Another Odd Place for a Hill

Jody Aberdeen's Official Blog

Guest Post: “Write for Money, Write for Life” by Carrie Bailey

carriebaileyMy friend and fellow wordsmith Carrie Bailey kindly offered this guest entry on Another Odd Place For A Hill.  Please visit her official blog at http://carriebaileybooks.blogspot.ca.  ***

In 2009, I started writing. As an experiment, I spent one month focusing solely on building an income as a freelance writer and brought in an average of 250 dollars per week, which I maintained for five weeks by working at least 8 hours per day. No days off. No rest.

After talking to a few established writers, I learned that it was typical for a new writer to earn between 10k and 20k per year. If you’re serious about writing, there are ways to make this happen and make this work for you.

Be real – Not realistic. No, don’t ever bother talking yourself out of your dreams. Be real. Be exactly who you are and don’t apologize for it. Most people don’t trust someone they don’t know who are clearly trying to impress them. If you’re not funny, cute, manly, feminine, wealthy or brilliant, don’t worry about it. Successful writers are more persistent than they are uniquely positioned at the head of the bell curve. However, they do tend to recognize that fine line between staying true to themselves and blindly blasting others with their insecurities and personal trivia.

Define what you want – It’s hard to think objectively when you’re feeling insecure or hungry. While this is something a lot of writers understand, but when you write for a living, like it or not, you are in business. That doesn’t always sit well with our inner artists. But, as a businessperson, you need to define your goals. Break down the steps it will take to achieve them. Research business practices. You are one.

Talk to people who are one step ahead of you – There are the people who will tell you what you really need to know and then, there are the people who will make it sound easy. The most successful writers have had a lot of time to simplify the details of their early struggles and forget the uncomfortable truths. But, the writers still running their victory laps are often ready to brag openly about the hurdles they’ve jumped. And that’s where you’ll glean the timely inside information.

Keep records – Whenever you achieve any measurable success, make a note of it. You might not remember later what tactics worked. And review your notes often. You might learn something of value in hindsight that you overlooked before.

Contact the people who pay – I know this seems obvious, but there are writers who attempt to market themselves before they target people already willing to pay for their work. This is working backwards. Write a few good posts on a topic. Offer them to different websites and publications for free. Then, generate a mad flurry of ideas and pitch them to sites that pay while offering links to your previous work. How do you find people who pay? Google. Yes, Google. That, and ask other freelance writers.

Beware the foul weather friend – Don’t worry about fair weather friends. They may be a disappointment, but not a true danger. In reality, it’s the people who love you desperately when you’re down that – more often than we care to confront – will try to keep you there. Distance yourself from people who discourage you, who don’t believe in you and above all, those who panic or just get weird when you start succeeding. Jealousy is poison. Take no more than you can cope with.

Clients as customers – If you’ve been a traditional employee, you’ve probably found release venting frustrations about your boss. It was their fault. As a writer, you are your own boss and it cannot be overstated that you need to treat everyone you work with as customers. Clients are not in charge. You are. And remember, they customer is always right, even when they’re wrong.

Make minimalism sexy – Yes, it’s both powerful and sexy to be the master of your own destiny, but it’s also good for your bottom line. Simplifying your life will ensure your survival through the hard times. It will reduce your dependence and give you more control over the things that matter. Picture one month of your life and all the things you actually need to live until the very last day. Not thrive. Just live. If you can reduce what you need to smallest amount manageable, you will always be able to keep writing.

Get paid to research – If you’re a writer, then you are by default a student of human nature and you can’t do that physically melded to your keyboard. Walk out the door and go apply for minimum wage jobs. Work part-time where you can observe people. Write for sites that pay you to review goods and services that you need.

Give them your heart in a plastic bag – You don’t have to be the most talented writer to be a financially viable one. But, it helps to understand what people really want, you know, your heart and soul. They want to expand their lives by absorbing bits of yours through your experience and your words. But even while you pour your heart into your work, remember: don’t bleed on them. Your audience does not exist to affirm you. Cultivate professionalism in your work. 

Writing is more than a job.

Writers are ready to sacrifice anything to build their business. And if that sounds like you, then go forward. Be a writer. Although the beginning may be grim and your resources meager, you have more chance of making it as an author than you do winning the lottery. That is the good news.

Now, the bad news. If you’re looking for a stable, secure and profitable venture, you’re thinking like an employee. And that won’t make you a successful writer. Think like a businessperson. There are times in our lives when we have obligations, like family, that make any business a selfish venture. The truth is that you don’t have to make a living as a writer to be a writer, but if it is the path you choose, jump on it like it’s the last train out of town. 

Guest post by Carrie Bailey 

Home is Wherever I’m With….Me?

(Transcribed from hand-written pages I wrote while seated at the Orange Cat Cafe in Lewiston, NY during the 4th of July weekend, having stayed with a friend’s family for the weekend, and feeling very much at home)

I could care a lot more about where I live, much more.  By many accounts, and for many reasons, I probably should, but I don’t.

Home isn’t just a place where we sleep and keep all of our shit.  It’s multi-faceted, a term and a concept with multiple definitions and meanings.  If not for these meanings, we’d all be living in little uniform shacks, comfortable enough, equipped for the basic biological needs, nothing more.  That, of course, isn’t where we actually live, but without added meanings, that’s what “home” provides in a purely physical sense.

Home is a status symbol, an investment, a hub for a family, a personal expression of identity, and, of course, shelter from the elements, storage for your stuff.  For some, home is more than that: the promise of a future life for a new couple; a benchmark of “success” at whatever it is you love to do; or a connection to ancestry, tradition, and country, a way of life and human experience.

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I have a quiet fascination with ruins.  I’ve thought about taking the apocalypse tour of Detroit that urban explorer troupes are now offering.  I’ve driven through the run-down areas of old Toronto, Hamilton, Buffalo, Brooklyn, and Niagara Falls.  Like most people, I’ve seen the ruins in Rome, Varanasi, Angkor Wat, and Macchu Picchu on TV and in books: places built thousands of years ago that are now occupied by peoples and cultures beyond anything the builders themselves could have imagined into existence.

I look at the gentrification of Detroit and Hamilton, how the 100 year old red-bricks that once housed stores and factories now give shelter to hipster cafes and chic restaurants that attract well-to-do suburbanites back into the downtown.

