At a Crossroads… Writing, Life, and Why You Should Never Give Up

View from Sky Lounge resizedI should start out by mentioning that I got very little sleep last night. About 2 hours, all told, which simply isn’t enough. I have this personal motto which says, “Make no major life decisions without at least eight hours sleep and a good meal.” I still maintain that it’s a good philosophy, but that means you should take anything I say here with a grain of salt.

Earlier this evening, I thought a lot about what I was going to say in this blog post. I had it all mapped out. I was going to finish my report of Galacticon3 with my reading that I had with the Oracle–a young woman named Kar Davis, whom I met at Richard Hatch’s Acting From the Heart workshop on the first evening. I was struck by her sense of self (she ‘owned’ her name–having chosen one for herself to suit herself–one of the things discussed at the workshop) and she mentioned that she had made BSG Tarot cards and was going to be doing readings all weekend. (She’s written some wonderful recaps of her experiences at the convention–you should check them out here.) A lot of what Richard Hatch had to say at the workshop resonated with me–her summation of it is excellent.

I should probably mention here that I have strong spiritual beliefs. I grew up in a household with foundational ties to the Church. I believe in the power of prayer–of visualizing your wishes and intentions and putting them out there before the universe and God. What I no longer believe in–what I’ve lost faith in, if you will–is the Church itself. My struggle began when I was in my mid-twenties, living alone and living for The Career. I had relocated to a new town and was having trouble finding a church I felt comfortable attending. I’d noticed a shift in philosophy away from ‘here is what your daily walk with God should be’ to ‘here are the social issues and political candidates we think you should support.’

I’m not naive enough to think that religion and politics haven’t been bedfellows since the first religion was created. I have read Will Durant’s Age of Faith (vol. 4 of the The Story of Civilization), after all! But in my own church, in my own community, this was not something I saw growing up. It crept in over time, as politics in this country changed. By the time 9/11 occurred, I could no longer bear going to church at all–something my mother cannot understand. The Us against Them rhetoric was so ugly, so hateful, so very much against everything I believed, that I could no longer attend church services. I don’t think all that much has changed since then–not with the rise of the conservative moment in this country and the co-opting of Christianity and American as terms only fit for a select group of people with a specific set of beliefs.

Richard Hatch at the Opening Ceremonies

Richard Hatch at the Opening Ceremonies

So when I say I have strong spiritual beliefs, I mean that I believe in God, just not in the Church as it has come to be. With my experiences with other forms of spiritualism, I try to be open-minded. I think that when we enter into an experience with an open mind, we have the capacity to learn something from it. What I find the most interesting from the few experiences I’ve had is that I seldom learn something I don’t already know. I connect with something I do know very well, only I’ve buried it and neglected it for so long that I no longer feel it–not until that little light-bulb moment occurs and I recognize what I’ve always known. I know, that sounds very ‘whoo-whoo’, doesn’t it? I can’t explain it, but that has been the case of nearly every life-changing ‘ah-ha!’ moment in my life. But it is what I’ve discovered to be true for myself over time. That was certainly how I felt about Richard Hatch’s acting workshop–which less about acting and more about living. Owning your name. If your name isn’t who you are–change it, and own *that* one. Tapping into your experiences, no matter how painful, to give the best performance of your life. Since another one of my mottoes (particularly when it comes to writing) is ‘everything is grist for the mill’, much of what Hatch shared with us really resonated with me. Namely, that we are our biggest roadblocks and that to truly be ourselves, to unlock our potential as human beings, we have to let go of life experiences that tell us otherwise. We have to use those experiences, not be mastered by them.

Onstage with Richard Hatch and another audience member doing improv

Onstage with Richard Hatch and another audience member doing improv

I believe this. I really do. I believe that when we put out there what we want, doors begin to unlock and pathways open to allow us to move toward our goals. I believe if we stand around carping negatively about the crap in our lives, then crap is all we’ll ever attract. I believe we are responsible for our destinies within the hand of cards we are dealt. What I do not believe in is what I call ‘quantum mysticism’. This idea that if we only *believe* hard enough, money, fame, and good health will magically enter our lives. I know magnificent souls with terrible chronic health conditions and disabilities. I do not believe that they in some way brought their health issues on themselves because of the way they think and feel about themselves. I think most of them are living phenomenal lives of giving and caring despite their problems–circumstances that would leave me crumpled in a ball of self-pity and weeping in the corner. Anyway, I get angry at the Positive Thinking Movement that suggests we can just go around saying mantras to get us out of whatever hell we live in. No. We can’t. All we can do is control how we react to it.

