I was accusing some of my attackers — the acquaintances. Through tears, I demanded to know why they had treated me so horribly. I never got an answer.

Unstressed Syllables and Twitter

You’d think that by this time, I would’ve been getting the message. But no, synchronicity had two more nudges for me…and they came in the form of my own unexpected self-expression.

In this week’s edition of What I Learned About Writing This Week on Unstressed Syllables, I wrote on Allen Ginsberg. He said something really stunning about following our inner moonlight. In WILAWriTWe, I respond by taking myself to task for not having the guts to speak truth in its bluntest, basest form.

Later, “out of nowhere” (ha ha), I tweeted this:

Sometimes, the loudest rejection you can hear is another’s silence. Ignore it! Listen instead to the supportive voices who rejoice with you!

Egad and zounds, Watson-by-George, I think she’s got it.

Let’s Recap

Remarkablogger Michael told me to stop self-censoring and start saying what I really need to say — but be respectful of the consequences.

El’s Impassionate reminded me to stop dithering around in my comfort zone, get out, and go big.

Less than a week after I published my first novel, my dream revealed that I’m feeling vulnerable to strangers and acquaintances. (Me, feel vulnerable after publishing a book? Shocker.)

Allen Ginsberg admonished me to revel in being different, in being a little crazy, in being a little dark.

My tweet knocked me on the noggin, saying, “Hello? Helloooo! Anybody home?”

“Okay, I get it!”

The creative, benevolent, loving force that rules my life is sending synchronicity my way.

I am determined to open my arms and receive it.

I will speak the truth.

I will speak the fears, the loneliness, the rejection. I will speak the joys, the all-encompassing wonder, the acceptance. I will not hide these things from others. I will not secret them away for fear of the consequences.

I will not hide my heart.

And that is why I wrote this blog post. : )

P.S. A shout-out to Judy Dunn of Catseyewriter for inspiring the title. ; )

Photo credit Julie V. Photography.

Confessing My Creative Sins, Pt. 3 Recovery, Pt. 1

Smee: I’ve just had an apostrophe.

Hook: I think you mean an epiphany.

Smee: Lightning has just struck my brain.

Sometimes, my darlingest readers, lightning-esque is exactly how apostrophes happen. They’re pretty cramazing when they happen, but I must admit they do leave one somewhat stupefied with shock.

In Pt. 1 of my Confessions, I told of how I let the world determine the course of my life.

In Pt. 2, I told why I let the world determine the course of my life.

In Pt. 2.5, I delved deep and revealed the fear at the foundation of the whys.

As I thought ahead to today’s post, my mind supplied the working title “Pt. 3,” and I fully expected to write the drama, the tears, and the heartache that would go along with it.

But then, my lovelies, I had an apostrophe epiphany. And that’s what I’m going to tell you about today.

In the Beginning

Birthday in Germany With Kitchen Gift, age 3

In the beginning, I was two weeks shy of my 3rd birthday, and my parents and I moved from McKinney, Texas (where I was born), to Darmstadt, Germany.

At this point in the story, my listeners usually ask, “Was your dad military?”

Well, once-upon-a-time, he was. But that was back in the ’60s. We moved to Germany in 1980 — so, no, we weren’t a military family by this point.

“Oh, then your parents were missionaries?”

No. Not that, either. And here’s where I usually reveal the reason for our trans-Atlantic emigration…but this time, I want to wait a bit before I tell you. Bear with me.

Point of No Postponed Return

Originally, my parents intended to stay in Germany for 5 years. Sometime in Year 3, the three of us spent an afternoon at the “Woog,” a lake down the street from our apartment. As my parents watched me play, Daddy turned to Mama and asked, “If we left now, moved back to the States, what would you miss the most?”

Mama thought for a moment, then said, “The Autobahn.”

Read: German highway system with speed limits only in small, designated areas.

That little exchange took place in 1983. The subject of leaving Germany didn’t come up again until it was time for my parents to retire in 2007.

Growing Up “Multi-Kulti”

No, “multi-kulti” has nothing to do with cults. It’s a short form of the German word for “multi-cultural,” which is how I lived and breathed from age 3 until…well, until now, because multi-cultural is a permanent facet of who I am. But that is another story and shall be told another time.