I think of fancy, white-picket fenced homes in wealthy, “Stepford Wives”-esque suburbs that we later see on the six o’clock news because the husband beat up his wife, or because cops found a meth-lab in the basement.  I think of the houses of divorce, where the definition of “family” transforms to adapt to child custody, new girlfriends and/or boyfriends, or simply something other than the nuclear family.

I’m getting carried away on this tangent.  You get the idea.  The definition of “home” is far more of a fluid reality than a fixed concept.

For much of the past year, I’ve been allowing myself to enjoy the idea of living on the road.  Buy an RV, somehow equip it with mobile Wi-Fi, and wander the land, finding odd writing jobs that pay me just enough to fill my tank and my fridge, wash my body and my clothes, and otherwise allow me to be free.

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I’ve also daydreamed about my actual stated goal: getting an apartment for myself in a city that’s central to my networks (Mississauga, in this case), a creative space of my own that is also cheap enough that I can bounce on a moment’s notice if I, say, want to travel.  Again, I would remain free from attachment to a place, while always being two hours away at most from my closest friends and family.

I’m not fully attached to either option.  I’m not entirely committed, either.  What I’m truly present to today is that who I live near, or live with, is what will compel me to inspired action.  For four years, I’ve been “homeless” inside the centre of my being, off on a great adventure of post-marital invention that is now entering its grandest state yet.  As I wrote in my last entry, whoever I find that shows up naturally along this path will most likely determine where I live.

In the back of my mind, I guess that’s why I am remaining flexible about getting out on my own, about not setting down permanent roots anywhere in particular.  As long as my living space provides the context and the instruments I need to create a life I love, the only trump card is right now in the hands of the woman I will meet along the way who changes the trajectory of the game play.

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Taken all together – the possibilities I am living into now, the woman I will meet, the tools and contexts I need to do what I want – “home” is a non-local phenomenon, not any one place, but a feeling that can exist anywhere, that lives in the air of the present moment.  I’ve yet to find one place other than my family’s home that is itself a compelling reason to stay.  I’ve yet to meet the one person who will determine that place for me, but I will.  When that happens, home will transform these ruinous old ideas of where I belong, just like the redbricks in Detroit, Buffalo, and Hamilton, just like the relics of Rome and Khmer.

When it happens, I will transform into the promise of love and belonging, and I will finally be at home in one place, rather than many.

On Being Single and Having Power

It’s funny.  Seeing the photos and headlines from World Pride Week in Toronto, I – a straight male who’s as conventional as they come –  find my thoughts drifting back to love, singlehood, marriage, and the journey I’ve had over the past 4.5 years.

Right now, in Toronto, there are literally tens of thousands of people from around the world celebrating their authentic selves and fighting for their freedom and power to love who they want.  Meanwhile, I’m here, forty minutes away,  present to the reality that one of my biggest obstacles to finding a relationship is fear of losing the power I’ve acquired from being single.

 

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The reality for me is that four-and-a-half years out of the end of my marriage, I have not been in a single romantic relationship.  I’ve not had a girlfriend.  Not one.  I’ve dated, had simple and complicated experiences with women I’ve met, but almost all of it’s been a sideshow to the greater spectacle that has been the ongoing work on Jody Aberdeen 4.0.

The thing is, as much as I have these feelings of longing for intimate connections with a woman, I’m becoming present to the fact they’re really no different than any other natural longings that crop up from time to time: hunger, thirst, rest, et cetera.

It really is only natural to want social connection of some sort, regardless of how that connection manifests.   And it’s also true that a relationship can also be a huge distraction from bigger things that I could be (and am) doing with my time and energy.  The main difference between this need and the others is that I won’t actually die if I don’t have this one met.

When Jody 3.0 was released  four-and-a-half years ago, there was one dominant fear: that I’d be alone forever, and I wouldn’t be able to take it.  I’m still not entirely comfortable with being alone at times – again, same way I can’t quite stay on a diet or go all night without getting drowsy – but I’m not terrified of it any more.  In fact, I welcome it at times because I get to re-charge, to try out new things without looking over my shoulder for the silent or loud judgements of other people.

Then I thought I was ready, over the hurt, and I dated here and there for a time, but they didn’t go anywhere.  There was something not quite there, a level of commitment to the possibility of an actual relationship that is a prerequisite to any intimate experience.  I haven’t been on an actual date in a year now.  I’ve only been on a handful of them since becoming single in 2010.  A lot of that has been because of fear of being hurt again, but stepping out of that, I find now that I care more about having the access to the ability to start a relationship than actually having the relationship.

 

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Think about it.  If you’re like me and you haven’t dated a lot, or you’re just bad at it, or otherwise not like the people we know in our lives who can find a mate the same way you and I can just pick up a carton of eggs at the grocery store, having the access to the ability is something that matters a great deal. We want to feel that it really is the case that “I can do that, I choose not to”  I want my bachelorhood to be a choice, not that I’m alone because I suck at talking to women I’m attracted to.

On top of that, I don’t want to distract myself with making finding a girlfriend a main goal.  I have too much at stake right now in my writing career, way too much.  The very fact that having a girlfriend and having the life I want show up for me as being in conflict says a lot about why, despite my confidence of the past few months, I don’t go up to women to talk as much, even if they catch my attention.  I just want to know I have the option, at any time, to just get dressed up, go out with the lads to a place with a lot of ladies, and strike up a conversation from a place of authentic power that could lead to something bigger.  I just want the access.

Or could this just be fear of hurt manifesting itself as practicality?

In any case, the main thing for me these days is that whoever I meet needs to be someone along the path I’m walking towards the goal I set myself.  Any girl who appears in my line of sight who meets my twenty criteria (yes, I have a list: what else could you expect from the author of “Convergence”?) needs to somehow contribute to that greater version of my life.  On the flip side, from her perspective, I’d also have some utility to whatever she has going on for herself.  As unromantic as it may sound, we should be useful to each other.  Otherwise, we will diminish each other.

Anyway, I suppose this is just a way of emptying my head so that tomorrow, when I do head back out in the world to build the future I’m creating for myself, I won’t get stuck in my head with all of these limiting thoughts if I do see someone that catches my interest.  This way, I can actually have a conversation and see what opens up beyond her just having a pretty face.

