So, even though I’m really tired and I have at least 50 emails still in my inbox (having answered the 30 most important ones this evening already) and even though I could have been working on the WIP (the expanded version of Lightening in a Bottle in the Going for Gold Anthology (tentatively titled Holding the Reins), I’m here, writing this blog.
Truth is, I’m probably too tired to get anything constructive done on the WIP and I need to consolidate my thoughts and experiences of the last few days before I lose them.
A few days ago, I wrote a blog post about burnout on my Live Journal account. I don’t know why, but LJ is where I tend to post my really thinky thoughts. Perhaps it is because I know there are people reading them and I am likely to get a response. Most of the time when I post here, I feel like Noah, releasing a dove in the hopes that it will find evidence of dry land–and every evening the dove comes back empty-beaked.
Or maybe I feel that as my professional front, so to speak, the website blog should be less personal, more upbeat, more whistling in the dark. I dunno. All I know is that the posts that seem to get the most responses are the ones where I get real. Where I bleed a little on the page. (Which, honestly, is why I never write poetry anymore because it requires you to slice yourself up with a sharp knife every single time!)
Anyway, the burnout post ended with me saying that I wasn’t sure a month on a Caribbean island, lying in a hammock in the shade with a little fruity drink in hand, would be enough to bring me back from the edge of total inability to function in my job anymore. Well, I didn’t make it to the Caribbean, but I did go to such a remote part of my state that cell phones didn’t really work (forcing me to walk around holding my phone up like a Cost Cutter version of Sandra Bullock in The Proposal) and the pump at the only gas station in the nearest town had no means of paying at the pump–you had to go inside and actually speak to a live person to get the pump turned on for you. Which meant that for 48 hours, I was essentially without phone or internet, except at odd moments when the wind was right and I would suddenly get a signal, only to lose it when a cloud passed overhead.
I hadn’t been looking forward to this working vacation I’d agreed to take this week. To begin with, the logistics of going were a nightmare, with me having to make several hour-long trips and going back and forth from the retreat because I had to work in the middle of the week and because I couldn’t find someone to cover all my duties elsewhere. It seemed that it simply would have been better to work outright than to attempt such a crazy schedule.
As it turned out though, I learned some valuable lessons. First: sometimes just being in a different place, experiencing a different routine, is a good thing. Second: spending time with friends you haven’t seen in a long time is renewing. Third: go into things with an open mind and you might be surprised at what you learn.
There’s really no way to give you the blow by blow of what happened in the last 48 hours–and to be honest, it matters only to me. Suffice to say that the week’s retreat (of which I had to leave in the middle but will be heading back at the end of the week for the final 24 hours) was about renewal and reconnections–something I’ve been struggling with lately.
One of the reasons I agreed to go as one of the presenters was not because I felt qualified to speak on anything but because I wanted to see my tribe of wise women (friends I’ve met and bonded with over a shared interest and have maintained the friendships for over a decade thanks to the internet) and because I could bring my dog. Yes, I know, but any trip where the dog is welcome is a plus in my book because so often I feel as though his short life is whipping by. Time is linear? Hah. Not so. Wait until you get older–you’ll find your days become as long as weeks and your weeks as short as days and time becomes weirdly exponential as it compresses and get shorter and shorter.
So the first day, after sleeping a bit uncomfortably in a rustic cabin, I got up early and decided to take the dog out. I vaguely remembered a trail to the top of the ridge behind the cabins, and I headed out with H. Finding what I thought to be the trailhead (hey, it was marked!) I started a laborious climb to the top of the ridge.
Only the trail petered out, and there didn’t seem to be any clear way forward. I didn’t want to turn back, the way down looked nauseatingly steep from my vantage point. I picked up a walking stick and dug in, determined to make it to the top of the ridge. My boots slipped in the fine shale; more than once I worried about falling. I unclipped H’s leash and let him find his own way up–concerned that tethered together, we’d bring disaster down on us both.