The point is, I grew up in Germany. My parents enrolled me in German Kindergarten 6 months after we arrived. I learned German from my teacher, Frau Apfelrock (Mrs. Appleskirt [yes, really]), and from the other kids. When it came time to start 1st grade, I went to a German elementary school. My German high school career began with a change to a “Gymnasium” (ask me about that sometime) at the start of 7th grade, and it ended with my “Abitur” (ask later) during the last semester of 13th grade.

At age 19, I moved to Oklahoma to go to university. Then I got married. Graduated. Moved back to Germany to work fulltime with a small church. Had grand adventures. Learned. Had terrible heartaches. Grew. Moved back to Oklahoma at age 31. And so forth.

For now, consider that brief summary of my life as a backdrop. Playing itself out in the foreground, we have what I’ve blogged about over the last few weeks:

  • developing unhealthy beliefs about God and about my self
  • fearing that God and others would reject me for my art (painting and writing)
  • giving up my creativity in order to gain approval, to which I was (am?) addicted
  • consciously acknowledging my fears and determining to overcome them.

All of this against the backdrop of a multi-cultural, bi-lingual, trans-Atlantic, resource-filled life and lifestyle.

*sigh*

APOSTROPHE!!!

Bill Weger in My Fair Lady

And now that I’ve painted for you this picture of my life, I’ll tell you the punchline. The epiphany that knocked me flat as I wrote my Confessions and thought ahead to what was going to be “Part 3.”

Are you ready?

Here goes:

The reason my parents moved our entire life to Germany in 1980 was so that my dad could pursue his dream of becoming a fulltime opera singer.

Did you catch that?

Let me say it again:

My parents sacrificed an entire way of life, everything they had always known, in order to move to the other side of the world and pursue a creative dream.

Chills pass through my body from head to toe as I write that sentence.

*facepalm* *headdesk*

Um.

Am I an idiot?

Really having a hard time not calling myself stupid right now.

Bill Weger in Aida

People, are you hearing what I’m saying?! I grew up with parents who gave up EVERYTHING* for the sake of CREATIVITY!!! They might have been afraid of the unknown. They might have been afraid of the chaos of moving and setting up a new life in an alien culture — or, rather, in a culture in which they were the aliens. Sure, they were scared of that. I’ve heard them talk about it.

But they did it anyway.

And here’s what they were not afraid of. They were not afraid of others’ rejection. They chose the creative dream over the security of others’ approval.

I have lived with their example right in front of me my entire life.

And even though I have seen it and known it and acknowledged it, the magnitude of it did not hit me until last week.

Forest for The Trees

Of all humans, I’ve gotta be one of the blindest.

On the other hand, maybe this is synchronicity at work once more.

I’ve had my apostrophe at age 34. My parents — two incredibly cramazing people!!! — packed up their lives and struck out for creative adventure when they were 37 and 34.

It worked for them.

It’s gonna work for me, too. I just have to recover from my stupefied shock first.

Mama, Daddy — thanks for being who you are. You are truly two of the most incredible human beings I know.

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*EVERYTHING except Daddy’s 1972 Porsche 914; that, they shipped to Germany. ; )

Bill Weger in Wiener Blut (Viennese Spirit)

Left Brain, Right Brain, Or Ambidextrous Brain?

When I’m talking about writing or about creativity in general, I can’t go for very long without mentioning Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.

Creative Sees Shot, Analytical Lines Up Snails

At some point, yes, I will do a series of posts on my experiences with that book and how it is still changing how I see the world, almost three years after I worked through it. In the meantime, you’ll have to make do with snippets.

Here’s another one:

In her book, Cameron says some fascinating, invigorating things about a concept called “synchronicity”:

We call it anything but what it is — the hand of God, or good, activated by our own hand when we act in behalf of our truest dreams, when we commit to our own soul. …[T]hose dark and romantic notions…call to our deepest selves. When we answer that call, when we commit to it, we set in motion the principle that C. G. Jung dubbed synchronicity, loosely defined as a fortuitous intermeshing of events.

…Don’t be surprised if you try to discount it. It can be a very threatening concept…the possibility of an intelligent and responsive universe, acting and reacting in our interests.

Cameron also writes,

Answered prayers are scary. They imply responsibility. You asked for it. Now that you’ve got it, what are you going to do?