And for those thousands, forty minutes away to the north east, who are finding power, expression, and freedom in love, I wish them the best, and hope that for myself, I will find love that will empower me in much the same way. twinflame1

The Sweetness of Writing Nothing

I feel like writing something….anything, and to be seen writing it. Unfortunately, Starbucks is closed and I’m in my sleeping clothes, so the most I can show you at this late hour are my words.

I suppose I could go to Denny’s, but that would require changing. I suppose I could go to Denny’s as is, but trust me, you do NOT want me out in these short shorts. They’re built for comfort, not style. You want to see that much leg skin in the Brampton area at 12:31am on a Sunday-into-Monday, go to the Airport Strip. At least those legs tend to be shaved.

Er, I mean, I’m assuming they are. I’ve never been to the Airport Strip. Seriously.  For real.

Yeah….where was I?  Right. The writing part.

I’ve gotten so used to prescriptive writing on this blog that I forget that sometimes, people don’t always want to get advice. They’re just curious about what I have to say this time around, about anything. This whole idea of giving blogs and writing a purpose – really, giving anything a purpose – is more of the business side talking, a product of aligning oneself with a results-oriented culture.

Nearly two months ago, I sat down with MoMondays founder Michel Neray, just ’cause, just for coffee. The conversation turned into an idea for a blog entry about precisely this topic, one I’ve yet to complete, partly because afterwards, I decided there had to be a grand purpose to it. I’ve yet still to carve out time to make it happen and re-create the topic, and for that reason, it may not happen, because the idea itself emerged from a completely purposeless meeting. We just wanted to have coffee and chat, so having to purposefully develop an idea that was born for no reason whatsoever melts my brain a little. For now, we’ll just have to live with the reality of this tasty paradox floating around the ether.

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Recently, I re-watched “Eat Pray Love”, and the film covers that same idea: “dolce far niente”. “The sweetness of doing nothing”. All
sarcastic, smart-assed remarks about Italy’s economic powerhouse status aside, this is a way of living that we are losing more and more in North America, and we could sorely use from time to time.

Even “writing for nothing” is something that’s not quite fashionable, especially when blogging is concerned. Everyone’s worried about SEO. Everyone’s worried about word count limits, short attention spans, target audiences, etc..

When we’re wearing our businessman/woman hats, of course we should be concerned with those things. But what about just writing once in a while just to be seen by the people we already have, just for the simple validation that someone is reading our words and thus getting an insight into our souls?

The other day, I had a Facebook rant after a stupid argument with a loved one that in the end, was for nothing because the loved one in question and I reconnected after a couple of days and squared up with each other. People kindly offered me feedback, among them, my Landmark Self- Expression and Leadership Program leader Kara, who offered me this bit of advice. She said that I didn’t show up as powerful in that moment, and that I am responsible for my communication. And she’s absolutely right, my Facebook rants carry far less power and far more drama and acrid humour, depending on the context.

At that moment, though, I’d wanted to be seen for all the turmoil I was going through. Why that mattered, I have no idea.

Well, actually, no, I do have an idea. It matters because I’m a human being, and I crave the same basic level of intimate connection that almost every other human being requires to thrive in life. A girlfriend, priest, therapist, or a friend or relative could perform this function of “insight” (literally, seeing inside), but in that moment, I had no such person available to me. I could have just written it on a piece of paper, as my “Artist’s Way” book taught me to do, but that didn’t suffice. In that moment, I just wanted human connection, and social media offered it to me.

I suppose that’s a big reason why I’m writing this out tonight. Someone’s going to read this, I’m sure. Doesn’t matter who, but someone, and someone who knows me, at that.

Louis CK would probably have my ass for this post for that reason.

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The guy’s insightful as hell, as many comedians are. That’s why they make us laugh: it’s the truth that the expose that we’d rather not talk about. Louis is deep, though.

In this clip from Conan O’Brien, he talks about why he hates cell phones, and at one point, he says words to this effect: we use technology to stave off those little moments of sadness, those feelings of being alone, or that life is empty and meaningless. The end result, he says, is that “You never feel completely sad or completely happy, you just feel “kinda satisfied” with your products’, and then you die.”

On the other hand, if you just let these little sadnesses wash over you, they tend to be replaced by happy feelings, and a deeper, more profound presence to life and the now. All we have to do is just not check Facebook on our phones. Or write out meaningless blog entries, I suppose.

(And if you watched the clip, yes, I vastly exaggerated Louie’s words back there, but you get the idea).

That’s as good enough a place to stop as any. Thanks for reading, if you’ve stuck it out this far. This is where I’m at this Sunday night.

I have a lot happening, a number of big changes that I’ll be bringing about consciously, in my own life. They all require Olympic-scale focus and performance on my part to accomplish.

Every now and then, though, I want to make sure I just write because I feel like it, because some part of my spirit finds replenishment in the sweetness of doing nothing, in feeling deeply, and experiencing the joy that lies on the other side of temporary aloneness.

Night y’all.

Loss Aversion

Most mornings, after a restful sleep, I wake up and meditate for ten to fifteen minutes, calming my mind before it starts spinning up with the ideas, opinions, schedules, and tasks of the day, the ego defenses that hide my vulnerabilities under a mask of socially-acceptable bravado. Sometimes, like this morning, like the past few mornings, I wake up with my mind at full power, because I never quite fully got to sleep.

Last night, I dreamed briefly about my late grandmother, who passed in October.  Fittingly for me, it was a science-fictional dream: my family had deliberately gone back in time a few years to a New Year’s Eve party when my Grandma was still mourning the passing of her husband, my Grandpa.   I remember seeing her, knowing she was now gone in my “now”, and gave her a hug, out of the blue, no explanation.

The subconscious continues to feel loss even when the conscious mind has moved onto other things.  Whenever those feelings creep to the surface, though, they tend to manifest not as grief or sadness at past losses, but at the anxiety of losing people, stability, prosperity in the future.