I did speak to Hatch later in the weekend about his philosophy–after all, one workshop isn’t going to change someone’s life overnight–because everything he said sounded like a gong within me, a clear, pure tone that rang ‘yes‘. But how do you get there? How to do stop the self-sabotaging process? What he said was that it is a continuing journey–that you had to find teachers and philosophies that echoed what you knew to be true for you and continue on down the path. Made sense, though a part of me was a little frustrated. I know I’m my own biggest roadblock. I allow myself a certain amount of success within a prescribed script, written out by the things I believe about myself and life. I want to learn how to get around that block–how to prevent me from sabotaging success every time it comes within my reach. How to move forward with my life (and the cards I’ve been dealt) and stop mourning losses that have no yet occurred.

Warriors and ToastersWell, I’ve only had a reading done once or twice in my life, but I’ve always enjoyed the experience, so I made a point of looking for Kar Davis’s table. Unfortunately, it would seem that every time I had a moment to look for her–she was either occupied with someone else or away from her booth. I was starting to think I might miss her altogether. I got to see a lot of cool things–some wonderful artwork, some amazing models, fantastical jewelry, costumes, props, and comic books galore. I wish I hadn’t been on such a tight budget! There was so much there I wanted to take home with me! I loved seeing how creative people were with their costumes–and above all, I loved how free everyone felt to be themselves. It was as though being in costume let them be the person they always wanted or imagined themselves to be. I understood for the first time how powerful cosplay could be, and found myself wishing that I wasn’t there as Sarah Madison, author, but as Sarah Madison, fangirl.

A blast from the past: Star Trek TOS

A blast from the past: Star Trek TOS

I finally caught up with Kar Davis as I was heading off to something else–she was finishing a reading and someone was waiting in line, so I just paused long enough to ask her if she’d be there later–and the person waiting volunteered to let me go in front of them.

I hesitated. I didn’t want to cut in line, I didn’t want to feel like I had to rush through the reading because I needed to be somewhere else shortly. But I’d been to her table three times already, and given the chaos that was  the convention so far, I was concerned this might be my only chance for a reading. I don’t know why it was so important to me–it just was.

The very nice couple assured me they were happy to wait, and so I got my reading.

I’d like to show you a picture of my cards–I took one so I could remember them myself and the message with them. The cards aren’t really mine to share, however, so I’m going to continue to regale you with con pictures instead. 🙂

T shirts resizedThe cards were beautifully done. Kar had selected images from the series and assigned words and meaning to them like a traditional deck of tarot cards. She spread them face down in a line and asked me to select five, leaving them face down as I chose them.

Well, I have to tell you, I closed my eyes and let my hand hover over the cards. It was as though I could feel a certain heat coming off some of the cards, and my hand kept wandering back to linger over them. I can’t tell you where I dredged that up from–it’s been years since I had a reading and I was given the cards to shuffle at that time. Something of that experience must have stayed with me though. I held in my mind a single thought–writing. And I let my hand choose the cards. It was interesting how I kept coming back to one end of the spread to choose. At one point, my hand dove down on a card, touched another one first, and pushed it aside to select the one it wanted. Yes, I’m writing as though it had a will of its own–that’s what it felt like.

Kar asked me if I’d had readings done before–that I obviously was feeling for the energy. That’s when I realized that I’d done so automatically–and I suspected this was going to be a fun read.

The first card was Starbuck as played by Katee Sackhoff. I have to say, I’m a huge fan of the original series (the main reason I didn’t watch much of the reimaged series was I was in a dark place when it aired and it was a dark show) but I thought Sackhoff did a phenomenal job capturing the essence of this darker, more tortured Starbuck. The card was labeled The Warrior. Kar was pleased–she said this was the first time that the Warrior card had turned up. She said it could be interpreted as someone who knows what they want, and once they’ve made a decision, they would go after it full force, but she said it could also be seen as a warning against Starbuck’s impetuous side and that I would need to look at all the potential ramifications of a decision before acting on it.

Cylon resizedThe next card was titled Barrier. How appropriate, I thought. Kar seemed pleased by this one too, which kind of made me feel like I was performing up to expectations. 🙂

The image she chose was one of Kara Thrace and Lee Adama with their backs to one another, and she mentioned that Starbuck could have had the relationship she wanted with Apollo–it was hers for the taking–only neither one of them could get past their own personal barriers to take it. She also said that there were obviously barriers in my own life preventing me from having the things I wanted, and I would need to learn how to get around them–but that this was the important part of the card’s message–there were *always* ways around obstacles if you looked for them.

