Mon. Feb. 19, 2018: “Be Kind To Your Mind” #UpbeatAuthors

The topic today is “Be Kind to Your Mind.”

I find that works in multiple parts.

Meditation
The first part has to do with making the time for meditation. Quiet time, to “just sit” and let the detritus of the day drop away is vital to mental health. When I find myself unable to concentrate, it’s usually because I haven’t taken the time to meditate.

I meditate every morning, after my yoga session. I started adding an additional meditation at night, right before bed. It’s helped my sleep patterns. Nights I don’t meditate, I tend to wake up around 1 or 3, my head filled with worries about the past day or the coming day, have trouble falling asleep again, and then struggle the next day. Nights when I stick to my meditation schedule, I can usually sleep through until about 5:30. I usually get up around 5:30 or 6 anyway.

Mindfulness
Studies prove “multi-tasking” is both a myth and detrimental. I’d rather do one thing well than five things half-assed. This is especially true when I write. I need quiet; if I have music on, it’s music without lyrics. I NEVER have TV or a DVD on when I write or edit. I can always tell when a student does that; I can usually even tell which program was on, or what was listened to. It infects the text.

Be kind to your mind by doing one thing at a time and giving it your full attention. You will do it well, you will complete it more quickly, and you might even enjoy it.

Instead of Negative Self-Talk, Positive Action
The other part of being kind to your mind is to stop the negative self-talk. Stop beating yourself up for a thoughtless comment or a mistake. When you make a thoughtless comment or a mistake, apologize and move on. Make sure it’s a genuine apology, without qualifiers. “I’m sorry IF I upset you” is NOT an apology. It’s not taking responsibility. “I’m sorry I upset you” is an apology. No excuses. An attempt to make it right.

“I’m sorry I made a mistake. I will be more careful moving forward.” In most work situations, that suffices. You and your supervisor or co-worker can build on that.

Also, stop qualifying when you say “no.” If someone asks you to do something and you say “no,” you don’t have to explain why, or flounder to come up with an explanation you think will be acceptable to the person you refused. You said “no.” That’s enough. If pushed, just remind that person, “I don’t have to explain. I said no.”

When someone criticizes you or blindsides you, yes, it hurts. It’s upsetting. Admit your feelings, to yourself if not to anyone else. Don’t repress them. “Yes, this person hurt me.” “Yes, I am angry.” Your feelings are your feelings.

Then, break down the feelings. Was the criticism justified? Is it something you want/need to address? Who is this person in your life? Someone important? Someone you need to remain cordial with? Someone who really doesn’t matter (such as an online troll)? Figure out the person’s place in your universe. If necessary, ex-communicate them from it. There’s nothing wrong with ending associations with toxic people.

If it’s justified criticism, and it’s something you need to address, admit your anger and upset, and then figure out why the criticism is justified and what you want to do about it. Do you need to think before you speak? Do you need to adjust your attitude in a certain situation? Are you behaving in a toxic way to others and it’s time to change? Figure it out and then take action.

Once you’ve made a decision and acted on it, you can stop replaying the incident over and over in your mind. Forgive yourself. Forgive the other. Move on and work on living a better life.

New Experiences/Artist Dates
Another way to be kind to your mind is to experience new things. Don’t just go to work and go home and turn on the TV. Read a book by a new-to-you author. Check a DVD out of the library of a type of movie you hardly ever watch. Pull up your local events calendar. Libraries often have programs free to the public. Art galleries have receptions for new shows, free to the public. At least once a week, go out and do something out of your ordinary schedule. As awful as the news is right now, find a trustworthy news source (not just one that reinforces what you already think, but one that shows multiple, well-sourced facets of a situation) and keep up. Let yourself do something fun and silly that you don’t usually do. Take a class. Play miniature golf. Go on a garden tour. Visit the small, local museum you drive by on the way to work. Volunteer at the nature sanctuary to help them put in a butterfly garden. Work in your own garden — without your phone nearby. Just take an hour and work in the garden, focusing on each task you do as though it’s the only task in the world.

Julia Cameron calls this an “Artist Date.” Many of her techniques don’t work for me, but this one does. She suggests doing your Artist Date alone. If you’re constantly surrounded by people, that’s great. It helps you hear your own inner voice and figure out your responses. But for many writers, who spend the bulk of their time alone (or with the myriad of characters that exist in our heads), a mix of solo Artist Dates and Artist Dates with people you don’t see often works better.

Get Rid of the Phrase “Guilty Pleasures”
I do not feel guilt in my pleasures. I don’t care if other people like them or approve of them or laugh at them. As long as they don’t hurt anyone, they are MINE, and I revel in my pleasure.

Keep a Journal
One of the best ways I’m kind to my mind is to keep a journal. Yes, there’s this blog, which talks about my process and how I try to integrate writing and life, and how they influence each other. But I also keep a private, handwritten journal where I am free to say anything. I can be my best self. I can also be my worst self and then work my way back to a better self without inflicting harm on anyone else. I can work out what I really think and feel about things that upset me, and figure out the actions I can take to live a better life, a life that inflicts as little harm as possible on those around me and on the environment.