Loss aversion affects my behavior, more than I want to think.

skull“Fight Club” author Chuck Palahniuk’s statement “it’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything” used to give me great hope, since it meant that maybe experiencing one of my greatest fears – of losing all my money, losing people I love, of finding my dream girl and then losing her – would also be a form of liberation.  That’s not how it feels in my waking life, not really.  Then again, I still have so much and so many people in my life, I suppose I prefer to hide out in pretending that what I already have will last forever.  Nothing does.

Recently, prompted by a friend’s illness, I found myself reflecting on mortality so I could learn how to be supportive, and what I found in that searching was that death denial is Western culture’s way of avoiding responsibility for full living.  We hide from death.  Much of that is due to empirical science, which for all of its benefits is still limited to experiences contained in the five senses, and to what has already been gathered.

An empirical culture believes that there is truly nothing that lingers of us afterwards, and that generates a collective fear that other, more “magical” or “spiritual” cultures do not experience.  In typical Western fashion, we hide from the reality of death and dying.

We cloak it in a youth-worshipping fashion and entertainment culture while we hide our grandparents away in nursing homes, alone, often unvisited.  We bury it in alcohol and drug addiction, in reality TV and the pursuit of material gains.

In medicine, we train doctors to view death as the ultimate failure, a  defeat, even when the pain caused by keeping someone alive is preferable to allowing them to die deliberately, absent suffering.

We do all of this because we don’t want to think about the consequences of what happens afterwards. We don’t want to face the reality that oblivion is one possible destiny, and the only one that the science that has re-made our civilization can say is certain.

Fear of loss. What’s more frightening than the idea that I won’t exist as I am when my body stops working?  Old philosophical conundrums, mind-body-soul problems.  I’m not only my body.  People have lost limbs without losing corresponding parts of their identities.

Taking the question away from intellect and into the mystical doesn’t satisfy reason, because it is, by definition, outside of reason, but it may satisfy me.  This is what Rumi did.  This is what Meister Eckhart did, William Blake, Whitman.  Their ecstatic poetry showcases a world both beyond this one and intertwined with it, in which nothing and no one is ever lost….but that doesn’t help us while we’re in these measurable bodies.

What if you were aware of the limited time frame of every person you met as you were talking to them?  What if you went into every business venture, every old reunion, with the certainty of your own death at the forefront of your awareness?  Your conversations would go very differently.

In my exploration a few weeks ago, the most courageous words that I heard came from a Canadian documentary film called “Griefwalker”, centered around palliative counselor Stephen Jenkinson, who said words to this effect:  “The dying have a job to do, and that is to set the table that will be spilled upon the moment of death, and the storytelling that ensues: that’s the feast”.

The dying have a job to do for the friends, family, and children they leave behind: that is, to show them how to die well.

In ultimate reality, we are all dying. We will all be “lost”, as individuals, as bodily creatures.  That means that the job Bucket-Listof dying well falls to all of us, because the flipside to showing everyone how to die well is that we also show them how to truly live.  That means living deeply, not just indulging in the superficial, champagne-and-bling sideshow that we think is “truly living”, which only distracts us further from our connections and therefore responsibilities to the world, to each other.  I mean living in connection, adding to the quality of life around you.

And any feeling of loss aversion – the kind of thing that keeps me from taking the risk of leaving behind security in order to see what is possible in my life if I just did “that” thing I’ve always wanted to do, or if I just said what I wanted to say to someone I loved or hated or feared – becomes empty and meaningless in the context of “I’m already always dying”.

If I die broke and homeless or surrounded by millions, I’m still dead. The material results don’t matter. Only two things matter, really: the knowledge that I took my best goddamn shot at living fully the way that I wanted to live; and that I expressed everything that I wanted to say to the people I loved while I was still alive, that I added to life.

As my ego persona starts to wake up as I finish these words, as I start to want to be light-hearted and talk about different things for the sake of easy conversation with my friends and co-workers, I want to end with one other excerpt from “Griefwalker”, in the hope that maybe something of it will carry into the experience of my day today:

“What about the people who say “I’m happy to be alive because I see that flower or that beautiful morning sun”?”

“And where does your capacity to see the flower come from? Until your ability to see the flower is rooted in the fact that it won’t always be there, and neither will you, how much of the flower do you see?”1008845_10100695787359077_353945135_o

Why I Write: “My Writing Process”

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Evidently, my friend and fellow author Michael Michaud was a great fan of tag when he was in grade school, because I find myself suddenly “it” for this assignment.

In truth, it couldn’t have come at a more serendipitous time, so to Michael, I’d like to say two things: “Thank you” and, “Are there tag backs?”

(I’m going to assume there are no tag backs, so at least two more scribblers will soon find themselves on the hunt very shortly…)

WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON?

Finishing what I start.  That’s what I’m doing these days, in a very broad sense.  In a more specific sense, I am completing a concept I began three years ago, a metaphysical drama called “Overlife”.  More than my first book, a sci-fi romance called “Convergence”, this one has forced me to grow and learn in order to get it to the point where I can say that completion is a possibility.  I’ve restarted it six or seven times now.  The current and final edition is also a partial merger of another idea I had that never moved with any velocity: a coming of age story featuring a character named Aelia, modeled after someone I know in real life who merits her own personage in print.

Through the endless cha-cha of two steps-forward, one step back in developing this story, I’ve come to understand what Thomas Edison famously grasped: I didn’t have seven failed attempts to finish the novel, I just found seven ways that didn’t work.  Accepting that has done wonders for my self-esteem, helping me to drop the guilt story about how it should have been done and just get it done.

HOW DOES YOUR WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS OF ITS GENRE?

Before you go on, go freshen up your coffee.  This will be something of a long read.

Ready?  All right, here we go.

Esoterica fascinates me to no end.  Secret societies, alternate histories, UFOs, reincarnation, the afterlife: that kind of thing.  And I prefer to have a scientific explanation for things: if you come up to me and say you saw a flying saucer, my way of listening to you would be based on making sure you weren’t tripping on balls or developing cataracts.   “Overlife” is a way of reconciling the irreconcilable in my head.  I’m developing a science of the soul.  And I’m doing it in as ordinary a language and as relatable a setting as possible.

Non-science fiction and fantasy fans should get something out of my book.  Genre fans already get it: they dig big concepts, they’re always in that headspace.  I want a literary version of TV shows like LOST or Fringe, where you get very real human dramas taking place within the framework of an extraordinary, fantastical backdrop.  You know, something to give your brain a well-needed entropy break from all those hours of Real Housewives and pretty much all of FOX News.