The card after that was Home: an image of the Galactica flying through fluffy clouds in a blue sky. This card delighted Kar as well. “Oh, this is my favorite card! I almost never see it, or certainly haven’t seen it during the readings I’ve been giving here. It doesn’t have to mean a physical home, it can be–”

I finished her sentence for her. “A place that feels right.”

“Yes!” She was pleased that I got it. I know she told me more about home’s meaning, but I found myself looking at the card and thinking, Yes. Writing is my real home now.

A President Laura Roslin Fan

A President Laura Roslin Fan

The card after that was The Leader. It was a picture of President Laura Roslin as played by Mary McDonnell.

“Are you in a leadership position at work?” Kar asked.

“Yes and no,” I said. I explained the nature of my work, and that because I worked at so many different locations, I was essentially boss-for-a-day to a certain extent, in the leadership role that day, but often without the full power of authority to make certain decisions.

Kar seemed taken aback by that, and sympathized on how this wasn’t an easy role–something I’d never really thought about before. We talked about leadership and delegation–she said she normally talked about how this card reflected someone’s role at work but that it could also mean taking leadership within your own life. Huh. It had never dawned on me before the similarities between the way I handle my own life and the role I have at my various jobs.

The final card, the one she turned over and placed above all the others, was Crossroads. In it, Colonel Tigh has revealed to Commander Adama that he is a Cylon–they’ve had a knockdown drag-out fight, and like a lot of guys I know after such a conflict, are now sharing a drink together. Something that wouldn’t have seemed possible, if you know the context of the BSG story. Kar smiled and tapped the card as she explained the background of the picture.

“Are you at a crossroads in your life?”

I nodded. Because yes, I am. I did the reading with ‘writing’ in mind because writing stories has become my passion, the thing I want to do more than almost anything else. The thing I choose to do over the multitude of other tasks awaiting me every day. When you’ve spent your whole life looking for your passion, and then you suddenly discover it was there all along, hiding beneath your feet where you kicked dirt over it, that rediscovery is like magic–but it’s like a drug too. I’ve spent the last five years rediscovering my passion–to the detriment of nearly everything else in my life.

I am at a crossroads. I can either accept the fact that my writing appeals to a small group of people and keep writing stories for my own pleasure and that of a few die-hard fans, or I can continue to plug away at writing, putting in the hours not only writing itself, but the promotion, the social networking, the blogging,etc. and hope that one day, I will have a big enough following that I can breathe a little easier at bill paying time. I can either continue to write the kinds of stories I love, or I can try and write something more mainstream marketable. I can accept that my writing is never going to be the kind of career that will allow me to cut back on my day job and I can go back to treating it like the hobby that it probably is. Or I can stop writing altogether and pour all that time and energy back into my primary career, returning to the level of devotion I haven’t given it in the last five years.

Not writing isn’t an option, thank God. Writing is a compulsion. But last night, after crunching some numbers and looking at what I’d spent in promotions (as well as time, a precious commodity for me) versus what I’ve made in sales this past quarter, I’d have to say that I haven’t reached the Breakout point yet. Money is tight enough that working less hours in order to write more isn’t an option either. In fact, plugging away at my slow rate is about the only option I have–other than accepting that this is all my writing will ever be.

And you know, when I drafted this blog post in my head, I was going to do just that. I was going to announce that I had a ‘realistic’ grasp of what kind of audience my stories had, and that I was okay with just being a hobbyist writer. After all, it fit in with my mental image of myself. But when I sat down to write these words, when I looked at the photograph of the spread of cards Kar laid out for me, a small ember of anger burst into flames.

Wasn’t that just me giving in to the preconceived script I have for myself? Wasn’t that just me, once again, cutting myself off at the knees just as I was rounding the corner into the homestretch? The Boys of Summer has gotten terrific reviews. No, it hasn’t rocketed me to the top of Amazon sales, but you know what? That doesn’t happen to very many people. Most people write stories from their heart, publish them, and get to work on the next one because telling the story is the most important part of the process. And I have seen a bump in sales for my backlist too.

So maybe slow and steady does win the race in the end. Because you can never cross the finish line if you stop moving toward it.Tortoise resized