Once Upon a Time

self improvement, The creative urge, The Inspired Life, Writing

Once Upon a Time, when there was such a thing as extra time, (I used to call it Free Time, back when I believed that such a thing existed. Now I know that it just isn’t so. You have to pay for it one way or another.) I used to be a fiction writer.

It began innocently enough. Sitting and twirling my swing, I shared stories and adventures with my imaginary friend in the side yard of the old clapboard house of my youth. She listened with great interest and never interrupted. In time, illustrations followed and the stories grew in depth and character.

When we moved into a country farmhouse during my middle school years, I created paper doll people and paper doll cut-out villages to go with my stories and the world that my characters lived in. They took up residence in my bedroom closet. As my clothes were strewn about the floor, there was plenty of room there and every day after school I would join them on the closet floor, and create for them a brand new world. Their lives were full of adventures. They were sassy and talked back. I never did. They traveled the world and saw everything. I lived in a town where all the kids went to school on the same bus. They wore exotic clothes and were popular and had bright shiny hair and flashing, expressive eyes. My stringy dishwater brown hair hung in my dull brown eyes, shielding me to hide my shyness.

We moved again, (and again, and again) making the process of building lasting friendships a difficult one. I was friendly, yet uncommitted. My head was either buried in reading a book or writing a book. I lived inside the pages of fantasy. Inspiration came from reading every book I could get my hands on. When I did need to relate to someone, it was easy to pull out a character and try it on for whatever situation needed to be handled. The first inklings and seeds of the actress began to grow within.

By the time I arrived at high school, my first novel had been completed and sat buried in the bottom of my t-shirt drawer. Along with it was another complete series of shorter stories, all bound together, adventures of middle school girls trying to survive their way through the popular world of junior high, while being different. A book of poetry sat on top of my desk, never put away-because it was added to, almost daily.

One day, I peeked out from behind a page and saw a strange world standing before me. High School was a bustling, harsh place to be, especially for someone who had mastered zero social skills. A refuge for others like myself welcomed me in the theater department. There, for the first time, I met others who shared my traits. Actors, writers, dreamers, artists–people who believed that what you could see in your mind could be more real than what was standing before you. I had come home into a family of my own. I wasn’t different anymore.

The high school years of theater and writing classes and having teachers who molded my skills were a wonderful-if not way too short- time of my life. Actually, truthfully, I hated all of it except the part where I could get to the writing and the acting. Everything else was impatiently tolerated until I could dive back in to the deep well of creativity and be immersed again in the flow of talent that surrounded me.

Then life took an abrupt shift. Choices made became a direction turned and I moved forward into becoming a mother and learning the life lessons of living in the REAL WORLD. Not much room for fiction there…

I have kept the creativity in my life. I have had to. I stayed in my community theater, learned to paint. It has been hard to find that balance over the years, and there have been many lessons learned about what happens to my spirit when I let it die back. Hint: It isn’t a pretty thing. I need it like I need air.

But the fiction writing took a seat way in the back of the bus. After spending so much time NOT in reality, I had needed to find a way to become authentic. Figure out who the real Wendi was. NOT a fiction character chameleon that could shape-shift on a dime, but the real deal. What was important to me, where were MY boundaries, what were the consistencies and the threads that bound my spirit through the ages of my life. The unchangeables? The areas that I needed to grow and cultivate? The areas that I needed to prune and cut away?

A lot of those questions have been answered over the decade that has been my forties. Hurray for the 40’s for there is time to look in the mirror. At least there has been for me. And now that I can see myself standing there, myself, my true self, not the self that I shifted into for the sake of others, I can see that she is writing fiction again.

It started out innocently enough. First little stories I had been imagining in my head. Then just a few chapters of a story idea that I jotted down in a file on the computer. Then one day, a title of a children’s book, so I wrote that down too. With a few paragraphs to follow. Then a few days later, a few more pages for that. Gosh…a few more chapters of that first book were floating around up there. So I wrote them down too.