“Overlife” is a story about a group of dead humans who call themselves the Risen: evolved spirits who maintain the form of the very last body they occupied, and who do not get pulled back into the cycle of reincarnation.  The very last life before Rising is usually tumultuous, as the man or woman spends much of his time trying to balance living like a normal person against the intense feelings and urges, impulses, crises, and anxieties of Rising.

On top of that, the pre-Risen tend to attract other pre-Risen into their lives, which just amplifies the intensity of their evolution and, in some cases, accelerates their time to die.  Once released, the Risen have dramatic powers: travel at the speed of thought, ability to move through solid objects, the subtle manipulation over physical laws.  And they can walk among the living for limited periods of time, though excessive exposure will cause them to “harden” back into their earthly forms, making them vulnerable to death and reincarnation once again.

All the while, a crisis is unfolding on the planet at the time that only a few of the living know about that threatens living and Risen alike, for both require the continued existence of planet Earth to survive.

The main drama is a four-way battle of wits set to the beat of a ticking clock as the world rushes to an unexpected ending.  The first takes place between Jacob Ruiz, a pre-Risen Internet entrepreneur who finds himself obsessed with Aelia Fiametta, a writer and painter who is herself struggling with the process of Rising.  The second is between Ethan Lee, a loyalist to the Management, the group of Risen who oversee all the new souls, and Octavia Wood, a dead friend of Jacob and Aelia and a rebel who is aligned with the forces blamed for creating the planetary crisis.

When Ethan seduces Aelia to keep her in his sphere of control, Octavia is forced to reveal herself to Jacob and the greater scheme of what is happening.  How Jacob reacts to this news and Aelia’s seduction is……something you’ll just have to read in the completed book when it’s out.

WHY DO YOU WRITE WHAT YOU DO?

cartoonjodyI like a balance of action and visuality with deep meaning and using regular person language.  As flowery as I may get sometimes, I’m not a lit-snob.  I’ve barely read any of the classics, and that’s not to say I don’t appreciate them, but my focus is just on creating stories and characters that I can relate to based in today’s world.  Maybe this comes from spending most of my twenties reading Stephen King and a lot of New Age non-fiction: simple language that carries intricate meanings and grand visions as much as anything that appears on an English course syllabus in university.  And it’s popular with the mass markets.

Also, going back to the esoterica for a moment, I also write what I do because, despite my preference for evidence, something in my gut tells me that the supernatural forces that I describe do indeed exist in real life.  This kind of writing makes me experience my own world as a far bigger place than what usually shows up during the 9 to 5 drudgery. If my words help the world show up for someone else as a far more fascinating place than they expected, mission accomplished.

HOW DOES YOUR WRITING PROCESS WORK?

Getting started is my biggest challenge.  Something like a Newtonian law applies to me getting those first words down on the screen, or even getting my ass in the chair.  Once I start,  though,  I don’t stop until the scene is done.

I write scene-by-scene, sometimes chapter by chapter, in little intense bursts, and then I stop.  I don’t outline because I like the not-knowing of where things will lead.  That being said, I do have an idea of three or four main points that the storyline has to hit so I don’t meander too far into digression.

I also can’t always write at home. I am indeed that guy you see at Starbucks with his laptop and a venti, pounding away at his hapless keyboard.  The energy of people in motion and the idea that I went out of my way to come here to write keep  me going.  And I need music: usually, I keep a YouTube window open so I can play the songs that I don’t feel like buying at that moment, but the headphones are almost always in.  That’s when I get the wordflow.

WHO’S IT?

Lucianna LiSacchi is a prolific writer and a dear friend of mine who has just finished her second novel, the coming-of-age drama “Palladia”.  She’s also the author of the erotic drama “Mommy’s Little Playgroup”, and has a science fiction concept named “Passageways” that is next in the queue.    Being fresh off the completion of a manuscript, I’m sure Luci-loo will have a lot to say about where she has been and how she works.

Amanda Lee is another great friend of mine who has just finished her debut novel “November Rain” and also boasts one of the most successful, insightful blogs I’ve seen.  It’s been a while since we’ve really chatted, so I’m curious to see what she comes up with.

Finally, Carrie Bailey, I’m sure, is chomping at the bit to say a few words about her process, having been one of my compatriots in the sci-fi genre and love of caffeine.  After spending the last year on the other side of the planet, I’d love to see how her perspective has changed since our last chats seemingly so long ago.

Guess what, ladies? Tag! You’re all it! (And no tag backs).

 

Obituary: Death of a Wordslinger

150790_10100311502658697_518129124_nHere Lies Jody Aberdeen

And by “here”, we refer to “the planet”.  We’re a little non-specific about the actual spot.  Nor can we say conclusively that he is, in fact, lying down.

No one really knows where Jody’s remains are because no one can or ever will be able to confirm his death as a physical reality.  We only know because he made a point of saying a conscious goodbye to all who knew him while he was still alive.  His last confirmed age was 70.  It gets fuzzy from there.

Not long into his last verifiable year, Jody was diagnosed with a condition common to most men his age which would have seen him spend the end of his days in treatment and seclusion.  While he was still able to travel, Jody decided to gather together all those he loved still on this side of life for one last grand weekend together.  During that last retreat, Jody met with each person gathered, said everything he needed to say, whether those words were beautiful, ugly, or anywhere in between, and opened the space for them to speak their peace.  In so doing, Jody opened a space for completion of his life.

After all had been said, after the last person had said and heard the last word, Jody stole away, unseen, in the middle of the night before the great dinner gala he had planned for those left behind.  Unremarked by anyone who knew him best, Jody boarded the sail boat he’d bought after completing his navigator’s class, and set a course over the Pacific.

Not everyone is clear where he got the idea from, but sources close to him say it was most likely from an old TV show he used to love in the mid 1990s.

tahiti1Jody’s goal was Tahiti, the fulfilment of an old gambit he had made for himself when he turned 30.  If ocean or storm claimed him in transit, it would be a good death.  If he made it and lived out his days surrounded by beaches, rum drinks, and naked French Tahitian women, it would be a better death.