Integrate
Keeping up the meditation practice WHILE you do these other actions becomes a self-supporting loop. It’s a step toward a more holistic life.

 

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Mon. Jan. 15, 2018: #UpbeatAuthors Balance

Monday, Jan. 15, 2018
Dark Moon

The Mid-Month check-in is over on the Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions site.

This Monday is an #Upbeat Authors post (thank you, Trish Milburn), and it’s about Tips for Balancing Your Life

My best tip: Learn to say no.

Say “no” to anyone and anything that harms your creativity.

Say “no” to anyone who tries to extort or guilt you into doing something you know, in your gut, is the wrong choice for you.

Say “no” to those who expect you to give everything for nothing and who also reciprocate nothing.

The second most important tip is: Put your own creativity first.

That means, you don’t wait until you “have time” for your own writing. You do your own writing BEFORE you do anything for anyone else. Get up earlier; go to bed later.

There will never BE time. You have to make it, steal it, demand it.

We all have twenty-four hours in every day. It’s how we choose to use them that define us.

Third tip: Remove toxic people from your life

Even if you’re related, you owe them nothing. Where appropriate, be honest about attitude and behavioral changes you need for the relationship continue. If they refuse to give you basic respect and human decency, cut them out.

Fourth tip: The time you carve out for yoga and meditation will pay off in productivity and joy elsewhere

Make the time for a regular yoga and/or meditation practice. Taking that time for yourself, for the silence, pays off positively in every area of your life.

Given the chance, most people will take advantage, even if they don’t consciously mean to. You have to set boundaries, hold boundaries, and retain a bit of ruthlessness in order to stay balanced and creative. You don’t have to be cruel to others to stay balanced yourself.

At the beginning, be prepared for people to push back. They’re used to having you at their convenience. You have to train them otherwise.

Published in: on January 15, 2018 at 9:41 am  Comments Off on Mon. Jan. 15, 2018: #UpbeatAuthors Balance  
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Inspiration from Place #UpbeatAuthors

Note: This was a previously-committed to post for the #upbeatauthors group. If you want to read about my response to Hurricane Harvey, it is the post above this one. I am not ignoring the suffering.

Trish Milburn‘s topic for the day is “Places that Inspire”. That covers a lot of ground. I can find ANY place I visit inspiring. I keep detailed travel journals when I go anywhere, and write up the details, especially sensory details. I collect maps and historical information. I collect contact information for chambers of commerce and tourism boards, so when I write about a place, I can go back and get the emotional geography correct.

Because setting is a character in my work (and I teach courses on it), it’s important to me to get the physical and emotional geography of a place correct. I’m pretty good at discerning when an author hasn’t visited a place and hasn’t done enough research to understand its unique feel/personality. Yes, it’s fiction, and it’s important to use imagination. But, if you are going to use a real place, or do what I call “stretching geography”, where you add the fictional places that support your story into a real environment, you need to get the physical and the sensory details right.

That’s a lecture for another day. 😉

For today, I am going to share with you some of the places that have inspired specific pieces of work. I’m having trouble posting photographs, but clicking through the links will get you all kinds of great images and information.

New York City
I grew up in a suburb of New York City, and spent plenty of time there. After a year of college elsewhere, I transferred back to NYU for film and television production, and then, after two years in San Francisco and a miserable year in Seattle, I moved back and worked my way up in theatre until I worked on Broadway. I loved the city, especially Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History, the various New York Public Libraries, NYU itself, and all the neighborhoods. I lived through 9/11, in which 42 people I knew (firefighters, mostly, and cops, and people I’d gone to school with who worked in the towers). New York is an important part of my work.

It’s the primary setting for the Nina Bell Mysteries, which are in the 1990s, following a college graduate trying to build her life in the arts. She lives on E. 6th Street, and is an NYU alum, and works at theatres similar to the Public. I use my diaries from those years to make sure I have the geography right, and the events and how they affected those of us trying to ignore said events.

It’s where TRACKING MEDUSA, the first Gwen Finnegan mystery starts and ends. The book starts in the Gramercy Park area, and has major events at the main New York Public Library and a chase scene inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
(The book re-releases in January 2018. Visit http://gwenfinneganmysteries.devonellingtonwork.com for more information).

PLAYING THE ANGLES, the first Coventina Circle mystery, releasing on October 2, takes places in various NYC locations, most of it in the Broadway neighborhood, since much of the action takes place backstage on a Broadway show. So that’s midtown. I used to live in the area, on the corner of 42nd St. and 8th Avenue, over a strip club which is now a comedy club, across from the Port Authority bus terminal, and a short walk to the Broadway theatres at which I worked. I’d regularly walk back from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, so I could spend time in Central Park. ANGLES also has scenes in Greenwich Village and Morag’s Upper West Side apartment. The second book in the series, THE SPIRIT REPOSITORY is mostly set in Greenwich village, around the publisher for whom Bonnie works, and the bookshop that Rupert owns, with forays to the Upper West Side and down to the Bowery. Most of the books in the series will have NYC locations, although I plan to get them out of the city at times! (http://www.coventinacircle.devonellingtonwork.com)

SAVASANA AT SEA, the first Nautical Namaste Mystery that releases in November, starts in New York City, at Union Square, where yoga studios have bloomed in the last few years. It also has locations at the cruise ship piers, and Sophie shares a brownstone in Brooklyn, inspired by one owned by a friend of mine.