Now Men with Pens have an on-line Escape from Reality  fiction story writing group and I have a character there. (You can follow along if you like, but fair warning…its so darn good and fun, it’s addictive!) 

The ideas and the story lines and the characters are all coming back home, as if they have been gone for a very long holiday. I welcome them back with a bit of apprehension. I have real-life responsibilities now. I’m not that free-time little girl who can afford to live up in her head. I have a family to take care of and a blog to write and a REAL world to live in now. It would be very easy to slip away, fall down the rabbit-hole and become vaguely lost to the happenings around me. I don’t want to do that. I love my real-time life. My family and friends are an enormous part of my happiness and joy.

This will be the first time I will try to honestly face the world of fiction writing with balance and structure. I know its been done by others . I don’t know how to do it. Quieting the stories at inappropriate times when there is a story happening in your head and all you want to do is grab a pen and write it down? In the middle of making dinner or entertaining guests? Agh…I think I have shut it down for a long, long time out of fear for situations just as that. How do I be in two places at once?

It is going to be interesting.  (shaking my head) Help!!

I’m taking any and all thoughts and suggestions here…..comments? I’m quite sure my family would appreciate your help too!

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Listening With Ears Wide Open

Attitude of Gratitude, family, self improvement, The Inspired Life

Tap.Tap. Tap…Tap.Tap.Tap…Is this on?

Can you all hear me? OK good. I would like to thank everyone for coming to Life’s Little Inspirations today. It’s wonderful to see so many familiar faces here and welcome to everyone who is here for the first time! Let’s get started then. Quiet, now. Shhhh, we are getting started a little late so I want to get going. If you can all pull your chairs up nice and close and make room for those who are standing in the back of the room that would be great. Wonderful. Thanks.

Today we will be discussing the Art of Listening with Ears Wide Open.  However, before we begin, I would like to present you with an example of what passes for listening a great deal of time in our very busy, over stimulated culture and one very creative man’s solution for handling the situation.

Sir… could  get the lights in the back of the room? …Thanks.

 

Now, I think we can safely say that this man was listening with his mouth open and his ears closed. In fact, to be more precise, he used an ancient stealth tactic that has been secretly passed down from one generation to the next to get OUT of listening. So, the next time someone suddenly plants a big wet one on you after your long and winding dissertation, do NOT make the leaping assumption that you have just spoken the most inspiring words since Martin Luther King. That person wants you to SHUT UP. They do not care what you have to say.

Kinda hurts your feelings a little bit doesn’t it?

We all want to be heard. There is something inside each and every one of us, a little voice crying out to be heard, thinking it isn’t all that interesting, all that important. So it sits there. Waiting for it’s turn. OR it jumps in, interrupting at odd times and then runs out of steam, never quite gathering up the full power of confidence without the other half of the equation. Someone who takes the time to listen.

The highest compliment you will ever pay another human being is to take the time to actively listen, actively observe, actively care about what is important to that other person. Focus on them. Listen to them. Care about them.

 

There are many different levels of listening and we go in and out of them several times a day.

Perhaps most frequently in our instant pudding society, we do what I call our:

Scan Listening: We use our ears these days the same way we use our eyes to read. We are too busy to read every word so we scan through what we are reading for relevant details while we are multi-tasking. We do it with our ears too. We do it while our children are talking, while the wife/husband is filling us in on the day and we are cooking/changing/ getting ready for the next transition in our over packed schedule. You can be sure you did it when you hear the words, “Honey, I just told you that.”  ” You did?…I don’t think so…I would have remembered.”

No you wouldn’t have. You were reading the paper/computer. You only would have remembered if she just told you she won two tickets to your favorite team’s game. You were scanning.

If I ask you how many of you here now think you are all great listeners, a good many of you will be happy to raise your hands.

Go ahead and put them up if you want to. While you have them up, let me ask you a question. During that last example of scanning, how many of you with your hands up, just thought back to an example of the last time you were in a situation of scanning behavior?