Either option was preferable to the fate that his doctors would have had Jody choose: eventually being found cold in a puddle of his own waste, stuck in a hospital or his own empty house in the country.  As Jody himself once pointed out to detractors of his plan, “Naked Tahitian women, guys.  What else do I need to explain?”

Jody is survived by multitudes.  On the side of the living, he leaves behind three children, eight grandchildren, a niece and a nephew, and at least one alleged love child whose ancestry was never confirmed by DNA testing, but it makes for a more interesting story.

Most importantly though, are the thousands of lives that Jody made a personal point to touch and transform starting back at the age of 33.  He famously resolved to have powerful conversations with at least five people per week that would leave them moved and inspired to make something special out of their lives, to take a leap where they feared risk, to forgive themselves for bad things that happened in their past, and to see the greater side of themselves that he saw.  More than a few prominent figures showed up at the Last Retreat, men and women who traced the trajectories of their extraordinary lives back to one or two conversations they’d had with Jody.

While we can never know for sure how Jody feels about that, we can imagine it would give him great satisfaction to know he’d made a difference, however small.  Regardless of his other achievements – several novels that touched millions of people, some tremendous charitable projects, and his own personal life with his family – Jody often said that touching those lives was the best thing he could do outside his own writing.

On the other side of life, Jody rejoins his loving parents, his grandparents, the loves of his life, and several of his closest friends who crossed the veil before him.  Jody never adopted a religion, and instead continued along his own belief in magic and faith that science would catch up with spirituality, right up until the end of his days.

Jody Aberdeen lived with passion, lived fully-expressed and free, and created a powerful, fulfilling, and happy life for himself and everyone he was grateful to have as a loved one in his life.  He will be missed, and missed badly, by those he left behind.

(If he is indeed reading this beneath the swaying Polynesian palms, Jody, know that you did make the difference for many lives.  We won’t forget you.)

carpe-diem-et-memento-mori

Rant: Magic, Science, Religion

alchemy1 Brain is full once again this morning.

I want to talk about science, magic, and religion.

Think about your group of friends and associates, your family.  If you’re fortunate, you’re likely surrounded by diversity: different races, different jobs, different geographies, different beliefs.  I am one such lucky person, and as Utopian as it may sound, one of my underlying wishes is that I can put everyone I know in a single ballroom one day and have them all get along without any conflict.

Utopian, you might have already concluded, is a word I use with great irony in this context.

The reality is that difference and conflict are omnipresent and entangled, and in some ways, that can be a good thing. Most people overlap:  many scientists are religious, or hold some kind of magical belief.  At the extremes, however, things literally start getting thrown around at each other.  That’s what I want to talk about: the extremists of the camps.

As with all generalizations, no individual falls complete in one or the other, so this is as much about my way of seeing them as it is about the people themselves.  Keep that in mind.

I guess my main preoccupation is with the science folks, because I am (mostly) one of them.  I prefer to believe in measurable results that anyone can replicate, regardless of what they may or may not imagine to be real. I don’t believe in the existence of an individualized deity watching over us and doling out rewards and punishment.  Like many of my self-declared agnostic and atheist friends, I was raised in religion. I come from a fairly strong Presbyterian family, and, being Trinidadian, was also exposed to elements of Islam and Hinduism.

As it showed up for me, I found Christianity was too limiting, full of hypocrisy in practice and in principle, and utterly incomplete.  The others didn’t seem too appealing to me, either, so I left religion as a teenager to explore other paradigms.  Though I never developed the type of persecution complex that other agnostics have, I have learned, with significant difficulty, that my choices don’t have to be everyone’s choices.  Live and let live.

I believe that science, as a practice, gives us access to consensus results in ultimate reality unlike any other system.  And I also believe that can science easily become a substitute religion among its advocates who grew up in oppressive religious environments as opposed to nurturing ones.

We internalize patterns as children.  Whatever we’re immersed in over time, we adopt as part of our behaviour.  Odds are, if you were raised by strongly religious parents in a faith that advocates proselytization, you were taught that non-believers were “evil” or “sinful”.  You were taught that certain signs of progress in greater society outside your religious community – reproductive rights for women, gay marriage rights, even interracial relationships – were against the will of God.  You may have been raised into certain practices – no meat on Fridays, no pork, fasting at various times, tithing – that showed up for you as oppressive.

atomSo one day, you rebelled against it, consciously, and when you were finally out on your own, you made another conscious choice to live without religion in your life.

However, as liberating as that is, you may have also internalized certain patterns of behaviour and judgement from that time that you now practice.

To be sure, much of the “scientism” that appears on the Internet is a reaction to the downright frightening fundamentalist revival embodied in such movements as the Tea Party, the consistent campaign here at home by the Harper government to muzzle scientific data on climate change, and the continued and scary extremism that we see in conflicts abroad.

And scientifically-minded people do have historical precedent for anxiety:  when the Late Roman Empire fell, European civilization went from a literate, scientific, and educated culture to a deeply superstitious and uneducated patchwork within two generations.   It’s very easy to lose everything that we have created, and the simplistic notions of afterlife reward in exchange for the present-day violence advocated by the extremists of organized religion is all too seductive for many people who are looking for meaning.

So science advocates fight back, by celebrating science itself and attacking non-believers.  They do this because in that moment, they perceive a threat.  However, in that moment, they are no longer being scientists: they are being foot soldiers for ideology.  And many of them, especially the ones who once rebelled against the religious constraints of the previous generation, can’t see their own proselytization for what it is.

And that’s where they lose integrity with science. That’s not what science is about.

Science is a constructed system of practice designed to produce evidence based results through experimentation, repetition, and consensus.  It is absent passion, absent celebration and condemnation. It simply is.  Hypothesis, methodology, experimentation, results, confirmation or rejection, peer evaluation.  Evidence doesn’t fit the theory, then you can choose a different method and keep testing, or develop a new theory.  There is no inherent meaning in science.  Meaning is subjective: science stands objectively.

To use science as a club against religious people or secular spiritual individuals who like motivational speakers and naturopathic practices is to miss the point of what science is about. Science is a made up concept just as much as”God: a system of thought created by humans to produce a result. That’s it. Science itself is not real.  Only its results are “real”, and worth celebrating.