We made it to the top. The night before, the air had been so clear that the mountains had stood out in gorgeous relief, but now a heavy mist had rolled in overnight and there was rain in the air. I took some snapshots just the same because it is something I just have to do. I walked the ridge for a while, admiring the view, until I heard the bell for breakfast.
The way down was even scarier. Talk about slipping! There were times when I just began sliding down the slope I was traveling and the only way to stop was to grab hold of a tree. H stuck close to me, obviously a bit worried, and at times I had to send him on ahead so I wouldn’t mow him down. We got down in the end, however, and I have to admit to a little bit of pride in being able to make such a climb when it has been years since I’ve done any serious hiking.
The day passed in pleasant activities: catching up with friends, good food, quality time with the dog, a successful presentation on my part. During the night, the promised rain rolled in. Lord have mercy, did it rain. Well, we needed it, but by noon today, I was heartily sick of being wet and having everything I owned damp as well. I knew the weather was going to clear just as I had to go, which was a bit of a bummer.
The rain, however, meant no outdoor activities, which was just as well, as the special guest speakers for the retreat were scheduled for today. I try to keep an open mind about these things: in the past, such open-mindedness has lead to life-altering experiences and a determination to change my life for the better. I frequently write about characters learning that life is more than mere survival–it was an experience at one such retreat that made me realize that for myself. So, yeah, open-minded.
However, I have a fairly wide streak of cynicism when it comes to what I call ‘quantum mysticism’ and the Law of Attraction. I watched What the Bleep Do We Know and was very taken with the idea that our thoughts control our destiny. For years, I’ve said “If I can’t see myself doing it, it won’t happen.” And that’s true. If I can’t picture myself as a lawyer or a dentist, then even if a specific scholarship landed in my lap, I wouldn’t be to make myself study these things. I Just. Can’t. See. It.
At the same time, I know that there are things beyond our control, and that thinking things so will not make someone’s cancer miraculously go into remission, or get you out of a bad marriage or make your money woes go away. Yet, I am very much aware that bad things tend to attract bad things–how often do we hear of someone that *everything* seems to be raining on them at once? Or the reverse? I’m looking at some fellow authors right now and wondering what they are doing differently from me that have made their writing careers take off while mine is only doing modestly. Some of it is being in the right place at the right time. Some of it is having made the right connections. But honestly, some of it has to be their belief in themselves is greater than mine.
And doesn’t that suck? The notion that everything you are currently dealing with you’ve somehow brought upon yourself? Yeah, the Law of Attraction really pisses me off some days.
Fortunately, the speakers were more realistic than most. When I voiced my problems with the LOA, they nodded and said that the key was starting out small, and asking the universe for little things before you tackled the big ones–that you didn’t start out asking for things you didn’t yet believe in yourself.
Random cute puppy thrown in just because I need cuteness right now.
The speakers were a husband and wife team who’d traveled the world, seeking out the meanings to the questions in their lives, trying to make a deeper connection with every living thing around them. They were a bit tentative in their talk, as though unsure of their reception, and I could have told them that they were preaching to the choir here because most of us have been on various spiritual journeys of our own–nothing they were saying was so outlandish or so outrageous we would have shut them down.They spent a lot of time setting up their presentation–hours telling stories of their experiences and their journey.
However, it was one heart-breakingly clear sentence about 2 hours into their speech that made me sit up and take notice–the reason for the journey in the first place. I found myself thinking as a writer: this is where you should have begun your story. With this one devastating sentence. The rest is filler. You should have led off with this as to why you are here today. That’s all we needed to know.
Thunder rumbled, and the rain on the roof almost drummed out their quiet voices.
At one point, the husband, making a point about norms and the expected, asked us for a show of hands as to how many of us slept with our dogs. Most of the group raised their hands. Then he asked, “How many of you know someone who sleeps with an adult female cougar?”
I couldn’t help it. I answered loudly from my corner of the room, “My boyfriend.”
Yes, somehow I’ve become *that* person. The wise-ass in the back that makes you laugh and cringe at the same time. Everyone laughed, however, including the presenter.