OK. Good.  Now..for all of you that did, how many of you thought, “That reminds me of the time when so and so said….and then…she said..and then….OH! I wish Wendi would quit talking so that I could have a chance to tell my story. I wonder if I’ll get a chance to raise my hand..will there be comments after????”

Well..yes, there will be comments after, and don’t worry, you are normal. You can put your hands down. That was an example of Reactive Listening, where you are just listening long enough to trigger a response from yourself so that you can share your thought, idea, or in the case of sales people ( and really annoying bad car salesmen) get them to see things your way so that you can get that sale.

What we want to look at today is a form of deeper, more focused listening that has the other person as the center of attention, not us. It isn’t as hard as you might think, you don’t have to be born with it, and with a little practice, you will have moments that will give you very deep inspired connections with others and leave you wondering what you have been listening to all this time.

Got your pens and paper ready?

 

Keys Points to Listening with Ears Wide Open.


Intuitive Listening

Remember Two ears/ One mouth: It should go without saying that we start here, but somehow it doesn’t seem to be obvious. Sometimes people get hung up on that “Life’s Supposed to be Fair” rule here. Listen close. That rule DOES NOT APPLY HERE. This is not a give and take. They get to talk twice as much as you do. That’s the math equation. If you can get them to talk three times as much, with you just popping in a comment or a question now and them, you are already a pro.

Use Interested Body language  Keep your body language calm and relaxed. DO NOT look at your watch or cell phone. (which by the way should be turned off) Lean slightly forward in toward them, showing interest, eyes looking at them, focused on what they are saying. Nothing says “I can’t hear you” more than eyes wandering around a room taking in the environment.  

Respect Personal Boundaries Different cultures and different people have personal preferences about their personal boundaries. Get too close or get too far away and you have lost them. Look for the subtle signs of them backing away or moving in to you that will let you know their border preferences.

Be Observant Notice the little things. Watch for the flickers in their eyes when they speak of certain things. Was that painful to them? She just started rubbing her fingers back and forth very quickly and chewing her gum faster..hmmm. But she seems calm. Mixed signals? What ISN’T he saying?

Listen for meaning Listen for what they meant to say, not what they said. Don’t assume. If you aren’t absolutely sure, ASK. In this growing multi-cultural world, different places may have slightly different meanings. Heck, maybe even in your own backyard pub. Here is an example a few of you may recall:

Coach: Can I draw you a beer Norm?

Norm: No, I know what they look like, just pour me one.

Poor Norm. He thought he was listening. Oh well. At least he got his beer.

Ask Open-ended questions Asking open-ended questions and questions that clarify what it was they meant let’s them know you are interested and gives them permission to continue. It draws them out and helps them to think through their own thoughts on the subject. They may not have even known how they felt until you helped them to think it all through. You don’t even need to give your opinion, just letting them sort through their own opinion with a good pair of ears is a huge help!

Empathize not Sympathize, and DO NOT JUDGE! They don’t want or need your pity, and they don’t want to be judged. Accept what they tell you unconditionally. Offer your understanding. If you have had a similar experience, share a short, abbreviated version so they can see you really do understand but don’t let it slip into an opportunity to become all about you and don’t give advice unless asked. Be very careful about giving any advice that could be seen as professional advice unless you are a professional. You are here to listen, not give medial opinion. It’s a slippery slope. Don’t get caught going down that hill.

They don’t care what you know until they know that you care.

It is argued who was the first to say that quote, but it isn’t argued how true it is. If people feel that you don’t or won’t take the time to listen to them, then what you in effect have said is-I don’t love you, you don’t matter to me, you aren’t important enough to me to give up my time, my energy or my attention. I’d rather look at strangers on Twitter, Facebook, You Tube or the Boob Tube than to pay attention to you.

Kinda hurts your feelings a little bit doesn’t it?

 

Please….go out and pay someone the compliment of listening with ears wide open. It is one of the most loving, kindest, caring things you can do for another human being.

Time for comments.

 I’m listening.