There is one interesting component to “scientism”, though:  for some people, science can be considered a form of magical thinking in itself.  Ask any person who claims to believe in science about the methods used by scientists, and odds are, they’ll have no idea how a result produced by science came about: they just take it on faith that the scientists did their jobs properly.  After all, the result is there, right?

It’s an old philosophical question:  do I really  know Australia exists if I’ve never seen it with my own eyes?  chi rhoAt some point, faith re-inserts itself into the equation – faith that the scientists are doing their work properly – which means that science appears to many people as a mysterious practice that somehow produces a result.  Within a field of scientific study, anyone who isn’t in the practice is called a “lay person”.   That word finds similar origins to the Church’s term “laity”, referring to all those outside the clergy.  Something to chew on.

I said before I was “mostly” scientific.  That’s because I also prefer “magic”. Arthur C. Clarke famously said that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.  Magic shows up for me in my belief in non-religious forces in the Universe that I’ve experienced in my reality, but that science is only now beginning to verify in ultimate reality.  The difference between a pure scientist and a magician is that the scientist will wait until sufficient evidence builds to declare something “real”: the magician takes the leap of faith.

I like the example of nuclear fusion:  the principles were only discovered in the past 150 years or so.  We now know that the sun operates via nuclear fusion of hydrogen atoms into helium.  However, for all of those years before we understood the science behind it, does that mean the sun didn’t shine?  Of course not.  Similarly, there are forces now used everyday – electricity, magnetism – that were once considered mystical.  And there are other forces that most scientists currently say do not exist – the Law of Attraction, a universal consciousness, manifestation – that I’ve experienced first-hand, and many others have as well.

A magician is someone who says “I’ve experienced this, I’ve seen this, and I know this is possible, even if no one else sees or experiences this.  I won’t wait for outside authority to tell me it’s real or unreal. I’m going to work with it and see what happens”.   A magician follows his own methodology, the difference between a shaman and a priest.  My faith is that science will catch up to magic, at which point magic will simply become another science.

I’m not a pure magician.  I run into my own skepticism and doubt, but I am open to exploration.  And I know others who are religious believers in the moderate sense, true to their own faiths and principles, sharing, but not imposing on others.  I know many magicians, too, who would consider themselves “Christian”, “Muslim”, “Buddhist”, “Hindu”, or devotees of other established faiths. Many of them are scientists themselves.

The beauty of the diversity of people that I know, and that you know, is that we can take what works for ourselves from each other, and leave the rest to go about their days in peace.

And now my brain is empty on this topic.  Thank you, as always, for indulging.  I hope this serves your day in some positive way.

mindbodyspirit1

The Neverending Waiting Game

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To my new readers, welcome!  Here’s to these words making even a tiny difference in the quality of your lives.

Today, I’ve got to use this blog for its original purpose: catharsis.  Writing out the insights on a challenge I’m facing and then putting it out into the world opens up a possibility for a breakthrough for someone else. 

Today’s challenge?  The Neverending Waiting Game.

Many of us are in this game.  Waiting for perfect conditions to take some big action that we say we want to take.  It doesn’t matter what the conditions are or in which area – being debt free before taking a trip, being the right weight or having the right income or living space before going into dating, waiting until some big weekend dinner and drinks night is complete before starting a healthier diet – it’s the waiting that kills.

How many of us have been waiting for spring weather to appear in order to be “happy” with our day?

Shawn Achor, positive psychologist and author of “The Happiness Advantage”, notes that there is a very real re-wiring of the brain’s neural make-up when it comes to “success” and “happiness”: we tend to change the goal posts of what “success” is whenever we achieve it, so we never quite get there.  If “happiness” requires the presence of “success”, however we define it, in our reality, then our brain never acquires the state, and thus we are never completely “happy”.  Perpetually “waiting” for optimal conditions is one symptom of that effect.

In my work with Landmark, I’m experiencing first-hand the impact of my “waiting”, and this type of discovery isn’t necessarily a cause for celebration or grief: it’s just stating what is.  My experience of “waiting” is such an ingrained habit that it takes repeated actions right now to re-program what, in hindsight, has been decades of conditioning ever since I was a kid. It’s a pattern inherited from my parents, who are competent, analytical, and particular individuals who prefer to wait for optimal conditions in every aspect before making a change.  They have their stories for that, I’m sure, and even though a parent’s stories are not their children’s’, that doesn’t stop parents from building them into their kids by accident, just by being themselves.

I digress.  The “Be-Do-Have” paradigm is old knowledge to this self-help junkie – everyone from Deepak Chopra to Bob Proctor to Neale Donald Walsch has covered it – but as with everything, a principle that is not practiced is useless: it’s just a “cool to think about” insight.  Be the way you envision, then do the things that get you the results you want to have.  

The breakthrough I had this morning was when I decided to take one action I’ve been putting off: meditating right out of bed, something I haven’t done all throughout the winter? Why?  Because it’s cold in my bedroom at night!  I was waiting for warmer weather to make it easier for me to get out of bed. 

In the meditation, nothing special happened.  That’s not what meditation is always about: it’s simply taking a few moments out of one’s day to focus on now.  It felt great.  And it killed the “waiting”.

Most importantly, for this little rant, it brought me an awareness that I was not, in that moment, actively “being” the way I envision that I want to “be” in the future possibility that I’ve created for myself.  More to the point: I haven’t been living into that future.  Instead, I’ve been waiting for my outstanding debts to be paid before launching a full effort into Liberati Press, which right now occupies only a third of my time and attention, compared to my full time job. I’ve been waiting to lose my midsection fat before launching into dating with confidence (although that’s just one reason).  

I’ve been waiting for a lot of things, but “waiting” isn’t “creating”.  It isn’t “living”.  “Waiting” is “waiting”, and if I let it happen, I’ll always be waiting.

Now, this doesn’t mean you don’t pay your debts, or lose weight, or do all those practical necessities that life demands of us in order to function with integrity.  It just means you do those things AND you live into whatever it is you’re creating for yourself: a healthy body, a thriving business, a romantic relationship.  If you’re busy, it means you create time for that way of being, using whatever tools in the present now – a scheduled, a reminder, an accountability partner or mastermind group – to keep everything in balance (including time out for yourself, which I haven’t quite learned).  