I love the city deeply; I just don’t want to live there any more!

SCOTLAND
I have a deep love of Scotland. Two of my shows have been produced at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and I lived in Edinburgh for a month at a time with each. I’ve visited the city frequently, and travelled a good deal throughout the country: St. Andrews, Skye, the borders, but especially Ayrshire, where I’ve rented an apartment in Culzean Castle through the Scottish National Trust a couple of times.

The area is amazing — friendly people, beautiful scenery, great food. A basic conversation in passing can be the seed of a story.

A big chunk of TRACKING MEDUSA is set in a fictional town in Ayrshire, not far from Culzean, where Gwen and Justin confront Gwen’s past and discover the secrets of the Medusa statue.

Eastern and Western Scotland are very different from each other, in atmosphere, in geography, in sensory detail. The jet stream allows Culzean to grow tropical plants. The coast around St. Andrews can’t mistaken for the isle of Arran in the west. And the Highlands are a world unto themselves (not to mention that the signs are in Scots Gaelic first and sometimes English underneath). Someone from Glasgow speaks differently than someone from Edinburgh than someone from Skye. The cadence is difference, the timbre is different. Yes, there’s a “Scottish” accent different from English or Welsh or Irish, but there are also regional differences within it. Each one is delightful in its own way, but easy to pick up a false ring in a piece.

It’s very obvious when a writer sets something in Scotland and has never visited — it comes across more like a Rennfaire in upstate New York than genuinely in Scotland.

Northumbria
This is Hotspur Percy country, which is why I originally visited when I first graduated high school, and I keep coming back. The border shifted — it’s England, it’s Scotland, it’s England, it’s Scot– you get the idea.

Northumbrians have a thick north England accent, thicker than Yorkshire, but different from Scotland. They are very proud of their area.

My favorite places are Alnwick (now famous because the castle is used for Hogwarts) and Alnmouth. But my ultimate favorite is Lindisfarne, Holy Island, still cut off by the tide twice a day.

Lindisfarne has the ruins of a Priory, where illuminated manuscripts were created, and a castle. Two hotels, several pubs and shops, holiday cottages, a few people, a lot of sheep. When the tourists leave and the tide comes in, and it’s cut off, it’s magic.

I first learned about Lindisfarne when I was a kid, reading HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN magazine, when they had a story about monks saving the illuminated manuscripts. I vowed to visit, and did, right after high school. I can’t stay away. I have photographs that show the erosion of the ruins over the years.

A section of TRACKING MEDUSA is set there, at some of my favorite places, including the Abbey, the beach, and the kilns.

I’ve also visited the battle site of Otterburn. It was autumn when I was there; no one else around. I walked through the darkening woods, it got quieter and the birds stopped chirping. You could feel the weight of the dead. I had similar sensations when visiting Glencoe and Culloden in Scotland, but because Otterburn is smaller, more isolated, and more overgrown, it stayed with me more strongly.

Prague
Prague is an amazing city, centuries of history handled like they happened last week.

Locals sigh and talk about how nothing has been the same since The Battle of the White Mountain. I thought that was in WWII, and understood how it could still have an impact. Then I looked it up at it was in 1620! That gives you a good sense of the emotional geography of the place.

One also always has the sense of being watched. It’s not “Big Brother” or left over from Soviet occupation. It’s all the statues on the roofline that stare down at you.

I plan to use Prague as a setting for several pieces, but it’s in an upcoming serial novel about filming a television show, and part of the pilot is shot in Prague. There’s a lovely sequence on the Charles Bridge between Old Town and Mala Strana, because it’s so different on either side of the bridge.

Cape Cod
One of the reasons I moved here is because the place inspired me so much. My family’s visited since 1968. The National Seashore at Eastham and Race Point Beach in Provincetown are two big favorites, as is the Aschumet Sanctuary with all its holly trees, closer to where I actually live.

I’ve set a lot of pieces on Cape Cod. Morag’s family has a house here in PLAYING THE ANGLES. I’ve used it in quite a few short stories, and in an upcoming novel called THE TIE-CUTTER (Ayrshire, Scotland, is also heavily involved, as is Iceland).

Living here and visiting are very different, so I encourage any author who writes about the place to do more than a flying visit, if you expect me to believe your characters are more than summer people! No matter how many years I live here, I will always be a washashore, which is fine with me. It’s also a term I’d never heard in all the years I visited, but everyone made it clear to me once I moved in!

Any place can provide inspiration, if you look for it. Take time and get to know your home region. When you travel, don’t just post on social media and take video with your phone — experience the place directly, and then it will resonate in your writing.