 

 

Having Faith

leaving a legacy, The creative urge, The Inspired Life, Writing

It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.
-Robert Benchley

It’s a good thing that Robert didn’t find out earlier. What a different world it might have been. Robert Benchley sold his first piece of paid writing in 1914 and his work continues to sell, inspire and entertain to this day.

His son Nathanial Benchley became a well known author of children and teen books and wrote the book The Off-islanders in 1962, which became the motion picture titled “The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming. He received an Academy award nomination for writing the Adapted Screenplay. His novel, Welcome to Xanadu became the 1975 movie Sweet Hostage.

Perhaps younger fans will be most familiar with his grandson, Peter Benchley, author of the famed novel Jaws.

Three generations of authors influencing our history. What would have happened if he had *realized* he had no talent? Would he have inspired his son or his grandson to become writers? How would their lives have been different? How would yours? Where were you the first time you saw that famous shark rise out of the ocean?

Writer’s words change lives. They change other peoples thoughts, they propel people to action. They make us laugh. They make us cry. Sometimes they make us angry.

Or fall in love.

But I’m not a writer-so you say. Maybe you think you have no talent. Maybe you think the words you have bubbling up inside you are words that no one needs to hear? Maybe you never pick up a pen. Maybe you write with spoken words, or paint or dance or modeling clay. But you do have something to say. And if you are holding it in, is it building up inside of you? Maybe you have never paid attention to it before. Listen. You can feel it. It’s that yearning. It’s that pressure that pushes out from inside of you. It wants to go somewhere. It wants to be heard. It needs to be heard.

 We all have a voice and we all have something to say. We all have questions as to the what and the why’s of this world and no-we might not have all the answers, but its ok to write while we are journeying on, working them out together, forming new ideas, hearing new solutions. Sharing our experiences with each other.

Somebody is listening somewhere. Somebody needs to hear what you have already figured out. Somebody needs a hand up, a little help along the way. Or they need to know that you are struggling too, that they are not alone. They need to know that they are not a lone tree falling in the forest. That you are there and will catch them when they fall, that your words will hold them up-because you have been there first. Maybe all you have to say today is great job or I love you, but these can be powerful words too. Don’t underestimate what you have to say. Someone needs to hear it.

But I’m not good enough.-Yes you are. Write from your heart. Write from your soul. Speak the words. Let it out and have faith that somebody is listening. If you are true to what you are feeling, I promise, someone else is feeling it too. None of us are ever truly alone.

But I’m not creative enough- I believe that true creativity comes from letting go. Not pushing it. Not trying too hard to cram all the pieces together. Get empty and see what comes to fill in the space. Say what if…and let the pieces fall into all new places. Don’t hold on to anything, just follow the wave and it will take you places you would never have dreamed of.

But I don’t have time– I don’t think we have time NOT to. Taking the time to formulate our thoughts and feelings, perhaps putting them down on paper or whatever medium we choose is a valuable use of time that grounds us. It highlights our center, our values, our key trouble spots and the secrets that lie within. Whether we are writing for others, or ourselves, these words need an outlet. It isn’t a healthy thing to ignore them while they clamor away for attention like a nagging child inside of us. Ignored for too long, they become sullen, depressed, hidden in the corner, while we become more and more detached from the authentic self that is our true spirit. Get out your pen! Go find yourself! Go listen to what you have to say!

I never know what I think about something until I read what I’ve written on it.
-William Faulkner

I have my grandmother’s stories and poetry. Long gone now, she wrote not for fame or fortune but to be connected to her spirit. She wrote her poems to God. She poured out her questions, cried out her heartache, searched for the answers to the mysteries that defied her.

She was an artistic, creative soul. Lost sometimes in the depth of Bi-polar confusion, she struggled to make sense of the ever-changing world in her mind. Through her stories, through her poetry, her grandchildren and great-grandchildren will always have a glimpse into the brilliance that resided there. She was beautiful. Her writing is her legacy. Did she know we would be listening? One of her poems, written on a Christmas morning was titled “To my Grandchildren.”

WE listen.

Have faith. Write. Write from your heart. Somebody is listening.