I used to visualize all the time in my meditation: what the future was, what I could become, what I could create.  By stopping the meditation out of fear of getting my ass out of bed in the cold winter mornings, I also stopped living into my possibilities.  The solution, then, is to re-instate the practice, starting today, which I’ve done.  

Does this mean I will be doing this consistently every day from now until forever?  Absolutely not. I have no idea what’s going to happen tomorrow or weeks from now: all I know for sure is my stand that I create for that possibility right now, and that I can choose to live into that..  Integrity isn’t necessarily a moral judgement, even though we use it as one in our culture’s language.  Integrity is also the make-up of a support structure: take out the spokes of a bicycle wheel, and the wheel doesn’t become “evil” or “Immoral”: it just stops doing what it was designed to do.  The solution in the face of a breakdown? Stop feeling guilty for losing integrity and restore integrity by just keeping going.  Get back on the bike.

I’m off to work now.  Even that “day job” work is something I enjoy, and is part of the possibility I’m living into if I decide it to be. Writing insights isn’t the same as taking action in real life, but having done that in this area, I want to share the insight with others, with you, in the hopes that maybe there’s something here for you.

What’s something that you’re waiting to do?  What’s stopping you from doing it today?  

M.A.Sc. (Life)

So what am I up to?  Many things.  One thing.

You know how you tend to have those two or three cyclical conversations with people, the kind that you have every few weeks or months that are all about the same thing?  One of mine is all about “Jody, you’re doing too much.  You need to focus on one or two things.”  Every few months, someone close to me will say this to me.

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I’ve heard the observation – that I’m spread too thin, that I leave a lot of things unfinished or always in progress, that this pace will drain my energy – and I’ve experienced some real consequences from that kind of activity, mostly in terms of burnout and dejection.  Earlier this week, I actually did burn out, physically.  I was tired after an intense weekend seminar course in Toronto and, combined with Daylights Savings Time kicking in again, my body decided to go on strike and take me out of the game for one morning before work.  That’s my story.

I had the burnout, but not the dejection.  In fact, I haven’t been nearly this energized, mentally and spiritually, in a very long time, and in terms of the particular flavour of this energy, I’ve never felt this way before.

So what all am I doing?  First, I work in logistics as a bilingual specialist, Monday to Friday, full days with a bit of overtime here and there.  I go to the gym at least two to three times a week for a good one-and-a-half to two hours per session.  I am taking an online travel writing course through Great Escapes Publishing, adding to my portfolio of writing services.  I work for three hours every Sunday on my novel “Overlife”.  I joined a business networking group that meets on Wednesday mornings with a general aim to help build Liberati Press. Beyond that, I now find myself serving as a life coach for a few individuals here and there as part of my commitment to transform those in my environment, and I’m creating a vibrant dynamic in my own family here at home.

And I’m taking courses at Landmark Toronto, heading downtown every Tuesday night to deepen the distinctions and practices that I acquired both at the Forum and recently at the Advanced Course this past weekend.    In April, I will complete my Seminar series and begin the Self-Expression and Leadership Program (SELP) from Landmark, which will see the creation and execution of a project in the community, and that will last four months.

Yep, I’ve been busy.  But here’s the thing: there’s not a single thing I will drop from this list.  Nothing I’m doing is superfluous as far as I’m concerned, though it’s interesting to hear the feedback from the people in the different parts of my life.  The writers in my life think I should drop Landmark and focus on “Overlife”.  My parents think I should drop Liberati for now and focus on the day job until all of my debts are paid off.  My Landmark friends are relatively new, so they haven’t said anything so far, but I’m sure I’ll get some insights from them as they get to know me better.  Some of my Phidelt brothers have supported my own personal development, but can’t help themselves when it comes to voicing their skepticism on Liberati, Landmark, and even my love of all things Tony Robbins.

I acknowledge and respect everyone for their interest in my success.  I really am lucky to have these great individuals around me and their love and support, but in the end, almost none of them have to live with the consequences of my choices and any lapse in integrity with my own vision.

So I choose everything that I do.  I won’t drop anything. But I can’t remember the last time I was this busy….

Actually, that’s a lie.  There was a time I was this busy with many activities I could have dropped, but didn’t. That was University.

The storytelling part of my brain that likes to create comparisons where they  don’t already exist absolutely loves this concept.  At McMaster, I remember at one point I was living in an apartment with my girlfriend, working on a full course load in History, English, and Political Science, serving as Vice President of a Fraternity chapter, serving as a policy advisor for a political club, writing two weekly columns for the campus newspaper, going to the gym, and working a part-time job on weekends.   And that’s not to mention going to parties, social nights, date nights with my girlfriend, and hangouts with friends.

When you’re in University, very few people will question the fundamentals of how busy you are.  That’s because it’s understood that  if you’re really committed, University requires you to do a lot of things at once that you ordinarily wouldn’t do, or see as a single body of work divided into distinct parts.

Obviously, I’m not in University now, but that doesn’t mean I’m not engaged in higher education.  I’m pursuing a Masters of Arts and Science in my own life.  My life is an Art in the way I create a broad vision for my future from nothing but my imagination, and then live into it now.  My life is a Science in the way I distinguish and action the particular, reliable, and practical methods that create the specific, measurable results that I desire.

landmarktorontocompletionLandmark is at the centre of this curriculum.  I look back on the older entry from not too long ago about my skepticism about the group and chuckle a little bit: that was written by someone who was a much smaller person than the being behind the words you’re reading now. Landmark’s experiential learning practice that forces me to act on the library of personal growth insights that I’ve internalized over the years has proven transformational, and in a remarkably short time.

Landmark has helped me breathe new life into my manuscript “Overlife”, inspired the Manifesto of the Liberati, shown me the possibility that the Great Escapes travel writing course holds, has opened me up to a way of being powerful right now, and has done more for me in two months than nearly all of the self-help I’ve studied in the past nine years.  I could do a whole insightful entry on my experiences at Landmark alone, but that’s for another time.

For now, I consider myself a privileged grad student, happily engaged in the good work of the school of Life, not yet a full master, but well on my way.

When you look at my activities separately, it does seem like a lot, but they are all united by that purpose: creating a life I want to live, and no longer merely waiting for life to adapt to me.

Check back a month from now, if not sooner, for my next update.

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