Later, we held a guided meditation. I’ve only done one of those once before, but it had a profound effect on me. I went into this one knowing I was going to over-think it, hoping it would measure up to my original experience and sure that it would not, in affect, doing all the self-sabotaging things I normally do.
And I promptly dozed off. Okay, I haven’t been getting much sleep lately, and I didn’t doze off for long, but I woke to hear the wife speak of us seeing an island and all I could think of was, “Oh crap, I’ve missed out on the beginning. Where am I supposed to be now?” My vision quest self plunged down the side of the mountain, tearing my way through bracken and greenbriar, instead of waiting for the guide, who shortly took us down the mountain herself. I was on the beach long before she got there, pacing restlessly and ready to start swimming for the island, which was obviously my goal.
My spirit guide, the little red fox I met in the only other time I’ve ever done guided meditation (and ironically, I just mentioned in the WIP Holding the Reins), told me I needed to slow down, to be patient and wait for the guide to catch up. It really is a metaphor for my life right now; I’ve been working faster and faster to get everything done and doing a crappy job at everything lately.
I forced myself to wait and the guide led us to a canoe that we used to take us to the Island of Power Spirits.
It’s kind of hard to describe a guided meditation if you’ve never done one. It helps to have an strong imagination, I think (but I also think that’s the downside of the LOA mindset: someone with a good imagination can ALWAYS see the worst case scenario). To the outsider, I probably sound like a fruitloop. All I can say is that if I’m in a dark room with my eyes closed and someone is quietly giving me stage directions, then scenes are going to unfold in my mind.
I met my second spirit guide, a tiger. (I know, I know, no one ever has a snail for a spirit guide, do they?) To be brief, the tiger told me that he only made one kill in 20 attempts–and that he didn’t worry about the other 19. He might go hungry one day, but sooner or later, he would make the next kill. He told me that I could have his strength, but that I could not make him come back with me, because he was not of my world. That I was strong like him, but in danger of becoming extinct. That he was made up of light and shadow, and that as long as I walked in the light, he would always be a part of me, that I could not leave him behind any more than I could leave my shadow behind.
Yeah, heavy stuff.
I found myself appreciating more that I’d made Tate (Crying for the Moon) a tiger shape-shifter (why yes, everything IS grist for the mill). I came away this evening, reluctant to leave the retreat when I still needed more time there, and yet glad for the time to process what I’d experienced today.
Re-entering ‘civilization’ meant coming back to 80 emails and a lot of catching up to do. But you know what? Most of it isn’t really urgent. And yes, I would love it if I were a smashing success as a writer (hey universe, I’m talkin’ to you, baby!), but I made a conscious decision tonight to skip a blog hop (which I really enjoy doing) because it was scheduled for a weekend when I have plans with the BF. And I’d rather give him 100% of my attention that weekend than to be sneaking off to reading other people’s blogs.
No, I don’t have a lot of free time. Yes, I need to spend a certain amount of it networking and making real connections with my fellow authors and readers (just like I’ve done with my tribe of wise women here at the retreat–man, I really envy you guys who are going to these conventions like GayRomLit. There’s nothing like meeting someone face to face and making that bond that allows an internet friendship to thrive). But the main thing I’ve learned in the last 48 hours is that being there, fully in the moment, is sometimes more valuable than the ability to multitask. And you know what? The world didn’t end while I was outside of communicator range.
I have several big writing projects and not a lot of time and energy at the end of the working day. I think I need to pull back a bit and concentrate on those for now. So, maybe I’ll never be a big fish in my small pond. I’ll be satisfied to be able to just keep swimming.
If you’re a member of the Goodreads M/M Romance Group, Going for Gold is up for the Book of the Month for October. Voting ends September 23rd. We would very much appreciate your vote.
Going for Gold, the Olympic-themed anthology from MLR Press features novellas from 8 of your favorite authors in the M/M genre. From diving, to ice skating, to shooting, to equine eventing, there’s something in it for everyone. Hot athletes putting it all on the line for their sport–and for love. How can you resist?