These thoughts, my darlings, could be the basis for an entire year of blog posts! And yet, I’m going to focus in on a few relatively small details. (And yet, monstrous waves do begin as tiniest ripples in the sea…) Maybe the comments section would be a great place — for now! — for discussion on the subject of God-or-no-God, a responsive universe, and answered prayers as the (subconsciously unwanted?) results of “ask, and you’ll get.” In the meantime, I’m going to talk about synchronicity relating to the concept of left-brained and right-brained.

Left Brain and Right Brain

My whole life, left brain vs. right brain has been a topic of conversation in my family. And it really has been Left Brain vs. Right Brain: My left-brained mother has lamented for years the disorganization and heads-in-the-cloudness of her right-brained husband and right-brained daughter.

A junior high and high school English teacher, Mama had a place for everything, and she wanted everything in its place. Daddy walked in at night from his fulltime job as an opera singer and left a trail of clothing through the livingroom. Mama had compartments in her purse for every doohickey and whatnot a woman might possibly need while out and about. I was chronically without tissues, nail files, chapstick, and pens. The inside of Mama’s secretary was a shining beacon of organizational light. I crammed things into my wardrobe, slammed the doors shut, and wedged furniture (and sometimes my own body) in front of them to prevent explosive decompression.

“Oh, you right-brained people!” was a common, exasperated exclamation in our household. Mama’s cause was likely utterly lost when the right-brained daughter went out into the world and found herself a right-brained husband.

But left- and right-brained issues pursued me even outside the home. In high school (which, in the German school I attended, meant grades 7 – 13), I excelled at languages (English, German, and French), the visual arts, and any lessons in Social Studies or Religion that dealt with human emotion and its expression. Biology and chemistry were fair-weather friends. Math and physics were my nemeses.

Things got a little better in college, where I could specialize and focus on my arts. One semester, however, I took both Creative Writing and Media Writing. Creative Writing was a right-brained heaven. The left-brainedness of Media Writing made me feel like I had dissociative identity disorder (aka multiple personality disorder). In Technical Writing, I almost floundered.

I did witness a fascinating exchange once, though: A professor asked a fellow student, “Andy, are you right-brained or left-brained?” Not missing a beat, Andy replied, “I’m ambidextrous-brained.” Laughter ensued, and among some of my friends, the concept of ambidextrous-brainedness turned into a running joke that went on for years.

Lately, however, I’ve started thinking that it was no joke. And this is where the synchronicity kicks in.

Left to Right and Back

I excelled in languages and arts but felt tortured in math and physics. However, at the end of my high school career, we all had to take a comprehensive final exam (two years’ worth of class material) in four subjects. Mine were English, Art, Religion…and Chemistry — because by that point in my high school career, my Chem and Biology grades were above average. Why?

Growing up, I fought my mother about keeping my room, my purse, my life organized. However, I’ve always alphabetized my books, and even as a kid and a teenager, I could plan out advance details of an event like nobody’s business. What was this right-brained Creative doing organizing anything?

My right-brained father, who spent 27 years as a fulltime, professional opera singer, doesn’t drop his clothes all over the house anymore. And, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become far more observant of the nuances of my parents’ personalities (funny, how that works), and I’ve realized that there are a great many things that Daddy likes to have just so. Books. (Hmmm…) His knife collection. His haircuts. Certain philosophies. How does this right-brained man end up dealing with some areas of life from such a black-and-white perspective?

My left-brained mother is staying busy in her retirement. She has taken a few events-to-plan under her organizational wings. As I’ve mentioned before, she’s my primary beta reader, and her left-brain skills are invaluable for keeping me on track in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and plot structure… But she is also taking a painting class. Over the last few months, she has completed four paintings and is starting on her fifth. This isn’t abstract stuff, either. This is landscapes, scenery, and organic still-life. And every painting is better and more creative than the last. My left-brained mother — an artist?

Ambidextrous Brain

Synchronicity kicked in again last week during a conversation with my friend Brian. Brian is an architect, a job one might “assign” to an entirely left-brained person. But Brian surprised me by revealing that when he’s in the conceptual phase of a new building, he has to be “in” his right brain. And this state of mind isn’t just confined to his brain, either: When he’s working on the rough draft of a new building, his desk must be in a state of mess and chaos, otherwise he can’t work!

Things change, he said, when he moves on to the next drawing phase, getting the building out of the rough draft stage and solidifying the concept both in his mind and on paper. At this point, he says, he moves into the logical, more critically-thinking realm of accurate measurements, crisp lines, and clean structure. His surroundings change in accordance with his thinking: Now, the desk must be organized, or the distraction of the mess prevents him from thinking straight about his project.

As if these recent examples weren’t enough to get me thinking, I got another dose of inspiring and synchronous? synchronicitous? food-for-thought when Becca blogged about relating to her left-brained kid and her right-brained kid. (Go read that and come back here! It’s so very worth it!) Finally, after mulling over her article, I sat up and went, “Hmmmm…..”

I think somebody is trying to tell me something.

I Need Chaos! I Need Order! GAH!

It’s funny and frustrating how one can adopt a philosophy whole-heartedly…but then it takes years and oodles of effort and buckets of sweat and tears for that philosophy to permeate the soul and then crystallize in one’s life. I first read Thoreau in college, and that’s when I first realized (on a conscious level) that I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live with intention. Like Thoreau, “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” But now, more than a decade later, I feel I’m only beginning to understand what that philosophy really means!

For me, part of this deep, deliberate living has been to get to know myself as a Creative and, more specifically, as a writer. It’s kind of like marriage: the longer you live together, the more you find out about each other, even though you thought you knew each other pretty well when you said, “I do.” The longer I live with my creative self, the more I’m finding out about myself. Some of it’s scary, some of it’s annoying, and some of it makes me ask, “Why did I ever get into this with you?!”

Some of what I’m learning has to do with my writerly habits. I’ve found out that:

…I write best in the early afternoon and late, late at night. (There’s something marvelous and darkly romantic about being the only one awake in my world at night. There’s an intimacy with my characters that I don’t get at any other time.)

…I can write happily and productively in the same spot for weeks, and then I suddenly have to switch writing spots, or I get bored with my story! (This might mean moving my laptop from the couch to the table. It might also mean I can’t write in the apartment at all anymore and must seek out an eclectic coffee shop.)

…for over a year, I couldn’t write at my desk because there were two many tax documents on the shelf above it. (The documents are gone now, but I haven’t recovered enough to go back to the desk yet.)

There’s more, but maybe you get the idea.

Now, to top it all off, I’ve got this synchronicity about left- and right-brained going on, and I’m realizing the following:

1. I’m not as right-brained as I thought I was. Obviously, I have access to my left brain; otherwise, the alphabetizing, the chemistry grades, the event-planning, and the general orderliness of my present-day home would not have happened. I am a right-brained Creative, yes — but that does not have to limit me. I can use my logical, analytical side to make myself a better writer…and a more balanced human.

2. I think I’m ambidextrous-brained, and I think both of my parents are, too. Daddy and I lean to the right; Mama leans to the left. But all three of us can access both sides at need. Maybe this is genetic…but maybe every human has this ability. I tend to think the latter, because I know we’re all capable of logical thought to some degree or another…and I believe quite strongly that we’re all creative in some way. A lot of us just don’t know it or know how to explore it.

3. I need to pay closer attention to the hows of my Writing Life. I need to be more deliberate about it — which will enable me to live deep in my creativity and suck the marrow out of it. Which side of my brain do I access during which parts of the writing process?

Left side for prewriting? Outlines, character description, plot arcs, planning chapters scene-by-scene… That definitely sounds like logical, analytical thinking!

Right side for writing the rough draft? Letting the story flow, listening to characters’ voices, deviating from the outline when the adventure calls for off-the-beaten-path… Writing the first draft requires me to follow my heart and let my characters get into trouble that no logical person would countenance.

Do I go back to the left side for the editing process? Return to the right side for flourishes and poetry in the final draft? And, as I consider Brian and the way he has to change his surroundings, I wonder if I unconsciously change mine, too. When I’m in the mess of a rough draft, do I feel more inspired amidst chaos? Do random ideas pop into my head more frequently when there are books and papers and sparklies scattered across my workspace? But do I go into one of my famous cleaning frenzies as soon as I start editing?

Time and conscious observation will tell.

What about you? Do you consider yourself wholly left- or right-brained?

Or are you ambi-brained-ous? Which way do you lean, and what are your activities when you’re accessing the other side?

Oooh, how about this one, for the bloggers: When you blog, which side are you in? Does blogging require access to a different side of the brain than other forms of writing?

(And don’t forget, you can discuss the God, prayers, responsive universe, synchronicity stuff in the comments, too.) 🙂